On Openness and Seeing Jesus

There was once a little chestnut pony named Openness and a tall, dark horse they called horseSeeing Jesus. One hot day, while roosters crowed across the way and a black and white cat chased a dragonfly, a woman led the horse and the pony around sections of the dusty arena. Each section was marked by a scattered pile of colorful fabric scraps and symbolized something important: one for strengths, another for weaknesses and one for opportunities.

As the little pony and the tall horse walked, their behavior seemed to change from one place to another. “Ta-da,” she said, arms stretched out, as they looked on at all that lay there, her mound of strengths: compassion, warmth, ability to listen among others, and it seemed the pony and the horse were in agreement.

But as she led them to the heap of weaknesses, she noticed Seeing Jesus took a longer path, turning in a circle before making his way there. Openness stood still, breathing it all in: lack of time, insecurity and loneliness, to name a few, but Seeing Jesus only gazed past the pile and patiently waited to move onto the next. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of the one who led her, the tall, dark horse stood, a strong presence.

The woman moved on to the scattered pile of opportunities (she usually called them problems) and again was slowed down as Seeing Jesus took a longer, winding path. Why is she doing this again? she mused, a little annoyed to tell the truth. And it was there, Openness, the little chestnut pony, shifted from patient to uncomfortable, hooves pawing the earth and head bobbing up and down. As Seeing Jesus stood by, Openness opened his mouth and bit the horse, agitated and ready to move. Still, the tall, dark horse was steady, waiting.

After a while, she led the little chestnut pony and the tall, dark horse to the center of the dusty arena in the midst of the colorful fabric piles. There, Openness nudged up against Seeing Jesus. Where there was agitation minutes before, the little pony and the tall dark horse stood side by side.

While the black and white cat lazily rolled in the dirt, and the roosters squawked past the old oak tree, she thought.

Oftentimes, when she felt out of her comfortable place and irritable, she was more than ready to move to the next thing. Staying with it was hard, she felt afraid, and she couldn’t see anything else, but all the while Jesus was right there, steady and waiting.

Where she spent much of her time mulling over her weaknesses, it would do her good to somehow acknowledge them, keep looking forward and maybe even consider them opportunities. It was just fine if she took the longer route, her own path, and reflected along the way. And with that pile of opportunities: the one who yelled at her in line yesterday, the bills, work, misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations of herself (it was a quite a heap), well, she smiled and thought,

Sometimes it seems impossible, but it takes time and openness to see Jesus.

On Marriage: I Wish I Had Known

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

    *author unknown

Where Are the Birds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I also felt a little relieved.

Heard.

Maybe even understood.

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

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

 

Gifts of Words

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

Gifts of words.

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

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

 

Making Space Takes Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Miracle in a Teeny Tiny Package

Here’s a God-turning-bad-into-good story because I think we need some positives these days!

My younger sister was expecting a baby near the end of June. She was in a minor wreck a couple weeks ago, drove away with only damage to her car but felt fine. Thinking she should check in with her OB, she called and let her know what happened. Her OB fussed at her, saying she must go to the emergency room ASAP, and so she went.

Thank God she did because her liver enzymes had been fluctuating at very high then very low levels, and her blood pressure was high. The next afternoon, she was diagnosed with Preeclampsia and then borderline HELLP syndrome, which is scary-dangerous for momma and baby. Late that night, the doctor performed an emergency c-section, and all are doing better than expected.

My three pound niece is spending the first weeks of her life in the NICU, but she is alive and so is her mom. As you can guess, we are thanking Jesus for his protection and for things like fender benders these days.

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Happy WOMEN’s Day!

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.

photo(10)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)!

Waiting For the Light

photo(9)There were violent storms in much of the southeastern U.S. this week. Forecasts here predicted hail, strong winds, possible tornadoes and heavy rain up to five inches. All of this happened (and more) in some states with terrible destruction. People’s lives are torn apart by wild weather, and just like that, everything is different.

But here, what everyone geared up for ended up being plain old rain mixed with a few thunderstorms for a couple nights. The days were tricky though, since it looked as if things were right on track for the dangers that were predicted. But in the early morning hours, the light broke through the dark clouds, and the sun finally returned.

Maybe we’re waiting on news about a loved one in the hospital, a job situation, a dream to finally come true, a diagnosis or something else. We worry about what it will be like afterward, even 24 hours from getting the answer, from the knowing. We hear others’ stories and see pictures of horrible destruction and sadness and expect this will also be our fate. We believe this, too, will be happening right where we are. After all, that’s what the experts say, and they know. That’s why they’re experts, right?

Brightly-colored weather maps show the exact minute when the storm will come. So we wait and watch, expecting the worst (which comes occasionally). At other times, the maps show calmer colors that once screamed alarm. Sometimes patterns and storm paths change unexpectedly, and experts can be wrong.

So, we can choose denial or accept the forecast. Sometimes it might be with fear, worry and anger. We can cry and think, Why me? We might even respond by crawling into our safe spot for a while and passively wishing for it all to pass.

All of this is okay…and then.

And then, with courage we can read and listen to the stories of those who have weathered the storms and emerged with scars but stronger somehow. We can learn and trust God in his all-knowingness and take a step forward. It’s never easy. It’s always painful, it seems, but we just might see the light eventually break through in ways we’d never expect.

 

 

God, Humor and Organic Jasmine Rice?

Do you think God has a sense of humor?

Sometimes I pray over and over and over again about something. And then, the 17th time right in the middle of a lot of explaining, the answer pops into my mind–mid-sentence. Just like that. I imagine God hanging out in the same room with a smile on his face, thinking, “You know, Jen, you told me these things three months ago, again last week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so stop…before you use all those words before 6:00 A.M. Here’s your answer.”

If this happens, which isn’t often by the way, I stop talking and can’t help but smile and say in a surprised voice (because this is always shocking to me), “Okay. Um…thanks.” And I stop and ponder the what-just-happened-here of this, and then I keep the rest of my words for later use, since it’s early still in the day.

These rare times remind me of many conversations Brian and I have had or heard about the huge number of words women tend to use versus men on the same topic. Maybe God is a man being of few words?

Listen. I am not saying he doesn’t want to hear us or respond. Instead, I believe he hopes we’ll continue pursuing and expecting answers from him. Sometimes, it feels like he’s playing hide and seek with us, quiet and far, far away.

It’s this– the waiting is usually long and hard and many times, wildly frustrating.

Usually.

And maybe God isn’t always so serious. Maybe he gets a kick out of being different than we expect and surprising us with his beautiful whimsy.

For example, things around here have been heavy and emotional. There’s just a lot going on these days. So, I prayed I could release and receive. You know, release control of everything I keep doing that gets in the way of peace and then, in turn, receive the good that comes from letting go and trusting that he’s got it all.

And then, I dropped my phone into the toilet, and well…let’s just say it was a shitty time (a time of…release?).

Really?!

All I could do was laugh and stare uncomfortably. I had no choice, I guess. So, I fished it out, decided to wash it with soap and water, and wiped it down with peroxide before putting it into a bag of organic jasmine rice for the next 36-48 hours. And you know what? I’ve giggled about this forced disconnection…releasing what’s been competing for my attention and receiving the gift of time (away from my phone), peace and quiet.

Does God have a sense of humor? Oh, yes.

I think so.

photo(7)Happy Easter, everyone! We are loved more than we can imagine.

~Jen