My year of intention

IMG_0987About a moth ago I turned 40. I’ve had so many thoughts about this significant milestone over the last six months, over my lifetime, really.

I’ve anticipated this transition with dread, fear, self-doubt and hope.

My 30th birthday was rough simply because I loved my 20s. I was incredibly self-indulgent and not super-responsible or accountable to anyone. I met and married Jake in my 20s, and together we committed to adventure together. We traveled all over the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America. We followed our passions and pursued our own interests. We worked to pay for our pursuits.

And then I unexpectedly got pregnant. We’d always said kids were 127_2775something we’d do someday, but we weren’t one of those couples who’d determined it was time to start trying or that we were ready. In fact we were in no way ready. And yet, at 29 I became a mother. I realized mothering was something that I was passionate about too. I loved this little being more than I loved anyone in my life. I gave all of myself over to motherhood and I was happy to. At the same time I was keenly aware of all I was letting go of – a life that was mine alone, all my indulgences, putting my desires first. I turned 30 after a year of this new reality. I was learning what mothering wee ones required (I was in the thick of it) breastfeeding, sleepless nights, diapers, no personal space.

And so for me, the transition to 30 carried the weight of all that I was leaving behind in my 20s. It was rough, scary, shocking.

That and the fact that 30 sounded old. So much more adult than I’d ever experienced.

IMG_9983And as it turned out, my 30s were full of all those adult things – growing up, giving of myself to other humans that I loved so much more than I ever imagined that I could. We had two more kids, and I chose to stay at home with them because I couldn’t imagine anyone doing a better job at caring for them than me. And although I loved it and wouldn’t have made any other choice, I was always aware that my life was not my own.

And so in some ways, this transition to 40 feels incredibly freeing to me.

I feel excited and hopeful about the freedom I’m experiencing as my kids become more independent. We are done with the diapers, co-sleeping (for the most part), breastfeeding, and complete dependence that comes with littles. And with their increasing independence I am getting little tastes of personal space.

All thee kids are in school now (1st, 3rd and 5th). I started working outside the home again when we were in Nicaragua and continue to work now that we’re back in Texas. I’ve been at my job for about a year and enjoy the creativity and challenge that come along with it. I am excited about what is possible in this newfound independence and the ways that I can invest in myself and my passions again. This is all wonderful!

At the same time, 40 is still 40.

It carries with it these ideas of midlife and aging and wisdom, the weight of what society expects of us by this age. I realize I can look back on 20 years of adult life. And although I can look back with nostalgia and gratefulness, I also realize that if I do live a relatively healthy and long life, I’m about halfway to the end. This is literally the mountain top, the peak, the top of the hill and I’m technically heading downhill from here on out. That’s sobering.

I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

And I feel compelled to enter this decade with intention.

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I’ve been working on a list of 12 month-long commitments that I’ll focus on throughout the year. These are activities, passions, interests that I’m planning to pursue. It’s my way of celebrating the place that I’m in – right now. It’s my way of embracing this decade – welcoming it. To be present and to pay a little more attention to me again – now that there’s space for that.

I’ll list them out here – just to put it out there. We’ll see how this goes.

November – A month of running at least five days per week.

December – A month of daily morning meditation.

January  – A month to begin The Artist’s Way

February – A month of experimental photography – a shot a day for 30 days.

March – One month of Texas trails. I think this might amount to one trail per week.

April – The month I get my tattoo. I’ve had this beautiful tattoo in my head for about 10 years now. And it seems like this might be the appropriate time to do it.

May – One month of beautifying my home. I hope to tackle one home improvement project per week.

June – One month of yoga every morning.

July – One month of juicing. I’ve wanted to incorporate juicing into my life for a while now.

August – One month of blogging everyday.

September – One month of daily ab work.

October – One month of generosity. This one is still coming together in my head, but the idea is that I’m intentionally generous – that generosity is the starting point for the choices that I make.

I think my hope is to keep track of progress monthly here.

So look for a November update coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty things I love about my life at 40

Today I turn 40 years old. I have been on this earth for 40 years.IMG_2170

A few weeks ago I started a list of things that I love about this time in my life — here and now.  The impetus for this exercise is twofold: one — to help me really notice the beauty and joy I have in my life, in the midst of the chaos, and two — to help me not to be sat that I am in fact 40.

So here goes (in no logical or decipherable order):

  1. I am probably in the best shape of my life.
  2. I am self-aware — I can recognize my weaknesses and appreciate my own gifts.
  3. IMG_0686I get to mother some remarkable little humans.
  4. I appreciate myself as a highly sensitive person, and I can understand my potential pitfalls as well as appreciate the depth of connection I have with people because of that.
  5. I have an amazing, generous, kind and supportive sister. And she’s got an loving husband and some sweetie-pie kids.
  6. I am at a point in my life where I can look back and appreciate the richness of my life-experience and notice the movement of God all around.
  7. I own a house, a car and a computer.
  8. I don’t have it all “figured out.”
  9. I still have amazing legs!
  10. I value my health — mentally, physically, emotionally — and I prioritize maintaining it.
  11. I enjoy dancing and I do it regularly — uninhibited.
  12. I have an amazing partner in life  — he’s challenged me, cared for me, forgiven me and is ALWAYS on my side.IMG_3185
  13. I have accomplished some pretty awesome things physically — I’ve experienced natural childbirth (three times), I’ve hiked the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu, I’ve run a half-marathon.
  14. I have done some really interesting work — I taught middle and high school English, I worked in community development / engagement in El Salvador, I taught childbirth classes, I worked as a women’s health promoter, I worked in development in Nicaragua … gosh, a little bit of everything!
  15. I have an amazingly comfortable bed for the first time in my life (purchased this year).
  16. I have a network of wonderful people in my life who love and support me.
  17. IMG_0845I can better recognize and receive the love of my mother. We missed each other for a lot of years. I am thankful for my mom.
  18. Carlos Reyes is in it.
  19. I am less judgmental than I used to me — I aspire to not be not be judgmental at all (you gotta give a girl credit for knowing where she’s got room to grow🙂 )
  20. My wardrobe is improving (little-by-little).
  21. Shiner Bock makes a regularshiner bock appearance.
  22. I am able to indulge in reading for pleasure (on my own) again.
  23. I practice yoga.
  24. I have meaningful work, contributing to something bigger than myself.
  25. I am unabashedly feminist and I’m raising feminist kids.
  26. I have a creative, brave and inspiring brother.
  27. I participate in a challenging and life-giving faith community.
  28. I will soon have a privacy fence in my backyard.
  29. I still make my kids’ halloween costumes.
  30. My kids fold and put away their own clothes.
  31. We live in San Antonio and in the great state of Texas.
  32. My kids are compassionate — they know how to love deeply and sincerely.IMG_4616
  33. Chips and Salsa.
  34. I speak decent Spanish.
  35. God is so much more than I ever imagined.
  36. Jake and I have each changed so much since we got married almost 15 years ago, and yet our commitment to one another remains — it’s something I know I can count on.
  37. I don’t know what our lives will look like in 10 years.
  38. Love is the center of our lives and always fueled by adventure and curiosity.
  39. My son, Joaquin loves to read. Frida and Mireya do too. We share books — reading together nightly as much as we can.
  40. I have the pleasure of looking back at 40 years of memories — with a grateful heart.

emptiness

emptiness big bend

Workers rush toward some hint

of emptiness, which they then

start to fill. Their hope, though,

is for emptiness, so don’t think

you must avoid it. It contains

what you need!

 — Rumi, from The Just-Finishing Candle

I was with a group of wise women yesterday and we discussing this excerpt. I’ve actually been thinking about it all week.  I came across it in my morning reflection on Tuesday and couldn’t resist it’s pull every morning that followed.  And so I brought it to this group of wise, graceful, reflective women for us to ponder individually and collectively.  I asked two questions:

Where have you encountered emptiness?

How have you experienced emptiness providing exactly what you need?

And the conversation that followed was oh so rich.

We shared stories of pain and disappointment.

We reflected on the peeling back of our identities and the letting go of deep desires to please.

It was deep and meaningful exchange that helped me reflect, understand and articulate better what I have encountered in emptiness.

Emptiness — what is it anyway?

It is the void I encounter when all the things I use to define me fall away.  It is the vast space that exists where I cannot point to my actions, my degree, my achievements; where who I am is not synonymous with in my role, or peoples perception of me, or how I’ve failed.

It isn’t a place I’ve gone often or even of my own volition really.

But, in that space, without the burden of expectations or performance, I am free. I can appreciate the unique being that I am. I am centered in the wholeness of who I was made to be.

mistakes, depression, darkenss and slowly … doing better

[This post has been over a year in the making. For the past year I’ve returned to it as a way of processing and healing. It’s the best explanation I’ve got for what happened in Nicaragua and I offer it here, with a bit of trepidation, but with hope that my story of brokenness can bring hope to those who are struggling in similar ways.]

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about mistakes.

I’ve heard it said that through mistakes, we learn. That mistakes keep us humble.  That they are evidence of a life fully lived.

In theory, all of this sounds true and valid and good.

But this speaks nothing of what the experience of living through mistakes feels like.

Living through mistakes, facing them, owning them …

Especially for me.

For me, mistakes feel like a statement about who I am.

With no regard for size or severity — whether they are insignificant or gargantuan — making mistakes almost always leads to a flood of insecurity.  My good friend Kathleen used the analogy of a fire hydrant and I find that helpful.  It’s like this fire hose of lies comes blasting at me every time I screw up: loser, fake, fuck-up, unlovable, reject, failure, liar….

For years and years, over and over, I drowned in these floods.  I spent much of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood believing that I wasn’t good enough, a loser, unlovable, a fuck-up — flooded with insecurity and often self-loathing.  I lived through long periods of depression before I even knew what it was. And during those times, I often made unhealthy and harmful choices.  I wasn’t self-aware enough to understand what was happening — to face the unhealthy self-concept or harmful behavior.

It wasn’t until I had kids and went through pretty difficult periods of postpartum depression  that I began to recognize my unhealthy thought patterns and my low, low self esteem.  I went to therapy (several different stints), read lots of books, had lots of accountability, and began to recognize the power of unconditional love — from God through people who choose not to give up on me, who believe I am worth it. And slowly, I too began believing that  I am worth it.

I began seeing myself with God-eyes.

I am exactly who I was created to be.  I am enough just as I am.  

And the four to five years leading up to Nicaragua were probably some of the healthiest I’ve lived.  I was more confident, self-assured, secure, comfortable in my own skin.  I’m not saying the fire hydrant didn’t flood me when I screwed up. That is always there (even though I wish it wasn’t…). It just meant that I could recognize the lies for what they were. With time, centering, breathing, and listening to the voice of God, I could hear the truth about myself. I could see myself in a healthy perspective again.  But my God, does that take work!  And time! It takes time to get by myself, to quiet my mind, to invest in me.  And anyone who’s had small kids knows how hard to come by me-time is for parents.  But I learned that investing in myself leads to a healthier me, and that was worth it for all of us — me, Jake, the kids.

But then we made the decision to move to Nicaragua.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of it. We had a good life here in Texas.  We made sense — our lives worked.

Sometimes I think that in spite of all the meetings and discernment and pro/con lists, all the energy we invested in preparing ourselves and our kids, in spite of our well-laid plans,  we made the wrong decision. Not that it felt like it while I was living it.  Not at all. It certainly felt difficult, but it also felt brave and adventurous and like living out a call. But boy did it cause stress.

What made me think that all that we were sacrificing was worth “the good” we were doing?

What made me think I would do well in a job like that? I worked and worked.  I worked so fucking hard. We recognized the stress and what it was doing to us early on, but we kept hoping that with changes we made, with tweaks to our routine, with intentionality, our lives there would feel doable, satisfying, like the lives we’d imagined we’d have.  And I tried and I tried and soon, the spinning of wheels began to do a job on my healthy self concept.  And when I made mistakes it got harder and harder to center and live into the truth.  And with enough mistakes and not enough grace, I began to forget the truth I believed about myself.  And by the time we made the heartbreaking decision to leave Nicaragua, I don’t think I could even remember or recognize the person I used to be, the woman I’d once believed in.

I returned to Texas full of shame, betrayed, bitter, insecure, broken and incredibly confused.

And I marinated in all of that for months.  I hid in my bed under the covers for a long time.  I felt so completely and absolutely alone.  I was the mayor of Loserville without much hope for any kind of future. I applied for jobs. I went through the motions of life — I was hollow, depressed and hopeless.  I drank a lot.

The process of choosing life again after living underneath the oppressive weight of hopelessness and depression feels pretty nearly impossible. It took more intentionality, more time, more investing in myself.  I went back to therapy,  I read a few more books, I got reconnected to my beloved community and I began to search for the power of unconditional love — from God through people who choose not to give up on me, who believe I am worth it. And again, ever so slowly, I began to believe that I am worth it.  I again was able to see myself with God-eyes.

I am exactly who I was created to be.  I am enough just as I am.  

Each day I pray for just enough light for the next few steps. I ask for patience and grace for others and myself.  Because in truth, every decision that we make is the culmination of each of our individual (and shared) life-experiences. Each choice is evidence of what we’ve learned in our lives. And sometimes, because of the tough lessons our lives have taught us, we are able to shine.  And sometimes, because of the tough lessons, we miss it completely.

I’ve realized something through my little life-journey this far, in my experience with other humans: there’s lots of imperfect people out there just like me. There are lots of us doing the best we can with what we’ve got.  There are lots of us out there learning from our mistakes.

The other day I came across a quote from the beautiful and brave Maya Angelou.  She said,

 Do the best you can until you know better.  Then when you know better, do better.

And little-by-little, I am.

Praise be to God.

Amen.

Grace and Space and a few other thoughts

[I shared this reflection on Sunday at our church, San Antonio Mennonite, based on the theme of hospitality and Matthew 9:9-13]

Before I go into the more personal reflection that I’ve prepared, I want to start a little bigger. I want to recognize that at this time in our culture, here in the U.S., in our society, the idea of hospitality is very counter cultural. We have allowed “fear of the other” to trump any urge or desire to open ourselves up and learn from people who are different from us.

This is clear in our government’s blatant unwelcome of immigrant women and children from Central America this summer and fall—an unwelcome created and fueled by corporate greed that our country’s citizens bought into because of fear. I was flabbergasted in July, upon my return from Central America, as I heard and watched people making it very clear through protests, through inaction, through political postulating, just how unwelcome these women and children were.

This fear is also clear in the incredible violence we’ve seen this fall toward black men and children—And these, already members of own society. But we’ve bought into this fear of other so completely that it becomes increasingly easier and easier to narrowly define those who are in and those who aren’t. And it’s in this heightened state of fear that we act in horrible and hurtful ways.

I’ve been thinking about how tomorrow we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy and hope he left so many in our country. And I’ve been thinking how so many groups of people across our country throughout history, instead of being welcomed, instead of being accepted, instead of being respected have been othered—treated as less than, been despised, disrespected, overlooked, and worst of all, in recent years, feared.

I remember several years ago we were traveling across the country on vacation, and one of our stops was New York City.   In order to make the trip a bit more meaningful for the kids, we spent time talking about and reading about each of our destinations. I remember one of the books we checked out was a book about Emma Lazarus, the poet who wrote, “The New Colossus” the sonnet engraved on the statue of liberty. It was a poem I had never read before, and as I shared it with the kids, I was overcome. I was struck by the dissonance between my lived reality of the United States of America and the hope conveyed through this poem. How far have we come from this vision? And will we ever as a nation, embody the hospitality this poem alludes to?

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—————————–

[Here I had an abrupt break.  I couldn’t figure out how to merge the broader ideas with the personal one.  So I just paused.]

In the Matthew 9 passage, Jesus speaks to Matthew, a tax collector and simply says “Follow me.”

Jesus chooses to share a meal with Matthew and other “tax collectors and sinners”

The Pharisees see this and question his legitimacy.

Jesus responds, to them with two significant ideas:

  • It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick
  • I desire mercy, not sacrifice

In this passage Jesus chooses to eat with the outcasts, the marginalized, the embezzlers, the liars, the cheaters. And throughout his ministry, he hung out with prostitutes, the poor, the unclean, people who’d lived lives they weren’t proud of. And if we’re honest with ourselves, these kinds of people are probably people that most of us prefer to steer clear of.

Because really, what good can come of hanging out with them?

As I reflected on this passage late into the night last night, I found myself significantly connecting to both sets of people that Jesus relates to here.  I am both the Pharisee who cannot bring herself to extend hospitality and the Sinner who feels acutely aware of Jesus’s extension of grace to me. But I think if allow myself to hope and think optimistically; I yearn to see myself in Jesus because he creates a safe space for people to come and be just as they are.

In his book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen describes hospitality as exactly that. He says:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

This morning, as we spend some time together thinking about hospitality, I wonder where you find connection in this passage? Who can you relate to? What is your hope?

This week as I reflected on hospitality and my experience with it, I spent some time listing out reasons we as people—humans who in the deepest part of our soul desire relationship, why we sometimes choose the opposite of hospitality.

Now I recognize that just now, I said we as people—I’m speaking collectively. Yet I acknowledge that I’m just one person, and that I’m speaking based on my own experience and the stories of my life. But I share these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs with hope that maybe someone will connect, maybe someone will be able to relate and maybe feel not so alone.

Anyway, here’s the list I came up with:

  • We spend our days going here and there, and everywhere. We get our kids to school, we work, we run errands, we check our email, we get ourselves to school, we write a paper, we volunteer at church, we work, we pick kids up from school, we cook, we study, we volunteer in the community, we work, we pass some time on facebook, and maybe if we’re lucky, we get a few hours of sleep. Who’s got time to open home or heart to anyone? Because really it just adds more to the to-do list:
    • What am I going to cook for dinner?
    • Who will clean the bathroom?
    • The living room needs vacuuming
    • What’s the plan with our kids?
    • Where will the guests sleep?

Hospitality doesn’t fit easily into our programmed and busy lives. This feels sad to me. Why are our lives so full? Are these endeavors that we invest our time, energy, and lives in worth it? Is hospitality worth it? How can we create more space for hospitality in our lives?

  • Next on the list is a sense that I don’t have anything much to offer. My house is small, I’m not the greatest cook, my kids will be running around like crazy people, and my life is pretty uninspiring. I convince myself that even if I created time and space to offer hospitality—to open my home and my heart to people—they wouldn’t want that from me. For a gazillion different reasons. I’ll list them for you if you ask me, but for now I’ll just leave it at that. One of the reasons I struggle to offer hospitality if the fear that people wouldn’t accept the invitation.
  • And finally here’s the biggie—the one that proves I’ll forever be a recovering Pharisee—judgment.   I size people up in my mind all the time. They’re jerks, he talks too much, she’s too opinionated. They clearly have different values from us. Their kids are so badly behaved. They eat so unhealthily. They own 3 big trucks! Look at the way they dress. Oh, you’d be surprised at the crap that goes through here! When I put upon people all of my preconceived ideas, I create a wall between us with each judgment that makes opening my heart to them in hospitality pretty completely impossible.

But good thing I resonate so strongly with the sinners Jesus hangs out with. Jesus says it’s the sick who need a doctor, and I see my need. I need more light in my life. I am thankful for the hospitality of Jesus that says: Just as you are Jenny, insecurity and all that comes with it, Queen judgy-pants and all that too. Wounded and confused. Broken and on the road to recovery. Beat down and beautiful.

All that I am right now.

Exactly as I am.

It’s okay.

I treasure the incredible grace of God’s abundant hospitality that says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice”

And in that, there’s space to grow and take chances again.

There’s space to live into this incredible vision for hospitality—opening up space for others, creating space so that they too can be exactly who they are.

Grace and space.

That’s what I want to offer.

That’s who I want to be.

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