It Was A Dark and Stormy Night…

Photo by Deibel Photography

…No, really. It was a November evening in the west of Ireland. The sky was black, although dinner had barely finished. The gale winds howled as rain and slush pelted the windows.

It had been one of those days.

One of those days where nothing particularly terrible, or great, had happened. Just a typical day in a house full of five people – three of which are under the age of eight.

There were books read, games played, blocks built and toppled.

There were squabbles squabbed, fits thrown, time outs had.

We had weathered yet another stormy, winter Saturday and were coming out the other side alive and happy, for the most part.

The two year old came and looked at me with the look. The one that says if I don’t get my milk, snuggle and bed soon we are all going to be very, very sorry.

I have to admit, I love this time of day. Not necessarily because it means the kiddos are heading to bed and I can have a few minutes to relax with hubs before retiring for another night that will go by all too quickly. Although I do have days when that’s the exact reason I love Man Cub’s bedtime.

But usually, I love this time of night because it means I get unadulterated cuddles with my lil’ man. Where he snuggles in deep in the crook of my arm and we both relish in the warmth and quiet and stillness of it all. My arms ache even now just thinking about it.

And much like the Pavlovian response of an intense craving for a good cuppa as soon as I walk out the door to go to my friend Linda’s house, my Man Cub bedtime Pavlovian response is a sudden and intense sense of relaxation and satisfaction. I go into the zone.

I was in said zone as I shuffled to the laundry room to get the highly revered milk ready, already in anticipation of the quiet time alone with my boy. There was probably some sort of goofy grin played across my face as well.

I don’t bother turning the laundry room light on as I pour the milk, zap it in the microwave a few seconds to break the chill, and turn to walk out while affixing the lid to the cup. I know the clutter in that room like the back of my hand. I know what to step over, when to shimmy to the side. I can do it with my eyes closed – and I have.

So here I stand in the dark, warm laundry room pouring a lovely cup of fresh milk for my son.

“Sssshhhhhhh. Don’t tell them I’m here,” came the hissed whisper from the darkest corner of the room.

You know, it’s funny the things that flash through your mind, all within a fraction of a second, when you know your life is about to end. Was that a snake? No, there’s no snakes in Ireland. Who are ‘them’? Why am I hearing voices? Oh boy, now I’ve really lost it. So this is how I die.

How I managed not to toss the milk to the stratosphere while simultaneously wetting my pants and passing out is beyond me. Although the pants wetting was dangerously close to happening.

My eyes finally adjusted to the dark to see my sweet tow-headed little girl crouching in the corner. Apparently she and her sister were in the midst of a rousing game of hide-and-go-seek.

I whispered that her secret was safe with me. At least, I think I did. I may have said something closer to, “Haminah, meegnaw lammah. Ok?”

My feet finally got the message my brain had been sending for the past 30 seconds and began to head towards the door – and light; and the bathroom.

But I’m still not sure who she meant by them

I’ve linked this post up with Life:Unmasked

Style, Vanity and Personal Expression

The last time I remember having a “style” is around the third grade. During that year, and all the ones leading up to it, I had a definite style. You could look at certain items of clothing or jewelry and think, “That looks like Jen!”

What was that style?

Girly.

If it had ruffles, lace, pink, purple or in any way resembled a ballerina or bride, it was for me. The foofier the better. My bed was covered in Pepto-pink ruffles from floor to ceiling. Literally. It was a canopy bed. I could, and would, wear dresses and “gowns” every.single.day.

Once I hit about fourth grade, though, peer pressure hit. The teasing began for wearing “baby” dresses, and the pressure to wear a certain brand of jeans or shoes mounted higher and higher. So I, of course, began to embrace the popular styles.

Not giving any thought to whether or not I actually liked the look. As long as the look got me liked, I liked it.

In high school the peer pressure for brand names and the like lessened quite a bit. But quite a bit of damage had been done by the ever-sought-after “popular” girls in late elementary and junior high school.

I could not step outside without make up on. Especially lipstick. If I had to go out without it, I felt naked. I would get asked if I felt okay because I  “looked tired.” And that was mortifying to me. Whatever “style” in clothing I picked was more to try to look “grown up” rather than have an actual look.

This continued through until late college, during which time I started to put together my “professional” wardrobe.

I graduated with an early-elementary education degree. So I threw myself headlong into the “teacher look.” You know the one: denim dresses, empire waistlines, silk-screened sweatshirts, and those awful work trousers with the pleats in the front. Yeah.

Then came kids. And my style became “early motherhood.”… AKA survival. Comfort. Ease. Oh, I would dress up on occasion  but my default was comfortable, easy to wear, easy to clean.

Then recently I was dressed up for one such occasion and I received a compliment that was not intended as back-handed, but it felt that way.

“You look nice! You’re not really the type to wear dresses, or outfits, really, so this is a huge change!”

It really took me aback. I thought to myself, “But I am the type to wear dresses and skirts and look pretty!!”

Since then, I’ve lost 15 pounds, had another baby and gained that weight back – and then some. I’ve yo-yo’d over and over, and my self image has taken a beating. And my style-resurgence has taken a back seat to that all-famed time of “when I’ve lost the weight…”

Somewhere in there, as well, I have sort of prided myself on the fact that I’m comfortable enough to go to the shop or drop the kids at school with a pony-tail with more fly-aways than an air field, pilling track suits, and perhaps even a pajama top under my coat. I’m so comfortable in my own skin this doesn’t bother me.

Yeah, right.

Truth is, I think I was thinking I wasn’t worth it. I mean, what right do I have to want to look pretty, wear nice accessories and shiny lip gloss when there are moms halfway around the world just struggling to feed their kids, or put any clothes on them at all??

And so I in a way, I think I prided myself on “suffering” like those less fortunate than me.

Sickening, right??

The past couple of years have been a journey of rediscovering who I am. As a person. As a wife. A mom. And a child of God. I’m still discovering it. I’ve been spending more and more time in prayer, meditating on Scripture, and discussing the messy journey of faith with people of all walks of life, faith and system of belief. I’m making an effort to make healthier, wiser choices with my food and activity level (note, I said an effort…)

Through all of this, I’ve discovered that expressing myself through the written word, song and movement is a need for me. Just like water or breathing. I wither when I neglect those things; and I thrive when I incorporate them into my life in a healthy balance.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, I need to do the same thing with my appearance. I don’t want to swing the pendulum so far that I become truly vain, or my appearance becomes an idol; an obsession.

Trying the red lip look. I think I love it…

But I’m going to start the journey of rediscovering who I am in my style. I’ve been experimenting the past few days. Some looks have worked – I may just be addicted to the red-lip look I didn’t think I could pull off; and the side messy bun is cute if I say so myself. And some looks…haven’t worked so well – the brown-toned outfit with my purple Doc Marten’s to add a pop of the unexpected…yeah, not so much.

I honestly don’t really know the point of this post other than the transparency of where I am in this journey. It’s hard for me to hit “publish” on a post that is so jumbled and seems like just a bunch of discombobulated thoughts, feelings, doubts and memories.

But, hey, this is where I am; who I am right now.

What about you? Do you have a style? Have you lost a little bit of who you are? What are you doing to find it?

I’ve linked up with Time Warp Wife

Pollen From Paint?

The sun streamed in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and warmed our backs as we sipped coffee at our favorite cafe – a rare treat in October (the sun, not the coffee). Our son toddled happily around his familiar surroundings and we just sipped, and chatted, and watched and enjoyed. When out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving – sort of twitching – around; so I gave it my full attention.

Just outside the window there was a beautiful flower cut out of wood leaning against the corner of the building. The petals were painted a bright fuchsia, and the center – about the size of a bowling ball – a vibrant yellow. The sun shone bright on its surface and it nearly glowed. A wasp buzzed spasmodically around it;  it would land in the center, dance and run around it then take off again to get a better angle. With kamikaze-like precision it would hurtle towards the flower, peck at the core with it’s stinger, feet, head. This carried on for the better part of half an hour until finally it flew away, seemingly in a huff.

Photo by Deibel Photography

I can’t blame the little fella for being drawn to that flower – it was truly breathtaking glistening away in the autumn sunshine. It must have looked like a Utopian last-bastion of summer for that little guy. What got me was how he continued to try to suck some kind of sustenance from it once he was painfully aware it was fake. Was he aware we were watching and therefore trying to save face? Was he going to stick with it because he had committed, and once he commits to something he follows through with it, dadgummit? Did he think maybe if he changed his approach; tweaked the way he went about it he would find the magic button of pollination glory?

As we left the cafe and sauntered back to our car and the continuing to-do’s of everyday life, I couldn’t help but see myself in that poor little wasp.

In what things am I looking to find sustenance,  nourishment, life-giving properties only to be pecking at a painted piece of particle board? To what beauties am I drawn by flashy coatings and vibrant color? In what endeavors am I wasting my time based on the empty promise of a first impression? To what tasks, or ideas, or ideals have I committed simply to save the embarrassment and hassle of admitting I was wrong?

The saddest part about the saga of our little friend, the wasp? There was a bush-full of beautiful, vibrant, fragrant flowers just around the corner from the cafe. Flowers full of sweet nectar and pollen just waiting to be taken on board, transported and transformed into something truly amazing – and satisfying.

Instead, he was deceived by the beauty of a coat of paint, ambient lighting, and the promise of something too good to be true; and he missed out on the real thing. And when he finally did admit to himself he’d been seeking his deepest need in the wrong place, he left defeated – and in the complete opposite direction of the real thing.

Oh, friends, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some pretty big wooden flowers in my life. I’m pecking away in search for something truly fulfilling in a place where’s there’s naught to be found but some dried out promises and painful splinters.

What about you? Where are you looking to find fulfillment? Happiness? Meaning? I invite you to join me and examine your life for the painted flowers and see what lies you’ve believed for too long. Because I know from experience, you can’t get pollen from paint.

I’ve linked up with Intentional Me, Denise in Bloom

The Blessing of A Bloom

This post first appeared on my old blog a few years ago. It’s message resonated with me today, so I wanted to share it with you again.

We planted it back at the beginning of summer. Along with the strawberries that never quite made it, and the sweet pea that bloomed in beauty.

It was the first of the three plants to sprout, and the excitement was palpable. Day after day we’d rush to the pot to see what progress had been made overnight. Then, it just…stopped. Long, green shoots waved in the breeze with nary a bud in sight. Eventually we surmised it was a dud. Or we did something wrong. It just wasn’t going to bloom, and that was that.

I really need to just throw that thing away, I’d tell myself each time I’d walk in or out of the front door. It’s just taking up space. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Then…one day the tips began to change; to look a little like wheat. Ooh, this is it! We all thought. It’s going to bloom after all! And yet, there it sat in it’s wheat-like state for week after week. Such a disappointment. It had so much potential. It served to taunt me of all my own failures; a daily reminder of all the things that had promised to bloom, only to come up short in my own life.

Or in her life over there…she’s been working at that for years with nothing to show for it. Hrmph. She doesn’t know when enough is enough does she?


The morning dawned bright and clear with a brisk chill in the wind. We headed out like any other day for school, groceries, coffees and friends. And we stopped in our tracks. There on that useless, dud of a failed plant was the most striking purple and yellow bloom – and there were four more buds surrounding it!

I stood and stared at that delicate bloom, tears stinging my eyes. As the squeals of my children’s delight wafted on the air around me, a Still Small Voice whispered in my heart of hearts –

This is a promise. For you.

My mind immediately flooded with the myriad of tasks He had called me to before. Some days, some years before. Dreams and visions, some of which had nigh faded into the oblivion of just another thing I must have heard wrong.

Yet, just as we never know what is going on just under the surface of a tree or flower, so can one never be sure what is churning, germinating, growing, pushing through just beneath the surface of a heart; of a soul. He has not forgotten those things to which He has called me. Or you. He has not sat back and hoped for the best. No. Just beneath the surface of it all, yes, even way down deep, He has been cultivating and pruning and working.

And He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. To weave the beauty and passion, heartache and hardship, into a tapestry the likes of which are not to be found anywhere other than here. In this heart. It won’t make life perfect, pain free, flawless or easy. But it will ensure that not one thing will be for naught. Not one tear will be wasted. Not one prayer will float beyond His hearing.

This weaving, this working, this mysterious melding of mundane with glorious takes the toil, pain, joy and sorrow and works it to the very best for the one who places it all in the hands of the Weaver. And to be in His hand, His gentle yet infinitely strong hand…oh how that is the very best place to be.

So now, as I pass that pot time and time again in the comings and goings of this life of mine I am reminded of that promise. And I cling to the hope of things unseen. This heart flutters with anticipation of what is to come. Eager to see how the beauty blooming just beneath the surface will push through the filth and dirt and manure to burst forth in glorious color. For I know it is coming.

Wide-Angled View

The theme for Five Minute Friday this week is: WIDE
Five minutes, no stopping, no editing. Just. Writing.

Start

The cage of overcast, heavy clouds has lifted.

The blinders of fog and mist removed.

The sun shines out the brighter, and all things seem new.

The world is glorious.

A cotton-ball sky extends overhead, a brilliant azure blanket covering a rainbowed earth full of colors never before seen by the eyes of man (or so it seems).

I stand in the center and survey the vast expanse of the world surrounding me; I see the horizon and beyond. The life of the earth fills me, and I fill it.

I have never felt so small…or so significant.

How can that be? How, when I am so acutely aware of the extreme small-ness of who I am in the context of this big, expansive, wild universe can I be so sure of the enormous significance that is my life, my soul?

It’s because this amazing world we partake of is the sum of all it’s parts…and so much more. To remove even one speck from it’s canvas would make it less than whole.

I have been placed here in this world for a purpose, as have you, dear friend.

So embrace the vastness. Embrace your small-ness. And embrace your significance. For you matter to me. You matter to the world. You matter to Him.

You just have to see it from His wide-angle view.

Stop

I’ve linked this post up with Pieces of Amy, The Better Mom

The Focus Effect

START

manduka mat

Photo by Tiffany Assman

Arms tremble, muscles burn as I lower my torso to the mat and slowly, shakily press back up.

The foam fitness mat upon which countless others have sweated blurs before my eyes as the familiar sting of tears invades the privacy of a moment meant only for myself and my breath.

I continue on in this mindless pattern; lowering, pressing up, burning, repeat.

Ah, c’mon lads! Where’s your head?! Get it the game and move to the next circuit, so!!

The angry lilt in the trainer’s voice jolts me back to reality and I begin to ponder his question as the sweat continues to pour.

Where’s your head?

Where’s your head?

Where’s your head?

This moment; this day my head is a million places other than in this gym, on this mat.

It’s at home with a sick little girl. With friends with a terminally ill child. With the hurting family member. The job lost. The car crashed. The marriage on the rocks. So many of those I love are hurting so immensely and today it is just. too. much.

(stop)

As I round the circuits in this fog of worry and doubt I fight to reign in the physical. To beat it into submission to perform. But it won’t. It is weak. Weary. Protesting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the side effects of worry! It’s a powerful drug, capable of rendering even the strongest weak. In every sense of the word. It tears down the mind. Littering it with trash and garbage and other people’s unwanted baggage.

It shreds the soul making the iron-clad promises of a loving God seem full of holes like a crochet quilt that lets more cold air in than it keeps out. It makes truth seem false.

And it weakens the body. Strength that was there yesterday is eerily absent today. All energy reserved for fighting the losing battle of what if and should have and if only and why and why not.

Focus.

Where I choose to place it makes all the difference in the world. But more importantly, and more immediately, makes all the difference in my life.

(I ask for your grace as I over-extended the time constraint this week. If you’ve been around here very long, you know that writing is therapy. And release. And often times enlightenment. So thank you for allowing me the privilege of processing here.)

I love Fridays when I get a chance to link up with LisaJo and hundreds of others from around the world for the crazy free-write that is Five Minute Friday!

I’m also linking this post up with Womanhood With Purpose, The Better Mom, Growing Home

Irish Lesson of the Week

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The view down the street in front of our house

A lot of people are really intrigued by the fact that we live in an Irish-speaking area. Yes, that’s right, Ireland has it’s own language! In fact, Ireland has 2 official, national languages: English and Irish (aka Gaelic). Many people are surprised to learn that our kiddos’ school is completely taught through Irish. Not as some hip, cultural thing to do, but because Irish is the first language of the majority of people in our area! So, after nearly 4 years here, our girls are age-level fluent in the language. Hubs and I are quite conversational, but we are always looking to improve our ability!

So, because there seems to be such interest in the language, I thought I might share a phrase in Irish every now and then, along with a guide for how it is pronounced in our dialect! Inspired by the surprisingly beautiful weather that showed up this afternoon after a dismal start to the day I thought our first phrase would be:

Tá an lá go hálainn!

[TAW uhn LAW guh HAH-linn]

“It’s a gorgeous day!!”


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The view up the street in front of our house.

Seasons of the Soul

It’s Friday once again my good sojourners. I once again am joining up with Miss Lisa-Jo for the mayhem that is Five Minute Friday, writing for 5 minutes straight – and no more! – on a single topic. Without further ado, here is my five minutes on this week’s theme:

Change

Five Minute Friday

START

Tree in mist

Photo by net_efekt

The days are just a bit shorter now.

The air not warm, not yet crisp.

The leaves bear the evidence of the unending change – not yet fully changed, and yet starkly different.

In my heart I sense the the darkness coming.

And like a child on the floor I kick and fuss and whine and cry.

I grab the proverbial door jamb of life and refuse to go quietly into the unknown.

I look before me and all I see is darkness; death; cold; storms.

My eyes trained on the struggles ahead. The burdens. The heartbreaks. The pain. The failures.

Though all around me, filling the periphery, there is beauty. Vibrance. Color. Light. Life. Fruit.

I stop my screaming; slow the hurried pace of my puffing breath long enough to notice the beauty in the new.

The life in the changes.

I cannot hold back the changes in my heart anymore than I can stem the tide of the changing seasons.

But I can embrace this autumnal presence as what it is – a gift. The signs of a new phase. New steps. New joys.

Yes, there is pain; discomfort; even death. But this death produces such a vibrant life that I would be remiss to ignore the process and risk losing the joy that comes in the morning of crisp, white snow.

STOP

I’m linking up with The Better Mom, Time Warp Wife, Growing Home, The Miss Elaine-ous Life

Family Vacation

As you may have seen on Facebook, hubs has been doing a LOT of traveling this month. Well, we have some more traveling to do with work, but we all get to go this time!!! So, we are taking a few days before hand for a bit of family holiday time and we are so excited for some good, quality family together time!!

Photo by cyphi (creative commons)

You’ve been awesome as things have been a bit sporadic around here all month. And I’d like to ask you to bear with me just a little longer! I’ve got one or two days while I’m gone where I’ll have some guest posts, but other than that things will be pretty quiet around here until the end of July, at which time I hope to get back to a more stable routine.

In the meantime, why not poke around the archives (just scroll down a bit and there’s a handy archives widget on the sidebar)  and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!!

Love,
Jen

Fix It

hold on

I can’t fix it.

The confusion. The unknown. The hurt.

I wish I could wield a magical tool that would transform all the pain and uncertainty, fear and doubt into a beautiful package tied up with a nice shiny bow.

Oh how I wish I could blink my eyes and your tears would be dried and your heart restored, free to trust and laugh and love.

My heart breaks at the sound of yours breaking.

I can’t fix this. Or change it. Or even make it the slightest bit better.

But I can walk with you.

Hand in hand through this valley of  shadow. Where the road seems hidden, shrouded in debris.

I can sit side by side. And cry. And nod. And hope.

I can throw myself at the feet of the One who loves you more than you or I could ever fathom. I can pour my heart out on your behalf when you don’t have the strength. Or faith. Or words.

I can hug your neck. Make tea. Love those walking with you.

No, I can’t fix this.

But I can love you. And until the Sunlight shines on your face again – and even then – I am here.

Photo by Eflon

I’m linking up with The Better Mom, Time Warp Wife, Growing Home, Women Living Well, Raising Homemakers