ONE Thing We Need to Remember…

Kylee left the dance studio in tears last night. She was upset because she was attempting a new genre of dance and said she simply, “could not do it right.” I know formerly in her training there was quite a bit of technique involved but to an untrained eye–I thought it looked beautiful. That said, she vehemently disagreed and explained how inadequate she felt. Her inner critic was working overtime and her level of drama was uncharacteristically off the charts.

I took a breath…because in that “mom moment” I have found my words often seem (ahem) unhelpful. After I shared what I had observed, but was not heard, I encouraged her to ask her instructor for additional feedback. A small inner nudge reminded me of Kylee’s past experiences choreographing several dances for her school musicals and so I attempted to slide through the tiny crack left in the window of communication before it was slammed shut. I asked Kylee if after only one demonstration of a new dance if she expected her students to “nail” it? I asked her if after only one class if she expected her students to have all the right moves–especially students who were new to a particular style of dance? Of course she said no. I then followed and asked her what she might tell those students if they were frustrated and didn’t feel like they had done it “right”? She said she would encourage them to go home and practice–and that she would revisit the phrase the following week. I knew this would be her response and so I asked her if she might be willing to extend that same kind of compassion and grace upon herself?

She wasn’t sure she could…her standards are high…higher than any instructor at her studio…higher than possibly she can ever fully actualize*.

Upon further reflection I began to personally dig a little deeper. I wondered: Do I ask more of my children than is reasonable? Do I simply encourage them to be fully present and engage with full effort…or am I expecting something more…even unreasonable…something they cannot and should not strive for? I felt like the answer was most often “no” to obvious, overt, or spoken expectations. My internal dialogue continued: “Am I kind to MYSELF? Do I hold standards of perfection over my own life…or am I harsh in the way I speak to my body or soul? Would I extend more grace to others in the areas I am personally struggling or have doubt?” This rang a little more true. I realized I needed to quiet those inner critics and be more tender on the daily. Not only does Kylee need to know her value, worth and identity. I need to love, cherish, speak kindness and grace over my own life just as I am asking Kylee to do these things over hers.

I realized–(and I asked Kylee’s permission)–this story was worth sharing with others. Are we being overly critical of ourselves or others? Are we in an attempt for excellence pushing perfection in places it doesn’t belong? I know that this may sound simpler then it actually is…patterns are difficult to break. But raising our awareness does wonders–and if that still small voice was able to remind me of Kylee’s belovedness, then I am pretty sure that same still small voice might be able to speak love and truth over you. Friend, how valuable and worthy you are…your “rightness” does not make you okay…your belovedness does. You are loved beyond measure.

*I realized through this conversation that I was speaking to elements of  Kylee’s Enneagram 1 typology and my 1 wing.

Anne Lamott reminds us, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.”

Ian Cron tells us that in The Road Back to You, “healthy ones are committed to a life of service and integrity. They are balanced and responsible and able to forgive themselves and others for being imperfect. They are principled but patient with the processes that slowly but surely make the world a better place.”

I love the idea that more self awareness will produce self compassion for our lives and the lives of those around us.

May we rise today, be honest with our Inner Critic, tell her she may have been helpful in the past, but she is a little too jarring for our mind, body and spirit. And we will not continue to need her services. May Self Compassion be a new voice we welcome to the conversation and may she steer the ship from this day forward. Onward!

Photo Cred:

  Denise Cerniglia Photography

(I love this photo by the way–the girls are fully present, engaging with full effort…but there is joy, there is a freedom, and this  is what I desire for my life and yours!)

May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Kind to Yourself and Others…

Jenni

Life is Hard

Life is hard is almost a throw away sentence and yet is probably one of the truest things I know. Life is hard makes Chris squirm because he is an Enneagram 7 and it is better to focus on what is ahead and whether or not a vacation is on the calendar. Life is hard is every human’s reality–and yet we all somehow want to hop off the ride and choose something a little slower and more predictable like the ferris wheel: it may go high…but we have a better vantage point and can see danger from a mile away. I recently heard someone say that pain and love are the most predictable things in this lifetime. This statement is a cousin to life is hard, but I like it more because it speaks of Love.

When we returned from Uganda I kinda thought we had hit our quota of life is hard and maybe would experience a lot more life is easy–or at least less painful. The residual sadness and depression lingered far longer than I could have ever imagined. I have already written a dozen blogs about this as well as referenced the disorientation I felt spiritually speaking. I do think the grappling and grasping for clarity on where my faith fell in the midst of suffering was alarming at best. At a tender age I was taught that a life with Jesus would not be a bed of roses…pretty sure this was a direct quote…but it would be a lot sweeter than living without him. In the deepest darkest recesses of my wounded soul I wasn’t so sure. Instead of smelling roses I smelled something reeking a bit of prosperity gospel and it filled me with nausea. My childhood faith simply could not sustain my life is hard real life experiences.

Deep down I believed–maybe subconsciously or secretly:  to live a good life meant good things would follow you…or nothing really terrible would happen. (Isn’t that what most proverbs tell us?) I knew about Jesus and taking up our crosses…and even knew what was His eventual end…but I couldn’t imagine life would be truly hard–as in–excruciatingly hard.

I think the real kicker was returning home and still having hard stuff land on our doorstep. Stuff like suffering still occurring all around the world and it was filling my newsfeed. Stuff like a parent with a drug addiction or dementia. Stuff like being betrayed by a co-worker. Stuff like untimely deaths and broken relationships. Wasn’t Uganda the end of the hard life stuff? Didn’t we hit a lifetime quota of hard? Did we do something wrong and not learn a lesson the first time?

To some my words may be a relief. You have lived long enough to know life is hard–or have walked alongside a loved one who has suffered. You have grappled and grasped and there was no pretty bow, nor roses, or cherries to put on top. It wasn’t because you weren’t looking or didn’t like flowers or trusting…it was because it simply couldn’t end with prosperity…or pretty packaging…it was too deep, too dark, and too tragic. To be honest, it was non-sensical, which leaves us desiring to eat a truck load of chocolate while scrolling social media simultaneously making a commitment to never step foot in church again. Or on a rare occasion–as was my case–all of the above–and THEN actually continuing to grasp and grapple despite my best evaluation and judgement to see if there is anything left on this side of faith to cling. The desperate search looks like turning over the dead log in the forest…inspecting it for life…to see if even the strange creepy crawly things might have some good purpose after all. I have found faith is still faith when you do this type of investigation.

My words might be off-putting to some who are looking for a pretty bow or a positive lesson learned. A three point sermonette neatly packaged detailing how we “trust God in the hard” seems appropriate. Those words will sell books, fill services, and are perfect for memes on social media, but these lips won’t be saying them. It is not because I am bitter…I am actually much better than I have been in a long time. But in earnest, to exit our Uganda story and step in to a new story meant losing a sense of self and and certainty. It was a peeling off of skin that was both painful as well as delicious…similar to Eustaces’ plight in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when his dragon skin was removed.

No one wants to exist in itchy dragon skin when they were created with a heart of a human. Love came and painfully pulled at the thick layers revealing Eustace’s tender pink skin underneath. For me Love came down and slowly but surely provided a new story with new skin. It was disorienting because trusting my wings and breathing fire was a very natural way of life. I was certain beyond certain of most all things spiritual–and specifically Christian. Now with the leathery protective shell removed, with fresh pink skin, the tender heart of this little girl knew about deep pain and deep love and not much more. If there was a bow, roses, or a cherry to speak of in this lifetime, it would be Love. Love in the smallest sense and simplest action sparked a hope for me in humanity. Love pointed me to our Creator. Love in the greatest sense…a love that came down and continues to come down pointing to something larger than my life or my story. Love in the daily sense is what has saved me. My family and friends have shown me what being the hands and feet of Jesus really look like. Not because I deserve it–or because they are hoping to avoid pain by alleviating mine–but my friends and family have quite literally entered in to the pain and brought love (and sometimes food) and it inspires me to do the same for the world around me.

May You Believe You are Loved and Be Love,

Jenni

 

 

(Photo cred: image-20160411-21959-ps6nll.jpg)

 

 

 

A Connected Colony

Images are so powerful. Recently I have been fixated on the roots of Aspen trees. I have been unable to stop thinking about how the root system is actually a grand colony that began with a single seed. On the surface we see single trees standing side by side, but underneath the ground is an intricate and deeply connected colony of roots that grow and work together. Recently I learned…when the root system dies…the Aspen forest dies.

Karen was one of the first people we met when we arrived in western Uganda. She had a wide smile, heart of gold and helpful hands. For two months she was a bright spot and a dear friend on what was a rainy season of our lives. We not only were given the chance to get to know Karen, but also met her adorable son Lordrick. I will never forget the day Lordrick began to have an epileptic seizure in Kylee’s 9 year old arms. It was so very frightening and my heart sank because I knew medically options were limited for Karen and her precious baby boy. A group of teens in the states heard stories of Karen and Lordrick, and they wanted to make a way for him to see a physician. They covered the cost of medical bills and Lordrick’s much needed medicine.

Over time a friendship bloomed between Karen and my American friend Janine. She realized there might be a way to invest long term in Karen and Lordrick’s lives. She carried that vision to her core team: a small group of teens and adult leaders in her church. Together they committed to sending Karen to university. Janine and her team believed an educated young woman will provide for her family, stay healthy, save money, start a business, empower her community, and lift her country. They were right. Karen has spent the past four years in school, recently graduated, and is well on her way to doing just that: providing, saving, building, empowering, and lifting others up. I know this because this is the kind of woman she was before this opportunity was given to her and so it will all the more be who she will continue to be moving forward!

So back to my Aspen trees. I have always been incredibly struck by the beauty of the Aspen tree: the golden heart shaped leaves sparkle against brilliant white bark. Though from the surface it appears as if there is one singular tree towering toward the heavens, we find actually underneath the ground an entangled colony, deeply connected to the roots of it’s brothers and sisters. I am no biologist so forgive my preschool understanding of this phenomena; but that said, I was deeply struck by this image and the many many amazing people who have intertwined with my life, strengthened me, at times held me up, and who have made me who I am today.

Image result for Aspen Roots image

I could not help thinking of Aspen roots as I reflected on Karen’s graduation. The intersecting of lives that have been strengthened as they have strengthened Karen and Lordrick. Moving forward, so many all over Uganda will be blessed by Karen and Lordrick’s lives. We are better together. We need one another and will forever be changed when we grow where we are planted and allow ourselves to be intertwined for the strengthening of the forest.

Love, Peace, and Aspen Roots,

 

Jenni

 

 

 

The Grace of a Rebuilding Year…

Sometimes we are simply not kind to ourselves. A new year signals hope and new opportunities–but often voices in our heads spout:  “I should be farther along…I should have conquered this by now…I should start…I should stop… I should have a stronger faith to overcome my fear, grief, loss, or temptations. I should…I should…I should.”

One of the most staggering shocks to my system was my inability to recover quickly from loss. I was confident that my faith could hold up under the pain and grief, but instead I was laid out…flat. The recovery process has taken many years–which was too long in the minds of most…myself included: “I should be okay…my faith should be able to carry this load.”  Worse, at times I would self-medicate and then louder voices piled on shame: “I should not emotionally eat, I should workout more to increase endorphin levels, I should stop numbing with things that absolutely will attack my health and wellness and keep me trapped in this cycle.” Though the second group of  voices carried elements of truth, unfortunately they didn’t matter because frustratingly, the darkness of depression wasn’t willing to negotiate with the light of logic.

I’ll never forget the day when a tiny portion of my personality resurfaced; a part that I was pretty certain was irretrievable. I remember greeting her with warmth and surprise. In that moment a glimmer of hope rose up and I wondered if maybe just maybe two years of hard core grief was not a waste–but the only option I had to find my way to the other side? Could it be that I was being too hasty expecting a full recovery just a few months after losing two children? Yes…I believe I was.

Recently I heard Jon Acuff explain that the NFL is one of the only places where we extend grace and recognize that it takes TIME to recover. We  brilliantly dub it: a REBUILDING year. Some teams take multiple years or even a full decade to regain real footing within their programs. But in our day to day lives we expect to recover, change, start over, grieve, create new thought, or build something amazing in a matter of weeks or months. And when we don’t…we believe we have failed…or worse…that we are failures.

I want to call nonsense on this practice. I want to give permission for a much more gentle and loving approach to change. Everyone told me it takes time to heal a heart and this is so very true. The footing I have established on my journey has been remarkable–but I had several agonizing rebuilding years–hours of counseling and therapy–loads of book reading/podcasts–long walks–powerful prayer and faithful friendships that carried me through those dark days. Imagine the work that goes in to rebuilding an NFL franchise…we have no problem patiently supporting our teams…fully understanding it will take time and effort to re-enter the game at a championship level. Yet it seems far more comfortable for us to speak words of failure and shame upon ourselves.

Instead, what if we were to we extend the same kind of grace to ourselves and those we love? If this year needs to be a rebuilding year for you–take it. It will not be easy, but start by telling your fans. Tell them you are in a rebuilding place and wake up each day telling yourself the same. It may be daily small steps (literally or figuratively), it will likely require a support system, it may look like gathering tools or teachers, counselors and positive words reminding you of your identity, value and worth. It is crucial to recognize our lives will not be different next week–or even next month–but if you are committed to a rebuilding year–this just might be the permission you need to embrace this year with joy and not dread.

As I completed this blog I realized my “word” last year was rebuild…it was like I intuitively knew what I needed: (another) rebuilding year. We start wherever we are. We survey the rubble and damage and we decide it is only going to be rebuilt brick by brick. We speak kind words over ourselves and our story.

It is slow, arduous, yet sacred work. 

The bricks look like grace layered upon grace. There are also bricks made of kindness and love. Love for self and reminders of God’s love for you.

If you feel stuck or like you need a word of encouragement…please feel free to comment below or private message me so I might be able to be a fan as you launch in to your rebuilding year.

 

 

May We Live Life the Way We Hope to be Remembered…

Her Christmas cookies were simply peanut butter sandwiched in between two Ritz crackers dipped in milk chocolate–but they were legendary and didn’t last longer than a day or two sitting on our kitchen counter. His voice was quiet and deep, his words were few. Yet I hung on any and every childhood story he would tell of his life on the farm.

After church one Sunday, at the tender age of six, I boldly approached this couple and asked what might be the strangest question a child could ask: “Would you be my grandparents?” They took this request seriously and included me in their nightly prayers and watched me when my parents went out of town. Grandma sewed clothes for my Cabbage Patch dolls and Grandpa carved wooden cars for my brother. They taught me to ride horses and yearly would host elementary students on their farm introducing them to their ponies: Chocolate Drop and Spot.

I realized they not only set the bar very high for what I hoped grandparents would be like in the life of my children…but they showed me a model for marriage.

When Chris and I were dating we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa. I would “shush” him as we tip-toed through the front door, briskly walked through the kitchen; then we would crane our necks to peak in to their simple living room. It was 3pm and I hoped to catch them doing something I had witnessed many times before: an adorable couple…married for over 50 years…spooning on the floor eating popcorn and watching a random black and white television show. The volume was turned up so loudly and their backs were turned; they could not hear us enter their home…and just for a moment Chris and I were frozen in this tender moment. Two people in love…still doing life together after all these years. It may seem creepy as we invaded their space and their “moment” but for me it was a window in to something I longed for in my future marriage. Captured on the rug was an innocence and intimacy that eludes many marriages after the kids are gone…or even before. The connection and commitment to this ritual spoke to me.

Recently I received a gift that reminded me of the deep impact this couple made on my life. I realized Grandma and Grandpa modeled what I hope to provide in my marriage and my home. A safe place and the gift of presence. Grandma and Grandpa had PLENTY of biological grandchildren, yet they made room in their hearts for a few more. They treated us as if we were their own and held out a Light of Love that drew me in and shaped who I am.

Strangely…I had almost forgotten. We often are given relationships for only a season. This time of year I become reflective and my heart expands in thankfulness. I realize that I am not the sum of a few but it took a village to raise me (in Indiana) and another village who helped me grow in my adult life (in North Carolina). Dozens of people showed me how to be a parent. Chris and I had spiritual guides, mentors, neighbors and friends who have molded us in to who we are today. I wanted to pause here and say we are thankful for EACH one of you.

I wonder if we all might take a moment between the busyness of the Christmas season and the start of the new year to reflect and give thanks…may we say a prayer of thanks for those who have shaped us? Maybe a text or phone call to express our gratitude…whether we are related or not…we are designed to be in relationship and do life together…and we are better together.

Grandma and Grandpa lived simply and loved well. They did not strive for wealth or fame. But they will be forever lifetime heroes who have made their mark and left a legacy…in my heart…and in the hearts of many.

May we live life the way we hope to be remembered. 

Merry Christmas…and Happy (Almost) New Year,

Jenni

(Image found courtesy of… imgur) 

If You Really Knew Me…

Before two very tragic and public deaths occurred last week–I penned this blog. I realized after re-reading my words–they felt even more relevant today–as we truly do not know the battles that can often rage within. After hearing a powerful message this week surrounding suicide at CoM–I realized this was an important time to share what I had written:

Over the past few years I have witnessed college folks playing an intriguing game called, if you REALLY knew me. When I first encountered the game I was slightly disturbed by what was being shared as I was concerned that it might encourage forced vulnerability. Pushing participants to disclose intimate stories from their very real lives. But in a culture that is chocked full of perfectly polished Instagram stories; where we continue to post our highlight reels, maybe this is exactly what is needed to remedy all those shiny selfies. We rarely reveal what often is just under the surface. I realized that this little game of “if you really knew me” is actually a helpful tool to allow honesty to be shared in an (ideally) safe space. We can take off the mask and allow others to peek in to the window of our humanity…revealing our hurts…and  provide a place where others can respond with a hearty, “I see you…I hear you…you are known…you are loved.”  When culture is carving out online space for us to daily consume the very best portrait of others’ lives–no wonder we are hearing reports of deep depression and loneliness? We actually are craving someone who “REALLY KNOWS US”…and things would be better off in our own psyche if we really knew others stories because we would feel way more NORMAL and certainly not alone.

So to celebrate my 42 years of life I decided to get as raw as I possibly could–and share 24* things you may not know and might not believe about my life. (*42 would be WAY too boring…but 24 is digestible!)

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Baking Worship…Not Bacon Worship

Have you ever had someone prepare a meal for you that was made with love?  You could tell with each bite it was more than mere calories and nourishment?  Maybe you have witnessed a last second shot taken from half court…all net no rim? Have you ever been moved by words written on a page? Or walked in to someone’s home and been encircled with a warmth…complete with coffee and cozy couches? There is something that stirs within us when we experience or encounter these things…

Recently, while she was bustling around the kitchen, I told Kylee I believed baking was actually one of her spiritual acts of worship. She looked at me as if I had two heads! Such a foreign concept that something so “mundane” and something that brought her so much joy would be considered “worship”!?! This made my heart a little sad. I think we need to re-frame our understanding of worship and properly align our mindset around what it truly means.

When we hear the word worship we often think hymns, sitting solemnly inside of buildings with steeples, praying prayers with heads bowed and hands folded. Sometimes we imagine furrowed brows, sermons or an hour gathering on Sunday mornings…

But here is what a wise teacher said about worship:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday,        ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  (Romans 12:1,2 The Message*) 

Writing and reading do something similar within me that baking and dancing do for Kylee. I feel so very alive in those moments. Sitting with others listening to their stories feels (at times) like a spiritual act of worship. For too long I have compartmentalized these worlds thinking they were separate. But it is in our every day, in the ordinary daily doings of life, that God is active and moving and we are worshipping.

There are times when reading and writing feel indulgent. Sitting with another sharing “heart stuff” feels almost too sweet. But having been on the receiving end of a delicious meal prepared with love, enjoying fresh baked cookies, or being welcomed to a home with cozy couches and copious cups of coffee, make me wonder if I might be experiencing a life-moment where I am encountering another’s spiritual act of worship? Was the half-court shot that left me in awe and the song lyrics that left me in tears someone else living out of their very best life?

The wisdom is loud and clear…

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.*

In my every day ordinary life…may I live reminded…the every day things I do are all opportunities to live a life of worship. And may I recognize, see those things and call them out in others. May I not think worship happens simply on Sundays. May I teach my kids the things they do and the ways they do them are so very often a spiritual act of worship. I am sure many worship bacon…or create a pretty mean bacon-wrapped meatloaf as their spiritual act of worship; I want to suggest that baking, dancing, writing, creating safe space and listening are all acts of worship. We should celebrate and lean in to our daily activities…embrace the things that seem mundane…they are ways we love others and life our best life!

May You Worship with your Every Day Ordinary Life…

Jenni