December 25, 2017

Songs of Christmas

It's Christmas morning and I was awake before dawn. I made a cup of coffee and turned on the twinkle lights on our Christmas tree and sat with a blanket.  I welcomed the solitude and quiet, feeling the rest and peace that had settled in my soul even though it was accompanied by grief and sorrow.  My heart is heavy and sad this Christmas.  I didn't bake my cookies or dip my pretzles and we didn't drive to see the lights in Windcrest.  There was no downtown date night on the Riverwalk and I wasn't at church yesterday to hold a candle and sing O Come All ye Faithful.

I wanted to remember the feelings and songs that echoed the tender and sorrowful places in my heart.  I wanted to come back and read here that on Christmas of 2017, the Christmas that would be ushering in the endings of old things and beginnings of new ones, that my heart sounded like these songs.

To those of you who come read here, I hope you have the Merriest Christmas.  Hold your dear ones close today and wherever this day finds you, I hope you feel wrapped in the hope and love that this season brings.

With Love,

Something about December - Christina Perri

White Christmas - Kenny G

Christmas Lights - Coldplay

Jingle Bells in minor

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - Steven Curtis Chapman

Welcome Christmas - Glee Cast (from: How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

Heirlooms - Amy Grant

Grown up Christmas List - Kelly Clarkson

A Christmas Alleluia - Chris Tomlin

All is Well - Michael W. Smith & Carrie Underwood

Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan

Love is Christmas - Sara Bareilles

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Sam Smith

November 11, 2017

A Hallowed Heart

It was raining without clouds.  It seemed fitting somehow to drive through blue skies on the way to the cemetery, rain still managing to find us.  Gray road stretched out before me, I kept wondering how tragedies and heartaches that happened over a lifetime ago could feel this new.  I have lived with loss and know the darkness of death, but grief still takes me by surprise.

My boys were in the back seat in ties and black Sunday shoes.  This was their first time time to go to a cemetery and they wanted to dress nice.  When my Uncle died two years ago, they went to the funeral, but the family chose to wait until now to bury his ashes.  He was going to be laid to rest next to my mom and brother.  My feelings were so overwhelming I could feel them aching in my throat and surging through my legs that made me want to run.  It felt like something was trying to come out of my body and I quickly recognized the trauma tied to those physical sensations.  I closed my eyes and took breath after breath, long and deep, until I felt my core settle inside of me.

We arrived at the place.  Sacred earth housing the bones of loved ones and memories never made, I got out of the truck, holding my son's hand in my own.  Feelings began to swirl inside of me.  My brother's ten year life, how betrayal and alcohol destroyed my mother, stealing her spark and light and heartbeat.  I was feeling forgotten and missed, much like my mother's headstone in that sticker burred country cemetery.  I showed my boys where they were buried.  I could feel bellowing sobs forming in my gut as I saw Tommy touch my brother's grave, his eight year old fingers tracing the letters "The Greatest Blessing," that was etched into gray granite.  I put my hand on my mother's stone. "Child of God, Beloved Mother of AJ," it read.  I didn't remember that was what it said and the words sat heavy with me.  She was my mother too, yet those words felt true.  She was more his mother than mine and the ambivalence I feel about her was as tangible as the crunchy dead grass beneath my feet.

We laughed and cried and prayed together as my Uncle's ashes were put into the ground.  I think we all felt the finality of something, ever aware of a unique hole his absence has created inside of each one of us.  His wasn't the only hole inside of me.  I thought about AJ and my mom, Aaron - my first love, the death of dreams and the unmet longings I carry on the outside and inside of me.  It looks like a double-chin and a large belly, and feels like a watercolor mess of tragedy and indescribable joy, splattered and swirled together with darkness and light.

My face was wet with tears as we walked back through the cemetery, the living among the dead.  You can't walk on hallowed ground and not feel the gravity of death and how it has changed you.  My heart like a headstone, chiseled and marked with all of the pain, all the joy and the broken, beautiful pieces of my story that make up who I am.

The clouds were gray and pregnant with rain.  Eyes and sky both crying as my husband reached for my hand.

November 4, 2017

Going Green and Halloween

Watching the excitement in my boys build up the closer it gets to Halloween, is one of the moments in parenthood that I enjoy the most.  Early in October, costumes were selected and planned for and every day all month long, I was asked the same question: "How many days until Halloween?  I want it to be Halloween now!"  While some of that was looking forward to a bucket of Skittles and chocolate bars, they were just as excited to dress up.  Since they were babies, that has been my favorite part - watching their personalities embrace their favorite superheroes and movie characters.

This year, we had a very cool Spiderman (with web wings - and you should know that is the most important part of the costume according to Jacob).

And a Tony Stark! 
Ya'll.  I pitched the idea to Tommy months ago about being Tony Stark for Halloween and to my utter glee, he was totally down for it.  I made a light up arc reactor out of a tap on LED light, drawn with the symbol and covered in some light blue fabric to give it a bit of a blue color.  I found the really real glasses online that he wore in Civil War because I couldn't help myself.  The day they came in the mail, Tommy was with me when I went to check the mailbox, and he let out crazy happy screams.  Watching his joy and excitement about them was the best thing ever.  I darkened his hair and drew on Tony's facial hair which was his favorite part. His costume literally made my night.

And did I dress up as?  Well, I had originally planned on being Disgust from the movie Inside Out.  Unfortunately, the green dress I ordered didn't come in until the day after Halloween so I had to improvise.  
 I'm Hulk's girly twin sister.  Obviously.

When I finished my costume, I came out of my room to show the boys and they squealed with excitement.  Jacob lit up and said, "Oh mama!"  He ran to me and hugged me and said "I love you so much!"  He stared at me in wonder and asked how I made myself green and laughed when I put on his Hulk hands.  In that moment, I could see in his eyes how much he loved seeing me dress up with him, entering his world of play and pretend and imagination.  He beamed with pride at me all night, "Look at my mom!" he would say to everyone.

We made a few stops to see all of the Grandparent's.  The boys filled their buckets with all of the candy and knocked on a few doors.  Each time, Jacob would show the person at the door his web wings and Tommy held his Ironman glove out.  I tucked away another year's worth of silly and fun memories in my heart, praying I would always remember the fun we had together.  Of Jacob's running and posing as he would use his web shooters. And of Tommy's swagger in the way he walked and carried himself all night long.
I'm not certain how it's November already. 2017 feels like the year that went by in a blur.  Time seems to be going my faster, my boys growing tall and confident right in front of my eyes.  I find myself in that place in motherhood wanting time to slow down a little bit.  The years I have with them like this are going just as fast as every other mom told me it would.  Tommy will be a grown man in ten years.  Jacob starts Kindergarten next fall.  A couple of gray strands here and there show up on my head of hair reminding me that I'm growing and aging right along with them.  It can't be stopped but it can certainly be lived fully. 
Tommy and Jacob, how I love you so.  You are my deepest joy and my greatest pride and being your mama is the best thing I've ever done.  I will cherish these memories, this childhood you got to live with me, forever and always.

November 1, 2017

Golden Girl

My love affair with clothes and jewelry began as a little girl.  As soon as I was tall enough to reach my mother’s jewelry box on her bathroom counter, I would put all of her rings on my tiny fingers and pretend I was some luxuriously rich woman dripping with gold and diamonds who called everyone “Dahling.”  I would parade around in her fancy high heels and use the foyer of our house as my personal runway, loving the clip-clop sound the heels made on the tile floor. 

As I got older, I developed my own sense of style.  There were certainly the necessary faux pas that came with being a middle-school girl, as I believed black lip liner was a good idea and knee high socks with every outfit was a trendy choice.  To my mother's dismay, my favorite pair of earrings in the 6th grade were these lime green parrots I found at a mall jewelry store that specialized in gaudy plastic accessories.  With my backpack purse, fluffed-up bangs and parrots dangling from my ears, I was quite something to behold in 1993.  

Can we all just go back and give our 12 year-old selves a hug?  Bless our hearts.   

Over time, my love for both colorful and classic looks evolved as did my collection of shoes and scarves and my own jewelry box full of accessories.  Admittedly, I am somewhat of a jewelry-addict, which is a trait I obviously inherited from my mother.  Though if I’m honest, my jewelry box is not only a box, but a large frame to house my 60+ pairs of earrings and all of the necklaces I own. Accessories are like the sprinkles on top of a perfectly frosted cupcake; they complete and pull together every outfit.  Living in south Texas, one has to be creative in dressing for fall as the cool weather comes and goes and our afternoons get quite warm.  I have found that layering, finding lightweight cardigans and scarves, and things like ankle pants with flats or sandals are both functional and stylish for the season here.

Fall is such a sweet time for family traditions. When a big cold front makes it to our neck of the woods, I pull together my coziest pieces.  Dark jeans, and a plaid blanket scarf to match a flowing sweater vest.  It's the perfect outfit when I take my boys down to the pumpkin patch and end the day around our fire pit eating s'mores and making hand puppets on the fence in our backyard.

Since it's one of the best times of the year to be outside, I often meet my girlfriends for coffee or a soup and sandwich lunch together.  On the pleasant fall days that get a little warmer, I might wear a dress with a cardigan, a draped scarf and boots. Mustard is one of my favorite fall colors and I love to pair this cardigan with navy or plum colored tops too.

I am always in the mood for new jewelry. As if by magic, there somehow seems to be room in my jewelry box for more, just as it was with my mother.  I live by the motto that one can never have too many shoes or accessories!  My friends over at AUrate, have some beautiful gold pieces that would be the perfect accents to my fall wardrobe.  AUrate has pieces that are both modern and timeless, classic and fresh, with a stunning simplicity in design.  Their unique style and handmade pieces, such as their gorgeous earrings, can dress up an outfit as well as accent casual looks just like mine.

Not only do they have the loveliest designs, but they are a wonderful company that cares about quality, care and giving back.  It is so inspiring to read about women who are changing the way business is run by emphasizing the things that matter the most.

There is still a little girl inside of me who loves all things golden and sparkly.  It's been a while since I've put a ring on every finger and the lime green parrot earrings were retired by the end of middle school.  My grown up self continues to love the sound of my fancy high heels on a tile floor.  And every time I pull together an outfit with the perfect accessories, I'm reminded of my mother and how I hoped to emulate her beauty.

With its golden trees and amber sunlight, autumn always takes me back to memories of my mother.  No matter the season, wearing a pair of dangling earrings or clutching my dainty gold chains, is like having a piece of her with me all the time. 

October 25, 2017

Setting Timers and Leaning In

Her text message came when I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor's office.  The phones were ringing and the floor was cold and I was was wondering why I had to fill out my personal information for the eighteenth time.  My body was writhing with anxiety and dread and I thought a time or three about walking out the door and not going through with this appointment.  All of those feelings and emotions were mounting when I saw the tiny envelope on my phone with her name on it.

I ran into so-and-so and found out we were all mutual friends and thought I'd check in say hello.  How is your new job? How are you?

My heart began to ache and I pushed back tears that were begging to be cried.  Wanting to be both honest and vague, I replied that I was in a hard season in many different places and that I was currently at the doctor and hopeful about getting some care.  Her reply was kind and gracious, because she had always been those things.  I know it seems like a lifetime since we've been close friends, but if you ever need anything I'm here.

"Jennifer?"  The nurse called my name and my phone went back into my purse.  It was time to get on the scale and take my blood pressure and I could feel shame enveloping me about the current state of my body and overall health.  In the midst of my appointment, my thoughts went back to my friend and her words.  Memories of our closeness and sweet friendship and how she had been such a steady  place of encouragement and truth for me flooded my mind.  The sorrowful memories of our church split, our disagreement and conflict, and our precious friendship that fell apart and faded away, was a tangible place of pain.  What felt like a lifetime to her, somehow felt like only yesterday to me.

Instead of deleting the messages, I saved them on my phone knowing I needed to sit with sadness and allow for more tears in this place that is still a source of deep loss and grief for me.  One quiet Sunday morning while I sipped coffee out of my favorite mug, hands holding on to comfort, I set a timer on my phone for ten minutes and opened up our text messages from that day.  Tears came easily and they weren't the quiet kind that softly roll down your cheeks.  They were wet and messy, accompanied by snot and sobs and a small pile of tissues.  It's been over two years and I wondered if it would ever stop hurting this badly. Would I ever stop missing her?  Would I ever stop regretting all of the words I wish I would have said back then about how much she had meant to me?

My phone timer went off and I breathed deeply.  I wiped my eyes and blew my nose again and deleted the text messages. 

Lately, I've purposed to make space to lean in to painful places and to give myself actual time to feel and cry.  Setting a timer is helpful because not only is there an ending to sitting with pain and sadness, but my body is learning that it can make it through those hard feelings without the need to self-harm or emotionally check out to life.  It might seem like a bizarre practice, but it is a necessary kindness for my heart.

How do you lean in to pain?

October 22, 2017

Fall : A South Texas How To

It's nearing the end of October and autumn is showing off in full splendor and glory.  Fire colored trees and fuschia sunsets and pumpkin spice lattes and baggy sweaters and scarves - what's not to love about this time of year? 

Well, if you happen to live in South Texas near My Neck of the Woods, USA, fall is a little different here.  Now, I'm a proud Texan and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.  I mean, we have the best shaped state, and no other place knows how to properly make queso.  I've also heard that breakfast tacos aren't even a thing in other parts of the country and I don't know how this can be.  But, even this Texas girl gets a little blue this time of year because I would love just a little bit of cool weather and autumn beauty.

I put together a short list of how we do fall here for those of you who might be new to the area, like my Michigan friend Melissa who finds our South Texas autumns offensive.

1) Decorate
My house transforms this time of year into an autumn wonderland.  Silk fall leaves and pumpkins galore take the place of my everyday decorations.  Our living room becomes this warm and cozy space that wraps you up like a flannel blanket and gives you all the fall feels.  And if there any fall feels to be had, it's probably only going to happen inside of your house because outside still thinks it's swimming and barbecue season.  It's important to buy beautiful fall leaves at the store and take them to your house, because it's the ONLY place you will see them all season long. 

2) Go Shopping for new sweaters and scarves
 It's always nice to grab a few new pieces for the fall/winter wardrobe like cozy, jewel-toned sweaters and scarves in all the plaid patterns. So go shopping and then put them in your closet and then leave them there until January.  If you're lucky, January might be chilly enough for the sweater-scarf combo.  *Fashion tip* - if you must wear a scarf, find something lightweight and wear it with a sleeveless top, capri pants and sandals.  Also, shorts and flip flops with a lightweight long-sleeved top works too.

3) Visit the pumpkin patch
Oh yes, go.  Go pumpkin patching.  Let your kids get on a pony and go for a hayride and make homemade scarecrows and take all the cute pictures.  But, bring plenty of water and don't forget your sunscreen.

4)  Enjoy the cooler weather
Set alarm for 5:00am.
Go outside.  Take a light blanket.
Turn on the porch fan so the cool air has a chance to circulate.
Sit until 7:00am or until you no longer need the blanket.
The End.

5) Make chili and cornbread
This is the meal fall is made for, am I right?  When you get the first cool snap where the high for the day is 78 and you can open your windows and feel a slight breeze, you bust out that warm comfort food so fast and don't even think twice about it. (*Note - you also might sweat a little when eating it, but don't be alarmed.  We all do.)

6) Start a thankful list
'Tis the season for gratitude and it doesn't have to be November to remember what you're thankful for.  Start a journal.  Write the words on a pumpkin.  Fill a jar of sentiments.  For those of us who live here?  Things that always make the thankful list include things like - air conditioning, weekend swims at the neighborhood pool, iced versions of our favorite fall coffees at Starbucks and not encountering any rattlesnakes on a morning walk.

7)  Snuggle under blankets
This can be done two ways:
  • Option A:  See #4 and follow instructions with your snuggle partner
  • Option B:  Turn the AC down to 70, turn on all the fans and get your snuggle on from the comfort of your living room sofa

8)  Go apple picking
Drive to the store.  Make your apple selections.  And done.

9)  Bake all the yummy desserts
It doesn't feel like fall unless you've made pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, or pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies.  Bake a pumpkin something and it will certainly feel like autumn in your mouth! 

10) Take in some beautiful fall foliage
Open Pinterest.  Search "fall foliage" or "autumn landscapes."  And enjoy.  You're welcome.

October 14, 2017


My Grammy’s house always smells like Nivea cream and sugar cookies.  No matter which house my grandparents have called home over the years, their home is calm and bright, like a Christmas carol all year long.  Even now, the inviting aroma of her home takes me back to my childhood where she would teach me the arts of pie-crust curling and gift-wrapping and convincing me I needed to learn how to sew.  “You’ll have a husband someday and what are you going to do if he needs a button sewn on to his shirt?” she would ask me.  “I would buy him a new shirt,” I would reply.  I was quite resistant to sewing lessons.  Much to her dismay, I never did learn how to sew and she’s gasped a time or two realizing I’ve put my children’s Halloween costumes together with hot glue.
I spent a lot of time with my Grammy as a little girl.  She would read and color with me.  She let me try on my great-grandmother’s vintage jewelry that was kept in a wooden box with a silver latch and silk lining inside.  There were colorful gems arranged in gorgeously gaudy necklaces, beaded bracelets and sparkling broaches that made me feel like royalty.  On the best of days, she would take out her old book full of paperdolls from the 30’s and 40’s and let me play with them.  She would instruct me how to handle the old paper and to turn each page of the book she kept them in with care and gentleness. 
Making pies with her was my favorite.   We worked the shortening into the flour, getting it to the right consistency so it would roll out just right.  “Gold medal flour and ice-cold water are the keys to a perfect pie crust.”  She explained this every time.  I would watch mesmerized as she would crimp the edges ever so perfectly, so it curled all the way around.  She showed me dozens of times how to do it, but my fingers never seemed to get whatever magic she possessed in her own fingertips.  Store bought pie crusts were never acceptable, so I learned early on that if I were going to be like my Grammy, I would someday, have to master the art of her perfect pie crust.  I am proud to say that in my 30’s, I have finally arrived in the pie department.  Not only can I make a tasty and flaky homemade crust, but a beautifully curled one as well. 
Recently, I sat across from a friend who asked me a question I had never been asked before. 
“Jenn, where did you feel loved as a child?  Who loved you?  What did that feel like?”
I was taken aback.  Her question was kind and invited me to reminisce and remember pieces of my childhood where it was lovely to be a little girl.  Memories quickly bubbled to the surface of my dad and how he read me a Bible story every night and how I would dance on his feet in the kitchen.  Of my mom braiding my hair and making my favorite cake for my birthday.  My Uncle Goolie and I bouncing on old bean bag chairs together and giving me a ride on his shoulders while I would pull his hair directing him where to go.  And Grammy…..she was my very first best friend.
There have been few moments where I’ve reflected on what was good and delightful about my childhood.  Over the years it has felt like I was mostly invited to re-enter scenes of trauma and sort through pieces of my past in efforts to find some kind of healing.  My friend’s question led me to ponder something new and different about my heart and about Jesus.
She explained to me that, if there is any goodness at all in our childhood – that if we experience any enjoyment or delight or love, that it was Jesus loving us through those people.  Jesus uses our wounded and broken mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins alike to be little gifts of His grace, kindness, gentleness and love.  My family was no exception.  Embracing this has brought a kind of healing to my heart and story that I’ve long hoped for.  My childhood, while still full of some trauma and wounds that forever pierced my heart, was suddenly rich with sparkling and beautiful moments where I was tenderly and dearly loved by those that God hand-picked to be a part of my family.  
I could suddenly see my younger self dancing on the nail pierced feet of Jesus and standing over me as I attempted to crimp the edges of a pie.  I saw how He let me ride on His shoulders and laughing with me as we jumped on bean bag chairs together.  He was there in my Grammy and my Dad, my Uncle Goolie and my Auntie Laura.  My mom and cousins and all of the precious faces that make up my family.  Oh how He made His love known to me as a little girl.
If I asked you the same questions:  Where did you feel loved as a child?  Who loved you and what did that feel like? I’m almost certain you would share a story about a special someone, and it would sound an awful lot like Jesus.
I like to imagine that Jesus is much like my Grammy and her home.  Calm and bright like a Christmas carol all year long.  And smelling of Nivea cream and sugar cookies.

October 8, 2017

Watercolors and Worship

Colorful threads and the wooden wheel holding the white cross-stitching fabric still laid there on the floor.  A partially stitched outline of what was supposed to be a glass mason jar holding pastel flowers, tiny scissors and a case to hold my threading needles all reminded me of my effort to care for my heart and soul.  I remember cross-stitching when I was young.  It felt easy then and I remember my mom doing several of these growing up.  I thought it could maybe be my thing.  I needed something to do with my hands that wasn't eating chips and something for my mind to stay present as I had spent most of my free time in a comatose state watching Netflix.  After walking the crafting aisles, I made my selection at Hobby Lobby for the project and decided this was going to pull me out of whatever thing I seemed to be stuck in.

I had the brilliant idea that I would stitch this beautiful design and frame it and give it to my friend Ellen who had encouraged me to spend the same amount of money on myself in the name of self-care as I was for self-harm.  I imagined her crying and opening the lovely gift knowing all of the hours I didn't spend eating or drinking and it would be lovely and good for us both.

But then it took me 20 minutes to get the stupid fabric attached to the wheel the right way.  Another 10 to thread the needle, and then I realized how much math and counting went into cross-stitching.  I stupidly read some of the instructions and tips after I had started an outline of the jar and realized I was supposed to do that last.

"F*ck this!"  I threw it on the floor that night exasperated and feeling foolish.  How could I think something like cross-stitching was ever going to be my thing?  Would anything bring me to life and vibrancy again?  I felt like I was dying a slow and miserable death in the corner of my bedroom each night with a drink and a snack, until I finally felt sleepy enough to go to bed.

 A few weeks later, I found myself at Hobby Lobby again with my boys, perusing the craft aisles waiting for something to speak to me.  I was trying to not buy porcelain pumpkins or Christmas ornaments and found myself in the painting section surrounded my acrylics and oils, pastels and brushes, and blank canvases ready for art and beauty.  Some watercolor pencils drew my attention and I remembered being in the seventh grade, sketching out designs with those pencils and watching it come to life with water and a brush.  I wondered if I might be any good at it.  What did I know about watercolors or painting or art for that matter?

I made my purchases that day of watercolors and watercolor pencils, a thick pad made for that kind of paint, and a few brushes I didn't know much about but that looked important.  Pinterest offered ideas and tips for getting started, different techniques and some basics for beginners and I sat there in awe of others created beauties doubting I could ever create anything that beautiful.  Comparison always there to steal joy and possibility and hope and it was there with me as I sat there with my unopened art supplies. I didn't get started right away.  I was afraid it was going to end in a pile on my bedroom floor like my forsaken cross-stitching project and maybe it was better not to try again.

Two weeks later I sat at the Brave On conference for Red Tent Living and listened to my friend Libby speak about the heart and soul, how poetry has been her outlet for both pain and beauty.  I was captivated at her words and remembering my untouched watercolors at home.  I knew I needed to go home and try again.  Maybe it would be a big mess and I would have no clue what I was doing, and it would like like a seventh grader's art work and I would find yet another place to speak harshly to myself rather than speak of care or kindness.

Finally, the day came when I felt brave enough to set up all my supplies and try my hand at watercolor for the first time in 24 years.  I turned on some light piano music in the background and sat for a moment at the blank paper and colors that surrounded me.  And then I began.  Using some of the pencils and some of the brushes with my palette of water colors I began drawing out trees in the four seasons.  The golds and reds of autumns, the bare branches of winter, the new life of spring and the vibrant green of summer. 

With every stroke of color, I could literally feel something inside of me both settle and come to life at the same time.  I realized how forgiving watercolor is.  The whole point of it is to be a little messy and unfinished.  There are few hard lines and little structure as the water and paints bleed and run into complete loveliness.  I felt like a girl again, creating something beautiful for no reason other than because I could.  As my trees took shape and color, I remembered that I am an artist.  I may be a bookkeeper for a living, and be a little obsessive about meal-planning and scheduling our calendars, but I am an artist.  My days might be full of work and mothering, and tending to a home that never stays tidy or clean, but I am an artist.  I may have dreams that died long ago and part of me that died with them, but I'm still here and I am an artist.

My beauty and brokenness painted all over a page and I didn't want to stop.  I called my piece Sunday Morning Worship because it felt like just that. Offering my heart up to God in both my praise and heartache, of thankfulness and longing.  Remembering how good He is in every season, even if I forget that He is.
My friend Libby said something that stayed with me and makes me smile every time I remember it:

"Take your shame and your pain, and turn it into a freaking work of art."  And I did just that.  I plan to do it again.

How could you turn your shame and pain into a work of art?

September 27, 2017

Anxiety and the next right thing

A few weeks ago, I noticed a joke I had been making about myself a lot.

"OMG," I would say.  Talking like a text message or a Facebook comment.  "OMG.  I mean, my anxiety is so bad right now, I should probably be medicated!"  And then I would laugh and leave the other person wondering if they were supposed to laugh too or if they should maybe be concerned for me.

I was sitting with those questions myself.  Is this funny, or should I be concerned?

After several months of dealing with anxiety and PTSD like symptoms, I heard myself say the same joking sentence in a group of women I met before the Brave On conference with Red Tent Living.  And maybe it sounded differently because a woman who sat across from me at the table has seen me before.  Her eyes showed compassion and concern and I think I heard myself say it seriously for the first time.

My anxiety is so bad right now.  
I should probably be medicated.

At the conference, a fellow Red Tent Living writer talked about doing the next right thing.  I have heard the same truth spoken from one of my favorite bloggers turned authors and activists, Glennon Doyle.  I wrote down in my journal that evening asking myself that question.

What is the next right thing?

Immediately I knew that going to the doctor about my anxiety was the next right thing.  Self-medicating and ignoring whatever was going on for me has not been working out well.  I needed help and it was okay to ask for it.  I made an appointment with my doctor the following week.  The day of the appointment, the nurse was attempting to summarize why I was there and what I had been experiencing.  I started crying and I couldn't talk.  Her eyes grew wide and she said, "That's okay.  I'll just let you talk to the doctor."  She proceeded to type several sentences into the computer which left me feeling like she was writing up some kind of assumption or judgement of me and how crazy I was.

I wanted to run out of the room.  I almost did once.  But, I sat there and waited until the friendly face of my doctor came into my room, sat down and handed me a box of tissues.  "What's going on Jennifer?  Todd has told me a little bit, but what's been happening for you?"

Through my tears I began to share what my anxiety has looked and felt like over the last few months.

The insomnia and nightmares.  Waking up when I do sleep because I think I hear my children screaming in their bedrooms.  Bursting into uncontrollable tears about small things, like messing up the sauce that went with my Greek Lemon Chicken recipe.  Screaming and yelling at my boys all the time and about everything.  And overwhelming moments that I assume are anxiety or panic attacks that feel exactly like my body felt when going through withdrawls from the narcotics I was on for almost half a year.  I wring my hands and arms and legs and I feel like I'm trying to escape my body and I can't begin to describe how awful it feels and how crazy it makes me. And I confessed that if I sleep, I can only sleep with alcohol.  I knew that was a habit that I desperately and quickly needed to break.

She made a plan for me and my care.  While these things are mostly trial and error as we figure out what works, I felt a glimmer of hope that the ball was rolling.  I had shared with someone the hell I've been living with inside of my head, what I had been doing to cope and live with it, and I asked for help. She scheduled several different blood tests in addition to starting me on some new medications.  She recommended a sleep aid that isn't addictive or habit-forming.  And ya'll - by the grace of God, it has been working.  I get sleepy and fall asleep and sleep.  ALL. NIGHT.  LONG.  While I wake up groggy, I'm grateful to have slept at all - and without having to drink myself to sleep.

Realizing that anxiety was becoming a prominent and ongoing problem for me felt like defeat.  I've always thought I should be stronger or to somehow manage all of this on a spiritual level.  I've heard growing up in church my whole life that we can do all things through Christ!  And we are more than conquerors!  And to cast all your cares upon Him and not to worry or be anxious.  I thought that knowing Jesus, meant not struggling with anxiety like I was.

I've been learning though, that knowing Jesus means living with anxiety and seeing that He meets me in the middle of it.  Knowing Jesus and living with anxiety means admitting and owning my own frailty and weakness because that is when He is strong in me.  I've learned that being strong here doesn't mean I won't have anxiety attacks or insomnia.  Being strong here means asking for help and getting myself the care my body and mind desperately needs.

It's easy to feel like a hot mess. It's easy to believe I am hopeless especially when health or life seems to roll from one struggle to the next.  And it's easy to get overwhelmed when I see how long the journey is ahead of me for all that I am facing with health and wellness.

But the wise words of wise women I deeply admire are resonating deeply within me:  Do the next right thing.  

Aren't those words both motivating and comforting?  Not thinking about the 34 steps that need to happen after this first one.  Just stay right here, the next right thing, this day.

So, I'm trying to have those five simple words be my current life mantra. Not just with my anxiety and overall health, but in every facet of my life. Do the next right thing.

What is your next right thing?

September 23, 2017

Happy Septembering

I am very predictable in September.

My fall decorations go up. Pumpkins, silk leaves, cozy pillows and golden colored hydrangeas replace my every day decor.  This year I added twinkle lights, because twinkle lights should maybe not only be saved for Christmas.  See?  (I was watching The Force Awakens when I took this picture.  If you can't recognize Supreme Leader Snoke on my screen then you should probably question our friendship.)
I celebrate the highly adored pumpkin spice latte's return at Starbucks.  I take mine as a grande with an extra shot of espresso in case you would ever like to purchase one for me. 

All of my scarves come out of hiding, though I just stare at them longingly in my closet, because there won't be much use for them until at least November.

I craft.  It's inevitable.  September makes me glue-gun happy and I have the insatiable desire to create something.  Right now I'm working on a yarn wreath.  I haven't made one in a couple of years and I wondered how on earth I forgot that.  (Serious post about this later.)

I watch You've Got Mail, because that "bouquet of newly sharpened pencils" line gets me every time and it's not officially September until Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks kiss in Riverside Garden and Brinkley approvingly barks.

And then I wait for that enchanting moment that always happens through my living room window.  I swoon and take a dozen pictures and sigh a happy autumn sigh because even if it is still 95 degrees outside, it means fall is here.

I always feel a shift in September, and not just the way sunlight pours into my living room.  In all of my predictable September practices and autumn traditions, something inside of me feels like the season we enter into.  Fall is about letting dead things go, and somehow my heart, which is usually keen on holding on to everything for dear life, is more apt to letting things too.
I'm not really sure why this is, but if it's good for the trees to have a season where they let things go, then it must certainly be good for me too.  And I wish I did it as beautifully as a maple tree turning fiery red, separating from it's branch and floating gracefully to the ground. 

In real life, letting things go often requires ugly crying - you know, the kind that comes with snot and puffy eyes and 17 tissues.  It also requires change and the starting of new things.  This season for me looks like scheduling doctor's appointments, taking new medications, beginning marriage counseling, painting with watercolors, and reading books on white privilege. 

And watching Netflix less.  Or at least, trying to watch Netflix less.  I'm being realistic about my binge-watching goals, because let's face it:  Fuller House season 3 just arrived and I can't not watch it. #teammatt
September is fleeting.  The days are getting shorter and my heart is settling into it's familiar shift of letting things go and embracing what is to come.

Happy Septembering friends.

August 30, 2017

Love is not the fence we build around our lives

As we hunkered down in our homes last weekend, bracing for the worst, Hurricane Harvey took an unexpected shift and unleashed it's fury on our neighbors in Houston.  As the horrific events continued to unfold, I felt sick to my stomach.  I cried real and big tears for the families caught in rising flood waters.  Images of children laying on their kitchen counters, people sitting on their rooftop waving desperately for help, the elderly sitting in a pool of floodwater waiting to be rescued flooded my Facebook newsfeed.  

I watched my beach home-away-from-home, Port Aransas, ripped to shreds from the hurricane.  The whole little town will need rebuilding, and while I don't live there or even own property in that little port of a town, I feel like part of me got ripped apart too.  Seeing the video and pictures of the wreckage was emotionally devastating.  It's amazing how places become part of who you are over time. 

On Monday, I sent Tommy off to his first day of third grade.  As I snapped his annual first-day-of-school picture, I thought about the Houston mothers who weren't sending their kiddoes off to school.  School supplies and new school clothes that will be considered one of many losses in their homes.  I wondered what they might be feeling and I felt a heavy blanket of ambivalence between guilt and gratitude.  Mostly though, I felt grief.

I have found myself uttering small prayers throughout every day as I feel a wave of sadness wash over me.  It's so close to home, and it's Texas.  They are my people.  They are me.  And I would need someone to think of me and pray for me because I know I would be crying on a Monday morning that I was supposed to send my child to school and instead was mourning the loss of our home and belongings and our everyday mundane normalcy.

Yesterday morning, I walked outside my door to an absolutely beautiful 75 degree morning, which simply does not ever happen in August in San Antonio.  The sun was shining and the sky was nearly clear.  There was an autumn-like breeze in the air that caught my breath and I stood in my driveway and closed my eyes.  It was so beautiful and lovely and I was standing there outside of my home, with car keys in hand ready to head off to work on a normal day.  I prayed for Houston and I prayed that some wife and mom just like me could feel some measure of comfort and peace in the same moment I was taking in the glory of my morning.  I felt overwhelmingly blessed and so undeserving. 

I've taken so much pride in watching my city and state come together to help one another.  There has been an abundance of people showing up, taking care, ready to help and chip in.  Our own Texas-based grocery store, HEB, had a disaster relief team in place the moment it was clear for them to get to the affected areas to offer food, supplies, banking services and medical attention.  Friends with boats have headed there to rescue those stuck in rising waters.  The very company I work for, created a donation station and our customers and employees showed up with water, food, and stuffed animals for the kids to deliver to Houston and the outlying areas. 

Churches and schools, radio stations, musicians, banks, stores - everyone is in this.  And while what has happened to our dear brothers and sisters is absolutely devastating, what is happening right behind it is glorious.  Everywhere you go, someone is helping, volunteering, and putting something together to help everyone.  All of it feels so much like the body of Christ I can hardly stand it.  People helping others, loving on those in need - it doesn't get more Jesus than that and I see His light in this everywhere. 

Our little family is donating, volunteering, and praying together every night.  Would you join us in prayer especially for Port Aransas, Rockport, and all the small towns outside of the Houston area that have suffered greatly as well?  All of us praying, giving, doing, going - it really does make a difference.  Let's keep it up - we have a long road ahead of us to love on our neighbors as we help them rebuild.

Recently, I've been listening to Nichole Nordeman's new album, Every Mile Mattered.  She has a beautiful and tender song called "Anywhere We Are," that feels so fitting for anyone who is going through any kind of storm.  If you are in need of some comfort tonight, I hope you have a listen and that her words and melody bless your heart and soul in all the places that need a bit of tenderness in all you are facing.

August 13, 2017

Sunday Thoughts

For three Saturdays in a row now, I've made our bed.  I'm not really sure why though because I've never quite seen the point in making ones bed to only use it again that very night.  It seems silly to go through the motions of tucking in sheets and fluffing up pillows and making it look nice, only for all of that to end up on the ground.  In fact, people who make their beds on a daily basis baffle me.  Please tell me, why go through the trouble of doing that every day?


I've decided that being a grown up is incredibly lame.  A few weeks ago, I woke up to a flat tire which then led to the purchase of four brand new ones and a front and rear break job for my car.  I also had to buy a plane ticket and book a hotel room for a conference next month and so we basically said goodbye to all of our savings.  That particular weekend ended with a trip to the mailbox where I was lucky enough to receive a jury summons.  And I have no issue doing my civic duties, but I do feel like my name sure gets drawn an awful lot in comparison to others I know.  This is my fourth time to serve and my husband has been summoned once.  Last time, I actually had to serve on a jury and at this exact time in my life, I don't have any emotional space for a trial so I'm kind of hoping for a long day of book-reading and pretending I'm an introvert.


It's weird how life brings people in and out of your lives.  Friendships that fizzled or failed or just stopped for one reason or another, reconnect.  I found myself at breakfast on Saturday morning with a gal who I lost touch with years ago.  We both find ourselves feeling the exact same feelings but her in her singleness and mine in my marriage.  It was good to cry together over coffee and eggs.  Somewhere between the french toast and the tears, I was reminded that we are all struggling with something, and we are only alone if we let ourselves be. 


My son went to church dressed like this today. 
There was a point earlier in motherhood, where I wouldn't have dreamed of letting my child walk out the door in this condition.  He told me the other day that wearing pants makes him feel like a man and I'm pretty sure he feels six feet tall in a pair of jeans.   He asks to wear button down shirts and he has asked for more ties and this kid - he is something.  I'm learning to relax and roll with it, because he is teaching me how.  Isn't that funny?  We have kids and think that we're the teachers, when really, they're the ones that end up teaching us.


I am preparing for the Brave On conference with Red Tent Living next month where I am going to sit on a panel and talk about self-care.  This comes in the middle of the year where I have battled with self-harm, depression, loneliness, pain and addiction in ways that I haven't in a long time.  And I don't understand how God even has me in this specific role, but I'm hoping to find some kind of words to share that don't leave me blubbering on stage, but not feeling like a fraud either. 


My heart can't hardly bear the news.  I find myself sitting in disbelief that so much hatred and racism exists today in our country because I have been so sheltered from it being from where I am.  I grew up with friends of all colors of skin and only learned about segregation and prejudice in lessons in school about slavery and Martin Luther King and Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.  I'm just sick.  As a white person who has lived in ignorance for so long, I almost feel embarrassed for all that I've been blind to and unaware of.  I don't know what to do or what to say or how to be a part of something that can offer real change.  I'm so, so grieved.  I'm grieved not only that there exists such evil hatred and white supremacy bullshit in this country, but that I've been so blind and ignorant that it's always been there and I haven't ever seen it because I've grown up in my own measures of safety and privilege. 


Here I sit on a Sunday night surrounded by baskets of unfolded laundry, and Legos that my boys didn't put away.  I feel chaos in my home, my marriage, my country.  Things feel unsettled and broken and dug open, as if a digger has plowed up our front lawn.  And I don't know what to fix or where to start, or where all of the trying to put anything together will even lead me.  But, I can make my bed.  And I guess that's a start.

August 6, 2017

When your marriage is in the garage

It was supposed to be my space.  I wanted a little nook with a comfy chair and a small table with a lamp where I could retreat to.  A space to read and write and journal and cry without policing my children’s play or having to stop and search through Lego’s to find Batman’s helmet for the 127th time.  Todd built a room divider for me and it seemed to be the best choice to make something from scratch as room dividers cost a lot of money.  We came up with the idea to use fence posts that would be screwed together with hinges so it could bend the way it needed to and give me the privacy I wanted for my little nook. 

He made it exactly the way I wanted.  The posts were painted the creamy white I liked with dark hardware on the outside.  I only got to admire it for a short time before it went crashing down to the floor and broke.  His solution was to brace the bottom of it with a larger piece of wood because the balance was off somehow.  He took raw wooden blocks and attached them to the bottom and I was immediately upset with it, because now the divider didn’t look pretty.  It was awkward and these weird stabilizing blocks on the bottom weren’t even painted.  In a matter of days, it only took a slight bumping of my elbow to the divider and it went crashing down to the floor again.  One panel broke completely off again, wooden splinters sticking out from where the screws were ripped from it in the fall. 

He told me he would figure out a different solution and propped the broken panel by the other pieces that were still standing.  I suggested calling someone, looking up a video, asking someone for help, like his brother who is a pretty talented carpenter.  He wouldn’t ask for help.  I guess he didn’t think he needed any.

Several weeks went by and I got angry every time I walked into my room and saw the broken divider.  He even got the equipment he needed to fix it, but it stayed by the door in our entryway and the dividers stayed as they were in our room.  Broken. 

I got angry about them yesterday. Really angry.  Angrier than a person should get about a faulty made-from-scratch room divider.  I told him the dividers were broken and to just get them out of our room.  He attempted one last time to fix them somehow by taking more raw wooden braces to try and fix on the other side.  The fix made the piece look even more unattractive.  I told him it was a bad idea.  The fence posts weren’t going to work.  It was broken.  I wanted them out of the room.  I was done looking at them.  I was done with the idea of even wanting to have them any longer. 

He was noticeably hurt from my demands, but he said nothing, and silently took them apart and put them in the garage.  And I cried later.  I cried a lot.  More than a person should cry about a faulty made-from-scratch room divider. 

And I realized that I wasn’t crying over the divider.  Somewhere along the way, the room divider became a visual of our marriage.  It’s off balance.  It’s awkward.  It’s been attempted to be repaired with quick and sloppy fixes.  He says that he will do things or fix things and doesn’t follow through in what he says he will do and the room divider was a tangible reminder of what feels broken in our relationship.  My heart looks much like the splintered wood where the screws had been ripped out after the fall.  And I don’t know the condition of his because he doesn’t it show it to me. 

All I know, is that our marriage feels like it’s in the garage.  It’s out there with the toys and clothes my boys have outgrown, the bicycles we never ride and leftover paint from other more successful DIY projects.  If it doesn’t get fixed, it will probably get tossed out as most things in the garage usually do.