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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A New Adventure For Old Friends

She believed she could, so she did~Author unknown

Oh, about 19 years ago
Oh, about 19 years ago

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 4941_1157640668117_6618931_nand 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.

IMG_3870We believe we can run this 5K (and that means, “finish alive,” as one friend said),

and. so. we. will.

 

 

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Update:

Finished!
Finished!

The Power Of Together

tiredbears
Glory

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.

smilingjourney
Journey

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.

snowbuddies
Snow Buddies

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.

pupsofthestairs
Pups of the Stairs

Cutting Back and Clearing Out

Behind the fence that encloses our backyard is a bit of forgotten forest-looking land that also happens to be our property. When we moved here, we worked for days to try to clear some of the vines that had not been touched for who knows how long. It was an exhausting job those days, and through the years we deemed it pointless to keep working on it. What was removed always seemed to come back with a vengeance.

A neighbor recently shared that this is a Wisteria invasion, and it is killing our trees. Wisteria is the sneakiest of sneaks. Really. In the spring there are pretty purple blooms that smell wonderful. But then velvety green pods pop open, tossing the poisonous seeds everywhere (last year we could literally hear the tap-tap-tapping as they fell onto our roof, our back door and our tiny patio. The noise drove our dogs crazy. They’d go to the window and look around, ears perked up on high-alert, but they never found the culprit.

The sneaky, climbing Wisteria vines grow and spread quickly, wrapping around anything and everything stationary in its path. Before long, the vines grow fat and squeeze the life out of trees, I guess, a lot like a boa constrictor does its work. Several smaller trees have actually fallen over because of it, and some of the tallest ones look as if they are leaning over but are actually being held up by the vines.

To get rid of Wisteria, you have to cut as closely to the ground as possible and practice maintaining it for years or the entire growth process begins again.

This made me think about those seemingly positive things we do that eventually make us feel trapped in one place with the life squeezed out of us. Are we living purposeful lives that we love or sacrificing ourselves to make everyone else happy?

Working in a helping profession, I strive to take care of me every, single day. A lot of times, I feel like I am less than stellar at it–I don’t work out as much I as should, I don’t keep my house as clean as I’d like, I can’t get to bed on time, blah-dee, blah, blah, blah.

However, I AM starting my day everyday thanking God for all He’s blessed me with and doing in my life. And that makes all the difference. This is my daily maintenance. Whether or not I mark off all the bullets on my to-do list, this time helps me to stay focused on the truly important things. I notice more peace and less of a desire to control everything and everyone around me.

And the Wisteria? Well, the work began over the weekend, and it just might take (what feels like) a lifetime of cutting back and clearing out to make room for new growth.

Like Oil and Water

But I don’t want to jump into something new!

Funny (or irritating really), this pattern I have noticed. It has become fact that when I post something, my words slap me in the face the next day or few days or over the past week. It stings a little and sometimes a lot, mostly because I feel like I have figured out some things.

For example, I called my last post Nothing Changes Unless We Do, so naturally, most of last week I wanted to rant and complain…about the change that was coming, ready or not.

I love my job working with children and parents and teachers. Like any job, there are good and tough days. For me, I am blessed that the good widely outnumber the bad.

However.

This summer has been amazing (as summers usually are). I have relished time for me, time to sleep, time to write, time to travel, time for friends to visit, etc., etc., etc. Over a week ago, I went back to work–to school in July.  I know, I know, all of you who read this and work year round have no sympathy, and I get it. Just try to understand.

I DO NOT like change.

Change and I just don’t go together like oil and water. Last week, I turned into a whiny, teary, dramatic weirdo. I was exhausted and felt annoyed, oh, about just everything. You know, it was like wearing a tight, itchy sweater with sleeves that are too short.

In less than a week, I felt overloaded by things I routinely would have done and haven’t (including a blog post) or all I hoped to do and still haven’t (blog post done!). Suddenly I felt like I was complaining constantly and worrying– tightening my grip around all I could. I must have apologized to Brian at least 10 times…and then turned around and had to do it all over again.

So, over the weekend, I realized again (as I do every time I go through this) that awareness is part of the process. Just recognizing that I need to be open to the change rather than fearing it is important. Then, opening my mind and heart, loosening my grip on everything, and asking God for peace and strength and direction make a world of difference. After all, the dread over the coming change is ridiculously inflated in relation to the actual event.

Yesterday was the first day of school for our students, and I loved seeing the smiling faces I realize I’ve missed over June and most of July.

I think I’ll go back tomorrow.

Nothing Changes Unless We Do

Based on a recent phone call, I am aware that my last post on seeing all people as precious brought up some stuff. So, here’s my response:

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
  • Smile

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?

*Image from Google

Having a Place To Go Is a Home

My older brother and I were usually with my dad and stepmom for the 4th of July. There was just something about watching the fireworks from the roof deck of their apartment and then making the mad dash down the seven flights of stairs to beat the rush to Friendly’s for ice cream sundaes.

If we were back at home (with our other parents) for the holiday, we loaded up the car with watermelon and other yumminess after cooking out in the summer heat. We always found a fireworks show and ooh-ed and ahh-ed with everyone else, before sitting in a very long line of cars, all trying to make it home. Still, I love watching fireworks.

After reading my friend Joy’s post this morning, I was reminded of those days of splitting holidays with both families, something that became a part of me–so much that it still feels like something is off if I don’t travel for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

It’s ironic then, that the past two weeks held travels to two homes to see family, which included both sets of parents. One house, I haven’t even seen in almost ten years and wondered how I would feel once there. The other, well, I never lived there, but it is special just the same.

Last night, after some time of catching up, plenty of food and hugs for the road, the car was loaded and the journey home began. There’s something about being alone for a couple of hours. My mind wanders….

There is a framed card on my fireplace mantle that I bought years ago when I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. The picture is of a dilapidated blue truck with a family’s belongings piled on top. Even with the absence of excess packed in boxes marked kitchen or bathroom, there is happiness. How do I know? Well, the people inside–the ones crammed inside the truck are smiling

The caption says: Having a place to go — is a home.  Having someone to love — is a family.

I am thankful that during those childhood days of the drives and flights back and forth from one set of parents to another I had a place to go. I had two places to go, even though things were not perfect in lots of ways. With two families, I have lots of people to love.

I am also grateful for the ways they love others.

I am amazed by my older brother’s love and strength and humility when it comes to his adopted daughter. His selflessness shines through by just being there for her and loving her and trying to help her navigate her teenage years. He also has been a source of support for my other brother who, well, just needs more support than anyone of us really know.

Then, there is my sister, who has cared for our mom after surgery. She has a huge heart and will get up in the middle of the night to help someone even is she is sick herself or has to work the next day.

For quite a while, my dad and stepmother were the primary caregivers for my aunt, who could no longer care for herself. I doubt this was part of their retirement dreams way back when, but they stepped in and did it anyway.

No one can prepare for any of the tough stuff that happens. It’s just what life hands us. During difficult situations, we find out what we are made of; don’t we?

When everything about life is unpredictable, I know to the depths of my soul how much I am loved.

After driving for several hours through lightning and driving rain, I made it back to my own home sweet home. I am thankful for my own place to go.

An Adventure of My Own

The purpose of life it to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I love this quote, and have had it posted on my refrigerator in one apartment and three different houses as we’ve relocated from place to place over the past decade. Why? Well, it’s a reminder to live something new and wonderful every, single day. I’d love to say that I’m an expert at that, but there are plenty of times I have gotten up, gone to work and gone back home without doing anything spectacular. I’d love to say I’ve visited lots of remote places and eaten turtle blood soup with people of little known cultures. Yep…right after I climbed Mt. Everest and ran a marathon (or even two miles). I used to think I had to do those things to expand my life, and believe me, I’d LOVE to (minus the turtle blood soup), but I’ve come to see that life is an experience if we just experience it, which also requires jumping in and getting started.

It’s surprising that these are a glimpse of a few of my meaningful adventures: the time my older brother and I were kids and wanted to share the experience of riding together down the big hill by our house. We connected ourselves by about six feet of string–one end tied to my index finger and the other end tied to his.  Naturally, the ride began at the top of the hill, he on his skateboard and I on my bike. Well, that was so meaningful, we somehow coordinated running to our house, screaming as our fingers turned blood-red by the tightened string. It ended horribly, but it’s something we can laugh about today (and we both still have all 10 digits). There was also the time I was going to win the fifth grade girls’ 50 yard dash on field day. I won the blue ribbon the previous year for my class and was ready to reclaim my prize until my foot got “tangled” (as she remembers) with my best friend’s, and I fell on my face, a dusty pile of sweat and tears. Something else? In 7th grade, I was on the homecoming court. “No one has messed this up; don’t be the first” was what we were told after being given the directions on how to walk in and stop to have our picture taken. I’m not quite sure what happened, but my picture with my embarrassed date is probably the only one in school history that is different than all the others. On an adventure quest, I climbed to the top of a 50-foot high telephone pole and jumped for the trapeze that seemed like a mile away. I missed it and climbed right back to the top. I never reached that stupid trapeze, but the best part of that story was that I tried again.   

So, clearly, some of these experiences didn’t go so well and others had happy endings… if I change my perspective a bit. I learned that all of these things are a part of who I am. Still today, I can laugh about a lot and throw out a “remember the time when…?” Sharing the journey with others sweetens my existence and my relationships. That’s why I am choosing to continue my own kind of adventure and jump into this blogging thing without rules or promises of any kind. I am learning that the best way to get started is to just. get. started (and thank you, Cheryl, for putting me on a deadline :)).