On Friendship

We need each other.

I love how we can be drawn to those who are most unlike us from varying walks of life, job situations and backgrounds. We juggle the joys and weightiness of the day-to-day, while none of us has it altogether (as much as we’d like to). We speak truth to one another, extend grace when we mess up and cheer one another on when jumping or easing into a new adventure.

We fill our too-short time with catching-up stories and laughter but also our failures and worries, fears and struggles when there is too much real life. And just like that, the isolation we somehow settled into dissipates and renewed connections soften our hearts (harder only seconds before). Friendship filled with transparency builds bridges from one soul to the other, doesn’t it? There is just something about the closeness and comfort friends bring to the realities of life.

We need each other.

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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.

 

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. 

 

Learning With Paintbrushes, a Canvas and Life

photo 5I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!

I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.

This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.

In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.

So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do like the everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.

What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):

1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.

“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.

It's messy.
It’s messy.

2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often do we look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them. When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.

3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.

I'm a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.

4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.

5) Relax and go with the process.  I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.

painting8Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.

I

Worth Celebrating

This is my birthday week (because one day is just not enough).

Celebrating 6th grade style (eyes closed, of course)

While I was sifting through birthday wishes on the main day, I ran across something I’d posted barely over 5 years ago on Facebook. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about some of these things!

I guess, sometimes, whatever is happening right now seems to take over the past. But then, going back a few years is a profound reminder of where you’ve been, and that is worth celebrating.

My updates, now that I’m older and wiser in some ways, are in bold.

25 Random Things About Me

January 24, 2009 at 6:39pm

1. I am a book junkie. I have a pile of books in my closet that are calling my name. Now, a new pile is on my bedside table. 

2. When I was 18, I won over a $100 from a radio station.

3. Among other interesting happenings during traveling, I have eaten cow tongue in Moscow, hiked…um, walked in the Swiss Alps, and have ridden a highly sought-after camel in Niger (well, it took a couple steps). I long for more travel experience, as I have been deeply touched by all I have seen and learned in the world. Ireland… check. Greece… check. Now where?

4. I hate slugs and slime of all kinds so much that I put sandwich bags on my hands when trimming fat from chicken. Brian once chased me around the house while waving chicken fat my way. Apparently, I have matured in this department. I made White Chicken Chili and cut the chicken fat with my bare hands. just. this. week.

5. An um…interesting neighbor once asked me if I wanted to see his prosthetic leg. I stumbled over my words, completely horrified that he might pull down his pants to show me, but the leg was in his trunk (equally bizarre).

6. I plan to write my story one day and have it published in some form or another. I’m on my way.

7. I like to peel skin after a sunburn–gross, I know, but I love it! I also like to remove loose chunks of hair off my dogs (I call them hair plugs :).

8. I struggle with forgiving the unthinkable on an almost daily basis. It’s a process that takes time and healing and courage. Wow. Read here. Now, I usually struggle with forgiving the everyday things.

9. I owned a Toyota Camry for one week–complete with license plate.

10. Repeated finger-tapping, lip-smacking, and gum-popping makes me cringe. Working with elementary school students year after year has not solved this problem.

11. One Easter, I asked for two bars of cream cheese for my Easter basket. Strange, I know.

12. I lived on Jennifer Drive for a couple years.

13. I love deep-down, belly-hurting laughs and hearing children giggle. Ah, exercise for the soul.

14. I have read and watched Anne of Green Gables as a child and teenager. I’m watching it again as an adult.

15. I have learned “All You Need is Love” is a farce. You also need persistence, trust, honesty, courage, patience, space, forgiveness and humor to make a marriage work. Oh, and admitting I am wrong is challenging, but I am learning.

16. I love to play board games and prefer to win. For some reason, my brother-in-law warned his fiancee’ about my competitive tendency (not sure what’s that about).

17. I have learned more about myself over the past 6 years than the previous twenty-something. I am stronger and braver and wiser than I ever thought possible. I am proof of the possibility of change and the power of resilience. Love, love, love that I wrote this five years ago and feel even stronger about it today. Life does that if you let it. 

18. I have a long list of funny names for my two dogs and my husband and can come up with more at any moment.

19. Music touches me to the core. Just listen to 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.

20. I hated my name as a child because there were Jennifers everywhere. So, in 6th grade I changed my name to Jenny. I changed it back to Jennifer in the 7th grade, and only my best friends have called me Jenni (i not y) since later that same year. I have always had a strong aversion to strangers shortening my name in any way. I’ve made it easy these days. Just call me Jen.

21. I have learned that family is what I make it–the people I choose to surround myself with who love and support me. Thank God for my family, real and chosen.

22. I have volunteered with Kids on the Block (KOTB not NKOTB 🙂 as an educational puppeteer. My favorite puppet was Brenda, who taught kids about bullying and being persistent when asking for an adult’s help.

23. I feel warm and tingly when I think about my future as a school counselor. I have always loved helping kids find their own way. And still do.

24. If I ever need a Plan B, I could write peppy jingles or become a professional organizer. 

25. I am always learning more I wish I knew a long time ago

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I’m curious! What random things would show up your list?

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Content

Christmasornament

This has been the most peaceful Christmas yet. I can’t remember, ever, another holiday time when I felt as calm and joyful as I have felt today. We opened our present (yes, one) after a long, drawn-out breakfast of cereal and berries and Monkey Bread that I made and cannot eat. It’s been sunny and cold today, and I haven’t stepped outside. I didn’t wear my best clothes or think about what else I could be doing. I didn’t worry about who I wish I could talk to or be with just because it’s Christmas. This day has been full of the present–not the one I unwrapped or a list of met expectations. This day has been one of love and laughter of family. It has been pure joy, and that is peace. I am breathing the precious gift of contentment, and I want to stay.

You’ve Always Been There

Dear Body of Mine,

It’s been up and down with you through the years, hasn’t it? Always, there have been parts of you that I have treasured, like my loving heart and the way this brain provides the ability to laugh and think and learn and BE among all the other amazing things you do (you’ve helped me through a lot of adventures). It’s true, I love all kinds of people well and need to love some better. This includes you.

My green eyes, a child-like explanation for feeling as if I didn’t belong with family members who circled around me, were a quality I came to love–because they were different than everyone else’s blue.

Freckles that sprinkled my face and arms and seemed to multiply each summer after long hours of playing outside. My mom singing, “She has freckles on her butt she’s pretty (rather than but, as if freckles cancel out beauty) helped me see how in this way, I am also like her. Her father sang those same words to her when she was a kid.

IMG_0595Hair that would not grow to be as long and straight as that of my friends. Oh, the prayers for long hair…starting when I was five. It’s sad that I wasn’t okay with my hair then.

Short, fat, all-the-same-length toes that have been a source of laughter (I’ve been called Surfer Toes since the nails on my big toes curve upward like an ocean wave).

IMG_0587A smile so big that my eyes seem to close simultaneously to contain it. I used to complain about these sometimes–slits, but now, I realize just how happy and sleepy content I always looked.

Crinkly eyes and a line-y forehead from all that smiling and crying and laughing and searching and studying and wondering and hard-fought battles.

Oh, green sequins, who cares what people say. You were a good idea for prom at one time.
Oh, green sequins, who cares what people say. You were a good idea for prom at one time.

Stretch marks (how does that happen without having kids and always being small?)?! I’m human; I pretty sure that’s all that means.

I have put a lot of pressure on you to be what I thought you should be OR what I thought others wanted you to be, thinking that straighter hair or bigger breasts or more defined muscles, longer eyelashes, less freckles, smaller thighs, smoother skin, and on and on, would make me happy and/ or keep people around. I didn’t make physical changes I deeply wanted to because I didn’t think I would be accepted by those who loved me most. Because of my looks.

Just wow.

Choosing oh-so carefully how to nourish you after cursing you for all the pain and puzzling mind-fogginess and months of rashes and adult acne (who came up with that idea?). And yet, through all of this, you have shown me how strong and resilient you are, many long prayers answered like a single, twinkling star on a stretch of dark, cloudy nights.

Ever evolving into me (inside and out) and taking care of you in all the ways I am learning to is a challenge everyday, but I am REAL in that challenge. And I mess up. A lot. And more and more, I succeed.

And I remind myself that we are beautiful the way we are and comparing myself to others truly steals every ounce of my joy. I know it. I believe it. I feel it.

So, I am grateful for all you do for me. And I am especially thankful to God who has always been there through every bit of me as long as I have been me. Thanks for helping me to see the beauty in being who I am–loving, curly hair, pale Scotch-Irish skin with freckles, Vienna sausage-toed, smart, green-eyed, adventurous and brave ME.

IMG_0569P.S. Don’t forget to tell me when I can have gluten again. Just a thought. Oh, and ice cream would be nice, too. 

I recently came across this series over at SheLovesMagazine and was inspired by the touching stories I read. Who cares that the deadline already passed! It’s never too late for some healthy positivity.

Pony Lessons

“Make an obstacle course for the pony.” These are the directions we were given. Nothing more. The last time I might have been near a pony was when I was little and too timid to touch it (or maybe I saw one on TV, who knows). Regardless, I felt like I was in way over my head.

I know this is a donkey picture, but it's mine and I like it.
I know this is a donkey picture, but it’s mine and I like it.

After picking through the pile of barrels, a bucket and PVC pipes of various sizes, we slowly began to work, arranging everything the best we knew how.

“Have the pony go through your course, using anything in the arena.” Um, just MOVE a PONY?

Puzzled, I wondered if these animals are at all like my dogs, who come barreling around the corner when I call them, ears flopping and tail wagging.

We mumbled and stumbled and urged and pushed and begged. “Come on, little pony, let’s go!” (this makes me laugh, since my horse-owning dad would shake his head).

Glancing over at the beginning of our carefully-placed course and resting his eyes there, the pony seemed curious, almost longing to try it. Still, he refused to move, even with our calm but urgent pleading (I was a nervous, sweaty mess). We tried walking away, hoping he would be interested enough to follow. Instead, he went back to his comfort, his owner.

And then! I got the leash bridle that was over on the fence, and we gently wrestled it on him.

Feeling more comfortable (I guess) with our control, the pony slowly began to move. Relieved, we wove him around the maze of barrels. This won’t take long! But then, we came to a place where he stopped, refusing to jump or even step over the PVC pipe we set between two short plastic tables.  Rubbing his velvety-soft nose, we told him he was doing a fine job.

But he wasn’t going anywhere.

After a long several minutes, we decided to lower the pipe to a more manageable height, and that did the trick. Ah-ha! Soon, he we would be finished! This was possible!

We moved toward the last obstacle, a plastic crate about the size of a cement block, placed lower to the ground than most of the others. He planted his feet and became a rigid pony statue. Was he tired? Unsure? Worried about something? I talked to him, encouraging him to keep going. “I know this sucks, but you’re almost finished!” I said. He stood still, while I thought about how far we had come and understood we still would not accomplish our goal until we got past this thing that was holding us back.

It’s been three days since this experience, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I am a lot like that pony.

Have you ever yearned to do something or live an adventure but then chose to go back to your comfortable place? Maybe it’s a goal or a dream that’s been carefully placed in your heart but money, situations, people or YOU get in your way? Maybe you’ve already gotten started and are so close to the finish but are stuck, wrestling with yourself or something that seems or is really big, wondering if quitting and turning back to that comfortable place is better.

The pony? Well, he eventually (finally!) took one step and then another one until we made it to the big finish.

img_2079.jpgSometimes, simply going forward is just the thing that moves us closer to where we want to be.

Surprises

I think this is the key. Ready for something profoundly laughable (because it is)?

Change never ends.

It doesn’t.

Without checking back every now and then and re-assessing and making necessary adjustments, life moves on and takes us for the ride or just leaves us in a mess. And sometimes, there are absolute surprises, like 30 food sensitivities that have caused all kinds of issues in my body…after I thought everything was under control.

I’ve needed some time, from blogging and tomatoes and pineapple and soy and…

Weeks ago, spring burst forth all around me. The sun breathed warmth, the blooms brought color, and pollen left its heavy yellow blanket over everything. As I looked at the wisteria trees in my backyard–the ones I wrote about with certain hate last year–I noticed even they were celebrating new life with their pale purple blooms. During the colder months, it’s been easy to forget about those vines that literally squeeze the life out of those around them if not drastically pruned each year (and yard work is our 194,350th favorite thing, so it not happening). But when I walked outside the other day to take a picture of those wisteria flowers, I was surprised to find they had already shriveled up and died. Now the vines look drab and lifeless, as they did leading up to the first few weeks of spring. But they are different just the same.

I love that seasons bring change. Some changes we can’t help but notice and others can only be viewed by searching eyes: a deep red cardinal in a mess of leafless brambles or hawks soaring above the tallest trees swaying in the wind. There’s just something about new growth on the trees against a backdrop of the deepest blue sky.

fatbird
Look closely. See that splash of red? It’s a Scarlet Tanager (Google is so handy) hanging out in my backyard.

I’m not sure how it all happened, but there is beauty here. Awake. Pleading to be discovered and soaked up by eyes just waiting to see it as it flashes past. In the midst of challenges, there is joy to be discovered each day–if we are open to it.

Life is good. As it goes on without skipping a beat, there is BEAUTY in the changes we live through, too. If we focus on the surprising challenges we think mess up our lives, we might miss those moments and see only sameness staring back. But there is no doubt even when we can’t see it, we are different.

Life is a journey, right?

And it continues.

An Imperfect Christmas?

photo(1)

As a kid of divorce, I was used to splitting holidays; it came with the territory. As an adult, I used to (meaning until last year :)) spend a lot of time and mental energy making sure my holiday was all I wanted it to be. All I wanted it to be changed over the years. Some years, it meant making arrangements with various family members/ friends early in November. Other times, it was choosing not to decide who to be with because my story has always contained certain people who are not going to be around others. Oh, but I worked hard to ensure I would have a happy holiday, regardless…and I was still disappointed at times because whatever I did wasn’t perfect.

Well, this year, I started consciously trying to change this little habit I have always had:  all-out refusing to wait. So when November (and the impending holidays) rolled around, I started questioning why. Why did I work so hard to make these days special in the past, instead of just resting and knowing that all would be as it should be? Why not wait to see what happens without making it happen (or trying to)?

Christmas came and went, and it was different than most I’ve been a part of before.

It was calm and relaxing every. minute. of. the. day (except for that one time I said, We HAVE to open presents before we go to the movie! And then there was that other thing….ARGH! Oh, seriously! Those sneaky, old habits are hard, hard, hard to break).

Some of my friends and family called me. Some sent texts. I called some. I sent texts. I saw some on THE day and weeks before, and I will see some weeks later. All of that is okay.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  it doesn’t take celebrating together on certain days or during certain weeks or even months to prove that there is a lot of love in my circles. I am surrounded by the compassion of friends and family, and I am warmed and supported and content.

I am grateful for those I am with right now, those who are close and those who are far away. I am thankful for change and healing and more peace than I know what to do with some days. There is no perfect holiday that I can arrange, anyway. And really, IS there such a thing?!

Christmas was never about perfection (Jesus was born in an old barn and all. Hmm, how hard was that for Him?).

My imperfect is exactly as it is–knowing those I love also love me in their own unique way. It’s being content with where I am and who I’m with, and that feels…

perfect.

~Many thanks for reading. May 2013 bring you love and peace in the midst of the imperfections!