Friday, December 30, 2005

Home for the Holidays (up to Christmas Eve)

Hey y'all. We've been enjoying sweet tea, southern accents, and time with our families. Our vacation officially started a day or two before we left for home as we hosted 20 or so people from school for a Christmas drop-in at our home. We baked cookies, drank hot chocolate, and enjoyed Brandon's fiddle and our neighbor playing the guitar as we sang Christmas carols. We appreciated the time with our new friends outside the classroom setting, and we were amazed that everyone fit in our apartment at the same time!

We flew home and remembered what cold felt like. We spent the first few days with my (Nicole's) family in Columbia before hitting the road up to Greenville, Hendersonville and then back down to Charleston, SC. Go ahead and get that map out if you want to see how many times we've crisscrossed the state! After spending some time at the Seacoast Worship team Christmas party, we enjoyed the company of many of my good friends and mentors in the Charleston area. The time was short, but sweet and planned well enough that almost everyone was seen. Sadly, our last visit was to one of my precious friends, Amy, who lost her boyfriend, Nick, in a helicopter accident while he was deployed near South America. Though we wished the visit could have been on better terms, we enjoyed the time God gave us to share with Amy and her family just days after the accident. Please keep the Plebanek family and Nick's family in your prayers.

Next we headed back up to Greenville, where we spent time with Shelvis and Nancy Smith, Rodney and Marla Johnson, and Tim and Amy Pecoraro. Tim has been Brandon's mentor for the last few years, and he and Amy did our premarital counseling. They hosted us all at their home for a mini retreat. It was a marriage/ministry retreat, and afforded us some quality time together with everyone.

After the retreat, we headed back up the mountain to Brandon's family's home in Hendersonville. The next night was a bit of a struggle for both of us...Brandon decided to camp out with his buddies, and we therefore spent our first night apart as a married couple. Neither of us got good sleep that night. He didn't because it was below freezing and he was not prepared for such cold weather, and I because I was imagining his buddies finding him frozen in his tent the next morning! Thankfully, he made it home and thawed out before we packed up the car for a Snowshoe, WV ski trip!

We drove to Boone, NC to pick up his brother and sister-in-law, and then were on our way to a winter wonderland. The skiing was great and the time spent together was never dull. We enjoyed racing down the mountainside, watching Brandon and John get in snow fights, sipping hot chocolate, rewarming our toes by the fire, and relaxing our tired muscles in the hotel's jacuzzis.

Unfortunately, while we were on the mountain our cell phones didn't get any reception. During our trip, my mom who has been very sick, was put in the hospital with pulmonary hypertension. We received numerous voicemails when we got back into civilization, and were saddened to hear that she was not in good condition. Brandon and I made our way to MUSC in Charleston by late Friday afternoon. Mom had been put into a recovery room after some surgery, and we learned that she would stay there until the Wednesday after Christmas. The reality of her sickness was disappointing, but we were assured that there was medicine available that would allow her to lead a nearly normal life again.

We stayed with some dear friends, The Johnstons, who graciously opened their hearts and home to us on such short notice over the holiday. The love they showed us reconfirmed our unofficial status as 'part of the family'. We were humbled and thankful that the Lord would provide for us in our time of need.

Nicole's family has a Christmas Eve tradition to go out to a fun lunch during the shopping day. Needless to say that didn't happen according to tradition. However, as Brandon and I left to get some fresh air on King St in downtown Charleston, Mom mentioned that she would like some collard greens (that's my girl!). We decided to get take out from Jestine's Kitchen, the same restaurant that we ate at the night we were engaged almost a year ago. Jestine's cooks up the best southern food I've had in a restaurant. Unfortunately, we called and they had closed 45 minutes earlier! But we drove over there anyway, knocked on the glass door and were greeted by a smiling server who told us we had slept too late. We explained our situation and asked if there were any left over collard greens that they would be throwing out if we could take them to my sick mom. She left for a few minutes and came back with a bag that contained the goods. She said, "We don't know if we believe your story, but Merry Christmas." Ha ha! We wish it were just a ploy to get collards...I asked B, 'do we look like the kind of people that make up stories like that to get left over collards?' I concluded that no, he doesn't, but I may be that kind of girl... We got take out from another lowcountry restaurant, and brought it back to the hospital. Brandon got the nurses to put a white sheet over a rolling table, and we feasted. He played his violin for us, and then we took the show on the road, visiting other patients who were spending the holiday in the hospital. We played, sang, talked with and prayed for many patients on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Pastor Matthew Barnett often times preaches that if you're down, the best thing to do is to bless someone else. After you set yourself on seeing someone else smile, your hard times don't seem so bad. I think Brandon and I saw that to be true this Christmas.

We went to Seacoast for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and I was glad to be 'home' with my friends and family at Seacoast. That was one good thing about having Mom in a Charleston hospital...being near friends and loved ones.

Stay tuned for the recap of Christmas-New Years.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Please Let It Snow!

No, it's not snowing here. In fact, today I ran in a tank top. It's more like 70 degrees. But, hey, we can turn the heat on and put the sunroof back and windows down in December...That's not too shabby! Actually, it gets quite chilly here at night, but for the most part, it doesn't exactly feel like Christmas.

Rewind a week or so ago...
On Tuesday, 11/22, we had a meeting for the college/young adult ministry. We saw about 15 people, and were encouraged to have them. Most of the people had not been to the first meeting, so we got to meet a lot of new faces! We had an incredible prayer time together. We spent time casting vision, asking input, and encouraging the people to finish the year well and get excited to start up the new year. We are seeing some neat relationships develop in and through the ministry already, and we are so thankful for the growth that is going to come to everyone in the coming years.

THANKSGIVING was awesome! We spent it with a wonderful family, the Jurados who just bought a beautiful ranch in the San Clarita valley. With over 30 people around the table, football on the tv, and the pool table racked and ready to go, we had an excellent time. Their family made us feel so warm and welcomed, and we so appreciated having a loving family to go to since we couldn't be with our own loving families at home. We have so much to be thankful for. Our life is, as some may say, blissful.

We were selfishly glad to have the entire weekend off. No ministry to do, as most of the staff and volunteers had gone away for the holiday. I realized it was our first weekend since we've been here that we haven't done any volunteer work.

With extra time on our hands, we were able to rest and relax and do things that we've been wanting to do...For me, that meant going to the Fashion District with a friend. Think NYC's Chinatown times 10. It's huge, and one can buy Gucci handbags (real, of course, right?) and Prada shoes for only $15! Such a deal! ha ha. It was fun, though, to be there on Black Friday.

This is our last week of school work and classes. Brandon has an exam on Monday for his Greek class, and I have a final paper due next Friday, but besides that we are done! Woohoo! It looks like both of us will make good grades this semester, so maybe we'll be eligible for scholarships next year!

Our time in prayer has been extremely rich these last few days. Previously, we had committed to at least one hour of prayer every day. God has met with us during these times of prayer, and we have grown closer not only to Him but to each other as well. It's amazing how quickly He answers some prayers and how He takes His time on others. But overall, He is certainly faithful!

Well, that's about it for now! Thanks for taking the time to read this! We'd love to hear from our friends and family about what's happening in your lives as well!

Joyfully, N and B