Ask Jennie

I got a text from a longtime, good friend that went a little something like this: “Would you write a blog post for me-I could really use your thoughts on something. What do you do in moments when you can’t stand it here? At times, I try to forget where I am, not wanting to go outside, and being angry when I have to take my kids on public transportation. It’s hard to think of how many of our friends have moved to the suburbs, yet for good reasons, we still find ourselves here. I know you’ve experienced at least some of this.”

I’ve been sitting on this question for a few weeks knowing a lot of things NOT to say or suggest, but not knowing exactly what TO offer. I knew I needed to wait until I was actually in a worn-out, struggling-to-find-hope state of mind to be able to identify how I cope. These times are becoming fewer and more far between than they used to be, which just means I can see them coming from a mile away. Jesus, meet me there.

I found myself there last week. A host of reasons led up to this state. We I completely over-scheduled ourselves a few weeks ago, the result of which was an absolutely crippling migraine for Daniel on a Saturday night while we were away visiting family in Connecticut. After praying over him for hours, massaging his temples while he moaned in pain, and helping him drink 7-up after violently throwing up, his migraine broke around 1 am (yes, doctor’s appointments have been made). Iylie cried every 30 minutes for the rest of the night for no apparent reason. At around 4 am, I came to terms with the fact that we were not going to make a much-anticipated gathering of all the neighborhood congregations that make up our church in NYC. I’m in tears just recalling it. There were high points in the week that followed, for sure. But the next Sunday, Daniel and I served in our kids ministry, and I did so willingly, but from a place of emptiness. Sprinkle in a few dashed expectations, some hurt feelings, and multiple missed signals later, and I arrived on the doorstep of hopelessness.

God’s timing is always perfect. Even the hard stuff comes at just the right time. The night before we headed out off for the weekend, I attended the opening sessions of the Hope Gathering. It’s a conference designed towards women in NYC, exploring the idea of God as our hope, how He meets us in our struggles, and enables us to offer hope to others. The speakers were incredible, spoke stories of true victory in Jesus, rescue and restoration, abundant living in spite of circumstances. They all said exactly the same thing over and over again: Hope is a Person. Jesus IS our hope, nothing less. Every strategy for dealing with this world has to be grounded in that foundational truth. Otherwise, we’re in the realm of self-help. (I seriously would have already helped myself out of this crucible if that were possible.)

Now to the “What do I do?” part. I can retrace my steps all day and pinpoint some key decisions that led to my demise. It’s the business of soul keeping to know where the path took a turn. But we also need a set of tools for when preventative measures either weren’t taken or didn’t work!

First, I respond well to a good, healthy dose of facts. Here are a few.

  • Whatever is happening in my heart is not New York City’s fault. This city is just not that powerful. NYC is an easy scapegoat for me, because the city is RIGHT THERE. Always just so close up in your face all the time! You look out your window- there it is. You step outside your door-there it is. You don’t get any warmup time before engaging the city. But this city just reveals what’s already there–New York City didn’t create any of the turmoil I feel.
  • Along with the above–the city is not my master. I am not a slave to this place, not the routines I maintain, and not the rigor of the city’s evaluation. The way the city measures me is not any sort of true standard that I must attain.
  • It’s hard everywhere. What we’re doing–the good, holy work of mothering–is hard wherever we live. There are some things about NYC that make it a difficult place to live, but there are plenty of difficulties everywhere else.

I learned about the life of David Ring from a friend’s Facebook status where she quoted him. His video “I am Second” is powerful. His life has been difficult and traumatic from birth. He lives with cerebral palsy, lost both of his parents very young, but gave his life to Jesus as an early teenager. In his words, “One day I’m going to wake up in heaven and ask Jesus one question: why have You been so good to me?” So much about that question reveals a pure heart, and I want that. God, make me like that.

To be continued…

What is Important to God?

Prior to this fall, I had only ever read the girls Bible stories out of The Jesus Storybook Bible–a fantastic resource for helping kids interpret many of the Old Testament stories as paving the path to Jesus. But this children’s Bible isn’t arranged “chapter and verse”, and of course the language is reductive, so it was time for some readings straight out of Scripture. Addie’s school curriculum this year has assigned Bible readings, and though I shouldn’t have been, I was hesitant about just diving into Genesis. I wondered if, with all of the new vocabulary words (formless, vegetation, vault…) and the necessity of stopping and restarting after defining them, she would gather any true meaning or a central message from the passage. Not to mention the specifics of the curse naturally and appropriately wound me when I think about disseminating that information to my daughter. In some ways I want to protect her innocence, but I also want the reality of a broken world to wound her soul and drive her to Jesus. So–onward we go in the spirit of Deut. 6:7-9.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

As a way to help Addie clarify the big picture and overarching themes, after each day’s reading, I asked her, “What is important to God?”

The first day, we read the creation story, and I asked, “What is important to God?” And she said, “Male and Female.” We had lots of good conversation about what it meant for God to declare His creation good, what it is to be made in His image, and how amazing it is that God, Who has no creator, made the earth out of nothing, humans out of dust, and the woman out of Adam’s rib. But “male and female” was her answer, and that prompted a discussion about how when God saw Adam alone and in need of a helper, He created someone altogether different. This has incredible and far-reaching implications, none of which we talked about. But I love that it set the stage for a worldview in accordance with God’s design.

The second day we read about The Fall. I almost cried to listen to Addie’s outrage at Adam blaming Eve for his consumption of the forbidden fruit! And without any prompting, when I said, “What is important to God?” she said, “Sin.” Sin is a big deal, it’s a heavy burden, and has unspeakably deep consequences. I can’t imagine living with the crushing burden of knowing my sin was responsible for broken fellowship with a God that I used to be able to see face to face, banishment from a perfect home created just for my delight, and an entire reality jolted off its intended trajectory. Because I live in the light of a forgiven debt, I never want my kids to get the idea that sin isn’t a big deal. Thank God Addie gleaned that gold nugget.

The third reading (lest you think we complete all the assigned readings on their given day!) was from Genesis 5 and 6 and covered genealogy and Noah’s flood. Addie and I waded through every name, the number of their years when they had their first son, the mention of other sons and daughters, and their age at death. Then we read God’s instructions to Noah to build an ark because of a coming flood to wipe out evil from the earth. “Addie, what is important to God.” Her response: “Children and Obedience.” Yes, yes, yes. I’m sure those men invented things, were kind and generous to their neighbors, may have risen to the top of their professions, and accomplished great feats of athleticism. And yet, their lives were delineated by God in terms of children. I don’t interpret that to mean anything other than what Addie noticed: that children are important to God.

Finally, we read in Genesis 8 of the floodwaters’ recession from the earth, Noah’s sacrifice to God as his first act upon leaving the ark, and God’s promise not to destroy the earth by flood again. I had to prompt Addie when I asked her what was important to God. My answers here were, “Sacrifice and Promise.” Something innocent (an animal) was killed and offered to God as an act of worship for His righteous act and for his mercy to Noah and his family. It wasn’t the first time that was necessary and wouldn’t be the last. The innocent for the guilty…all the way to Jesus, the righteous for the unrighteous. I hope Addie understood my explanation that every time an animal sacrifice was made, it wasn’t totally good enough to cover sin, since nothing has ever quite been perfect since the fall. But Jesus was perfectly perfect, beyond good enough to be the sacrifice for sin forever. And promise. How much that promise must have meant to Noah, and it did allay Addie’s fears that a flood could come along and just wash us away any day.

I tremble at the thought of handing down to my children a worldview that’s just simply mine and not derived from or grounded in absolute truth. It was a stunning privilege for me to read/listen to the Scriptures together, accept them for what they say, converse with Addie about them, wade through the hard parts, and see the beginnings of a great plan come together!

Saga and Indecision

Sometimes I have lofty thoughts, and they consume me in deep and wonderful ways. And other times, I am bogged down in things that I feel shouldn’t really matter, but in trying to minimize their importance to me, end up having the opposite effect. But sometimes, the two–the trivial and the deep–work together to reveal beauty lurking below the surface, redeeming the trivial. So behold: a story about the trivial which taught me something true and beautiful.

My Kitchen Table

When we ended a particularly difficult year living on East 74th St., we “inherited” a kitchen table from that apartment. I never liked it and grew to hate it for the many unpleasant memories of its origin as well as its physical shortcomings. We’ve spent these last few years thinking that each one would be our last in NYC, so at the beginning of our new lease, Daniel, knowing my hatred of that table said, “Let’s just live with it–we’ll only have it a year anyway.” We have seen our possessions come and go many times in our New York years, so we are not attached to our things, and pretty easily forget to even have preferences on home style. So the table came with us to our new apartment, and I eventually forgot I hated it. But soon, another move was upon us, and my desire to not move that kitchen table again was rekindled. So I gave it away. Our need for a new table coincided perfectly with some friends’ move to CA and liquidation of their home furnishings. We snatched up many of their things including their dining table. I don’t recall if I liked it initially or not; there were many overwhelming things happening in our lives then, and the least of our concerns was that table. It was dark and round, and had a few scratches which I planned to sand out at some point. I bought 4 chairs to go with it, and we set up house in our 5th apartment in so many years.

After a few months of dining on this particular table, I decided to refinish the top and began sanding. But after a few minutes into the job, I discovered that the table was not solid wood as I had thought, but wood veneer. The sanding was not revealing a beautiful wood grain to refinish, no potential worthy showcase for all my efforts. So I quit. I called the half-sanded look “rustic” and forgot about it. And we continued to use this rustic ugly kitchen table for the rest of that year.

But a couple months or so later, when Iyleah began to use the highchair and Emmy moved to a booster seat, I realized that we were quite crammed around that kitchen table. And I remembered that it was also hideous after its brief time under my sandpaper. So I thought to look on Craigslist for a new table, one around which we would all fit with room for a few extras. I found one just down the street, so one Saturday, we went and bought it, and Daniel carried it home for me. I liked it for all of 5 minutes, then I realized that it just wasn’t my style and really wasn’t big enough for the space either. Breathing not a word of my lack of love for this new table, I sold our other one and decided to just be content with a table that was at least big enough for us, if not my favorite look ever.

The situation was still incomplete though because I needed to get a couple more chairs. But in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure I liked my chairs, so I didn’t want to purchase more just like them. I was getting ready to just order 2 more of them, when something amazing happened: one of my chairs broke! Since they only came in sets of 2, I would have ended up with 5 chairs, and I do not have room for a random, extra chair. So I listed my 3 remaining chairs on craigslist, and off they went.

This, I recognized, was the perfect opportunity for me to start over completely and get rid of the table I had come to despise. I told Daniel I was sorry I couldn’t stand that table, and that I should have considered it more critically, but it had to go. He of course said, “It’s ok, get what you want.” (He would have had every reason to be more than slightly frustrated considering just a few months prior I had ordered an entertainment console, and when it arrived, it was quite awful, and I really tried to like it, but was just unable to do so, so I sent it back and ordered a new one…a fairly expensive ordeal.) Enjoying the thrill of the hunt as well as the idea of giving new life to a used kitchen table, I found a beautiful farmhouse table again on Craigslist, bought it, and had it delivered to our apartment.

By this time, we were in “company season” which is Fall in New York City. My mom and sister and her baby were in town, Daniel’s parents were coming a few weeks later, and most of my family was coming back to spend Christmas with us, so I bought a cheap set of chairs and a bench just to delay the decision. The chairs were rickety and flimsy, on the verge of complete collapse from the moment we assembled them. We used them for 9 months while they gave us splinters, and slid all over the floor, and dumped our kids off if the girls didn’t balance their weight on them just right. But at $25 a chair, they were money well spent, and at the end of that 9 months, we had powerful motivation to find new ones. I spent weeks looking for the perfect chairs…a popular metal design I first saw all over Paris a few years ago. And my beautiful chairs arrived 3 days before we left for our summer in Oklahoma. Now that we are home, we are enjoying them so much. I LOVE them, love the whole look.

I’m so happy for pieces that fit our needs and are pleasing to my eye, but when I look at the combination, I see more than just furniture. First, I see an incredibly good husband who doesn’t feel any need to make me live with my mistakes just to teach me a lesson. He just loves me, even the parts of me that really aren’t very put-together. I also see a table that I consider a worthy pedestal for the endless mounds of food I make to nourish the precious people who gather around it. I see a version of “perfection” that is only so because I lived through the former iterations. By that I mean, I don’t think these pieces would look so good or be so comforting to me unless I had gone through the uncomfortable stages beforehand. After all, it’s just a table and chairs. But that tempered view of perfection reminds me that “work in progress” is a valuable state of being. And I see myself and all of us in that.

Back to Business

My summer travels are over, so I’m feeling All The Things, and relying on my well-tested, tried-and-true coping strategies to help me deal. My usual theme upon returning to New York for another year is “people and projects” so I try to jump head first back into relationships, service, church, neighboring AND some sort of project. Last year it was “admit that this is your home, and find things to hang on the walls” so now that’s done. And this year it’s “Do the Whole30 diet” and “start formal schooling with Addie”.

I’ve been meaning to do this Whole30 diet for awhile. I love my pastries too much to give them up forever, but lately we have been treating ourselves a bit too well. It’s time for a reset. So since I’ve given up dairy, grains, sugar for 30 days, and this is only day 2, and I’m super struggling, it seems like a good time to get back into blogging if for no reason but the distraction from my hunger. Which I keep reminding myself, is the actual point. But, I love to cook and was achieving only boredom and unwanted pounds with my old recipes and habits. So the idea of learning new ways to cook satisfying food is exciting to me. Yesterday, I combined two recipes and made a skillet beef thatI served on a bed of romaine. I thought it was delicious, but part of me wonders if I was just so hungry and so ready to eat the thing I had planned and prepared that it wouldn’t have mattered what it tasted like! So here’s my recipe, and if you try it and like it, tell me!

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Spicy Thai Beef

  • Ingredients: Flank steak, canola oil, red Thai curry paste, coconut milk, steakhouse seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, sliced white onion, minced garlic.
  • Garnish: scallions, cilantro, almonds
  • Directions: Chop flank steak into small pieces. Marinate a few hours in mixture of 1 cup coconut milk, 4 oz curry paste, 2 T canola oil, and a few shakes/grinds of steakhouse seasoning, sea salt, black pepper. Put the whole thing in a skillet and brown the meat for a few minutes. Then throw the sliced onions and continue cooking until the beef is mostly done, but still pink in the middle. Then throw the onion slices in there and let it all cook up. Let the beef rest for 10 minutes, then serve it up on some crunchy lettuce or rice, if this isn’t part of a no-starch diet. Garnish with chopped scallions, cilantro, and almonds

I have been weighing and researching options for Addie’s kindergarten year for a few months. Part of me wanted a set curriculum, but the much larger, “free spirit” part of me wants only a little bit of structure. After all, let’s be real: the reason I am not sending her to traditional school at this point has more to do with my deep aversion to scheduled drop-offs, pick-ups, the whole school calendar thing, reading logs, permission slips, etc…than an actual philosophy of education. To elevate our decision a bit above sheer laziness–homeschooling is a really good fit for our family.

My pastor’s wife, a seasoned homeschool mom, pointed me to AmblesideOnline as a good resource for parents leaning towards a classical education a la Charlotte Mason but not ready to commit to the whole thing. And that’s exactly where I am.  Ambleside provides a booklist and a schedule, a detailed version or basic version of that schedule, curriculum recommendations for every subject, and plenty of forums and discussion boards to be referenced or ignored! I love it. I’m combining their Year 0 and Year 1, which catches Addie up on some things to which I’ve forgotten to expose her (Winnie-the-Pooh!) and gives Emmy some ability to be involved also. In Addie’s words yesterday, after expressing her dread of school in typical dramatic fashion, “It wasn’t actually so bad.”

And there you have it. We’re on Day 2 of crazy diet and hippie home education. And it’s not actually so bad. How’s that for a resounding endorsement, you guys?!

Emmy turned two on Tuesday. Every day of her little life has been exhausting for me, both in the “no sleep” sense, and in the “why doesn’t she ever stop moving” sense. She wears me out and takes me to the very end of myself and what I formerly thought were my vast reservoirs of patience. And just when I think I can’t handle her climbing up and sliding down my legs one more time, she’ll dash into her room, reappear with her blankie and say, “Go to bed now.” And just like that, I get a few minutes or maybe hours to regroup before we’re at it again. And while she’s resting I remind myself that we begged God for Emmy. What a gift she is.

We asked Emmy for days what she wanted for her birthday and she said, “Doughnuts with sprinkles. No fire on it.” So I guess we were not supposed to put candles on her doughnuts and light them? We played and talked all day about birthday parties and toys and presents all day, but I wasn’t sure she understood. But she must have figured it out because she ate her entire dinner standing up in her high chair saying, “I get my birthday presents now.”

IMG_6773Before the go-ahead.

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Happy with a dolly highchair and some play food. 🙂

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Summertime

“Summer really is over, you were right!” Those were the words Addie sobbed to me, complete with big tears, as we stepped outside this morning for a quick library run and met with an undeniably chilly breeze. I told her, “I feel the exact same way, girl.” Summer is the best. Every other season is ranked by its closeness to summer. Fall is the farthest, so it is the worst. Winter is tied for worst. And Spring is okay, glorious in fact, because it bleeds into summer so seamlessly. I prize summer for its capacity to offer rest and retreat, for its memory-making potential, for the nostalgia of family rituals, and for the way the hope of summer holds me together every other season. I was made for summer. This summer was a tremendous gift to me from many sources: my husband who knows what I need and goes to great effort and personal sacrifice to make it happen; my parents who housed, fed, and entertained my children and me for over 5 weeks while I took every opportunity to lounge by the pool; and my Heavenly Father who met me in those quiet moments breathing deeply beside a still pool, Bible app open on my iPad. So when I look back on the summer, though I want to cry that it’s over, (OK fine, there has been some of that) mainly I am so grateful for what a wonderful summer it was! Here are the highlights in picture form!

Still waters.

Still waters.

Pool full of kiddos!

Pool full of kiddos!

The happiest I’ve ever seen Emmy!

The happiest I’ve ever seen Emmy!

My favorite summer supper.

My favorite summer supper.

tractor rides with Granddaddy

tractor rides with Granddaddy

5 cousins out for cupcakes.

5 cousins out for cupcakes.

Baby’s first swim!

Baby’s first swim!

sweating at the beautiful Dallas Arboretum.

sweating at the beautiful Dallas Arboretum.

With the happy couple.

With the happy couple.

Breakfast with Ellie at Kitchen 324.

Breakfast with Ellie at Kitchen 324.

Poolside naptime

Poolside naptime

Iylie meeting Grandma Kenworthy for the first time.

Iylie meeting Grandma Kenworthy for the first time.

Seeing Patrick and Amber Dawn get married.

Seeing Patrick and Amber Dawn get married.

A delicious brunch with the Kenworthys in Dallas.

A delicious brunch with the Kenworthys in Dallas.

Hope

My return to New York City a couple weeks ago, almost assuredly marked the beginning, or at least an intensifying, of a devastating season of my life. A year ago, I was part of a group email from one of our church leaders asking us to come alongside a couple in our church whose little girl was fighting cancer. They needed fellowship and community but between Janie’s chemo schedules, sick weeks, low blood counts, hospital visits, and emotional exhaustion, they barely had the capacity to show up at church on occasional Sunday mornings, much less join a lifegroup and keep a social calendar. I was at the end of my pregnancy with Emmy and feeling great, we had cared for this little girl in kids’ ministry lots of times, and Addie knew her a little. So began a season of loving them and having my heart intertwined with theirs. And hope…deferred again and again and again.

It is the end. There is no more medical treatment-that ended 3 weeks ago. As far as we know, the cancerous fluid in Janie’s chest cavity continues to grow, making every breath a labor and harder than the last. She is not in pain thanks to steady doses of morphine, but she is restless, slightly delirious, and weak. There is no reason for hope any more. But, God.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” I Cor. 1:27

Please pray for Janie today. Until she is in the arms of Jesus, we have hope. Hope that Jesus will make it stop.

Like the cursed fig tree in Mark 11. Jesus, if you say the cancer is dead, then it is!

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. Jesus, you can rescue Janie from this fire. Be the Fourth Man! Let your presence be felt, and do not let her be consumed.

Like Jairus’s little daughter in Mark 5. Jesus, speak an “Arise,” over her!

Our hearts are broken, and the knowledge that the world itself is broken, that sickness is and will be part of this cursed life until Jesus returns, is only compelling us to rage against it in submission only to the sovereignty of God and not to the way the world is. We beg God to intervene. Son of David, have mercy.

Joel 2:13 “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.”

Jesus, please relent.