Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My "Giving Key" Story

My friend Natalie introduced me to my first “giving key” but only because I saw a key around her neck with the word “believe” engraved on it.  I got home and I googled it because I liked it and that’s where the love affair began.  These are re purposed keys that have a word engraved on them.. everything from Believe, Inspire, Create, Love, Hope, Faith, Breathe, Dream, Courage, Strength, Brave.. you get the idea. You wear the key until you either are done with your word or you feel that someone else needs your word more than you do.  Cool, right? 

I had recently gone to a women’s conference in Dallas with a friend of mine and I had heard a speaker talk about having a “word of the year” that you focus on.  I had decided that my word was either faith or surrender.  Due to lots of circumstances and a year of personal growth, I had been praying on if faith led to surrender or surrender was the ultimate display of faith but when I saw that one of the keys already had faith engraved on it, I had my word. 

I went on a little buying spree, inspired to carry it forward to just a few of these amazing women that have changed my life in so many ways.  I could go on and on about the women and the keys that have spoken to me for them but that may be a tale for another time.  Suffice it to say that I have bought 11 keys so far and seeing the way that it’s working will probably push me to buy even more.  However, this is a story about my very special key. 

I lost my big sister to alcoholism six years ago.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and miss her.  13 years ago, I saw her stunningly beautiful daughter born.  This child, my goddaughter was born with a heart as big and unique as her mama’s and instantly knew she was destined to do great things.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to watch her grow into this lovely creature from a distance as she lives with her amazing dad and step mom in Maryland and I live in Texas.  We are lucky enough to get to spend time with her every summer though and we treasure that time we get to spend with her.   

Last Thursday, I got to go have dinner with her all by myself which is a rarity when there are so many that want to spend time with her.  It was such a special time with just us and I got a chance to listen to her and get to know her, be in her presence and feel her heart.  We got to talking about names for her future children (which is something her mama used to do), and she told me her daughter’s name would be Michelle Marie after both of her mom’s middle names.  This touched me and I told her so…  and all of a sudden her eyes welled up with tears and it hit me.  I looked at her and said…  “you don’t remember her, do you?”  She nodded through tear filled eyes and said no.  I quickly went over to her side of the booth, hugged her and asked if she felt guilty about that and she nodded again.  By this time, we were both crying and I reassured her that there was nothing to feel guilty about.  It has been six years and she was only seven at the time.  She remembers some things but not her smell or the way she sounded.  She remembered stories but didn’t remember what her arms felt like. 

After thinking about it some more, crying about it some more and praying on it.  I realized that I need to help her remember the amazing woman her mother was.  Help her know that her mom always said that she was the best thing that she had ever done.  I am the closest thing to my sister and it’s my  honor to help her know the mama who loved her so much.  I went to bed with this new resolve on my mind and in my heart. 

I woke up the next day and went about my morning… starting with an early workout, back home, shower, hair and was putting on my makeup.  All of a sudden, I heard in my head that I needed to give my "faith" key to Emilie.  I always knew that I would pay it forward, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be so soon after I got my first key.  Honestly, I was a bit bratty when I realized this and tried to bargain that I’d buy her a new faith key.  I wasn’t ready to give up my faith key.  I still needed faith.  Then I heard in my head again…  no!  You need to give Emilie YOUR faith key. 

My eyes welled up with tears and I fell to my knees sobbing.  I always listen to Pandora while getting ready and all of a sudden, “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me came on.  This was Kristin’s favorite song and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had to do what I was instructed to do.  What is even stranger is that it played a second time on Pandora as if to bring the point home.  Not only God, but my sister too was telling me to take care of her baby girl. 

Emilie was leaving to go back home that afternoon…  so I took the opportunity to tell her this story.  I took her hands in mine,  looked into her eyes and I paid forward my faith key.  I told her that whenever she needed to feel her mom to hold that key, feel its strength, rub its word and know without a shadow of a doubt that she is loved immeasurably and that her mom is always near.  I also told her that she had to pay it forward when the time was right and she felt so led. 

Finally, I was telling my first giving key recipient of this story and she texted me an hour later and said that “brave” was on its way to me.  That by sending it to me, she was brave.  By giving Emilie faith, I had faith. 

I love these keys for so many reasons.  They almost always start a conversation which then goes into paying it forward, which is always good.  In addition, they are always given with love and for a very specific reason.  These keys make a difference and I am so grateful for the gift it enabled me to share with my precious niece and goddaughter.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Love is a risk - that's never a risk

I remember a wise woman once telling me that it takes thirty days to make a behavior and thirty days to break a behavior.  Gigi Dellaire... I don't know if she remembers saying that and if she does remember...  that she helped mold my management style through that one sentence.

I've adopted this in my every day life too when it's something I want to add into my routine and most recently it's waking up a bit earlier and reading a few devotionals each morning.  I committed to reading these each morning and it starts my day out right.  It starts my day with a grateful and loving heart.  It often gives practical advice that sets my day on the intended path.  Each morning a few things jump out at me and I copy them into my notes.

Thursday morning, I was reading the devotional that is emailed to me each morning and it usually has a variety of authors.  Thursday morning's author was Ann Voskamp and it was an excerpt from her book "The Broken Way..."

The whole reading was about love and how even when we get hurt, what we gain from loving another is far more abundant than the loss or pain or void left when that person is no longer in our lives for whatever the reason.

Several things jumped out at me and kept biting at my heart...

"I am what I love and I will love you like Jesus, because of Jesus, through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I’m not loved back. I will love when I’m hurt and disappointed and betrayed and inconvenienced and rejected. I simply will love, no expectations, no conditions, no demands. Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone."

"What matters most is not if our love makes other people change, but that in loving, we change. "

As a single mama who has dated... it's often risky to put yourself back out there on the dating scene.  All of the doubts that go running through your mind and your heart.  And after a few hurts you begin to doubt whether you want to do it all again.  I mean shoot... you thought when you got married it was forever and look at how well that turned out.  

But that is the devil whispering in your ear telling you that you're never going to be enough.  You're never going to find the one that makes your heart sing ...  the one that you WANT in your life not that you HAVE to have in your life.  No, that kind of sustaining love is for other people.  The ones that God must love more than He loves you.  

This isn't something that is whispered all the time.  Noooooo..  because you finally decide to get back "out there" and do it again.  You might start talking to someone and make plans to go out.   You go out and either its meh..  like a warm dishrag or there are sparks or maybe somewhere in between and it's worth investigating further.  Every once in a blue moon you might even have a spark that blows you away.  The kind that fairy tales are written about, but those are extremely rare and precious.  They don't always work out but when THAT happens, you treasure the time you DO get.  Any way you slice it though, it involves being vulnerable and trusting enough to even try again.  

It's the passages above though that keep ME going.  I can't speak for everyone else but at least for me.. I am a hopeless romantic and I honestly believe that God has a plan for the person he wants me to be with.  It might be someone who has already traveled into my life and it might be someone that I have never met yet.  It might be the man I cross path's with at Kroger and it might be someone driving down my street that never notices me until ...  well until he does.  

The cool thing is that I learn from each and every one of these relationships.  The heartbreaks, the laughter, the communication, the things I want to continue and the things I need to NEVER do again.  Now, I do see the world through my baggage but I also understand that I am carrying that big ole suitcase of fun and it doesn't dictate the type of relationships I enter into.  It only gives me information on what things need to be looked at as a red flag and which ones I can overlook.  

I guess what I am saying is that we all have to get  back up and try again.  We need to love people unconditionally and not because of what they can give us or because they are "safe" or "what we are used to" but rather for WHO they are.  People in our lives make sacrifices to love us and we make sacrifices to love them.  It's hard to not have expectations though.  It's almost as hard as surrendering to God's plan and knowing that He's working for the better of all.  If we can get out of our own way and stop trying to control things then God can do his work in our lives.  Damn you FREE WILL!   

Thirty days to make a behavior and thirty days to break a behavior.  So I choose to work on loving unconditionally and  without demands each and every day.  I will choose love and I will change for the better because of it each day.  I will choose to be vulnerable because when I am, the risk is not really a risk at all. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016... it was a year of spiritual growth!

2016 was a good year.  In fact, it was a year of pretty profound personal growth for me.  It all started at the end of 2015, last Christmas Eve, when I went to church with Liz.   I hadn't been to church since Kristin died...this wasn't really a conscious thing, it just was.  There were a million excuses for not going...  I hadn't found a church that I wanted to go to in Houston, I was busy, I wanted to work out, I had the kids... there were just other things happening in my life and all were excuses.  Looking back upon it, I think that I was a bit in denial.  I didn't want to deal with her death and all that brought up.  I was dealing with Kristin's death as best as I could, the only way I knew how.... which was burying my head in the sand and moving forward.  

So, when Liz asked me if I wanted to go to First Baptist with her and her family for Christmas Eve, I thought about it and said yes.  I didn't have my kids last year for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and the thought of sitting around alone wasn't terribly appealing.  In fact, I was in a pretty low place in general because at the time, Jason was (from all appearances) pretty darn happy in his life and here I was still all alone.  (Can you hear the violins playing?)

I had been thinking about going back to church and this was the push that I needed.  Liz's ex husband, her aunt, her mom and of course, Liz all met over at her mom's house and we drove together, well in two cars.  I walked into all the Christmas decorations and the big pretty tree, loads of people all dressed up and members handing out the candles, Christmas carols being played and people milling around grouped in families, all visiting.  We found our seats and I looked around, took it all in and...  my heart sighed.  It was as if God reached down, hugged me and said.. "Hi!  Welcome home... I've missed you."

After church we went back to her neighbors house for Christmas Eve dinner.  I had a chance to meet more of her "family by choice" and the energy was soothing.  There was a comfort being wrapped in a family for the evening, even if it wasn't my own.  

After that I tried First Baptist a couple of other times and it was nice..  but I was still reaching for something.  Jason had old me about Bayou City Fellowship before, telling me how much I would love it, he just KNEW it.  I wanted nothing to do with the church that he and his fiance went to.  NO SIR!  "You don't know me!  You don't know what I like!"  (crosses arms and HUMPHS).  But when he and H broke up,  he asked me again to try it.  He assured me that I would love it and he said that way whomever had the kids, it wouldn't matter because they would always go to the same church.  So Mom and I agreed to try it.  We walked in (it's in a high school auditorium) and met up with Jason in the courtyard to have coffee.  The first thing that struck me was how young most of the people were.  Kids were running around, moms and dads were visiting, people were pouring HEB coffee and Christian rock was playing over some portable speakers.  We walked into the auditorium and the worship band was already playing, complete with drums, at least two guitarists, two singers and a keyboardist.  There was nothing boring about this church.  We stood and sang for a good 30 minutes when the Senior Pastor came up and welcomed everyone.  When Curtis, the head pastor came up, I was struck with the fact that this was not my boring Protestant church I grew up in.  Curtis was in jeans, Vans and a button down shirt.  He's bald, wears glasses and is not above throwing "jazz hands or West coast Hip Hop" into the sermon if it suits him and fits.  Everyone is so welcoming and they know who you are, which is something that is missing in these HUGE church's.  

We kept going back and as the month's went on, they started talking about "Overflow" which was a conference in June for women parenting alone.  Not  just divorced mama's but women with husbands that were deployed, women who were widowed, women who chose to do it alone and women who were forced to.  I had little interest in going.  In fact, I wasn't going to go.  You see, I am not a joiner.  I get others to join.  I.AM.NOT.A.JOINER DAMMIT!  Until... mom introduced me to Natalie one Sunday.  Natalie is this vivacious, bubbly, salt of the earth, welcoming soul that doesn't give you the opportunity to say no to her.  She oozes Jesus out of every pore yet doesn't ram it down your throat.  She started telling me about how when you walked into this conference you'll feel an immediate peace.  The white roses, the candles, the music, the decor all set the tone for the weekend.  However, the meat of the conference was in the speakers and the attendees.  She quite literally, didn't give me a choice of whether or not I wanted to go.  She may or may  not have had me at white roses and candlelight. I left, looked it up online and signed up and signed my kids up for childcare.  My mom even signed up (even though she isn't a woman parenting alone). 
 I... joined. 
As June approached, I started to get excited.  Liz agreed to come with me and so did Erica.  We walked in and there were refreshments and a bunch of tables with information on them.  We signed in and they gave us a book and an "overflow" pen.  We all wandered around and then went in and got our seats when the worship music began.  It's hard to describe the ambiance and the feel in the room.  It was welcoming and warm and peaceful and .....  charged.  It's hard to explain what the weekend meant to me but it was inspirational and in fact, life changing for me.  

The speakers were engaging, funny, real and even raw at times.  Lisa Harper spoke of adopting her Haitian daughter, Missy and how she would go and visit her in Haiti while the process was underway.  She relayed stories of learning to parent a 6 year old child when she had lost hope of becoming a mama.  She touched the women's hearts in the room because she "gets" it and the struggles we face day to day, because she lives it.  It was the fastest two hours I've experienced.  I walked out of there bouncing with each step already excited for the next day and honestly, a little sad that it was over. 

The next day was breakfast, Lisa Harper spoke again and turned the stories of the bible into modern day experiences that you and I encounter every day (for example, Jesus at Chick fil a at the mall welcoming all of the children into His arms while Peter is trying play gatekeeper).  

I went to a breakout session on how to raise courageous children...  Christa told us that we need to allow our children to try things.  There are three levels of danger in her house...  Tell them to pick their battles, make the fight FOR someone else and then teach them to take the consequences for their actions.  I went to another on how to combat loneliness by dating Jesus rather than serial dating.  Melissa went so far as to tell us to get out of our jammies, into some real clothes and go OUT on a date with Jesus.  Melissa was raw and funny and easy to relate to.  It was such a great weekend.  It helped me re-focus on what's important.  I need to be the best ME I can be... not only for my kids but for myself too.  I needed to get back to the basics, work on the foundation, the very core, of what makes Jess...  well Jess.   

I go back to the blog post I posted ages ago about being authentic.  I think one of MY bigger challenges is being a people pleaser while still being true to who I am and what's important to me.  This year has taught me so many things, but among them, the importance of speaking up when something bothers or hurts me.  This may sound so trite and common sense...  but when you don't say what is bothering you to someone you care about, you take away their ability to fix it (or choose to get out). Essentially, you end up playing God.  In trying to "protect" them from hurting them, you control the outcome and the only one it hurts is you. 

This year has taught me that I have to embrace my feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly.  When I am sad, BE sad.  When I am mad, BE mad.  When I am happy and joyful, live in THAT moment.  Sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes life as a single mom (even one who has a helpful ex that does half) is hard.  Often times it's lonely.  And not lonely like need company lonely...  as I always have people to be around (I am so so blessed).  But rather someone to share your life with (those same good bads and ugly's).  

I know that I am far stronger and far smarter than I was when I was married (sorry Jason).   I will be a far better partner and companion going forward if I am blessed in that regard.  And if I'm not, then that is okay too.  I don't need a partner...  I just would like someone to grow old with, travel with and share with.  
I am a better mother and co-parent.  I think about where I was a year ago in so many things... but one of them is with my ex.  He and I were at odds a year ago and throughout his own personal growth this year, I told him that I wanted nothing more than for him to find a woman that was good to him, good to my kids and that I could get along with.  Throughout the course of 2016...  he has found it and I couldn't be happier.  His girlfriend is beautiful (inside and out) and she has two wonderful kids and she loves MY kids.  I couldn't ask for more. 

I still have much to learn and thank goodness, and God willing, the time to do so.  I never want to stop learning and growing and becoming a better person.  2016 WAS filled with it's share of ups and downs and the downs were tough.  I have learned that it is in those valleys is when God is doing His greatest work.  In one of my devotionals, I read "In the middle of struggle and suffering, tremendous spiritual growth happens."  So, those downs taught me something and one of those things is to appreciate both seasons.  Be grateful everyday.  
I look forward to seeing what 2017 has in store for me and updating this post next year. 

(Photo courtesy of Always Photogenic Photography)


Monday, February 8, 2016

Chinese New Year with Jocelyn

So Lj got a date with Grandpa and Tay Tay on Friday night and wandered into Justice.  Grandpa gave Tay his credit card and instructions on one outfit... well two outfits later... this is one of the dresses.  :)  Super cute and Grandpa couldn't resist.  (I warned him ahead of time). 

 She had to wear it even though it was cold.  We packed up and headed to the Chinese community center for the Chinese New Year, Year of the Monkey celebration.  It was a beautiful day!  We wandered around and saw the sites and had to get our picture taken in the dragon.  ;) 

Met some new friends to swing with. 

 And got to see the dragon dances. 

And we finished it off with getting her face painted with a rabbit.  She was born the year of the rabbit.  :)

We had a great day enjoying the Chinese New Year.  :)

My Date with Joe

When I saw that the Globetrotters  were coming to Houston I knew that I had to get tickets.  I had a groupon ready but I asked a good friend of mine (who knows people in ticketing) if he could get me tickets and he was happy to oblige.  We had great seats with a great view of the show.  It was an afternoon show and mom watch Jocelyn. 

 The players did not disappoint!  Joe loved them! 
Afterwards, we went over to the auto show to thank my friend, Matt, for the tickets and to check out all of the cool cars.  Joe loves the Lamborghini's. 

 Momma loves the Audi SUV.  :)

Lamborgini still wins.  ;)
 We wish we could have sat in some of them, but it was still super cool. 
We had such a great date...  he held my hand and gave me lots of kisses, just like normal.  I love the one on one time I get with each of them.  I made sure and took LJ to get her nails done too.  :)  My dates with the princess are definitely different but equally as wonderful.  

 My little people are growing up so fast, I remind myself to savor each and every moment.