We All Are Beautiful

snowglimpseThis is for…

those of us who are learning to be ourselves

those of us who have love to share, but the parent/ spouse/ girlfriend/ boyfriend/ baby won’t come even though we are ready

those of us who are spent from sharing all our love with everyone else and need time to just be

those of us who are dealing with the ongoing stuff of abuse or addictions and want to feel okay

those of us whose past is not something to be proud of

those of us who don’t know what is nextsnowylove

those of us whose mind or body is challenged with brokenness

those of us searching for our place in this world

those of us who want to heal from what’s holding us back

those of us who have a secret (that would change everything) but are terrified to speak it out loud

those of us who work hard and receive no thanks

those of us who don’t work hard enough and need to keep trying

those of us who make mistakes

those of us who are braver than we think

those of us who keep on wading through the hard stuff

those of us who are learning to love every inch of who we are

This is for all of us who are living.

In the chaos of brambles and thorns, we are ever breathing and growing.

This is for all of us, for we are beautiful.

snowyvines
You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day!

We All Are Beautiful was first posted by Hope Walks In on 2.14.14.

A Birthday Surprise

I didn't make this graphic and don't know who did. In the words of a friend, "I love/ hate it."
I didn’t make this graphic and don’t know who to attribute it to (the teacher in me would add an apostrophe) ; however, I agree with a friend who said, “I love/ hate it.”

I’m not sure what I had in mind exactly for the future; I guess more time at the same jobs we’ve loved for years. It was out of my hands, though, as much of life is. Next year, my work will look a little different than it does now.

When we make life decisions, we have to live with them, but sometimes it’s even more difficult when life makes a huge turn, having zero to do with our choices. We are left a little lost and bewildered, wondering something along the lines of…

What did I do to deserve this? (And for me…during my birthday week?)

But after the shock lessens, it ends up having more to do with what we actually do with what happens to us. When things are out of our control, it can feel terribly lonely. Fear creeps in, and there are more questions than answers. Hope? Well, it feels impossibly far away. Trusting God has a plan, roller coaster-like as it may be, brings me some peace even when what’s happening makes zero sense. I’m learning when I feel worried and anxious about exactly what next year will look like, I have to say out loud, “Okay, God, I know you got this.” I am not an expert at it, but I’m finding more and more, um, opportunities to practice it. Hearing myself helps me believe it when time stops at the top of the roller coaster. It’s there, when my eyes are closed, and I’m edging closer to the next breath-stealing, hurtling ride into the unknown.

So, at first, this change felt like a deep, dark question, but it has become instead a big, bright possibility. I don’t know how it all will work; I have no idea. But, I realized something else as peace replaced my initial fear. Somewhere deep down, I have longed for time to pursue some other things but expected that would only happen at retirement (in a million years). Don’t get me wrong; I love my job as it is now, but here it is, this surprising gift placed in my open hands.

 

Why the New Blog Name?

This blog began as A Little More Than I Was.  Now it has grown into Hope Walks In, simply because I write about the messy adventures of life and finding hope in the dark spaces (If you haven’t read this month, click here. It’s the same blog with a new name, and this year I’m focusing on Hope and Healing: Little by Little). 

Always, the unknown exists, bringing times of joy, heartbreak and everything in between. Life does that, over and over — laughter and fun, followed by tough stuff that sneaks in when we least expect it. Each time, we can sink as the waves crash down or learn to swim–asking for help and hope along the way.

Hope walks in all types of ways:
a whisper
earth-shaking like booming thunder
a hint of yellow light or red sky
a line in a song or a poem
a stranger’s words
a prayer
a hug from a loved one
a place you’d least expect  (like on the bumper sticker stuck on the car that cut you off)
the stories of others

While hope doesn’t air lift us from our troubles and place us on a lush island, free of sickness, war, poverty and daily challenges, it helps us to believe this uncomfortable-growing-stretching-sometimes-devastating space may not last forever. Maybe we’re not alone. Maybe there’s more to life than what we see at this moment. Maybe there’s something to learn.

Life happens in all its mystery, full of adventure, sadness and beauty. We find we’re a little more bruised up from life’s challenges, yet somehow wiser, stronger and braver than we knew we could be.

When we let go and search, begging, trusting God and even waiting for it to show up, hope walks right in the door.

Where else do you find hope?

 

 

Calling It Quits

Rain water dripping over a window

Even on this freezing morning, chirp, chirp, chirp was all I heard before pulling back the comforter and putting my feet on the floor. Those birds know spring is almost here, even though it doesn’t look (or certainly feel) like it. Masked by huge snowflakes, sleet and rain, new life is springing up behind the scenes. Still, those giddy birds have chirped every morning for the past week.

In an odd way, it reminds me of a time years ago, when Brian and I sat in a cozy room surrounded by friends, many of whom had children or openly shared their hopes for a baby. It was he who also spoke it aloud, but I just sat there with my mouth shut, wanting to store away that part of our journey. I’d been open about so many personal things, but for some reason this felt like too much. We want a baby, too.

Eventually, each of those couples surprised us with their creative version of happy pregnancy news, and we cheered. Many times, though, those joys came with a lurking heaviness. “Do you think God is playing some kind of joke on us?” I laughed bitterly at the irony. Each time we talked about going to a fertility specialist, something always seemed to get in the way, and so we just did our thing–sex on the right days, ovulation tests and temperature-taking. For two months, I tried Clomid, and it made me feel crazy-angry and annoyed at everything, with rashes and stomach issues, so sex was the last thing I wanted (and let’s just say Brian was a saint to stay instead of spending those nights at work or even in his truck in the driveway). Those days, I cried more than anything else. I blamed it on Clomid, but I’m sure the emotional release was exactly what I needed.

In the back of my mind, nothing seemed right.

Still, each month I got my hopes up, but either all the pregnancy tests and thermometers were broken or something was wrong with me (those days I felt like it was always me. He was fine, they said). Seriously though, when would it be our turn?

It was the when are you having kids questions that felt like too much from those who had no idea of our struggle (as if being a parent is the only way to live an adult life anyway). It was the well-meaning you can always adopt suggestion, as if we never knew that was an option. It was the baby showers that felt wildly different than in my 20’s (when most of my friends didn’t have babies). But in my 30’s, everyone it seems has kids along with multitudes of stories to tell about their water breaking, the birth, the best infant and toddler products–breast pumps, bottles, diapers, potty training and on and on. Having zero stories to tell can be tough, especially if you desperately want them. It was cruel irony that PMS and pregnancy signs can be practically the same. It was starting my period like a slap in the face before multiple baby showers, praying that I could be happy for the almost new mom and just be okay with me. I usually cried once I was back in the safety of my car.

I was furious at my body with all its rashes and stomach issues (continuing long after the devil Clomid days and proving there was more going on than I could see). “It’s so hard for a woman who can’t get pregnant,” I told Brian, who assured me I’d be surprised at how hard it was for men, too. All that trying for a baby began to feel like an expectation that unfulfilled, left us feeling like ashamed failures.

Yet…slowly, somehow our feelings and prayers for a child began to change. No longer was it

we want a baby,

we want a baby,

please give us a baby;

it was this– we want a baby if it’s right for us.

And over and over, I was reminded God created me a work of art, whether my body was able, ready or willing to have a baby. As that truth sunk deep into my soul, my face was red and splotchy with tears.

So after major downsizing and moving, Brian and I stood in the kitchen, lights low, as we dried the dinner dishes. We looked at one another, and I breathed a sigh of relief. This had nothing to do with dinner or dishes, it was more than that. It was peace, even though the water heater broke, the dead refrigerator was hauled away, and water leaked through the window while we were out of town. I’d realized an excitement, an odd stirring deep inside. I couldn’t explain it, but it was there just the same. Maybe the moving craziness had something to do with it? There was an awful lot going on then. After so much time, I just couldn’t believe it!

And I was scared, but I took a deep breath and said it, “What if we don’t try anymore? What if we just live and have adventures and be happy?”

And just like those birds, chirp, chirp, chirping on cold, rainy late February mornings, giddy about what’s to come…

I felt free. I felt worthy, unashamed and beautifully free.

Sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.–Shauna Niequist

It Pays to Wait

We moved into a small, rental place after selling our house in August and a few issues popped up.

  1. fridge died the first week
  2. a front door hinge broke so the door would not close (after the new, too-large-for-the-space refrigerator was delivered and hauled away minutes later)
  3. branches fell on the house, leaving a hole in the roof (during heavy rain while we were out of town)
  4. electrical sockets stopped working
  5. the hot water heater went out

And so before long, we wondered if our landlord would stop answering our calls.

We had more than the basics, and we no longer had to fit a mortgage or repairs into our budget; that responsibility belonged to someone else, but even then I had a tough time feeling content. “God, I’m just letting you know, I hate this place,” I complained-prayed aloud when impatience stretched over me like an itchy sweater. Downsizing was the right thing for us, but my vision included moving in and having everything put away within the month…with none of these complications, of course.

We just had to wait and trust that our landlord would do what was best (waiting is hard). It took a while to relax into the goodness of that truth, the gift of someone else paying for all of it. Slowly, though, the right-sized fridge was delivered, followed by a hot water heater with all other repairs done in between. And just as slowly, boxes were unpacked and most of our belongings found a place.

Isn’t it the same when we pray, practically telling God how to solve our problem, whatever it may be? We’d rather be doing something instead of waiting around for Him to get to it (even though he’ll take care of it in the way He thinks is best, when it is best). But, I see over and over again, there is learning during the waiting — learning to trust, learning to be okay when everything around us is not. Many times, the outcome is wildly different than we imagined, and sometimes, it is also better.

So, a couple months after moving into our smaller, rental house I realized gratitude and peace settled around me like fragile bubbles blown from across the room…so quietly, I almost missed it. Even with the challenges, I’m really starting to like this place.

 

On Marriage: I Wish I Had Known

Years ago, someone called marriage a blessed challenge,* and I’ve always liked that. It reminded me it’s necessary for things to be hard at times, but it’s amazing, too, especially after making it through all that tough stuff. Since I am not a relationship expert but quite the expert on my own marriage, the following is some of what I’ve learned over the past 11 years. I wish I had known all of this… well, 11 years ago.
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  1. Alone time is good for together time. During married years #1 – 3, we thought we would hurt one another’s feelings to get the heck away from one another, but now we have learned to say we need it when we need it. And then when we return after a couple hours (or days), we enjoy one another again even more. On the other hand, if we feel distant, we call it a no TV night and focus on quality time.
  2. Laugh everyday. It used to drive me crazy that Brian could make a joke out of anything. “Can’t you be serious?” I would say with a roll of the eyes. Now, I appreciate it more than ever because sometimes life gets way too complicated. I am thankful this man makes me laugh every single day, and he doesn’t even try.
  3. Making plans is a good thing, but flexibility and openness is better (which I re-learn everyday). We didn’t want children. Then, we decided we did and expected at least one by now. And now we are trying to sell our house because we haven’t grown into it…unless getting a second dog counts.
  4. The person you married will be different in the future (and so will you).  It stung to hear, “You aren’t the same person I married,” but he’s right. I’m less controlling, more authentic, stronger in the ways that count, and well, I eat differently. Years ago, the employees at the local pizza place knew our names AND our order! Now I juice and eat things like kale and beets, and he’ll actually drink a shot of green juice, too. I’m sure that’s what he meant.
  5. How you deal together during tough times makes all the difference. I hoped things would never be as hard as they were when we first married, that we would be immune like having chicken pox, and never face that craziness again. But tough times come and go and then come again. When words like hypogammaglobulinanemia and autoimmune became part of our vocabulary, Brian took my hand in his and said what was playing as he cleaned the garage. Hold on to me as we go/ as we roll down this unfamiliar road…(great song, Phillip Phillips).snowprints
  6. Listen. Trust. Speak what you love and value in the other person. I used to compete for final decision-making rights on practically everything. Several years ago, I realized my skepticism (words, yes, but even body language) tore Brian down little by little and took time to rebuild. But he is more than capable, and sometimes it’s less work to sit back, trust him and see what happens. Other times, we make decisions together. And when I see something amazing in him that he may not yet see and then speak it aloud, it is powerful and affirming.
  7. Appreciate the thought even if you don’t love the gift. I failed when Brian bought an old two seater bicycle after hearing me talk about the tandem bike I rode with my brother years ago (I didn’t exactly want one). But Brian listened to my stories, put time and money into the bike…and we actually figured out how to ride that heavy thing without falling OR yelling. And that is a marriage accomplishment.
  8. Having fun together is important, but so is doing what YOU love. Brian went skydiving and took two stand-up comedy courses. Both of these sound as appealing to me as having my toenails plucked off one by one. I watched him skydive, started a book club and meet with a writing group. We give one another space to grow by having an I-believe-in-you-even-if-it’s-not-for-me attitude.
  9. Schedule sex. Our society laughs about married couples losing the excitement of sex, but little is said about a solution that actually involves staying together. We tried spontaneity, but our schedules usually took over. So now, together, we put it on the schedule to be intentional, and everything else is bonus.
  10. Reach out to one another. There is something about sharing our fears when life requires moving into unknown territory and figuring out the next step. Brian going skydiving, fertility issues, getting and waiting for more diagnoses, surgery, waiting for our house to sell and knowing we’ll eventually move have all been big things. I can’t imagine wading through all of this by ourselves, so we connect with friends and talk to God about it, too. It’s hard to wait, but it’s brave to trust and see what happens. And you know, I didn’t always see it this way, but I am amazingly overwhelmed by our blessed challenge.*
    photo(13)
    We’ve come a long way…baby. 🙂

    *author unknown

Where Are the Birds?

cottoncloudsWhere are the birds? I wondered as I drove. It was as if they went further south for the winter, except it was almost summer. I couldn’t remember seeing them for a long time. Strange, especially since I looked for them, high above the stretch of interstate I traveled practically everyday.

As I drove, I noticed the trees had grown green and full, almost overnight. When did that happen? The sky was blue, and the clouds were fluffy like expensive cotton balls, flung in all directions.

It seemed the days had been dark and grey for months.

I felt like I’d been in the sticky mud and murky water of a swampland for quite a while, not getting anywhere fast and in fact, lost. I didn’t know which direction to go because there was no arrow pointing the way, only silence although I’d been begging for something more. Asking and praying and wondering and searching, crying and hurting and desperate (and Googling because that’s easy, instant and sometimes helpful).

The birds always seemed to soar through the air with powerful wings, weightless and graceful as they circled the trees and played above the interstate, heavy with cars. As a kid, I had heard about God taking care of all of us, even the tiny sparrows. And if he takes care of them, he cares even more about us and holds us with his great big hands. I guess seeing the birds reminded me of that.

But if God was holding me in the palm of his hand, it sure didn’t feel like it. I felt left and lonely, afraid and anxious. No! What if that’s not enough for me? What if I need more than that? Why are YOU taking so long? I don’t know what else to do. I cried angry tears and felt a little guilty for talking to God like that.

But I also felt a little relieved.

Heard.

Maybe even understood.

And then I saw a single bird swooping around the deep blue sky with cotton ball clouds, and my face felt hot as it hit me. It wasn’t the absence of beauty but the heaviness of life that had been my focus.

The birds hadn’t left; I’d stopped looking. My mind was too full of the what-ifs, whys and hows to even notice what was around me, yet the beautiful scenery had been there all along. Just like God, who holds me in the palm of his hand when I’m angry about being lost in the swampland, waist-deep in the mud, with no arrow pointing the way.

 

Gifts of Words

The evening summer sun felt warm on my neck as we traipsed through the wooded path over the bridge that led to the little cabin. The six of us chatted as we walked through the screen door, filled our plastic cups with cool blackberry tea, and settled into the comfy chairs circling the fire pit. The humid air felt heavy, yet the music of insects and bird songs brought a lightness to our retreat from the busyness of the day. Distant thunder and the plunk of acorns falling onto the tin roof surprisingly added to this peaceful place. As the sun slowly slipped into night, the twinkle lights strung across the wooden posts and the strategically-placed candles left just enough of a glow. So we leaned in to listen while others read the gifts they brought for us.

Gifts of words.

bench-and-tree.jpgI have loved this writing group from the first time, when I took a deep breath and read some of my work. To a writer, there’s something magical about connecting with those who also savor beautiful phrases or have an unusual perspective on the ordinary. Here, I am surrounded by those who also carry that delicious stirring of stories bursting to be placed on a page and shared. Realities of life with its joy, heartache and everything in between are read aloud with quiet strength, despite fear that whispers inadequacy. We speak into one another what we hear and know, as we relish the moments in this precious, vulnerable space. This is not a place for comparison and judgement but one to celebrate as we journey further one step at a time.

I am thankful for these beautiful women and their gifts of words. 

 

Making Space Takes Time

madewithOverFinishing another school year and relaxing into summer was my plan. Ongoing doctor’s appointments, updating the house, digging through files and closed up boxes, closets and rooms one by one was NOT part of my plan. It was hard work. It felt like it would take forever, and I didn’t like it. I felt stuck and slow like a weight was on my chest, making it hard to breathe. All I wanted was an escape route, especially since I needed rest. Thankfully, Brian was the leader in this, unstoppable until it was completed, gently reminding me we (still) had more work to do. Focused for weeks, this job was not a quick fix.

It takes time to weed out the old to make space.

And I was surprised at some of the old we found as we sat on the floor at the top of the stairs going through long closed up boxes: 90’s mix tapes, receipts from Christmas over a decade ago, elementary school yearbooks, bank checks from life in another state, and other things that once were important. But we laughed at pictures, sang along with those mix tapes (Wham’s Wake me up before you go-go/ ‘Cause I’m not planning on going solo) and were shocked at all we’d held onto for so long (I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways–yep, GREAT mix tape).

In some ways it was quite the visit into the past; still, we quickly made decisions on what required holding onto and letting go. And I noticed I tossed our soon to be donations into the car with finality, as if I couldn’t wait to get them off my hands. And now, I can barely remember what we gave away!

All I’ve wanted was a vacation, to clear my mind and to escape the work of dealing with hard things after a long school year — renovating the house, mentally preparing for the possibility of moving, a list of autoimmune issues and advocating for myself to do what I need to do to heal (and that is unpopular at times).

I remembered we need SPACE to grow and breathe and thrive, just like flowers. Choked by all the weeds that take up our lives, we won’t grow into our fullness. But pulling those weeds takes time and persistence, since one pops up soon after all the others have been cleared away. There just might be something enjoyable in the process.

And you know what? After I gave into this day after day after day and kept at it, I am breathing more fully, and my mind is clearer. I am settling into the mystery and possibility of the days ahead. And now for that vacation….

 

 

Something Special Along Our Usual Path

“Are you going to be here soon?” I said into the phone, hoping he’d be home to walk the dogs with me. I crave this uninterrupted time with Brian. Like most marriages, we’ve had spaces when it seemed we’d rather be alone than together, but this is not one of those times. In the middle of what seems like a million unsettled things in our lives, being with Brian is home.

And so, he arrived just as the pups and I were ready to walk out the door. It was one of those beautiful spring days when being outside was heavenly, so the warmth of the sun on our faces and bare arms was welcome. We started out on our usual path, which seems to bore Glory (it’s like walking a turtle on a leash). Walking Journey is just the opposite. Getting distracted by everything he sees, he kind-of skips along, wanting to see everything now. And that’s another good reason for the four of us to walk as a pack, I like to say. There’s safety in numbers, right?

Talking about something serious like the negative effects of childhood bullying on adults,  we had one of those meaningful I. love. you. moments that seem to come out of nowhere. So with dogs in tow, right there on the side of the road, I flung my arms around him and hugged him. almostkissingAt that very moment, a black SUV slowed down right next to us. The driver stuck her head out the window, smiled at us and said,

“I love your love.”

Then, a couple days ago she passed us, calling us her favorite couple, and I wondered. All this time, all these years we’ve walked our usual way, and I’ve hardly thought twice about what others think when they see us. Apparently, she has noticed us with our slow-as-can-be turtle and perpetual puppy. What is it she sees? The way we hold hands? Our smiles and laughter? I’m guessing, she hasn’t witnessed our disagreements on many of those walks or maybe she has. I’ll probably never know specifics unless I go to her door and ask her (and well, that might be uncomfortable).

Really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this began a conversation, a speaking out loud of our gratefulness for one another.

Everything else might be unsettled still, but, it’s right here in the middle of this complicated life that four powerful words nudged us to more fully appreciate the joy of being together, being part of a pack.

And that’s home for me.

B&meThanks for reading!
~Jen