Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Walk in the Woods

Hi everyone,

The fall semester is back in full swing and that often means I have to put my creativity aside for a while. Of course this is common for most of my friends as well and with my "baby" a senior so much more is added to my plate. I'm trying to find a way to work both into the equation of my life, because to create is to breath for me. The fall weather draws me to the outdoors. I find it helps me clear my mind and focus.


In a world that so desperately seems to be searching for something, I find that my quiet devotion time brings more to my life than money could ever buy. This time lets me not only reflect about life, but also look at the world around me, to try and see what He sees so that I might be able to use the gifts that He has given me to help others. The saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees" seems to come to mind, which is kind of ironic since I am sitting outside enjoying the trees that surround me. To me personally, what this quote means is that sometimes we can be so close to a situation that we can't see how best to maneuver our way through or how best to help others that may be going through something. For me, it is in this quiet time that I can read, write, pray, and reflect to see what I can do.


For me this sacred time in the midst of a very busy season of my life sometimes involves singing and dancing, cook outs with kids, and laughter with friends. For me it may mean marveling at the deer that appear out of the wood line in my back yard or cheering for my child as his last football season passes by so quickly.

Though I know without any certainty where I want to take my creative career, I am at peace with the pace that this journey is taking. I have reached an age where I know what it means to bloom where I am planted and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Until next time...
Hugs! Jen



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dents & Dings

Hi everyone!

Well exciting things have happened in my world since I last wrote.  I am thrilled to write that another item may now be crossed off my bucket list.  For years I have said that I wanted to have a VW Beetle convertible so I could grab my camera and go on adventures and I now am the very proud owner of one.  I have named her Sara Jayne and the power of wind therapy at the end of a long day is beyond words.  But, but…this post is about so much more than my new to me, used car purchase. 

Yesterday I stopped by the car wash…yes, she is new & was detailed when I got her, but the rain lately had left some mud in her wheel wells and I couldn’t have that. J  As I carefully washed her I noticed a slight ding on her hood, which is the obvious reason for the touch-up paint in the glove box.  And since she is used I have had a few well-meaning friends voice concern over that fact that she is a VW.  But, but the beauty in all of this came to me in my quiet time this morning.  The words just kind of whispered to my soul.  If we look at the dents & dings in everyone we meet…if we look at how life has put miles on them and we worry that having them in our lives can cost more than we bargained for, then don’t we also risk missing out on more fun than we could have ever imagined.  Don’t we risk being able to sing and laugh and relax like we haven’t been able to do in years.  Don’t we risk missing out on God winks and God whispers.  Don’t we ALL use some form of touch up paint to try and hide the dents & dings that life has brought upon us.  Yes, touch up paint can keep a ding from turning into further damage, which is always a good thing, but ALL vehicles get them.  And I think that is what we must remember about our own selves.  We have to embrace the things that we have experienced in life, both the good and the not so good things, because they shape each of us into the BEAUTIFUL creations that God meant for us to be. 

Once we realize that…once it really sinks into our souls, it brings incredible peace and healing.  Yes, I bought a used vehicle with some miles on her.  Yes, she has a dent & ding here and there.  But, but WOW is she fun…she makes me smile until my cheeks hurt…she says, “Put that top down and let’s go girl!”  She has allowed me to leave the past in the rear view mirror, toss my camera in the front seat and head off to see what beauty God has in store for me next.

So I am sure you are saying, “Yeah Jen, but what if we can’t get a convertible?”  And that is not my point at all.  My point is, don’t be so hard on yourself or those you love.  Life goes by in the blink of an eye.  Embrace who you are, where you are, whether you are in a good or not so good place, because we learn from both.  Believe you me I know this from experience and if you are in doubt then let’s have coffee.  Don’t worry about the traffic when you go to work, enjoy the morning sky.  Don’t worry about the heat of the summer, buy a kiddie pool and get your feet wet.  If you don’t have a convertible you can still roll the windows down, put great music on and take a joy ride down the highway.  Don’t have a car, then bike, or walk.  My point is, no matter your circumstance you can always find a way to feel joy.  You can always find a way to use what you are going through to help others.  And you can always wear your dents & dings proudly like a new tattoo…and no I didn’t get a new tattoo, but I think you get my point.

Well there is a little daylight left and I hear the road calling my name.  Until next time…


Hugs, Jen

Saturday, July 7, 2018

And Then She Bloomed

Hi everyone!
The past week my best friend surprised me with this beautiful little tea cup.  She said when she saw the tag she just knew she had to get it for me.  It reads, “In Full Bloom.”  And what my precious friend told me was “you may not realize it, but you are in full bloom.” 
Yes I cried, but I was also able to accept this sweet complement and really allow it to sink in.  Sometimes things can happen in life that slowly, but surely start to bury us.  This may be taking care of kids or aging parents, divorce, a loss of a job, or other life stressors.  Slowly but surely the aftermath from life events can begin to bury us, slowly, some may go underground deeper than others, sometimes we may think we will never see the light of day again.  But then one day it just happens.  One day things just start to change.  Friendships start to water our soul and their smiles act like the sun sending down the fuel needed to start our growth.  Slowly, but surely the shells that we once used as walls to protect ourselves start to open up.  It often begins to happen so slowly we don’t quite realize that impact of the changes taking place.  It may be small steps, baby steps if you will, at first.  Maybe we start to take better care of ourselves. 
Maybe we quit singing to the squirrels in our backyard and start singing in on a Praise Team, for the first time EVER.  Maybe eating healthy and exercise aren’t just New Year’s resolutions, but something we actually enjoy doing.  Maybe we start to have our nails done again and change our look.  Changes, little changes start to help us sprout and grow.  Life didn’t bury us really, but it actually allowed us to grow and mature, and the tough times actually just fertilized us.  And then one day it just happens.  Oh people may have been noticing for a while.  But maybe we just brushed it off.  And then one day we look in the mirror and we realize we REALLY do glow.  We really ALL are uniquely beautiful creations that God created for a special purpose so others can see His handiwork in us.  It isn’t a conceded or overly confident thing.  No it’s a beautiful gift when we start to bloom.  It’s a beautiful gift when we can look in the mirror and accept all of our flaws and imperfections, not viewing them as flaws and imperfections, but as precious pieces of mosaic that He has used to best illustrate the master piece that is each and every one of us.  
Once this happens, THE most amazing thing starts to transpire.  For me personally, I have found that my faith has become so much more than my mustard seed pendant.  I have REALLY started to believe that He will give us the desires of our heart.  BOLD prayers are written in my journals with excitement and anticipation, because for months He has been gently whispering “write down the desires of your heart, every last detail.”  And to be quiet honest I think I have been a bit afraid of this exercise…after all, there is a reason I am writing books. lol But I have been watching God Wink at me for so many years, hearing His voice, and doing the things He has guided me to do…so why was this so scary???  What am I so afraid of???  THIS, this is what I have really had to lean into this week.  And I keep being drawn to my copy of the book Fervent, so I decided to look up the definition on Google.

Fervent – having or displaying a passionate intensity
....intense, sincere, heartfelt, burning, or glowing.
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, not because I was making light of this book, but rather because anyone who knows me, knows that I approach EVERYTHING in life in this manner.  So if I approach everything in my life in this manner, then why on earth would I not approach placing the desires of my heart at His feet in the same manner?  Tada, the glow, the bloom, the lightbulb going off, the angels singing….okay, maybe not angels singing, but all of a sudden it all made sense.  He has been waiting all along for me to lay my fears down, just step up to the plate, swing for the fence, and tell Him what I want.  Wow!!  Ok, so maybe I am a late bloomer, but who cares, all that matters is that I am blooming!!  All that matters is that I make sure this incredible process is documented in my writings so that other people can see that the caterpillar really does make it out of the cocoon.  Hey, no one said there was an age limit on the caterpillar to butterfly process, because it’s all about His timing in the end.  So as I start to make more exciting and incredible changes I will be sure to share, because I know some of you fellow caterpillars are wanting to find your wings too.  Until next time…

Hugs! Jen        

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Gift He Gave to Me

Hi everyone!
While everyone was out searching this weekend for the perfect tie or grill for their dad this Father’s Day, I find I am spending the day finally allowing the grief to set in.  Or maybe I have just been traveling so fast through life for so long that this is the first time in a very long time that I have allowed myself to stop.  And when I say stop, I mean stop.  My many projects have been put on hold.  The many ideas swirling around in my overly creative head have been quieted.  I have stopped.  For the past several weeks I didn’t let grief get near me, but as this holiday drew closer, I felt more and more compelled to take this time to write. 

On May 22nd we lost our stepdad at the age of 80.  Anyone who had ever met Clyde knew that he could have easily been on a meme as an example of the “Hold My Beer” guy.  We had a childhood that was filled with adventure and left me with plenty to write about.  Anyone who had ever had to work with him also knew that at times he could be a bear.  I remember when I was in college and I worked at International Paper, the men who worked for him would ask me, “Does he ever smile at home?”  If truth be told, at times he could also be a down right butt, which seemed to only get worse with age.  However, this is not a piece about what a horrible childhood I had, no this is a piece about what walking someone to the end of life taught me about love.  Or I guess you could say what we taught each other.

My brother and I promised our mom when she passed away almost 7 years ago that we would take care of him.  They had both always been a handful, but we had no idea how daunting this task would be.  Never the less, we did it, my brother and me, down to the last few hours, and even now by making sure his little dog is loved and cared for.  We weren’t trying to be martyrs or earn our angel wings, there was much more to it than that. 

On the Thursday before Good Friday, I started making countless trips to the hospital and learning things about the medical field that I thought was only something my daughter and son would do.  But hospitals are understaffed and he needed me.  It was not the time to think I was too good or not capable of stepping up to the plate.  While it was at times very unpleasant for us, I also thought of how utterly humbling it was for this once “man’s man” to now have to depend on his stepchildren to help him take care of every physical need.  It didn’t matter what he had or had not done prior to this time, all that mattered was he needed us and we were not going to abandon him when the going got tough.  Or as our mom use to say, “When the ox is in the ditch, who is going to show up?”  I can’t speak for my brother, but for me, it was about knowing that one day I will be in that ditch and I couldn’t help but think of the countless people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities everywhere that have no one.  Was he a handful?  Yes, and he had been one for over the 40 years he was in our lives.  Did we make a promise to our mom?  Yes, and I will be first to admit that once or twice in the past 7 years we have looked to the heavens and told her a time or two just what we thought about that promise. 

But THE most important thing that I learned, that really hit home for me, was that when we get married, how many really lean in and think of the vow to “love in sickness and in health”?  I mean REALLY think about that.  I was having a conversation with a dear friend of mine at Christmas and I jokingly said, in my overly confident Jen tone, “I will never live with anyone.  At our age if one of us gets sick and I have to wipe some man’s butt, I am going to be married to him!”  End of story, case closed…or so I thought.  During the countless trips to the hospital and as Clyde’s health continued to decline I had to recount those words to my friend, noting that God often times has a sense of humor.  I don’t think that God was laughing at me really, in all honesty, however what He did allow me to see was what true love, unconditional love for another human being looked like.  I was able to put aside all of the mean, cruel, and just Clyde type things, and help this man who took us in and was the only male figure in our lives.  Did he get this wrong at times?  Yes, but as a parent myself, who doesn’t.  Were there times when we wanted to walk away, despite what we had told our mom?  You bet we did!   But it was in watching this now frail man, who had no control of his body, light up if we walked into a room.  It was in watching this now frail man still argue with us when we told him he couldn’t smoke a cigar and wear oxygen.  It was in watching this now frail man use every last bit of strength he could muster and hold on to my hands for dear life up until the very last day that taught me what real true love, the “in sickness and in health, death do you part” kind of love looked like. His last lesson as a dad to teach me. 

In this age of Social Media overload, people of all ages are so quick to want to judge others based on the pictures they post or the job that they have, while completely overlooking THE most important feature of a person.  Their heart.  What is their ability to feel compassion and empathy?   Where are they going to be when sickness sets in?  And as someone now over the age of 50, let’s be honest, sickness does eventually set in.  I have watched how my own children helped me during this time and I am so very proud of them.  Their spouses will be in wonderful hands, but the past several months have had a profound impact on me.  I remember our high school civics teacher telling us we should never date anyone we wouldn’t want to marry.  Well I think at my age that should be worded a little differently, “Never date anyone who wouldn’t stand by you in sickness and in health.”  Who is going to hold your hands when the going gets tough, look you in the eyes, and no matter the prognosis make you feel like everything is going to be okay?  Whose face lights up when you enter a room?  Who shows compassion and empathy to others when no one is around?  Who is willing to roll up their sleeves and make life a little better for you one day at a time?  I don’t want to see a picture, I want to see your heart.

Clyde was one tough cookie and now we have him and mom looking out after us from up above.  So on this first Father’s Day without him, I am sure they are enjoying an afternoon totty, looking down on my brother and me, affectionately saying, “You did good guys.  Don’t worry, Jen…you’ve got this!”  This “man’s man” who taught me to shoot and trap alligators, left this earth teaching me how to truly love.  In the end, it was a blessing to us both and the greatest gift he could have ever given to me.  So I encourage you to look at your own heart and ask the very tough question, “Can I love those around me in sickness and in health?”  I can promise you this, if you can, if you can love them with complete and total unconditional love, you will receive the most precious gift that life can ever offer.


Happy Father’s Day Paw, we will miss you!  Love, Jen     

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When I Grow Up

Hi everyone!

     I have a feeling that my thoughts in this piece could be thoughts that many of you may also share, but are often afraid to say out loud, but if one is going to live a bold and authentic life, then one has to be willing to take chances.  While I haven't posted as frequently in the past year on my site, I have been writing pretty much nonstop, a welcome problem to have when you are a writer.  In the process I guess I have found peace with myself and my life and I think guess it's time now share these things with the world.  So welcome to my world!

     “Jen, have you decided what you want to be when you grow up?” An unusual question for a 52 year old woman, but never the less, an honest attempt by one of my dearest friends to help me on my quest for clarity in my life.  It’s not that I have been wandering aimlessly for all this time, it’s just that my life has seen its share of bumps and detours in the road.  I joked when I turned 50 and would tell people “Life began at 50” and indeed it actually seemed like it did. 


     
For whatever reason, with my “coming of age” I found that I was finally comfortable in my own skin.  Like the bumble bee, who technically shouldn’t be able to fly, I have beaten the odds on several occasions.  So to celebrate, I had my friend Jordan Wade create a beautiful bumble bee so that I could embrace this milestone in my life.  Armed with a photo of the design and my best friend by my side off we went and at 50 years young I got my first tattoo.  It was THE coolest and most invigorating thing I have EVER done!  My two oldest kids embraced their creative, crazy, writing mom’s new carefree spirit…my youngest son, at 15, decided he needed to take on the role of my parent.  Awe, now it’s my time to drive my kids crazy!!  But with this new sense of adventure, I have also found a sense of acceptance for myself.  I have raised three incredible kids, but now it is time for me to settle into the quiet that comes as the empty nest grows near and really examine what I want to do for me. 
  


What exactly do I want to be when I grow up?

     The funny thing about all of this is that I have spent the past 17 years as a college professor helping young adults find their way, and yet I still have not quite aligned the compass of my life with my North Star.  As I went through my first draft of this assignment I thought it was good enough, but on careful examination what I discovered is that I hadn’t identified what I wanted to be when I grew up, but rather the type of person or bashert or soulmate I wished to have in my life.  Yes, at 52 years young, a girl can still dream of a happily ever after.  And so I stilled my mind and surroundings.  I sat in my peaceful writing cottage and I let my quaint statuary wrap itself around the question. 


     Finally, after all this time I gave myself permission to answer what seemed to be tucked away in my soul.  Isn’t it funny how often times as moms we don’t allow ourselves to dream?  Well, I guess this isn’t limited to just moms.  Maybe it’s more of a “chronic people pleaser” “looking out for everyone else in the world” “always putting others first” kind of thing. As I took a deep breath and looked around me at the quite place of escape and source of inspiration that I have created I also came to realize that I have settled into life.  This of course is not the same as “settling” for less than we deserve or hope for, but rather reaching a place of comfort and acceptance with where our journey has led us.  I see my North Star, that place where I know God is calling me, my compass is pointing in the right direction now.  A place where I can offer this second half of my life every ounce of my being.  I have discovered that what I want to be when I grow up has been at the very center of my being my whole life.  While most people my age dream of retiring, I dream of teaching and publishing my books and opening my own shop.  While some people are gearing down, I feel like I am just getting started. 
 


     I have spent a life time creating beautiful things, cooking for family and friends, writing and dancing and singing through the good times and the not so good moments.  The difference now is I want to take this cornucopia of things that have molded me into the woman I am today and use my gifts of creativity and compassion and encouragement to help others who are also trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  I hope as I blaze down these new trails that my documentation of my own journey will allow others to lighten their load.  I want to bring light and joy and hope to those in my little corner of the world. 
  

    
     What I came to realize as I allowed myself the opportunity to complete this homework that my friend bestowed upon me is that what I wanted to be when I grew up was really a place where I have always been, but have never stopped to write it on my life map.  Or maybe I was so busy trying to figure out what the world thought I should be that I never took the time to give myself permission to just be me. 

     When I grow up, for as long as I have breath on this earth, I want to create beautiful things to share with the world so that when I come in contact with people, even on their darkest days, I might help them, if only for a brief moment, feel the sunshine!



Until next time...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I Never Knew Normal

Hi everyone! 

    Isn’t it funny how out of the blue the pieces that make up the puzzle of our life just seem to fall into place?  Like things just start to make sense.  I have spent years trying to pick up the pieces of not one, but two failed marriages.  It really sucks when it reaches the point that you have to number your ex-husbands.  So over the past couple of years I have really tried to evaluate what I did wrong.  I forgot to mention that I am also a domestic violence survivor, not once but twice.  You would think I would have known better the second time around.  Unfortunately those of us who have earned this badge of survival and have lived to tell about it didn’t know at the time that we were signing up for “Survivor, Real Life Edition.”   Who, what, when, where, and why are not what is on my mind right now. What is important to me as I embrace my golden years is how to not let it happen again.  I am not just doing this for my sake, but my hope and prayer is that what I have learned I can pass on to my kids.  My hope and prayer is that I might be able to be a lighthouse for someone else in the middle of the storm. 


     There are countless books, magazines, and articles in cyberspace to point out potential pit falls.  A lot of these things we have already read, but often times when our rose colored glasses are on we don’t see the glare coming off the red warning sirens.  We don’t realize that their quest to sweep us off of our feet at lightning speed is really them just sweeping us into their web of control, lies, and deception.  We don’t realize that we are throwing away our friends and family.  We don’t realize that we are about to cause near irreparable damage to our self-esteem and sometimes bodies. 


     I have spent the last three years reading and studying and watching every chick flick known to man.  My kids call me the Queen of the Hallmark channel.  Deep down, I think I have done this so that I could picture the perfect man.  The one sent from above.  The one sent on the white horse with the flowers in hand.  But in the midst of my Hallmark coma, a funny thing happened.  A random phone call, an innocent business meeting brought someone completely unexpected into my life.  A puzzle piece that I never saw in the box.  A person whose brain clicked faster than my creative brain every hoped to.  A man that worked harder than anyone I had ever known.  A man, who may not be warming the pew of a church every Sunday, but who had a heart for people and his kids like no one I had ever known.  This rare beast that I was not familiar with was kind, considerate, and compassionate. 


     Then one day it hit me out the blue, maybe because I had been so busy working I hadn’t had time to watch Hallmark as of late.

What I realized was that I had never known normal!!

     Through this unexpected friendship, I realized that I was learning what normal looks like.  When this epiphany came to me, I had to sit down and let the full weight of this realization sink in.  It was like I had been asleep for years or like I had finally ditched the glasses.  I think the archaeological dig I had been on to save myself also allowed for me to look at the puzzle pieces that were left in the rubble of my past.  Pushing past that pain I gave myself permission to look at the remains.  I had only known the back of a hand; the blows of hateful words; the pain of lies and deceit.  I had never known normal. 

     I am a people person who has always felt the need to try and save the world.  If prince charming was a lost cause, I felt I could turn him into the king of the castle.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with helping people.  There is a huge difference between helping people and having someone who is drowning in life try to take our life vest and pull us to the bottom. 


     What I was learning about normal was that normal made you smile, normal had a loving relationship with his kids, normal put family first not his own wants and needs, normal may not understand my creative projects, but he was always willing to help me find the odds and ends I needed to create them.  Normal might not have understood why I write, but he never had a problem giving me the space to write, as long as I made sure that I left room to help him finish his projects.  Normal has always been respectful and normal was not out to have a scandalous, inappropriate relationship.  Normal will always be a man’s man with a soft heart chasing his own dreams, no different than me trying to chase my own.

     And though today is normal’s birthday, what I have come to realize is that I am the one that has indeed been given the gift because I finally know what normal looks like.  If you are fortunate enough to know a precious treasure like this man, I encourage you to tell him because they are very rare and precious gifts.  Until we meet again!



Sunday, February 25, 2018

Be Bold

Hi everyone!
Since this is the month in which we most celebrate love, I find that I have so much to say and share. Writer's block is not something I have trouble with, but the key I think is to be selective with my words. This can apply to all of us as we interact with those we love - family, friends, significant other - and to ourselves as well.  I wrote the week of Valentines about speaking life into others, but I found that those thoughts started me thinking.


My love for maps, my love of adventure and curiosity about my life journey have brought me to a new place. The little note cards I printed to encourage my precious friend were also encouraging to me as well.  His heart of gold was allowing me to also identify my own worthiness.  The process of creating him a gift to brighten his day was at the same time allowing me to view life without the rose colored glasses. 


In the south, when people want to go after something with gusto, and sometimes in a reckless manner, you will often hear the saying, "Hold my beer!" My life journey has led me to a point where I find it is time to take things to a new level with my creativity and writing - it's a "hold my beer" kind of boldness or in my a case, a "Hold my diet root beer!" After all, if I am going to make bold life changes, then I want them to encompass all areas of my life - creatively, physically, and spiritually - how I write, how I create, and how I love others.  But before I can do that I must first take care of me.

"The truest joy in life is to Love and to be loved in return."

This quote is one of my favorites and it is so true, however before we can truly love others, we must first realize our own worth.  We must first see that we have a heart of gold and then we must not be afraid to spend some quiet time praying and asking God to give us a "hold my beer...hold my diet root beer" kind of boldness. The kind of boldness that will allow us to go out into the world and let the work that comes from our hearts illuminate HIS existence in our lives.


We live in a time where the world so desperately needs to see Him as opposed to cat videos on Facebook. We live in a time where people post pictures of sunshine on social media, while privately their lives are filled with storms they do not want anyone to see. I have the privilege and honor of teaching young adults, so my life is a living, breathing testimony everyday. 


In order for us to make bold new changes in our lives, we must first reach a place where we are comfortable with who and where we are. We have to realize that God gave us our light and if we are using it for HIS glory, then we must not let others dim it. We must realize our worth. We must  embrace our creativity and other gifts He has given us.


For me spending time away from TV and social media out in my little cottage, where I can enjoy the woods or on nights like this, the rain, has been such a blessing. Quieting my surroundings so I can hear God's whispers have allowed me to also settle into knowing that I am indeed worthy - worthy of happiness - worthy of love - worthy of financial security - worthy of success!


Sometimes we have to wait for the pieces to fall into place, but may we wait with "Hold my diet root beer" kind of boldness and while we wait, while we make changes, may we love with complete abandonment. May we allow our hearts to illuminate hope and peace and joy for all to see and enjoy.  


As I enjoy this rainy February evening by the fire in my little cottage - as I watch the glow of the candles in this precious place, may I never forget to heed my own advise - may I never allow others or life circumstances to dim my light. 

Hugs! Jen

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