Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Last Saturday


I'm never cryptic just for the sake of building mystery.

When I asked you to pray last week for our big/little plan we'd hatched for Saturday, I didn't mean to be coy or get anyone too keyed up. I was just feeling shy about things. I didn't want to jinx it by saying too much. Our idea was a bubble in our chests - a fragile, quiet thing. pop! (<< - That's what I was hoping to avoid.)

I had a handful of friends who emailed or sent texts or grabbed my arm in person after reading my post and said something to the effect of, "Hey, what the heck are you doing Saturday?" I got all blushy and spilled it. Now, it's your turn.


A year ago, we had the idea to offer free family pictures to our neighborhood. I'm not sure what inspired this, other than two simple realities 1) My husband takes pretty pictures and 2) Many of my neighbors might not have the opportunity (for lots of reasons) to do this thing that we, personally, take for granted.

In the end, we ran out of October. The dreamy light retreated and all the leaves turned brown underfoot. Blerg. Maybe next time.

It came up again this September. Here's how the conversations usually went:

Me: We should do the picture day this year.
Him: Yep. Let's do it.
Me: Okay, when?
Him: I don't know. We'll have to look at our calendars.
Me: Our month is busy...
Him: I know...
Me: But we should at least try.
Him: I agree.
The end.

As in, we never got anywhere. We never actually did anything.
We talked and yammered and hemmed and hawed but the simple task of sitting down, picking a date, and marking it in pen was apparently too much action for all our good-minded chatter.

Here's the root of it: Once you write it down, you're accountable. Even if it's just to yourself.
The truth is, we were scared. I'm not entirely sure why.

Our instinct was to micromanage every single detail and every possible pitfall in advance. We wanted it to be perfect. We believed if everything was exactly right, the odds for success would bend in our favor. In fact, our obsessive planning for a perfect family picture day guaranteed that not a single family would smile for the camera.

It might not be perfect. Maybe the weather would mess with us. Maybe no one would trust us enough. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

What were we really so afraid of?
What did we have to lose?

Cory put together a basic flyer and walked door-to-door with the kids. They passed out 50.

A few days later, I typed up my SOS blog post while butterfly wings flapped in my chest.

Friday was gorgeous. The picture-perfect October day. Things were looking up.
Then Saturday dropped by over 20 degree. Rain fell all day, and we'd turn to each other and shrug. We knew we'd obeyed. We had done our imperfect part. It was alright that the day was already a flop.

We showed up when we said we would.
Cory framed his shot. We hopped back in the van and waited while the windshield wipers laughed at us. Uh-uh. Nope.

No one came.

I drove home with the kids, fielding questions from the backseaters. "Why did we keep waiting there? Why didn't anyone come? Why is Daddy still waiting there?"

I don't know why I felt so happy. I wasn't sure why "failure" made me grin.
I thought of you, about how I'd tell the whole truth: obedience is worth the risk.
We've got to come to the place where we fully believe our life and our days and our DSLRs are not our own. If we can't trust God to send us out, how can we call ourselves followers?

My phone buzzed with a text from Cory.
"A family just showed up!"

There they were, 2 parents. 8 kids. A mash-up of bloodlines and heartstrings and "you belong to me"s. These were people who knew a thing or two about what makes a family.

In puffy coats and matching nothing, they squeezed close and smiled.

We planned all week for this!
We've never had a family picture.
We switched weekends with their mom so we could all be together.

And I cried the whole way home.
Because one is enough, guys.
I promise you, it is.

They came in the rain and we were so close to bailing.
We were so close to a different ending, one where they planned all week and zipped their coats then showed up at an empty park, forgotten. Again.

Of course we didn't change their lives with a free 8x10.
But ours changed more than a little.

Thanks so much for your prayers.
It was a raging success.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Birthday Bash



While you all know about the recent turn of my fickle heart toward secondhand fashion, (hey, camo coat!) you probably also know that when it comes to my jewelry and accessories, I'm utterly devoted to a few companies that create gorgeous things along with economic freedom for women in developing (and often oppressive) countries.

fashionABLE is one of those companies, perhaps the one dearest to my heart, since I traveled with them to Ethiopia last summer and saw this intangible "opportunity" alive and in full color. These women pour their lives and souls into their work, weaving gorgeous scarves by hand in a small but joy-filled building made of corrugated metal.

I will never, ever forget them.

This week, fashionABLE is turning 4, and they're celebrating by offering store-wide mark-downs up to 45% off, with free shipping on all orders over $100.

THIS IS THE TIME TO GET CHRISTMAS SHOPPING STARTED, PEOPLE!


I bought 4 scarves the last time they had a big sale thinking I would use them for teacher gifts, but ended up giving them to various friends who hosted me in their homes in recent months. These are the BEST gifts ever, because 1) everyone loves them and 2) you're pouring into another family across the globe through your purchase!

fashionABLE also has leather goods like this clutch and their new Tizita bracelet set (see photo above) that I cannot stop wearing because it works with everything. (The beads are 100% recycled metal melted down from artillery and scrap metal.)

There are scarves as low as $20 right now, so hop to it!
They also have a cool line of "Game Day" scarves, featuring team colors.


PS - Fearless leader Barrett Ward was just awarded GQ's Leader award! Read the article to get a great overview of all they do to empower women.
"Charity is important, it's critical, and I've started a non-profit before. I believe in it," he said. "But at some point charity should stop and economic opportunity should begin, allowing people to thrive and create their own way."  - Barrett Ward


*affiliate link used

Monday, October 27, 2014

Secondhand Challenge, Michigan ed.


I'm still so mooney-eyed over our two quiet days in Michigan.

Last night Cory and I were eating bowls of soup at 10:45 pm (duh) trying to figure out how/where we could find the entire series of Seinfeld because it's been too long and we need a new (old) show and I have a crush on Jerry and he has a crush on Elaine and don't even get me started on Kramer.

We didn't have any luck, but sitting there under the granny square afghan, I felt a pinch of the blues. I wanted to be back in that little cabin. I wanted to be traipsing around in the crunchy leaves. I wanted my kids to be on fall break another week. I wanted late nights and no responsibilities.

It felt good to be huddled up.

Alas, the shorties didn't feel my pain.
They woke with the roosters this morning, all keyed up and ready to see their friends. It's supposed to be 77 today, so Calvin snuck in one last "shorts" day.

Calvin and Ruby officially started chess club this morning before school. Ha! I have no idea how to play chess. They don't know either, but they will soon.

As they were getting ready I told Ruby "them", "Remember, you have to listen and pay attention. You're going to learn how to play chess! It'll be fun, but it's not going to be rowdy."

She gave me the funniest look and said, "That's it? That's all we're going to do?"

Yup.

Since the week is in full swing and I know now's my last chance to preserve my vacay state of mind, I'm sharing a few more key moments from our get-away.

(Make sure to read to the end, because I have some questions for you...)

Earl Grey at a little brunch cafe. I brought my own tea bag. Ha.

We stopped at the BEST junk/antique store ever and both of us took one picture with our cameras before the owner ran out screaming, "No pictures!" I said, "I can't even tag you on Instagram? Because people need to know about your place!" Nope. No way. Uh-uh.

sigh. 
I don't get it, dude.
Art is meant to be shared!

We found a Thai buffet.
WHAT???!!! I'm so obsessed with Thai food.
GIVE ME ALL THE CURRIES.

I posted this pic of my Anniversary '14 souvenir on Instagram and almost tipped the world off its axis. People thought it was some trippy optical illusion, like I had a window cut out of my body. At first I was so confused, but it ended up being one of those times when the power of suggestion proved an untameable beast. Now it's all I can see.

Okay.

So.

I did a little thrifting. For you.
Cory dutifully dropped me off at 3 different stores and read his book and/or napped in the van while I shopped my brains out.

I found some very good things. (And some great things in plus sizes!)

But I need your input.

The first go-round went pretty well, but here's what I learned.
1) Shipping is more than $6 (It can vary between $6.35-$9)
2) It can take more time than I'm willing to give to categorize and track down winners
3) It can take more time than I'd like to admit to shop for, photograph, and post the outfits
4) Shipping stuff is not my spiritual gift
5) I REALLY LOVE SHOPPING FOR PEOPLE AT THRIFT STORES

So, I want to keep doing this. At least another time or two.
But in order to make good use of my time and in order to not lose money, a few things have to change.

I'm thinking $22-$24 per outfit, knowing the outfits (2 items) typically cost between $11-13 and shipping averages $7.

It won't be as much a "cheapest outfit ever" scenario for you guys, but it's still a heck of a deal for a super rad, good quality outfit (always two pieces that can be mixed and matched with the rest of your wardrobe,) delivered to your door.

Do you still dig it?

I'm also going to make the requirement that you include an email address in your comment if you're interested in an outfit, which should make it much simpler to let you know you won and to finish the transaction.

Thoughts?
Feelings?
Personal opinions of passion or angst?

I'm all ears.





Literally.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

We All Got That Love



On half of the Sundays, I go to church as a "single" mom, just me and the kids walking that back alley while Cory is speaking at other churches in the area, telling them all about God's goodness in the land of the living (aka the county jail).

I wish I could say I'm always positive and supportive about these Sundays. The truth is, they can be a bit of a bummer. Not a huge inconvenience, but enough to make me grumpy on the inside.

Today was one of those days, for a whole slew of reasons. Even though the kids are older, I'd prefer to have Cory's help getting us out the door. I'd prefer to have him sitting next to me at church and walking home with us at noon.

Last night I spent my evening cooking a meal for new friends who bailed today. (This is a recurring theme, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

Then Robert and his crew stopped by just long enough to knock over a table and break a flower pot (not a big deal at all, just a chaotic and LOUD 10-minutes.)

Cory came through the door at 12:30, the house cleared out, and we sat to eat from the giant pot of soup. I wondered, can't my sacrifice be good enough for these four faces? Of course it can.

And I wondered about those new friends of ours, about Robert and his rowdy friends, about tattooed necks and R's new hat with #BITE ME stitched across its front.

There are days when we feel like we're pedaling hard in reverse.
There are days we've lost our brakes and we careen. We tumble.

There are lots of days when I wonder if anything is enough, if anything helps, if we'll ever stop thinking we're wiser than we are.

I want every stereotype busted and every judgment called out - especially my own.
I want to draw from the reserves and refuse to believe people can't change.

I want to see God's glory in the hurting and the forgotten and I want to believe - really trust in my gut - that He's greater than addictions and jumbled patterns and years upon years where love is only felt as a deficit.

Cory handed me a letter at the scuffed up dinner table and I read it out loud, as our prayer. It was written from a former inmate and the church he visited today surprised him with it.

Cory and I met when I was going through a lot of hard times. I guess I look a little crazy in some people's eyes because I'm tattooed from head to toe. Not in Cory's eyes tho, he seen a man in need of help. Cory used to talk to me about what I've been through and where I'd like to be in life. This led me to a rehab center at the Salvation Army. I don't know if Cory knows this, but he changed my life. See, I went to rehab and got to know Jesus again.

After some time and a lot of tragedy, I found myself back in jail. Cory was on me this time, but more about God. See, what got me the most was how much work Cory was doing in the name of Jesus. I used to think to myself that I wish I had the love in me that that man's got. Well Cory will tell: We all got that love in us. We just have to embrace Him.

It's pastor appreciation month, and I've never appreciated a pastor more than the one who leads my family and loves these wounded men with a heart that knows its own humanity. So proud of him and so grateful that God allows us to be part of His plans. My gripes are so petty when laid against the truth of God's redemption.

Nothing is wasted. Nothing is hopeless.
No one is beyond His reach.

It seems we've all got work to do. Better get to it.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Peculiar Fall


Cory and Calvin are maniacs for Fall.
Like all the rest of you weirdos.

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the changing of the seasons. I love the rhythm of a 4-season climate, at least in theory. When autumn falls, we live differently, dress differently, cook and eat differently. Sounds poetic, right?

The main problem is, I don't like being cold. I don't even like being chilly.
I'm the girl who loves climbing inside a car that's been baking in the sun on a summer day. That stifling rush of heat feels so good. (That same heat could make my grown man want to cry...)

While I'll always be more of a summer girl, I'm really jiving with fall this year.

Makes no sense to me.

I'm noticing its beauty in a new kind of way.
I don't feel quite as rageful toward the dipping temps.

It has inspired me, and not just to buy pumpkin spice english muffins.
I'm talking full-on inspiration. LOOK OUT.


Last week, I caught the light spilling through our tiny window, all hazy and dreamy.
I'm so glad I grabbed the camera, framing up our messy coats into a moment of gratitude.



A few days later, I found my old ginkgo garland and strung it up.
And you know how these things go...if you give a mouse a gingko garland, she'll decide to tidy up and take a few more pictures. It's bound to happen, from time to time.

(Hallelujah, sometimes I do crave order! I haven't fully lost myself!)

Sidenote: That arrow, peeking around the corner.
It makes me happy.

I found it last year at the Salvation Army in Van Wert, OH, looking all dusty and ashamed.
It was probably $2.

Of course I wasn't looking for a wooden, house-shaped shadowbox thingy.
But I grabbed it up, turned it sideways and said to myself, BOOM.

Then I brought it home and forgot about it for 5 months.
Then, we had our polar vortex and spent days upon weeks indoors.


Sometime in February, I dug it out and made it into this.

In a perfect world, I would paint those "bulbs" gold. And maybe space them out differently.
But who the heck wants to live in a perfect world???

I thought I had invented this idea, but soon after my epiphany, one of the decorating mags showed a similar outcome using those cardboard letters from Hobby Lobby.

Then this savvy lady pulled off a super rad arrow using a dorky bird house.

All the arrows! All the time!
Redemption to the wooden crafts of the early '90s!


All of that to say, Fall, you're growing on me.

Eternally,
FPFG

Sources
Letter M - Allegan flea market
Coat rack - Goodyear belt display, via Borkholder Dutch Village flea market
Black trunk - rando flea market in MI
Wire basket - a gift from a friend (probably via a flea market?)
Wall art - MSU Surplus Store
Woman-with-soccer-ball-hair bag - Gift from my Sis (via somewhere in Africa)
Striped bag - Noonday
B&W scarf - fashionABLE
Ginkgo leaves - via the sidewalk of an unexpected neighbor 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Notes on A Marriage


Cory and I hightailed it up to Michigan on Sunday to belatedly celebrate our 15th anniversary.
We used to get away together more often...back when life was different in lots of ways. Upon reflection, we've only had one night alone in the past 18 months where we weren't sick as a coupl'a hound dogs.

Summary: We were long overdue.


For two nights, we stayed up late, slept in late (our dream schedule!) ate fantastic food cooked by NOT ME, read books, strolled around, held hands, took selfies, ate snacks, took naps, adventured, and generally had a blast together. We also hot-tubbed.

The first night we talked about the kinds of things that require mental energy reserves and zero interruptions; important things like mission and little kids and big kids, community, church, the jailbirds. We'd caught a breather, so we regrouped and dreamed without restrictions, our faces barely lit, feeling bold and gutsy in boiling hot water under sheets of stars like the ones in the movies.


Just before my face started to throb (my signature "you've had enough hot tub, Martin") I flashed back to 13 years ago, sitting at my end of our blue striped couch, bawling my eyes out because I was in a mess of a marriage and I couldn't see an end.

I wanted out. Everything felt hopeless. All I could imagine was an eternity of unhappiness. Things had spiraled so quickly and I was terrified of the shifting ground. I felt unloved, unlovable, very alone. (And everything I felt, Cory probably felt double.)

Right there against the backdrop of my misery and the dingy paint job of our "economical" apartment, God shoved past my crap and told me the truth about things. "See how hard the enemy is fighting to destroy you two? Just imagine what he's scared of. Just imagine the good you'll do with me, together."

In an instant, a page turned.
I felt the slip of paper under my fingertips, heard the rustling brush of words on words, saw, for the first time in a good, long while, some white space. Room for a future.

I had no idea it was what I wanted, what I'd been looking for.

That was the beginning of this right here.
We couldn't possibly have imagined it.


We moved to DC, re-soldered our mangled commitment to each other, got jobs in politics, hitched our stars to the American Dream, went to church, payed our tithe, adopted babies, bought a farm.

I clung to those cheap-carpet words whenever I felt tremors beneath our fine-tuned life.

I decided our little ones were the "good" we were doing together.
And they were. Still are.

But I had no idea there was more.

I didn't imagine a future of loss and instability and surrender and loneliness.
I didn't dream of a little house on a shabby street, a failing public school, or that my husband would spend his days with criminals but call them his friends.
In my wildest wishes, I couldn't trace the shape of a tall kid with an ankle bracelet and a heart broken so long, he thought it was supposed to feel that way.

Back then, I thought bigger was better and more was more.
I thought Jesus kept His best gifts on the tallest shelf, so I climbed. With my husband.

It would have been foolishness to imagine that our greatest purpose, our near-tangible peace, would look like bits of broken dreams.

Wearing a ridiculous bikini, skimming the bubbles with my fingertips, staring at my man, it clicked into place. It crystallized.


This life right here, this was part of God's purpose for us, inked before the first bloom of time.
It's not so exceptional. It's not the kind of life they make movies about.
To us, it is ordinary.
It is grueling, some days.
It can feel thankless and annoying and sometimes, boring to its core.

All those gifts I mentioned, the ones I didn't even know to ask for, they aren't because we did anything right or because we're very smart in the ways of righteousness. They are grace. Only grace. The kind that makes you fall to your knees. The kind that makes you remember your depravity. The kind that makes you believe God can meet you in your darkest hour, sit down beside you on your secondhand couch, and tell you to shape the heck up. Cut the drama, already. There's work to be done, but you've got to drop that torn-up net you're holding and follow Him.

Cory and I have talked about that moment plenty of times, but it felt good to say it all again, in order.

Bubbles blurred the edges of all our words, and there we were; one set of brown eyes, one set of blues. Still locked on each other when common sense would have said otherwise.


God defies gravity, friends.
He laughs at our foolish "logic" and our made-up psychobabble. He holds our world at a scary-sharp angle and says it's level.

What feels real to us often isn't, and only when we take a hard look at His unbending love for us, His endless mercy for us, only when we're so desperate that we actually listen, can we begin to see straight.

That's the kind of weekend I had.


*These are all phone pics, the step ones and selfies courtesy of Cory.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Cheer-Ups





:: Cory and I (both introverts) cackled at this like cats in nip.

:: Could this convince me to overcome my fear of the whole bird?

:: Bravo, Jen!

:: SUCH a dreamy home (and always fun to see my friends shine!)

:: Not that I need this parenting advice...

:: The kids' school has some big, exciting things around the bend.

:: I'm on a secondhand hunt for a great plaid scarf.

:: An oldie but SUCH a goodie. I still quote this now and then. It makes me laugh-cry.

:: Fascinating perspective on race and adoption.

:: Really love this print shop.

:: Grabbed this and this from the library today. (Both reader suggestions!)

:: I keep a list here of all the books I read.

:: Give beets a chance.

:: Then reward yourself with this.

:: Hayley told me this $5 concealer is the bomb...I'm a believer.

:: Stellar parenting advice from a dude.

Happy weekend, frans.


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