Thursday, June 22, 2017

Choosing Joy

     Two funerals, a best friend's medical diagnosis, a former students' attempt to end her life, a lonely single friend, fear of loss, anxiety for the future, exhaustion after a challenging experience, anger over an injustice, heartbreak for the pain of others, a searching for balance...these are the things weighing me down recently.  The prayer list is long.  But, my God is big.  

     Now I have a choice.  I can wallow.  I can cry.  I can overeat.  Or, I can celebrate.  I can find the good.  I can see God's fingerprints.  I can send positive endorphins to my brain!  I choose the latter.

     It's Count Your Blessings time!  God was glorified in those funerals.  My friend is at peace with her diagnosis and is feeling hopeful.  The family of my former student has a plan to help her.  My single friend is reading and growing and feeling encouraged.  My own fear of loss and my anxiety for the future are hurdles I face daily, but scripture is comforting and God's strength is constant.  Summer is a time of rest for me and I can feel myself healing from the recent challenges and injustices.  I think my heart will always be tender to the pain of my friends and family...I just have to learn to lay each concern at the feet of Jesus.  And, does anyone ever truly master balance?  I'd love a lesson!

     I am healthy.  I have the ability to exercise each day.  I have resources to help me make healthy meals.  I have time to plan and grow during these non-teaching days.  I have a wonderful husband who supports me and loves me deeply.  I have friends and family who can lift me up in prayer.  I have a God with arms of compassion open to me.  I have a brain that works, a soul that is creative, and eyes that are open for roses to smell along the way.  

    So, what helps fill me up?  Quality time with my husband, friends, and family fills me up.  I'm so thankful for the summer months when I have time to talk on the phone for an hour at a time or have my nieces over for a sleepover or spend the day playing with my grandson or visit a coffee shop with a friend.  Relationships will always be my number one priority and joy.

    What else fills me up?  Organizing spaces in my home or classroom, planning trips to take with my husband, creating scrapbooks from photographs full of great memories, reading my Bible, writing reflections about my life, blocking out all distractions and simply playing piano... ahhhh.

     My favorite author right now is Shauna Niequist.  The following is a devotional I read recently that really resonated with me.  I wrote the above blog post as a reflection after meditating on Shauna's words for a while.  I choose Joy.  I choose the discipline of celebration.  I choose to see God at work. 

Come Dance With Me!
"Be glad and rejoice with me." (Philippians 2:18)
     The discipline of celebration is changing my life, and I invite you into the same practice.  Come tap dance with me on the fresh graves of apathy and cynicism, the creeping belief that this is all there is, and that God is no match for the wreckage of the world we live in.  What God does in the tiny corners of our day-to-day lives is stunning and gorgeous and headline-making, but we have a bad habit of saving the headlines for the grotesque and scary.
     To choose to celebrate right here and right now might seem irresponsible.  It might seem frivolous, like cotton candy and charm bracelets.  But I believe it is a serious undertaking, one that has the potential to return us to our best selves, to deliver us back to the men and women God created us to be, people who choose to see the best, believe the best, yearn for the best.  Through that longing to be our best selves, we are changed and inspired and ennobled, able to see the handwriting of a holy God where another person just sees the same old tired streets and sidewalks.
     God is alive, and He is transforming and redeeming His world, even when we can't see it.  Where do you see the fingerprints of a loving, holy God in your life today, even in the mess and darkness?
From Savor:  Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist, page 311.

These little punkins bring me JOY!


Friday, March 3, 2017

28 Days of Scarves...

A few years ago I did the 19 Days of Scarves.  Here is the blog post I wrote about that experience:

My idea was that wearing those scarves would help me to get through February, because winter feels long in February.  There were 19 school days that year and I just happened to have 19 scarves.  Here it is, four years later and I now own 28 scarves!  So, I decided to wear my scarves for 28 school days in a row.  I began in January and just finished today.

Here are some things I learned:
1.  I am not very creative when it comes to what to wear with my scarves.  I wore mostly dress pants, a t-shirt and a cardigan sweater.
2.  This class of second graders owned less scarves than my class did four years ago.  I had very few students join me in my scarf-wearing endeavor this time.
3.  I have some super thoughtful, generous friends and family members who have given me some beautiful, fun, unique scarves that are super special to me!  
4.  Scarves can be very hot!  We had some warm days in February and I had to shed my scarf more than one afternoon as the sun poured into my classroom.  It was a good problem.
5.  Blue continues to be my favorite color.  Just look at the photos.  You'll understand.
6.  Our camera timer and camera stand are very useful when one needs to take a photo of oneself every single day for 28 days!  Enjoy the scarf fashion show!  Happy Spring!

My giraffe scarf from my friend, Becky (day 1)
Madi and me on day 1 
My giraffe print scarf (day 2)
Charlotte and Stella on day 2 

Henry on day 2
My colorful scarf from my friend, Julie (day 3)
Julie and I at a Paint Nite
My circle scarf from my friend, Angie (day 4)
My tie-die scarf from my friend, Amy (day 5)

My colorful flowery scarf I bought with my cousin, Kia (day 6)

My green colorful scarf from my friend, Julie (day 7)

My black flower scarf from Europe (day 8)

My scarf from Thailand, a gift from my sister, Kimberly (day 9)

My blue pom-pom scarf from my friend, Amy (day 10)

My green Eddie Bauer scarf from my friend, LuAnn (day 11)

My blue infinity scarf from my daughter-in-law, Jaimee (day 12)

My blue scarf with music notes on it was a gift from a student, Lacey (day 13)
Pink T-Shirt Day at school came along and I found the perfect scarf to match (day 14)

This blue scarf is from my friend, LuAnn (day 15)

This scarf from Spain is from my friend, Angie (day 16)
This grey and black scarf is from my friend, LuAnn (day 17)

This cute blue scarf was a gift from my student, Gabby (day 18)

I bought this scarf on a shopping trip with my friend, Amy (day 19) 

This sparkly, purple scarf is from my friend, Stephanie (day 20)
This hand-painted silk scarf was a gift from a host mom in Germany (day 21)
This infinity scarf was from my friend, Angie for my 40th birthday (day 22)
Day 22 with my student, Charlotte.
This scarf, made by my friend Janet got the most compliments of the whole 28 days (day 23)
Sadie and me on day 23

I bought this blue scarf in Europe in 1996 (day 24)

This scarf is also from my European adventure in 1996 (day 25)
Angie got this Pashmina scarf for me in London (day 26)

This blue scarf is from my friend, Shawrene (day 27)

My last scarf belonged to my Grandma Alber (day 28)
And there you have it!  I hope you enjoyed my scarf fashion show.  Spring is on it's way!  Blessings!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Special Birthday Memories

This is forty
I love birthdays!  I think of them as special days to celebrate life! As my fortieth birthday was approaching, I knew it was going to be special.  I knew it was a year to do some extra reflecting and appreciating. So, I wrote my "Top 40 Highlights from the Gal with Gray Highlights" blog.  I completely enjoyed that process.  I wrote it as a birthday gift to myself, but I decided to share it and I'm so glad I did.  There were such touching comments:
"I'm so happy you wrote it.  Thank you so very much.  I like the way you write.  It was so interesting to read about the way of your life living.  Thank you!"  
"Thank you for your thankful story and to let us take part in."
"Beautiful!  And inspiring...I, too, am turning 40 this year!"
"Jennifer, this is beautiful, just like you!  God has blessed you with so many talents and I'm thankful that we crossed paths many years ago.  Here is a pre-birthday wish that your next 40 years will be just as amazing!  Thank you for sharing this with us!"
"What a wonderful way to show thankfulness and joy in the 40 years that God has given you so far.  Best of all, you are experiencing that life in abundance because of Jesus (John 10).  Thank you for sharing this.  I am glad you love Mendelssohn's 'Elegy.'  I do too."
     Now I am writing this blog as a way to help me remember this very special 40th birthday.  I felt loved and cherished and celebrated and I want to always remember.
     The Thursday night before my Saturday birthday I went to a Paint Nite in St. Cloud with my good friend, Julie.  I love to do new things and this birthday was full of new things!  The painting we created at Paint Nite was full of favorite color.  Julie and I had a great time together.  And, she gave me a new scarf!

The Friday before my birthday was a school day.  It was a special day with my students.  Many of them made me cards that said sweet, affirming things and were full of colorful drawings.  My friend, Becky gave me a cute blue scarf with giraffes on it.  I love it!  And, at lunchtime my friend, Angie took me to Subway and gave me an adorable blue infinity scarf.  It was special celebrating my birthday with Angie because she lives in Spain and just happened to be home during a time period that included my January birthday.  She even wore a scarf I had given to her for Christmas!

After school that day I had a surprise visit from one of my students from last year's class.  Collin came bearing a birthday gift!  He and his mom had made a quilt for me!  Collin picked the pattern and colors and his mom quilted it.  I was so touched!  And, it's a super cute quilt!
The morning of my birthday, I got up and had hot cocoa from my "Happy Birthday" mug and opened presents from my sweet husband.  He had bought me two sweatshirts from Cabela's.  I am wearing one of them in the first picture of this blog.  We had a relaxing morning together (including time for me to play piano) and then hit the road.  Our first stop was lunch in Maple Grove at Biaggi's Italian Restaurant.  Yum!  Then we drove to Stillwater where we checked into our Bed and Breakfast (complete with our own fireplace!) and visited the Ice Castles in the afternoon light.

We did some antique shopping and ate supper at the Tilted Tiki where there was live music sung by a Hawaiian man.  
We put on our warmest winter wear and went to the Ice Castles that evening.  There was classical music being piped in and the lights inside the ice changed color.  There was a maze and a slide and some neat ice sculptures.  It was fun to experience another new thing on my birthday.

On Sunday we did more exploring around Stillwater after attending a beautiful church service in Afton.  That evening we got together with my dear friend, Amy.  Amy's birthday is two days after mine, so we have spent the day inbetween our birthdays together for many years.  We call it "AmyJen Day."  
Monday was a day off from school, so Todd and I slowly meandered our way home from Stillwater back to Becker.  We stopped at a cute coffee shop along the way.  
I love spending time with my husband!  We got home on Monday afternoon and I spent the next couple hours reading lovely messages on Facebook and email from friends and family.  These are some of my favorites:
"Dearest Jennifer, I just wanted to wish you a wonderful birthday!  You have blessed so many people in your writing, hugs, getting people together to fellowship, and ministry as a teacher.  May this year be full of wonderful surprises and blessings." 
"Happy Birthday, Jen!  Another decade wiser...What a blessing!  And, what a blessing you are to everyone who knows you.  One of my new goals is to be a blessing to others, and you are one of my role models.  Hoping you had a great day and praying that you will have a wonderful year.  Can hardly wait to visit with you again!"
"Of all the people I've known in my life, you deserve all the goodness and happiness this world has to offer."
"Fun to see all the birthday greetings coming in for you!  You are so important to and loved by so many!"
"Congratulations my happy happy friend!"  
"Happy Birthday to you my Wonderful friend! 40 never looked better than it does on you :) Enjoy your birthday weekend!" 
I got phone calls over my birthday weekend from my parents, from all three of my siblings, and from my friend, Sheryl.  I got cards in the mail that made me feel loved.  I even got a video sent to my email from my friend, Anette in Norway.  She and her daughters sang to me!
     Here it is a week later, and I'm still celebrating!  This evening I went to Good Earth Restaurant with good friends to celebrate the January birthdays (Amy and me).  And, I'm looking forward to more celebrating with my parents in Alexandria in the near future.

     Winter can be long in Minnesota, so I'm especially thankful for these warm, happy memories to reflect upon in these cold days ahead.  I'm full-up with thankfulness!

Celebrating with Mom and Dad in Alexandria!