Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the passenger seat

he sits there each morning like the success of our carpool mission depends entirely on him. with eyes never leaving the road ahead, my co-pilot takes his job seriously. doesn’t matter that i’m the one in the driver's seat, he’s got this, or so he must think.

it’s kind of funny to watch.

it’s also kind of probably how God sees me. with my neck craned forward and my eyes peering out and my feet dug in hard. He sees me with my detailed plans and grandiose ideas as i pretend to know exactly where i’m going and how i am going to get there.

as if i have the answers from passenger seat.
as if i can add even a smidge of control from that place with no wheel, pedal or brake.

like tucker, i some days think it all depends on me. the decisions all rest on my shoulders. the direction of life is mine alone.  

but, also like tucker, the truth is, i’m only along for the ride. i might get excited to climb on in, but God’s the only one who really knows the next turn, bump or roadblock. and no matter how hard i lean in or peer out, i am completely dependent on the one in the driver’s seat.

it’s easy to forget that. for tucker and for me.

see, God might choose to put us alongside Him in the front seat, not because He is giving us control, but because He longs to give us a better glimpse of how He is gloriously leading us through the journey He has already planned.

“the mind of a man plans his way, 
but the Lord establishes his steps.” 

      ~ proverbs 16:9

Friday, February 17, 2017

an inspection, our electrician and my much needed introspection

buying and selling a home--though exciting in some ways--make no mistake, is not for the faint of heart. especially the inspection part. you know: let someone climb all over and around and within your beloved home and tear it apart looking for anything amiss. go ahead and grant them full permission to come catalog, criticize, and condemn every corner of the place you have so lovingly called home; the place in which you have created dreams and cared for your dear ones.

i see the rooms in my house and i remember birthday parties and family dinners and late night talks. i remember bella learning to ride her bike down our driveway on mother’s day and tyler coming home last year proud, with his high school diploma in hand. i remember packing up connor and sarah for summer camp and sending emily off to college. i remember rejoicing in a good grade or a piece of good news and i remember comforting my husband when he lost both of his parents in the same year. when i look at my house i see a mother who has stood at the stove making a thousand dinners and kids who have waited impatiently at the counter asking a thousand times, “when will dinner be ready?”
and, in the midst of my memories, this allowing someone through the front door of our house to tell me what is wrong or what it’s really worth — well, let's face it, this can be hard.
oh, the unsettling scrutiny of it all.

it’s no secret, we’ve moved a lot and every time we have gone to do this, i have left the experience feeling at least a little bit fragile and frustrated: don’t tell me what’s wrong, tell me what is wonderful! don’t tell me why you are leery of my home, but, instead, tell me why you are in love! please people, can we all just keep this positive? it’s so much better that way, right?

i know. jody, come on, that’s only in fairytales. in reality we have to think about stucco bonds and termite letters and HVAC systems and the age of our roof. and, oh goodness, trust me, i get it. we all want to know. we want to be wise. we want to make an educated decision. of course we do. i don’t blame anyone who looks into every aspect of our abode. we do the same. it’s being smart and a good steward of the gifts God has given.

it’s life.

anyway, of course in our recent house sale it’s been much the same: we got the report and we got busy figuring out what it all meant and what the inspector was saying. like most people, we don’t enjoy having our problems pointed out. we’ll never be the kind to deny that we’ve got our flaws. oh gosh, we’ve got them. we won’t flaunt them, but neither will we hide them. they come with the territory—homes and humans—none of us flawless.

so, this week we had our favorite electrician, nehi, come and take a look at some of the questions on the inspection report. i wanted him to explain a few of the things which were pointed out as being in need of attention. nothing too major, just some things we needed to better understand.

i called nehi on wednesday and he was able to come first thing on thursday. for those of you who follow me on instagram you might recall the post from a year ago or so, when, because of my increasing middle-age blindness, i accidentally texted nehi a kissey-face emoji instead of the intended (not to mention much more appropriate) smiley-face emoji when i was replying. yes, yes i did. (insert gasp). i apologized profusely, realizing that sending an electricians any emoji is probably a bit unnecessary. a good laugh and a lesson learned.

well, i’m happy to report, nehi and i have moved on. he wasn’t offended or, for that matter, even flattered. he said it happens more than i’d think. and now, when i have to text him i'm careful to stick to only the alphabet.

regardless, he has always been an awesome electrician and does his best to respond quickly. so within 24 hours he was standing in my kitchen and giving me his professional opinion on our inspection report.

and this is where the story truly begins---

see, this blog post isn’t about a house sale or an inspection report or even any electrical issues, it's about the stories of others. stories which come to us like unexpected gifts when we interact with people; when we take time to ask them questions and hear what they actually have to say.

after filling me in on my electrical concerns—which weren’t really all that concerning, praise Jesus—nehi began to tell me his story. i’m not sure if it was something i asked or just something he offered, but, little by little, he began to talk.

he’s a young guy, somewhere in his mid-thirties. though a lot younger than me, we both have five kids. and, sometimes, that’s all that is needed is a tiny piece of common ground, right? from first glance you might wonder what a middle-aged, suburban housewife like me might have in common with a young, african-american male electrician like him? what could we possibly stand in my kitchen and talk about other than electrical issues or non-issues?

but nehi started to tell me how he and his wife married young—at age 19. they rushed into marriage and then rushed into children having twin babies right away. another baby came soon after and then somewhere in the blur two more arrived. five kids. and remember, nehi was just in his twenties: a young guy trying to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do in life; a young man with a wife and a whole bunch of kids and bills to pay.

“those were hard years.” he told me. “i would work all day and take classes at night and then work a second job all weekend.” he explained how he would come home to his little, two bedroom apartment and his wife and his babies and how he would feel overwhelmed by it all. they struggled to pay the rent, they struggled to buy the food, they struggled to care for the kids and themselves and their marriage. bottom line: they just struggled. "it was incredibly hard." he said.

he became depressed. day after day after day … the same thing. nothing easy and no end in sight. and for a couple of years he battled depression and the desire to escape. nehi told me how even a few times he sat in the parking lot of a bar and considered going in and drowning his sorrows in booze. it seemed a simple way to get some relief or respite from all this suffocating responsibility. any of us can imagine. some of us probably have.

and though he sat there thinking about it, he never went in. he never got involved in alcohol or in drugs. he told me what kept him clean and on track was this—his parents and his church. he would sit in that parking lot and think about how overwhelmed he felt as a young man with too much on his shoulders, but always his thoughts would then turn to those who loved him so well. he would think about how his parents always believed in him and how his church always encouraged him. and he would drive his car away from that bar and go home to his young family. and though he might struggle some more, ultimately, he would fight to survive.
yesterday, all because of an inspection report, our electrician stood in my kitchen and told me what made the difference when he was desperate and depressed was his relationship with this parents and his God.
and now he is years past all that. i don’t know exactly how easy nehi’s life is today, but he told me he now has even had the chance to share about this time in his life with church youth groups. his message to young kids is, “take your time.”  nehi tells these teens who are all a-hurry to get on with their lives, “i don’t regret getting married and having my kids, but i want you to know there’s no rush. wait for the right timing. don’t grow up too fast. you have your whole life ahead of you. don’t be so quick to grow up and get on with life. there's time.”

seriously, i don’t know what prompted that entire story to come out on a thursday afternoon at my countertop. nehi has worked on several projects in our home over the past year or so. he’s mentioned his wife and kids and i had a pretty good hunch he owned his faith, but it wasn’t until yesterday that i got to hear the whole story. and, in the middle of a day where i was feeling a little stressed over the details of a house sale, his story was exactly what i needed. it got my attention.
the house we give our kids is so not the focus. our square footage and number of bathrooms matter little. whether we have a swimming pool in our backyard or an extra acre of property out our backdoor doesn’t come close in competing with the importance of giving our kids our consistent, unconditional love and pointing them toward God’s never ending love. (not that i have anything against swimming pools or extra acres, mind you).
because when our kids are older, and maybe even someday sitting in the parking lot of a local bar considering the cost of escaping their struggles, they probably won’t think about that swimming pool or extra acre. what will matter most is what we’ve taught and treasured in these years while they live under our roof. wherever that might be.
and, in the middle of a month where i’ve been slightly (okay, more than slightly) obsessing over house stuff — nehi’s story arrived, a sweet and timely reminder of what is truly most important.

“start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”  ~ proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

a dream delayed doesn't have to die

it was 27 years ago and i was a junior in college---an english literature major at a small school in western pennsylvania. just your average girl with some big dreams in her pocket and a few idyllic plans swirling around in her busy brain.

i don't remember exactly when, but somewhere in my childhood, i came across the unusual phrase---study abroad. it caught my attention and i tucked the idea away. knowing my precocious younger-self, i've little doubt, i repeated those words to others ad nauseam. probably telling anyone who'd listen, how, “someday, i planned to study abroad in england.” it wasn’t that i was convinced, but more that i liked to be convincing: a big dreamer, a real talker. england became my plan from the time i first heard it a possibility.

"to study abroad" sounded elegant and interesting. it didn’t, however, sound like something in my wheelhouse of experience — not at all a part of my upbringing or norm. a ticket to florida would have been a really big deal for this midwestern girl from ohio. one winter, we did drive cross country--from cleveland to phoenix--in our family van with my grandparents. 8 people in one van, i assure you, a true adventure! but we weren’t in the least bit a globe-trotting kind of people. nothing jet-setting or world-savvy about any of us. we didn’t vacation regularly. we didn’t casually mention paris or prague. we didn’t have passports or souvenirs tucked away from foreign countries. growing up, the closest i got to anything international was playing with the croatian kids who lived in the duplex nextdoor to ours. that was it. that was the global extent of my middle-class upbringing. when it came to travel experience—i had none. and, might i add, it didn't detract from my happiness or childhood one bit. my world centered around riding my huffy bike to the ball field, walking the three blocks to my elementary school, and, if i was lucky, rollerskating on saturdays.

but i read. i read a lot. i read everything i could--good and not so good. and, to this day, i am certain it was all those books which managed to unlock my love for this crazy, big world. one simply cannot underestimate the beautiful power books hold in drumming up dreams. in the words of emily dickinson, "There is no Frigate like a book to take us Lands away." for reasons i can't easily explain, i was especially captivated by the english writers and through my teenage years i devoured them: austen, bronte, kipling, hardy and, of course, the romantic poets. i knew after reading through wuthering heights twice as a teenager, some might consider me at least a tiny bit odd.

by the time i reached college, my love for english literature was fully rooted and after choosing it as my major,  the idea of at least one semester abroad my junior year seemed even more certain the right path.

nottingham university in england--a couple hours north of london--was the place. with the help of a college professor i picked it out of a catalog. i gathered the applications needed, filled them out carefully, and looked at them constantly. for months they sat ready, tucked inside a book on my desk. keep in mind, this was before the age of the internet (remember, i am old). i had a single brochure and a paper application and that was it.

nottingham england—i could only imagine. there were no glossy pictures on my laptop (laptop?), no instagram accounts to follow, no travel blogs to consult. the few dusty travel books on the library shelf offered a glimpse, but, truth is, i really didn’t know much about anything i was doing. i knew how to dream it, i just wasn't sure how to do it. and so that paper application--that ticket to the larger world--stayed secure in a book on my desk in my college dorm room in western pennsylvania.

i wanted to go. of course i did. but the ambiguity and enormity of it all kept me standing still. it felt big, maybe too big. i was filled with the desire to go, but found myself frozen in fear of the actual going. it played out quite nicely in my dreams, but i wasn’t sure how to make it fit into my reality.

i pretended to know a lot back then--probably still do-- but the truth was, i simply didn’t know how to make it all happen. i wanted to, but for all my convincing kind of talk, i was scared.

of course there was this boy who factored into the equation, as well. we met right away our freshman year. it didn't take long for us to realize we weren't just a passing fancy for each other. suddenly, a week spent away from him began to feel most unbearable, let alone a full semester apart. early on we even began to talk about marriage. and the christmas of our junior year we became engaged -- another dream … another fairytale … another exciting option.

and so, at some point, 27 years ago, i tucked away my england dream and traded it for something else — mind you, another something very good. i continued on at my liberal arts college, was married before my senior year, earned my degree and began my adult life without ever traveling over to england. of course, i continued to read — yes, wuthering heights for even a third time.  and with my books and my teaching degree and my marriage license i traveled down the road of other adventures.

i’ll always remember that first british literature class i taught as a brand new high school teacher—all seniors. we struggled through thomas hardy’s tess of the d’ubervilles. i didn't understand why they didn't love it. i tried everything to bring victorian england to life for these 18 year olds. at the end of the day, i'd wring my hands in frustration and wipe away tears—wishing i had the ability to share a little bit of what i loved with these students who seemed only interested in parties and prom and their graduation day. i didn't understand their lack of enthusiasm, but slowly i began to understand the enthusiasm of teaching and working with students--interested or not. and like any year full of challenge it was the time i grew up the most. i was no longer a dreaming child, but a working woman with a paycheck and a classroom and a husband.

and life was good.

and has been good.

so good.

even with motherhood factoring in, over these past couple of decades of adult life opportunities to travel internationally have come on occasion--asia, africa, all around north america--exciting and so wonderful—but never england—until this past week.

this past week, when, 27 years after my junior year of college, i flew with my oldest daughter for her study abroad program in england. my daughter—now, herself, a college junior.

situational irony, for sure! i’m certain a few of my favorite english writers would be delighted in such a demonstration.

westminster abbey
and even though in the context of the whole story this trip might appear a bit delayed for me—it was in no way a disappointment. i enjoyed every single minute of our time spent across the pond this week. i suppose in many ways it was an entirely different experience as a 48 year old taking my daughter than it would have been as a 21 year old discovering it alone for the first time. but, regardless, it was wonderful and so special to have my own daughter by my side.

i hadn’t thought of that 27 years ago sitting in my dorm room and dreaming. how could i? as a 21 year old i had only dreams for myself to go. but instead, the plan worked for me to wait and take my daughter -- now, herself turning 21 this month. i couldn’t have cooked up this scenario (rarely can we) … but am so thankful for the gift it has been. and, let's not forget to mention the fact that we got to throw paris into the deal as well!

i was looking for the restroom before the service began
tonight, when i opened my laptop somewhere in the middle of our 10 hour crossing of the ocean, the plan was to write about the trip details and share our itinerary, but this story came out instead. sometimes that happens. it might not be the most thrilling tale you’ve ever read (i do, however, highly recommend wuthering heights) but i hope you can find at least a piece of encouragement here.

two pieces, in fact -----

first off, if at all possible, seize every opportunity for adventure. of course i had the most wonderful time this week, but i can’t lie and tell you i haven’t many times wished i had gone 27 years ago. it’s not discontentment with the course of my life or even regret really. realizing that i might have missed this adventure doesn't ruin anything or diminish my happiness one bit, but it makes me aware of how sometimes we do pass up good things because we might feel overwhelmed or afraid. i do wish someone had told that 21 year old jody, "just pack your bags and go.” i know we probably all feel that way about something. i suppose it's pretty common. and, honestly, i think it’s perfectly okay to call it what it is. we can’t pretend that missed opportunities don’t matter. they matter, but they don’t always mean the road we chose was wrong, only that it’s possible we didn’t take advantage of a blessing God might have had waiting for us.

a pigeon's eye view
God understands that because He understands us and in no way does it negate or lessen the perfection of His plan for each one of His children.

our dreams and desires … God’s direction and plan … i’ll be honest, i--very much unlike God--don’t completely understand how all of it works together. but i do trust His timing. and, furthermore, i do know that even all these years later, gazing over into the poets corner of westminster abbey this past sunday morning, i had goose bumps and was overwhelmed with thankfulness for a dream finally fulfilled. a dream which included my first born sitting right by my side.

adventures require us to be brave. i don’t mean stupid—of course it’s important to know the difference. but if you are waffling some in the midst of a dream or trying to find a bit of courage to take a step toward it, i only want to encourage you to go ahead and walk boldly into God’s plan. think of these words as me taking you by the shoulders, even right now, and saying, "go for it!"

secondly, it’s never too late to realize a dream.  even waiting 27 years isn’t too long. maybe for you it has nothing to do with a trip to london and paris and the poets corner in westminster abbey. maybe for you it's something entirely different. but this evening, as my plane crosses back over the atlantic, i am more convinced than ever that we are designed for adventure. adventure looks different for each one of us, but all of us grow and become richer when we bravely step into the midst of it.

i suppose from the above paragraphs it might sound like i'm contradicting myself a little. not at all. say yes when the opportunity should arise and seize the moment. but, if you didn't or haven't ... don't be discouraged thinking you can't or won't. a dream delayed doesn't have to be dead. 

this past week, it was a beautiful gift to embrace --- and this mother of a college junior wants to assure you, though the plan might look different 27 years later, it’s never too late.

finally -- on our way!

big ben!
westminster abbey
we attended worship here sunday morning, new year's day. absolutely magnificent. this abbey -- it could be one
of the most historically important buildings in all of europe. every monarch has been crowned here since
william the conqueror when he chose to be crowned on christmas day 1066. those buried or memoralized here include tennyson, chaucer, browning, handel, newton, blake, milton, shakespeare and most of the kings and queens. crazy to think about. the service was beautiful and meaningful.  the message was based on blake's poem, "the lamb," from his songs of innocence.
buckingham palace
queen victoria monument
buckingham palace
not messing around
the queen's guard
the queen's life guard.
the life guards have stood guard at horse guards since the
restoration of king charles II in 1660

the changing of the guard ceremony -- happens every day at 11:30
kensington palace
new year's day we celebrated with high tea at the browns hotel in mayfair.
famous for being the first london hotel (1837) and a hot spot for writers.
it inspired agatha christie's thriller, At Bertram's Hotel.
a proper english tea includes in several separate courses:
champagne, finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream
and a variety of teas in separate silver teapots.
it was unreal! 
a normal street scene
portobello market in notting hill. we went on new year's eve and it was
jam packed. but, nonetheless, an absolute favorite. it is known for
it's stalls selling everything from fruit and bread to antiques. a fascinating place!
loved this store!
was especially proud of how emily and figured out the underground (subway) system. could of been
intimidating, but once we got the hang of it, it was the best. everyone working there is
incredibly helpful ... and, oh gosh, those accents. to die for.
notting hill
took the eurostar (high-speed railway) to paris. holy moly. i cannot say enough about
this means of transportation. sleekest, coolest and fastest thing ever.
2 hours to paris. we went there and back in a day and it was 100% worth it.
it goes 186 mph and, yes, it does go underwater. it operates over 31 miles undersea -- the longest
underwater tunnel in the world. at it's lowest point it is 250 ft. deep. it is brilliant!
a fab hotel and below it is a train station and mall. it's where we took
the eurostar out of for paris.

eiffel tower, we see you!

the louvre. just standing in this square made me want to weep.

the notre-dame cathedral. "our lady of paris." began construction in 1163.
wish we had had time to go up to the top,
but lines were long and time was short. next trip.

the avenue des champs-elysees
struggled with the pronunciation. so here's my hint: shawn-zay-lee-zay
perhaps the most delightful (and expensive) promenade in paris. it is lined with horse-chestnut trees
 and packed with cafes and shops. at the end is the famous arc de triomphe.

the seine river. everything i thought it would be and more.
because while in paris why not have a glass of wine and light lunch at the ritz.
not especially friendly, but oo-la-la.
typically not one to stand on street corners,
but, gosh, i could have stood right here forever.

sacred heart basilica (sacre-coeur)
view from the basilica -- highest point in paris
the arc de triomphe or arch de triumph. the arch honors those
who fought in the french revolutionary and napoleonic wars.
biggest train station ... where we caught the eurostar back to london.
gare du nord. had to practice saying that name too.
so back in london for new year's eve and we attended les mis at the
queens theatre. maybe my favorite thing we did. i don't know. how to compare
seeing the eiffel tower on a friday and a performance like this on saturday.
my head was spinning. by the end of this show i could hardly breathe. it has always
been one of my favorites. in fact, when i was teaching high school i took a large
group of students to see it in cleveland. it was awesome then. imagine it the day
after being in paris for the first time and seeing it in london. i felt as if i
should apologize to my daughter and the others sitting around me for my
constant sniffing and wiping of nose and eyes. it was glorious. not the snot, but
everything else. when the final song ended i would have stayed and watched it
ten more times. the story of grace and law and redemption is timeless and beautiful.
on our way to the theatre, but first, piccadilly square. (kind of like london's
version of times square ... people aren't any better behave, but the accents are definitely more charming).

piccadilly square and this guy doing his thing.

this is the block in kensington where emily will be staying this month
for her arts appreciation course.