Extraordinary Ordinary

pumpkins

This weekend writing ideas were free floating around my brain.  Probably because I was hunkered down trying to get a writing assignment completed.  It was technical writing, which is still writing, and so it’s good.  But, my creative side becomes suffocated and thus, infiltrates my thoughts with imaginary blog posts, quotes, and potentials for a great fiction novel.  I was all over the map, people.

One thought that kept coming back was the idea of valuing people’s stories; those unique pieces each of us hold, that are only ours.  Lately, in life, I’ve been trying to pay attention to those stories.  And what I’ve learned is when we listen to the stories of others, we begin to have more compassion for people different from us. When we put stories to faces, and stop judging everyone by our perception of their lives or actions, we make room to see their humanity, their extraordinary, ordinariness.

A person I have been blessed to know better in the past few months is a lady, who happens to be transgendered.  I got to email back and forth, and have a cup of coffee with her.  I got to hear her story, in her words.  You see, she happens to be transgendered, but that is not her whole story.  It is a piece.  She also happens to be a fabulous writer, who has children, and loves her family and friends.  We have a lot in common.  She spent her career serving our community at home and abroad.

During our conversation over coffee, we talked about her transition.  She graciously gave me glimpses into what life was like then.  I will not go into detail.  It’s her story to tell.  But, during the telling of that story, she repeatedly mentioned how she did not handle some things right.  She said she had some unrealistic expectations of people.  She described how she wished she would have had more patience with people, been more understanding of their fears.

I sat and soaked up her message.  Here was someone who very publicly faced something seen as controversial to many people in the area we live.  And instead of talking about how some mistreated or spoke badly of her, she spoke of how she learned to have more compassion.  She proudly talked of reconciling relationships with old friends, of how kindness and love win in the end.

Our conversation had a profound impact on me.  And this is how it has been in my life over the past ten years.  I have met people through my job, church, and social life, who at initial appearance seem very different from me.  We talk, hear each other’s story, and suddenly, what seemed like an immense gulf, starts to narrow, and our humanity begins to span the divide.

In the last year, I have learned a lot about people, my faith, and who God is, and who God is not.  I have skirted with the fringes of some of these ideas for years, but have just never quite been able to put my finger on it.  Here is what I’ve learned.

God is perfect love, and most of us aren’t there yet (myself included).

God is compassion, even towards those of us who struggle with showing compassion.

God is love in action, and we are His hands and feet.

God’s love is sacrificial, and ours should be too.

When I look back on my life before this journey in faith, I cringe a little bit.  I think of all of the times I spoke before I thought.  Let’s be honest.  It still happens from time to time.  I think of how I let the cynical voice in my head dictate my expectations for people and judge them because of their circumstances or choices. I think about how I was so sure that I knew the “right” answers and all others were wrong.  It makes me cringe.  It makes me sad to think of the people I hurt; the relationships I missed.  I still struggle at times with that cynical voice.

But on the days I wrestle with guilt, I look at my kids and have hope.  With this generation, in my family, they are being raised to do life different.  We are raising them to seek out the story of others, especially when they don’t understand them.  Not that you have to try very hard to do that with children.  They are naturally inquisitive.  They don’t know anything about assumptions, stereo-types, or cynicism.  Not yet at least.

The other night I was reading Ann Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird.  In it she quotes a man as saying, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image, when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.”  It is a quote that cuts to the heart of who we are, and what we believe.  Who have we created God to be?

Today, while dropping of my son in the car rider line at school, I got to witness more extraordinary ordinary.  My little man got out of the car and stepped up onto the sidewalk, about the same time as a darker skinned little boy in the car in front of us.  When they saw each other, both their faces broke into huge grins.  They literally ran to each other, gave each other a giant hug, and then proceeded to hold hands all the way into school, totally oblivious to any outward differences with each other.  They are four, and apparently life doesn’t get any better than having a good buddy’s hand to hold on the way into school.  It was such a beautiful thing to see, and I cried all the way out of the parking lot.  The little extraordinary ordinaries get me every time.

So, today, dear reader, as we are bombarded with images of hate from around the world.  As we struggle with judgement and sometimes focus on what separates us, let’s just stop.  Let’s sit down with each other, have a cup of coffee, hear each other’s precious story, and challenge ourselves to see beyond the surface issues.  Because though there is much darkness, there is also light.  And light always drives out darkness.

Ugly Tears

rain and flower

Last weekend, I watched, The Help.  I’ve read the book, and seen the movie exactly 1500 times.  After that many viewings, it’s not the tear jerker it use to be, except for one scene.  In that one scene, I cry every time.  Not little dainty, sniffly crying.  No dear friends, I ugly cry.  You know, the scrunched up, hiccup, snot run down your face, cry?  That’s me.

About the time little Mae Mobley gets her bottom spanked for using one of the “used toilets” left on Hilly Holbrook’s lawn, my eyes start watering.  After a few more scenes, it flips to Aibileen crouched down in front of a tearful Mae Mobley.  Tears pour down my face, as I watch Aibileen smile and  look Mae Mobley in her beautiful face, saying those now famous lines, “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  She nods her head with each sentence, encouraging Mae Mobley to say it with her.  Mae Mobley is a chunky, two year old, whose mother is ice queen, Elizabeth Leefolt.  And in that scene, it is not just the viewers watching the precious exchange, it’s Elizabeth.

By this point, I’m full on ugly crying.  And here’s why.  In my busy schedule, trying to juggle all of the requirements of life, and also trying to make it look effortless, I wonder how many times, I am Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, the character so consumed with everything being perfect, that she finds imperfection in her precious two year old.  I’d like to think I’m not that eaten up with keeping up, but some times I wonder.

My children are far from perfect, and in the spirit of transparency, so am I.  But, I sure spend unintended time making certain we are scrubbed, smiling and socially acceptable.  I suspect we all do on some level.  The reality is though, that we’re not.

We have bad days, weeks, sometimes months.  Behaviors get out of control, feelings get hurt, and there are temper tantrums.  Once in a while, it’s the adult version.  My house gets grungy.  The minivan gets disgusting.  We do ugly well, people.

But in the midst of all of that, what my kids really need is me to stop, crouch down, look them in the eye, and talk straight into their hearts, “You are kind.  You are smart.  You are important.”  Because the world will keep on spinning, whether my house is clean or not.  TV and marketing will keep selling us the lie of all of the things we need to be “happy.”  And the career “road to success” will stay ever ahead of us, bidding us to chase it.

Time with our loved ones, however, is not guaranteed.  And, somehow daily, we need to stop in the chaos, and remind each other of how precious we are.  Take a loved ones face in our hands, look them in the eye, and speak to their heart, “You are important.”

The Most Beautiful Place

Neskowin, Oregon

For a soggy Pacific Northwest kid, moving to Oklahoma was a bit of a shock.  We moved in June.  As soon as I opened the car door and stepped foot on Oklahoma soil, I was sure we were moving to the surface of the sun.  It was HOT, and HUMID. You know, the kind of heat that just sucks the air right out of you?  I felt certain my parents had lost their minds.

Fast forward over 20 years, and Oklahoma has become my home.  Though, I will admit, I am still not a fan of summers here.  But summer aside, life is good.  Jobs are plentiful, housing is affordable, and people are generally nice.  It looks nothing like Oregon, but I’ve learned to appreciate Oklahoma’s own unique beauty.  To say I’m happy would be an understatement.

But, every once in a while, I get to feeling a little nostalgic for Oregon, the weather, the green, the mountains, and the ocean.  So, today, while running, I was giddy as all get out (that’s an Oklahoma phrase, y’all,) when the sky opened up, and rain began to fall; cold, windy rain.  I was practically doing a jig in my cross trainers!

By the time I made it home, I was soaked and cold.  COLD, people! In September, in OKLAHOMA. It was fabulous.

So, tonight I find myself perusing pictures of my last trip to Oregon.  And pricing plane tickets.  I guess no matter how old you get, and where you go, you will always love the first place you remember as home, rain and all.

Yaquina Head tide pools, Oregon

The Terrible 3’s

A namtag sticker with the words Hello My Name is Trouble representing a problem, issue, annoyance, mischief, danger, pain or stress

I wrote this a few years ago. Rereading it today made me laugh. So for all my mama friends with littles, this one’s for you!  -Love, Jenn

Do you know a well mannered three year old?  One that helps pick up toys, maybe says please when he wants something, or uses utensils to eat?  I don’t.  See, I have a three year old, who I will affectionately call, Fireball.

He is called Fireball for a reason.  He has already vandalized the neighbor’s house, i.e. he threw a baseball at their window, leaving a perfect baseball-sized hole in it.  Last night, while trying to throw a dog bone, the bone bounced off the bicycle helmet he was wearing and hit another neighbor in the face.  That wasn’t embarrassing at all!  The night before that he found a absolutely perfect rock for throwing at our front, glass door.  Thankfully, it only bounced off the glass.  Got lucky on that one!

But, tonight, oh tonight…Being the responsible and perfect mother that I am (sarcasm), I attempted to get the kiddos in bed early to start preparing them for the “school” sleep schedule.  Things were going well, which was really just an omen that they were about to go very badly, but I continued to ignore the warnings and floated along in bliss.

After putting Fireball to bed, I bathed Princess and got her ready for bed.  As I passed Fireball’s bedroom door, I heard the sound of something rustling.  Rustling sounds from his room are never good.  I quickly opened the door, hoping to catch him in the act of whatever mischief he was making, and catch him I did.

As I opened the door, the first thought that crossed my mind was, “Geez, there is a lot of light in here.”  Which quickly changed to, “Holy mother!  He ate the blinds!”  As I write this, I still cannot believe it.  Apparently, faux wood blinds are good to chew on while you are sitting in your room unable to fall asleep.

Incredulous, I asked the ridiculous question, “Did you chew your blinds?”  To which Fireball replied, “Ya!” very proudly.  As I got closer to the area of destruction, I saw pieces of white faux wood blinds all over the floor.  Sadly, my only thought then was, “Well, at least he spit the stuff out.”

So, there I am, with a gaping hole in the blinds, fake wood pieces all over the floor, and three year old with white plastic pieces stuck to his cheek.  Folks, I was at a total loss.  I mean, who the hell chews on blinds?  I thought we were over the “lets put weird things in our mouth” phase.  Apparently not.


As Fireball looked at me waiting for some type of response, I honestly did not have one.  Oh, and I forgot to mention he tore down the curtain rod as well, because who needs those!  People, as I stood looking at the decimation that one tiny person caused, I was at a total loss.  


What to do?  I simply wiped up the mess.  He then began demanding a drink of water, because apparently becoming Tyrannosaurus Rex to the blinds works up quite a thirst.  I explained, with all the patience I could muster, that he was not getting a drink of water.  I also explained that the blinds were coming down, since he decided he needed to destroy them.  I then walked out the room.


I think he was a little stunned as he was expecting a reaction of “shock and awe” from Momma.  So, when he didn’t get that he proceeded to cry and wail, until he finally fell asleep.  After sneaking back in to survey the damage, I’m giving his destruction an EF3 rating.


Tonight, I’ve been trying to remind myself that someday, he will outgrow all of this testing and button-pushing and blind eating.  I tell myself that, provided I don’t break his spirit, he will grow into an assertive man who will lead others with his outgoing personality.  I really am trying to think that.  But sometimes I wonder if I will survive this phase with my sanity intact.  And I continue to ponder that until I check on Tyrannosaurus Rex, who is now peacefully sleeping in his bed.  Looking at him, I take a deep breath, stroke his hair, and try to prepare myself for whatever tomorrow holds, even if it’s chewing on the blinds.

Wishful Wednesdays

Wishes

The alarm chirped at 4:30 am, that’s 4, 3, 0…in the morning.  As I slogged out of bed, I stumbled around my bedroom, trying desperately to make it to the coffee pot, AKA liquid sanity, in the kitchen.  The house was quite.  My munchkins would not be stirring for hours.  I wished for just a bit more sleep.

As I stood and drank my coffee, there was no time to sit, I started ticking through the list of to do’s for the day. The biggest of which included a two hour drive to Tulsa to teach. After draining the cup, I packed the kiddo’s school lunches, and hit the shower.  More organized mothers would have packed lunches the night before, but alas, I am mid-30 ish, and organization does not seem to be in the cards during my lifetime.

After quickly making myself presentable, I tiptoed through the house, refilled the coffee cup, and hit the door.  On the way out, I said a quick prayer of gratitude for Oma, our amazing babysitter and friend, who once again came through in a clutch, spending the night, so I could leave early.  I found myself wishing I could take the kids to school.  But work called and by 5:30, the Blue Shamoo (my minivan) and I were eastbound to Tulsa.

After a foggy and somewhat bleary-eyed drive, I finally arrived at my destination. When I walked in the room, where I was to teach my four hour class, I was greeted with a shocked look by the training coordinator.

“I thought you were teaching this afternoon! Right?” she said to me.

“Uh…” was my only response.  On the inside, I was thinking, “This afternoon?” And then I was calculating the hours I would have to wait and the approximate time I would arrive home.  In my mind, at that moment, I roughly figured sometime around midnight.  Hope Oma packed another outfit!

“Hang on,” she said as she walked toward her office.  She quickly checked her schedule, suddenly saying, “Nope, you’re teaching this morning.  I got it backward.”

I let out a breath like a deflated balloon, relieved to not spend an entire day and evening in Tulsa.

Finally, it was time for my class to start.  I launched into my four hour class with gusto, and we were off.  By the end of class, I was wishing for twenty more minutes, so I could answer more questions, cover things more thoroughly.  But after years training adults, I well know the danger of extending a class into people’s lunch breaks.  It really is the place good instructors go to die.

So, I did what I needed to and got the folks out of there with five minutes to spare.  It was a bit like running a sprint, except your talking the entire time.

After the class was over, I spoke with a few people, and noticed one woman standing off to the side.  When the others left, she walked up and said, “Being a police officer has been on my heart for a long time. I can’t shake it.  I’m 34, with three kids, but I keep getting drawn back to it. Suggestions?”

As she poured out her story to me, I found myself wishing for the right words.  How do you tell someone that something is fantastic, but comes at great cost? How do you encourage, but remain authentic to the reality that is law enforcement?  As a mother, how do you build up, when you know the personal price will rock her family?  I listened, smiled and continued to wish.

When she finished talking, I told her, “It’s the greatest job in the world.  It’s so hard.  It’s worth it, but it’s so hard.  I want to encourage you, but I want to be honest.  Do I regret it? Never.  Am I proud? Absolutely.  Has my career choice come at a price for my family?  Without a doubt.”

I proceeded to give her information on the process, the realities of the academy, FTO,  and patrol.  I told her about the phenomenal ways I’ve impacted people.  And I told her about the frustration of trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.

When I was done, she smiled, took my card, and said she would think about it.

As I limped to my car, I was wearing horribly awful dress shoes that felt like some form of torture, I thought about getting home to my kids, wishing I was there to pick them up from school.

After a 15 minute detour getting lost in Tulsa, I finally found a familiar highway and started the long drive home.  In the quite of the Blue Shamoo, I thought about my day, and life in general.  About all the wishing I was doing.  What would it be like to stop wishing and just know that my best effort is enough?  Is it possible that my children will grow up to be healthy, balanced adults, despite the fact that they had a mother who wished she could do so much of it differently?  But even that question begs one for itself.  If I did things differently, would I be wishing for what I have right now?

So, as I drove down that very long highway, I began thinking about gratitude.  So many of us, myself included, spend our whole life wishing for more, different, better, that we fail to see the gift set right before us.  What if we lived with open eyes, bigger perspectives and hearts that recognized our best efforts as just that, our very best?  Would we see ourselves differently?  What if we looked at our loved ones that way; our spouses, children, and friends?

Here’s to Wishful Wednesdays, my friends. May they be replaced with contentment and gratitude, and a cup of hot coffee.

Nerdstruck

I wrote this back in January and sent it to Donald Miller.  Alas, I haven’t heard from him.  Not taking it personally, Don. This is all about being nerdstruck.  Enjoy.     -Love, Jenn

If I ever ran into a Hollywood star, one of two things would happen.  I would either walk past them, having no idea who they are, or I would see them and think, “Oh, that’s so and so.  How neat,” and walk on.  Needless to say, I’m just not that enamored with Hollywood stardom or fame.  I don’t get starstruck.

However, last night, my BFF (the hubs) and I went to hear Donald Miller speak.  I was extremely excited about this, as I love his writing and his often uncomfortable questioning of how we live out Christianity, of how we do life.  My husband, he was a bit lukewarm on the whole thing.

He’s thrilled!

In all fairness to this man, he had just spent 10 hours putting out fires at work and was exhausted.  Also, he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time searching for the meaning of life and getting all existential.  He goes out and creates meaning.  He kills something and drags it home.  He is the “make it happen guy.”  His whole job is about helping people do their best work. But, he loves me, and judging by the look on his face, he really loved me last night!

As we found our seats, and they were sweet seats people, I happened to glance up three rows and see this.

Look! Blurry Donald Miller!

Now, you might be thinking, “It’s a blurry picture of a dude. So what?”  But, let me tell you that “dude” was Donald Miller, The Donald Miller!  The author of Blue Like Jazz and the soon to be released, Scary Close.

So, being the incredibly calm person I am, I jabbed the hubs with an elbow and loud-whispered, “There’s Donald Miller!  Oh my God, it’s Donald Miller!”  My husband gave a nod and made a “uh huh,” sound.  Clearly he was not understanding the gravity of the situation!

“Look how close he is!” I loud-whispered again. “Oh, I should go talk to him!  Do you think he would take a selfie with me?”

My husband gave me a look that conveyed, “I love you, but you are such a nerd,” all at the same time.  It was a look of pity.  I hate it when he does that.

But, it became apparent at that moment, that while Hollywood and movies don’t get me all in a tizzy, authors and thinkers and entrepenurial creators clearly send me into giddy land. I was nerdstruck.  Nothing against, Donald Miller.  He’s not a nerd. In case you ever read this, Donald, you’re not a nerd!!!

After my husband’s reaction, I decided the best thing for me to do was keep my rear end in my seat.  No one wants to be that crazy lady at the Donald Miller talk, right?  Except, I still did, a tiny bit.  But, I reigned in the inner nerdchild, and stayed seated.

A few minutes later, Donald Miller was introduced and took the stage.  He was engaging, funny, authentic, and my very tired hubby ended up really enjoying it.  He talked about the three ways to attain meaning, to make an impact, to leave your mark. While there were things he mentioned that I didn’t necessarily agree with, there were so many things discussed that impacted my heart.  Questions like, “Are you waking up every day with a project?  Are you building community?  Are you finding redemption in the suffering?”

These are questions I mulled over last night. And this morning.  And probably tomorrow…  We have been given this one great, BIG life.  What are we doing with it?  Donald said, “We were not created to coast through life.”  And that stuck.  Is that what I’m doing, coasting?  Is that what I want to model for my children, coasting?  I have been in a coasting season for a while now.

I am about to enter a difficult season.  Long before Donald Miller and his awesome books, we decided to foster. It will be difficult.  There will be no coasting.  But are there other areas where I coast; work, relationships, family?

How about you?  What are your dreams?  How do you stay out of coast mode?  In what moments do you feel you are living to the fullness of what God created you to be?  Just some heavy questions to ponder over your morning coffee.  Let’s raise our collective mugs to always diligently living with purpose and, on occasion, allowing ourselves to be nerdstruck.

Have a great week friends.

Jumping Off a Cliff

This weekend, the hubs and I spent two full days in training.  Two full days discussing, learning, and filling out paperwork, all so our family can become a bridge resource home.  In normal words, we are going to be a foster family.  After all of the information this weekend, we have decided that we are doing the equivalent of jumping off a cliff.  At one point, we were asked to write down one question we still had about foster care.  I wrote, “Are we crazy?”

So many questions have been asked by family and friends.  I thought it would be appropriate to answer them here, in the hopes that they might provide a glimpse into our hearts.

“Have you thought about what it will do to your own kids?”  

Though I know that question is being asked from a place of love and concern, the sarcasm monster rears its ugly head in my brain with that question.  The smart aleck in me says, “Nooooo, we never thought about our bio kids when making this decision.  I’m sure it will be a cake walk for them!”  But, then reasonableness takes over, and I recognize what this question is really asking, “How will this affect your kids?”

The answer to that is tough.  We have spent hours talking with each other and the kids about what changes we can expect for our family.  We have talked about the joys we will have, and we have talked about the problems that we will run into along the way.  Our daughter has a fairly realistic view of what we are stepping into.  She is excited and apprehensive, a bit like her momma.  Our son is young and just excited at the thought of possibly having another boy in the home.

Before we completed our home study, we had an honest discussion with our kids.  We made a commitment as to what our limits are as a family.  We know what we will accept, and what we cannot accept.  We also know that despite our best efforts, there will be challenges.  We believe God is big enough to walk us through those challenges.

“What if you have to give them back?”

Dear friends, that is the goal, to give them back.  Steve and I firmly believe that the best place for children is with their biological family, if at all possible.  We believe mentoring bio parents and loving their kids until reunification can lead to reconciliation of families.  We know it will be difficult work.  We know we will work with families very different from ours.  We know we will struggle with emotions of anger, frustration, and sadness.  We know we will be coming face to face with brokenness, every day.

I had a sweet friend ask me, “If you knew you would only have your son for a year or two when he was born, would you have still had him?”  My response was, “Of course, he’s my son!”  “It’s the same thing,” she said.  “We don’t know how long we get them.  We just have to love them while they are here.” We think God is big enough for that, too.

“Can you handle more kids?”

This one makes me laugh, because honestly, there are days when I would tell you, “No! No more kids!”  The days when they drive me crazy.  The days they fight.  The days I wonder why there is pee on the wall in the bathroom!

But, then there are all of those thousands of moments, when I’m hugging them, snuggled up next to them, or just watching them play.  I think about all of those kids, approximately 400,000 nationwide, who are in limbo.  Who’s futures are uncertain, because they are in the foster care system.  And, I think, “Someone should be snuggled up to them, telling them they are worthy, and just watching them play.”

I look at my husband, who is a walking testament to the power that loving families can have in the life of a child.  Not a day goes by when I don’t recognize the way the Morris’ saved him.  They could have said, “We have too many kids!”  They could have said, “He’s too broken.”  But they didn’t.  They took him in and loved him just as he was.  Without that sacrifice of love, Steve and I would have no love story.  Our family would never exist.  The world would never get to see our daughter’s amazing creativity, or our son’s ability to make everyone smile.  They would not be here.

So, on days when I don’t think I can handle anymore kids, God gently reminds me every time I glance at my husband, “Yes, you can.”

As for all of the other questions, I don’t have the answers right now.  But, I do humbly, have a few requests.  Know that we will be hard to hang around sometimes.  We will be taking care of kids that have endured trauma, and trying to create a “normal” family life for bio and foster kids alike.  There will undoubtably be behaviors, tantrums, and awkward conversations.  Please be patient with us.  Please listen to us without judgement when we need to vent.  At some point, I will probably say something like, “I just can’t do this.”  Please offer an ear, a shoulder, or let’s be honest, a glass of red wine.  Sometimes, we will just need to talk out our hurts.  But above all, please pray for us.  Pray that we know what to do and say in all of those moments when we don’t know what to do and say.  Pray for our bio kids, that in the hard moments they understand the massive love we have for them, and the importance of the work that we (our family) is doing.

Through all of this, we know God is able.  We know this cliff looks so high, and the fall will be tremendous.  But at the bottom, we have faith that waters of healing will be plentiful, and joy indescribable waits.