Category Archives: Arizona

Goodbye Arizona – Thanks for the thrift store fashion memories

As we spend today packing the car in anticipation of leaving for California tomorrow, we can’t help but think back on how much fun we’ve had in Arizona.  Perhaps the best part of our time here has been the church we’ve attended, Victory Baptist.  The warm, caring people there welcomed us in like family and we were incredibly blessed by the fundamental and challenging preaching.  I learned a lot from seeing a tiny slice of this church’s life as they prayed earnestly for others, loved them in the simple yet profound way Christ loves us, and held strong to their commitment to upholding the truth of God’s word, both in the pulpit and in their hearts.

The church also produced one of my favorite stories from our time here.  And so, as we prepare to say goodbye to the desert, I leave you with the tale of how I won “coolest” at the Victory Baptist Church Ladies’ Thrift Store Fashion Show.

At the end of March, I attended our church’s ladies’ fellowship night.  It was a great way to get to know the other women beyond saying hello in between hymns on Sunday morning.  Part of the night featured a “thrift store fashion show.”  I, along with many other ladies, had signed up to participate several weeks in advance and I was ready.  The week before, I had scored the ultimate tacky dress at the Salvation Army and was confident that it would be a hit.

When the time came for the fashion show, they called all of the participants into the lobby and gave us our walking instructions.  I brought my bag with my dress, heels and jewelry with me, thinking we’d have a few moments to change.  All the other sweet ladies stood there in their cute knit pantsuits, looking adorable and pulled together.

Then, a woman turns to me and says, “Oh – you need to change clothes?”

Me: “Um…yes. This is the dress I bought.  Don’t you all need to change clothes?”

Woman (smiling and looking down at her matching, summery Cato outfit): “This is my outfit!  I got it for a steal at Goodwill. Isn’t it great?”

Say what?  So off I go into the bathroom to quickly change into my outfit.  When I come out, there I am in a lobby full of women my mother’s age in their normal, mother clothes and I am in this:

Apparently the term “thrift store fashion show” means different things to different people.  To me, it clearly means “find the exact dress Kelly from 90210 would have worn to homecoming and work it.”  To these ladies it meant, “pick up something extra on my weekly Goodwill hunt.”

However crazy, the dress was a big hit (I don’t think some ladies realized it was a joke – one even told me that Charlie has to take me on a nice date now that I’ve got this fabulous dress).

So yes, you are looking at the winner of the “Coolest” category at the Victory Baptist Church Ladies’ Thrift Store Fashion Show.

And that is what we did in Arizona.

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“I love to tell the story”

Today was my last day volunteering with the hospital’s Life Story program.  For the past couple of months, I’ve spent a few afternoons a week visiting with patients and asking them to tell me their story.  I would then write and frame a one-page summary, which we would put by their bedside for doctors, nurses and visitors to enjoy.  We’d also include a copy in the patient’s medical record for future references.  It’s been a blessing to meet so many great people, as well as to stay in the habit of writing regularly. Then, yesterday, the Lord showed me a greater purpose He had in opening the door to this volunteer opportunity.

I used to pray that He would send me to patients who don’t know Him.  I thought maybe I could somehow be a ray of His light in their lives.  But most of the time, I’d find myself listening to a patient describe the comfort of the Lord’s love, their passion for seeing His glory, and how He’s sustaining them through their illness.  These stories were always light on life-details (jobs, hobbies, etc.) and heavy on personal testimony.

I realized last night that this is why the Lord put me in that position – not to write the patients’ stories as individuals, but to write His story as Father to us all.

Those testimonies of His love and faithfulness will be in the patients’ chart forever, accessible to dozens of doctors and nurses in the fture.  Think of how many people go in and out of a hospital room everyday who would be exposed to these truths about God.

I wondered why He wasn’t sending me to people I could reach, but now I see that He was sending me to people whose own testimonies could ripple through the lives of countless others – they just needed to be told!

Side note:  A few days ago, I visited with a man and his family as they told me all about his rich life as an educator, a musician and a father.  Everyone clearly loved this guy, and his daughter said this was actually the first time she was learning some of these details about her dad.  His memory had not been good lately, but here he was telling old stories, revealing secrets and reliving past glories.  I learned today that he’s in the ICU and about to go home in hospice care.  His wife told Charlie that it’s such a comfort to them that they have a record of his story – his memories and his words.  Isn’t the power of storytelling amazing?

I’ve been intentional in the past few years to ask my grandmothers more personal questions (such as “what was it like growing up during the War?  Were you scared to live in Jackson, MS, in the 1960s?, etc.)  It’s incredible to think about the lives they’ve lived and all the many details I’ve never known even about my own family.  I would encourage you to take the time to ask the people you love about themselves and then really listen – something magical happens when people feel free to tell their story!

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Disappointed? Rejoice!

As crazy of a process as it always is, I think we’re getting a hang of this “get the next travel assignment” thing.  At the end of February, Charlie applied for nursing licenses in both Colorado and California.  We were really hoping to go to Colorado next (CO hiking in the spring anyone?) and save California for later, but we’ve also learned the benefit of having a back-up plan.  California always has nursing jobs, and now that we’re out west, it’s a good permanent license to have just in case.

Weeks went by with our recruiters (both the one who got us to CA and the one with a different company who got us to AZ) saying there was nothing in Colorado.  So we started to think that maybe we’d need that California license after all.  California licenses take a notoriously long time to be approved, and we knew we would be cutting it close to receive it by the time Charlie’s Arizona contract is up.

So we called the CA Nursing Board and this happened.

I wrote that post on a Thursday after we’d been told it would be a month at the earliest.  Charlie randomly checked the board’s website that Sunday and saw that he’d been issued a license.  What was supposed to take weeks took a day.

We began going over possible CA jobs with our recruiters and asked to be put in for nearly everything in the San Fransisco Bay area.  We definitely had our preferences, mainly based on proximity to the coast.  I had about three city names floating around in my mind and prayers, and none of them included a town called Antioch.  But one night a manager from Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch called to interview Charlie.  He learned it’s a smaller hospital (which he prefers) and that many of the ICU nurses are former travel nurses from the South who stayed on permanently.  He began to talk more about Antioch.  I always smiled and thought, “That’s nice.  You’ll forget all about it when we’re in (insert name of nicer town closer to the Pacific here).”  

We always pray that God would close the door on every possible job, only giving us a contract offer for the one He wants us to take.  Last week I watched as the doors leading to all my “preferred” cities closed one by one.  In some cases, the hospital realized it didn’t need as many nurses after all.  In one case, the facility was looking for a neuro-specialized nurse.  The only two left standing were in Antioch and Santa Clara.  We had a contract offer from Antioch and were waiting to hear from the hospital in Santa Clara.

Come on Santa Clara with your higher pay, 30-minute Pacific access, no need to cross a bridge to San Fran and your next-door neighbor status to Palo Alto!

We knew we needed to decide by Wednesday before Antioch retracted their offer, so we vowed to give Santa Clara until that afternoon.

Of course, we never heard from them.  We accepted the Antioch offer immediately and breathed a huge, contented sigh.  We know where we’re going next week when we continue this crazy travel nurse adventure!

The Lesson:

Antioch really does look like a beautiful town, right on the river delta between San Francisco and Sacramento.  It just fell off my short list only because it had so many flashier towns to be compared to.  That’s when I realized that I was comparing it to my various desires – not the Lord’s.  In light of my own will, going to Antioch seems like we missed out on somewhere cooler.  But when I consider it from God’s perspective, we’re going to His top choice for us!

Think about it – how many times do we allow ourselves to feel disappointed because something didn’t work out according to how we wanted.  If we choose to think of that situation as working out exactly how the Lord wanted, then the outcome is suddenly something to be rejoiced!  One of the hardest things to do as believers is lay down our own desires for His.  I learned a lot this week about choosing to rejoice because His will has obviously been accomplished, regardless of how I initially judged the outcome.

I know God has plans for us in Antioch – He wouldn’t have made our path there so undeniably clear if He didn’t.  His way of leading us to Casa Grande was so similar, and we’ve been incredibly blessed by our time here. I can’t wait to see what He has for us to do and learn in His next home for us!

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Red Rock Country (and a job!)

Let’s be honest – do we really need words here?

Sedona is a place that defies description. As hard as we tried to capture it in pictures, it’s hard to tell just how breathtaking it is from one glimpse at the red rocks.  The only way to really understand Sedona’s beauty is to stand in the middle of its spiraling towers of red earth, perfectly contrasted by the blue sky above and greenery below.  Every single rock is beautiful on its own, but when you realize how many there are and how they seemingly go on forever, in a million different shapes, it takes your breath away.

We first went to Sedona a few weeks ago and spent most of the day lazily walking through the shops and driving the scenic roads.  We both agreed it was one of our favorite days since we began travel nursing.  You can see the red rocks from everywhere in town, and it was so relaxing to have lunch out in the sunshine and enjoy the view.  We even tried cactus fries!  The weather was perfect that day and, after Charlie had been working a lot of overtime shifts, it was a great day to just hang out without an agenda and enjoy exploring a new place together.

This past Monday we returned to Sedona as part of a two-night trip (also visiting Flagstaff and Jerome).  We got there pretty early in the day and hiked up to Cathedral Rock before lunch.  Even though the scenic drives through town are gorgeous, there really is nothing like getting a little red dust on your shoes and being in the middle of all that beauty!

After carefully picking our way back down (the “trail” is very steep and smooth), we enjoyed a great lunch in uptown Sedona and then headed off to find Devil’s Bridge.  This trail leads to a huge sandstone arch that offers a big thrill and even better views.  We walked through the rocks for about a mile before reaching the trailhead that begins the climb to the arch.  This trail is gorgeous enough on its own, but then all of a sudden you turn a corner and see this:

Walking out onto the arch was really fun.  It’s a little wider than it looks, and if you don’t look down you really can’t tell how high up you are.  We both agreed it was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done!  The trail feels so remote, and it was great to spend a couple of hours watching how the view changed every time we’d turn a corner.  As much as we loved our lazy day in Sedona earlier, I think hiking in the red rocks will always be among our top favorite experiences.

After checking into our hotel, we got cleaned up and drove up a large mesa near the airport to watch the sun begin to set.

It was starting to get crowded, so we headed out, making a quick stop for some pictures at the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  This beautiful chapel was built into the rocks in the 1930s, and is a wonderful reminder of how intimately the beauty around us is connected to God the Creator.  The view from inside the Chapel (out the windows shown below) is breathtaking!

That night we had dinner on the back porch of the Hideaway Restaurant, overlooking Snoopy Rock, and watched the sun go down over Oak Creek.  In the morning, we woke up early and drove through Oak Creek Canyon to spend the day in Flagstaff.  Our first stop was a 50s diner right on Route 66.  Charlie had been wanting to check out the Mother Road, and breakfast at a diner seemed the perfect way to do it!

Flagstaff is neat city right at the base of the San Francisco mountains.  It definitely has the feel of a mountain town where everything seems very “earthy” and laid-back.  We spent most of the day wandering through the eclectic shops in the historic downtown, occasionally cracking up at the numerous shops and bookstores devoted to the healing art of the nearby mountain’s crystals.  We headed back to Sedona just in time to drive through Oak Creek Canyon at sunset and catch a drum circle performance up the street from our hotel.  One thing we love about traveling is getting to experience things we weren’t used to in Auburn, and I’d say a bunch of neo-hippies banging their bongos in a tiny little place tucked into the side of the canyon definitely qualifies as one of these experiences. We had a blast!

On our last day of the trip, we drove a little ways back into the canyon to have breakfast at a great little place called Indian Gardens.  If we were to ever own a little market/cafe, this is exactly how I would want it – right across from Oak Creek and shaded by the cottonwood trees.  Warm from our apple cider and granola, we headed about 30 minutes down the road to Jerome.

In the late 1800s, Jerome was a wealthy coal-mining town literally built onto the side of Cleopatra Mountain.  But as the price of coal fluctuated and the mines dried up, the town was all but abandoned in the 1950s.  Since that time, a lot of artists (both young adults like us and retirees) have settled there and now the town has about 500 full-time residents and several fun shops and restaurants.  As you wind your way up the mountain, you can see the different levels of Jerome.  There are only about four main streets and since it’s built onto the mountainside, you have to climb a flight of stairs to get from one to the next.  Everything is built in varying levels, and it’s a horrible place to take someone who’s unsteady on their feet!  (below: on the second street up, looking on to the street below and the Verde Valley beyond)

We had a great morning here wandering through the shops and taking in the view of the Verde Valley.  A lot of the buildings are the originals from Jerome’s most recent heyday in the 1920s, so it really feels like you’ve stepped into a little slice of history.  Upon leaving Jerome, we took Route 89A up and up and up, going completely over a mountain we had seen from a distance earlier and thought looked impossibly tall.

It was when we were winding our way back down and on towards Casa Grande that we got a call from our recruiter letting us know our next assignment will be in Antioch, CA!  It was a fantastic way to end a really wonderful trip – more on the job and how God walked us blindly through the process tomorrow!

(See more pictures from our Sedona trip here)

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Our first visitor!

We have had a blast the past five days!  One of our favorite people ever came to visit:

Madison (whose family is like family to us back in Auburn) is on Spring Break this week, and a few weeks ago she texted to see if she could come out to visit us.  Silly question.  

(A little background on Madison:  she’s the daughter of Kelly, who I worked with at AUMC, and she and her sister Abby are in our old youth group.  We’ve been on mission trips to Costa Rica twice with them and love their whole family to death.  Madison is an infectious mix of silliness, kindness and adventure with a great heart for serving others and dreaming big about what the Lord can do through her.  She pretty much rocks!)

We almost couldn’t contain ourselves before we picked her up in Phoenix on Saturday morning.  You see, we’d been keeping a little secret from Madison.  When we picked her up mid-morning, she had no idea we were immediately driving four hours north so she could see the Grand Canyon for the first time.  It was so fun to surprise her and have the bonus of a great car ride to catch up when she first got here.

We spent the afternoon driving down Desert View road and stopping at all the lookouts.  The weather was gorgeous that day, and we sat on the rock ledge outside the main lodges to watch the sun slowly set.  It was fun to be at the canyon again, and even better to be there with Madison as we sang along to XM radio at the top of our lungs and tried to decipher the meaning to the Tori Amos song “Cornflake Girl.”  Seriously, if anyone has any insights on that one, we’d love to hear them.

On Sunday, we took Madison to the church we’ve been attending (Victory Baptist) and then had lunch at The Big House Cafe downtown.  Charlie and I both had cups of posole, a southwestern soup we keep hearing about, and Madison had what may have been the most massively perfect grilled cheese sandwich ever.  We girls did some shopping that afternoon, but we mostly hung out at the apartment and goofed around (not hard to do with the three of us weirdos).

I took Madison to the soup kitchen on Monday so she could see what I’ve been up to on the days that Charlie works.  She has such a servant’s heart and really loves missions, so I knew she’d fit right in.  After serving lunch, we picked up Charlie and headed to Scottsdale.  Madison and I enjoyed going nuts in H&M, while Charlie patiently waited for us in the Nike store (in between ogling the Ferraris and Rolls Royces valeted out front).  After renewing our energy with a bag full of candy at the local candy store, we headed to downtown Scottsdale.  This is a really cute part of town that we’d been wanting to go to – it has tons of Western and novelty shops, restaurants, etc.

After window shopping for awhile, we took Madison for some authentic Mexican food followed by dessert at the cutest 50s ice cream parlor called The Sugar Bowl.  The Sugar Bowl also has an arcade and, after our sundaes, Madison and Charlie battled it out on the basketball game (sidenote: Charlie lost to a girl).

Tuesday morning started off with breakfast downtown at The Cook E Jar, where Madison and I had the famous cinnamon roll french toast.  While this was awesome at the time, we later had to admit this was not the best pre-hike breakfast choice.  We had been wanting to go back to Picacho Peak since our great hike there several weeks ago, and Madison being here was a great chance to do that.  The three of us are a lot alike in that we’d rather be outside all of the time, so we really enjoyed spending an afternoon in the sun as we killed our legs and made it to the saddle of the mountain.  The views from there are gorgeous, and it was fun to show Madison a different view of the desert we’d been driving through.

We spent the rest of the afternoon laying around by the pool and having a mini-marathon of Modern Family (this is in between goofing off the other 90% of the time).

Madison left this morning, and I swear her time here went by way too fast.  We had such a fun few days showing her around, cracking up constantly, getting on huge sugar highs and just hanging out.  Madison, we love you like crazy and are so glad you came to see us!

See more pictures from Madison’s visit here

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You want us to just sit around and pray?!

We have about three weeks until Charlie’s contract in Arizona ends on April 14, and a few weeks ago we began the process of finding his next assignment.  Now that we have two travel nurse companies working with us (the company who took us to CT and its sister company who found us his current job), we were feeling pretty hopeful that we would make it to our next dream location, Colorado.

Then we actually started talking to the recruiters.  It turns out Colorado is not exactly a hotbed of travel nurse assignments right now.  We need a back-up plan.  Enter, California.  We were told it takes 6-8 weeks to get a license in California, and we applied with a very narrow margin for receiving the license on time.  We’ve been praying it will come through before our assignment ends just in case we can’t go to Colorado.

Then, yesterday, we checked in with both companies to see how things were coming along (i.e., has anything opened up in CO).  They said no and suggested we call the CA Board of Nursing to check on the license status.  There are a million jobs in CA at any given time, and if we can get the license then they can place us in a position in a matter of days.  So Charlie called the Board.  That’s when we were given the run around and told that his paperwork was received, but not entered into the system yet.  The woman also said that it would take 10-12 weeks for the license to be approved!

Enter, panic attack.

My mind began swirling with the lack of options should nothing come open in Colorado.  We have a Texas license – should we go there even though we don’t really want to?  Should we extend here in AZ for another 10 weeks waiting for the license (even though we really don’t want to?)  What if we took a job in Texas and then the license magically came in early and we were stuck going east when we really want to go west?

I started to tear up and looked at Charlie and said, “How do we know what to do?  There are too many options and none of them seem right!”

That’s when my sweet, calm, rock of a husband just simply said, “Well, we pray about it.  That’s all we can do.”

And I have to admit, my first thought was, “But who knows how long that could take!”

Prayer.  It involves so much waiting when all I want to do is make a plan.  We need a plan!  I need to figure this out!  The thought of waiting around in prayer just felt so…unsatisfying.

After my mind cleared a little from the initial panic, I realized that of course Charlie is right.  Prayer is the only thing we need.  It’s actually the one thing that will satisfy our need for a direction, for an answer.  We could spin our wheels trying to formulate a plan for how to get to our next assignment, but really God is wanting to do this for us.  He proved that by dropping this AZ job into our laps without any effort on our part at all.  I could spin my wheels and exhaust my mind with my own ideas, or I could use that energy to surrender the situation to Him every minute and trust (based on His abundant past examples) that He will provide for us.

Prayer.  What a brilliant plan!

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”  Exodus 14:14

………………………………………………………………………….

Update:

After the little lesson I learned above, everything seemingly fell into place.  We spoke with one of our recruiters who felt sure the estimated 10-12 weeks for the CA license was incorrect and suggested we call back.  We did and spoke to a woman who was much more helpful.  In short, we should have our CA license by the end of April at the latest.  That means that if nothing opens in CO, we could extend our current contract for two weeks and then head to California.

In the meantime, Charlie also went ahead and applied with a third company who does show they have CO jobs available now. We spoke with them on the phone yesterday and they have a job in Denver.  Once they check Charlie’s references, they will put him in for that position.  If that job works out, then we could head to Colorado on April 16 like we’ve hoped for all along.  If that doesn’t work out for some reason, then we’re happy with the idea of extending here for another few weeks and then going to California.

I think God just needed to give us a little heart attack to remind us that He is still the big, capable God who has walked us through uncertainty before and certainly will do so again and again if needed!

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Lazy Days in Tucson

We have been busy since our Grand Canyon trip a few weeks ago!  Charlie has been working some overtime, I’ve finally started the volunteer position at the hospital and we’ve been taking advantage of our free days.  With only four weeks left in Arizona, we’re feeling the crunch of actually doing those things about which we keep saying, “Some day when we’re free, I’d like to head over to…”  So with an eye toward our dwindling free days, we recently used a few to head down to Tucson.

I’ve been wanting to visit a Spanish mission while we’re here in the Southwest, and there is a gorgeous one located on the southern end of Tucson called the Mission San Xavier de Bac.  It’s also known as the White Dove of the Desert, because it literally seems like a snow white bird rising out of the bleak desert landscape.

The mission’s ministry to the local Indian population began in 1692 with Franciscan missionary Father Eusebio Kino, though the actual church was not built until 1756.  It is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, and it’s been pretty well restored.  We took a tour with a really animated guide who told us all about the history, as well as pointed out some of the harder-to-spot details within the sanctuary.

Even now, the mission seems very isolated on the far edge of the city and would have been literally in the middle of nowhere when it was constructed.  It was really interesting to think about these monks moving to this completely defenseless and cut-off piece of land to minister to people they couldn’t have had less in common with.  San Xavier del Bac now sits on an Indian reservation and, as we were leaving, we passed a couple of Christian churches.  Wouldn’t it be great if Father Kino could see these modern congregations worshipping within sight of the mission he founded centuries ago?

We spent the rest of that day hanging out in a neat little neighborhood near Arizona State University.  It was completely taken over by hippies, and we enjoyed people-watching from our perch in a crepe shop (mmm…banana strawberry nutella crepes…) and browsing through all the interesting shops.  It was also fun to drive through ASU’s campus, since we have a soft spot for university communities.  It looked similar to Auburn, and it definitely made me a little homesick!

That night, we had dinner at a great place called El Sur.  I had found it online and was sold on the promise of $5 shrimp fajitas and the fact that they bring grilled onions and jalapenos to the table with every entree.  It was fantastic, and left us feeling like we had found “our” place in Tucson.  I’m looking forward to going there again at least once more before we leave Arizona.

Earlier this week, we made the drive back to Tucson to visit Mt. Lemmon on the north side of town.  Mt. Lemmon is the highest mountain in the area and is known as a haven for locals trying to escape the desert heat.  The elevation gains roughly 6,000 feet from the base to peak, causing the temperature to be an average of 20 degrees cooler at the top.  The elevation also causes the scenery to change dramatically as you wind up the mountain’s 26 mile summit road.  We started in the desert with endless views of cactus and ended up in a mixed conifer forest with snow on the ground.  The mountain has seven “life zones,” which basically means it’s like driving straight north from Mexico to Canada all in one afternoon.

We loved our afternoon here!  The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed stopping at all of the viewpoints to see how the scenery was changing.  It was also really fun to look down at the road below and see how high we were climbing with each switchback.  I had read that cyclists use this road as a training ride for some of the major tours, and we came across several of them along the way.  A few looked like they were really hurting,  and I so wanted to just give them a lift to the top!

When we reached the top, we found the cute little community of Summerhaven, which is home to The Cookie Cabin.  Of course, we had to stop in and toast the beautiful weather and gorgeous drive with a cookie the size of a dinner plate!  After winding our way back down the mountain, we headed back to Casa Grande in the midst of another breathtaking desert sunset.

So even though Charlie’s been working like mad and my schedule has picked up with the second volunteer position, we are definitely still finding time to enjoy the beauty and the adventures around us!

(See more of our day trip pictures here)

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