There's something magical about staying up at night, enjoying the sound of silence, while everyone else around me sleeps.  It's even more special on beautiful fall evenings when the temperature is so perfect that there's no whirring of air conditioning running and it's not cold enough to turn on the heat.  Fall is that way, quiet and magical.  I don't know how anyone would enjoy any other season more.

In an effort to dig into the season that I hold in such high regard, I resolved to step away from the clutches of social media in October.  I can't honestly say I'm coming running back to it.  Sure, I logged in to make sure I didn't miss things like announcements about neighborhood yard sales (oh wait, still managed to miss those), happenings in our homeschool co-op, and my local news headlines.  What I needed a step back from was the noise - whether in the form of the insta-awesomeness of everyone I "know", the passionately charged, election-season political opinions of acquaintances from high school, the comments sections of literally everything, the time-wasting Tasty & Nifty videos, the funny memes, just all of it.  I have no willpower.  I can't just look a little.  If I give myself access to it, 2 hours later, I'm taking a quiz to find out what my favorite bread says about my personality and trying to solve the mystery of how two people I know from two different states and stages of life know each other.  It's like the bag of Halloween candy that remains untouched if I don't break the seal, but if it's open, I can't stop myself.  Inevitably though, even small interactions with social media cause my blood pressure to rise, and I get sad and wonder to myself, "Is this really what we've become?"

It behooves me to turn the sound down. It's not just an ostrich-with-her-head-in-the-sand kind of thing.  Literally, good things happen when I step away from the computer/phone screen.  I had this nostalgic thought that maybe I could not know every opinion and life happening of every person I encountered.  I could wonder about people instead of coming into interactions with a pre-conceived notion developed through the lens of social media.  Maybe, I could just get to know people through conversation.  Maybe it would be awkward (because that's my specialty), but it would be true.  Maybe I don't need everyone to know what happens in my life at 10:20am on a random Tuesday.

I started this year out with "Brave" as my 2018 theme.  I'm not abandoning that, but I'm tacking on another word for the final three months, and that word is "Quiet."  There is so much value in turning down the noise.  It's a little gift I'm giving myself.


Who cares? Well, apparently, me.

Sam is an engineering project manager.  His job is to oversee the execution of a project from start to finish and ensure that it is completed in a timely, effective manner.  In my opinion, a large part of what makes a person a successful project manager is not only their ability to troubleshoot problems as they arise, but to anticipate what might go wrong in advance and have a solution at the ready in case it does.  Sam is great at what he does. 

If you juxtapose Sam's ability to solve problems against my ability to anticipate the worst case scenario in every facet of life, you might say we're a perfect pair.  

Sam booked the tickets for our imminent European adventure on May 13th.  It is now August 14th which means I have had exactly three months to worry about every possible thing that could go wrong.  What this also means is that Sam has spent every spare moment in the past three months anticipating problems and creating preemptive solutions for all things European/travel related.  The other night, I stayed up late fretting and listing my concerns in my head and rather than physically writing them on a piece of paper so I wouldn't have to carry them around in my brain (an exercise I affectionately refer to as a "data dump"), I remembered to pray about them (if I'm honest, my inclination is to worry first, pray later).  When I woke up, 2 Timothy 1:7 came to mind:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of sound mind.
 As a special added bonus, God has also given me Sam.

I told him that morning that I was going to voice my fears to him about the trip with the hope that we'd talk through how silly they were or how we'd deal with them if they arose.  I hoped we'd do more of the latter than the former.  Knowing many of my concerns were rooted in how other people would be affected, I wholeheartedly expected Sam to meet them with "Who cares?"  If there's another thing Sam is really good at, it's not worrying what other people think.  For me, it's as much a part of my routine as making sure I shower daily.  Later that day, we took a walk and thus began the therapy session conversation.  I suspect Sam felt like he was an unwitting participant in this game:

Nevertheless, he humored me.

What if Zachary cries for the entire 8 hour flight?  He won't.  We can walk him up and down the aisles.  We can make him room to walk around in our row.  He'll probably sleep some.  Airplanes are loud.  He likes white noise.  
What if our kids are terrible in a foreign restaurant?  What if we don't know what or how to order?  We just won't go to restaurants.  We'll cook our own food or buy street food.
What if someone gets hurt?  What if I get a kidney stone?  What if someone breaks a limb?  We aren't going to a third world country.  We'll just go to a hospital and get taken care of.  Our health insurance covers us.
What if our phones don't work?  We'll go to the store at the train station and buy prepaid ones.
What if we get separated on the train?  Like, you and half our kids are on the train and I'm left in a foreign city with half our family and I don't know how to speak the language and I don't know how to get in touch with you and I just sit down and cry because I don't know how to find you?  That won't happen.  But if it does, all train stations have wi-fi.  You can get in touch with me no matter what.  You can get a new ticket for the next available train or rent a car and drive to us.  
What if someone steals our passports?  I made copies.  We take them to the US Embassy and they'll make us new ones on the spot.
What if one of our Airbnb reservations is canceled upon arrival and we don't have a place to stay?  If there's a train station, there are hotels.  We will find a place to stay.  I also have Marriott points to redeem, if we can find one of those.
What if I have a headache the whole time because coffee isn't as readily available there?  Literally every place we're staying has a coffeemaker.  PHEW!

There were more, both that he answered and that I forgot to ask.  I think you get the point.  Some people have contributed to my list of fears without realizing it by posing their own concerns and voicing warnings to me, to which I can now say, "Bring it! I have Sam and he has the answer."

To his credit, he did not say "Who cares?" one single time.

My biggest unvoiced concern is "What if people are rude to us?"  The answer to that truly is "Who cares?"  But also, "How would I know?"  I can understand a very tiny bit of German, can speak even less.  And other than that, I know virtually no French and absolutely no Dutch, Swedish, or Danish.  They can say whatever they'd like to or about us and I can remain in blissful ignorance.

Maybe we're a little crazy to take a trip like this, but with each passing year, it becomes increasingly more important to me that "someday" doesn't turn into "never" or "we missed our chance."  We want to see the world, to take our kids out of their bubbles, get me out of my comfort zone, try new things.  What are we waiting for?  Nothing.

If you would, please pray for our safety and sanity as we trek to Europe.  Please pray that the only reason we would stand out is as a light, whether here or there.  Also, pray that I don't gain back an unwanted 20 pounds in chocolate, bread, and frites.

A literal foreign land full of history, culture, food, and people awaits.

Telling myself I'm awkward. And stopping that.

I have had a lot of awkward conversations in my lifetime.  You might say I'm particularly gifted at them.  When I walk away from one of these encounters, I typically assume the fault was on me, like 100% of the time.  Under very few circumstances do I leave and think, "Man, that other person was super weird and hard to talk to."  On the contrary, I carry on with life, rehashing the strange, possibly offensive, confusing words of chit-chat I attempted to contribute, telling myself that someday I won't be so goofy and uncomfortable.  If there's one thing I can do well, it's own my awkwardness.  I do give myself a little credit for trying.  If you knew me 20 years ago, you'd probably think I've come a long way.  Credit where credit is due.

What I didn't realize is that other people do this too.

A few days ago a sweet friend came up to me and said, "I'm sorry I was so awkward when we talked last night.  I thought about it all night."

I was taken aback.  I didn't think the exchange was awkward at all.  In fact, I had thought nothing about it after I left.  I assured her nothing about it was odd in the slightest and confidently declared that if it was awkward, I accepted sole responsibility.  I wish she hadn't worried about it at all.  I hated that she spent even a moment thinking about it on my account.

And that's when I realized that this is exactly what I do.  How many times have I replayed what I presumed to be awkward for hours on end, fretting about what I could have said instead or maybe not at all, worried the other person was upset or thought less or differently of me because of it.

Only, that other person?  They didn't think about it.  At all.

You may have heard it said, "You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!" — Olin Miller

I never really believed that until the aforementioned conversation.

Sometimes people don't believe I'm an introvert (hahahaha!).  Sometimes, people tell me they don't think I'm awkward (that's really kind of you, thanks).  I don't think that introversion is a bad thing that needs to be fixed, nor do I think we're all meant to be public orators or the life of the party.  Thank God he created us to be unique.  I am a big fan of the fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophy though.  Sometimes, you have to be cordial to strangers and engage in nominal conversations, clunky as it may be.  A few things are possible: it was not as awkward to them as it seemed to you, they thought it was awkward too but assumed they were responsible, or they literally thought nothing of it and carried on with life.  None of those are worth losing sleep over, right?

I have an idea.  Let's be as generous with ourselves as we are with other people.  This is a little corollary to the Golden Rule.  Of course, we should treat others the way we want to be treated, but sometimes I think we speak so unkindly to ourselves that we start to believe that we're....whatever we say we are.  Maybe you tell yourself you're awkward.  Maybe it's something else altogether.  Slow-witted, disorganized, too fat, lazy, un-athletic, boring, a terrible cook, fill-in-the-blank with your own personal brand of self-deprecation.  Then, stop saying it.  Seriously, stop it.
Speak kindly to yourself.  You are always listening.
This means I'm TOTALLY NOT GOING TO THINK ANY MORE ABOUT how I exhaled Twix cookie crumbs all over our precious church preschool director this morning because I giggled (naturally) mid-bite.  Surely she didn't think that was as awkward as I did.  Right?  RIGHT?  Right.  Definitely.

Simple Pleasures - The Power of Perspective

Twelve years ago when we moved into this home, I was a fledgling civil engineer working primarily in the realm of stormwater conveyance.  It was my job to design new construction projects to drain away from the buildings to an inlet or pond.  Getting rid of stormwater water was kind of my "thing."  After the first rainfall at our new house, I was less than excited to find out that the curb and gutter had been constructed so that the low point was not at inlet, but rather, across the entire length of our property in the road.  Translation: Every single time it rains, we have standing water in front of our house.  I'll be the first to admit that in the grand scheme of life this is not a major problem, but it was a regular annoyance.  Each time the rain fell and I saw that property-long puddle in the front of my house I'd shake my head and grumble about the irony of a faulty conveyance system in front of the home of a civil engineer. (Grumbling is my default setting.)

I love that God is so sweet to soften our hearts on things.  Sometimes all it takes is a solitary experience.  Other times it happens little by little after years and years.  Regardless of how I got there, I find myself looking at that water through different lenses now.  Beginning with the firstborn on a tricycle making his way through the river to yesterday with the whole crew of rowdies enjoying a rainy jaunt with countless other water play moments in between, I see it as an opportunity to be a fun-loving child in a world that would have them grow up way too fast. 

Maybe there's hope I won't end up a grumpy curmudgeon in the long run.  If so, I owe it, in part, to these smiles and some faulty construction.  Training myself to see the opportunity instead of the obstacles is not a natural tendency for me, but blessings abound when we let God change our hearts.

I challenge you to look for unlikely blessings today.

The Butt of SO MANY Jokes

I like to laugh as much as the next gal.  Probably more.  In fact, my laugh usually precedes me.  People hear me coming.  I don't even realize I'm doing it, but I laugh so obnoxiously, people will poke their heads out of doors and see me in the hallway and offer a quip like, "I thought I heard your laugh!"  I think that will probably be one of the things on my tombstone.

She was always laughing.  Even when she shouldn't have been.

Here's a list of reasons I laugh:

I'm nervous.
I don't know how to respond.
I can't hear what the other person said.
I remembered something from 1994 that was even a little bit funny.
My kids have just said something ridiculous.
To keep from crying.
My mom.  She gives us a lot of material.  (Bless her heart.)
A situation in real life reminds me of a Seinfeld or Friends episode.
I do something embarrassing, like pour coffee in my lap and have to walk around like I just wet my pants.
I just watched a Geico commercial. (They get me every time.  This one on the World Cup is the cause of my most recent giggles.)
I do something that reminds me of my mother.
I read a clever pun or joke.
The guy passing the communion wafers hit the tray on the corner of the pew and spilled some on the ground.
I think about a situation that was once stressful, but that retrospect has turned hilarious.

And the list goes on.

So, really, all of this is to build my case that I love to laugh.  (And smile.  But that's probably another whole blog post.)  Not to be cliche, but laughter, in my opinion, truly is one of the best medicines.  

With that being said, it might surprise you to learn that as much as I love to laugh, sometimes it gets exhausting being the punchline to so very many jokes.  Apparently, it is open season on large families who homeschool and drive gigantic vans.  I guess we're just asking for it.  (Except, we aren't really.  I never asked.  I really, truly, would love to just blend into the background like the rest of the world.)  When we go places, I have to give myself a big pep talk beforehand.  "Alright, Jennie, this is it.  You know who's going to be there.  You know which ones are going to think they're hilarious and make the same, tired jokes at your expense.  Smile and nod.  You can do this!"

Most of the time, I can take it.  Sometimes, Sam and I even try to beat people to the punch.  We know the jokes are coming, so we make fun of ourselves first.  "Haha!  We have seven kids!  That's CRAZY!"  Other times, though, maybe when I'm tired or over it, a serial comedian makes one of the same jokes we've heard a million times on the heels of half a dozen other comments, and despite my best efforts, I'm unable to control the eye roll.  If you've been a victim of this, I would like to apologize.  It's not you, it's me.  (Maybe a little bit you, too.)

I don't want to be the person offended by every little thing.  I truly don't.  But the family size thing is starting to wear me down.  I'm going to get serious for a quick minute.  Then I promise to go back to giggling.  

The reason we have so many kids is because God has given them to us.  Well, actually, he's allowed us to be the ones who have the privilege of shepherding them (no pun intended).  They're on loan.  Each of these kids are His.  While we're on the subject, so are everyone else's.  We are just like every single other family.  Whether you have one kid or seven kids or any number in between (or higher), we're just parents doing our best.  We consider them to be the blessing that God tells us they are.  My canned response to people's shock is - "I wouldn't return any of them."  We look at parenting as one of our greatest priorities.  Our intention is to point these kids to Christ.  That is our prayer.  Our end goal.  I don't expect everyone to understand, but I do sincerely hope that our church family *gets* that our heart's desire is to raise a whole household full of Jesus-loving humans who will go and change the world.  There can't be too many of those, right?

I've had one kid, two kids, three kids, etc.  I have been a parent while being a full-time student, work-out-of-the-home mom, work-at-home mom, and stay-at-home mom.  I've breastfed and bottle fed.  I've public-schooled and home-schooled.  I've parented newborns, toddlers, preschoolers, grade-schoolers, tweens, and teens.  Guess what?  IT'S ALL HARD.  Things worth doing usually are.  In the end, it's worth every hard day, hour, and minute in between.  My convictions about children are strong and serious.  They are not a joke to me, and neither are my kids themselves. (Unless they say something funny, obviously.)

I did not set out to have seven children.  I also did not plan to go to college in the South, live in Georgia, give up my career, or homeschool.  I love that God takes our sub-standard plans, crumples them up like a rough-draft, and writes a much better story.  I love that I get to look back and laugh at how cute my plans were.  

Laughter is a theme in our home.  Come over and laugh with us.  I'll try to keep the eye-rolling to a minimum.

Edited to add the following disclaimer (it's what I do):  If you're reading this, it probably does not apply to you.  I'm literally just venting.  Please don't stop being my friend.
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