Back To School Rally for Parents

School is starting up again and mamas everywhere are gulping air & watching their hearts march away inside embroidered “small” sized backpacks large enough to engulf our children head to calf. Notes drawn in lunch boxes and family mantras written in invisible ink on their souls. I have a friend who wrote UBU on the wrist of her kindergartener as a reminder to be your own wild and precious self when unsure of what to do in the midst of all these strangers. Beautiful.

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This is not a back to school post about our kids though. (That’s to come.)

This, is about us.

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I dare claim class mixers and first days and Open House nights are as scary and as needed for us parents as they are for our children. We’re showing up with our casseroles to parent potluck and our pencil wreaths to first day hoping no one notices our uncertainty in our coffee at the parent mingle. Okay, you’re showing up with casseroles and first day gift baskets, I’m lucky if I make it to the party, but the playing ground on the playground is  the same for us.

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Whether it’s a new school, new teacher, new grade, nothing new at all, we are required to enter bravely. To honor ourself by openly showing who we are. To honor others by allowing them to be themselves. Remembering that we are sacred and that kindness has always been the best kind of cool. 
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I don’t have this down yet. Mostly I write to remind myself; to cheer you and me on. We show our littles how to do it by doing it ourselves first. A bag full of hopes moving one foot at a time down those halls. You just be you. It’ll all shake out.

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Let’s Get Wet!

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Can we make a pact, mamas? Can we get out of our heads for a few moments each day and embrace childlike play with our kids? Can we just sport our swimsuit of choice and flip a proverbial finger at whatever body image hangups we’ve accumulated over the decades and get in the pool/ocean/bay/sprinkler with our kids?

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I know it’s been a tortured history. It begins with the eighth grade class pool party – hell for the early bloomers – hell for the late bloomers – let’s just lady lump that into hell for all blooming parties – and doesn’t get much better from there. Teenage trauma of fluorescent lighting wishing our bodies to fit into the Best-Of on The Gap and American Eagle sale racks, a first (inevitably tragic) foray into the art of bikini maintenance, and that one asshole boy confusing simple “I like you” English with a body image insult. Twenties decade trauma layering in it’s own truck-ton of fear of still not looking like a Victoria Secret model and single-stomachly de-Christianizing our God-fearing college boys with our bikinis in the evangelical circles where modesty is hottest-y. Suddenly it’s our thirties and our tummies we bare bear remembrance of the babies housed and held there.

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Wear a swimsuit on that? Publicly? Yes.

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We’ve wasted enough time sitting in the fear of feeling not (pretty/skinny/flat-tummied/big boobied/desirable/whatever) enough. You know what I think when I see teenage girls at the beach? Gosh, they are so pretty. I hope they know that deep inside. You know what I think when I see twenty-somethings at the beach? What stunners. I hope they hold confident their worth because they are absolutely gorgeous.

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My kids don’t know this muddled battle of my body in a bikini. What they see is a mama delighting in them. Playing together. Splashing. Laughing. Being there as safety to hold onto when the waves get too strong.

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You know what I think when I see you mamas of all sizes at the beach? Wow, what beauty! I hope she knows how delicious she is building sandcastles with those sandy babes. 

Will you do this with me? Let’s wear the swimsuit. Let’s let our children and ourselves enjoy the bond of playfulness.  Let’s get wet!

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Healing Hugs

There’s a child on my couch. He’s sleeping on a borrowed pillow but the nightmares are his own. We sang Jesus Loves Me at bedtime, right after we made sure the blinds and blankies and bad dreams were all tucked away just so. I sang. He giggled. And asked for hugs. More hugs. This tiny child, asking to be loved, so easy to love.

I don’t know his story. He’s only with us this week. Maybe he’s been given that same relentless story of generational poverty passed on like the unavoidable and unwanted heirloom it is. His body bears witness. They tell me he’s four, but he is smaller than our two year old. A quick mental measurement of the length of his body against the length of the this couch leaves me wondering how many hugs were missed. The loving touch required to grow. How many hugs would it take to fill the negative space of these couch cushions and his heart?

The backstory isn’t required to know our job. We are here to continue the healing process while his adoptive foster parents rest. We are here for the sacrament of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as daily Eucharist. We are here to see childhood rights of swinging in the park and circling bikes through culdesacs met. We are here to speak and sing words of worthiness and wholeness and identity over him.

And hugs. We are always here for hugs. Especially for this child who asks for them more than food or water as hourly sustenance. I wonder how he fits all his resiliency inside that tiny body carrying his courage around. He sleeps and I sing and gratitude hits anew we get to live this life as the redeemed.

Failing the Wife Gig & Other Ways I’m Learning About Real Love, Real Freedom.

I read in all my How To Be A Good Little Christian Wife books that guys are loved through food, sex, and words of affirmation.

I had all the intentions of being the best wife ever. Truly. There were big plans that went like this: All the home-cooked meals! All the affirming words! All the sex! I don’t think it will take you long to guess how this played out as a young bride.

All the food! I have to make food? AGAIN? Dear God, WHY?! I JUST did that four hours ago! ALL THE SHOUTING CAPS, ALL THE EXCLAMATION MARKS!

All the good words! You know what I like more than affirming words for my dear Hub-cakes? Being RIGHT! Drawing a big, pronounced, verbal map to show Nate exactly how right I am. Torch of truth, goddess of better! I am so damn smart.

All the sex! Do we even need to lift the all-the-sex rock? I think we all know the none-the-sex, then some-the-sex, then redeem-and-relearn-the-sex story that sits under there.

We hit our ten year anniversary this summer and part of me felt like a failure at this whole wife gig I’ve been given. I don’t know when I let my name get put on the 1950’s Hannah Homemaker list of shoulds but I’m trying to get it off so I can honor the Creator for who I actually am by being that person fully, wholly, unapologetically in our marriage.

The fact that I couldn’t keep up with dishes and paper piles on the dining table pre-kids should have been a warning. Lately I found myself apologizing a lot to Nate via jokes highlighting my ineptitude as a wife/mother/human being on the planet, as if knowing where my freaking sunglasses were the first trip to the car would somehow earn me back that Whole Person tiara and Best Wife sash. I’m not saying the way I make a shopping list of essentials I forgot on the way home from the store doesn’t totally boggle my husband’s mind. But he isn’t going for my self-deprecating jokes disguised as apologies for my general existence.

His response? “Stop saying I don’t want you! All those things are what make me love you. I have no clue how you do life because I can’t do it that way, but I love all those things that make you, you! So enough.

I can’t help but wonder if we’re tripping over all these unnecessary apologies of ourselves taking up space in this world and getting so detoured down the avenues of our Should Be lists that we are missing the invitation of the freedom to live. If, perhaps, we are eliciting a similar response from THE one who created us this way. The voices of self-doubt and self-suppression are always lurking in the shadows. The ones that remind us “a real wife does_____” and “a real mom doesn’t _____”.

You know the bigger longing in my heart? To BE the art of God. To be fully known by the Creator and fully know the Creator in return. To fully know and be known by my husband, my kids. There is no list for this. There is only us in the real mix-matched way we’ve been made and vowed to loom a life together.

Tonight my role as a good wife and mom is letting my husband bake chicken apple sandwiches for dinner, kiss three little forehead hairlines holding the scent of earth and bubble-gum shampoo goodnight and come sit beside the Pacific Beach pier with a playlist and a pen.

As a recovering perfectionist (as I’m assuming we all are here) this simple act of honoring myself, my desire to write, my cosmic call to create is a giant hurdle. Good moms tuck their kids in every night, right? It’s hard for me to leave with a two year old clinging to my leg. Torturous, in fact. Husband peels her away, puts car keys in my hands and says “Go. You have writing practice tonight.”

It is not a daily activity, but it is a weekly flag in our family life. This is the new litmus test of being that good wife, that good mom. Am I revealing to my husband and children who I am? Am I creating opportunities to allow this to happen? Am I revealing to my kids who they are? Am I creating opportunities for this to happen?

If I tell them they are creative beings designed by THE Creator of the Universe to be wholly and unapologetically them, they might take it, sink it into their heart, and treasure it forever. But if I LIVE it? They will have that model. The how-to’s will be a little less mysterious and the only mystery left will be the glory that occurs when space is created to do the creating. It will be as second nature as tacos on a Tuesday and running barefoot through Bermuda grass. The innate. The heartbeat. The what we do without giving it a second thought.

Maybe, just maybe they will do the big brave of taking that treasure hidden deep in their heart and holding it up for others to see. But it begins with me. Always. It begins with us.

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Hobbies

We were breathing heat and talking hobbies as the reds and greens of Eastern Africa streamed by. Motley crew at best. A mix of missionaries, COTN interns, and gritty Peace Corpsers. All new and unsure and filled with make-a-difference-shoes and be-the-good heartbeats. (We should circle back around to how I broke up with missionaries and ran to the shelter of drinking cursing Zimbabwean farmers. But that is a story for another day.)

Hobbies. The topic has always made me itch because the not enoughs and the prove yourselfs try to take full control of the words I say in that answer. Everyone else in that car had answers normal people do: painting, journaling, sports. He looked directly at me, all six sweaty inches away in this overcrowded hatchback and asked it. What’s your hobby? A simple question I received as a challenge. I watched a sweat bead trace mazes through the freckles of his cheek as it rolled from temple to chin.

People. I enjoy lots of things. But people. They are my hobby. Knowing them. Watching them. Seeing them & allowing them to be seen.

I want to remember having said it with self-assuredness instead of the question mark it landed on as though begging him to show me with the nod of his head and slight shift of warmth in his eye that “people” actually is a thing. That was ten years ago. Can enjoying people be a hobby?What I do know is that my bend toward people has  been there all along and God is teaching me the freedoms found in embracing the risk of looking ridiculous and just being me instead of being talked down with “don’t live too big”s.

Imagine for a moment standing at your high school locker. Senior yearbook in hand. Adequately pretty but not celebrated face and heart full of poetry and finding YOUR NAME in block letters winning the title of SENIOR SECRET CRUSH (or some such wording, I wasn’t super “in” or “into” high school to remember exact phrasing so just work with me here). If you are standing on the gray and white tiled linoleum in ironic saddlebacks before people wore things ironically, awash in shock and shyness, then you would be right. But I would look them all in the eye those years, the nerd and the stoner and the class hotty-bo-body and listen to what they were saying and genuinely enjoy each of them and smile. I couldn’t define how being known is attractive as an eighteen year old like I can now several life stages down the road. Our teenage selves knew it enough to acknowledge it.

Fifteen years later I still get shy though so I’m trying to remember to honor God and myself and you by not worrying so much about perceptions and just be. I get hugs and “hey, beautiful”s from my grocery store workers and I love that’s a part of my city life. My be-the-good heartbeat sounds a little different now than it did in that hot car as we drove past mango trees and thatch houses talking about hobbies, but I finally know my answer is a real thing. 

Some Thoughts on Summer: Light, Lightness, Netflixing, and The Moon Phases of Zombie Jenny vs Alive Jenny

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This is my favorite; summer. With it’s late light, long shadows and it’s open schedules. The openness of time gives me an opportunity to discard toys and clothes in alarmingly tall and teetering towers. I am so invigorated by this exorcism of stuff, I turn to my commitments. The exercise is supposed to be helpful or ruthless or revealing. It is also depressing and deflating. I write one piece of my life on each Post-it. There they are, those little color squares stuck to the sliding closet door. Life-sucking on the left, life-giving on the right, and most hovering in that ambivalent middle zone. The goal is to hack. Create room for more squares on the right. I hold the Want-To-Do-It square in my hand because it doesn’t fit yet. I fold the pink square into a tinier pink square and put it in my back pocket where it’s already been living metaphorically for years. I’ve been circling around something, unsure of where to start, meanwhile encouraging my husband to go do his thing and not seeing the resentment secretly and silently leak in. I’m not okay with life being lived in that “whatever” zone. I unfold the tiny square and put it on the fridge.

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I am told the only way to do something is to do it. This is disappointing news for those of us who are only consistent at being inconsistent and whose jaw dropping event of the day is how fast we can go BOJO (bra off jammies on), attack dessert hour (I go for time not number of, much like children graduating from per book to per hour on their local library summer reading rewards program), and earn a championship belt in Netflixing. Yes, Netflix birthed as a noun, but we all verb it. Nevermind I’ve been in a contortionist’s sleep on a toddler bed since 7:30pm. Nevermind I’ll be shaking Cheerios in six hours. I am now ready to seal my gluttony award with two episodes of Scandal, one Orange is the New Black, and approximately five episodes to one season of Friends. I’m telling you, Netflix is a verb. Here’s the sickness; I like it. And I’m okay with that since eating and laughing and laying on the couch are a completely genuine and appropriate response to a day full of being “on” for the intensity of the Tiny People Rule My Home years. Don’t convince me I’m numbing something; I’m exhausted. Don’t try to tell me to use that time in edifying, life-giving ways. I just Can. Not. I can’t even use the English language by then. I am full on Zombie Jenny, no fake blood or green skin needed.

The problem with doing that actual life-giving thing during daylight hours when Zombie Jenny’s gone underground and I have a fraction of a chance to feel human or interesting or have a thought requires daylight time. Feel free to throw your hands in the air and walk away at this point. Heaven knows I have.

Summer is all about daylight time. It’s her gift to us. Summer laughs light into extra daytime during her season. It’s a season when our family schedule load is light. The perfect space to soft-launch that Want-To-Do-It square, where I do the vulnerable of voicing my need for something and the whole family sacrifices for it; validating with my voice and their actions that it’s important enough to make my husband and children give for it. So we’re making space and figuring things out as a family because while it’s for me, it’s for everybody. Because as adorable at Zombie Jenny is at 11pm one quart into Cookie Butter ice cream, the one my husband and kids and I and you need is Alive Jenny.

Cheers to summer and light and lightness and being gifted time to use your gifts.

Cheers to Zombie You tonight with your glass of wine and peanut butter cups and your marathon of quick wit quipped Gilmores. I see you. I clink my glass and look forward to interacting with Alive Me and Alive You tomorrow as we draw near our heart’s desire in the daylight.

Until then, BOJO!

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Mahalo, Hawaii

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Water v-ed into a satisfying whoosh with each strike of the paddle. We followed the turtles up the river until rocks hitting rudder in the shallowed water below the bridge forced us to turn around and head back to the mouth of the ocean. Out of this salty, silty river. Back to the clear gradated turquoise of the North Shore. We paddled past mongoose playing in the grass along the river’s edge and waved aloha to locals drinking their morning coffee beneath massive mango trees. The clouds puffed and expanded into a soft crown around the distant mountain while the sea turtles announced their breach for air with an ancient croak.

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There was paddling over a large reef rock area only to realize it was a sting ray the width of a car, and snorkeling much too close to a terrifyingly creepy-beautiful eel, and actually surfing the warm waters with a face covered in salt and triumph. There was hiking the heat of a tropical canyon to swim the cold infinite depths beneath the pool of waterfall at it’s end.

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There were lips shiny with butter-garlic shrimp from the food truck with the green picnic tables covered in plumeria flowers that had fallen lazily and plentiful from branches above. There were siestas in the starched whiteness of taut hotel sheets and biking woven patterns in sandy trails between the banyan tree.

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I’m needy in a way that is understandable to some but not universal to all. I crave new experiences to help awaken my senses. For the spark of free-spiritness to activate, the one that feels most me but goes into unconscious self-imposed lockdown at times. A week on Oahu’s North Shore with sleep and adventure and playfulness and good food and beauty was the perfect way to spend our ten year anniversary and regroup after our recent weird year of swirlingness. We did everything and nothing all at once and it was all soul rest.

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Mahalo, Hawaii. 20150630_184518