Many Tiny Victories

It’s a rainy Saturday morning and I had hoped to sleep in. Alas, my children had other plans. Lucy crawled in my bed sometime in the night, telling me she missed Daddy. Ryan came in around 5 to tell me he’d been up since 2 a.m. and didn’t know what to do. Insomnia and autism are old friends. Go back to bed, honey, after you get a drink and I’ll pray you fall asleep, came my reply. Now I’m awake and three of them are sound asleep. The other one is returning from youth camp as I type.

I got up and made a cup of tea and some oatmeal and went to spend time with God. But while the kettle worked its magic, I turned on a video for a Jamie Grace song—Do Life Big. I inexplicably found tears running down my cheeks. Odd, I thought. I wasn’t feeling sad. Maybe I was moved by the beauty of the simple concept that Kraig and I both wanted to pass on to our kids—Jesus came to give us life abundantly. Live life big. Go on adventures! Laugh often. Embrace the joy in this world until He calls us home.

As my tea finished, I curled up on the coach with my Beth Moore devotional, Whispers of Hope, and today’s made me realize, perhaps, why the tears were near the surface. It was on the battle of Jericho. She talked about tools God has given us to win these victories in life. But the final thought on the page hit closest to home: “These steps don’t just lead to victory. Each step represents a victory of its own!”

Each step as I’ve walked this first year of grief has represented a small victory. Each time I keep moving forward by the grace and strength of Jesus is a small victory. Each time I choose to get back up after a wave of grief knocks me off my feet out of the blue is a victory.

When Lucy this week tells me with sadness that belies her young age, “I’ll never get to ride a motorcycle with Daddy” and it doesn’t obliterate me, it’s a victory.

When Ryan sobs at bedtime because he’s realized whatever wonderful thing we did that day was something Dad didn’t do with us and I find the words to comfort him, that’s a victory.

When I choose to trust God’s leading even though my house isn’t selling and the hoped-for new one sits empty, filled with potential, it’s a victory. When I declare to myself and the kids that God is in control whether we move or whether we stay in this house, that’s a victory.

When I choose to keep returning to my workout routine so that I can stay healthy for my kids, that is a victory! Exercise is not my favorite thing and working out when other things are on my to-do list feels somehow selfish. Fighting that thought and exercising is a victory.

When I choose to search for ways to do life big with my kids, showing them that even after the biggest tragedy in their lives God can send joy, that is a victory! This is the summer when we are going and doing and trusting God to provide as He has since the day Kraig died. I cannot take away the pain but I can show them that life goes on and it is OK to laugh again. I can take them to new places and enjoy new things as we all take time to heal.

So today I will work on my prep for my conference next month and get the kids to sort and put away laundry. I will snuggle my Lucy since she is missing her daddy. I will enjoy the sound of rain on the roof God blessed me with and I will prep for our next adventure as we attempt to do life big. And I will count each step as a God-given victory.

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Tis So Sweet

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word…. The words of this old hymn are resonating in my heart today as I get four kids to clean up for an open house in an attempt to sell our home. What beautiful promises God has for us. One of the best is that when we trust him we have nothing to worry about.

I’ve been wrestling, again, with whether or not selling my home is the right decision. Our fairy-tale backyard, walking distance to two schools I’ve built amazing relationships with, and closeness to so many things, has made this a not-so-easy decision. But the new house has space this one lacks, a great open floor plan, and a fresh start. One child passionately doesn’t want to leave, another just as passionately does, and the other two could go either way.

But as I wrestled yet again last night with how to pray, I realized leaving it in God’s hands was the best course of action. If my home does not sell in the 90 days that the seller of the new one has given me, I will take that as God’s instruction to stay put, at least for now.

Oh the peace that settled on me with that decision. God has this all under control. It doesn’t matter that today it is raining—a buzz-kill for open houses. If God has determined this is the next step, all I need to do is my best and trust. He will send a buyer for whom this house is an answer to prayer. If it is not His timing or His best new house for us, He will help me make this one work better for my ever-growing kids.

As I began to find comfort in this surrender to God’s plan, my cousin in North Carolina posted on her Facebook page this morning Proverbs 21:30-31: “No human wisdom or understanding or plan can stand against the Lord. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” What sweet confirmation from far across the country.

So I will round up my little helpers and get this place shining. I will figure out someplace to take them in the rain for an hour and a half that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and I will leave it in God’s ever-worthy hands. He can be trusted for He is trustworthy. He knows the plans He has for us and in that knowledge there is peace.

———-

I penned those words yesterday before the open house. Before a young couple spent 45 minutes oohing and aahing over my house. Before I got a glimpse of the possible in our quest to move.

There was a glimmer of hope. And yet, how quickly we fall back into old habits. How easy it is to listen to the whispers of worry on your shoulder right after declaring that God has this—I have nothing to fear!

The open house was Sunday and on Monday my realtor texted me that they wanted to come back—this time with their realtor. So I packed the kids and dog in the van and drove to the new house to measure windows and rooms and help them dream a little. This helped Kati get more excited. We drove by the girls’ new schools discovering what a short drive it really was.

When we returned home, Sonic slushies in hand, my realtor texted me that they love it, but were concerned about the price. My heart sank just a bit. I don’t have much wiggle room left. We’d already dropped the price and offered a carpet allowance. After closing costs, if I drop the price any more, I will only break even. That seemed like defeat somehow.

What will you do? How is this possible? Maybe this means you can’t move, came the whisper in my mind. And then I remembered my declaration of faith from only 36 hours before. Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus…. If the victory lies with God, then He will give me wisdom. He will provide for what I need. He will go with me.

So I will choose to trust that God is in the final victory—victory in staying or in going. He has a plan that will work in either house because He is God. When I choose to place my trust in Him, I can move into the unknown confident that He is already there. When I submit my plans to His greater perspective, I can relax and know I have handed control to Him. I will put this out of my mind and work on other things, trusting that the God of all creation cares about me and He will take care of even this.

Tis so sweet indeed.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Jenn

Apparently it takes a village to raise a Jenn, was the random thought to cross my mind yesterday with a chuckle. Don’t you love it when you amuse yourself and there’s no one around to see how funny you are? Am I the only one that happens to? No, I’m positive my sister, Alisha, cracks herself up on a regular basis.

But after I stopped laughing at my own version of the famous quote, I realized the truth peeking out from inside my play on words.

Yesterday the thought was inspired by my preparation for the fantastic She Speaks Conference coming in just a month. I’d had my first pre-conference training to help me make sure I had all my ducks in a row to present my book ideas to publishers. I came away from it invigorated, encouraged, and looking at a boat-load of homework to make sure I knocked their socks off.

The amazing presenter, author Glynnis Whitwer, was so calm. Her job was to tell us what was included in a one-sheet—a single sheet of paper created to grab the attention of a publisher or agent with who you are and what your book is about. She went above and beyond that simple description with encouraging tips about networking and what NOT to do. Oh please save us from ourselves, I thought. It was such a worthwhile use of my time, energy, and the small fee.

One item on my to-do list was to find a good, professional-looking picture of myself to use on my business cards and my one-sheet. Ok. I’ve got a bunch of pictures. I found what I thought was the best and was soundly shot down by my sisters. Too dark. Not professional enough. Got anything else? Gotta love how direct sisters can be with you.

So off I went to Facebook to see if any of my amateur or professional photographer friends had time. Kendrea stepped forward with a generous offer for a location shoot at an amazing price. Her professional talent has long made me smile. She’s one of the fantastic women I met in my many years in MOPS. My friend Tanya agreed to help me create a graphically fantastic one-sheet. Two photographer professionals offering to help out.

Then there was my hair. I have it perfectly planned out exactly how long before She Speaks to get my stylist Shayla to give me a killer color and style so that it looks amazing. This was not now. Now I have in-between hair. Thankfully Shayla could trim my bangs today.

Now what to wear? My friend Jaime has offered to take me shopping before the conference to help me. Oh do I need help. I’m, shall we say, “fashion challenged.” I don’t know how to layer or accessorize well and don’t get me started on what I think looks flattering vs. reality. But I am aware of my limitations. I know I need the help. However we hadn’t gone shopping yet.

So I started sending Jaime and our friend Jenny (who was with her at the pool) pics of myself in what I had to work with. The joys of smart phones. Then I included Alisha. Between them and the responses from my boys, we found something we could work with. Kendrea even chimed in with a few more suggestions.

I met Kendrea on the edge of town to head to a beautiful location in the Hills. She posed me in ways a yoga master would have been proud of to get just the right angles. I think I may be able to call that an extra work out this week.

But as I look back at this day, I realized that yet again, my vast circle of friends had come to my aid to help me when I needed it. It has taken a village to raise a Jenn—to raise me out of grief and help me smile. To raise me out of fear and care for my needs. To raise me out of feeling alone and make me feel loved and supported and prayed for and lifted up.

So thanks to my “village people.” You are many and you are diverse. You come from a variety of denominations and churches. You come from my past and my present. You range in age from young to well, let’s just stop right there. You are the village that God is using to help me continue and thrive in the new journey He’s set before me. You are His people in action helping this widow turn mourning into dancing.

Yesterday it took a village to raise a Jenn and I’m unbelievably thankful for that.

 
 

Keep Calm and Carry On


I survived Father’s Day 2014. Think I should get that printed on a t-shirt or something? Nah. I’d need too many t-shirts to cover all the holidays and hard days I’ve survived this year.

I knew from the very start that this first year would be the hardest. This year is full of firsts that amplify his absence. This is year is full of firsts that make me sad or miss him or angry that he up and shuffled off this mortal coil (Shakespearean for “died”), leaving me to figure out these things on my own.
There have been birthdays and holidays on top of milestones that come as children grow up. Those are the hardest sometimes. They are tiny victories of childhood that he’s missing. That’s the thought that struck me when the first one came up. It was Jarod’s first high school play and all I could think was, “Kraig’s missing this.” It repeated when Lucy lost a tooth or Kati ran in track.
Right now the meme for “Keep Calm and Carry On” is all over Pinterest and the internet to the point people are sick of it. It will be so dated in about five minutes from now. It has become something people have altered to fit their fandoms or their hobbies or their warped senses of humor. “Keep Calm and trust Daryl Dixon” or “Keep Calm and Call Batman” and so on, and so forth, all line up to put a personal twist on the original. I’ve loved seeing the creative takes on it. But as I’ve walked through this year of firsts, I must say I find something steady in the original.
I looked up the origins of it online tonight which made me love it more. If I can believe sources on the internet it was a slogan created for the Brits in WW2. Only they saved it for extreme emergency. This was the poster to pull out when things looked bleak and so it was never used. These posters were found in storage and instead of tossing them, someone thought they’d be cool to circulate. And an internet sensation was born.
Seriously? Bombs falling on London, children evacuated from their families to the countryside, and air raids weren’t enough for Brits to think it was bleak?! We may grossly underestimate the toughness of the English, I think. Perhaps it is the British in my lineage that contributes a bit to my being able to keep calm and carry on. My love of tea would seem to back that up a bit. And then there’s my love of Dr. Who, Sherlock, Downton Abby, and other British TV. Hmmm… Perhaps I’m more Brit than I realized.
So today I kept calm and carried on. I limited my Facebook more than normal and didn’t talk to anyone on the phone. I focused on getting the kids out of the house into the sunshine. The recent rain limited our hiking choices so we went to the Arts and Crafts festival I usually sell my wares at, this time as customers and spectators.

The kids had fun and each left with something. Jarod purchased a concrete lawn gnome that eerily resembled one he’d drawn for his movies. Lucy spent her money on a cheetah purse. Ryan admired a bud vase a potter had made and was rewarded when she gave it to him. She’d dropped it and the chip meant she couldn’t sell it. He was thrilled. Kati found an upcycled bohemian blouse for only $8 and she does need clothes so I caved.

On the way home we went to Armadillos Ice Cream, a family favorite. They were serving Kraig’s favorite flavor of the day—Strawberry Butter. I seized the moment in the van when they all had ice cream and couldn’t escape to ask that each one share a fun memory of dad. Three of the four could think of something. We laughed. I tried to ask more but was asked to change the subject. I did. I let them lead on many of these conversations. I’m far from perfect in how I bring up his absence but I don’t want them to think we shouldn’t talk about him, remember him, or laugh about his stories.

So for today, I managed to keep calm and carry on. For today I survived. For today I made it not so bad for my kids. Ryan even told me as he went to bed, “Except for missing Dad, this was a really nice Father’s Day, Mom.”

I’ll count that as a win.


 

 

 

Kids and Grief


It’s mid-June already. June is half gone and still the journey of grief has not ended. If you would have told me when he died that I’d still have days when grief sapped my energy over 9 months later, I would have thought you didn’t know me. You would be underestimating the fact that am not a curl-up-and-stop-living kinda gal.
But then again, I’d never walked this kind of grief. And I’d never been responsible to help four fragile souls walk it too.
My kids are so unique. They have been since my pregnancies with each. Each one is a unique person created by a loving God to do amazing things. My favorite part of motherhood is watching who they are growing to be each day. Each one has their own personalities and experiences and hobbies. And so it makes sense that each one also has their own unique means of dealing with grief.
My heart has ached for them since that sad night when tragedy forever altered their universes and I had to tell them Daddy was gone. This was not something I could shield them from or make go away. This was not something I could fix. This is life and this is the journey God entrusted to them, as painful as is it.
As I’ve walked the past nine months as a widow, I have had to deal with my own waves of grief and struggles to deal in the day-to-day with the loss of my husband, my partner, my friend. I’ve also had to deal with their grief. I have had to become head of the home, spiritual leader, and grief counselor all rolled up inside this one exhausted mama.
The week he died little things that he liked could reduce me to tears. Seriously I burst into tears when someone held up a bottle of Famous Dave’s BBQ sauce to ask if the kids wanted it with dinner and all I could say was this was his favorite. Sobs poured out and I remember collapsing against Chelsea’s shoulder feeling lost, helpless, sad, and a touch embarrassed that BBQ sauce caused this reaction.
Now I can make the bed and smile remembering how he loved the smell of the blankets fresh off drying on the line. Now I can laugh with Lucy about a day when Daddy swung on a swing next to her. Now I can appreciate the irony that the exhaustion of dealing with all this has forced me to give in to naps. Kraig used to say I needed to appreciate naps more. I rarely can shut my mind down to nap. Kraig could fall asleep at the drop of a hat.
For the most part now, the things that sap my energy and reduce me to watching House Hunters International when I should be cleaning are when grief sneaks up on my kids. When grief sucker punches my son and he confesses to me something that has bothered him since the funeral because he didn’t understand it. When one of my daughters still doesn’t want to talk about it much and I wonder how long I wait between asking how she’s doing. When my tiniest princess comes upstairs at bedtime and tells me she misses Daddy’s snuggles, again. When my son with autism confesses to me his fear that it’s his fault that dad died because he prayed for God to take Dad’s pain away and I told him there’s no pain in heaven.
That last one stole my breath and made me reach deep for a Biblically-sound answer. Five years of Bible college, don’t fail me now. But more important than any theology class I took is the journey God has allowed me to walk with Him and the time I’ve spent praying that I would not screw this up with my kids. These things have shored up my foundation and reminded me of the security of my faith.
I took time to explain to Ryan that, no, it wasn’t his fault. God is not like a mean genie waiting to twist our words. I explained that God sees all of the world and time like a big picture that we can’t see because we are tiny parts of the picture. God knows what is best and loves us. I trust He had a reason for letting Daddy go to heaven and He will continue to take care of us. Ryan smiled through his tears and told me he believes me. He even told me I could put it in my blog because he had read one of my blogs and it helped him understand how I feel missing Dad.
These things make me lose sleep. These things hit me in the gut. These things make me understand why someone would enjoy a glass of wine to cope. I can’t stand the taste so I settle for popcorn. But most importantly, these things drive me to pray.
God knew the kind of journey this would set my kids on. He knew the wounds that would show up on their hearts after losing a Daddy who loved them. He knew how this will affect their lives and He still promises He has plans for them—plans to prosper and not harm them, plans to give them hope and a good future. He has promised He will use even this for their good. I trust that with every fiber of my being.
So I continue to work on a more disciplined devotional time in the morning over cups of tea. I will allow myself the occasional House Hunters marathon to recover from the whirlwind of dealing with four unique people I’m guiding through grief. I will allow myself the expense of some Smart Fit Popcorn from Sam’s club the next time I go. I will allow myself a nap every now and again because these things help me recharge for the next time one of them needs to be sad and ask questions from wounded hearts.
And I will give thanks that for the most part, life is moving on in their worlds. Jarod is making his clay figures for his big summer movie. Ryan is trying to find books to enjoy so he can keep his Landscaping class at high school next fall instead of additional reading. Kati is excitedly getting ready for Rainbow Bible Ranch for insane amounts of horse fun. Lucy is trying her best to read to me so she moves forward in her reading level—her idea, bless her. They laugh. We live life. We fall into the new rhythm of normal.
I will keep moving forward because I know God goes with me. And if He is with me, as hard as this is, I have nothing to fear.

Sisters

This morning daylight woke me far before I had wanted it to. I think my next house will need better room-darkening window treatments for early summer hours. I had wanted to sleep in. As I lay there in bed, I was trying to get a handle on my feelings, my mood for the start of this day. It was a surprisingly blank slate.

The decision to do something fun with the kids today settled in my mind. I wasn’t feeling sad or happy and I didn’t want to swing towards the former. I got up and began to make tea and get ready to read my Beth Moore devotional when my sister called.

Alisha lives in Florida, as does my other sister, Bethany. Both of them aren’t really phone people, which is a shame. My conversations with them are delightful. I crave conversation over text. They do make an effort sometimes in their busy schedules to chat with me while they sew for their thriving Etsy business, Mahalo, or care for their families.



Bethany, me, Alisha – August 2008, Badlands Nt’l Park



We haven’t always been close. Our friendship has evolved through the joys and trials of sharing our lives as married women and moms. Our deepest connections were made through the incredible journey they took with me when my youngest daughter, Lucy, had open-heart surgery at just five days old. My sisters are amazing in a crisis. They are calming and faith-filled. They are irreverent and full of laughter. I came to fully appreciate the incredible women they are during Lucy’s amazing journey.

Last night I got to chat with Bethany. We shared some laughs and talked about her bustling family of seven. Soon our talk grew serious as she shared with me her heart for her new job as children’s minister at her church. She’s done this job before. She has a passion to see children understand deep spiritual truths in fun and interactive ways. She has a gift for teaching and she was sharing with me some of the challenges she faces at this new church.  I was thrilled to be able to cheer her on. She can do this. God has gifted her to do this! She will be amazing.

Today Alisha helped fill the blank slate of my emotional day with stories. Oh she tells good stories. She always has a spin on some errand or project she’s been doing that makes me laugh.

Alisha sometimes reminds me of a woman in the wrong decade. She’s part Audrey Hepburn and part Rosie the Riveter. You would not be surprised to find her in a long skirt riding a vintage bike with a basket filled with flowers and French bread. But you also would not be surprised to find her reroofing her house or retiling a bathroom.

Today, when I needed a course set for my day, she was a good navigator. We laughed about family inside jokes. I listened to her latest excursion to Home Depot where her winning smile and cute figure somehow seem to get her lots of help. These poor male employees have no idea she does 90% of the Home Depot shopping for her family. She’s not helpless. She shared with me the amazing recent encounter she and Bethany had paddle boarding when a real, honest-to-goodness manatee swam right up to them and surfaced!

In the background I could hear her ever-growing kids bustling about, getting ready to start a big project. She has one at home from her first year in college and this fall will have two in high-school. My nephew, Joshua, sent Aunt Jenn-jenn a hug across the phone lines. His voice is no longer that of a little boy. Her daughter Anna was getting ready for work. Her youngest, Amanda, was prepping materials bought on that Home Depot trip for a secret project she can’t wait to reveal on Facebook herself. I’ll not tell. But I can’t wait to see the pictures when she’s done.

I love the women my sisters are—strong and fun and serving Jesus in the day-to-day of their lives. I cherish our conversations and our visits. And I’m thankful that today, God sent me a delightful conversation with Alisha, unhurried and filled with laughter. Now to enjoy some banana bread my girls made for the first time all by themselves and continue with this delightful day.

Job & I

“Oh my goodness. You must feel like Job.”

This sentence was uttered by a nice woman in the boot camp class I was trying out. We’d talked a few times before but today’s class had found us next to each other as we made the circuit. Soon talk turned to kids. Aren’t they the great conversation starter? I was upbeat talking about my full nest and my little blessings. Her’s were older. There came a point when something came up and it needed to be said—my husband had died in September. I was managing all of this thanks to amazing friends.

She was shocked. She, of course, asked what happened. Heart attack, very sudden, but God is taking care of us, came my reply. Then she uttered the comment with a shake of her head, “Oh my goodness. You must feel like Job.” Before I could reply the instructor was talking and we moved on. I had to duck out of class early to get home to the kids and errands. I never got to answer her statement, but as I drove, her words echoed in my mind.

Job, huh? This Bible hero means a lot of things to many people—suffering, questioning God, poor friends and advisers, God’s absence or presence in our trials, and so on. All of these things are included in this story. But one of my favorite Bible verses comes from Job 13:15a: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him….”

Oh that I could be compared to Job! Oh that my faith would be so rock-solid in the God worthy of my trust. Through the pain and the trials, oh that I could cling confidently to the truth that no matter what happens, He is still trustworthy!

A friend once told me she wrestled with this verse. God will not slay us so Job seems to be off the mark here, she thought. But I see it as Job popping a gasket, losing his temper, and finally blowing up at the nay-sayers in his life who do not see where his faith was anchored. I see it as him telling them that no matter what circumstances appear to be, he will stand firm in his faith.

Oh that I would be like Job! Oh that no matter how much this journey has hurt or how long it seems to be, oh that I would keep coming back to the truth that I trust Jesus! I trust the God who sees a big picture that I cannot see. I trust Him for my provision. I trust Him for my children’s wounded hearts. I trust Him when bad news arrives in the mailbox. I trust Him for wisdom in the next steps even when fear makes me take my eyes off that truth. I can always come back to the truth that He is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is good.

Job even did what some cannot grasp is OK – he questioned God. When he finally had more than he felt he could take, he pitched a fit and railed against the unfairness of it all. His shouts at the heavens reached God and God answered. The reply makes me laugh. God put Job right in his place. “Who is this who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me.” Job 38:2-3

God goes on to describe just how worthy He is to figure out what’s good, just, and fair and just how small Job is. And after listening to God’s response, Job is appropriately set back on the right path. He repents, humbled, and returns to the faith he always knew to be true.

A friend told me long ago that God can take our anger. He can take it when we tell him how unfair this is and how upset we are things aren’t going like we thought they should. As a mom, I now imagine one of my kids as toddlers throwing a fit when I say no. It’s almost amusing. No matter how frustrating the fit might be (or embarrassing in the middle of the mall) it doesn’t change that I love them. I will take the time to discipline them and help them learn better.

God loves me. He will strengthen me and walk with me even if I pitch a fit like a tired toddler. He isn’t going anywhere. He is faithful.

Oh that I will stand through this trial confident in the fact that He loves me. He wants the best for me. Even when I cannot see what the final outcome is going to be, I can trust him absolutely. The story of Job even has a happy ending in chapter 42, verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” There is promise that our faithful trust in God leads to good things—either in this life or in heaven.

Oh, to be like Job.