The Old Has Gone

 

On rare occasion I get into the type of mood that can only be described as the “Perfect Storm.” I am overly caffeinated and faced with a large chunk of time to myself (which is why this is so rare) , when suddenly it’s like all the clutter around me becomes unbearable.

All at once, instead of seeing specks of dirt, I see mountains of grime and skin cells and coffee rings. The crumbs on the floor come to life and speak to me, taunting me for eating pretzels in bed again. The laundry I haven’t put away turns into accusing shouts that I am the worst person in the world because I own FAR too many clothes and wear none of them.

The piles around me begin to close in and the room spins and traps me in my own personal nightmare (not to be dramatic).

95% of my life I live in the land of piles.

Piles in my bathroom. Piles in my car. Piles in my classroom.

Piles are THE BEST because you can make things look neat and organized, but truthfully under the stack is an old kleenex, a magazine for 2007, last year’s tax return and 30 days worth of junk mail. Piles are the perfect tricksters to make people think you have things under control.

Every 2-3 months, my roommate will gently move my beautiful piles into my room, forcing me to confront the issue.

Tonight, in that mood, I decided it was time to get rid of everything and anything I didn’t need anymore.  This was project 1 of many, as I simultaneously texted Max that I wanted to open a new credit card and then rearrange the furniture in my room. He is trained to recognize and talk me down whilst in these moods, so he lovingly told me I needed to focus on one thing at a time. So I went after the piles with a fiery vengeance.

I started shredding mail that was lying around, filling up garbage bags of trinkets and broken phone chargers and sticky notes.

It felt so good to get the clutter out- the stuff I just didn’t need that was taking up so much space.

Then I went into my closet and stared at a pile that has been bothering me for awhile.

On the top shelf of my closet sat eight colorful journals, pages filled with the documentation of my life up until about a year ago.

I haven’t journaled much this year; maybe a few pages, and ironically, the last 12 months have been the healthiest, most life-giving, blessed, beautiful redeeming months of my life, yet I couldn’t bring myself to open the pages and begin to write.

They are the stories I have waited my whole life to tell- full of love and growth and laughter and grace- but I didn’t tell them.

This year was the result of surrendering my life to God and submitting to His plan for me. This year was beautiful. But I didn’t write.

This year, I couldn’t bring myself to journal because I didn’t want to remember where I had been.

Those old journals are pages filled with self-doubt, cycles of sin, destructive relationships, life crippling  anxiety, body image issues and wrong decisions.

Part of me thought that opening those pages again would somehow erase the work God has done in my life the past year. I feel SO totally different than the person I used to be, that even the same process of journaling was too close of an association.

So I kept them hidden.

Seeing them up there would many times trigger a physical anxious response in me.

Opening them meant re-visiting a me I wish I never was.

They have been a pile haunting me for awhile.

Those journals represent darkness, but that’s no longer where I am.

I am walking in the light.

Tonight I decided it was time to let them go.

I stretched up to the top shelf of my closet and I lowered the heavy pile of floral journals.

I thumbed through a few pages and immediately regretted it as I flashed back to situations and memories I wanted to forget. I put them next to each other and I began to reflect on who I am now and from where He has brought me.

He brought me from brokenness and restored my heart.

He showered every dark situation from my life with his beautiful, bright light and forgave me and changed me and made me whole.

He gave me a new standard for living, a new understanding of His word and His law, and transformed a heart hardened by fear into one overflowing with His love.

Back then, I wanted instant change  and relief from my struggles, but instead the past  year I  have begun to understand the slow, steady,  painful process of sanctification.

I’m not sure why I kept those journals. I guess I never even considered the idea of getting rid of them. It was my past and I am stuck looking at it and being reminded of it- the punishment fits the crime.

But I am not who I once was. I struggle still and I have hard days. I battle insecurity, but no longer do I live in bondage and fear. Visiting those pages was like reading the words of a stranger. I do not need to keep those memories as proof of God’s redeeming work in me.

The proof of His redemptive work is in every breath I breathe.

I will sing of His glorious transforming power until the day I die, but I don’t have to live  in the past anymore. I don’t have to punish myself with flashbacks in order to measure my growth.

I loaded up the bags of trash to take out to the dumpster. Typically one for pomp and circumstance, I usually would want some dramatic ceremony to celebrate being free from the past and this giant step in moving forward.

But God’s work in me was not flashy. It wasn’t always pretty. It usually didn’t feel like a celebration. It worked into the top layers of my heart until it penetrated the innermost parts of my soul.

I took a deep breath and I flung the bag of journals into the dumpster.

And I walked away.

Thank you Jesus for setting me free.  I’m never going back.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 

Jenna

 

 

 

**Also, if you are in a junkyard and happen to find a bag of flowery looking journals, please either burn them in a bonfire or turn the plots of the journals into a made for TV movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What God Does in the Discomfort

Patience and perseverance are not two of my strongest qualities.

Unlike some of the Olympian greats, I prefer not to work hard, push through tough circumstances or wait extended periods of time to arrive at what I want.

I prefer instant results with the least amount of work and discomfort possible. (Someone write this on an inspirational poster.)

Max and I have been working out together lately, and I am fairly certain he has started to realize that getting me from the parking lot of the gym to actually being inside the gym requires much more emotional and physical energy than the workout itself. The 100 yards from the car to the gym doors require a mental toughness and the patience of a practicing Monk.

The monk and me in happier times.

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Last week, we had to run into the store before working out, and I told him I wished I would get caught shoplifting and taken to jail so I didn’t have to work out.

*Disclaimer: I do not steal and have never stolen. This simply illustrates the emotional turmoil I experience the minutes before working out and the lengths, in that emotional state, I feel I would go to avoid it

I came up with many ideas of things we could do besides work out: eat, snack, lay around and watch TV; all of which sounded much more appealing than the gym and would feel much better in that moment.

On the walk from the car to the gym, I can come up with 10,000 reasons not to enter it.

I’m too tired.

My brain hurts.

I have other things to do.

I hate it.

Sadly, there have been many times I literally arrive at the gym, pull in the parking lot, park and then turn around and go home. No thank you.

But Max held firm to our scheduled work out, knowing full well that in one hour, when the workout was over, I would feel energized, happy and proud of myself for being physically active. It would be worth it for me.

We get into the gym, change in the locker room, and I meet him by one of the machines to begin the experience of physical activity. After just a few minutes, I whisper

“How much longer until this is over?”

Max just looks at me.

However, without fail, as I begin to put in the work, break a sweat and get active, I feel so much better. The endorphins start flowing, and all of a sudden I announce how much I love working out and how maybe I could even train for a marathon or do one of those 30 day cleanses to purify my system so I could be a spokesperson for healthy living.

Again, he just looks at me as I have gone from one extreme, preferring prison over the gym, to sudden motivation to push my body to the highest level of athleticism.  He knows we will go through the same emotional roller coaster together in 2 days. He continues lifting.

If I have learned anything over the years, I have learned that my emotions and my feelings cannot be used as tour guides or directors for arriving at what is best for me.

In the past, some of the best paths the Lord has placed me on felt like way too much work and  and way too painful.  Many of the best decisions I have made were often the most terrifying and the most uncomfortable. Choosing another way would have felt so much better at the time.

Looking back now, Praise Jesus I fought through that pain and held on. His greatest blessings came through my biggest disappointments and challenges that felt horrible.

Look at the stakes in this tree: I bet that tree is pretty uncomfortable. He wants to be free of that discomfort and stand up on his own. All the other trees look big and full and healthy, and these stakes feel as if they are getting in the way of that. But those stakes are designed to support, protect and make the tree stronger in the long run, allowing roots to grow. He will feel full and healthy when he makes it through this. Although momentarily painful- enduring this season is important for this tree if he wants to withstand the winds and storms that are coming his way. His roots have to be developed and strengthened. It’s not his time yet.

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While making decisions based on  feelings may satisfy short term discomfort, like the stakes in the tree, long term joy and fulfillment comes when you push through tough situations, do the hard, but right thing, and hold fast through the discomfort.

Unfortunately, most times in our lives, the results are not as instantaneous as how we feel pre-workout and post-workout.

A lot of times, like the tree, you may have the uncomfortable stakes in place for years before you can see why they were necessary in the first place.

How many times in my life have I thought I knew what was best for me?

I can actually answer that question by saying almost every single day.

Almost every day of my life, I could believe that what is best for me is what would make me feel good at that moment.

What quick decision or step could satisfy this longing, desire or discomfort?

In the case of right and wrong: agreeing with someone and not standing up for something I know is Biblical because it feels yucky and offensive.

In the case of friendship and relationships: holding on to bitterness because forgiveness feels so much harder.

The hard conversations that would be easier avoided.

In the case of the gym: going home and laying down with a jar of peanut butter.

Clearly I am using the gym as a deep and academic metaphor for the times in our life where God is using a little bit (or lot bit) of discomfort to achieve a purpose bigger than us.

Something where you know God has you there for a reason, but it would be super easy to take the escape route to avoid the pain.

 

But what is God doing in the discomfort and the stretching?

What purpose or lesson is God teaching me or using me for in that season?

There are many situations in life that feel so uncomfortable at the time, but prove to be the very things that shape us and grow us and mold us.

Throughout my life, I have done everything in my power to manipulate circumstances to quickly achieve whatever the desired outcome was. God usually takes longer than I prefer, so I have been known to take a step before the path is ready.

The results are usually faster, but never, ever better than the outcome God had waiting for me.

Like clockwork, my premature actions trying to band-aid and quick fix my momentary discomfort results in a messy explosion, me laying my plans at His feet and Him ultimately having His way in me. His better way.

My human tendency is going to always be to try to weasel my way out of discomfort to get momentary relief, or an illusion or cheap substitute of what I want.

To take off the stakes that are supporting me and developing me. To leave the gym as soon as I get there because I’m in a bad mood. To leave a situation before God is finished working on it.

 

I’ve been on a journey the past few years to stop letting my ever-changing emotions make decisions for me.

The walk from the car to the gym can be a long one. You want to turn around and take the easy way out. The stakes might be uncomfortable. You want to remove them.

But I’ve learned, and am still learning, to grow in the discomfort, push through the things that don’t always “feel good,” and believe that when it’s all over, I will look back, stronger, happier, healthier and so very glad I didn’t go home to snack the night away on Schuler’s cheese (with a hint of horseradish) and crackers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking School: 4 Reasons to do it less this year

I speak 3 languages. English, Spanish and School. I am a Trilingual educator.

“Talking School” is a teacher phenomenon.  Teacher-ese if you will. Do not underestimate the tiny crevices into which  school talk can leak.

 

I have talked school floating in the pool. (I do not like it, Sam I am!) On a beach in Jamaica. On top of a pile of snow. At weddings. With strangers. On airplanes. At Bachelorette Parties. At the doctor’s office. At the car wash. With family. With any living being with ears (and the occasional inanimate object).

You may think you’re safe until the beautiful red of a setting sun reminds you of the day your “tough kid” got all Green Traffic lights until the very last section where you had to color it in red due to a certain throwing incident. Clearly, I need to text my friend about this memory and lament how I had only used 67 strategies with her that day when I could have used 70. Nuts! I missed the sunset.

You’re drifting off to sleep camping and feel a weed by your feet in your tent. All of a sudden you remember the failed seed growing experiment in your classroom because you forgot to water them over the weekend. So you ask the person next to you, “Am I the worst human being in this world?”

Teachers have this uncanny ability to bring up work in the most random of situations.

“School talk” forms immediate and comfortable bonds with other educators who genuinely and totally understand. If you are engaging in School Talk with someone who is not a teacher, for example, your spouse, cousin or 7 year old you are babysitting, you might lose them when you start name dropping Marzano and Danielson like they are old friends.

This school year, I am setting some goals for outside of work: not so much school talk.

Now, before I explain why I want to have less “school talk” this year, let me first define school talk as conversations about work in social settings that have no relation to school.

I am not proposing we stop collaborating, discussing ideas or brainstorming solutions to problems as teams of teachers. Obviously, during the school day, school talk IS my life.

I breathe lesson objectives (and pencil sharpener dust).

I drone on about schedule changes.

I ask for advice on specific students.

I share stories with colleagues.

I email my team.

There is no end to school talk. And that’s how it should be.

Just like workers at Papa John’s talk about pizza making and delivery routes.

Like Librarians talk about missing books and check-out times.

Like Starbuck’s barista’s discuss how they are angels sent from the Lord above who deserve eternal rewards for their contributions to society, and specifically teachers.

During the work day, I am devoted to my job. Heart and soul (except for Monday mornings…I will admit that sometimes my heart just isn’t in it then. Okay and Friday afternoons and days before break.)

But when I close up shop and walk out of room 15 this year, I need to remember that a whole other life awaits me outside those walls. I forget that sometimes. But I CAN leave school stuff at school. Here are 4 quick reasons why I am trying to do that this year

  1. It tends to turn negative

I LOVE my job. More than I feel like a job should be loved. However, get me chatting with a couple of teacher friends at the beach and even with the best of intentions, the conversations can turn south quickly. I don’t want to be a part, or the cause, of negative talk or gossip that involves colleagues, policies or things happening in my place of work. The less “outside” teacher talk, the less chance I will put my foot in my mouth and say something I shouldn’t say.

2. It’s annoying to those who don’t speak the language

A normal amount of talking about jobs is good and healthy. We spend lots of time at our work and I think if you are married to a teacher or love a teacher, it is important to hear a bit about what happens in the classroom. Sharing highs and lows of the day, funny moments and frustrations is wonderful and wildly entertaining for others.

However, when the conversations become obsessive or to the people you are talking to, you might start losing the crowd. My dad, who works at the Post Office, loves to hear about the happenings of my classroom, however if I go on a rant about the new state requirements  and the online educator system glitches, and how I am exhausted of tracking data on a particular student’s behavior, I might hear some deep breathing and the occasional snore. My dad can sleep anywhere.

3. We have other things going on

Hey. My life is so exciting. I have SO many awesome things going on to talk about. Okay, a little bit of sarcasm, but for real, there is more to me than being a teacher.

I can talk about being a Christian, a friend, a daughter, a writer, or even talk to you about my love of snack food and my favorite kinds. My teacher friends have families and pools (amen amen) and health issues and famous people sightings and cool things happening. Maybe I will learn some new things about coworkers this year if I talk to them about those things at the Christmas party instead.

If teaching defines me as a human, if the ups and downs of my classroom dictate my persona, then I advise everyone to run far away from me any week of a full moon, or the week before and after Halloween. Those kids be crazy.

It is normal to celebrate successes and lament tough days with others, but there should be a healthy balance, and I am learning that more every year: that I can let things go.

4. You need a break

You just need a break. You’re tired. Between the 7 hour school days, 8 extra hours of meetings, before and after school prep, writing sub plans and extra commitments like conferences, don’t you think you talk school and think school and breathe school enough?

 

Don’t get me wrong. As the new school year is just days away, I truly cannot wait to get back into the classroom and “talk school” until I am blue in the face at work. I am only saying that I want to make a more conscious effort this year to not lose the other areas of my life that tend to get buried between the months of September-June. Outside of the freshly cleaned hallways and newly waxed floors, lives a 25 year old  with more knowledge about frozen yogurt than anyone I have ever met. I need that side of me to make more of an appearance this school year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Year Later: When You Don’t Look Back Anymore

A year ago, I spent many of my lunch breaks in one of my closest friend’s classroom sobbing to her, wondering how I was going to make it through the day.

I remember being crumpled on the floor of my little one bedroom apartment, begging God to let me have my way. To give me what I wanted.

1 year ago, I wrote one of the most emotional posts I have ever written called When You Have To Look Back. I hurt everywhere. The only way I could keep moving forward was to continually look back.

I remember arriving in Mexico for a work trip, and being so overwhelmed with grief and sadness that I laid down in the back seat of an empty van and wept.

I had my life planned out in my head with a corresponding timeline: the timeline I held onto and clung to as a sense of security.

In my pain, I thought I knew what was best for me.

I just wanted to stay where I was, to keep going on the track I was on, and live the life I had imagined for myself.

But He told me to walk away from it.

He told me to grieve and hurt, but then to get off the floor and move forward. He had nothing for me that I wanted myself.

Those were some of the scariest steps of my life.

Looking back, one year later, almost to the day, when I was faced with a decision to stay or to go, my heart simply cannot contain the gratitude I feel for what He saved me from.

He pulled me out of a broken, destructive relationship that I was lost so deep inside, I  never could have gotten out of it on my own.

God broke my heart to save my life.

He destroyed my plans before they could destroy me.

I was broken long before God led me to walk away. I had been losing pieces of myself slowly, without even realizing it.

One year ago, I had to look back, because the future was absolutely terrifying.

I was so afraid of God’s will, that I preferred my own dysfunction because that  was what I was comfortable with. It’s what I thought I deserved.

I was so scared of His plan because it wasn’t my own. At least my own dysfunction was certain; as broken as it was, there was certainty in the brokenness, and uncertainty in the path God was trying to take me on.

I knew He promised good for me, but there were days that wasn’t enough.

I didn’t trust God enough to look ahead toward a future that He promised would be better than I ever imagined.

I walked forward, but somedays I did it backwards. Physically moving forward but keeping my eyes glued longingly on the past.

I followed God but found myself reluctant to face a future I couldn’t design myself.

And here I am.

One year later.

He is faithful.

As much as I desperately wish I could tell you that over the past year, I followed God with such devotion that I stayed on the path He had for me never wavering, I cannot.

Even as I sought after God, I made some terrible mistakes.

I wavered.

I let people down.

I fell.

There were days and weeks that I decided I wanted to choose my own way again.

And sometimes, He let me, and each time, it led to destruction, but EVERY TIME, He welcomed me back into His arms.

He is gracious.

The smoke has cleared and the pain has faded and I have healed. He saved my life.

What was I afraid of?

God is good.

Over the past few recent months, I have struggled in other ways. While my heart is completely healed,  I have questioned areas of my faith and wrestled with doubt more than ever before through the study of Revelation.

I still don’t have any of the answers. There are days I am so frustrated I could scream. I don’t understand God.

But I have faith one day it will all makes sense. Maybe not in this life. But one day.

Because one year ago, I was a shell of myself, scared of the future, and utterly confused as to why God was doing the things He was doing in my life.

So, as I wrestle with my faith, worry about the uncertainties that still linger about my future, I am confident that I don’t have to understand a thing right now.

I have nothing to be afraid of.

What if things don’t work out the way I want them to?

Then one day I will understand why they didn’t, and most likely, things will turn out even better.

I remember a year ago I thought I knew what I wanted.

And God knew better.

In this life, I will never know the answers to some of the questions I have about God and about my faith.

But one day I will.

I’m not afraid to look forward anymore, even if looking forward means seeing a future without the things I may want right now.

One year later.

So hang on. Through the pain. Through the heartache.

He will fix it.

He is faithful.

Blessings, not chins,

Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things We Can All Agree On in a Time of So Much Arguing

Online arguments are the bane of all human existence. They are also like a train wreck; no matter how much you know you should look away, sometimes you just can’t stop reading long comment threads of people fighting and debating and laying their dignity on the line.

To my knowledge, approximately zero people have changed their minds due to someone on social media lending a countering opinion. I have read a LOT of online arguments, and not ONCE have I read,

“You know, Steve, all of your statistics and sarcasm has totally changed my outlook on immigration, so I agree with you now. Thanks, friend. ”

Have you?

Listen, I am all for healthy debate. I am all for freedom of speech. But people, stop yelling at each other online. If you want to post your opinion, fine. I think it’s great that people have an outlet to express themselves, but when I see some of the people I hold SO much respect for get into it on Facebook, even Pastors, I just can’t look at them the same.

People are reading.

People are watching how you’re treating and the way you are talking to others.

So, in attempt to unite us all during a time of intense political division and varying opinions about the circus that is currently happening in our society, I have compiled a list of things upon which we will ALMOST all universally agree.

1. Burning your tongue is terrible

The pain of burning your tongue both as it happens and after it happens is terrible. Once I burnt my tongue on Hot Chocolate the MORNING of Thanksgiving. That is like spraining your ankle the day before the Olympics. I had to go through the whole day barely tasting the food on the biggest day of eating of the whole year. I have never met a person who enjoys having a burnt tongue.

2. It’s so weird when you take a drink of something and it’s not what you
expected

You know what I am talking about. You go to take a huge chug of water and it’s your sister’s Sprite. All of a sudden it’s like the equilibrium of the world is off. You don’t know anything for a moment. There are so many confusing sensations happening.

3. Leaving work on Friday is the best feeling

I love my job. But that sweet freedom of a Friday afternoon might rival the high of recreational drugs (do not know this from experience.) It’s a spring day, the sun in shining and you just walked out of work and the weekend awaits you. Tell me you don’t like that.

4. When you unexpectedly run into someone you know at the airport- it feels like worlds are colliding

Traveling is an exciting experience, and people watching during traveling is even more exciting. I have often observed groups of people run into each other unexpectedly at the airport and EVERY TIME it’s like this incredible reunion with shrieks and hugs. Even in “real life” if those people aren’t necessarily close, the airport makes you vulnerable and connects you.

5. People with accents are cooler 

We are pretty much all intrigued by people with different accents than us. Yesterday I was on the last leg of a five hour drive, and this woman with a thick Irish accent was doing a broadcast on the radio. I couldn’t turn it off. Her voice was so beautiful and different and I hung onto her every word. I also decided I am going to learn to speak with an Irish accent.

6. Your song sounds better on the radio

You might have bought your favorite song on iTunes and listen to it obsessively every waking minute of your life, but when it comes on the radio unexpectedly, it is the best 4 minutes of your life.

7. You probably have googled “Is it normal…”
Maybe you haven’t googled it, but you have thought it

8. Puppy bellies are the world’s best texture

If you disagree with me on this one, please just delete me from your life.

9. You do really embarrassing things when you’re alone

No need to get into details. You do. And I do, too.

10. You have your opinions because you think they are what’s best.

We all have views and opinions based on what we see is best. We can’t all be right. But we all think we are right.

Chances are, you’re wrong about some things. Chances are, you are also right about some things.

None of us knows it all. None of us is right about everything.

Let’s stop arguing over everything that’s different, and remember that at the end of the day, we all want what’s best and we are all in this together.

Blessings, not chins

Jenna

How to Support Someone Who is Hurting

I can be a bit of a handful. I was talking to one of my guy friends from college on the phone a few weeks ago, catching up and swapping stories about life (he told me if he ever makes my blog, he wanted me to use the alternate name “Crosby*” for him.

*name has been changed to protect identity

We both had a lot going on and share many similar  personality characteristics, outgoing, highly communicative, and I busted a gut laughing when Crosby said to me,

“Jenna, whoever ends up loving us is in for a wild ride.”

You’re right, Crosby. It will be fun and adventurous and exciting , but it will be a wild one.

From befriending random strangers at the airport, to the ups and downs of functioning in everyday life (struggling to remember the rules of driving, facing my daily battle with portion control), my life is truly an adventure.

On more than 15 occasions someone has said to me, “I feel like this is only the kind of stuff that happens in a movie.” (You can read about such events in my book coming out in *unconfirmed* but most likely year of 2020.)

I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my life, specifically about relationships, but I found the bumpier my life is, the shakier I feel, the more I forget those lessons and tend to make the same mistakes. Ones that I swore I wouldn’t make again. Ones that I learned painful lessons from.

The last month or so has been challenging for me. I have been wrestling with God, struggling to trust Him,  feeling stuck in old patterns and in a sense, feeling like a hypocrite as I am failing to take my own advice of “closing the door” and “getting out of the past.” Day to day it changes, feeling shaky in one moment and solid in another.

I am usually not one to shut people out, but I have found myself building up walls to hide my own insecurities.

I’m a tricky one.

But any time I have gone through hard seasons in life,  I have been wrapped up in so much love and support. There are no words to emphasize the importance and difference a close “tribe” of family and friends makes.

Today was a rough day for me, and a friend made a joke to me about needing to have someone there to emotionally support me (this used to be a full-time position, but now it is more seasonal and on-call/as needed shift #progress).

I said that all I needed was arms, ears and Starbucks.

And over the past few weeks and in every tough season of my life, that is exactly what my amazing support system has been for me.

I don’t pretend to know true suffering. I make that a point to say consistently as I talk about pain or heartache. My circumstances are microscopic in comparison to what millions go through, but to a lost or hurting person, pain is pain.

So what do we do for those who are hurting? How do we support the people we love when they go through tough seasons?

I think I have the answer to this huge question, solely because it has been demonstrated to me in amazing, unbelievable ways:

Arms, Ears and Starbucks.

Arms that welcome openly, without judgment.  Arms that protect with strength but  are gentle in grace. Arms that don’t push away, but pull in. Arms that hold tight, support and even lift on occasion.  Arms that let go when space is needed, but squeeze tighter when it’s not. Arms that carry in the darkest, heaviest times, and nudge you forward when it’s time to start walking again.

I’ve had so many literal, and figurative arms around me in every tough season of my life. Since my last post about struggling with my faith, I have received SO much support and love from more people. Without judgment. Without condemnation. I’ve had the arms of friends around me as I cry on their shoulders. What is more beautiful than that?

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One of my favorite pairs of steady arms.

 

 

And then there are ears.

Ears that really listen. Ears that hear what is being said and allow processing before responding. I have been blessed with incredible listeners lately, who listen to my questions about God (or read, as I am known to send about 17 texts in a row) and just be there. Who don’t respond in order to hurt, or belittle, out of anger or bitter resentment, but out of grace and love.

I have seen the power of listening lately. To my huge questions about God, there really aren’t any answers that I haven’t heard. So my mentor listens to me. My small group leader lets me vent. My mom lets me wonder. My friends acknowledge and validate my questions.

I need to learn the mastery of a  good set of ears. I’ve got a mouth that works like I have two of them, (math has never been my strong suit), so I know what I need to work on.

So often I have much to say to “fix,” but am in awe at the way people have listened to me and all that has meant.

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An example of a ‘conversation’ I had today about my wrestlings with my spiritual mentor and close friend. This is commitment people.

And then there is Starbucks.

Again with the literal and figurative symbolism.

Quite literally, I have had friends put Starbucks (& Biggby, equally as loved) in my hand during seasons of pain. There is little that cannot be made at least a little bit better with Starbucks. It doesn’t fix everything. But it doesn’t hurt anything.

What  coffee is to me could be a million different things, and is different for every person. Little pick me ups, thoughtful text messages, reminders of prayer, surprise gifts from coworkers- these “little things” make SO much difference to someone who is going through a tough season. It’s not enough to make everything better. No coffee is that strong or powerful (still perfecting the water to beans ratio), but it’s enough to make SOMETHING better. Even for a moment.

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I think we all naturally want to fix everything. Fix each other. Fix the hurt. Fix the situation. Right the wrong.

But sometimes life sucks and people hurt and we just need to be there for each other- with arms, ears and Starbucks.

Thank you to my “tribe” who has been all of those things to me and more for my entire life. I am blessed beyond words.

Blessings, not chins

 

Jenna

 

 

 

No Matter Where You Are On Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s 2009: Went to Pizza Hut on a double date, saw “He’s Just Not that into you” and promptly broke off the relationship the next day (got back together 5 days later)

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Brittany and Ryan. And Pizza Hut Pizza. #valentinesdoubledate

Valentine’s 2010: Young and in love- Went to a banquet where no dancing was allowed so we just took pictures

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I had just learned how to curl my hair. Amazing.

 

*As I was going through pictures, I realized that I was pretty much always with my college roommate, Brittany around the Valentine’s holiday. Since I obviously am not going to post pictures from my own relationships, (that is a WHOLE new level of Taylor Swift), I am having pictures of me, Brittany and Ryan tell the stories. I don’t technically have permission to do this but I just group texted them letting them know.

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**Brit just texted back: we are all good

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Valentine’s 2011: Young and in love- celebrating a 2 year anniversary and all things Valentines in Chicago

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Cookies and coffee circa 2011

Valentine’s 2012: Heartbroken, country playlist on repeat for the remainder of 2012

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February 2012 with my roommate. Pretending to be happy but slowly dying inside.

Valentine’s 2013: Still kind of heartbroken, but back in the game

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Starting to feel bad that I spent pretty much every Valentine’s weekend with her….Sorry Ryan #needyfriend

 

Valentine’s 2014: Got into an argument over dessert, made Valentine’s dinner with the peel still on the shrimp so had to spit out the skin onto napkins. Ordered iHop for breakfast the next day to make up for the fight.

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Pancakes fix everything

Valentine’s 2015: Reeling from a breakup 4 days before. Worked in the church nursery, went to Applebee’s at 11pm with a friend. Was in email communication about of buying  $800 hypoallergenic cat to fill the empty spots in my heart

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A picture of the  actual $800 kitten I almost bought myself

 

Valentine’s 2016: Absolutely, totally content 5 days a week. Need reminders about God’s plan and encouragement from friends 2 days a week. Loving and appreciating contentment in this stage of my life. Thankful for amazing friends, the most precious nephew, and an incredible family. Crazy about my job. Happy. On a sugar high from Valentine’s cards from the kiddos:

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Thanks, kids.

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The strongest romantic feelings I have currently are about lipstick. And that’s fine with me.

 

Over the past 7 or 8 years, I have experienced pretty much every emotion about Valentine’s Day.

 

Hating it.

Loving it.

Indifferent to it.

Feelings are temporary. Rough patches don’t last forever. Broken hearts mend,  time passes. God heals, friends encourage.

Wherever you are this Valentine’s Day, take it for what it is. A day in a season of your life. A day. Not a day that defines you. It’s not even a day that says anything about you at all.

It’s a 24 hour period that may evoke some emotions within you, and that’s okay. Because before you know it, it’s over and nothing has changed. This is a moment in the timeline of your life.

I never thought I would be where I am this Valentine’s Day of 2016. But over the years, I have learned that some of my most intense disappointments have been God’s biggest blessings.

It has been a journey of ups and downs: Pizza Hut and cats and Applebee’s and pancake breakfasts. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Happy Valentine’s Day, no matter where you are on your timeline.

xoxo

Jenna