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.
I 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.
As I walked into our favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I was wished a happy Mother’s Day and given a rose by an employee. “Thanks, but I’m not a mom,” I said, and the girl let me know the flowers were only for mothers. So, on the way out the door, my sweet Brian handed me the prettiest lavender rose. He got it from the same girl (who was just doing as she was instructed). “I need one for my wife,” he told her.
SO, happy WOMEN’S Day to all women, not only in the U.S. (where we have this joy and pain-filled Mothers Day) but everywhere. This includes those who are single and those who have partners. Those who have given birth and those who don’t want to, those who adopt or foster and those who don’t want to, those who work with children and those who don’t want to, those who love pets and those who don’t want to, those who are trying all they can to have children and those who don’t want to.
This includes those who are fighting for their voice and their freedom.
This includes those who have lost special women in their lives, and EVERY woman…for simply being who you are.
My heart is with each of you, with us.
You are loved (and don’t let Mothers Day make you think you aren’t)!
“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 meaningfulI. 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. At 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.
This is my birthday week (because one day is just not enough).
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 writemy 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 dogsand 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.
She believed she could, so she did. ~Author unknown
This weekend I am running a 5K with two of my lifelong best friends (outside in the dead of winter, which really feels like real winter in the south these days). For us, this is new. Our little group has gone through adventures and heartaches together–youth retreats, amusement parks, sunburns, slumber parties, first loves and the inevitable breakups, graduations, weddings, moves to other states and continents even, children, sickness, funerals; time together and even more time away.
Millions upon millions of words have been spoken, laughs have been laughed, prayers prayed, tears cried and dilemmas analyzed again and again…and again.
Each of us has gone our own way, blossomed into a (more) grown-up version of the seven and eight, thirteen and fourteen year-olds we were when we met. We are oh so different in a multitude of ways, but there is a bond here–deep love for one another and the kind of comfort that feels like the best version of home.
One could say we believe in the power of together…and hard work and sweat and maybe even tears.
We believe we can run this 5K (and that means, “finish alive,” as one friend said),
About eight years ago, we adopted a four year-old golden Pyrenees, who had been abandoned and looked a lot like a skinny Lab. We quickly found that Glory’s abusive past left her afraid of many things–garage doors in motion, garbage trucks and thunderstorms. The first month we had her, she chewed up Brian’s wallet, a package of Crayola markers and my favorite black boots. She was content sleeping right in the middle of everything or even off in a quiet place by herself. Over time, she got used to us, and we got used to her…and all that fur that required so much vacuuming.
After a while, we thought she might be bored by herself all day, so we began the search for the ideal companion. We finally came across an energetic, Labrador mix, whose ears stuck out permanently and bounced when he walked. The day we adopted this perpetual puppy, he walked right into our house and peed on our couch. Within the next week, we found Journey got carsick on trips, and he couldn’t get away fast enough when something terrifying like a grocery store receipt fell off the counter near him.
Each of them had their quirks, but there was something about them together. It was as if they were fearless; they were different dogs. On walks around the neighborhood, UPS trucks and other loud noises no longer bothered Glory. She’d just keep on walking as if she didn’t hear a thing. Where one of the dogs might shrink back when another larger dog trotted by, now they wagged their tails and barked as if they owned the neighborhood. And at the park, they’d send lazy squirrels scurrying into the safety of their trees, and Glory would look around wondering exactly how they got away so fast. Journey, though, always had his eye on them and would park himself at the bottom of the tree, hoping for their return. Those two, together, they were a pair.
Isn’t this how we are when we are with someone we love–a friend, family member, or even trusting that God is with us? Whoever-it-might-be can bring out the best in us even when we can’t seem to see it on our own. It’s like inching your way to the edge of the high dive and seeing just how far away the water is from where you are. Your knees shake and your heart pounds, but all you want to do is perch at the top where it’s safe and talk yourself into or out of taking the next step.
Then you hear:
I believe in you.
You can do this.
I’m with you.
And you start to believe more and more that just maybe those things are true.
Like Glory, we might be scarred from our past hurts or like Journey, fearful of things that don’t even make sense. But isn’t it true? When we realize we aren’t alone, we are different dogs.
Imagine walking into a cozy house where those inside are waiting just for you. You are welcomed with smiling faces and hugs all around. You’re here! On the table, there are steaming bowls of soup and plates overflowing with warm bread dripping with honey butter. Sounds of laughter and buzzing conversation fill the air.
In this space, there is time and a place for everyone. Time to talk while others eagerly listen and honestly but lovingly respond. There are stories of exciting adventures intertwined with difficult ones, told with tears streaming. Here, it’s okay to let tears fall. This is a place of safety, where no one is perfect but accepted despite flaws that come with being part of humanity.
Time seems to pass without anyone giving a second thought because here there is connection. And that is what we want, what I have always wanted, to connect and absolutely know I matter.
I have always enjoyed cozy gatherings with those I love surrounding me. There is just something about sitting with knees pulled up to chin and shoes off in the midst of deep conversation. It’s like being wrapped up in a warm blanket and engrossed in a book, oblivious to everything around. Whether it is eating with loved ones, playing games, working a puzzle or reading next to someone else reading, I am in my element. Introverts like me love that.
I am drawn to cozy spaces that whisper, Come. Relax. Stay. It’s no wonder, then, I have pictures like this from trips I have taken over the years. Many of them, I settled into for a while. Others, I passed by. feeling I missed out terribly on something precious.
This is what I’d like this space to be. Precious. Read my stories, and share yours if and when you are comfortable. Occasionally, there might be a recipe or quote to share, but mostly, there will be stories of adventure–> life, forgiveness, growth, stories that have a glimmer of hope even in times of pain or desperation. I haven’t always done this well. Things have been tough. Life is a messy adventure, after all, and it’s never too late.
So, here, you matter in the midst of this messy adventure. You are welcome to my table.
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…
~Many thanks for reading. May 2013 bring you love and peace in the midst of the imperfections!
Knowing Brian’s surgery was scheduled wasn’t a huge deal until it was three weeks, then two weeks, then a couple days before it was time. It wasn’t heart or brain surgery, but serious in that he would stay in the hospital and there were multiple what-ifs, and I was the one who was to wait and wait and wait. I was having to wait on my person–to see if my person was going to be okay (and really, the “I don’t want to be a veggie” talk the night before didn’t make for peaceful sleep).
And work has been, well, work. Busy and unbelievable at times. The work of an elementary school counselor is fascinating and never, ever dull. Classroom lessons and meetings might be scheduled, but all that falls to the wayside at a moment’s notice, depending on a parent who walks in and needs to talk now or a student who is worried about something–anything–dear to him. Needless to say, things have been a little hairy lately. Stress does a lot to us, makes us forget things and send repeat emails (I think I told that teacher what I needed to…), and the impending surgery and pumpkin spice lattes (decaf even) didn’t help.
I have said “I just want to stay in bed all day” oh, I don’t know, maybe ten times this month. Weekends are always nice–too short, of course, but busy, anyway. Even when nothing is planned, the thought of really hanging out in bed all day has been laughable. There’s always something that needs doing and why not not now, while there’s time to take care of it. It’s a thought that sticks in my mind and isn’t easily removed like gum on shoes. But, bed calls, and sometimes you just know you need rest in a big way.
So, Brian had his surgery, and I stayed all day at the hospital with him. I went home at nights and slept there, thinking it would be better for both us. The next day in the hospital, he felt like sitting up more and needed something to do. Patting the mattress, he asked me to join him there. Happy and grateful that we were passed that awful place of what if?, sitting together under the blankets in that gray room, and with absolutely nothing else that I could have busied myself with, we watched movies. I had to smile. Those long, anxious weeks before, I would have never guessed that in that place, under those surreal circumstances, I was going to finally be able to stay in bed all day.
1) Yes, I am aware that most of us have driven past someone who is stranded on the road.
2) I don’t know anyone who gives money to everyone on the side of the road asking for it.
3) I do not expect to and know I cannot possibly help everyone I see who is hurting in some way or another, but…
4) I can do MORE to help make this world a better place every, single day.
We’ve spent months hearing the news regarding the Penn State sexual abuse scandal and then the devastating Colorado movie shootings last week. Every day, it seems there are tragedies that remind us that life is short and unpredictable and messier than we thought the previous day.
At the gym the other night, I wondered how many people were there trying to relieve stress. It’s ironic that the day’s headlines were plastered on practically every flat screen TV that spanned the enormous room. It seems even at the gym we can’t escape the negative yuck that is swirling around us. Sometimes, we may even feel like there is nothing good or safe or happy in the world. While we can’t ease everyone’s suffering or snap our fingers to take away pain, all hope is not lost.
My God calls us to love one another. There are big ways and small ways we can do this. Every day, choosing to make more of an effort to show love to people all around us proves that we can make a difference. All is not lost. There is hope. There is good in the world.
However, focusing on others is not always easy for me. I am polite. I smile and chat with strangers, but I am usually lost in my own thoughts, which sadly (but honestly) also usually have to do with me. So, this means slowing down my pace in the grocery store or wherever I happen to be and seeing with fresh, interested eyes all that is happening around me.
I heard someone say that nothing changes unless we do. So, here are some easy ways to spread kindness–randomly or not and potentially change someone’s day:
Write a thank you note for your mail carrier/ garbage collector and leave it in the mailbox or on top of your trash can/ recycling box (no stamp needed)
Buy a box of popsicles and share with those who are working outside on these terribly hot days
Open the door for someone
If you still write checks, scribble a quick thank you 🙂 in the memo section
Help someone load groceries into the car
Cut up some fruit and take it to a neighbor’s house/ apartment (it’s a great way to meet those living around you)
Write a quick note for your coworker, friend, significant other, or kids on a post-it (they’re inexpensive and you have a pretty good guarantee that it will stay where you leave it)
Give a stranger $5 just because
It’s interesting how helping others does something internally for us, as well. Giving someone else a tasty treat can also be a treat for you!
What are some ways you fight negativity and selfishness, in order to bring more love into this world?