12.25.2015

The Last of Things

I'm an oddly sentimental person. If it weren't for moving, I would have a garage full of stuff. But I don't see it as stuff. It's memories.

I still have my first student ID from college. I have my first diary. I hold on to things that at one point meant something to me, even if, their usefulness expired.

I naturally horde moments as well. Whenever I'm in transition, I try to hold on to even the intangible things. My life now is a perfect example.

We've lived a long time in Virginia, but we're making our way to a permanent location in Florida. We left, came back for the holidays, but now we're getting ready to go back... this time, for good. I'm not entirely sure when we'll be back in Virginia again. So, naturally, I'm very cognizant of what I call "the last of things."

I turned off the television in my in-laws' family room thinking, 'Last time I'll do that for while.' We said goodbye to friends, and I hugged them wondering if, for some, it would be the last time. Even as I type out this blog, I'm feeling my fingers on these keys and thinking that it will be months before I sit here again. I went through versions of this over and over again in my mind with everything.

Leaving things behind, even if it's just their commonplace appearance, comes with mixed feelings. It's a death in a sense. Consider friends and family. Sure, we have a multitude of communication tools thanks to the Internet and digital technology. However, I mourn the loss of closeness. Knowing certain people are no longer within an arm's reach or a day's drive is a loss. I feel the gap.

At the same time, I'm very excited about our future. I love our home in the Sunshine State. I'm meeting new people and doing new things that don't make me hate doing those things. It's constantly interesting.

Like I said to a friend today, I got some feelings about this.

The old phrase goes, "Change is good." I think that wisdom still circulates, because it's necessary. Change has to be good, because change is inevitable. I don't care how long you've been the way you've been, whether it's your job, house, friends, health, etc. Something will change in your life, and if you're lucky, you'll be presented with the opportunity to recognize the last of things. It's a small part of the process. You get to imagine the future, mourn the past, and embrace the present all at once. And in case you didn't know, I'm here to tell you that how you feel about it is okay. You can sulk, cry, smile, laugh...actually, a combination of all four is preferred.

Because it's sadness and joy; a twinge of pain and a flood of butterflies. It meets in the middle as a jumbled-up, somewhat unrecognizable mix. It's a good thing. It's healthy.

So, I'm going to enjoy the last of things, even if it's as simple as tapping away on this keyboard. I can take a moment to honor what I'll miss, what I have, and what's ahead. I hope you can too.

~jennifer.

12.22.2015

Mondays, Bad Guys, and This Business of Forgiveness

I had a nice blog for you today. It was very inspiring and full of Christmas cheer. It was ready to get you all in the holiday spirit.

Then, Monday happened....

Has Monday ever happened to you? Not the day, but the incident. It's like getting bad news over the phone. It's a bill in the mail. Or, as in our case, it was the dashed hope that a longstanding issue would finally get resolved.

Ug. I already mentioned about our "Summer of Discontent" and how it altered our lives. Most of it, we just had to deal with, but another part turned into an ongoing battle. It was stressful, and just when we thought the end was near... Like I said, Monday. Now, all those feelings from the summer waved back over me. I expressed a similar sentiment that I said before.

"It feels like the bad guys are winning."

We all have those moments where it seems like we did the right thing, someone else did the wrong thing, but we end up getting screwed. Doing good and not seeing the reward sucks by itself, but adding an antagonist to the mix who appears to "get away with it" makes the matter infuriating. Where's the fairness? Where's the justice? Where's a super hero to come save the day?

Back to that blog. I didn't publish it, because I instantly felt like a hypocrite. Here I am, telling you to find joy in the Christmas season, yet, at the same time, I'm stockpiling bitterness. It was time to pause. So, rather than absent-mindedly peddle inspiration, I did a little work on me first. Maybe a few of these thoughts could help you too.

First, in the face of Monday, I got moving. I was already serious about getting back in marathon shape, but this workout session had some fire to it. Indignation is quite an energy boost, in case you didn't know. I was stronger than ever. And then, wouldn't you know it, that energy burned off like a rocket, and I was left with some of those bad feelings broken off in the atmosphere.

Second, I talked it out. As soon as I got the news, I texted, emailed, Whats App messaged, and Snapchatted everyone who knew our situation. You know, sympathy can never be overrated. Some times you just need someone with whom you can commiserate. A simple, "Man, that's rough. I'm sorry" can go a long way. It always does for me.

Third, there are no bad guys and good guys. It seems that way, but human beings are far more complicated than that. The person I vilify is somebody's best friend. Someone I consider a saint is probably a holy terror to anyone else. Perspective changes everything. Not to mention that we battle people in seasons. Maybe this season they are desperate and crazy. Perhaps if we'd met at different times in our lives, none of this would have happened. Who knows? All I know is that I alleviate a lot of pressure when I stop with the binary fairy tale roles and see people as they are: flawed and human, just like me.

Lastly, there's this business of forgiveness. Doesn't it always come down to that? We don't get the privilege of living happy, well-adjuststed lives and holding on to grudges at the same time. It just doesn't work like that. At a certain point, we have to forgive those who wrong us. Forgiveness can look like a lot of different things, but it almost always includes letting go of the way we want things to be. It's not easy, but it's necessary.

But what about fairness and justice, you ask... First of all, there's no such thing as fairness. Let's get that off the table. It's completely subjective. Secondly, justice works independently of us all. Some call it karma. Others call it universal law. I quote Galatians 6:7. If you sow it, you reap it. So, believing that we are somehow responsible for someone else's comeuppance is foolish. It's not our job.

As I write this, Monday draws to a close. I'm still not particularly happy with today, but I'm probably better for it. I was provided with another opportunity to resist becoming embittered towards things and people that I can't control.

So, what about you? What was your Monday like? Better yet, who's the bad guy in your story? Let me encourage you to find your own path towards forgiveness. Whatever it looks like, go after it. It won't be comfortable, but it's better than feeling despair and it's certainly a lighter load to carry.

~jennifer.

12.11.2015

The Midnight Worrier

I'm doing it again. I'm up past my bedtime.

I can always tell when I have too much on my mind, because I can't sleep. That says a lot as a mother, because you'd think I'd covet the time that my little one is settled in for the night. Yet, more than once this week and many times in the last few months, I find myself wandering the house after midnight. I wish I could tell you what I'm looking for. It's something between a snack and mental solace.

So, what's going on? Change. Lots of change. While I've learned wonderful lessons, the fallout is that my life looks completely different than it did six months ago. New people. New house. New church. I mean, we're not even in the same region of the country any more. I still can't get used to the fact that they show Jeopardy at 7 here before Wheel of Fortune rather than the other way around. Freaky, man...

And I know, I know. Luxury problems. First world whining. Thank God we have the freedom and ability to get up, take a risk, and change our lives. There are those who would kill for such a chance.

But the wonder of it all doesn't always take away the worry. That's why I'm still up.



So, I have to remind myself of a few things when seasons like this come along and keep me ruminating through the midnight hours.

"Don't lay awake at night / Thinking about your problems" ~ Sade, "Keep Looking"

The line from this song never fails to come to me when I'm up in the middle of the night. Rarely have I ever come into great wisdom between midnight at 6 a.m. Sure, I've figured a thing or two out and perhaps discovered a different perspective. However, most of the time, my internal ranting is fruitless. I'd be better served jotting down my concerns in a journal, then leaving them there until the morning.

"Get up, get out, and do something" ~ Macy Gray, "Do Something"

Just the act of lying still in a pool of your own sadness should be metaphor enough for you to try a different position. For instance, the other night, I knew I had to do something to get out of my nocturnal funk. The answer was as simple as getting out of bed and going into the living room. At that hour, the television had nothing, but Latino game shows and small-time Baptist preachers. It was exactly what I needed to get my mind in a different space and remind myself just how sleepy I was... and how I probably need to learn Spanish.

The last thing I recall is this...

Pray.

If you're like me, there's a good chance you're up because you just need someone to talk to. Maybe you're lucky enough to have a friend to call or a spouse who's a light sleeper and great listener. But if you don't, or your troubles are above his or her pay grade, talk to God. Even if you don't believe, do it any way. It's a deep thing, but on the surface, it's a symbolic gesture that reminds you that you're not really all that in control and that's totally okay. You may even feel your burdens lifted off of you just enough for you to turn over and get some rest.

Okay, so I sorta made this about you and me, but it's late and I'm tired. Writing this was my way to unwind and stop worrying. I hope you find yours.

'Till then, sweet dreams.

~jennifer.



12.03.2015

Surviving the Summer of Our Discontent or Lessons Learned When Things Fall Apart

It's been a while. I know this. If you didn't know, babies are a lot of work. They're cute, and they're exhausting. However, I can't blame my absence from blogging on the little one. Quite simply and not so simply, life is in session.

3 a.m. in the hospital awaiting surgery. Yippee!
The last 14 months have been nothing short of incredible in both the "life is amazing! wheeeeee!" and "kill me now" sort of way. After my daughter was born, I didn't have post partum depression per say. It was more like the tyranny of the fourth trimester. Lack of sleep plus tiny screaming human equals constant threat of madness. I remember a good friend telling me that things will get better in about three months. It felt like an eternity, but indeed, by the new year, I was finding my rhythm in motherhood. Another six months, my daughter began developing her own little self and I was enjoying her. By nine months, I can say that I made a new friend. She laughs, she makes faces. It's like a tinier, feistier version of me without the dreadlocks and over-education.

This is also right around the same time as what I call "The Summer of our Discontent." If you know me, you remember. Our landlord sold the house we lived in. We had to leave the church that we had nurtured and served for more than three years. Then, I had a surprise appendectomy (is there any other kind?) which laid me out for four weeks. Did I mention I had to study and pass my doctoral qualifying exams during all of this? And maintain my sanity? Like I said, madness.

It was by far the most trying times I'd experienced in years. At one point, I was looking out for a plague of locusts. It just seemed like that should follow.

But the locusts never came. And I didn't lose my mind. We didn't have to declare bankruptcy under the weight of thousands in hospital care debt. I passed my exams. My family is still intact.

I learned a few things though.

"Don't try to turn the hands of fate / If it rains, you've got to let it" ~ Alana Davis, "Turtle"

I remember lying in the hospital in the middle of the night getting yet another CT scan. Right then under the gentle hum of machinery, I gave up. Not in an "oh woe is me" way. I just gave up trying to be in control. Most of my fury up until that point was my inability to keep things from happening to me. Surely I could stop appendicitis or convince our landlord to not make us move. I'm Superwoman, after all. But no, I'm not, and upon that realization, I let go of needing everything to be right and okay in my life. It was weird, yet comforting. I had to simply be all right with the best that I could do, which at that moment, meant holding my breath and lying very still for the scan technician.

"(Help) You know I need somebody / (Help) Not just any body / (Help) You know I need someone" ~ The Beatles, "Help"

My husband often accuses me of not asking for assistance. It's that Superwoman thing again. However, life decided to give me more than I could handle just to see if I would reach out. And I did. I have no shame in saying I talked to my doctor and started counseling again. I accepted childcare from friends so I could recover and study. I talked when someone wanted to listen. These battles cannot be fought in isolation. I got help, and I'd do it again.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Dr. Seuss

Ah, the church thing. I won't get into it here the same way I didn't give too many details to too many inquiring minds then. It involved people and their messy lives. In the end, everyone walked away thinking they were right, so there's no point in continuing to convince anyone otherwise. It did unfortunately change our lives. We were estranged from the community that we called home for many years. Some friendships got weird; others dissolved altogether. "Church hurt," as they call it, is a unique animal. But my faith is a little more in God and a little less in people these days. That's one thing. The other is this: friendships and community ties have seasons just like everything else does. Our season there is over. I can lament how things ended, or I can rejoice in three and a half beautiful years of love and communion. I choose the latter.

That's not all. I could teach series on all the lessons I've learned this year. That's the best lesson of all. Hard times make for glorious renewal and revaluation. I wouldn't care to go through most of this again, but I'm thrilled at the person I am because of it.

So, whether you're in a season of draught or plenty, rest or renovation, happiness or heartache, here's to hoping your 2015 leaves you wiser than before.

~jennifer.
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