Oceans of Grace

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The blue of the sky was two shades deeper than it had been any of the other days that week. The salt air carried the weight of winter on its breeze, but the warmth of the sun held the promise of spring. Laughter, slightly muted by the rhythmic surf, carried across the sunbaked sand.

My three-year-old daughter came running over to where I leaned against a giant piece of driftwood, her blond curls bouncing with each excited step. She proudly announced she had found the fanciest rock in the whole wide world and held out her dimpled hand to reveal her discovery.

What she clenched in her toddler grip wasn’t a rock at all, and its smooth surface shimmered in the sunlight like a gemstone. The translucent shade of turquoise reminded me of crystal-clear waters captured in images on postcards from paradise.

It was sea glass, and it was love at first sight.

We spent the rest of our afternoon pacing the water’s edge, heads down and eyes straining. By the time the sun was dipping below the horizon, we had collected a handful of treasure in glittering shades of blue, white, green, and purple. When we got home, we placed our treasure in a small glass bowl on our kitchen windowsill and pulled out the computer for an impromptu science lesson.

Sea glass originates from pieces of ordinary glass jars, bottles, windows, or containers—items we might consider trash. They somehow end up in the ocean where the salty waves and the pull of the tides tumble them around and around. Over the course of years—even decades—the shards of glass take on a frosted appearance. The sharp edges are worn away until each piece of glass becomes a smooth, soft, colorful work of art…

To read more about how God used sea glass to show me more of Him, please click through to The Glorious Table: https://theglorioustable.com/2019/06/oceans-of-grace-womens-devotional/

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Plymouth Rocks

IMG_3300The sunlight filtered through the trees, creating a kaleidoscope of shadows on the trail. Our footsteps were hushed by the dirt path, and the only other sounds were the songs of both bird and man carried on the breeze. I didn’t understand the words of either, but I wanted to hear more of both.

As we drew closer to the music, other sounds began to stand out. The giggles of children, the rhythm of tools, the crackle of a cooking fire. The trail delivered us from the forest and into an apparent time portal. We stepped into the clearing and found ourselves in a 17th century Wampanoag homesite. IMG_3290
This is the magic of Plimoth Plantation. You step through the gates and into history. You are in it. You can see it, taste it, smell it, and talk with those living it. The goal is to “illuminate the past and inspire the future.”

 

The staff welcoming you to the riverside Wampanoag homesite are not role-players. They are all members of local Native Nations and very graciously share their heritage with visitors. You’ll learn all about the traditions, customs, and everyday life of the people who’ve lived in this region for thousands of years.

 

As you continue down the path, you’ll come to the 17th Century English Village built along Plymouth Harbor. Painstakingly recreated homes and gardens line the village street. The people you’ll meet have adopted the names, histories, and viewpoints of actual Plymouth residents. You can observe, you can participate, you can ask questions. It’s truly the most immersive living history we’ve ever known.

 

 

Just down the street from Plimoth Plantation, you’ll find the harbor dotted with anchored boats, a shady park dotted with gift shops, and the star of the show–Plymouth Rock. If not for the beautiful columned structure, security guard, and chiseled 1620, it might look like any other boulder. And if we’re being historically accurate, it could very well be any other boulder. But I’m still glad to have stood there and looked down as the tide came in.

 

If you’re hungry, I’ve got an idea for you. Before heading to the Plantation, we headed to the beach for lunch. Sandy’s at Plymouth Beach offered fantastic casual meals and an even more amazing view. It’s an open air restaurant overlooking Plymouth Beach. We had some great seafood sandwiches and the kids meals came in a keepsake sand pail with attached shovel. Because genius.

 

Even though Plymouth is mostly known for all things Pilgrim, you can certainly find other things to see. Check websites like See Plymouth and Visit Massachusetts for more ideas.

IMG_3304Plymouth opens the door to a completely new understanding of history. But there’s even more fun to be had! Come for the pilgrims, stay for the beach! Either way, Plymouth Rocks.

Taking a Bite of the Big Apple on a Budget

IMG_2635The air seems to hang differently in Manhattan. Maybe it’s the collective weight of all the dreams and plans and goals put out into the universe from generations of those stubbornly determined souls with the fortitude to make their way to this concrete jungle island.

It changes you. This air filled with the intensity of driven purpose. It makes you consider your own life. Those dreams you put up on the shelf long ago. Spend an hour walking the streets in New York City and you’ll be blowing the dust off your dreams in no time.

I will be forever grateful to have shared New York with my kids. I never expected to be able to swing it. But we did and I’ll tell you how we saw NYC on a (super) tight budget.

Public Transit
We saved money on parking and tolls (and therapy to deal with the trauma of driving through the city) by taking the train. The trip took a bit longer than if we had driven, but we were able to take in amazing scenery, leisurely drink our coffee, and there may have been some donuts involved. The best part is that the train took us right into Grand Central Station, which is unbelievably beautiful. You should really put it on your list of places to see. Those soaring blue ceilings with the constellations painted on them, the huge arched windows, the stone walls–it’s almost cathedral-like.

9/11 Memorial
The last time I had been in NYC, I had spent much of my visit at the World Trade Center. Our high school chorus was staying in the Marriott there and we even rehearsed on the 108th floor of one of the towers. Seeing those towers come down just a few years later changed me in ways I’m still discovering. While we decided the 9/11 Museum might be a little too heavy for our kids, we definitely did not want to miss a chance to share the significance of that day and what it meant for us as a nation. We focused on the courage and heroism of that day and how we came together. It was very important to us to visit the 9/11 memorial. While tickets are required for the museum, the memorial is free.

The Statue of Liberty
While there are plenty of tour companies competing to be the one to ferry your family over to Lady Liberty, we didn’t have room in the budget for five tickets. Thanks to the Staten Island Ferry, we didn’t have to miss the chance to see one of the most iconic New York City sights. The ferry is completely free and crosses the Upper Bay from Manhattan to Staten Island. It just so happens to also give you a great view of the Statue of Liberty as you go. Try to find a spot on the right side of the boat as you leave Manhattan and the left side as you return.

The American Museum of Natural History
You could easily spend several days at this museum that inspired the box office hit franchise, Night at the Museum, and you still wouldn’t see it all. There are countless fascinating exhibits and there is surely something for everyone. You can purchase tickets online for a set price, but if you have the patience to wait in line, you can “pay what you wish” to see this incredible museum. Our favorites were the African and North American mammals (I hope this is the only place we’re ever locking eyes with lions and grizzly bears) and the Ocean Wonders. Nothing makes you feel quite as small as standing under the blue whale suspended in the air above you.

Central Park
Just across the street from the American Museum of Natural History is Central Park. An oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle, this is a fantastic spot to slow your pace. We visited the zoo where the sea lions made us laugh, the penguins were charming, and we got to feed sheep, goats, and llamas. Then we fed ourselves by finding a hot dog vendor and a bench and we spent a few minutes just absorbing the world around us. People, pups, horse-drawn carriages, artists, musicians all make this one of the best spots to just sit and breathe in that dream-laden NYC air.

Times Square and Broadway
This might be the most energetic spot in the city. The sidewalks become ocean tides carrying people this way and that. It’s easy to get caught in the flow. The neon lights turn night to day and it’s hard to know which direction to look first. If you’re hoping to see a show (and I don’t just mean the guy dressed as Elmo fighting Thor), but you’re not sure you can fit it into your budget, make sure you head down to Times Square first. The Theater Development Fund operates a TKTS Discount Booth where you can find last minute deals to experience the arts on Broadway and Off-Broadway. Tickets are usually 20-50% off regular prices.

IMG_6301Meals
This could easily end up being the biggest bite out of your Big Apple budget. We found prices to be much more reasonable further away from your typical tourist areas. We really enjoyed finding the local hole-in-the-wall delis to get that traditional NYC food. We were also not too proud to hit up the street vendors. I completely admit we didn’t plan well for our meals. As evidenced by the hangry meltdown in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. (And I’m not referring to the kids.) You live, you learn. There were many dining opportunities left on the table (hardy har har), so we’ll just have to plan to return soon!

Hotels
There are exactly seven hundred million hotels in NYC. Check Groupon. Check discount travel sites. Just make sure you read the reviews. (Always, always, always read the reviews.) Try to find a great deal in a part of the city that you want to spend most of your time exploring. But if that’s not possible, there’s most likely a subway stop super close to where you need to be.

Top of the Rock
This, my friends. This was our biggest splurge and it was worth every single penny. Most people choose to get a sky-high view from the Empire State Building, but here’s why I went a different way. I wanted to see the Empire State Building as part of the skyline. Top of the Rock makes it super streamlined. You book your tickets ahead of time and you choose a time slot. You’re basically making a reservation. Which cuts way down the time spent waiting in line, and it cuts way down on the number of people sharing the observation deck. My biggest tip? Pay the little bit extra to get your reservation during sunset. The city takes on a gorgeous glow and the lights begin to twinkle and it feels as if anything is possible in this city.

IMG_6370New York, New York. There’s truly nowhere else like it on the planet. It might seem impossible, but you really can see it on a budget. And if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere!

Don’t Miss the Charm of Connecticut

IMG_7023The late afternoon sunlight gave the salt marshes a golden glow and we took a deep breath of the briny air coming in through the open car window. We pulled into the parking lot behind City Hall and jumped out to catch the sunset from the floating dock. A fishing boat slowly glided up the channel with the day’s catch and the gulls followed closely, hoping for a sample or two.

It’s a common view among the small coastal towns that dot the Connecticut shoreline and yet each of these New England gems offers its own unique charm. An afternoon drive along US 1 will be the highlight of your summer.

Madison
For your mind, visit RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison’s picture-perfect downtown. Step through the door and back in time. In a technological age where e-readers are everywhere, there’s just something magical about stepping into a real live bookshop with shopkeepers who are friendly and passionate about words. Offering over 300 events per year, RJ Julia connects authors and readers and inspiration abounds.

For your body, Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea is a few steps down Main Street’s sidewalk. Inside, you can find delicious treats and a great selection of coffee drinks to enjoy in the café. Better yet, Willoughby’s offers an unbelievable variety of serious coffees and teas from around the world to buy by the pound and brew at home whenever you like. On a beautiful day, sit at one of the sidewalk tables and soak in the sunshine and small town life.

IMG_7024For your soul, drive across town to Hammonasset Beach State Park. Stay for a weekend in the campground or stay for the day on the two-mile stretch of beach. Visit the nature center to learn about the history and ecosystem of the area. Hike some of the bluffs for beautiful views of the rocky coastline. Watch the Ospreys swooping and soaring across the wetlands. Walk the sand hunting sea glass. Just pick a spot and let the surf soothe your soul.

Clinton
For your mind, stop in at Cindy Stevens Fine Art. Browse the gorgeous paintings and be swept away by local New England scenery. Chat with the artist and get the behind-the-scenes story of some of her paintings. Feeling inspired? Get back in touch with your own creative side and attend an art class or a paint night. The gallery offers a variety of events for grown-ups and for the kids in your lives.

IMG_7025For your body, there is no more iconic spot than the practically-world-famous Lobster Landing. Open seasonally for lunch and dinner, Lobster Landing is perched on the harbor and offers outdoor seating and a BYOB policy. A sunset, a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and a steaming lobster roll at a harborside picnic table is all you need for the perfect dinner on the shoreline.

 

For your soul, head back over to Main Street and don’t you dare leave town before you find yourself climbing up on a bar stool at Scottish Dave’s Pub. There are no strangers at the only Scottish pub in Connecticut. Well, not for long anyway. On any given evening, you can chat with a group of 20-somethings with an impressive appreciation for classic rock or a couple in their 80s who can tell you stories that are impossible to tell whether it’s fact or fiction and that makes it all the better. If you’ve timed it right, you can catch traditional Celtic music or maybe even a ballad from Dave himself. Either way, you’ll leave feeling like you’ve been a part of something pretty special.

 

Essex
For your mind, head just a bit inland and catch a ride on the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat. Get whisked away into the past as you chug along old tracks through the scenic woods and across picturesque wetlands. Sit on the right side of the car for the best river views. Then board a riverboat and float away down the Connecticut River. See eagles nesting and get a good look at Gillette Castle high on the cliff. The narrators tell you stories that will both educate and entertain.

 

For your body, take a walk down Main Street and just soak in the beauty of stately historical homes and beautiful gardens lined with picket fences. Be sure to look for the plaques fastened to the home fronts that reveal the year in which the house was built. You’ll find homes approaching 300 years old! Walk through the park and enjoy the peaceful shade of the enormous trees. Maybe you’ll catch a film crew taking advantage of the quintessential New England charm of Essex.

 

For your soul, spend a night at America’s oldest continuously operated inn. The Griswold Inn, affectionately known as The Gris to its faithful patrons, is a living piece of history that opened its doors in 1776. Have dinner in one of the dining rooms where you can almost see the sailors and soldiers sharing dreams of independence. After an incredibly delicious meal, make your way into the Tap Room for a rollicking night of singing along to all the classics. Be sure to say hi to Bobby, my favorite regular. You’ll find this older gentleman standing by the fireplace, holding his beer, and dancing with the young ladies. When the last song is sung, head upstairs to one of the beautifully appointed guest rooms. Don’t pass up a chance to immerse yourself in history and luxury.

 

Connecticut may not have the reputation of a popular tourist destination, but that’s just what makes it one of the best choices. Plan a trip to explore and get away from it all. Connecticut may be small but it has so much to offer for your body, mind, and soul.

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Take Heart, Daughter – TGT

 

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I don’t like to wear short sleeves. Even the hot, humid summers here in the Deep South will find me on the verge of heatstroke in cardigans with the sleeves pushed up. I know it’s ridiculous. Every summer, I promise myself I’ll grow up and be more mature about it next year. But each time I look in the mirror and see the thick, jagged, raised scars crisscrossing my right arm, I chicken out and throw on that sweater. It’s just easier to avoid what they represent to me.

My scars don’t have an interesting story behind them—no exciting adventures, no secret tragedies. Each one of my thirteen scars is from a near-miss with melanoma. Those lines across my skin serve as a reminder of all the times I went without sunscreen. To me, they’re wagging fingers pointing out my foolishness.

Scars on the Inside

I carry scars on the inside as well, and I like to hide them from the outside world just as much as I like to hide my visible scars. My inside scars are the words I wish I could unhear. The words I wish I could unsay. The moments I would change if I could. The hurts I’m ashamed to feel as deeply as I do. Just like my physical scars, these inner wounds remind me of my foolishness—and my weakness.

Those inconvenient aspects of being human—imperfections, mistakes, and failures—are what we put the most effort into hiding and minimalizing. They’re also basic, common threads that link all of humanity. We all deal with hard stuff. We all mess up. We all fall down and need a hand getting back up. And yet we never want to seem weak, so we spend a lot of time and effort covering our scars so no one sees them.

Recently, I’ve begun seeing these scars in a new light. Where I once saw only my shame, I’m beginning to see the loads of grace behind each and every scar. Those unhealthy moments weren’t the end of my story. The scars aren’t just evidence of mistakes; they’re proof of healing…

To continue reading this post, please click through to The Glorious Table:
https://theglorioustable.com/2019/02/take-heart-daughter-womens-devotional/?fbclid=IwAR2zgmLovoYyIC9LpqEQkJP6uk6mkWWJlTiP7n26VBhpsF76EmwT8y16oCA

Take Heart, Daughter

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Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Social media has been a hard place lately. Between the news stories and political happenings and the responses of friends and family sharing their own stories and then the responses to the responses of friends and family, there is one thing that has been made so overwhelmingly clear.

It’s something that can’t be debated or doubted or downplayed and it’s this–there is so much hurt out there.

With each new secret shared, my heart is continually being brought to its knees.

But as a society, pain makes us uncomfortable so our first reaction is to discount it or rationalize it away. We tell ourselves there are ulterior motives or political manipulations.

I just want to stand on the roof of my house and shout.

STOP. EVERYONE JUST STOP FOR A HOT MINUTE.

Your neighbor. Your babysitter. Your mother. Your mail carrier. People are hurting.

And they are vulnerably and courageously bringing their broken pieces out into public view. With trembling hands, they are offering up their stories and holding their pain up to the light.

Just stop for a second and consider what you’ve been hearing from the people you pass on the street, in the grocery store aisle, in the halls at work.

So many people have been going about their lives, never letting on that they were carrying these heavy, heavy burdens.

But Jesus sees those broken places inside us and wants to heal more than just our bodies. He wants to heal our souls.

“Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed at that moment. (Matthew 9:20-22 NIV)”

This woman had suffered from a bleeding condition for twelve long years. Her physical pain must have been great. Her body must have been struggling with all sorts of issues resulting from continuous blood loss. This is what I’ve always tended to focus on when I read her story—the obvious need for physical healing.

It’s hard for me to imagine the modern-day equivalent of the crushing loneliness this woman must have lived with for the last dozen years. In a time when bleeding women were considered unclean and sequestered in isolation, the last twelve years of her life must have been a nightmare.

But Jesus knew. He not only addressed her physical healing, but with a single word, he addressed her emotional healing, as well.

Daughter.

With that single word, he banished loneliness and isolation and brought her into community. In the presence of so many witnesses, he deemed her wanted and welcomed. As far as I can tell from my limited knowledge and research, she is the only person Jesus referred to as “daughter,” and she just might have been the one whose heart needed to hear it most.

We all have our scars and broken places deep within us. Lately, more and more of those hidden wounds are being brought out into the light. It’s been overwhelmingly heartbreaking to see just how many have been carrying such heavy burdens of pain, often silently.

Take heart, daughter.

He sees the invisible and hears the silent. He heals the hidden hurts.

Created to Create

Coastal Sunset

“How on earth do you have time for that?”

When I first began writing, this was by far the question I received most often. The inquiry was legitimate. My husband was in nursing school. My oldest was in the process of an autism diagnosis. My youngest was potty training. I was working part-time and found myself in the middle of a downward health spiral, which led to two autoimmune disorder diagnoses.

When you add all that to the regular requirements of being a human—carpool, dishes, cooking, laundry, groceries—it’s a wonder I had time to breathe, much less write.

The weird thing was I couldn’t keep from writing. Yes, I barely had time to breathe, but it was the one thing that seemed to help me keep breathing. Whenever I began to feel overwhelmed with the circumstances of our lives, I felt the urge to type out my thoughts. I joked about it being free therapy. But for a long time, I had an enormous amount of underlying guilt associated with every minute spent at the keyboard.

I stopped talking about writing. I began to hesitate every time I was about to share my latest post. I downplayed any growth or progress made through the hobby I loved so much. I spent years like this, and I often went through phases when I gave up writing altogether. I would try to focus all my energy on being a better mother, a better wife, a better housekeeper, until the day I realized writing makes me a better mother, a better wife, a better housekeeper.

We Are Created by an Unimaginably Creative God to Be Creative

To continue reading this post, please click through to The Glorious Table here: http://theglorioustable.com/2018/06/created-to-create-womens-devotional/

Coastal Sunset
Find me on Instagram at @ashleydpooser