Faith · Family · Parenting · Perspective

The Relaxed Invitation

How do you plan your holiday get-togethers?

  • A) Is it a long-standing set date?
  • B) Perhaps, you belong to a clan of planners, carefully comparing notes and schedules long before the weather gets cold and snowy.
  • C) Or maybe you belong to the third group- last minute, throw it together holiday revelers?

My family fits in groups A and B. My dad’s extended side is so large that we’ve established the first Saturday following Christmas to be the set, annual date for celebrating together. My mom and sisters fit into group B. We checked calendars in October to set dates for December.

My husband’s extended family is all-the-way group C. This year, I started the group text. Someone had to do it. There are multiple nurses on this side of the family. Because of this, we try our best to work around their holiday shifts at the hospital and clinic. There are also family members who have about four hours on the road to come back for festivities. A lot of different facets to consider.

After compiling everyone’s dates, I waited for someone to metaphorically shoot their hand in the air to host. …*crickets*…

Being the organized person I am, the next day I sent out a text that read “December 16 – J&J hosting – lunch at 12:30- meatballs, bread, and drinks provided. Please bring a side, snack, or dessert.”

And that’s that.

Maybe it’s the mid-30’s thing hitting where I’m finally starting to feel like an organized adult? Or it could be the realization that no matter what I do, there’s going to be curve balls and kinks.

Reality says that I don’t have to “Wayfair” my whole house into something it isn’t to host Christmas. My text promised a warm place to gather with some food and drinks. The meatballs will be in a crockpot, rolls in a basket, and drinks in a cooler. A buffet of other snackables and food will be provided by the rest of the family. There won’t be any flourishes of extra décor on the veggie plate like I saw being demonstrated on the Today Show this morning. The bathrooms will be clean and the floor swept, but I can’t promise that every single Nerf dart will be picked up.

How did this relaxed revelation happen? For those who know me personally, this has been an area of personal growth. I was thinking about my grandma Mona. My grandparents constantly had our large extended family in and out and in and out and in… almost every single day. Holidays, we descended on their house like a swarm. There are just that many of us. All the furniture was full and people were relaxed on the floor or against a wall visiting and enjoying our time together.

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The only thing grandma Mona seemed to worry about was making sure we washed the dishes after meals. We’d sing songs – always getting in a couple verses of “You Are My Sunshine”- talk and laugh together while we washed, dried, and put away dishes. She provided a warm place for us all to gather with some food and drinks. The rest was up to us as a family.

It was a relaxed invitation.

Our holiday was and still is based on love for God and each other. This strong foundation is why we still gather today. Although our patriarch and matriarch have both passed away, we still enjoy the Christmas holiday as one, quite large family. Differences of opinion are set aside to laugh together and catch up on our ever-extending group.

This season, it is my turn to extend the relaxed invitation to my husband’s side. Come on over – there will be meatballs!

 

 

 

Creativity · Family · Parenting · Perspective

Thursday Thoughts

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.

John Barrymore

This is what writing is to me. It’s happiness. I love to write with paper and pencil. The feel of the pencil gliding over the paper soothes my busy mind. Every two weeks, I try to utilize 30 minutes of early morning devotional time to write. Words flow freely from my mind through my hand. Pieces of my soul marked in my handwriting. My middle of the night insomnia sessions are where my best thoughts flow. Will I ever write that book I’ve been dreaming of authoring since elementary school?

The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.

Antonio Brown

Marriage – When I took my wedding vows, full of excitement and passion, I vowed to love him until death do us part in good and bad. I still do. I’m still promising that. It’s deeper and stronger than I could have ever imagined. What I don’t think either of us realized at that point is that we vowed to love – deeply, strongly, confidently, and with covenant – is that we might not always like each other. It is completely unreasonable to vow to like someone all the time. Sometimes, we don’t even like ourselves. The majority of the time, the real issue is with yourself. Your partner’s job, promise, and covenant is to love you thru that. Those valleys are where you grow. Look up. Valleys only happen between mountains. Start climbing.

Loving a child doesn’t mean giving in to all his whims; to love him is to bring out the best in him, to teach him to love what is difficult. 

Nadia Boulanger

Parenting – “My child is having a hard time. She is not giving me a hard time.” These words were on repeat this morning in my head starting at 4:32am. Our 6yr old woke up and needed to use the bathroom. Sleep did not find her again… and after two hours of cuddling, it was time to get dressed for school. Cue the sobs. Cue the stomps, whines, pointing, and tantrum. Deep breaths. She is not non-verbal. Her biggest character downfall is her inability to use her words to ask for help or admit when she is incorrect. It’s easier to stomp and sob. Going the tough route with her doesn’t help. She is stubborn and has to make the decision herself. When she threw her twisted sweatshirt at my feet, I refused to help her pull the sleeves out until she verbally asked for help. Her father did the same thing when she furiously swung her brush at him instead of just asking him to help her brush her hair. It was a doozy of a morning. 90% of them are nothing like this. I set a timer and told her she needed to have her fit turned off by the time it went off or she was destined for bed immediately when she arrived home with me this evening. Miraculously (tongue-in-cheek) her tantrum was over about 10 seconds before the timer dinged. Hugs all around before she ran out the door to the bus. Then her father and I considered Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s for breakfast… not really, but we both had to take our own frazzled nerves and anxiety down a couple notches before we came to work. Parenting is not for the weak-willed or faint of heart.

“I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” 

Jesse Owens

I’m signed up for a spring 2019 half marathon. I didn’t run one in 2018, although I did take on a hill-filled 10K (actually 6.7miles). Half Marathon Number Five. I ran my first 13.1mi organized race a couple of months before my MS diagnosis. Now I need a goal to get my consistency back. After swearing I wouldn’t run another unless I was trained well enough to knock 10 minutes off my previous finish time, my focus has shifted. Many months of just drifting along… I’m ready to get back in the current and head for something. What it is, I’m not sure. The steady beat of my feet and breathing in and out assist my brain in sorting thoughts. We shall see… we shall see.

As you attempt to make big differences, remember to appreciate the small differences.  And remember that you don’t always have to reach the goal you set in order to make a difference.

Win Borden

Be kind today friends. Find a way to lift someone else up. Even if you are dwelling in the valley right now, reach up and out. Be gracious.

Wear the fancy dress. Tell the joke and laugh at it. Do that cannon ball into the pool. Dance in your kitchen. 


Much love — Jen

Faith · Perspective

Comfort Zone

Tonight I led our women’s Bible study. It was an impromptu step-in. Come to think of it, both roles I helped with Sunday were also spontaneous.

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Could these situations be a lesson for me? Our adult Sunday school lesson was from the Old Testament. The message focused in on obedience and stepping out of our comfort zones to go where we are being led or called to.

Ya’ll… I am an introvert. I struggle to leave my bubble. Spontaneity is not usually my jam.

Besides that, I’ve always viewed people who lead in the church to be willing and able to throw all their personal stuff out on the public table- and own it with grace. Putting my personal baggage (of which there are heaps) out in the air makes me anxious.

Following close behind the anxiety is a solid couple hours of second guessing my choice of words. Then worrying that I might have said too much or omitted something important sets in.

The past two days of spontaneous ministry… whew! What words to describe? Uplifting. Honest. Humbling. Spirit led. The grace extended to me by the adult Sunday school class, children’s church group, and women’s study was above and beyond what I could have hoped for.

None of this ministry was about me. I am just a tool. It’s all about a relationship with God.

Officially out of my comfort zone.

Faith · Family · Parenting · Perspective

Part 3: The Flaming Yam

I am gloriously human. I heard that phrase at the women’s faith conference I attended. To be gloriously human, you must accept both the high points and the low.

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Being uniquely knit together by God makes you glorious- even if you don’t think so. You are made for something amazing. Maybe you haven’t found it yet or pieced together that puzzle , but there is a purpose for your existence.

The human part is where the lows come in. We are so fallible. Making mistakes a fair amount of the time. Honestly? That’s ok. There’s this thing called grace. It’s hard to comprehend, but it’s part of the puzzle too.

With that in mind, here is a glimpse of my day of the flaming yam…. a day when an incredible amount of grace and humility and humor was necessary…

  1. Spilled glass of red juice in light grey couch while doing early morning devotions. Stain stick and steam cleaned couch before the sun rose.
  2. Daughter cried for 10 minutes about getting out of bed (day3 of school. This bodes well for the year…)
  3. Found spelling homework in child’s backpack 10 minutes before bus.
  4. Filling in my tooth at dentist. I just LOVE the dentist. (Feel the sarcasm?) I ate my pre-packed salad for lunch with half numb upper jaw. Note to self- next time pack soup.
  5. Worked all day with exception to dentist appt.
  6. Child #1 got off bus and melted down about reading homework. Metaphoric nuclear meltdown on the office floor.
  7. Rushed to make dinner after work because family was LOSING it (American slang of ‘hangry’ fits this) Grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, and baked potatoes
  8. And the finale- while trying to appease everyone’s personal tastes, I caught a sweet potato ON FIRE in the microwave. Not just a smolder, full on flames and smoke.
  9. Apparently there is science to this- lower moisture content and higher sugar plus high heat equals carbonized sugar. Sizzle, smoke, fully engulfed in flames…
  10. I know we have a working, charged fire extinguisher in the kitchen, but I can’t find it!
  11. When running the flaming yam pinched in a set of metal tongs out the door to toss in a puddle (it rained that day), I forgot about the grilled cheeses on the hot griddle. Those were also burning when I returned to the kitchen.
  12. After the smoke cleared – literally- I threw in the towel. Eat up people.
  13. I’m called it a night. I didn’t even eat.

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That was an actual day in my life. I accept that I am gloriously human. I accept that this day was humbling and ludicrous. It was also humorous. Days like this will drive you to drink if you don’t have a sense of humor.

Lessons of this day: Stay humble. Rejoice in being gloriously human. Keep your sense of humor.

Faith · Perspective

Faith

Faith: Part 2 – Fatigue, Faith and a Flaming Yam

Growth is hard.

In my previous installment “Fatigue,” I wrote about how much fatigue slowed me down this summer. It basically ground the month of August to a halt in terms of activity for me. During this time period, I was also struggling with my faith. Not actually doubting that there is a God – I see and feel so many actual points of proof for His existence – but rather feeling alone.

Yesterday, I taught children’s church. This takes place during our normal Sunday service for 30 minutes and is open to kids ages 2-up. In a completely disorganized fashion, I hadn’t planned anything as of 9:50am. Church starts at 10am. As I dashed into the bathroom to apply mascara, I saw my children’s rubber bath tub spout cover. It’s a whale. On the way out the door, I grabbed a flashlight, the whale spout cover (story props), and my Bible.

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You guessed it. I taught a lesson about Jonah and the whale. The story is found in the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. Basically, Jonah knows what he should do. He’s been told what to do. He just doesn’t want to do it and heads the other way on a boat. God stirs up a huge tempest. Jonah admits he is disobeying God. The crew of the boat asks God for forgiveness for throwing Jonah over and then launches him off the side. The storm calms. The crew has a new-found faith in God. (He uses ALL things for His good.) Jonah is swallowed by a huge fish and survives IN THE DARKNESS and with PRAISE for three days and three nights before being deposited on the shore.

There’s a lot to take from this portion of the passage. This entry won’t touch a fraction of it.

Jonah and I have quite a bit in common here.

Growth is hard.

In August, I attended a women’s faith conference: “Boost! Bloom Where You Are Planted.” I donated an entrance fee essentially to cry the whole day. Tears streamed down my face during the fantastic speakers. Tears hit the floor during guided prayer. Tears salted my cheeks during the praise songs. It was a complete TURNING POINT.

I’d spent the summer keeping myself so busy that I was that ship headed in the opposite direction. I was blown about, cargo being thrown overboard to keep afloat, ignoring those peaceful words that I could only hear when I’d slow down: Be Still.

This seems to be a recurring message for me. I get all wound up with the happenings surrounding me and shirk my devotions, praises, and generally start disliking everything around me. My fuse gets short. Patience lacks. I want to be alone. My cup is empty.

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Here’s where the growth happened- light bulb moment: I’m not supposed to fill my cup. The Holy Spirit does that… unless I’m too busy holding my hand over the top of the cup.

I took my hand off the top of the cup. How? By being still. I am a volunteer by nature. I WANT to help. Saying “No” doesn’t come easy. Truthfully, it usually comes with a *sigh* and a couple of drafts of thoughtfully composed words before I can hit send on the email or text. There’s guilt in the those two little letters: N-O.

By stepping back from some activities, I can honestly say we’ve found joy, patience, and peace again at our house. I’m back to reading my devotions most mornings. The waters have started to calm.

Sometimes God isn’t asking you to do more, He is telling you to do less. He is asking you to re-focus like a good, loving, and caring Father does.

Back to Jonah – His story isn’t over after the boat ride and the fish. He made both good choices and bad after that. Although I’m hopeful I’ll only make good decisions, I’m human. Gloriously human. Thank goodness for grace and mercy!

Perspective

Fatigue, Faith, and a Flaming Yam- Pt 1

Goodness. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written. The title of this blog post sums up the month of August fairly well. I’m breaking this down into 3 parts simply because I need to get my kids up and dressed for church. #reallife

Fatigue has been a real bear this past month. A culmination of everything “make sure the kids have a fabulous summer” and then tack on a bacterial illness and two weeks of high dose antibiotics. Ugh. My body was DONE.

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My kids got my phone and caught me resting.

I NEVER put the blame for anything with my body on MS, but had to concede on this one. I couldn’t function or fight thru the fog to think straight. I had to change my thought process from blaming MS and those flipping lesions to accepting that this is a reason.

When I associate an image with the word Blame, it looks like a kid having a tantrum. I won’t allow this situation to lower me to that.  Honestly, in the depths of the fatigue I didn’t have the energy for a tantrum. My kids, husband and work all still require attention. This body still has responsibilities.

After a solid heart to heart with my sister and a day at a women’s faith conference, I admitted that the elephant in the room is this autoimmune disease. Even though I refuse to use it as an excuse, an excuse is very different than a reason. Many factors led to my body being worn out. Multiple sclerosis is the reason for this level of fatigue.

I’m happy to say that a week later, I’m starting to feel like myself again. I’ve hit the stationary bike twice, elliptical once, and ran my outdoor route twice. All modes of transportation are much slower than when I’m at my top. Exercise sharpens my mind and improves my mood.

I’m listening to my body.

Part 2: Faith

Faith · Family · Love · Parenting · Perspective

Tempo

Life here is slowly returning to a more normal pace. Lentando.

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Photo by Pixabay

The kids and I fell asleep on our couch last night. We read Llama Llama Red Pajama. That Llama sounds an awful lot like my 6yr old.

We prayed together. Each of us took turns praising for something we are thankful for and praying for someone who might be sick, sad, hungry or mad. May our eyes be opened and our hands ready to humbly serve those around us.

I woke an hour later and carried my children to their beds. I’m still able to lug my 75 pounder, but I’m not sure how much longer. I’ve got him by about 60 pounds and 12 inches. He’ll outgrow me in the coming 5 years.

Two hours later my husband walked in, finally home from a work trip. Sleepily I told him how nice it was to have him home. I don’t communicate exceptionally well at midnight.

Today will bring about the hustle and bustle of shuttling between swim lessons, basketball camp, a trip to the dentist and work responsibilities. Even this isn’t consistent with our lives 6 weeks ago, but we are getting closer.

Our cadence is slowing from affrettando. Too vigorous. Too chaotic. Like that flurry in the middle of a song, we are over the peak of summer.

We are falling into a new, more comfortable rhythm.