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.

 

 

Oceans Between Us…

 

Oceans Between Us – Jenni Cockerham *

Almost exactly 2 years ago to the day I penned these words*. It is a mini memoir that was written mostly for me. But it was written with others in mind…those who have had hard histories…who were struggling or disillusioned with life…or God. I think I have spent the past few years spiritually disoriented…after having spent the past few decades so very clear.

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Don’t Call ‘Em as You See ‘Em…

This blog stems from a deep desire in me to not add to the negative voices in the universe. The voices whispering, “You are not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, creative enough…simply…you are not enough.” I hope to communicate a strategy I have adopted that has sent me to a different place with my children, friends and family. It has quieted some of the critical voices and shifted my semantics to speak life and love in to those around me.

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Inside Out…Hits Your Heart and Head in All the Right Places

Motherhood has done so many bizarre things to my heart and my head.

Pre-babies Chris and I would create weekend adventures, travel, visit friends, and or enjoy a creative date night out. On our least creative weekends we would likely enjoy dinner and a movie. Dating still happens in our world but is limited typically to dinner and a long walk around the neighborhood. Movies are pricey these days, then paying a sitter on top of this for the evening means we haven’t seen a movie in the theater for about 10 years.

That said, the few exceptions to this are when, we, as a family, take out a second mortgage and decide to go to the movies.

An expensive treat, albeit, a treat none the less. The sacrifice feels great, Joshua thanked God at dinner last night, not simply for the food, but for the opportunity to go to Inside Out! So something significant is being communicated with this type of grandiose gesture!?!?!

What’s the verdict on Inside Out?

Well worth the effort and the moolah!

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Not My Plan

You know me.  I like real, raw, and relatable.  I feel like I have lived life in a state of “not really plan” for the past few years…so I get it.  Rechaud Bell is a family friend, an awesome father and creative blogger.  It is my privilege to share a few of this gifted guy’s words with you…

Rechaud blog

Really, when I’m honest with myself, Papa God never runs His plans by me for approval. So when He arrested my heart in 2013, I should’ve known that fostering was going to be hard, but mostly due to my own brokenness.

My wife runs a non-profit that helps foster children, one evening she told me about a young lady who she knew who came in the office that day. As she shared, I knew this was more than an informational story. Papa God’s love was compelling her to act beyond the scope of her job.

At that time, our kids were all under the age of five. We always thought that once our kids were older, we would adopt or foster. But that wasn’t Papa God’s plan. My wife wanted to know what I thought about the possibility of us bringing her into our family. Without any hesitation, I agreed that we should.

The following Saturday, I met our forever daughter for the first time. With so much tragedy in her young life, it was understandable that she came across quiet, distant and uninterested.

I assumed this 17 year-old wanted freedom, independence and a big brother instead of a father. So I was surprised and uncomfortable when she began calling us Mother and Daddy in the very early days. My wife and I thought maybe it was a cultural way of showing respect.

After a few weeks, we finally got up the nerve to let her know that we weren’t expecting her to call us Mother and Daddy. She wasn’t comfortable with expressing herself, but that Saturday afternoon her body language did all the talking. We could tell by the lowering of her eyes, the drooping of her shoulders and the wringing of her hands, that we had it all wrong.

She wasn’t calling us Mother and Daddy to appease us. She was calling us what she so desperately wanted. Instantly, we told her that we would be glad to be called Mother and Daddy.

My wife in this season provided a wonderful example of what love does. She would pour into our forever daughter love, words of encouragement and life stories. There wasn’t this amazing “ah ha” moment or even an acknowledgement that the words were being heard. To say the least, it was hard but my bride persevered with love.

As for me, I had a list of excuses to justify why I wasn’t connecting with her.

She was raised in a different culture than me.

She had different values than me.

She didn’t have much in common with me.

She wasn’t good at expressing her thoughts and feelings.

She had a hard time asking for help.

Then one day, the Lord used my same reasons to show me why I should’ve been disqualified from receiving His love. (Romans 5:8)

I was raised in a different culture than Papa God.

I had different values than Papa God.

I didn’t have much in common with Papa God.

I wasn’t good at expressing my thoughts and feelings.

I was too prideful and stubborn to ask for help.

The intentions of my heart were exposed and I was broken by my own ugliness. I’m embarrassed to admit that my excuses made me think I was somehow better than her. That she should feel honored that we invited her into our family. I loved to tell people how we opened up our home. If I was honest, I treasured the respect and admiration I received from others more than nurturing the heart of our forever daughter. I was a hypocrite and I was wrong for behaving that way. Nevertheless, Papa God didn’t leave me there. He gave me hope by reminding me of all He’s done for me.

He loved me in spite of those differences.

He sent His Son here on a mission to bring me home.

He now calls me His son.

He wants me to share His love with others.

His kindness led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). He helped me love and accept our forever daughter, like He did me. My heart began to turn. Instead of seeing her as a stranger living in our house, I was able to see her as a beautiful young woman who needs love, purpose, and family just like everyone else, including me. Now I see that His plan was better. And I am honored to call her my daughter, forever.

rechaud and familyRechaud Bell

Rechaud lives in Orlando, FL and is married to his best friend Betsey.  Rechaud is self-employed and raising his kids full time.  If you would like to learn more about this gifted guy you can check out his blog here.