38 and some lessons learned

38 and some lessons learned

It’s not another year older, it’s “I made it to the next level of life”. HECK YEAH!

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

– Be the first to stretch out your hand and introduce yourself. They feel awkward too, so you might as well break the ice and say hi.

– Never underestimate where a hello could lead…

– Wear the lipstick, it brightens your whole face HONEY, YES!

– Take the trip and write the postcard. Even if you accidentally leave it on the hotel nightstand for the maid to read.

– Smile even if they don’t smile back.

– Give people the benefit of the doubt. Teach your kids to do the same.

– Ask questions. Get to know people. You won’t regret it. You need them and they need you.

– If there’s live music, don’t miss it.

– Make your husband your best friend.

– If you live in Texas, say y’all and wear the boots and fringe. When in Rome.

– Always have a little toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Benadryl in your purse. (That’s the ‘Lived in Africa’ talking.)

– You don’t have to live on kale and cucumber juice but once in a while drink some water and go for a walk. And eat some almonds. I swear they’re a magic food.

– Look at elderly people in the eye and talk with them. They’ve lived a lot of life to get where they are today and they deserve our respect. Plus they have some great stories.

– Don’t wait for the right event to wear the sequence dress. Just wear it!

– Write your daughters love notes.

– It’s okay to laugh and grieve in the same day.

– Ask God for wisdom when you need it.

– Turn the music up.

– Own your story. The loss, the joy, the triumph, where God has you.

– Walk by faith, even when you don’t understand the path. You can trust a faithful God.

– Take a picture and write it down.

– It never feels good, but be the first to say you’re sorry.

– Allow friends to become like family.

– Love today, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

– “Always, we begin again” St. Benedictine

Falling in love, all the more

Falling in love, all the more

You remind me it was two years ago I had my D&C after the loss of our boy/girl twins. Of course I remember. And we both remember with tears. The tears don’t come in sobs, like they once did. They come softly at the remembrance of heartache and pain. The tears are also an acknowledgement that God heals. And He never leaves our side. And He never forgets what we can’t forget either. And that makes us fall in love with Him all the more…

When my girls and I find something funny at the same time and we all three laugh. That makes me fall in love with them all the more…

Watching our girls sit by each other on the couch, wet hair braided, and remembering the rounds of IVF, the prayers, the pleading, the shots, the losses along the way… that makes me fall in love with them all the more…

When it’s too late for a meal but I’m suddenly “starving and within an inch of death’s doorstep” and you make me a hummus, falafel, olives, feta cheese wrap (out of thin air), I fall in love with you all the more…

When Noella paints and crafts and creates with such concentration, when her compassionate heart breaks over seeing a homeless person, when she chooses Lil’ Sis as her best friend, it makes me fall in love with her all the more…

When Shawn swoops up our girls like they’re still tiny newborns, and hugs their belly aches away, it makes me fall in love with him all the more…

When Shawn surprises me and brings home frozen custard (with strawberries and gummy worms) because getting the girls down for bed has been omg (!!) I fall in love with him all the more…

When Shilo flashes the ‘I love you’ sign with two lingering chubby baby hands as I’m tucking her in, and asks big, curious questions, I fall in love with her all the more…

When Shawn forgives quickly, it makes me fall in love with him all the more…

Trying to look at the people in my life as love stories, because that’s what they are. The pages and chapters are being written day by day. I just can’t forget who holds the pen. It’s not me, but a good, good, Author.

Purple sunrises and walking in the Spirit

Purple sunrises and walking in the Spirit

The sunrise had a lot more purple in it today. I wonder why. Maybe God knows variety is the spice of life, and that there’s not a lot of variety or spice when you’re knee deep in your morning routine of trying to get little girls up and out the door, with actual clothes on (not just princess costumes), and with some resemblance of a nourishing breakfast, while toothpaste is smeared all over the sink, and 1000 reminders to PUT YOUR SOCKS ON PLEASE!
Why is fighting for joy and gratitude so hard for us? At least it is for me. I may appear cheerful (or so I’m told… by those who don’t actually live with me) but it’s still an active battle at times. How do we not get sucked down a well of discontentment and discouragement when life is hard sometimes? We’re just humans dealing with a lot, and sometimes that feels heavy. On the flip side, how can we- who have been saved and rescued from death and hell and fire and eternal punishment, by King Jesus- be anything but joyful and beaming with rays of gratitude? If you feel stuck between those two worlds, welcome to earth! I live here too, and I’m right there with you: saved, grateful, blessed with more than I deserve, and on the same given day, struggling to live in light of eternity, sour on the inside, impatient, not very nice. This is our reality because even though we’ve been raised with Christ, we battle our (dead!) identity that still lingers under the surface. It’s easier to be selfish because that’s what our flesh wants and thinks it deserves. It’s easier to roll our eyes like the 3-year-old that wanted to put the toothpaste on herself, and to choose to act ugly, instead of choosing to be gracious and kind. It takes an act of God (walking in the Spirit) to choose patience, joy when the circumstances aren’t ideal, and love love, always love. The takeaway in all of this, is that if we know Jesus, we have the OPTION to walk in the Spirit, to throw to the ground our rotten flesh, and live our lives God’s Way. We have the option to see a sunrise with colors that weren’t there yesterday, and to silence our negative mindset, our inner critics, our old nature, and instead send our praise, awe, and admiration back to the Creator Himself. We have the option to send our praise back to the One who didn’t leave us here on earth alone, but left His Spirit to walk through life with us, highlighting the purple He put in the sky just for you.

Nostalgic for now, is it bedtime yet?

Nostalgic for now, is it bedtime yet?

Some days the miracles are so tangible. I stare at their faces for a really long time and I can’t believe they’re here, that they’re ours. I look at their lashes and the shape of their noses and I laugh when Shilo says she has the “coughles” (lots of little coughs). And then in the same day I’m so annoyed that tiny bits of rice are all over the rug, that no one is staying seated at the dinner table, and I’m over it when they’re not staying in bed even though they were tucked in two hours ago. The days fly by and the days drag on. I’m caught between trying to do my best, get through the long days, find some patience somewhere, somehow, and at the same time, I’m nostalgic for the very days I’m in. I don’t ever want to miss a thing. I don’t want to miss a moment of who they’re becoming. I don’t ever want to stop taking in the miracles we prayed for. But If I’m annoyed at rice on the rug and ketchup on the white curtains (please gasp dramatically with me), I’m just as frustrated with myself. If I stay there it’s too deep a thought, which leads to guilt and condemnation (which isn’t from God!) for ways I don’t think I measure up as a mom, or think I’m present enough, or ‘words like honey’ sweet enough, etc. So instead of missing any more moments caught up in analyzing how I measure up as a mom/wife/friend/person I look to Jesus and I say, “THANK YOU FOR MEASURING UP WHEN I FALL SHORT.” I need Jesus to help me in so many ways in my life. (That’s an understatement). I need Him to remind me constantly that it’s in His strength that I win, love, soar, find peace, experience joy, raise these girls, and even clean rice off the rug.

Blinds and faith

Blinds and faith

It’s morning, but only according to the blinding numbers that tell me it is. It’s so dark I can’t see anything out the window, but still I open the blinds. I do it in faith, that the promise of light will soon flood our home. I do it every morning, waiting. The light came yesterday even when it didn’t seem possible. It came the day before too, so I know surely it will return. Isn’t that faith? Having the blinds open for something that you think, you hope, you’re pretty sure will come? We don’t leave the blinds closed and block out the rays of new a day, the rays of promise. We open them with great expectation. Then a moment can’t be missed as soft streams, pastel colors, and peeks of sunrise creep in. We knew it would come! We had faith! The blinds were open for such a time as this! But did we really trust the sun would rise? Did we really know it, believe it with more than just action and mind, or did we feel it deep in our heart, a soul resting in the assurance of what was to come? Or did we open them thinking maybe our little action prompted what was to come, like we played a part in beckoning a new day?
The sun will rise even if we never open the blinds. Just like God, standing the test of time as faithful even when we do – or don’t – muster the courage to believe. He still is, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. He is not waiting on us to trust Him to show Himself faithful. HE ALREADY IS. Sure and steady as the rising of the sun. A dawn of hope after a dark night. He remains. Faithful He has been, and faithful He will be. You just might want to open the windows, blinds, and curtains, and let His glory flood in. Too often I hear people say (myself included) that they’re “trying to trust God” with a given circumstance. Trying isn’t trusting. There’s a reason it’s called blind faith. You either trust or you don’t. But know that God is sure, steady, and working- just like the promise of a new day, whether or not we’re looking for it, believing it, or standing watch ready to be amazed by it.

Hackers and memories

Hackers and memories

Welp, the hackers got to me. They deleted my Instagram account and left me feeling a little bit like I had been robbed. Not to be overly dramatic, of course. But there were 3000+ little tiles from those days of living overseas, to my girls dancing in their princess dresses. The memories themselves are still there, buried deep into my heart and mind, and I should have all of the pictures, it’s just that the memories aren’t nearly as accessible, organized, or easy to get to. Or sharable. And I didn’t give them permission to come delete everything.
How ironic that one night before the JH “jerk hackers” erased my account, my book club friends and I were talking about the addictions of social media and how we want differently for our sons and daughters. But how? How do we make it different when we ourselves can’t look away, stop checking in, feel the need to document, look for an audience to validate how cute our new living room rug is, how charming our kids are (note the cute braids we barked at them to hold still for, and polite manners, please), and someone to get behind our ‘fancy font’ political views?
I felt weird about the hackers, but then I felt at peace about it too. Maybe it’s the push I needed to unplug more? To look up more? Maybe I’ll blog more, even little posts like what a square on Instagram would say.
Friends volunteered to go and screenshot some memories I might miss, or want to see easier, since they could see my posts but I couldn’t. Isn’t that sweet. Take that, hacker jerks. Friends showed up for me. And you know what else? Memories will not stop. And it’s those 3000+ posts that led me to where I am today: in my cleaned-in-the-first-time-in-days kitchen, with a citrus and raspberry candle burning, and a glass of boxed wine from Sam’s.
Here’s to savoring the moment, the real moment. Take a picture if you want, but don’t forget to live it and log it in that filing cabinet way back in your mind, the one where the memories never leave.

A FEW of the many memories I have filed:
– Dreaming, playing, imagining as a child.
– The very, very first time I met Shawn. He was a shy boy in a pearl button shirt and work boots.
– Every single time I’ve traveled somewhere new.
– My parents holding hands. Even if things ended differently for them.
– All the mountains I’ve climbed; literally and figuratively.
– Friends who have done something thoughtful for me.
– Our wedding day. Our honeymoon.
– Driving up a mountain in Bolivia, really top heavy with luggage, and nothing but the edge of a cliff next to us.
– The long, long flight to Guinea (24 hours of travel), stopping off in Brussels, knowing we had no place to stay when we arrived in Guinea, and that we were moving there. I remember feeling homesick for friends, family, and familiarity and we hadn’t even arrived yet.
– I remember waking up in Africa, our first time there, with no return ticket, and feeling an indescribable sense of excitement and adventure. I heard every bird chirping on the other side of the barred window. We had arrived.
– I remember pool days as a kid.
– I remember malaria. I remember the hallucinations, the fear on Shawn’s face, the doctor at my bedside.
– I remember the faces of Conakry; I remember their hospitality.
– Poor, but in-love as a newlywed.
– Moving to Quebec in our car.
– Snow up to the roofline.
– Starting over in Senegal, homeless again.
– Comical (and embarrassing) language blunders as we spoke French and sounded like 3 yr olds at first.
– All the good food I’ve ever eaten.
– Every move. Every adjustment.
– The long wait for a baby.
– The pain of infertility.
– Holidays. The buildup to a holiday.
– The homesickness we felt living overseas during a holiday.
– Friendships. No matter the skin color, culture, background, religion, place of birth, language. If there was laughter and a listening ear, friendships could be born and built.
– Gatherings with families.
– Welcoming new nieces, nephews, brother and sisters-in-law.
– Every needle, appointment, medicine, and failed live embryo transfer.
– Every round of IUI and IVF, and all that went with it.
– Every time we went looking for God.
– Every time God showed up.
– Life’s milestones.
– The news that IVF #4 was successful. The world slowed and I heard nothing, not a sound on the city streets.
– The birth and first few dream-like weeks with our newborn daughter.
– The surprise of a lifetime: baby girl #2 was on her way.
– The birth and first few unforgettable weeks with our 2nd daughter.
– Having two under two.
– Every move, lots of starting over.
– I could go on and on with big and little things I have filed in my mind. Books I’ve read, people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, places I’ve visited, places I’ve lived, conversations at home on the couch, parties on the patio, childhood, raising my family, the heartbreaks, the forgivingness, the ugly and the fantastic, it’s all there. It’s called life.

In the meantime, I have a new Instagram account for if/when I want to share a picture or a memory as it plays out (jenn_deatley). I decided to start a new account because I don’t want the hackers to win. (Not that they care.) I want to move forward as I may, and as I will, putting a few moments on display, but mostly, I’ll be filing these moments and memories away in my mind. A safe, happy place I hope to return to.

Heart stickers on the wall

Heart stickers on the wall

Our house is peppered with little reminders to love. It seems so simple, like such a given, like it should be easy to love. There’s the husband I made a vow to love forever, but it still doesn’t always mean marriage is easy. There are the two precious daughters we prayed for, fought for, and waited forever for, and it’s still not always easy. Love is alive in our home, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a feeling it’s a choice. And there are days when choice needs a push, it needs a boost to choose someone else over self.

Over our bed is a framed black and white quote that says, “Love builds a happy home”. It’s not things, it’s not grand experiences, or Christmas mornings to remember. It’s not cute throw pillows or the perfect casserole served warm right before the hangry kicks in. It’s love.

On my bathroom counter is a small, flat, oval rock the girls painted and there’s a sticker on it that says “love”. It’s right there where I go first in the mornings before I even have my contacts in, before I even have my brain activated to speak, be nice, or look people in the eye. But love says to be patient, not just when you’re up, dressed, fed, and caffeinated, but to live out the patience and kindness and choosing of another in action, not in how we feel. That little rock mocks me just a little bit when it’s early and the word love is blurred because I can’t see yet and the urgent demands for breakfast are upon me.

There’s a little blue heart sticker on the tile next to the bathtub. I don’t even know how it got there. Stickers (aka: kid currency) are everywhere and manage to appear and reappear all over our house. I see this little blue heart sticker right there on the tile next to the faucet every time I’m filling up that giant yellow plastic Dickey’s BBQ cup that I use to rinse their hair. That little blue heart whispers to me to be slow to anger when a tidal wave splashes violently over the side and onto the floor, and onto my jeans, and when the screams are obnoxiously loud and it’s past their bedtime and I’m exhausted. It’s then that I’m reminded that once again, love is a lot of things (it’s not holding onto wrongs, it’s being gentle, kind, thinks of others, etc.). It’s an active choice. So right there, bent over the bathtub rinsing their hair for the 5000th time, and getting splashed, at the end of a long day, I choose love.

There’s the $5 gold ring on my right hand with a red heart on it that I see sometimes and remember whose hand I get to hold here on earth. He’s the man who’s stood by me come what may, he’s the one who loves me no matter what and has cried with me and laughed with me in the dark and in the morning light. I want to show our girls what that kind of love is like and hope they know they’re so deeply loved and wanted in this home, even on the cranky days when we’re all a little too human and we forget to look for the heart reminders on the wall.

There’s the spontaneous heart shaped mac n’ cheese I spot on Noella’s thumb and snap a pic. There’s love in feeding bellies, souls, and hearts by serving our families and offering a kind word or a smile. We have the power to make love grow, even if it’s a bowl of from-the-box mac n’ cheese and half an apple for dinner.

Oddly enough, even when our house is peppered with hearts and reminders like these, choosing love is the hardest thing I do every day. It doesn’t come naturally no matter how much I actually do love someone. There’s a resistance in my veins and it’s called self. It’s called a sin nature. It’s called selfishness. We all have it. And with it comes a deep need for Jesus. We can’t last long in our own efforts no matter how great our spouse is, how cute the kids are, or how many heart stickers there are to remind us to love. We need a love greater than what we can muster up to get us through the day. Let’s love so big that it demonstrates to others what’s been done for us. <3

Disconnect and ride it out

Disconnect and ride it out

The thing about life is, sometimes it’s unbelievably glamorous. Your hair has body on top and there’s a clean floor under your feet, the babysitter arrives soon, and dinner reservations are made at your favorite place. There’s a golden sunset in the evening sky and your fern is looking healthy. Your daughters bring you flowers (an arrangement of colorful weeds) from the yard, and the bedtime routine is a breeze.
But often, if we’re honest, there’s an inner fight with self to be thankful and to be joyful and to not focus on the wasp invasion in the yard, the 109-degree high for the week, the disagreement with your husband, or the ongoing battle to eat well, live well, disconnect, raise good kids, love and serve those around you, volunteer, not say bad words, floss, break bad habits, and show up to our own life every day.

And then begs the question, while standing in-between such highs/ gratitude, and lows/this living in a sin-tainted world, the question of, “what to post?” Do we show the good, the good that truly rocks us to our core because God has been gracious to us and we are living a life we’ve prayed for, or do we post the hardship knowing life can also be devastating and rocky and you feel like a fake in a world of filtered, lovely posts all the time? The questions what to post and why bother have been growing around me, especially as I’ve been reading Here, Now (unearthing peace and presence in an overconnected world) by Kate Merrick.

The thing is, even if I post a true depiction of my day, life, coffee hour musings, who cares?! Like, literally, who even stops scrolling for a millisecond to let my picture, memory, post, matter to them. After all, aren’t they logging on to post their own reels, pictures, sob story or highlight? I’m not throwing away the passwords to these accounts just yet, and there’s an aspect to it all I really enjoy, but it definitely has me processing the value of the moment and how even unshared altogether, they’re precious. Or maybe they’re really hard. Maybe they’re unforgettable in the best kind of way. Or maybe they’re the behind-the-scenes hard moments (not exactly TikTok worthy) that grow you as a person, mother, friend, wife. Maybe they’re the beautiful kind of memories where you do take pictures of the girls hugging under an arched doorway standing next to a giant blooming hibiscus with Italian blue tile underfoot. Maybe you share it, maybe you don’t, and instead you let it soak slow and steadily into your mind, vowing to remember. Maybe you jot down the memory in that little striped journal where you log memories.

Something valuable life has taught me, whether you’re in active labor and the contractions are real, or you’re experiencing some distasteful (to put it lightly) turbulence at 38,000 feet, or hunkering down while your village home rocks under the weight of a hurricane, it’s this life lesson to ride it out. This too shall pass, the good, the glamorous, as well as the challenging and the miserable parts. Ride it out is one of my life mottos. I mean, I don’t like have it on a t-shirt or anything, but it has helped me through so, so many life events. It’s a reminder to not give in to fear, and that smooth sailings are just around the corner. But in this world of posting and sharing, liking and refreshing and checking in, it’s hard to remember to ride it out because you’re preoccupied with when and how to share the moment and who might like, view, or respond to it.

So maybe I’ll be sharing more of my memories and life happenings here on this blog. Maybe I’ll be turning my phone off more so that I can soak in the glamorous moments before I rush by them to post them, or maybe I’ll be disconnecting to ride out a given storm that blows in. Who knows, really, what the right balance should be. All I know is, I want to be aware so that I live my life in such a way that I’m looking up, and keeping my eyes and heart in tune to the blessings around me, and not miss the lessons in the storm because I was too busy trying to find the right filter.

 

Bridging the friendship gap

Bridging the friendship gap

I was the oddball. The one that didn’t fit in. My husband and I moved to a little village in Senegal, West Africa where we worked as missionaries. We knew French which kind of served as a “bridge” language, but we didn’t speak Wolof, Diola, or any of the other local languages that people spoke. French was our second language and often their third or fourth language. So we could only go so far in that language, and if they didn’t speak much French, our gestures would only carry us so far! I was the oddball because of my skin color, my hair color and texture, my eye color, the way I wore my clothes and did my makeup, the way I washed my clothes, the way I cut my chicken, and the way I mopped my floors. My husband and I were different from everyone around us. We were two American missionaries in the middle of a west African village. I was also the oddball because I didn’t have children (and all of the women of that village that I came across did), I didn’t work in a garden, I didn’t go to the market at an early hour to get produce for that day, I didn’t have the same beliefs about God that they did, and I didn’t spend time hauling water from the well (we actually paid a local woman to do that for us). How on earth was I ever going to get to know anyone in that village? How was I ever going to break down the walls of isolation, living so far from people of my own culture, language and beliefs, and make a friend? It was hard to wake up every morning and make myself get outside to greet my neighbors (a valued part of the West African culture), when it felt useless to me at times. I felt like I couldn’t relate to their lives. Some of them were their husband’s second or third wife. How was I to relate to that?
I learned in time, and from forcing myself to step outside of my comfort zone, and in forcing myself to get to know people that were different from me, that it really doesn’t matter if you have anything in common or not. It just matters that you show an interest in someone else’s life. It matters that you smile, say hi, ask how their day is going, and if their sick baby is feeling any better. It matters that you accept the (sometimes cloudy) drinking water they offer, eat the fish and rice they offer you with gratitude, and accept the last remaining chair to have a seat in. It matters that (at least woman to woman) you compliment them. Notice how their hair is braided and ask who did it. Ask which tailer made their dress and for what occasion it was sewn for.
Putting culture aside, human to human, there are always ways to connect with people. We’re all daughters, we’re (now) mothers, we all eat food and clean our floors, even if it looks different.
Maybe this is also where I gained an interest in asking questions. It’s how we get to know each other, it’s how we build friendships and form connections. Even a shy person will come out of their shell (if only for a moment) if you give them a compliment. “Hey, I like your green mascara. Where did you get it?” Boom, just like that, the foundation to a new friendship has been laid. “I love your Yassa Poulet (Senegalese chicken and rice dish). No one in the village makes it like you do. Can you show me how?” Boom, just like that, the foundation to a new friendship has been laid.
No matter the context, even if you’re the oddball in a village, or feeling isolated in your given community, you can, little by little, form friendships by looking for things to compliment people on, and by following up with a question in order to get to know them better.
Care about people and their lives, branch out by asking people questions about their lives, step outside of your comfort zone and outside of the walls of isolation, and say hi to someone!
I saw from my own experiences, that in time, even when it feels impossible and intimidating, you can find common ground and a relationship can take root. You can start with, “Can I borrow an egg?”, or, “Can you teach me the word for spoon in your language?”

 

(Submission for mops magazine on friendship in various contexts)

Smiley face leggings

Smiley face leggings

You can wear all the smiley face leggings you want, and if Jesus and love aren’t the center of your day/your thoughts/your motivation, you’re going to trip up on yourself and it won’t be pretty. You’ll fall flat on your face into a muddy pool of selfishness. You’ll be splashing around, making a mess and only seeing you and the mud and nothing else. The world tells us to live for ourselves, but that’s a dangerous place to dwell.
But, if you pair some (pink, $7) smiley face leggings with Jesus and love, it’s a game changer.

Sometimes happiness is found in hammock swings on the back patio. Sometimes it’s found in queso (it’s often found in queso tbh). Sometimes it’s found in the coldest moscow mule with lots of lime. Sometimes it’s found in early bedtimes, fresh eggs from neighbors, and the first rose from your rose bush. Sometimes happiness is found in deep thoughts and a moment to yourself, park playdates, hazelnut lattes on the drink menu, holding hands and heart rings, reading to your kids about the Sacrificial Lamb, couch cuddles with a 3 yr old, a night away in Texas Hill Country and staying in an old cabin, new gold Burks, handsome horse neighbors, kids in cowgirl hats, and a long-awaited rain shower in the desert.

Happiness comes and goes, all in a given day.

Unless, of course, it comes from Jesus. If it’s found in Him, it’s joy and it lasts no matter what the day holds and no matter what leggings you’re wearing.