all is beautiful

Yesterday my doctor told me, “You are such a good boy mom. I can’t imagine you as anything else!”

I’m sorry, was it when two of my boys were literally jumping over and under the acupuncture table chasing each other? Or when she was asking them about their poop, and they erupted into a continuous bout of laughter and saying the word poop?

But you know what, it was then. I rolled with it. I told them to be respectful and squeezed their arm a little (maybe a lot) to show I meant business. And I laughed a little with them too.  I can do this boy thing, and do it quite well if I must say.

Dr. Miravone’s words sealed something up in my heart. Several years ago now, God did do a lot in my heart about the path my life has taken. I haven’t thought about it much since then, but recently it has come back up for me a little bit. The thought that I have lost at some game. That I am missing something because I don’t have a daughter too. The world is so good at making you feel like you come up short in anything and everything.

Like one of my favorite bands, Gungor, says: “All is beautiful. I can see the grace in it all.” Last night I had dinner with a new friend, with whom on paper we look completely different. One of us has kids, one doesn’t. One has a high power career, one doesn’t. But you know what is the same? Our souls that crave connection and crave being loved and celebrated. All is beautiful. The single. The married. The parents. The gay. The straight. The one gender families. The mixed gender families. The Muslim. The Buddhist. The Christian.

I think the world is magical. I appreciate science and facts, but magic and feelings trump that for me.  Which is why my husband and I are such a good balance- he is very sciency and show-me-the-study-behind-this-ish. Which I think both are important. But I think you need to find your inner magic at times.

I think the people that I am surrounded by are beautiful. And I embrace our differences, in fact, I’m learning how needed our differences are! It is a beautiful painting of masterpieces, each bringing their own special magic to the world. My story is special. My emotional-boy mom-magical-balance me out husband- save all the animals and trees-story. And it is beautiful. I see the grace in it all.

coming home

A black hole is a geometrically defined region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—including particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from inside it.

For several months now I have felt like I’m in the wilderness.  Just wandering around tangled up emotionally and spiritually.  It’s been lonely and scary, and it feels kind of like a black hole.

But it’s been beautiful.  I’m on a journey through this wilderness, and along the way I’m shedding things I no longer need.   I’ve been holding things so tightly because they’re all I’ve ever known and it scares me to let them go.  But when I finally do, I feel lighter and freer and it gives me courage to shed the next thing weighing me down.

I no longer feel alone in my black hole.  I feel God with me. And even though I’m still in the black hole, it is good.  And I know it will be okay. I’m coming home.

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my thorn

{If you or someone you love struggles with this, or anything like this, know that I stand with you and for you. No matter how you choose to treat it, we are all courageous.}

Anxiety and Depression:  A lot of times, I just want to punch them in the face. They are a nuisance and really cramp my style.  I’m learning to take sadness out of its perfect little boundary I have always set it in, and I’m giving it the attention it needs.

With the help of my doctor, I have decided to change my  approach to treatment. Without any medication, I’ve had to face a lot of my raw emotions head on. To say that it has been difficult is an understatement. This summer has been especially difficult with a lot of tears, panic episodes, feelings of despair, and loneliness.

In sitting with my sadness, I am learning a lot about myself and how I respond when life doesn’t go as planned.  I am also becoming aware of how my whole body feels when I feel like hope is slipping away.

When I feel like tears want to escape, I am learning to release them freely and allow my family to see me cry.  I tell them when I’m  sad, and alert them when I am especially irritable.  Actively modeling how to process emotions with honesty and vulnerability has already proven to have a beautiful impact on my boys and their emotional awareness.

I think one of the most overwhelming parts of this for me is not knowing when this season will be over. I know from past experience that it never lasts forever, and it is sure to return.  So instead of pushing it down and making it louder for the next appearance, I try to just sit in it. I express it to those closest to me, and I reveal how I am feeling so they can embrace me and help me feel less alone.

It might be days, it might be months, but I know this is not the end. So for this day, even for just this hour, I choose to simply be. I will stand still in the warmth of the sun or the silence of the moon, while being aware of the grass between my toes.  I will watch the boys laugh hysterically as they use their SuperPowers App on their iPod to explode my head with a fireball. Or,  I will let my tears out while ferociously inhaling my lavender oil.

This is not the end.

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hair

This morning I held my hair in my hands and thought about all that it means to me. If I’m being brutally honest, so much of my outward beauty identity is held in my makeup and my hair.  If I am not having a good hair or makeup day it effects my whole demeanor.  Shallow? Maybe. But it’s true.

Then I kept thinking: what if I didn’t have hair? What if I didn’t have hair AND my body was being ravished by illness? What if I didn’t have hair AND my body was fighting with everything it had AND I didn’t know if that day would be my last?

As I held my hair I decided I was going to give it away. I’ve grown so much this past year emotionally and spiritually. I want to give more of myself away and continue in this new found freedom! If my hair is one more thing I’m clinging on to, then why not give it away? Why not break out of more of the chains that hold me?

I heard a teacher say recently, “Joy can only be sustained by consciously  giving it away.” Like smiling at the cashier. Or helping a harried mother load her cart full of groceries in the car. Or giving away your hair.

I prayed over my 8 inches of hair. To you who may get my hair: may you know I am with you and I am for you; I believe we are connected by Divine DNA and now by hair too.  May you know that the universe was made for you and you are extravagantly loved by an intimate God. I stand with you through this battle your body is fighting, and you are not alone.

Love wins.

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Brave

When we were first married, one day I decided I wanted to paint the walls red. I gathered the paint and brush, and no joke, did three strokes of paint and decided I was sick of painting. Our wall stayed there with just three strokes of bright red paint for the whole 3 years we lived in that house.

I’m infamous for starting projects and never finishing. Why is that? I am an idea woman, you tell me something to dream up and I’m your girl. But following through is a whole different beast. The work is HARD. You have to keep going after the initial excitement of the new thing wears off. And you have to be careful and fix mistakes. Things I’m not totally crazy about.

I want change, I just don’t want to do the whole process leading up to change. It would be so much easier if I could just take my magic wand and zap! Healthy body. Zap! Positive attitude. Zap! Rehabbed house.

But I’m finding that in that process, the hard process of change, that the magic happens. The slow, but true, transformation of my soul, mind, and body is beautiful when I stop and look back where it has come from. And where it is continuing to go.

I can get so hung up on the fact that I haven’t arrived yet, or become all I want to be. I get frustrated that every little thing still scares me and makes me anxious. But you know what? Being afraid of something, but doing it anyway- that is courage. That I don’t give up and keep going even though it scares me? That is bravery.

So be brave, my friends. I don’t think there is some magical moment where you have it all figured out and feel like you have no more growth to do. You just swing with the pendulum of highs and lows in life and you just keep going. Even it’s just one baby step forward, or one more stroke of red paint, you just keep going.

baby steps

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. I remember being five years old sitting on our stairs rocking back and forth because I was so afraid that something in the garage was going to catch fire and make the house explode. This continued on through elementary school, and I would have episodes where I would cry uncontrollably at night because I didn’t want to go to school the next day. I remember flashes of those nights in my mind, and I remember that there was nothing specific that made me so fearful.  I was just consumed with worry. Even as a young eight year old, I knew this wasn’t normal, so I begin to make up lies to tell my parents why I was afraid. I said that there was a boy being mean to me in computer class (which there wasn’t), and I begin to tell so many lies to myself that my fears piled up and got tangled with one another to the point of overwhelm.

My parents took me to a therapist in 5th grade, and I don’t remember much, but I do remember he helped me. One thing that came out in my therapy sessions that year was that I was my harshest critic. I would get so mad at myself if I got even one answer wrong on a test, or if my teacher had to reprimand me for something minor like not standing straight in line while walking through the hallway. I pushed and pushed myself to be the best at everything and to never fail at anything. I never showed myself grace and I always wanted to preform better.

I knew all these fears and worries and anxieties and thoughts weren’t normal, but I always thought that I was just crazy and needed to push through those debilitating thoughts. They continued to plague me.  As a young mom, I would wake up several times a night and make sure the baby was breathing and that no blankets were covering his face. (Now, I do realize that this might be considered somewhat normal for a new mom…;) When I would have to go to a social event where I didn’t know people, I wouldn’t be able to eat and I would run through several scenarios in my head where people would decide I was an airhead and flaky and dumb and wouldn’t like me.

I remember specifically one night this summer, I awoke in the middle of the night in a panic. We had purchased an inflatable pool with a filter recently, and I was terrified (and sure) that I left the filter on and that it was going to catch fire and burn down the house, and since the boys’ bedroom is closest to the backyard, they would die first and I would have to live without them. So at 3:00 a.m., I went outside and checked the filter and electrical cord for the pool. Then I came in and checked all the burners on the stove because I thought, “Did I really turn them off after making dinner? I don’t think so.”

I finally I decided to get help.

That was six months ago. It took me THREE whole months to work through the anxiety of making the phone call to schedule an appointment, but I did it. I have been on a low dose of medication that helps take the edge off my anxiety attacks, and I also go to talk therapy to work on coping strategies for living with anxiety. I can’t tell you how free I feel! Naming my condition and having someone hear what I’m saying and not making me feel crazy, but wanting to help me has been amazing. I’m learning that my anxiety most likely will always be a part of me, but I CAN be in control of it, instead of it controlling me. I can acknowledge that voice that stirs up my anxious heart, but I can say, “okay voice, I hear you, but we are going to work through this. Here is what is real…”

I love choosing natural routes when I can (essential oils, etc.), and there are several oil blends that I diffuse in my home and put on my wrists that really help me when I am experiencing anxious thoughts. But sometimes medication is helpful, which in my case it has been. While I learn coping mechanisms from my therapist, my medicine helps me remain in control. I encourage you if you struggle with anxiety, depression, panic, whatever- don’t be ashamed or feel like you’re just crazy and need to get over it. Seek help whether its through talking to someone, medication, or lavender oil.

I am on a journey towards healing and towards wholeness, and I am so excited.

merry christmas from our family to yours

christmascard14our top ten {+5} :: 2014

#1
simon is a preschooler. #failingnaptime

#2
made the 20 hour road trip to Austin to visit family and overindulged at all the best local breweries and eateries. #fatfamiliesarehappyfamilies

#3
elliott became a lego lover. #masterbuilder

#4
michael became a home brewer. several ales were born, including a spiced holiday ale named “war on christmas”, a rye ipa, and a vanilla milk stout. #beerisproofthatgodlovesus

#5
jenni enthusiastically entered her 30’s and became the proud coordinator of the freeman elementary pta room parents. #phonecallsarefunphonecallsarefunphonecallsarefunphonecallsarefunphonecallsarefun

#6
trevor & elliott pledged to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. #cubscoutspackthreetwelve

#7
trevor became the next Tolkien. #apixelmonjourneybegins

#8
michael & jenni celebrated ten years of marital bliss.  #iphonesixisaluminum

#9
simon is knowledgeable on all things batman thanks to HobbyDad/HobbyKids. #adultsopeningchildrenstoysonyoutubeisathing

#10
michael finally finished his student career. #alotofpeoplegotoschoolforsevenyears

#11
jenni is conquering her anxiety head on #therapymedicationandessentialoils

#12
we love family video game time sweating it out in Just Dance or exploring mods in Minecraft as QueenBee (jenni), TheDeadlyKiller (trevor), SmellyWhat (elliott), ISmellLikePoo (simon), and TurdFurgeson (michael). #stinkyscreennames

#13
jenni became a reader, runner, public speaker, and tattoo enthusiast all in one summer. #whoknew

#14
we discovered a deep love for playing laser tag as a family.  #simonthesilentassassin

#15
Our prayer for this year: Help us to love without agenda. If our brother or sister are not free, than we are not free. If our neighbor is not free, then we are not free. We have been loved extravagantly, so let us live and love with an extravagant love!
“Where there are steep valleys, treacherous descents, raise the highway; lift it up; bring down the dizzying heights. Fill in the potholes and gullies, the rough places. Iron out the shoulders flat and wide. The Lord will be, really be, among us. The radiant glory of the Lord will be revealed.”  Isaiah 40:3-5
May God continue to raise up our valleys and level out our rough ground in 2015.

Dedicated to Grandpa Al :: 1935-2014

quiet

This past year has been a whirlwind of newness for me. I think my body doesn’t know what to do with itself and might curl up into a big ball of anxiety if I do one more new thing. :)

Not really, but kind of.

I have conquered a lot of fears and unknowns this year, and I really feel I’m becoming more and more of who God has created me to be. It is thrilling! And scary. There are moments where I think, “wait, who the heck am I and why do I think know what I’m doing?” But then I do it, and I become more confident in what God is calling me to next. More often than not, I find that no, I really don’t know what I’m doing, but yes, God equips me each time I need to do it!

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and “that voice” that tells me nobody likes me and they’re all just waiting for me to fail. As an 11 year old I regularly visited with a therapist because I would cry and cry at night to the point of vomiting, all because I was worried my teacher was mad at me.

This new season of life has brought out a new level of, but familiar sound to my anxiety. But instead of being afraid of it, I’m learning to say, “Oh, hello voice. I see you’re there, but I’m not going to let you control me.” I’ve been working with a life coach who is helping me develop skills to learn to live with my anxiety, and I’m also going to be visiting a therapist again as well. I am finding power in the ability to acknowledge my struggle, name it, and find tools to learn to process it.

This year has also been a new stage of mothering for me. I no longer have babies, but boys. No diapers, no high chairs, no early morning wake up times. They are more and more independent, and we have a new element to our relationship that I really enjoy. We have conversations about life and God and feelings. We laugh together, and go on dates together. We have moments away from each other. I work. They go to school. They play with friends and neighbors, I go out on girls’ nights and dates with my husband. It is a new season that I just kind of stumbled upon, and there is much beauty in it. God is helping me to continue to understand that yes, life is designed to move, and each stage and season is full of goodness and beauty.

Surprisingly, even though filled with newness and anxiety and thrill, I would label this season: quiet. My heart (and blog!) have been quiet, listening for God. I often hear Him in the quiet times of my day, through the wind in the trees and the pitter patter of the rain. It’s almost as if He’s revealing Himself as the calm and the constant presence I need amidst the chaos. I’ve held to that and found myself looking forward to those moments of quiet and stillness with God, enjoying His unconditional love and peace.

I have this beautiful picture of five birds flying together that I find myself thinking of often. Michael, Trevor, Elliott, Simon, and I fly together and enjoy each other’s presence, but we also fly off on our own at times too. As God has helped me “fly off” to become more of who He has created me to be this year, He will also help each of the boys to do that too. It is my joy and my honor to be a part of their journey and help equip them to do great things. When I see them choose compassion for the underdog, or love for someone different than them, or joy in the little, ordinary things my heart feels full. I may not feel like I know what I’m doing, or that most of the time I’m flying by the seat of my pants, but I have great peace in knowing that by helping them develop language for connecting with God and loving people, they will change their world.

orchard kids: jz announements

{This past weekend I was given the opportunity to do announcements and speak about Orchard Kids. I love speaking AFTER I do it, but I get myself all worked up and nervous beforehand. I couldn’t eat and my armpits were sweating like crazy. But, I love sharing my heart for children and for God, so I’m really glad I did it. Thank you for your support, Orchard, and for continuing to pray for our ministry!}

I have been reading this book- Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus by David Csinos and Ivy Beckwith which I highly, highly recommend you check out if you will ever come into contact with a child in your lifetime.  I feel like I have underlined and highlighted the whole thing! But I wanted to share with you an excerpt today…

“Children’s ministry is less about providing children with absolute answers and more about helping them live faithfully with questions and doubts that arise on the journey of discipleship. It aims at nurturing the whole life of the child and not compartmentalizing the child’s church life from the rest of the child’s life. It realizes that children feel God’s love when they are surrounded by a close-knit faith community who loves them and sees them as valued participants. It realizes that children make the values of God’s reign their own by seeing them lived out radically in their churches and homes, not simply by learning about them in a classroom or through a programmed activity. It understands that children are learners and teachers, and that they have as much to teach adults about life in God’s kingdom as we adults have to teach them. Jesus said one must become like a child to enter God’s kingdom. We take these words seriously as we seek to minister with children.”

I love that, and our heartbeat for Orchard Kids is exactly that. Our hope is that each child would know that they are deeply loved and uniquely made by God, and we desire to create multi-sensory spaces for them to experience God in a way that is meaningful to them.

Our team has been researching how children learn and grow best, such as through different learning styles and the multiple intelligences, and are working hard to develop teaching and activities to help kids connect personally with God.

We have introduced Discovery Stations using Open Ended Art, Movement, Reading, Reflection, and Imaginative Play in hopes to develop the curiosity and wonder that comes with the mystery and joy of knowing God. It has been thrilling to hear how these kids are taking what God’s speaking to them and applying it to their individual lives.

Our kids are so used to flashy, manufactured, gimmicky, and loud things all the time. Our hope and desire is that we create an authentic and sacred space that is different from what our kids are experiencing during the week. I’d love if you would continue to pray for our team as we prayerfully consider what this looks like for our community in the days to come.

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new

I don’t even know where to begin, really.  I’m a planner.  Since about age 3 (ask my parents), I have planned out my life exactly how it should go.  How often does it go according to my plan?  Never :)

Five months ago I wrote about the winds changing in my life.  I have my degree in Elementary Education, and I knew I wanted to teach once all our kids went to school.  Michael and I had talked about me going back to school to get my Masters in Teaching for Bilingual/ESL, and we figured now would be the best time to start. I began to apply to grad schools and move forward with my plan, happily telling everyone I came into contact with about what the next year would look like for me.  But little did I know God was moving (as always) in different ways and in things I couldn’t even imagine.

I attended a Leadership conference this spring with the Family Ministry team at our church, Jamey and Sarah, and I began to feel something happen in my heart about Leadership and what that looks like in my life. Jamey gave me a book by Andy Stanley called Next Generation Leader, and I had no idea how much God would use it to begin to shape me for the future.  Right inside the cover the tagline is, “Ready or not, you’re next!” I didn’t know how blatantly true that was. :)  This is the kind of book you can read 1,000 times and still get something new from it.  But for right now, the biggest revelation to me was “Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage assumes fear. Courage is the willingness to strap on your fear and move ahead. Courage is the willingness to move in a direction in spite of the emotions and thoughts that bid you do otherwise.” The fact that this was so meaningful to me also made me nervous because I thought, “oh no…what does God have for me and why is He trying to prepare me to be courageous?!”

I was in a season of waiting with God, and I really wasn’t sure what to do.  School programs were too full, or classes were offered too far away, and things came up in our family that made us reconsider grad school for the time being.  It seemed as if all the doors were closing, and I was getting discouraged. I found myself clinging to lines in songs I listened to like,  “even when my dreams have died, even if I don’t survive, I’ll still worship You with all my life..” and “I’m trusting You when hope is hard to find…” I was kind of stuck at a standstill.

There was one grad school that I decided to continue to pursue. I was awaiting their decision on my application when one August afternoon, I got a call from Larry, a pastor at The Orchard.  He said for about a year, The Orchard has been dreaming up a new role for Orchard Kids for someone who has deep passion for children and would help lead others to be passionate about children, and that they would love to talk to me more about it.

The following six or so weeks were composed of several hours of interviews and meetings with the lead team,  real and honest conversations, and an intense role-playing evaluation (I still can’t believe I didn’t pass out).  But in all seriousness, God made His presence so evident to me and my heart was undergoing serious transformation. I felt Him unwrapping this whole other confident and courageous side to myself.  It was then that I began to see HIS plan for me unfold. God orchestrated it so beautifully and way more gracefully than anything I could ever have planned on my own.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18  

In my Bible study I was studying 1 Samuel 16,

1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” “…6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

God is doing a new thing in me and a new thing in my life.  I’m not a great and powerful leader with hundreds of years of experience as a Children’s Pastor.  Sometimes the ‘newness’ makes me afraid, and I feel like I’m not good enough. But God has reminded me that this is HIM.  He has called me and He will equip me; and I firmly believe that “the Spirit of the Lord is powerfully upon me!”

You know that feeling you get during a movie, when good is going to win out over evil?  The music gets intense with major crescendo and your heart just swells knowing deep down good will win?  That is how my heart feels for children.  My whole heart explodes with love for them, love for their genuine joy and spirit that hasn’t been hardened by the world yet.  I believe that children “get it.” They get what life is about, they know how to enjoy today and live in the moment. Children teach me so much about life, and even more about God.  I love the statement: “There is no ‘little’ Holy Spirit.  The same powerful Holy Spirit we experience, our children experience as well.” It is my joy and my honor to experience the mystery and joy of God alongside a child and to create a sense of wonder that invites them to seek Him more.  What a blessing to pass the torch on to children who have been equipped to be confident leaders of the next generation! Oh, my heart feels like exploding even as I type this! :)

Within a week of receiving my acceptance letter into grad school, The Orchard Community extended an invitation for me to join their team.  God’s direction was so clear to me, and this was my way to courageously respond and go forward, saying, “I trust You, God!”  I know God still has so much to do in me, but I am ready and willing with my arms open.  He is a good and faithful God, and He has given me an incredible team to coach me.

There is so much new happening at The Orchard Community.  I really see God moving and breathing new life into the people there and igniting passion and new direction. It really is quite exciting.  Church for me is about experiencing God through relationships.  I seek God through personal quiet time, studying the Bible with others, and constant conversation with Him.  Church is more about community to me, more about experiencing God with others through real brokenness that life brings and wholeness and beauty that the journey with Christ entails. God is constantly reminding me that He takes what is broken and makes it beautiful.  The Orchard Community is filled with stories of His goodness and beauty all over the place.  It is contagious and I can’t wait to see all God does there.

I’m nervous a little, but, I’m much more excited!  I truly believe in the truth my close friend encouraged me with: God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.  I’m nervous because this is new to me, but I see God’s hand in the whole process, and I trust He will be with me each step of the way, which is precisely how you can pray for me.

Ultimately the cry of my heart is, Lord, may more children and families know You even more deeply, and may You be glorified through my life.

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. #philippians4:13

#JZ

:)