The Discipline of Motherhood

Long ago, there were these days filled with structure. Days of boarding the school bus, following an assigned schedule, and following rules — until a certain point when I didn’t want to follow rules. But you know, people gave me this general idea how to structure my days & so I at least had that as a starting point.

Then, there were the days of working. There’s this extra nudge of motivation when you HAVE to be at work at a certain time or else you don’t get a PAYCHECK, so there was always that. There were the candy-shop eating working days, the Mickey D’s days (I wish I had a picture of Blake and I working there together as newlyweds for your viewing pleasure), the days in the hospital cafeteria swallowed in a gigantic white shirt with a black & white checkered collar, the library days, and the middle-of-the-night motel shift days. Then the part-time balloon blowing, flower arranging days. All of these days when I had a boss and paycheck to motivate me to show up & work hard.

And then began this whole other thing. This whole other person.

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The days when the work had no definite starting time, no time to clock out. From the evening she was born, I clocked in and it’s this new relationship, this more-than-full-time gig, a job unlike any other. It was giggling with her & wanting to cry with her in the early morning hours. It was not like being in charge of making hamburgers or putting books on shelves or handing out room keys. It’s a task requiring more creativity than floral arrangement & more stamina than burger-grilling and more love than I ever had for a million white-chocolate-covered-pretzels.

And motherhood is so hard because you lose the routine along with yourself for awhile in the little years & everything is an emergency. I got rid of my day planner after the frustration ensued when I realized I could barely plan my schedule. I could barely keep my own thoughts straight because just when I thought the day was going smoothly, another diaper blowout, another tooth popping through, another anxiety-ridden fight with Blake, another really hard day of the job that doesn’t end.

And then, just when I almost felt like I had a handle on the whole thing, something crazy happened. Bam!

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Just like that, another one! 😉 Obviously, I had a little heads up, but you know.

And suddenly the only priorities were emergencies. Emergencies like I have to feed the baby and when I get done feeding the baby, I have to play with baby dolls because I am clearly completely neglecting my firstborn child and she is going to be forever traumatized. Emergencies like I need to take a nap right now because I was up all night working on school/taking care of said baby & I have a two-year-old so a nap is all we need today. Emergencies like the dishes need to actually be washed because no more are clean. Stuff like that.

They are these precious years in which it is intensely difficult to maintain sanity, let alone structure, most of the time. Today’s emergencies consisted of a two-year-old boy who fears that we will let him starve and reminds us every 90 minutes when he comes screeching “eeeat!” A four-year-old who had a *horrible* day because all she wanted to do was romp through the ice-covered yard. There are these moments when one is totally irrational & the other is…. well, totally irrational, so we often encounter many of these emergencies.

And because the days have felt this way, I have struggled as a mother to provide the consistency & structure & peaceful atmosphere that all the books say they need to thrive.

And I have struggled because I don’t know if I can home school, I don’t know if I can balance my work at home with my Noonday work, I don’t know if I can do this because I am kind of feeling emergency-ed out. I mean, you would too if your two-year-old boy gave birth to a pretend baby monkey.

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So, it’s this really new & fresh thing, but I decided that if Mama is what I want to pursue as a job, then that’s exactly what I want to treat it like. If it’s my dream to home school these children, then I want to be a GREAT teacher. And I don’t just want to teach them school. I want to teach them to plan their days well, to be successful, to love each other well. I want to be present and intentional which is not at all easy for me with so many distractions. I am just ready to be a little more proactive and a little less reactive, and I think that is the great discipline of motherhood.

When these two were placed in my arms as babies, I was filled with emotions and hopes for nothing but the best for them. But all they will know is what they see, this is who they will be. And I want to raise children who are thoughtful, intelligent, considerate, efficient, generous and productive. I want them to live well & to love well, and I consider it my work to raise them this way.

I have had a lot of jobs, and I am even delighted with the job that I have alongside motherhood right now because I believe that I am setting a positive example for my babies. But, I do consider this great task of raising strong, unselfish, disciplined children to be the most important job that I have ever had. They are people. I am so thankful for the many ways that motherhood grows us as we aspire to be examples for our children.

Here’s to a little more planning & fewer “emergencies” because there’s something to learn from every moment. I’m showing up to teach……and to learn. 

Love you dearly, Jen

What a Half a Year Brings

These half-years keep flying right by in front of my eyes as I suspect they do for every single one of us. I wish now that I had written something to remember each day by, but so it is that there is a whole undocumented half-year of my little life.

I think it makes me saddest not to have documented the half-year for my babies because they are getting big now and the half-years with them are certainly a blur. I am one of those super-dedicated baby book types who was never going to let Declan’s baby book get behind because that would mean I don’t love him as much and oh man, I haven’t documented his first or second birthday parties nor have I printed out the pictures from the first twelve months of his life, so that’s another special looming project. Amazingly, though his baby book is incomplete, I still do love him. Funny how things work out like that. 😉

For now though, we can focus just on this half-year. The one just passed, the one that I forgot to tell the story of. But what would I write? I would write about this half-year being one of sleep-deprivation and education, moments of laughter and bliss in our happy little white house and moments of exhaustion and tension and lots of saying sorry sometimes when I’m grumpy. Also, moments of dancing and playing and taking these wild days as they come.

So anyway, all these things in half a year…….

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1. I still love Declan even though I haven’t been working on his baby book. 😉 Also, I am enormously thankful for the opportunity that Instagram affords me to snap sweet photos of our days together and save them. Whether the days are mundane, messy, or magical, I can (and do) Instagram the heck out of them. I will always cherish these moments captured. I look at the moments past & wonder just exactly how that day felt, and I am so glad to have the photos to remember these preciously exciting, amazing, chaotic, hilarious, mind-numbing days by.

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2. Bella started ballet & we haven’t decided yet whether she likes the ballet or the “girl time” more. Girl time means indulging in her faves (like a hamburger and a frosty) after she’s worked up a little ballerina appetite. I think she makes a pretty little ballerina.

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3. She also turned FOUR YEARS OLD in September, and even though I can’t believe it, I am loving getting to know her more. She has such an incredibly spunky, sassy, strong-willed personality, but she is also just as sweet as can be. I am so thankful for the privilege of being her Mama! Look at that sass. 😉

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4. We played in lots of leaves, and Declan had a blast just laying in them and looking up at the sky. Bella had a blast throwing them in everyone’s faces. So, excitement as usual. 😉

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5. And lots of SNOW!!!!! The first day of the snow, the kids wore socks on their hands and trash bags on their feet, but we were adequately prepared for this day before the snow melted & they got to play outside, build a snowman & a snow bunny, and play on the day the snow melted.

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6. This big boy turned TWO & celebrated Elmo-style! He is hysterical and snuggly and sweet and sometimes vicious. He is starting to talk more, loves to play dress-up with his sister and wear lots of jewelry sometimes. He has also been caught pulling his sister around the house by her hair and must have his fingers pried off of her. Overall, he’s cute as a button and sweet as can be, and even though I thought I never ever wanted to have a little boy because I didn’t know what I would do with one, I would definitely be missing out if I had never had such a privilege.

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7. We have been working on preschool A LOT this year. I hope that I never ever ever make homeschooling look glamorous because it has been especially challenging for me! There are so many days I have questioned whether or not I am an adequate teacher for these sweet ones. I am thankful for Blake’s encouragement during this time to really consider what is most important to me, and I am being stretched in many areas as I seek to make homeschooling a success. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, and it is seeping into many areas of my life as I try to apply more discipline to my life as a teacher around here. {I hope to post more about this soon.}

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8. I have also been working on A LOT of school. At the end of 3 years of school, I am finally in my last semester! In about 10 weeks, I will be finished and will be ready to graduate with my AA in Education. Although I have spent many late nights prying my eyes back open and drinking lots of Coke, I am so thankful that I made the decision to do this. I have learned to be less perfectionistic & slightly more disciplined. Mostly because I still procrastinate like crazy & have a week’s worth of school to do on Monday nights sometimes. It feels good to do hard things. Especially when they are over. I made the choice to go back to school while my little Declan bump was growing, and I calculated that I would be finished by the time that I started homeschooling Bella. It’s so amazing to see dreams coming true.

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9. So during the day, we toast to ourselves a lot because we’re awesome & we work hard & it makes us feel fancy to drink Sprite out of wine glasses if we haven’t gotten dressed in a couple of days. And by we I mean me because Bella takes getting dressed every day very seriously because she is soooo style. I just love the precious things they do. I love hearing Declan hold up his sippy cup and say, “Cheers!” It’s just fun teaching them the serious things & the silly things. Little things like this bring my heart great joy! Pictures like this are the ones I am so glad to have.

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10. We’ve also been traveling, and I love how well these two travel! In November, we drove to Tennessee for a vacation with Blake’s family in Gatlinburg, and the kids did wonderfully in the car & we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery! In December, we drove to Cincinnati to stay with my dad on the way to Delaware, and the kids did well for the car ride there. Our trek to Delaware lasted two more days because we took the scenic route through beautiful Kentucky, West Virginia & Maryland to get there. They travel so well & I love that they have seen so many places! This was when we were about to board the plane back to Oklahoma from Baltimore last month. I’m so proud of how well they do traveling! Even though it is a very long & sweaty day for me typically.

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11. One of my favorite things that has happened in this half-year is celebrating SEVEN YEARS with this guy! We have certainly had times where we didn’t think we would be able to stick it out that long, and we probably have days now where we wonder what we were thinking. Mostly days where Blake wonders what he was thinking. 😉 But, I am so thankful for this friendship. I love marriage because we promise to never give up on each other, and he meant it. And, I think that’s just what we all need sometimes — someone who just isn’t going to give up on us. I am so very thankful.

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12. One of the most significant things that this half-year has brought is my opportunity to work with Noonday Collection. It has been my goal for several years to have a source of income by the time that I graduate from school so that I can pay back my loans, and now not only is Noonday giving me the opportunity to pay back my loans, but I am also giving other women the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty all around the world. I love being an advocate for these amazing artisans, their families, and their children. I love teaching women that there are more ethical ways to shop. And, I love getting to show off these gorgeous handmade accessories for the world to see!! I have always been intimidated to handle all of the facets of a business, and it is empowering to me to be able to successfully run a business that makes a global difference.

It’s incredible to look back to see what has changed, how we have grown, even in just a half-year. Sometimes we forget to update the baby book, but we are making a better life for the baby. Sometimes we forget to blog, but we are writing lessons on our kids’ hearts & also experiencing incredible real-life stories.  Sometimes, when we forget to document what is happening, we stop and look back & realize just how far we have come. Time flies when we are having fun!

Thank you all so much for your friendship & support in every adventure of our family’s life!

Love you dearly, Jen

Fair Trade: What’s the Big Deal?

Late last summer, I remember Blake discussing with me the difficulty he was having in purchasing a new pair of shoes or t-shirt or anything, and how he had been looking into these “fair trade” websites and they had cool clothes and stuff but they were kind of more expensive.

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Who has time for fair trade?!
{summer 2012}

To which I replied in my mind, Oh Lord, here comes another issue that is going to continually make me feel guilty because if I buy a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, I am going to be ruining someone else’s life….for a t-shirt or a pair of shoes. And I told Blake to stop talking about it because I had a baby and a toddler and college and I just wasn’t in any state to think about that mentally or emotionally.  Not to mention, financially.  I was in no state to have to PAY MORE for something. Please, no.  It seemed like this big thing, this big problem that I needed to solve or humongous change I needed to make.  And I didn’t think I could do anything about it so I asked him to please stop talking.

I plugged my ears and did that annoying “la la la la la la la la” thing.

Not really, but you know what I mean.

Fast forward to September when I took the survey over at Slavery Footprint and found out that even with an income below the national average, our household probably employs around 70 slaves. We keep 70 slaves working for less than what their labor is worth, and I guess that makes sense because we have just enough to live and they don’t have enough to live.  Thus, slaves. 

Child slaves harvesting cocoa for all of our chocolate needs in Africa.

Women in India working in garment and jewelry factories attempting to repay debts that can never be repaid; also, working under tremendous pressure to meet the insane demands of the western world.

From bananas to flowers, soccer balls to electronics, bricks to shrimp, so many of the products that we consume each day have been produced by slaves.

So when I realized how many people’s misfortune I was contributing to, in my own little house with my own little kids and my own little life, I decided to unplug my ears. 

Because the big deal about fair trade is simply this: people. 

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Emebet, an Ethiopian jewelry-maker for Noonday Collection

We must care about people more than we care about things.

Fair trade refers to workers being fairly compensated for their labor. The reason we can buy so many items so cheaply is because many people worldwide are working for free (or way too little) to make them.

Each time I choose to purchase something now, I consider whether it is helping someone or hurting them. I hope that together we can choose to honor the work of artisans who are treated ethically, and help to grow their businesses.

At the same time, let’s continue to advocate for those who are treated poorly.

By putting our money where our mouth is, or where our heart is, we can make a difference in the world.  By choosing people over things, we can make a better world for the people in it. 

That’s the big deal! 

Love you dearly,

Jen

The Really Amazing Super Awesome Exciting News

Hey, sweet friends! 

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So, first of all, you may have noticed the blog is different. So, welcome! It’s been awhile & I have been dreaming of changing the space around a little bit and moving over to WordPress, so I’ve been working hard for a little while to do that. The new blog name Hairflowers & Heartsongs is just a representation of the happy, the handmade, the heartfelt things that have been stirring me and moving me for awhile now. After blogging mostly about motherhood for awhile, I wanted to create a climate here where we could talk about love, beauty, and creating a fair life for individuals around the world.

Maybe you remember the journey that I embarked upon last October, 31 Days Mindful of Slaves. It has been a delight to me to share what I have learned with you, my dear friends & family. Also, I have not been able to forget about the stories that I heard, the fair trade  products I was inspired to purchase, and the lifestyle that I have been encouraged to live as a result of that series.

Hopefully, you aren’t skipping straight to this part to read the really amazing super awesome exciting news!

You wouldn’t do that, would you?! 

Well, here it is!

I have recently learned of an amazing company called Noonday Collection, an amazing company that was birthed to support adoptive families & to give artisans overseas an opportunity to earn stable incomes, making them less likely to abandon their children.

Noonday’s artisans are these amazing strong, resilient women who are now given this opportunity to create something beautiful and be treated and compensated fairly! You should read their stories. 

I love sharing these amazing stories, and I love sharing fair trade products.  When we purchase products that are made by slaves or unethical conditions, we create a larger demand for these products.  However, when we purchase beautiful, quality, handcrafted items made by artisans whom we know are treated with dignity, we help them tremendously by creating a market for what they have created.

This is my passion!

So, I have this opportunity to be a Noonday Ambassador, to share the stories, the beautiful fair trade products, and to make a difference in lives around the world!!!! I am overjoyed. I’ve been losing sleep over this. It is possible to make a difference in the world & when we do the things that make us come fully alive, we are able to benefit the lives of others incredibly.

Soon, I will have tons of Noonday goodies to share with you!  I will have lots of beautiful fair trade items to include in my selfies 😉 and I would be delighted if you would read these stories & check out the products!

I will let you know when my personal Noonday site is up and running.

In the meantime, if you know of someone who is interested in holding an adoption fundraiser, or if you want to spread awareness at your own church or even in your home, I would love to come and share the stories there too & to give you an opportunity to support these beautiful women.

It’s one thing to buy something pretty just because it’s pretty; it is quite another thing altogether to know that you are making it possible for a woman to keep her children and that you are affording her this opportunity for creativity and a fair life.

After months of often agonizing after a purchase because I do not know whether or not an item was produced fairly, I am ecstatic to inspire others to purchase consciously & to continue to find inspiration myself.

I’m more excited than words can express, and I hope you will join me on this journey! 🙂 

Love you dearly,

Jen

To the Mama Elbow-Deep in Guilt & Bubbles,

Hey there, Mama! Elbow-deep in bubbles scrubbing dinner off the dishes, elbow-deep in that guilt we so often mistake for a friend. I saw you there, scrubbing the dishes, scouring yourself for not being Wonder Woman, and I just wanted to say hey. 

But now that I’ve said hey, there are a few more things I want to say.  Mind if I do? 


I saw you today when you rolled out of bed, lined up the clothes, changed the diapers, carefully selected a favorite cartoon, and made everyone’s favorite breakfast. I saw the way you carefully applied the Butt Paste, held the wiggly legs down, and smiled through the torturous yelling all for the sake of a single diaper change.


Mama, you are awesome. 

I saw you today carrying a basket of laundry higher than your head, saw you carefully tuck the sleeves under, fold the pant legs one over the other, and match a rainbow of socks.  I saw you stop to teach her once again how to turn the shirts right-side-out, saw her stand beside you imitating who you are because she thinks you are awesome.


And, can I be honest? You are awesome. 

I saw you today when you picked up your phone to check your texts & your Facebook & your blog & who-knows-what-else-you-do-with-that-thing. And I saw you take a deep breath to be sitting for a moment taking a break and then the little one bit the dust or the carpet or his sister or whatever because you know he’s always biting something. And I saw you put your phone down real fast with that ugh I just wanted to take a breeeak look.  And then I saw you put it up on the shelf and forget about you for awhile longer so you could tend to the drama & the biting & so forth.


Seriously. You’re awesome. 

I saw you today when you had just barely finished cleaning up breakfast and you started fixing lunch and the dishes were already piling in the sink and you tried to scrounge up something that would be healthy and edible for all ages.  I saw you chop up bananas and hot dogs, toast popping out of the toaster, saw you running to keep up with the hundred thousand requests they make.  I heard you say it again: remember, I am only one person. 


And though you may be only one, you are a REALLY great person. 


I saw you lay beside them, nursing the baby, falling asleep even though you had soooo many things you wanted to do during nap time.  I saw you as the afternoon sun rose through the window and you snoozed the moments away with your arms around your babies, and I could not believe such beauty was possible.  The love of a mom for her babies in all moments of the day, even the stillest little times. The way they leaned into you, clasped their little fingers around your neck.  The way they love you, they know you love them.


You are amazing. 

I saw you finish out the day like a marathon, making dinner, cleaning up the applesauce he smacked in the floor, switching over the laundry, messing on your phone, snuggling on the chair with them watching movies, even sometimes answering questions without ever listening because your brain is fried from answering so many questions all day.  I saw the confusion on your face when you just told her that sure, she could watch three more movies before dinner time, but wait, dinner time is now.  I saw you raise your voice a few times, then ask for forgiveness when the little tears welled up.  I saw you teach your kids that even though you aren’t perfect & they aren’t, love is what you do when you make mistakes and then fix them.


Are you sure you aren’t Wonder Woman? 

So then I saw you elbow-deep in the bath bubbles, the dish bubbles, and the bubbles of your thoughts swirling around giving you things to regret about the day.  The nap you took when you shouldn’t have, the harsh words that you wish you could take back, the moments you were messing with your phone, and the time that you think you could have spent better.  We watched too much tv, never cracked a book, forgot to play outside, never ate a vegetable and never even ate one yesterday either, the bubbles rising up, the guilt threatening to wash over you.


But before you let them, Mama elbow-deep in guilt & bubbles, I just wanted to tell you that I saw you today, and you are amazing. And if you had my perspective, you could see that too. So this is my gift to you, this perspective. Look at the details you tend to so carefully, the small ways you express love, the ways you teach about real life not unattainable perfection. Before you let the guilt rise, just stick your hands back in and rinse it off.  

Because Mama, you are amazing. 


Love you dearly,

Jen

I’ve linked this post up this week @ The Better Mom blog. If you are stopping by from there, welcome.  I hope you realize how precious you are, Mama. 

Where I’ve Been & Where I’m Going

Hello, friends!

I couldn’t stay away any longer. I never expected to be away for so long, and I have missed this place very much. Lately, I have had new ideas swirling, new stories to tell, and beauty to share. I am finding beauty & meaning in each of the days, and I am so thankful that I am living here in this tiny little corner of the earth.

In the last few months I’ve embarked on adventures:

  • a plane trip [and back] to Delaware with my sweet babes [and without Blake!] I may or may not be Wonder Woman! 😉 
  • teaching Bella letters & learning to be a good teacher to her; this is a daily challenge & a joy! 
  • seeing Declan take his first steps and now he can almost keep up with his sister and they are quite the Dynamic Duo, those two. 
  • taking Algebra, Philosophy & Philosophy of Education classes at the same time while attempting to keep up with the pace of the little energetic ones..
  • going out of town for the day with Blake for the first time since Declan was born 14 long months ago. It was glorious: Panera, Target, the Air & Space Museum and Planetarium, and Whole Foods. These are a few of our favorite things. 
And in my mind I have been dreaming big dreams & trying to make sense: 
  • of faith; exactly what I believe and why I do, and 
  • what is the meaning of life? I think it is Love. 
  • if everything else fell away, what would still be important? 
  • what is it that makes life meaningful? 
  • how can I be present? 
  • how can I make this life count? 

I have big dreams bursting the seams of my heart, hopes to use my little voice to improve life for others. So often, I have found myself asking so many questions but only for me. What do I need to do differently to improve my own life? What can I gain? 


And so I’m thinking I’ll lay down my life in the typing, the caring, the advocating, the memory-making, the dancing like a princess in her bedroom and kissing his sweet little nose, the devotion of friendship to my love, the small habits changed that improve the lives of others everywhere. 

I’m just doing a bit of re-evaluating here, and it is quite an exciting time, but I am also a little short on words. What I know may be less than what I thought, and I am just trying to figure that out a bit. I love you all and have missed this place, and I hope that you have all been finding little graces in your common places.

This life is such a mystery and a gift. I am thankful for this time to pursue both the mystery and the gift. I am thankful for God in whom I believe everything has its being, the one who holds it all together.  My heart’s desire is to continue working diligently to accomplish his purposes here — namely, to love. For we can have many things and not have love and be found with nothing at all.

I think that’s where I’m going.
Love you all dearly,
Jen










In Which I Make a Confession

Undoubtedly, after watching any amount of news over the last couple of days, we all begin reflecting on the blessing of having our children, and we have been hugging them more intentionally and meaningfully. As I went to feed my boy-child this evening who still wakes up every three hours to nurse, I lay on the bed again just watching them breathe. Looking at Bella’s little lips, the fiber optic flashing of the Christmas tree tinting the room red then green then blue and again, and again. Her little chest rising and falling, and again and again. Declan grabbing on to my hand and letting go, and again and again. 


And I remembered for a moment the simplicity of motherhood. Remembered it deep in my heart, not the surface where this role of “mom” is all about what it looks like: how it looks like we are taking care of our babies, how we feel when we look back over the day, or any other perception we (or others) may have of our performance. 

In the same swift move, I believe that we can both over complicate and reduce motherhood to a mere job in which we perform certain duties and tasks,whether we find them to be joyous or painstaking.  We can reduce our work to laundry and dishes, picking up toys and Cheerios and trying for the love of anyone who might come knocking on our door to keep the floor somehow visible.  On the other hand, we may do the same by making this job a creative work in which we strive to create the most educational, artistic, playful, or perfect atmosphere for our children.  I can base my success in motherhood on what kind of craft we made today, if I am not careful.  

This overly complicated reduction of motherhood to a list of duties or tasks to complete, be they fun-filled or painful to maintain. 

When we try to be super mommies, we make it all about us. 

And that’s my confession: 

I’m not a “super mommy”, and in spite of the pressure I sometimes feel, I don’t want to be. 

In the times like this when we are overcome with thanksgiving for just this day that we have right here and now, we remember the simplicity. My role as a mommy is to remain present, not just to schedule activities, and the greatest role I have is to care for these little hearts. Even before I attend to the schedule, I must tend the precious hearts. 

Through attentiveness.  Listening to what is important to them, understanding, noticing even the littlest things that may make their lives better, be it a word of encouragement or affirmation, someone to read the book they have asked to read a hundred thousand times in the last two minutes, or a gigantic bear hug.  

It’s not the things that we see at the end of the day, completed crafts, toys strewn about, or even the toys picked up, that affirms us as mothers.  It’s nothing that we could take a picture of to remember or  capture on video, though I know that if you are like me, you are your family’s personal paparazzi.  It’s these unseen little moments that we may not remember, but they are captured in our little ones’ hearts forever, the moments we spend one-on-one time, speak a kind word rather than a harsh word because we are not so hasty to teach them a lesson, get out the door, or be right. 

We just listen tenderly, share gently, love powerfully, and give sacrificially to our little ones in these remarkable unseen ways.  And we delight in this because this is the hard work of putting love first, putting people first.  

And we don’t even need a cape to do this important, quiet work.
The heart of a Mama is a precious commodity 
YOU are a precious part of your child’s life. No need to be “super”. 
{I’m telling me there, too.} 

Love you dearly, 
Jen

What I Often Take For Granted

In light of today’s devastating school shooting in Connecticut, I lay thinking and considering all of the possibilities of life, as I scratched and patted my babies to sleep tonight.

There are some of these things each day that I take for granted, like the fact that I will get to scratch and pat them tonight.

That I will see their delicate silhouettes in the dim nightlight, that when they climb into bed with me their little knees and elbows will jab, and they will wake me up at the crack of dawn and I will say whyyyy must you always wake up so early?

These sweet privileges of life each day.

And each day is a gift, one after another given. But, we can’t just assume that we’ll get 365 more in the next year or that we will live all of the days that fill up at least seventy-something years if we are lucky in this day and age. Or that those around us will.

We want this assurance that we are invincible, that our children will always be protected perfectly, that this life will be perfect, that we will always get to pat and scratch our babies, and that this pain does not exist.

But, it just isn’t so, and we are all grieving with the sweet mamas and daddies who know for sure tonight that it just isn’t so. 

So what is the point, then, with the pain and the babies who aren’t in their beds? And doesn’t that just make you mad that they aren’t in their beds tonight and their mommies and daddies didn’t scratch or pat them, get them a glass of water, read another story, or sit around the table? The pain of that wrings us out, even us hundreds and hundreds of miles away, because that is an insurmountable loss.



And what about this mama and her 20-year-old boy both lifeless tonight? For what? What pain seared this man so deep, what sickness spread causing such horrendous fatality, igniting such evil?

I can’t imagine if that was my own baby boy in such a hopeless mental state. 

And as we wrapped our own babies in our arms this evening, holding on tighter, snuggling longer, thanking God for these beautiful babies home with us, what was it that we were thinking?

Relief that it wasn’t them.

Grief for those poor babies & their shattered families.

Resolve to remember what we often take for granted.

And, with all of this grief in the world, all I know for sure is I can make this choice not to take it for granted, this life with my own loved ones.  I can scratch and pat a little longer, loving every day the way that I do in the wake of such a tragedy, loving the way some mamas and daddies wish they had one more chance to.

And not only the babies.

But the dear people walking all around me every day who have been touched by such pain in a way that I have never seen. The ones with evil ready to explode from the inside, the ones who have been damaged unspeakably by the awfulness of life sometimes, and the ones who have experienced the crushing agony of loss.

My hands, feet, words, and life are able to serve, love, and give in this remarkable way. And, in addition to many precious moments that I so often take for granted in my life, I also take this remarkable ability that I have as this mere human woman to restore life and beauty around me.

As we mourn with these families, may we see the families around us that need our love just the same and not take for granted the ability to love people every day: people who hurt so deeply they want to shoot up a school, people who have lost precious babies and are themselves lost in a world of grief, people who are just worn out. They are everywhere, victims of personal tragedy.

And in this moment of grief, may we bow down to serve, love, and give our lives. May we never take an opportunity to love for granted.

It gives me tremendous hope that I have this gift of life to give in love, however many days. 

Love you all so dearly,
Jen

Dignity Restored {Guest Post by Melissa Terranova of Tukula}

When Jen asked me to guest blog for her 31 Days Mindful of Slaves, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. When I finally sat down to write it I was overwhelmed and looked at a blank page for days. I was overwhelmed because there are so many things to be said about Modern Day Slavery I didn’t know where to start. I typed out in big bold letters SLAVERY and I let it roll around in my head and my heart for awhile. And this is what came out:

 “…there is neither slave nor free… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

My husband and I own a fair trade company called Tukula.
Tukula is a cause-driven business invested in giving local Ugandan artisans an opportunity to grow above poverty. We do this by giving our artisans an above average wage for quality handmade products, an encouraging work environment, medical care and access to savings programs. They are then able to provide themselves and their families with homes, food, education, and hope for the future. Through working with Tukula, these ladies are gaining confidence, joy, and the opportunity to empower others.


One of the ladies we work with is called Sally. I remember when we first met Sally like it was yesterday. I saw nothing but teeth as she nervously giggled when I greeted her. She was days away from dropping out of sewing school due to lack of fees and returning to her home to work in the fields. When I would ask her a question she would still nervously giggle and quietly respond with her eyes always on the floor.  Even though she was smiling you could tell her heart was heavy. She longed to help her parents by providing her siblings with money for school. We decided to sign her up to be a part of our paid internship program. Sally far exceeded our expectations and is now the Manager at our Jinja workshop. She sends money home to her family every month as well as puts money aside in her savings.


During my recent trip to Jinja I would often sit in the workshop and help cut fabric or count bags and watched as people would come in and Sally would loudly say “You are welcome!” and shake their hands or give familiar faces hugs. One day while we were reminiscing about her joining Tukula I commented on how much more she talks and she said (looking at me straight in the eyes):

Auntie, I never use to hug people or even talk so much until I met you and Uncle Joe. You have taught me to talk and hug everyone.”


My heart exploded and I couldn’t help but feel this overwhelming sense thatdignity had been restored to Sally. Joy and confidence flow out of her as she walks through life now.

See, the day we gave Sally the opportunity to do something more than work in the fields she was able to make a choice. That’s the thing with victims of poverty and modern day slavery: they usually don’t have any other choice. They carry heavy burdens and so desperately desire to love their families well that they would do anything. 

* * * 

I am so grateful to Melissa for sharing here & for all that she and Joe are doing to love these sweet women well in order that they may love their families well. Thank you so much, Melissa & Joe, for giving Sally a chance and helping to restore her dignity. 

I encourage you to visit Tukula’s website & purchase one of their lovely products! 🙂 

Love you dearly, 
Jen

Another Kind of Slavery: Sex Trafficking

After sharing for the greater part of the month about enslaved individuals working to produce our food, technological devices, and even soap, I want to take a few days to share about another very serious form of slavery that it destroying lives day-by-day.

We have caught a glimpse from the popular 2009 film, Taken. We may have heard a story or two on the news, from a friend, or even seen a presentation at church. Many of us have at least heard the horrors of sex trafficking, but it seems so distant, difficult to understand, and out of our reach.

image from Beauty From Ashes Ministries,
click to visit

As with all of the other information I have shared with you thus far, I am learning alongside you. According to the FBI, human sex trafficking is the most common form of modern-day slavery. Although we may believe that sex trafficking only takes place far away in Europe, Asia, or Africa, many young women (and sometimes men) are trafficked forcefully and against their own desires even here.

Many people are trafficked from less developed areas into more developed areas, but there is an epidemic of American young people being trafficked. Often, the victims are already without a permanent home or family and leading very difficult lives. They are promised something better only to find something worse. Typically, girls are first trafficked between the ages of 12-14, and boys & transgender youth enter the trafficking system between 11-13.

Not only is trafficking a flourishing business; it is a rapidly growing form of organized crime. Victims are often locked up, raped repeatedly, and controlled excessively. Often, the victim and trafficker form a bond as a result of the excessive amount of control; sex trafficking victims are often brainwashed to believe that there is nothing left for them outside of the life that they live day-to-day.

Sex trafficking happens very often, often close to home.

{Most of the statistics I have shared here have come from the same FBI resource I have linked to above.}

For the next several days, I will be sharing more about this & what we can do to be mindful of victims of human sex trafficking and make a difference in their lives.

Because awareness helps us to understand, here is a helpful list of facts about slavery from International Crisis Aid

Some of the most startling pieces of information I received there: 

  1. 1.2 million children are being trafficked every year; this is in addition to the millions already being held captive by trafficking. 
  2. The average age of a trafficked victim is 12-14 years. 
  3. UNICEF reports approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.
Finally, because faces help us to see that this is not just a faraway problem, I wanted to share this video with you of a girl named Angie who was trafficked not too far away from me. 
Here are a few other resources to check out in the meantime. We will most likely revisit them over the course of the week. 

I hope we can discover some ways to be on the lookout for victims & to support men, women, and children who have been rescued from human sex trafficking. 
Thank you so much for sharing in this journey with me. I sincerely hope that we can be courageous and committed to make whatever difference we can. 
Love you dearly,
Jen