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One Sentence Eulogy

If you are my Facebook friend, it's no secret that I have been reading a book (again) that I deeply love.  The title is Listen, Love, Repeat by Karen Ehman.  I don't get paid to promote the book.  I don't get a cut if you buy it.  I just think you should read it because it teaches us why and how to put others before ourselves in a world screaming "me first!"

One of the reasons I've really enjoyed it is because it gives actual, practical advice on how to love others beyond taking them a meal or sending a text (both wonderful things to do, however...not knocking either of them).  Like any great book, she goes out on a high note with my favorite two chapters coming at the end - entitled "Nearest and Dearest: How to Really Care for your Clan" and "Scatter Kindness."

As I sit here, plagued by a third trimester overactive bladder and inability to get comfortable in any sleeping position, I found myself contemplating both chapters.  You see, I'm not in a great mindset to be putting others first right now.  I'm grumpy, uncomfortable, sweaty, and tired.  Fortunately, that's all just temporary.  (Well, let's be honest, not the sweaty part.  Okay, or the grumpy part, if I'm being totally transparent.)  Nevertheless, how I treat others cannot depend on my mood.
We need to remember our why, the reason we love and serve and give thoughtful gifts and do good works.  It is so that others will see Jesus.  They may look at us, but we hope they see him.
I have the beautiful luxury of having a lot of "nearest and dearest."  This is amazing because I have seven, soon to be eight, staggeringly different personalities to learn and know and love and navigate.  It means I have seven, soon to be eight, people as a constant audience of me at both my best and, more often, my worst.  Our nearest and dearest have the unfortunate privilege of getting to see our ugly side.  We share with them the short-temper and harsh tones we wouldn't dare show to anyone else.  I am the number one offender when it comes to taking for granted that they know I love them.  I am guilty of pouring into others when I neglect to pour into my own.  "Yeah, but they know how I feel.  I don't have to show them."

Wrong.

This weekend was my husband's birthday.  It came on the heels of a week of business travel for him, and a whirlwind week for me at home with the six kids, a huge belly, plus tons of extra things going on (first soccer practices, volleyball practice, a few play-dates, hosting book club at my house, routine church activities, chores, etc.).  I was feeling less than energetic and inspired when it came to figuring out a present and a way to celebrate.  Fortunately, Sam rose to the occasion himself and arranged for us to pick him up at the airport and spend the night in Atlanta, where we ate at a couple of his favorite restaurants, enjoyed a favorite treat (Auntie Anne's Cinnamon Pretzel), "relaxed" at the hotel pools with six kids, and browsed the exhibit hall of a Homeschool Expo (wait, that part might have been for me).  Knowing he loves a good nap, we let him take a good one on Sunday after we got home, and the kids prepared the decorations and entertainment (an improvised Happy Birthday song to the tune of a wordless Disney karaoke track) while I prepared the caramel cheesecake because I had literally none of the ingredients to make a copycat Chili's Molten chocolate cake.  We presented the photos we took while on the way to Atlanta at church for a gift, and I prayed he somehow picked up on the fact that we adore him.  I simply cannot take for granted that he knows.  We have to show him and tell him we love him.

In the final chapter of the book, Karen poses a question to the reader.  If  someone were to record a one-sentence eulogy about me, what would they say?  How would they describe me?  I took that thought another scary step and pondered what my kids, specifically, would say.  Late in the third trimester suffering from insomnia is probably not the best time to be contemplating this, but I pray they'd be able to say something like:

She laughed more than she cried.
She praised us more than she criticized.
She let a lot of things go that might make other people crazy.
She succeeded more than she failed.
She apologized when she was wrong.
She did for others what others wouldn't do for her.
She was patient even though she was tired.
Maybe, she gave us soft, gentle, thoughtful answers rather than using harsh, painful, and careless words that stirred up anger.  Oh, wouldn't that be amazing?

I'm not sure they can say those things, but I can dream.

Knowing how fleeting our moments are here on earth, I want to do life better.  To scatter more kindness.  To love my nearest and dearest the way they deserve.  To invest in the lonely and brokenhearted.  To recognize the necessary people.  To reach out to the cantankerous and prickly knowing I might get hurt.  To glean my free moments to do these things instead of wasting them playing Cooking Fever or checking Facebook.  (Not that I do either of those things all day long.  I'm a grown woman!  Seriously though.)
Kindness starts simply.
An encouraging word.
A loving gesture.
A tender sentiment sent through the mail.
A thoughtful small token.
The gift of unhurried time.
A rousing pep talk.
Simply vowing to speak and act in a way that is gentle and kind is the starting point.
Aesop was right: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
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A Beautiful Mess

There was a time, I seem to remember, when I was a fairly "together" kind of person.  I maintained tidy work spaces, had legitimate organizational methods, and obsessed about minor details.  (Okay, I still do that last part.)  I had the luxury, way back when, of maintaining order at a more professional level.

I'm sure you can guess what happened.


(That's just one more on the way.  In case you're confused.  We just like to be surprised on the birth day and prepared with a tiny onesie in either case.)

As we've added children, our lives have gotten fuller, both in the emotional sense of having more love and all that jazz, but also in the very real, physical sense because we have more stuff, schedules, and personalities to navigate.  As the years have progressed I've had to teach myself to delegate.  (Actually, my much-wiser-than-me husband not-so-subtly suggested that it was imperative to include our children in the household duties for lots and lots of very good reasons, not the least of which was that I was running myself ragged and not accomplishing much despite doing so.)

For example, I delegated towel folding to my eldest who picked up the folding torch and keeps the stacks nice and uniform, facing the right direction.  He, in turn, delegated the task of carrying the nice, neat stacks to the bathroom cabinets to his younger siblings who actually seem to enjoy running around like tiny delivery people.  The part that makes me itchy is when these younger helpers insist on doing some folding on their own.  The stacks are less uniform, almost never facing the right direction.  But they are folded.  And no longer on my fireplace.  Or favorite green chair.  Or on my laundry room floor.  Lord knows I need all of those places for the next load of unfolded, but clean laundry.  And so, I concede to the imperfection.

Another chore of utmost importance is doing the dishes.  I have not clung to many formalities in our large family life, but eating off of legitimate plates with actual silverware is one that, save for an occasional backyard picnic or pizza and movie night in the living room, I just cannot let go.  As you can probably infer, this means we load and unload the dishwasher on pretty much a constant basis.  True to my own personality type (or flaws, whatever), I had a difficult time delegating because I had particular ways of doing things (like loading the plates in a certain direction) and I wanted to be able to actually find the dishes, etc. that were unloaded.  We started with unloading only.  I would stand (or hover, depending who you talk to) over and watch as the younger ones attempted to comb their hair with clean forks before putting them in the drawer or touch their mouths to the clean cups before placing them in the cabinet.  Gentle correction remedied these minor transgressions.  For the most part, they do a fantastic job.  They've broken no more dishes than their spaz mother manages to break and things are generally where they belong (even if I can almost never find a colander), despite the fact they might not be put away exactly how I'd like them to be.

Tonight, as I was about to prepare my nightly cup of water (so I can chug it at bedtime and then proceed to get up every hour all night with an urgent need to pee - why? why do I do that?), I opened the cabinet and chuckled.


The stories this cabinet could tell.  Who looks in a cup cabinet and gets nostalgic?  Me.  That's who.  The days of perfectly-cut shelf paper and matching, organized glassware are a distant memory, but the remnants of 15+ years of my life carry on this cabinet.  A cup I used as a pencil holder when I was a senior in high school after selecting Mercer as my college destination.  Free cups from Mercer events, including a customized one from my freshman RA.  Preakness glasses that, ironically, Sam got on a business trip to Baltimore but that remind me of "home."  A few, yet unbroken, glasses from a set that we picked out at Ross when our college glasses dwindled.  A set of stemware that our girls use to drink ginger ale out of when they're feeling particularly fancy.  A lovely set of platinum rimmed tea glasses that were gifted to me from family.  A cup from Publix when we went trick-or-treating there with our brood.  Small juice cups that mostly serve as dippers on our watercolor painting days.  A giant plastic football cup from the last event ever held at the Georgia Dome.

Mostly, though, I see the crazy, upside-down, right-side-up randomness, and it makes me smile.  That's not something I ever imagined I'd say.  This insane cup cabinet tells the story of my crazy, upside-down, right-side-up, random family.  It's messy.  It's imperfect.  Some days, it's seriously upside-down.  Some might call it chaotic.  The thing is, it's us.  It's teamwork.  There's beauty in that mess.  There usually is.  Given the choice or the chance, I wouldn't trade it for perfectly-cut shelf paper and matchy-matchy.  This is the beautiful mess God has given me.
Family life is a bit like a runny peach pie — not perfect but who’s complaining? ~Robert Brault
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Only Kindness Matters

For as long as I can remember, I have cared too much.  About everything.  I get bogged down in details and feelings and hypotheticals and I lose sleep and I emote excessively.  It's the reason I was awake all night a couple of weeks ago (and several times since then, in fact).  I followed a conversation started by a friend on social media that seemed to civilly and genuinely tackle one of the hot button topics of the times.  In my sincere desire to understand why people think so differently from each other, I read the comments.  And there were many.  As things tend to, especially online, tensions quickly escalated, people began making assumptions and blanket statements, and then the name calling ensued.  End productive conversation.

I find myself grieving the loss of civility in people I know and love and feeling crushed by the words and opinions of people I do not even know. 

One comment, a puny ten words or less, from a person whom I've never met kept me awake for a solid night because I wasn't able to separate real life from virtual "reality."  What I am unable to do is distinguish hastily typed (or even carefully selected) words in the midst of an online debate from a personal attack on my character or choices.  I guess I'm still that little girl seeking everyone's approval.  Even strangers.  On the INTERNET.  Lesson to learn:  People I don't know cannot speak for me or about me.  Even if it feels like it, no one is personally attacking me

I don't know anyone in day to day life, literally, not ONE SINGLE PERSON, who is advocating for divisiveness, hate, and vitriol.  Granted, my world is small, and I recognize that fully.  But, my dearest friends and family members from all sides of faith and politics are calling for peace and kindness.  This being the case, how is it that we're getting nowhere?  Is it that peace and kindness look different to each of us?

And what can I, Jennie with the tiny circle of influence, do about it?

Seriously, if you've got ideas, I'm all ears.  Text me.  Email.  Send me a postcard.  Pop in, you can help me fold towels.

I've unplugged from my major addiction for a spell.  It's been quiet, and embarrassingly enough, a little lonely.  I have relied on a manufactured virtual community to fill my need for actual friends for far too long.  I don't want to be the ostrich who buries her head in the sand and pretends everything is okay.  I know better than that.  But I cannot accept that people are online who they are in real life.  I cannot believe the hatred and animosity coming out of the mouths of friends are the same things they'd say to me in a face to face conversation. 

So, come on, let's talk.  Face to face.  Amidst the syrup drips still on the table from breakfast.  And the crumbs still on the floor from lunch.  I'll probably cry.  Because I'm embarrassed of the mess, but mostly because that's who I am.  Please, let's just all remember that the words we speak affect actual people.  As much as we feel opinions define our character, I believe that the way we present our opinions, regardless of what they are, matters just as much if not more.  In the end, only kindness matters.


My cry and prayer is a grieved one.  Forgive us, Jesus, because we're so far gone.  And yet, even still, knowing how awful we are, every one of us (and believe me, I'm the worst!), you deemed us worth pursuing and loving.  Thank you isn't enough.  Thank you.



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Nailed It

Since the public schools went back today, I decided to follow suit and [finally] get back to our daily routine.  I confess to being hopelessly behind.  I know, I know.  Same story, different year.  Only this year, it's beyond behind.  It's embarrassing.  Despite my declaration of authenticity for 2017, I will give no further details other than to say we embarked on our January schooling with a sense of panic and dread.

One positive thing is that we are all consistently behind together.  {Think we can make up four months of work in the last five months of the year?!  Don't answer that.}

After a late breakfast of honey buns (a stellar start to the day I know) and about an hour of reading time, I sternly informed my children we were going to have our history discussion.  Then they would each complete a math lesson before we ate lunch.  "AND, don't dare ask me what we're having for lunch!" I warned them.  I'm not sure why, but the constant inquisition as to what we're having for our next meal makes me want to throw things.  To prevent that from happening, I beat them to the punch with a preemptive prohibition.  Opening our history book to read aloud, I told them we were finally moving on from the Civil War (where we parked for a long time, on purpose, because, well, there are a million fascinating things to park on). Today's discussion would be about the war between Paraguay and the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, happening about the same time that the Civil War ended in the United States.

We read and talked about how Lopez's Paraguayan army had some good ideas about attacking with their fast, agile river fleet against Brazil's slower maneuvering ocean fleet, how the Paraguayan army eventually got pushed back up the river and the whole country became land-locked and eventually cut off from supplies and faced starvation.  We discussed how it was risky for Lopez to attack other countries, particularly large, powerful ones and especially considering his own people were so disunited to begin with.  We talked about the social classes within the Latin countries, how they were made up of three main people groups; native South Americans, former African slaves, and Creoles.

Me:  What's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Me:  We talked about this in our last history book.  Remember when the Spanish came and conquered most of South America?
(still staring, small glimmer of something familiar in their eyes)
Abby:  So that's why most people in South America speak Spanish?
Me:  Yes.  So what's a Creole?
(blank stares)
Abby: (venturing a hesitant guess)  A Korean War Hero?

Close.

Me:  No, a creole is someone of Spanish decent, a spanish colonist born in South America.  We'll just keep going.

We continued the discussion about how cholera decimated the Paraguayan troops.

Sarah:  What's that?
Me:  It was basically an intestinal worm that made you very sick.  And it was highly contagious.  Now we have antibiotics that can kill the bacteria, but back then they did not.  It caused you to become sick and get weaker and weaker until you died.  But we don't have to worry about that here and now.

Then we discussed whether Lopez was a patriotic hero for Paraguay or an insane dictator drunk on power.

In closing I asked each kid to tell me one thing they learned today.

Sarah:  I learned that worms eat your intestines.
Abby:  I learned that most people in South America speak Spanish.
Ben:  I learned that God doesn't always smite dictators by saying (dramatic God voice), "Fire and ash will rain down upon thee!"
Me: (my turn to blank stare)  Interesting.  Okay, move on to math.
Ben:  So (smug smile), what's for lunch?

Ordinarily, my instinctual anger would have reared it's ugly head.

Today, I laughed.

Maybe it's not perfect, but this is us.  #Authenticity

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The Year of Authenticity

Instead of a resolution or set of resolutions that I will invariably quit before I even sollow the trend of selecting a word or theme for 2017.  I batted around a few ideas, "Others" being the main contender, before deciding on "Authenticity."  I hesitated to land on this one because I'm afraid it won't stretch me to improve.  I'm afraid it will encourage me to be content with my flaws and dysfunction instead of challenging me to overcome them.  Ultimately, I decided that's no different than what I'm doing now, and by being "authentic" I'm at the very least admitting that I have these flaws at all, and maybe some public accountability will help me change.  Or maybe, what I consider to be a flaw isn't one at all and hashing it out with friends will help me to embrace it.  (Wishful thinking.)

I think I'm just tired.  Of pretending to be everything other people think I am.  I'm tired of pretenses.  Let's just be honest here.

To kick off the Year of Authenticity I decided to come right out and confess some things.  This will paint a picture of Who Jennie Is at the beginning of this adventure.  

This is me.  In bullet points.
  • I have trouble getting started with most tasks because I overthink them and anticipate every possible problem.  Also, having 6 kids pretty much guarantees that whatever I set out to do will have to be accomplished in 15 minutes increments of time, a lifestyle I have not yet embraced or accepted.
  • My inclination is to react instead of listen and respond.  I spend a lot of time unnecessarily angry.
  • I am genuinely content to stay home ALL THE TIME.  That said, my greatest adventures and best memories are from the times I venture out of the home and my figurative comfort zone.  So maybe, just maybe, I need to be a little braver.
  • My home is mostly chaotic all of the time.  It's not all kids screaming and running around, just stuff and actual dirt everywhere.  I feel like I can't keep up and live in fear of someone just popping in and seeing how gross our living conditions are at any given moment.
  • I have no idea how to wear makeup.
  • I feel like the first 30 seconds of this video every time I wake up.  To quote Garth Brooks, I'm much too young to feel this *#$! old.
  • I care too much about just about everything.
  • I tend to hyper-focus on unimportant details.
  • I genuinely want to and seek to ease the burdens of others, but feel paralyzed by thinking what I plan to do isn't "big enough" or "helpful enough" or simply not knowing what to do.
  • I am very guarded about letting others help to ease my burdens.  I hate asking for or accepting help.
  • Having 6 children has forced me to change in ways I never expected.  I prefer who I am now over who I used to be, but my brain hasn't caught up to the fact that I am no longer a Type-A perfectionist.
  • I rely a little too heavily on comfort food.  And comfort coffee.
  • I rely a little too heavily on myself.  Trust in the with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • I have a passion for missional living.  For me, this means figuring out a way to show love to my family, our friends, my neighbors, and even strangers whose paths I believed I was ordained to cross. 
  • My inner voice is ceaselessly negative.  Despite the fact that I feel totally comfortable encouraging others, I am an expert at discouraging myself.
  • I'm terrible at receiving compliments.  
  • I think my kids are awesome, but I also know they're all sinners.  And they're learning from one of the best sinners in town (me).
  • I prefer to blend into the background.  I despise being the center of attention.  God's funny joke is that he gave me six kids.  You can't lurk around with a family our size.  Because, you know, we bring the party wherever we go.  
So there you have it.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  It's all true. 

 What is the point of all of this? I guess I'm just laying my cards on the table. In the spirit of authenticity. Maybe I'm looking for validation in the form of a "Hey me too!" But if I don't get one of those that is fine also.

I read a timely quip from the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Love Does, just this morning.  
Don't let who you are keep you from who you're becoming. ~Bob Goff 
Here's to a New Year embracing who I'm becoming in spite of who I am.
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