March 27, 2015

In sickness and in health.....

My wedding day, though nearly nine years ago, is still a vivid memory in my mind.  Soft, yellow sunflowers, love song melodies, a reading from Ecclesiastes, my dad's shaky arms as he walked me down the aisle, my Grandfather's tears.  But what I remember most is the look on my husband's face when we spoke our vows that day.  Those old, well-worn words - I could tell he meant them.  He was serious about what he was promising me that day.

For better or for worse.
For richer or for poorer.
In sickness and in health.
Forsaking all others.
Til death do us part.

Those words are so romantic and so real.  We opted for traditional vows rather than writing our own because I felt like those are the biggest promises - to be there.  To stay in even when the going gets rough.  To keep choosing the other person even if life is trying to offer you different choices.  When money doesn't flow like it used to or things feel awful or just mundane and you find yourself asking questions like "Are we really going to last?"  Or when you get sick and your body is broken and you have to lean on the other for tangible, physical support - nothing takes sexy and flirty out of a marriage like sickness.

My RA pain has been awful.  The mornings are the worst and starting my day usually begins with many challenges because my hands don't work and my knees and ankles feel like someone glued them with cement overnight.  And I get emotional on top of my inability to move correctly.  I'm frustrated with not being able to get my body going the way I'm wanting it to.

Every morning, Todd helps me put on my bra as my fingers aren't nimble enough for the small clips.  (TMI, but this is my reality).  On the really bad days, he helps me with my pants or blouse or shoes.  And every time he does these things I cry, and he will just hold me and tell me he's sorry.  I read sorrow in his face, knowing he would carry my pain for me if it were possible.

My tears come from this place of deep emotion where I am angry that I cannot do these things for myself.  I'm angry at myself, at my story, at my past.  Physical pain has a way of bringing to surface things that have been safely stored in the heart.  But the tears are more than anger too.  I feel deeply loved by this man in all of my misery and neediness.  He helps me with such care and gentleness and when I call myself useless or good-for-nothing or that I'm nothing but a burden to him because I can't get on my knees and give our son a bath or because I've had to ask him to clean our shower - he reminds me that he is here for all of this.  This is what he vowed, what he promised, and he meant it.

The same face he looked at me with when we spoke our vows, is the same face he gives me when he reminds me of what is true.

It seems that marriage is always full of give and take.  There is this constant ebb and flow where one has more to offer when the other is down for the count.  And maybe that's how it is supposed to be.  Lifting the other up when they can't do it for themselves.  Right now, it's his turn to hold me for a little while.  And this man I love....he does a really, really good job at holding true to his promises.

Even with all the pain, I am one very blessed, very loved and very cared for bride.

March 19, 2015

"I'm eatin' a sandwich"

The highlight of every week for me has to be Wednesday nights.  I spend them at church with teenagers for youth group where we play games and hang out and talk and fellowship together.  There is something about being up close and personal with these young women especially that feels like a necessary part of ministry and living for me.  It both fills and empties me and every conversation or embrace or inside joke we share, (I'm eatin' a sandwich) is as if I'm going back in time and loving on my teenage self.  And she desperately needed loving on.


Much like my five year old, teenagers have many questions that I simply can't answer for them.  Because at this point, they are old enough and mature enough to ask the big questions that even I am still figuring out and struggling through.  Because our faith is always something to be worked out.  I pray regularly that God would speak through me and use His words.  Because I am human and I never say all the right things and I know the power and weight that words can have for a young woman.  I want my words to be His words.

Often times, I find myself in this sacred space where they have offered me their hearts and I land somewhere between friend, youth leader, mother and used-to-be-teenager in my responses.  It almost feels like holy ground to sit in these places, as while I am offering hope to someone else, there is a measure of healing occurring in my own heart.


Back in January, I got to spend an entire weekend with my precious teen girls on our annual youth winter retreat.  I love, love, love the retreats.  Probably because I get more than two hours with them and instead get this up close and personal time of connection for almost three whole days.  They see what I look like without makeup and encounter me before my morning coffee.  And if you are a female, we all know that there is something about the vulnerability of being in your pajamas with people you don't know well, that instantly bonds you together.

The retreats seem to be the place where I get invited in to know more of who they are, what they're dreaming and fearing and questioning. 

And we may or may not sneak out of the cabin after curfew and have a middle of the night adventure together.  Though if that were true, what kind of youth leader would I be if I encouraged rule-breaking? 

But whether we are in pajamas, or it's 3am, or quiet moments by the river or at a picnic table, relationships are built and solidified.  Where they can see that I'm not simply their youth leader, but their friend.  And I care truly, deeply and sincerely about what is going on in their lives and hearts.  

I would propose that every teenager needs a grown-up friend.  And every grown-up needs a teenager friend.  My life and my heart would be significantly less.

One of my girls asked me that weekend, "So, am I like a person to you yet?  Do you see me for me, or do you see me as the younger sister of who used to be in your group?"

And I hoped my words reached out and hugged her as she heard them.  I told her she was SO a person to me.  And that I so dearly enjoy her for her.  She's not just someone's sister, she's precious to me.

She smiled back at me when I said all of that.  And I think she believed that I meant every word.

March 12, 2015

The time I got rejected by Jen Hatmaker

I really have to blame my friend Ariana for all of this.  You see, I was only a semi-Jen Hatmaker fan until Ariana kept telling me all the funny things she would say and I was feeling left out of something because I never knew what she was talking about.  And before I knew it, I was following Jen on Instagram and Facebook and her blog and reading all her books.

Except for 7.  I won't read 7.  If you saw my closet you would understand.  I don't need that kind of conviction in my life.

But, I have read all the things.  And I watched all of her episodes on HGTV when they renovated their farmhouse in Buda.  Like three times.  I may or may not have attempted a drive-by of said house.  But, I mean probably not, because that would be totally stalkerish and come now, I'm a grown up.

But I'm a total Jen Hatmaker-ite.  Hatmaker-ian?  We need to call ourselves a thing, ya'll. 

One of the highlights of my 2014 was getting to hear Jen speak in real live person at Oakwood Baptist in New Braunfels.  At this conference, I laughed and I cried and I was terribly convicted about loving my neighbor and the whole thing was amazing.  And then I totally met her.  She signed by my book.  And we got a group picture and I accidentally touched her butt.  Ariana got to stand right next to her like they were BFF's and I was a little (meant to be read ALOT) jealous about that.  But I got a picture with just the two of us later and it kind of made my year.

 
So, naturally, when she announced that she was putting together a launch team for her new book For the Love, and then asked us to help her with it and endorse it and like put the word out, and even WRITE SOMETHING TO PUT INSIDE THE FOR-REAL BOOK, I was like, um, yes please!  Two of my friends immediately alerted me to this development (Ariana being one of them) and I totally pulled off to the side of the road to submit my application.  Ya'll, I didn't want to miss this small window of opportunity to be a part of the launch team.

And safety first too.
I could be a part of the launch team, and be the launchierest launcher that ever launched anything!

But my mind was spiraling out of control instantly because O-M-G, what if Jen Hatmaker found my blog? I was thinking I would either instantly have a book deal or want to hide under a rock for the rest of my life and never blog again because sometimes I can write like a 5th grader and I would be insanely embarrassed for her to read my life stuff here.  Either way, I was optimistic about being chosen as part of the team - because hello, have we met?

I am totally awesome and very funny and the life of the party type.  And also we share the same name even though I'm a two n-er as Jenn and she's a one n-er.  Also, I thought I would be chosen because I thought we were best friends (a detail I included on my application) but it seems to be that everyone who follows Jen thinks they're best friends with her too?  I don't understand how this can be, but whatevs.  I guess I can share my best friend.

Anyway, as I was thinking about my potential book deal and times that I would soon be spending with Jen over coffee at her digs, the email came.

The sad rejecty one.  There was weeping and gnashing of teeth, and I laid prostrate on my living room floor in despair.  Well, not really.  But ya'll, I was kinda sad.

But her little note was so kind and funny and heartfelt that it was hard to get to upset about it.  Plus, I got a little sneak peek at her new book so nanny-nanny-boo-boo to the rest of you.

I will probably throw a For the Love party when her books comes out and launch the heck out of it and show her what's up ayway because best friends just don't turn their backs on each other. As for Ariana, she owes me for putting me through all of this emotional torment to begin with.  (You know I love you!!)

Jen - I pulled off the side of the road for you.  I've touched your backside.  I sort of know where you live (though maybe I shouldn't include that detail).  We share the same affinity for huge earrings and laughing loudly.  Is this because I won't read 7?  I totally still love you though, and wish you and your book the very bestest.  

Best friends forevs!

Love,
Jenn

March 9, 2015

Learning


I’ve been learning.
Like how friendships continue to change – even the ones you think never will.  That some friendships aren’t meant to be, others are for a season, some can start anew and others are meant to last a lifetime because God wrote them into your story with a permanent marker.

That God is someone I want to say yes to – even if it takes me a while to come around.  That He asks me to follow Him places that make no sense.  And that He is faithful to give us exactly what we need even if I don’t like how He goes about it.
I’ve been learning.
That my faith is something I need to fight for.  Because when pushed to my limit of pain and hardship and loss and frustration, I still blame Him for all of it.  And my faith, though stronger, is still built on my circumstances. But it’s okay.  Because I don’t need to have arrived at anything and my faith is about God and not about me.

How His grace really is sufficient for me.  And I am supposed to be weak so He can be strong.

That I can't negotiate with Him.  Because He's God.  

And I will never be Paul, because I am supposed to be Jenn.

I've been learning.

I can reign in my feelings and emotions when needed.  That I can be in control over those things instead of the other way around. 

I can do hard things.  Really, really hard things.  I can live through them, and struggle through them and come out on the other side and tell about them.

I can live with less and be content - less food, less clothes, less things, less everything. 

I can be disciplined and finish something I’ve started without giving up.

I’ve been learning.

That I have a lot to learn about being a good friend.  That I write people off easily and put distance between myself and people on purpose.  And how most of that isn’t about kindness.  It’s about pride and selfishness.

That I pick fights with my husband when I’m feeling disconnected from him rather than inviting him to intimacy. 
 I’ve been learning.

Like how much I enjoy being a boy mom more than I ever thought I would.  That I don't have much patience and I have to apologize all the time.  And sadly, that I simply can't really get of "that smell" in their bathroom. 

How much getting out of debt sucks.  But that having someone hold us accountable is the best thing we ever did for ourselves financially.

That I am so tired I am of being a bookkeeper.  I crave something else, something more, something different.  Yet, I’m scared of risk and change.

I’ve been learning.

Like when it comes to writing, some things or events or people can’t be written about in the moment. Some things are too sacred, too special that the heart must hold on to those things for awhile before it’s ready to let them out and on to paper.

How much I am tired of hating my body.  That I nourish my heart and soul well but have complete disregard for my physical well-being.  And how much that needs to change.

That I desperately crave change.

That loss and death still invite me to go to old ways of coping and dealing and it’s up to me to decide whether or not it’s an invitation I want to accept.

I’ve been learning.

Like coffee in the middle of the day is always a good idea. 

And I’m not myself if the sun isn’t shining.

That I complain a lot - that so much negativity and ugliness comes out of my mouth and I want that to change. 

And that maybe there will always be things I don't like about myself and maybe some of that is okay - it means I'm wanting to be different or better and I want to be more like Jesus.  I shouldn't always want to be the same.

I've been learning.

March 6, 2015

On Growing Up

I turn 34 next week.  To my own surprise, I have been able to relax comfortably into my 30's as they are not as scary as my 24 year-old self thought they might be.  Something about THIRTY-FOUR sounds grown up though. 

Like, legit grown-ups are 34 right?

Just the other day I was talking to Tommy about how we need to start teaching him how to tie his own shoes.  He was overwhelmed at the thought of it because naturally it's easier to have someone else do this for you and he was certain that he wouldn't be able to figure it out.  I explained that he will spend his whole life growing up and having to learn to do new things - learning how to tie your shoes is just one of those new things.  And me and dad will be there to help him until he figures it out for himself.  I told him that growing up means learning and changing and doing things that are new and sometimes uncomfortable or even scary.

And in this conversation I was having with my five year old son, I was saying them to myself.  No one needed that reminder more than me.

My recent flare up with Rheumatoid Arthritis has triggered some other things in regards to my health and physical body.  The last couple of weeks have been full of doctor's visits and bloodwork and X-rays and new medications and vitamins and plans to get healthier with the help of all of the doctors I have been so purposefully avoiding.

For years now, I've been in denial.  I have been resistant to change.  And I have been scared of what it would mean or look like to go down any of these paths.  It has been in my head that seeing a doctor about any health-related issue was equivalent to failure because I couldn't get better or fix something on my own and I should have been able to somehow.  And as I have embarked on this new journey, I have realized that choosing to see a doctor doesn't mean failure or defeat.  It means that I am choosing life, health, and hope.  I am learning that doctors and overall medical scary-ness is simply part of my story and choosing to seek a doctor, to trust a doctor and purposefully submit to one is both a victory and an act of repentance for me.  It seems as though God has written even this piece into my story.  To redeem yet another place for me as He is always so faithful to do.

And maybe growing up looks like asking the people for help that can really help you.

I'm not sure I was truly ready for any of this until now.  The seeing a doctor thing and figuring out what I really need to do to take care of my body.  But at the age of 34, I think I'm finally in a place where my desire to take care of myself has caught up with my desire to act on it.  Even if it's scaring the crap out of me and it's a major drag.  Because it does and it is.

But maybe that's what growing up is all about.  If you know me or my story at all, you would know that I have a history of learning things the hard way.  Sometimes I need to make mistakes, and then make some more exactly like them before I can learn what it is that I'm needing to.  I mean, we can hear things and we are taught things and are guided in certain directions.  But until we make those decisions for ourselves and act on them, we haven't really grown up at all.

Last week as I was wrestling through decisions and sitting with the weight of lab results and doctor's advice, I went to God with all that I was thinking and feeling and fearing.  And it was as if He told me this very thing.  It's time to grow up Jenn.  I've grown you here - I've been growing you here.  You're ready for this.  It's time.  And He reminded me that If I could give up sweets for 40 days during Lent and if I could train and complete a half-marathon (which, hi, I sort of never wrote about that) then I could certainly do more.  My body is ready.  And so is my heart.

I've officially decided it's time to grow up.  Though I'm not sure how much of a decision it really was.  I think growing up is one of those things that has been happening inside of me for quite some time.  And now that I am faced with big decisions and weighty news, my grown up self is acting on them in grown up ways.

All of this is a birthday gift to myself.  Maybe not exactly what I'm wanting, but it's exactly what I've been needing.

So, Tommy will be learning how to tie his shoes.  And I will be at doctor's visits and doing new things to care of my body as I pursue wellness.  It's time to do the things that we don't really want to do.

Because no one else can do it for me, 
Because I am growing up and I'm not the same.

Because I can.

And because He has been growing me, pruning me, preparing me for this very season.

Spring is coming.  And something new is ready to break through the surface and burst forth.

February 17, 2015

Family Valentines

With Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday this year, I thought it would be fun to make a family day out of it.  And honestly, all I really want on any Valentine's Day is some pretty flowers.  I'm easy like that.

Lately, Todd and I have been in pretty major get-out-of-debt mode so we are watching our expenses more closely.  We opted out of a big fancy date this year and decided to save what we might have spent on dinner.  I knew though that if I wanted to do something for the boys, I couldn't go too crazy either.  So, I went to the store, spent about $20 on paper hearts and candy and cups and made a special Valentine's breakfast.  I was proud of myself for being able to create something fun and exciting for the boys and have it be so cheap!
Conversation hearts as a filler for a candle holder is a total Pinterest hack.  Also, do people even actually eat them?
Tommy's valentines included candy, new markers and a drawing pad.  I think he has drawn on every single page already.
And Jacob got a cute monkey since stuffed animals are his favorite thing in the universe.
 
Holidays are the only time I ever even think about letting my children consume candy at the start of the day.
 
For breakfast, I cut out hearts with a cookie cutter and made french toast.


Super cute right?!

We also had bacon and strawberries and cinnamon rolls since cinnamon rolls were the one thing Tommy had asked for.  I had some questions on the table too for us all to answer while we ate breakfast together - and Tommy thought it was the best "game" ever.  What do you love most about Tommy/Jacob?  What do you think it means to love someone?  How do you know Jesus loves you? What things do you love most?  It was fun having love-centered conversation around the table that morning.   Jacob wasn't into it though seeing as he started throwing conversation hearts at us and needed a bath after consuming lollipops and chocolate and syrup and frosting - oh goodness, he had a sugar fest.  But it was a sweet, chaotic, lovely time.

And because we all had some sugar to burn off, we spent the afternoon at the park. 

Tommy finally learned how to pump his own legs on the swing that day.  His smile says it all.

And next to stuffed animals and eating sweet things, swinging is his favorite thing to do.  The kid basically had the best day of his entire short life.  Sugar, stuffed animals and swinging all in one day?!

We ended our day with homemade burgers on the grill and watched a movie together.  It ended up being one of my most favorite Valentine celebrations ever.  So, so much love and sweetness to go around.

February 16, 2015

Foolishness, surrender and rheumatoid arthritis

It's easy to feel foolish.  Like when you make that one mistake that leaves you feeling like an idiot.  Or when you assume something to be true and it ends up not being that way.  We can make asses of ourselves and say dumb things.  (I do this frequently).  Or in my case, thinking that this thing had gone away forever - when it hasn't.

I guess you could say, I am feeling foolish.

When pain consumed my entire body head to toe, and then suddenly disappeared, I decided a miracle happened.  And whatever my blood-work had said before or whatever the diagnosis had been, I claimed that something miraculous took place.  And maybe it did.  It was miraculous that my Rheumatoid Arthritis, diagnosed as a severely aggressive case, went dormant. 

Well, until now that is. 

I've been in denial for months.  It started in October of last year.  I remember waking up with that familiar feeling, though at the time, was only a slight discomfort and stiffness in my fingers.  And as the months progressed, pain came with it, spreading to knees and elbows and ankles.  I was keeping it "at bay" with over the counter pain relievers and after the morning time, I was fine again.  I guess I kept hoping it would go away as miraculously as it had before.

But, it hasn't.  It's only gotten increasingly worse.  And I've been left sitting in my foolishness.

The last two weeks have been especially terrible.  My hands were taking longer to stretch out from their deformed state in the morning - these frozen, stiff fingers curled under.  And the pain was so bad in my hands that it would wake me up at night just shifting in my sleep or adjusting my covers.  And I realized that it was my choice to be feeling this pain - all I needed to do was go see my doctor.  But in going, I would have to admit that something was wrong again.  That my body needs help.  That there is damage happening in my joints and I need to have all of this checked out again so I still have a chance to live and thrive even if it means medications and treatments that, honestly, scare the hell out of me.

Calling my doctor felt like surrender and defeat.  Like this thing has beat me and I lost.  I couldn't heal myself enough or do something right enough to make this auto-immune thing go away forever.  As if I had made it go away on my own the first time.  But I've been beating myself up, going to shame and self-contempt.  Feeling broken and diseased.  And again, feeling foolish.

I recognize this pattern.  I do the same thing anytime I feel the need to see my counselor.  Or when I need to go back and rehash a piece of my story that is making my heart bleed out all over again.  I have these expectations of myself to have my shit together all the time because somehow I believe I should have arrived and have all of the answers for all of the things and be able to live fully and whole and alive all the time. I hate asking for help.  And I have a love-hate relationship with the feeling of surrender that comes with it.  Both great fear and great relief at the same time.

In the last few days, when I've allowed myself to slow down enough to be still, I have found myself spinning in anxiety.  Traveling down the what-if roads of my past and future, and afraid of what will be diagnosed in the present.  It is always hard to fight to stay present in these moments instead of jumping into the next season prematurely. 

When I can quiet my heart enough, I hear Him though.  He is faithful to speak to my heart even when I've done nothing but doubt and question and distance myself from Him.  His sweet, soft voice that whispers the familiar truths - My grace is sufficient for you.  My strength is made perfect in your weakness.  Be strong, be courageous - for I am with you.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  Don't worry about tomorrow.  Come to me with your heaviness and heartache and I will give you rest.  I love you.

He never calls me foolish.

I go in on Monday and in the meantime, she gave me some meds to help with the inflammation and pain.  Tonight, I am sitting in that middle ground of surrender where I am greatly afraid and so incredibly grateful for some rest and relief.