November’s Gifts

The leaves changed and fell and I hardly noticed. The most virulent, obnoxious election ever flooded the airwaves and feeds, and as of the second week of October, it all seemed very inconsequential, like so much noise. Perhaps that latter ignorance was a gift.

I remember this closing in, the wide world suddenly becoming very small – the size of a rocking chair. Activities narrowing to only a few that matter.

feeding

When my two kids were born, I was leaning close to 30. I’m now just a couple skips from 40 and I have 10 years of mothering experience in my pocket. Ten years of nights that show a clear upward slope of sleeping hours for mama and child. This gives me perspective and hope, because right now, with a 7-week baby in our home, sleep is the topic my brain can’t stop thinking about (dreaming about?).

front-pack

The fact that sleep is my biggest challenge right now is a gift. In the world of foster care, that’s a pretty mild complaint.

The election came and went. I was up anyway and watched the inconceivable become reality. The explosion in our little world tempered my response to the political upheaval. Big and small kindnesses of relatives and friends for our family-of-five inspired me and reminded me of the bigger, more important impact of millions of kindnesses over who is in office.

levi

We suddenly became part of a beautiful community I only barely knew before – foster parents. A circumstance of our case led me to a gracious, wise, seasoned foster mom who has wrapped me under her wing and has spent hours with me on the phone (texting and real conversations) and meets me in person. She encourages, gives helpful advice, lets me question and process, and provides incalculable perspective.

We ran into (ok, walked by) Ellie’s new basketball coach and his family at the annual Thanksgiving Run for the Hungry in our town. Guess who welcomed in children and adopted through foster care for years? Yep. Them.

Other gifts stack up like so many packages, each one unwrapped with gratitude. We landed a compassionate, competent primary care provider, a fantastic foster family immediately responded to my plea for respite care while we are out of town right before Christmas, and our baby boy started daycare without a hitch. My SLP friend Nicole covered my absence from work, making possible the unexpected gift of staying home with baby boy for his first six weeks.

Just as if I had actually given birth, many dear ones sent meals, clothes, baby gear, messages, gifts, and encouraging words and prayers.

gg

For months we prayed, along with our closest family and friends, that our first foster placement would be the right fit for our family and we would be the right family for that child. I wasn’t picturing a newborn, but he was our first call and it seemed right.

Which is surprising. My friend Annie once half-jokingly introduced me to someone at church as a mom who only started enjoying motherhood when my children learned to read. I shrugged, agreeing with her analysis.

tkd

So we fit our family around this tiny bundle who upends everything as babies do. It’s hard, smelly, tiring, and emotionally weird. But I’ve also pulled out a nice stack of old favorite board books, we’re smiling and laughing more, and widening our little circle of family.

tummy-time

He is a gift.

For as many days as we have him, we are altogether his, love pouring in to all of us in ever increasing measure.

ee

What I’ve Learned from 300 Years of Marriage

Fifteen years ago, when John and I got married (as children, practically), our photographer gasped in amazement when he saw before him eight quite old folks and four sort-of old folks ready to flank the bride and groom as the still-alive, still-married parents and grandparents from which we had sprung. Us kids nervously held hands, eager to follow the sort-of old-looking photographer’s instructions for lining up for a grandparents shot. I guess that was the day I realized it for the first time – the combined 250ish years of marriage holding us up, spurring us on, was no ordinary thing.

And now, 15 years later, I sometimes gasp at the miracle of marriage – marriage that sticks and promises and stumbles and recovers and forgives. Those six sets of intact marriages supporting our brand new one sheltered thousands of yeses and I do’s that I could scarcely comprehend that day.

katie wedding

Is it even possible to know what you are saying “I do” to up there in front of God and everyone? Each couple gets its own soup of sickness, health, poverty, wealth, happiness and sorrow, but every marriage is comprised of two innately selfish people who need to figure out how to pour into the other. Even when you’re, like, tired and hangry (it’s a word).

With babies, I think the “pouring out” was a bit more obvious and therefore accepted. First, the nine months of a tiny human sucking life from me, followed by a year of absolute despotic neediness combined with unpleasant side effects (poop, spit-up, cracked nipples, screaming, sleep deprivation, to name a few). By then I was all in: Yes, little minion. You have conquered me, body, mind, and soul. My future is irrevocably tied to yours.

tired mom

great grandparents

So tiny, yet so powerful

But in a marriage, with a competent, grown-up spouse, the need to pour out is not as obvious, and the (usually) unspoken expectation to get one’s own needs met in exact proportion to the meeting of the other’s needs is always hovering in the heart.

Today, after the death of two of our grandfathers, five of the seven couples from our wedding day still remain, and the cumulative years of marriage is well over 300 years. During this week of pink and red and shades of grey, I consider the contrast between showy, syrupy, and disturbing Valentine maneuvers, and the year-after-year constancy and daily acts of love and service I have witnessed in our parents and grandparents.

family

~ Grandpa Jim and Grandma Mary, whose different personalities perfectly complement each other. They have served side-by-side in thousands of hours of ministry, and support each other in prayer and encouragement when apart (like when Grandpa serves as a camp counselor for boys every summer). Grandpa praises his wife up and down, and Grandma, well, let’s just say she has a never-ending well of patience and fortitude for her nearly 90-year-old husband’s never-ending well of energy and sprightliness.

jim mary

~ “Sexy Rexy” and “Barbsy Baby”, whose banter always ends with him squeezing out laughing tears and her trying to not to smile through her exasperation. I love how those two watch the Seahawks, Mariners, OPB, and Fox News together (Grandma yells at the screen when her team is losing, and Grandpa tucks away the more radical points of Fox News to bring up in polite conversation), and I love how each of them tenderly cared for the other following knee surgery, heart surgery, and annual flu onslaughts.

Rex Barbara

~ Grandpa Ruttle, who called his wife, “My Ginny”, and who not only celebrated his wedding anniversary, but gathered the whole family together in 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their first date. Those two lived a partnership of humble faithfulness and generosity rarely seen outside of missionary biographies.

Wes and Virginia

~ Grandpa Bob and Grandma Renee who danced – those two went through many highs and lows together, but year after year, decade by decade, they drew close for music and dancing and inspired their offspring to do the same.

~ Our parents, whose marriages at home were the same ones that showed up to church on Sunday and to sporting events and birthday parties on the weekends. Both John and I grew up with mostly stay-at-home moms and working dads. But both Mom and Dad earned and required respect, freely gave love, and together formed a united front that served to shape their children’s characters and provided a stable and warm landing for us that we still enjoy today.

jack and marilyn

frank lorrie wedding

I think of the women of these marriages who are strong and respected, create beauty, and who serve uncomplainingly.

women

The men love overtly, listen and voice thanks, work hard, and stoop down to let their wives shine.

men

Among these six couples, I have seen countless acts of sweeping up, tuning up, trimming up, nailing up, scrubbing down, folding down, taking out, and putting away performed without announcement or expectation. The only shades of grey are the hair on their heads.

grandparents on couch

I don’t really understand what the Bible says about submission, and I don’t like the hypersexualized, selfish picture of relationships in entertainment culture. What I have learned from 300 years of marriage is that a beautiful posture of a wife and husband is side-by-side. Both strong and capable, both serving and building up the other, both pouring into and in love with the other’s mind, body, and soul.

Frank and Lorrie

 


PS. Maybe some of you couples don’t plan on going out to a fancy dinner or seeing a just-released movie at the theater on Valentine’s Day. Maybe you are content to spend an evening at home with Netflix and a cup of tea or glass of wine. Here’s an idea of something you can do with all that cash you saved by keeping it simple: Fund a loan at Kiva! Don’t know about Kiva yet? Watch these two short videos while sipping your wine. Then, as part of your Valentine’s Date Night at home, pick a borrower together.

 

Or, how about donating to International Justice Mission, whose teams in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia protect girls from sexual violence?

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.50.50 PM

Because there is one more thing I learned from 300 years of marriage. When you’ve been given a good, strong love that fills you up, you don’t keep that to yourself. You pour out for others. Like empowering women and protecting girls from violence. Nothing grey about that.


If you decide to donate your Valentine’s Day dinner, I’d be so encouraged to hear about your Kiva loan or IJM gift in the comments. John and I are spending Valentine’s Day apart this year – my friend Lauren is feeding him something delicious while he spends another couple weeks in Haiti, working on expanding that school I told you about last year. I donated to both organizations in honor of my handsome husband of 15 years and all those spunky grey-haired grandpas and grandmas.

 

 

 

Most Good Things

Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.

– Shane Claiborne

Inspirational quotations make a frequent appearance on my facebook feed, but this one stopped me. Part of it was the irony. Here was someone on facebook repeating something good that someone else had said. I admit, I appreciate an idea skillfully put into words. Stacks of books with pages of good words and ideas can be found on any flat surface in my house. I’ve even read some of them. In fact, I own the book written by Shane Claiborne that contains the above quotation in its context (but hadn’t read it yet and didn’t know it had this bit until I googled it). I also like repeating good things I’ve read to friends who also like to read good things. We talk about these good things and if the conversation goes really well, we discuss how we could apply these good things to our lives in the future. But in the end, if I’m just reading and talking but not doing, it’s pointless – as James the brother of Jesus explains, I’m only fooling myself. This kind of foolishness happens in me all the time, and that bothers me. This foolishness creates in my heart a kind of dissonance that I work very hard to ignore and drive away because the word or the identity it keeps pushing to the surface is one that I never want to describe me: hypocrite.

So here’s the truth: I’m no good at any of those good things I like to read and repeat. Most of the time, I really prefer to sit on my comfy couch with a cup of coffee and read interesting books than actually love my neighbor, pray for my enemies, work for justice, humble myself, and do a million boring acts of compassion for the people in my life. And the dissonance I feel when I recognize I am not living the words that I am loving? Perhaps that’s a signal – not to label me “hypocrite”, but to remind me of my need for my Father in heaven.  Because here is another truth: any good I have done or will do is only by the grace of a good God working through me, giving me the desire and power to do what pleases him.

A friend often reminds me of a habit that energizes her to live according to the words she loves. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale God’s goodness and strength through relationship with him, exhale love and service to others. Our physical bodies need both inhalation and exhalation. Try doing one without the other – obviously it’s impossible. Well, that’s the sort of foolishness we set ourselves up for when we repeatedly breathe in the word of God, corporate worship, or other spiritual practices without exhaling love and goodness to others. Or if we exhale sacrificially on behalf of others until we collapse in exhaustion because we neglected to rest and fill up in his presence. Getting the balance just right is a struggle – I am so prone to wander. Maybe that’s why spiritual disciplines are called disciplines, and why scripture has to be so painfully clear on this message: a new command I give you: love one another.  Unlike respiration, the breathing in and out of the Christian life is a conscious activity for me, but so necessary.

Inhale. Exhale. A rhythm for good things that just need to be lived.

Our Mission: Write a Mission Statement

A little over a year ago, John and I followed some smart people’s advice and set out to create a mission statement for our family (or maybe it was a purpose statement – I can’t remember the difference). We went out to dinner with a list of questions, and from our conversation and notes we identified some themes. Then we didn’t craft a mission statement. A few months later, another smart person asked us to help other people craft mission statements for their families and we went out to dinner again with a different set of questions, and this time we wrote a draft of our family’s mission statement (because we are both responsible rule-followers who like to help others).  Then we didn’t teach it to our kids or really talk about it to each other or anyone else for about a year (I thought about it a lot though, and changed parts of it without telling John). In January of this year, we went out to dinner again and I handed John our mission statement (my revised version) and suggested we talk about it again. He asked to see our first draft, which I conveniently did not bring. He still agreed to talk about it, surprisingly.

Now, sharing this mission statement here is something that the old Jenae would never have done. It would reveal to you what is really important to me, which is scary and makes me feel vulnerable. Right this second I want to start making excuses for and caveats to the mission statement. But, this is part of the light I need to let shine. I actually love having a mission statement. It gives us a grid through which our family can make choices, recognize and correct errors, and experience fruitfulness. It’s going to be the lens through which I think about what I write in this space. Putting it here will hopefully inspire me to teach it to my kids.

So here it is:

Because of who God is and what he has done, we will:

  • Love Sacrificially
  • Practice Grateful Joy
  • Pursue Wisdom with Humility
  • Seek Justice in our World

As we in Special Education always tell parents at IEP meetings – this is a draft. We can change this up at any time. I’m not painting it on the walls or ordering decals. It’s a working document. Ok. That feels better.