Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sacred Places, Grapes and Grandma

I grew up in grape country and though vineyards tend to evoke images of romance and nostalgia for many people, growing up grape vineyards meant work, and lots of it!  However, now that I don't regularly trim vines, pull brush, drive a tractor, tie grapes, pick grapes, or sneak away with my cousin to create "art sculptures" from my parents copper tying wire - I admit, I too am a bit of a sucker for the nostalgia of grape country in Western New York. In fact, there are days when I yearn to walk a grape row, escape the sounds of the city, and return to simpler days. Especially, once September rolls around and I know that there is fruit, ripe for the picking on those vines - the taste of home.  Yes, we worked hard, but we worked together and oft days, now that those vineyards are far away, I miss all of that togetherness.

I lived in three different houses while growing up. My parents seemed to follow the old advice, "Go west young man, go west and grow up with the country" and thus my parents moved west - west down the same street -  West Sidehill Rd. That first house has always been special to me, though. It is the house where, for a few short years, I was an only child and my first memories of playing the piano, our black lab that hated thunder storms (Sheba), and singing Elvira with my Daddy, are in that house.  However, the memories are deeper and more sacred than that, now that I am older.
On Left: Everett Eddy (Grandma's eldest brother) & his future wife Carrie. On the right - Arthur Strine Sr and his future wife, my Grandma, Luella Eddy.

You see, I loved to listen to my Grandma tell me stories- although she now lives with Jesus - when we were together she told me many stories of her life and of that house where she had her first surprise breaths and tiny cries. It was a surprise because she was the second twin in what was expected to be a singular birth and her cries were tiny because no one knew if the itty-bitty second baby would make it through the night. Grandma grew up in that all old farm house, filled with her Mama's laugh and the work of her Daddy's strong hands. It was the same farm house that her Daddy had grown up in. It is the house my young father bought as a young bachelor after he came home from the Vietnam War, and as he fixed up that house - he dated my mother, and together they mended, sanded, hammered, dreamed and eventually my father proposed to my mother in that house. They came home to that house on their wedding night and their siblings had pulled all kinds of pranks and shenanigans that caused them grief and laughter and gave them more stories to tell. A year later, it was that same house that my parents brought itty-bitty me home to, at 30 days of age and a little less than 5 lbs, my tiny cries called that house home, on my first Christmas Eve. Then life kept moving, right on into the blizzard of '77 - where the snow came up to the eves and we bundled up and hunkered down in the old family homestead house.  It is one of those "sacred" spaces in my story, in the story of my family. It isn't that fancy, it doesn't have cathedral ceilings or an in-ground pool, but it is so very, very special.

Last year when I was home and talking with my Mom about life and the future and that house, we talked about the possibility of she and my Dad turning it into a quiet, quaint, vacation property.  A place where another couple, family, or group of friends could spend a weekend or a week and maybe make some special memories of their own.  Just a couple miles from major interstates and Lake Erie, it is surrounded by vineyards and woods and the aura of a simpler time.  If you decide to visit, let me know - I can tell you which room was mine when I was a little girl, where the piano used to be, and which window Sheba used to try to jump through when there was thunder in the air.  Also, if you live close to me, have my Mother send back some grapes with you, maybe peaches from their orchard, or if it is a little later in the fall - I'd like fresh pressed cider. Please? If you are someone who is really close to my heart, give my Mom a hug for me - she doesn't get enough hugs with her girls living several states away.  One can never have enough hugs, beautiful sunsets, or stories to tell.

More information about staying at The Homestead House and Arwen Farms. There are grapes in New York? Yup, there sure are! Lake Erie Wine Country

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Risk of Loving - A Risk Worth Taking

A good friend shared this quote with me and it resonated in my heart as being deeply true.
"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving… if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." - Henri Nouwen
I had a taste of this love that suffers, when my Grandpa went to Heaven back in 1986. I remember crying, crying, and crying. He was my ketchup on ham sandwiches, watch him make a bullet, tell me a story, get you with a fly swatter grandpa.  I wish we could have known each other longer.  I loved him as much as my nearly 9 year old heart could and his loss was felt in salty tears and dreams where he would still sit and talk with me.  He was the first person whose leaving broke my little spirit, where I saw a picture of loving and suffering mingled. The risk of loving is always worth taking.

This is one of my favorite pieces of art Little J made at pre-school this past year. Our Little J has her own story of risk and love with as many ups and downs as a roller coaster!  Thank you, Jesus, that we took the risks!!!
When I thought I was a grown-up, and skipping down the flowered path of infatuation, I don't think I really had any concept that this doe-eyed, your kiss makes the world stop turning, you are all I need in the world love -would eventually also mean suffering.  I did not know that these two were twisted sisters.  However, I have found along the way, as romance has ebbed and flowed and matured into the kind of love that says, "I am here, your partner for life; I have your back; I am your person," that those we love most also have the greatest capacity to hurt us. Oh, and how we have hurt one another in some of the worst ways! That being said, we have also loved each other in the very best ways, ways that are full of grace and redemption, rolling on the floor laughter, and singing and dreaming. When you know someone inside and out, you know just how to bring someone the greatest joy and pain.  Has it been worth it? Even knowing the good, the bad, the breath-taking beauty, and the ugly? Yes, I would get up and do it all over again today. Oh, yes, the risk of loving is always worth taking

What about the J that didn't stay? That itty-bitty brown baby whom I loved through middle of the night feedings and who delighted me with his first smiles and chubby hands reaching for me in the morning - oh, how I loved him! His loss, the loss of a child who felt like my own but never was, was like arrows in my heart and even now - nearly 9 months since he went back to his Other Mother - he shows up in my dreams, in the photos on the wall, and in unsolicited memories. I love and miss him, and I always will.  If I could rewind the clock and get that phone call again - on April 18, 2013 - from Department of Child Services, I would say, "Yes, yes, yes!" all over again.  I would not miss a single moment of those 6 months with him.  The risk of loving is always worth taking.

Sometimes I get ahead of myself. (For those who know me, this is not a shocking statement.)  I have been mothering, and falling in love with, Baby J (II) and Sister K for about 10 weeks, and as such, I start to imagine a life where they never leave. These are dangerous imaginings, for a "for-now-foster mama," but it is hard to keep them at bay.  J&K may stay for the long term, they may go in the short term, and reality is, that regardless of which - loving them will eventually mean leaving them - whether it is after a lifetime or within the month or year.  The other reminder, is that along the journey of every type of parenting, there are the little leavings that hurt and they are not to be avoided.  Starting school, not asking for help, hurting each other, leaving for college, getting married are all leavings and there are a million in-between.  Another day of life, another day of love, another day of leavings - big and small, another day of risk....may it ever be so, because, if we want to know great love then we have to take great risks and if there is one thing I want, in this whole world, it is to love well and to be loved well. Bring on the love - bring on the risk!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Are They All Yours? Blessings.

Happy Mother's Day!  At our house it has been the BEST MOTHER'S DAY EVER! Why? I slept through the night last night, while Jeremy took all of the baby's nighttime feedings!  I seriously woke up feeling like a new woman.  Not only did I get a full night's sleep, but I also got to take a shower after I woke up and actually got dressed, dried my hair, and put on make-up before coming downstairs to NOT make breakfast. Big-J (of the JK-Crew) said, "Mom - why do you look like that?" Which can be interpreted as, "Mom, in recent weeks you have looked like someone who is on their last days - your hair in a greasy pony tale - drool stains on your face - and baby puke on your smelly t-shirt. I have completely forgotten what you normally look like."

We then gathered our happy JK Crew and headed out for a delicious brunch.  Brunch is one of my favorite meals, because it includes all of my favorite breakfast foods at a time that allows for me to get more sleep and dilly dally a bit (or in the case of having five kiddos, just to get out the door without inducing major stress).  I am going to be honest with you - the kids all looked pretty darn adorable and were so stinking good that a woman actually chased us down as we left the restaurant to tell us how precious our kids were and how amazed she was by how well behaved they were!  WOW - Happy Mother's Day (it is amazing how well behaved children can be when there is a prize of bacon and a side of fluffy pancakes involved)! We actually got a lot of stares, I think that maybe a family of 7 with children ages 3 weeks, 19 months, 4 yrs, 9 yrs & 12 yrs - happily eating out at a restaurant seems a bit out of the ordinary to people.

The hostess who seated us said, "Wow - you have a beautiful family." Followed up by a pretty standard question, "Are they all yours?"  It only took me a split second to respond, "Yes, they're all ours!" (As a side note, Jeremy gets extra mother's day bonus points, because he says this is a natural question for her to ask since I have an especially svelte figure, for having a three week old itty-bitty-Baby JS.)  "Yes, they are all ours," because for today - they are ours and we are theirs and we are a family.  If she had asked,
"Did you give birth to each of these children - vaginal, c-section, or VBAC? Or have you adopted? Or are you a foster parent? Or did you pick a few of these kids up out of a stranger's yard on the way here? Or are you just crazy people who like to take random kids out to restaurants for a good time?" she would have gotten a pretty long story with lots of gory details, dreams realized, heart-breaks, and a shout out to the Other Mothers.  However, today, she only asked "Are they all yours?" Today, I am a mother 5x blessed.  If we add in those who were once ours, with those who still are, then I am a mother 10x blessed. That, my friends, is a lot of blessings.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Don't Yell Over Spilled Yogurt, Growing Hearts, and The Baby Grace Brought

Little J spilled her yogurt this morning. She was sitting at the counter happily eating, when BAM - it was like a yogurt bomb went off. Yogurt on the floor, yogurt on the counter, yogurt on the cabinet doors, yogurt on my FOOT! I felt it inside of me, the frustrated response, the one that instantly wanted to yell - "What DID you DO?!?!?! - Why? How? There is yogurt on my FOOT!" However, I took a breath (I have found that, as a general rule, breathing is beneficial,) and instead said, "Don't worry honey, we can clean it up together. No big deal."  My insides followed my outside response pretty quickly, and Little J experienced grace.

Exhibit A - Yogurt Foot
Our homestudy was scheduled to be presented to the Special Needs Adoption Program (SNAP) Council for our county/state this past Monday.  However, on Tuesday, I got an email saying that "out homestudy was inadvertently left off the presentation list." Left off, after 18 months of it being inadvertently lost in the process, thinking it had been approved the whole time while we were fostering and hoping for a long-term adoptive placement.  Inside I wanted to yell, "What DID you DO? Or Not DO! How? Why?"  However, again I took a breath, a breathing in and out kind of prayer, and instead said, "OK. I understand. It will all be OK. In the right time, God will bring the right children into our home and not a single child has come or left our home on accident."  Our caseworker experienced grace.

It has been a year since Baby J came and invaded our lives and hearts, and 6 months since he left our family. Six months of grieving and thanking God for his life and the part we got to play in it and crying for the parts that we will not get to be a part of, mourning the hole that he left in our hearts - the one that used to feel like a gaping wound.  There is a huge need for foster families in our county, and I am pretty sure the same is true nationwide. Jeremy and I talked, we prayed, we got the opinions of our J-Crew and the response was unanimous and passionate, "It is time."  So, yesterday, after breathing in my frustrations and breathing out grace about the missed SNAP approval, I told our case worker that she could put us back on the call list for a foster placement.  Fostering isn't about me or us. It isn't about growing our family. It isn't about the pain of "what if they leave." Fostering is about a child, a child who has no one in this whole world to offer them safety, love, family, a home, or hope for today.  So, you can call us again, we have room, there is a hole where Baby J was that another child will not fill, but God will grow our hearts to make room for another....
They say your heart is about the same size as your fist. J.S. has one tiny fist....

The call came the same day.  Would we accept the placement of Baby J.S., a 5 day old little tiny baby man, he really needs a family for now?  Now, we have a baby - he is even a "J" Baby!!! (Unbelievable.)  He may go live with a relative after a hearing today. He may stay with us for a few days, weeks, months or forever. We don't know.  So, we will love him for today, for these minutes and hours, all of the breaths in and out. We will feed him two ounces of formula every two hours day and night and hope and pray that he continues to avoid the pain and torture of withdrawal from addictions that he did not choose. We will choose hope and grace and cling to the knowledge that Baby J.S. is not here on accident and although some things happen "inadvertently," nothing is lost in the the hands of our Good Father. Welcome to the family, Baby J.S, the baby that GRACE brought.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Twitterpated. Another J on the Way?

There is something about the spring.  Birds are singing, flowers are breaking through the cold hard ground, and the next thing you know, I'm twitterpated - knocked for a loop, in the words of a wise old owl:

Yes. Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime. For example: You're walking along, minding your own business. You're looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head's in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you're walking on air. And then you know what? You're knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!
Twitterpation looks different for me than it did back in the spring of 96 when I was falling head-over heals for a boy named Jeremy.  Beginning in the spring of 2001, came this deep, knocked for a loop - lose my head yearning, to be a Mama.  Although different than the original twitterpation, it was just as powerful and life-changing. Since then, three more J's have joined our crew.  Now, it is April and I find myself with the Mama urge....come on, one more J, please, God?  It doesn't have to be a baby, I'm a little older now and wouldn't mind skipping the "up all night stage."  However, there is something about baby feet that is absolutely irresistible, so I could endure the torment of sleep deprivation if there were tiny toes and Johnson's Baby Lotion involved.

This Mama can't birth no more babies.  That's OK, because the J-Crew is pretty passionate about adoption. We think it is fantastic and back in 1996, adoption was one of those common denominators that pushed Jeremy and I past simply being twitterpated and into the kind of relationship that became a marriage. We've enjoyed the joy and newness of spring, weathered dry hot summers, trudged through everything falling apart in the mucky autumn, and bundled up and clung to each other through cold hard winters. Relationships go through every season and having survived 15+ years of different seasons thus far, we can firmly declare, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto us!" (I digress).

We are hoping and praying for one more J.  In September 2012 we became foster parents, being convicted that there was a huge need for families to love and shelter the hurting hearts of children who were experiencing pain beyond what many of us have ever known.  Five children have come and gone from our family during this time span.  We recently found out, that although we originally requested and had been told that we were approved not only as a foster family, but also were being considered as an adoptive family, that has not really been the case (booo!).  The right files were never sent to the right people, the right "i"s were not dotted - the T's not crossed and stuck somewhere in the midst of red tape, we have not been being considered for adoptive placements this entire time.  So, now our homestudy is being sent for adoptive approval and will be reviewed on Monday, the 21st, the day after Easter.  This seems rather fitting, Easter is a time of all things new, resurrection, and hope.  So, we have renewed hope that there may be another J on the way, that will stay, sometime in 2014.  You know, the kind of J that sticks, and joins the J-Crew forever. A little brother from another mother, to share in the stories, songs and seasons that are to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yolks on you! Some mid-week silliness from Short Girl

Q: What are the strongest days of the week?

A: Saturday and Sunday, the other days are weak days.

So, since Wednesday is officially a weekday, here are a few weak chicken jokes to help you make it over the hump. (Short girl and short person approved, the J-Crew likes these!)

Q: What do you get if you cross a chicken with a cement mixer?
A:  A brick layer

Q:  Why did the chicken get sent to the principal's office?
A:  He was using fowl language.

Q: Why does a chicken coup only have two doors?
A: Because, if it had four it would be a chicken sedan.

Q:  Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in the mud, and then cross the road again?
A:  Because, he was a dirty double-crosser!

The determined chicken went to the middle of the road. That's right, it was time to lay it on the line!

The healthiest chickens all drive free Range Rovers.

Knock, Knock
   Who's there?
  Bach who?
Bach, Bach, I'm a chicken!

Q:  Which side of a chicken has more feathers?
A: The outside

Q:  Why did the chicken join the band?
A:  Because, he had a great set of drumsticks.

Q:  Why did the chicken cross the basketball court?
A:  The referee kept calling fowls.

A man decided to start a chicken farm and bought 10 chicken to get started. A week later he bought another 20 and another 30 the week after that. When his friend asked how his chicken farm was coming along the man replied, "Not one of them has grown yet. I wonder if I'm planting them too deep?"

A first grade teacher was telling her students the story of "Chicken Little." She got to the part when Chicken Little ran up to the Farmer saying, "The sky is falling. The sky is falling." Like every good teacher, she asked her students to predict what would happen next.  Eager Emily quickly raised her hand and the teacher called on her. Emily said, "The farmer said, Holy Cow, a talking chicken!"

One of my favorite chicken lines that Truth-in-Love Friend often says to me, Jennifer-of-Many-Words:
I hear you clucking, big chicken.
This last one can serve as both a joke and a fantastic pick-up line that I would like to recommend to my favorite single brother....
Q:  Why did the rooster cross the road? (I don't know, why?)
A:  He wanted to meet a good looking chick.
Q:  Knock-knock.  (Who's there)?
A:  Rooster ;)
So, let's see if you can get the J-Crew to crack up???  Share your favorite chicken joke in the comments, but not until you join the song and shake your tail feathers.... 

Monday, April 14, 2014

From Hate to the Booty Shake: A New Kind of Dance

I used to hate myself. I am not sure I knew it. I don't think anyone else would have known it; although, there were well camouflaged clues along the way.  However, I always felt guilty - never "enough." I saw my mistakes, weaknesses, and short-comings and they were so magnified that I carried a heavy weight in my heart. I was pretty sure my husband did not "really" love me. I am not sure I felt totally secure in my parents love. I felt that I needed to "do" and "be" a certain person in all my relationships - including my relationship with God -  and that somehow I was always just missing the mark. I was working - very hard - and I was also failing and floundering and depressed.  For me, this depression was somewhat cyclic and I had "seasons" where the cloud would lift.  It involved a dance of pursuit and distance, highs and lows, basing my worth on my performance, and I am not sure when it started, but I do know when it ended. 

Sometime in the Spring of 2012, while the tulips and daffodils came to new life, so did my heart. God spoke truth, love, and grace into my heart and set me free from my own self-loathing.  He also gave me Zoloft, a fantastic Christian Counselor, and relationships where I could be 100% open without fear, Praise Jesus. My life has changed, my relationships have changed, my marriage has changed, and I have so much more freedom in life. The dance looks different these days and involves a little more of Mommy shaking her booty in the kitchen while cooking dinner. Oh, things are not always tulips, daffodils, and booty shaking, but now I recognize the cycles and both have tools and accountability to notice when a downward spiral begins. 

There has also been a down-side to my freedom. Somehow, in my mind, the legalism, self-loathing, and lead weight of all my guilt - a life full of unending unmet self-expectations - got bound in with, I hate to admit it, my Bible. During this Lenten season (the 40 days leading up to Easter), I committed myself to go through the life of Jesus with a daily reading plan. This has been an exercise in discipline for me; however, I have begun to find a fresh relationship between my mind and God's Word. I love God's Word - but, I have somehow also been wounded at times by legalism that called itself God's World.  

So, I have been rediscovering the Bible, reading through a lens of love and with a willingness to wrestle with it when the wrestling moments come, and they will come.  I am beginning to find a place where I worship and yearn for Christ and can study His Word with a pure heart. I have lived a "moral" Christian life - making "good" choices, there is no doubt that my life is better because of that. However, Jesus has lead me to a place where being "good" is not enough - I want to be radically changed by Jesus. I want my life to be different because He has made me new. I want the world around me - the people who come into my life - to be different because Jesus is a part of my life.  Thank, God, for being about the business of making everything new, and especially, for a new kind of dance.  
Middle J-Crew was in Kindergarten and at a weekday children's program at Church. At some point during the evening, my then darling little 6 year old daughter, said to her teacher, "My Mommy shakes her booty in the kitchen."   I must have been in an "up" cycle! 

What Is This Feeling - Wicked

I love this show and all of it's music!  From Loathing to Love....for every story, there is a song!

For Good

Saturday, April 12, 2014

About Short Girl

My husband, before he was my husband, once described me as, "that spunky short girl from New York." That still makes me smile. Now I am still short, call the mid-west home (even though my heart still occasionally longs for the grape country of Western New York), and certainly hope I have retained some of my spunk! 
I am a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, music-maker, grace-embracer, Jesus follower and my name is Jennifer. (I am not Jenny, unless you knew me when I was three, then you are grandfathered into that special group to whom I will always be "Jenny"). 
I am kind of short (no comments). I love a good story, a deep conversation, a beautiful piece of music, dark chocolate, and laughing til I cry. I adore children and my heart aches for hurting children. I love to get lost in a good book or get a little tipsy while sipping just one glass of wine with the love of my life. (I am short - it doesn't take much.)  My "Truth-In-Love" friend, calls me Jennifer-Of-Many-Words.  (Is that better than Dances-With-Wolves?) I do love words - words in stories and songs, prayers and pleadings, and since words run around in circles in my head all day, I've decided to start writing them down....here.  
I'm a short girl with a story and a song and if you would like to follow along, then I'd love to have you join the story.
Monsieur and Mademoiselle Mustachio. (I really should have waxed that day.)

The J-Crew.