Thursday, December 21, 2017

adoption and christmas

7 years ago and her first christmas home.

i can't perfectly explain it, but somehow experiencing adoption that year made the christmas story even clearer---at least for me it did.

God sending His son so that we might be brought into His family.
brought as if we always belonged.

welcomed and wrapped up in unimaginable love. 

baby Jesus gifted to this undeserving, undignified and unbecoming world ... that we might become sons and daughters of the King.

adopted and redeemed because God loves us that much. 

in no way is it a perfect analogy, but this earthly adoption of our daughter allowed me a deeper understanding of how much we were wanted in heaven.

"this is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son
 into the world that we might live through Him." ~ 1 john 4:9

i made this video 7 years ago ... bella's first christmas home.

merry first christmas bella

Friday, December 15, 2017

o christmas tree, o christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches?

Be honest, are you an ornament re-arranger, like me? I’ve denied it for years, but the truth is, when the little ones leave the room I practically trip over myself making a beeline for the tree. My eager decorator-fingers itch to break up that bundle of 22 ornaments which the children have so carefully arranged on one single evergreen bough. 

I tell myself I do it for the tree. I mean, Jesus cared for the sparrows, right? I am caring for the Christmas trees of this world—One tree at a time. Seems almost spiritual. Seems like something Jesus would do … or so I tell myself.

We’ve been doing Christmas trees with kids for over 20 years in our house. Multiply the years and the five kids and that’s a lot of tree decorating. It’s also a lot of ornaments. Let me be more specific: A lot of handmade ornaments: A lot of droopy tinfoil-halos and glitter-crumbling stars and paper-plate angels and faded red stockings. 

And each Christmas our tree grows heavier and heavier with all of this stuff. Years ago, we even started adding a second tree. But even with two trees, our branches were easily becoming more laden than lovely. 

It’s easy to fill it up. It’s easy to always add more. It’s what we do.

Because in life, like in tree-decorating, we typically don’t see it as too much until we begin to bend and break. 

And sometimes, even when we are telling ourselves that it all looks well-balanced and perfectly shiny, we find out that it isn’t.

A few years ago, we purchased the biggest tree in the history of our family. On the way home from the lot, the kids enthusiastically dubbed him “Fat Sam.” He was 14 feet of glorious greenery and, that evening, we decorated him to the very hilt. I’m pretty sure there was no ornament in our attic left behind. By the time we deemed him complete, there was hardly a trace of green to be seen behind all of those ornaments. He was covered. Consumed. The children were ecstatic. Rick and I were exhausted. Our work here was done.  

But that night, about 3 am, I woke to my young, almost-teenage son shaking me. “Mom, Mom, MOM. Wake up. The Christmas tree has fallen over. And it’s bad.”

In my middle-of-the-night stupor, we raced down the stairs and found that, yes, indeed, our beast of a tree, our beloved Fat Sam, had collapsed across the entire family room. The coffee table and part of one sofa had all but disappeared, and it was, indeed, very bad. Shattered glass and water everywhere. Did I mention it was 3 am? It was a Christmas tree catastrophe. A holiday gone wrong. An evergreen armageddon.

No one likes to have their Christmas tree come crashing down in the middle of the night … (or ever, for that matter). But, what did we expect? We could have decorated an entire Noble Fir forest with the amount of ornaments we had piled on good old Fat Sam. As capable and stalwart as he seemed, it was simply too much. 

That year, we learned our lesson with Christmas trees. But have we learned this same lesson with our lives?

It makes me consider how we fill our time, our days, and our families. We are blessed with so many special, sparkly and shiny fun things—but even all of that goodness can cause us to lose sight of the life behind it all. Our fine intentions in making something wonderful come crashing down under the weight of all we are doing.

In the past few years, as the kids have gotten older, we have learned to put less on our trees. We are making choices and leaving more things in the boxes. Partly because of our experience with our friend, Fat Sam, and partly because we realize it was just too much anyway. 

Dear friends, this Christmas season, the opportunities to fill your days might be many and merry. But—from a woman who has lived to tell the story of Fat Sam (Christmas and otherwise)—let me encourage you to treasure the beauty of less and enjoy the gift of keeping things simple.

"It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

every, every minute of it

20 years ago today, one of my former students lost her mother to colon cancer. this morning she posted these words about her mom, pixie:

Today, December 5th, marks 20 years since my mom, Pixie, was called to her heavenly home. I refer to it as her “heavenday” on my calendar as her birthday is December 15th. She was 49 when she died, 10 days before her 50th birthday. She told my dad that if she made it to 50 to please still put 49 in the obituary (LOL)!
This year, today weighs on me more than it has in recent memory, as she’s now been gone longer than I had her in my life. I was 19 when she lost her courageous battle with colon cancer. So today, in honor of her life well-lived, I thought I’d share a little about my mom and some of her crafty projects with you!  

read julie's entire post and check out her beautiful blog and business named in memory of her mom: A TRIBUTE TO PIXIE
julie's sweet words this morning reminded me of the impact her mom had on my life.

twenty(ish) years ago, i was an english teacher at a high school in chagrin falls, ohio. i was also in my twenties, a few years into marriage and, eventually, in the very first months of motherhood.

as the english teacher, i was given the opportunity to "run the theater department." for many years, in addition to teaching english, i taught all the theater classes and directed a fall play and a spring musical. (i was also the varsity volleyball coach--good-golly, i was busy)! i loved being a teacher and a director (and a coach), but the truth is, i really didn't know what i was doing all that much. as a young 20-something-year-old teaching 17 and 18 year olds, it was a little touch-and-go at times. to say the least. i was barely older than them, and, i probably looked even younger than some of them. i did my best, but, i'm sure i had to make a few things up, fake it just a bit, and pray an awful lot. (if you've ever taught high schoolers you know just what i mean). i remember days where i doubted my ability. heck, days where i felt a little bit like an actress myself.

one of my favorite stories from these early years of teaching is the time i got stopped in the hall by an older teacher and he asked me where my hall pass was. yep, that happened.

but, even in my lack of confidence, it was a life-changing season for me. the experience grew me up and stretched me in tremendous ways. i worked with some pretty awesome kids in the classroom and on the stage. many of which i am still in touch with today---thanks to facebook!

running from one responsibility to another---from the classroom to the volleyball court to the stage to my home life---those years were an absolute blur. i had to learn quickly how to keep a lot of balls in the air at one time---i also learned how to drop a few as gracefully as possible! two decades later, i can still close my eyes and easily recall the feel of that old auditorium---the sounds and smells and small (and some grand) moments. i remember rehearsing lines and painting sets and fretting over the--almost always--unpredictable sound and lighting system. i definitely remember the kids. i loved working with them, but some days i didn't know which way to turn first: there was always so much to do, so much to be done. i felt like i had so much to prove.

there were a few "stage moms" who impacted me deeply during this time. pixie ferlito was one of them. her two children, julie and greg, were students in my english class and also cast members in several of the shows. their mom, pixie, was exceptional. she was a ball of energy--an incredible "get-things-done" kind of lady, yes! -- but always in the most gentle and sweet way. she had a sparkle about her and a beautiful smile on her face. always.

as a young teacher-director-coach-mother-wife ... i was so often overwhelmed in my various roles. and i think pixie knew that. so many times she had just the right words for me. she would swing by the stage or stop in my classroom and, though our conversations were brief, i always left her feeling so encouraged and capable. she had this special kind of peace about her.

the albums pixie made me
she was also super crafty -- as is her daughter today! (make sure you look at the link above to see julie's work). in the midst of pixie's busy life, she loved to create things for others. she gave me a family photo album at my baby shower for our first born, emily. it is filled with family memories from those early years and i treasure it still.

in december of 1994, i directed thorton wilder's play, our town.  pixie's daughter, julie, was a townsperson in that show and pixie was instrumental, helping me in a multitude of ways. as is sometimes natural with a small cast, the kids and parents who came together were all super close during this time. pixie created another beautiful album for me for this show. the cast filled it with photos and keepsakes and gifted it to me on the final night of their performance. her handiwork in these homemade albums she designed was incredible. i cannot imagine the amount of time it took. but it is such a reflection of the woman she was---sacrificial with her time, beautiful in her work and loving through her spirit.

the play, our town, isn't always a crowd pleaser. it's heavy stuff. when i selected it, i remember one of my administrators questioning me on my choice. "gosh, jody," he said, "this isn't exactly a feel-good, upbeat kind of show, is it? well, he was right about that. it surely isn't. but it's a wonderful and true depiction of real life ... and death. and it has a powerful message---one, in which we all probably need a reminder.

the third act of the play opens with the funeral of emily gibbs. she is a young woman who is granted the chance to go back and relive one day in her life. she chooses her 12th birthday, and from that experience emily delivers this final, heart-wrenching, monologue:

"Let's really look at one another! It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed...Wait! One more look. Good-bye. Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners ... mama and papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking...and mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

three years --almost to the very day--after that december performance of our town, pixie ferlito lost her battle with cancer and went to be with Jesus -- 20 years ago today. i was home on maternity leave with our second born when i heard news of her passing. i remember weeping and weeping over the ferlito family's loss of their mother and wife.  there i was a new mama, and i couldn't help but think of the words from thorton wilder's play which impacted all of us so deeply three years earlier. that december, i watched a family experience this kind of pain, not on stage, but in real life.

at the end of emily's monologue in our town, she asks the stage manager, "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ... every, every minute?"  and the stage manager replies, "no. saints and poets maybe ... they do some."

all i can say is that pixie ferlito must have had a lot of saint and poet in her! people just don't walk around with that kind of joy in their heart and that kind of smile on their face unless they do "realize life while they live it."

julie's post, reminded me that pixie died at age 49, 10 days before her 50th birthday. and maybe, that's a part of it for me today. but, early this morning, as i read julie's words, i wept again for all of it: for this precious family and for their loss. for the fact that this girl who said good-bye to her mom at 19 is now, herself, a young mom. i wept for the beauty of a life like pixie's and for the beauty of her daughter's tribute this morning.

and i wept for this life ... that we are all given, but don't always appreciate.

this year i am also a 49 year old mother. and, if i'm being honest, i don't feel like i always do a bang up job "realizing life while i live it." when i went through my own bout with cancer, years ago, i thought of pixie often during that time. when i worried that the cancer could actually be something which might take my life and take away my chance to mother my children, i had many moments where i became completely undone by that fear. i begged God. i even made promises. i was sure that if given the chance to make it through cancer, i'd do a much better job living every moment fully --- taking time to realize and appreciate every little thing life gave me. but 7 years later, even though cancer left me changed, i can't tell you that i do that really well.  like our town's emily, i, too want to ask: "does anyone ever realize life while they live it ...every, every minute?"

it's hard to do. i know. but from my perspective, it sure seemed like i knew a lady 20 years ago who came pretty darn close.

dear ones, we don't know what diagnosis is in our future. none of us can possibly know the number of days we have left ... but, gosh, we do--each one of us--all have the chance to live our life a little bit more like my friend, pixie. 

our town cast 1994
this morning, when i was thumbing through the our town album, i came across the show's program in which i had printed this message for my cast and crew back in 1994:  "it is my wish that you "realize life ... every, every minute of it." 

20 some years ago when i was teaching and directing these kids, i didn't know a lot of things. but i knew even then -- practically a kid myself--we were all in need of that message, that wish, that prayer.

and, we still are.

"teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 
~ psalm 90:12

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

back entrances

it was an i-didn’t-hear-my-alarm kind of morning. my daughter (and driver) woke up late and wouldn’t be able to get herself and her freshman brother to high school on time. so a quick plan b was decided: i would take connor first and then do my normal Bella drop off at her school--a little late.

not ideal. but it’s the way it goes some days, right?

we all have those mornings. we all have those days. 

i'll be honest, i am never one to be exactly ecstatic about a last minute re-routing of my morning. mornings are challenging enough getting everyone fed and packed up and out the door, who needs an additional hiccup or an extra drop off (especially in atlanta traffic)! 

because of this change, i approached bella’s school from a different direction and had to take the back entrance in. we live on the opposite side of the school, so i almost never come this way. but today i did. 

and this beautiful sight was my unexpected golden gift in the midst of our messed up morning. 

bella and i decided, between the mist and the leaves, it was like driving through a shiny canopy of gold. breathtaking. 

“back entrances” are like plan bs or unwanted hiccups: we never ask for them. but sometimes in life, are forced to take a different way and we find something good waiting for us even there. 

so i stopped. 

and, yes, in my pajamas, got out of the car and took this picture. (to the landscapers working nearby: thanks for keeping your laughter somewhat subdued). i'm posting this today, because i know we probably all need to [more often] acknowledge the beauty of life's back entrances.

p.s.  on the way home from this golden moment, the [golden] dog decided throwing up in the backseat would be a nice additional touch. 

good news: i happened to have a stray target bag nearby and i was able to catch the throw up. 
bad news: the bag had a hole in it. 

though i was kind of impressed with my vomit-catching-while-sorta-driving-bag-skills, so far, no obvious treasure found in this morning's throw up incident. 

but, be assured, i’ll keep searching for that silver (or gold) ... (or, er, um ... slightly greenish-yellowish) lining! 

still recovering ...

Friday, November 17, 2017

i've got this

our fourth born started high school this fall. i won’t call him “my baby,” but until bella came along, he certainly was. i guess we could say he’s my biological baby. and though we don’t speak of it often (because that would just be weird) he was the last one i spent any serious time with in labor and delivery. but, alas, even youngest children tend to grow up and this one is now in 9th grade and (much) taller than me.

though a mother never really knows with a 14 year old son, things do seem to be going well in this new educational season. i don’t get a lot of details or elaborate stories from his day, but, for the most part, it appears as if he is off to a good start. considering his academic career thus far was spent at a small, christian school where everyone knew his name—and, more importantly, his mother’s name—this big, public school experience could have proved a little dicey. but he seems to be doing well. and, like i said, i’m proud of how he’s handling it. so far.

“so far.” as a parent, i’ve learned to use that phrase regularly. i’ve learned that things can change in a heartbeat or a test grade or a lunchroom incident or a poor choice: fine today, not so fine tomorrow. that’s life. that’s certainly high school. and because connor is our 4th child to enter it, i am careful with my words and my phraseology. i am careful with what i declare definitively. you won’t ever hear “my child would never …” come out of this mama’s mouth. she knows to never say never. things can change. things do change. let’s be honest, things will change.

in all these years of raising (i.e., managing) high schoolers, i have also learned to ask a lot of questions. i’m sure i often teeter on (okay, more like, trounce upon) the line of annoying. no doubt, i can pester and poke around and press them sometimes a little more (waaay more) than they’d prefer. but, it doesn’t matter. i tell them, “it’s my job and i want to know." i really do. and so i ask:

how was your day, honey?
anything interesting happen today, honey?
was that test easy or hard, honey?
who did you sit with at lunch, honey?
what did you talk about in English class, honey?
do you have any homework tonight, honey?

you know the usual mom stuff. i ask. i will always ask. sometimes he mumbles one word answers while standing in the pantry scouring the shelves for items to include in his after school snack---er ... um ... feast. (i’ve also learned that there is nothing quite like the hunger of a boy after a day of high school). but sometimes, he’ll lean across the counter and carefully offer up a few more verbal crumbs. he’ll pause in between shoveling mouthfuls of cookies or chips or cheese and he will come close to making eye contact and, even, on occasion, use adjectives and (mostly) full sentences. sometimes.

regardless of what i get, i continue to ask.

in these past couple of months there’s been a new phrase connor has used with me and all my questions. if you've ever had a 9th grade boy living under your roof, maybe you’ve heard it too. this fall, more times than i can count, when i've started down the well-worn path of mom-interrogation, connor's reply has been, “mom, i’ve got this.”

"mom, i've got this."

those four words. over and over again. he says this to me often. and, let’s face it parents, we all know the phrase is both beautiful and terrible all at once. beautiful, because i am watching my boy take on so many new things and (so far) he is doing a great job and growing into such a great young man … and that’s lovely and it’s certainly what i want and wish for. but terrible too. you know what i mean? he’s growing up and he doesn’t need a whole lot from this woman who corners him in the kitchen and peppers him with slightly annoying queries every day after school. i don’t pack his lunch or make his snack or help him with his homework or organize his social life anymore and it seems every week he does more on his own. i’ve even—big gasp—watched him throw his clothes in the washing machine and turn it on! and, whereas that is good and necessary and a big part of parenting, it's also a little bit sad for us mamas who like to be needed. i mean i'm never going to grow weepy about my kid doing his own laundry or making his own lunch, but there is a tiny flutter in this woman's heart when she really stops and thinks about how far she's traveled with her children---from utterly dependent on us for every single need to the attitude of, "mom, i've got this."

nowhere was this phrased more used than last month when he was making plans for the school homecoming dance. though it might surprise you a little, i had a few questions about that as well:

when are you going to ask her, honey? 
how are you going to ask her, honey?
who is in your group, honey?
do you need reservations, honey?
did you buy the tickets, honey?
what do you want to wear, honey?
what kind of corsage should we order, honey?
what time are pictures, honey?

you can imagine.

and that’s just a sampling, trust me, i had a lot more swirling around inside of me.

and connor’s answer? yep, you've guessed it ... “mom, i’ve got this.”

and he did.

he asked the girl. he organized the group. he made the dinner reservation. he figured out the plan. he even tried to convince me that he and his friends could uber and wouldn’t be in need of parent drivers. (he tried, we drove anyway). but, he showed us how in so many ways that he really did "have this." 

it was a sweet group of kids who had all known each other from grade school. and they did a great job making plans and making their first high school homecoming fun. fun, even for us parents. we had a blast taking pictures and seeing the kids together and figuring out how much we needed to interject ourselves and how much we needed to step out of the way. we had this parent group text and email going where we were trying to all get an understanding of "their plan," without stepping on their new found autonomy. trust me, it was a fine line.  like i said, terrible and wonderful all at once. it wasn't just the homecoming dance, but it is an ongoing dance with parents and kids this age. and we don't always get it right. not even with our 4th borns. 

because it’s not only the kids who grow in high school---it’s the parents too. we grow and we stretch ourselves in ways we didn’t know were possible. in ways we didn’t know were needed. we aren’t always quite prepared, nor do we do it all perfectly. just like them---we are figuring it out. and, just like them, whether we really do "got this," or not ... we can rest assured our heavenly father definitely does.  

He really does. He's got this, got us, got them!

"and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."
 ~ colossians 1:17
(yes, even our high schoolers)

Monday, July 24, 2017


last week i kinda dragged my college boy to a sunflower farm. yes i did.

we were driving home after dropping off the youngest three at summer camp up in the north georgia mountains and--apparently--i had failed to mention my plans to stop on the way home at this field.

when he was two, it would have been easy to sell him on such an adventure: "buddy, the flowers will be taller than you---maybe, taller than daddy! and there will be trucks and bugs and dirt." it would have been simple to persuade him as a curious toddler. but now, about to turn 20, and it took a slightly different approach: "i'll be quick, there might be snacks, you can get an instagram photo."

he came along. somewhat willingly, in fact. bottom line, my boy knows his mama and he knew there wasn't a whole lot he could say or do to get himself out of this.

and it was sweet. i asked him to cut me a bunch of the flowers and he did so---albeit with his pocket knife. we had a good time choosing the best blooms and dodging the biggest bumble bees. like i said, it was sweet.

i had my boy all to myself for this brief time in a georgia sunflower field on a summer day. i know these moments are all too few. i know, as the mother of a young man, i must share him with other things ... other people ... other passions. every mother knows this and so we take the moments given and we make them just as good as we can.

back home, editing through my pictures, i came across this one of him smiling and, at first glance, thought "aww, how sweet! he's so happy to be out exploring a sunflower field with his mama." 

but taking a closer look, i noticed in his hand was his cell phone. and after further scrutiny, the realization became clear: that smile wasn't because he was out adventuring with me, but because he was chatting on his phone with his girlfriend.

yep, it's true: that smile was for her.

did you get that? for her!

and, yes, it's also true, that kind of realization could very well rattle a mother--right to her much too tender-hearted core.

i could easily go down the not-so-kind path wondering how another female has so captured his heart and become the source of that smile which has been mostly mine for almost two decades.

i could stew about it and struggle over it, but the truth is, this is exactly what we want for our growing-up kids: this special someone who lights up their life and lights up their smile. even if they happen to be out exploring a sunflower field with me! it's what we want. it's what i want. it's even what i have prayed for. 

she's a pretty special girl. i agree. and so this smiling boy's mother is choosing to be grateful for the gift of her son's beautiful smile and his beautiful--inside and out--girlfriend.

just today, one week later, i happened to drive by this very same corner. and can i tell you, the entire thing is gone. every single bloom has disappeared. mowed down. the tractor and trucks and the bugs and the dirt ... all remain, but those glorious flowers are 100% completely gone. i guess that's what happens at a sunflower farm. when the blooms wilt, the farmer wields his blade and the landscape changes. a new season begins.

it made me sad to see it gone.
but, it also make me grateful for the moment we had.

like life.

so sweet. 

notice the pocket knife
that truck i promised

Sunday, July 16, 2017

family issues

our family has its issues.

i don’t know if it’s because we’ve all been home a lot this summer or it's the southern heat and humidity or what, but it seems like our short-comings are all especially noticeable these days. seems as if our flaws and foibles and personal hiccups are all hanging out a bit. okay, a lot. like i keep wanting to buy and hang that sign which reads, “your crazy is showing, you might want to tuck that back in.”

we can call it our “crazies” on a cute, little sign, or we can call it what it really is, and that’s probably our sin. our sin is all hanging out. everywhere. all the time. like a big ole sin-party happening right here under our roof — smack dab in the middle of my kitchen. i don’t mean that to be especially harsh, only realistic. i am absolutely ga-ga over my family, but like i said, we’ve got our issues.

i think in a past post i might have once (or 16 times) lovingly referred to my kids as a "bunch of little sinners." but when i’m honest, i’ll tell you, sisters and brothers, i'm the chief offender. and that knowledge makes me only want to finger point and find fault with others around me. i don't want to see my own issues. it’s kind of how we are designed, right? deflect. detract. defend--anything but face up to our own stuff.

before i go too far down this issue-path, however, let me first state, that even in our messiness, it has been wonderful having everyone home this summer. wonderful to have the college kids sleeping in their bedrooms and sitting elbow-to-elbow around our kitchen table. so much fun for all of us: chatting together on the back porch, swimming in the pool, playing board games, doing puzzles—normal family stuff. we moved this past spring—one of the reasons my writing here on the blog has been scarce—and so it’s been a blast being together and creating memories in this new space. i’ve loved it. even the messy parts. and especially the messy people.

but when we are all together like this for an extended time our best behavior can easily fly right out the window. we let down our guard on being good … we don’t have to get along perfectly and be all proper and polite. why? because we are family. and, in families we are, for the most part, pretty darn real with each other. which can mean at times a little bit ugly. all seven of us, we know each other’s short-comings and weak spots. and, of course, we know exactly which buttons to push. i suppose this is true of families everywhere. it certainly was in mine growing up. and still is.

when you operate in a family setting. you become fully known. it’s hard to hide or pretend or play the game.

and, i think that’s one of the reasons why we need time with our families: to see ourselves for who we really are----

when we head off to work …. it’s easy to be professional.
when we sit in our classrooms … it’s easy to be obedient.
when we check out at the grocery store … it’s easy to be polite.
when we meet a friend for coffee … it’s easy to be attentive.
when we sing songs in church … it’s easy to be holy.

but when we wake up in the morning and stumble down the stairs with bed-heads and bad breath it is much harder to hide behind the mask of good behavior. when our sister steals our favorite shirt or our brother bruises our ego or our mother makes too much of something small or our father has a short fuse … it’s harder to handle. and so we respond not always rightly or righteously, but real and raw, and oftentimes, flat out wrong.

does that happen in your house too? i thought maybe.

this summer i’ve been doing some thinking about all of this. wondering, as the mother, what i can do to best encourage all of us to be better. and interestingly enough, the first thing i realized is that my problem-solving personality is actually at times a part of the problem: i love to conjure up quick-fixes and configure 5-step-strategies. i could easily sit down and whip up a chart or a competition to improving our family relational skills. but, the truth is, most of my kids are too old for that and, even more importantly, it’s not about working harder or smarter. it’s about working deeper. deeper into what is happening in our hearts. deeper into the corners of our quiet times. deeper into who we really are and what we are really all about.

we are a family of “try-harders” and “do-betters.” i'm probably to blame for that. like i said earlier, i’m chief. it’s always been a part of my motherhood-mantra because it’s intrinsic to my wiring. if i just try harder next time, i will do better. and where some of that mindset is helpful in some areas of life, it is not the answer all the time. because, unfortunately, our issues are usually bigger and badder than just doing better. we don’t need to put on a band-aid, we need to prepare for battle.

another thing i've learned as a try-harder type: since working on ourselves isn’t exactly the most natural plan, we are in desperate need of God’s supernatural power.

so, dear ones, how do we access God's supernatural power? two ways: prayer and God’s word. and as much as i want to include a chart or insert a quick step here, i cannot. my try-harder, work-faster approach isn’t going to cut it. the only way to receive God’s power is spending more time in prayer and more time in His Word. nothing else i come up with is going to make much of a difference. i mean it---n o t h i n g.

"i have hidden your word in my heart that i might not sin against you." ~ psalm 119:11

this past weekend i shared these thoughts with my family and in a very weak analogy explained that us trying to fight off sin by ourselves is a lot like fighting darth vader with a kitchen spoon and a rolling pin, while we have luke skywalker and his light saber standing close by. okay, i know that’s kind of hokey, but it was what immediately came to mind. goofy or not, you get the idea. we have all this power from God waiting right there for us and yet we continue to fight the-not-so-good-fight with our meager measures and our small swords and our tiny tools. everything we bring to the table of ourselves and our natural world is, simply put, not enough. not going to cut it. not going to fix it. not even close.

but that doesn't stop us try-harders from trying, does it? oh mercy me.

recently, i came across a message of john piper’s from 1998, "open my eyes that i may see" basing his message on psalm 119:17-24, he uses the (much better) analogy of a train track. the two rails: prayer and time in God’s word work together to lead us closer to Him. spending more time in the power of God’s presence with His word and His Spirit, IS HOW WE ARE GOING TO GET BETTER. doesn’t much matter what our issues are, nothing is too much for Him. He promises to empower and equip us for every trial and temptation ahead. but there's a catch: we MUST spend time meditating on His word and meeting Him in prayer.

“praying before the throne of God and meditating on the word of God are like parallel rails that enable the train of our souls to stay on the track that leads to holiness and heaven.” ~ piper

spending time with Jesus literally opens our eyes to our sin. but it doesn’t just leave us there to wallow and wish for better. it equips us with truth and allows us to call on His power. (think light saber). the good news, family members and friends: we can confidently put down our rolling pins, our kitchen spoons and our quick-fixes when we are willing to pick up His word and the pace of our prayer time.
"if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then i will hear from heaven and i will forgive their sin and will heal their land." ~ 2 chronicles 7:14
it is what He lovingly and lavishly calls us to. that longing in our heart for something better or more beautiful? that’s His voice wooing us to His presence. because He loves us.

it might not be a quick-fix, but, dear ones, it is an eternal solution.

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.