I Am Thankful

Thanksgiving 2014This past week, my entire family came to visit me. My brothers (both of whom serve in the military), my little sister, and my parents all came to Dallas for a whole week! We spent the time touring the city, visiting my favorite things downtown, riding the trains, walking around White Rock Lake, making a full Thanksgiving meal, ice skating, shopping, touring the Dallas Art Museum and eating fantastic food. It was a blast.

Janelle and Kelly in downtown Flower Headband: Handmade/ Sweater: Vintage/ Denim Skirt: American Eagle/ Boots: Target/ Tights: Fleece Lined

siblings ice skating

My siblings

Being with my family this Thanksgiving was more than I could ever ask or be thankful for. And yet, there are so many more things that I’ve been given.

1. Jesse’s new school: Not only does Jesse have a great job, making a better salary than either of us have ever had (which really isn’t saying much, har-har!), but he works for a great school. If I were to hand pick the perfect school for our boys to someday attend, his school would be in the top 2 or 3 that I’ve found in the entire country (I used to research cities…it’s a weird hobby). Not only do we believe in the school’s mission 100%, but our boys will be able to attend for a super-affordable fraction of their steep tuition. The school is just big enough to have a good football team and most sports you can think of, yet still keep a 10-15 kid per classroom ratio. They are also classical, which has always been at the top of my wish list for the boys!

2. Our group of friends: When we left Dallas the first time, 3.5 years ago, we knew that we were leaving a very special community of friends. Not a single one of them has moved– they just multiplied their offspring. 😉 When we get together, our kids have the best of times, and even though they break everything in sight, it’s wonderful to watch them beginning life long friendships, just as I did with the kids of my parents’  friends. Not only do we have all of our old friends, but quite a few have recently moved into the area and have joined our group. I feel that I could easily become just as close with many of these newer friends as I am with the older! I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many people who hold my beliefs and can encourage and strengthen me daily.

3. This blog: What started out as a way to journal a few thoughts and recipes here and there has been a whirlwind of fun and growth for me this past year. I’ve made quite a few “blog friends”, won a lot of free stuff, and even made a little money, all within a year. I had 3 of my foster-care articles go completely viral, which was a dizzying but exciting experience. I feel blessed that there are so many people out there who resonate with what I’ve been through and that I’ve even been able to help other foster parents not to feel so alone.

4. My church: While we loved our small parish in CA, it was an hour long drive every Sunday (and mid-week, if we could make it). Now, it takes us 12 minutes, so we’re able to go to as many mid-week services as we can cram in our schedule. Both of our priests have been great for us and for the kids. Gregory just started church school this fall and is in love (his church school teacher gave him a big hug and actually carried him to class the other Sunday!). After liturgy, the moms grab our coffee and head for the fenced in playground where we talk for about an hour while the kids go nuts. I often look forward to church because I get to spend time with many of the people I love most. I used to feel guilty about this, thinking that I should be going just for the ability to worship, but then I realized one morning as I looked around the parish– this is what Heaven will be like. Giving glory to God with the angels and all of my friends for eternity.

5. Jesse: Hubby gets to go last, but hey, that’s what he gets for being the most important. For 8.5 years we’ve been married, together for 3 years before that. I cannot fathom how he has put up with me over 11 years! And yet, here we are, miles and miles closer than we were when we got married, despite foster care, 3 cross country moves, and 2 kids. This guy is not only the best birthing coach and partner, he is the best dad. I mean, how many moms can say that their husband changes 50% of the diapers, despite the fact that he works all day? He gets up every Saturday morning while I sleep, just so he can spend “guy time” with his boys. I truly don’t know where I’d be without his steadfast love and guidance in my life. God brought me the perfect partner to spend the rest of my life with, and I am thankful.

 

Afternoon Coffee Date– Pain, Suffering, and whether God is really Good

Helen at coffee date

Today’s coffee date is brought to you by my second round of coffee late in the afternoon. Why? Because this morning I was blessed with a real-life coffee date, you know, the kind with real people sitting in front of me? Not to diss this blog or the friends I’ve made here, but I kinda prefer the real-life version! Any-who. Who says I can’t have both?

A group of my friends from church (all of whom have remained my friends from the first time we lived in Dallas, through our time in CA, and now for Round 2 of Dallas) have started a twice a month get-together, where we all convene at a different house and let the kids go crazy in another room while we chat.

We have also been inviting a wise lady (the one in the picture above, who did not want her face shown!) from our parish, a mom to 5 kids, Grandma to many, who’s been married happily for 50+ years. This lady has experienced trials within the family, including job loss, cancer and divorce, so she knows what it means to suffer, praising God through it all. My friends and I have decided that while she still worships on this earth with us, we would love to sit at her feet and glean knowledge from her like breadcrumbs. She’s also one of the most humble people– truly, she is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.

We talked last time about motherhood, but today’s topic of conversation was about being a wife. We read from an Orthodox book (I need to track down the title!), from a chapter titled, “Give Up Control to Have More Power”. This was so convicting and deeply powerful for all of us.

What we have to remember in this day and age is that information– thoughts and words– and our interpretation of information– feelings and emotions– are not the fuel of life, nor the substance of change. LOVE is the fuel of life, the very substance of our being. God created us out of love and sustains us literally by Divine Grace., by His Energies, which is precisely Love. When we receive the Holy Mysteries, we receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, who, St. John testifies, “is Love”. Love does not turn us away in the communion line despite the faults of our own that are even obvious to us(and more so the ones that aren’t). Neither should we consider it our job to withhold love pending some change in behavior on the part of our spouse. When our husbands come to learn that our love is there for them whether or not we personally get what we want, even if it means that something they are doing is causing us to suffer, they find a springboard to what Fr. Paul calls the metanoia (or literally, change of heart) that turns us back to God and further towards the person we were created to be.

There are so many times I hear about marriages that come to a stand still because change is needed, and the couple has no tools with which to conquer the things that are separating them. It’s so easy within a marriage to withhold our love and approval until change has been met, no? Today’s conversation revolved around supporting our husband’s decisions, because until he feels loved and supported for who he is, regardless of outcome, he will continue to make the same mistakes. Tough love doesn’t work within a marriage– unconditional love and support do.

The world would probably tell us otherwise, but I decided long ago to listen to people who have been married for decades than the world’s 50% divorce rate! Yes?

We also talked a lot about fighting the world’s definition of feminine, and pursuing what we were created to be– the difference between “submission”, and the better, more Orthodox way of “surrender”. Surrender looks like giving up control for intimacy, because fighting for control can rob us of our humanity. We talked about how to be truly feminine, we have to be what we were created for. No matter how hard our culture tries to blur the line between men and women, women can do the one thing that men cannot– they can nurture and bring forth life, whether that’s in the form of babies, friendships, art, or important causes. Instead of fighting to replace everything masculine with something gender neutral, we can own what is already ours, something that is more powerful than any of the other posturing and bravado we see shouted by the media. Orthodox churches, for the majority, do not struggle with the gender battle (ie., why can’t we have female priests? female readers? female deacons?), because we look at the altar and see Mary, the Mother of God, holding the highest place of honor that any human other than Jesus can have. She held the Life of the World within herself, and brought it into the world. She fulfilled the most important act in all of humanity, breaking the curse of Eve. She did not just give birth to a baby, she gave birth to what would save all of Humanity. All the other roles women have been fighting for pale in comparison.

Anyways, it was a wonderful coffee date, and I am so thankful to have this group of women who constantly amaze and inspire me. I have felt for the past few weeks that I am in the middle of a huge growth spurt, one that comes after many months of chaos and hardship. It’s easy to think that times of rest should go on for as long as we want, but I have felt that part of what it means to rest is also to grow. To take stock of so many things that have happened and how they have affected me.

One of the things I am currently processing (and, this comes last, but it is definitely a doozy!) is how God can be a loving God. I have heard of many who go through this crisis of belief, where they struggle with believing that God is truly Good, given all the evil that goes on in the world. Although I have experienced a lot of loss and death in my life, I have never had this crisis firsthand.

But I’m neck-deep in right now. Just a few weeks ago, I found out that our beloved foster boys, the ones who we left in CA with a permanent adoptive home, are now back in the system once more. We are in Dallas, across the country, unable to help them, unable to barely get a word in with their social worker, and it feels helpless and heartbreaking. Like truly gut-wrenching heart-breaking. Not a night has gone by since we heard the news where I haven’t cried myself to sleep.

And I think: God, these are your babies. You took away their earthly mother and father. You have not provided them with another mother or father. The system is their parent, and it is failing them. God, if you are not even choosing to protect your babies, who are innocents caught in the cross fire of adults who keep making mistakes, why would you ever choose to protect me?

I love that I was able to bring these raw thoughts forward today and have our mentor (who was also a foster parent, in addition to mothering her 5 children!) tell me that I can scream and shout these things to the Lord and He won’t love me any less. She told me to read the Psalms, where David spends chapter after chapter crying out in anger and anguish at the Lord. If these things pain me, they pain God much more, because He loves them more. Pain and suffering are not indications that we are far from God, or that He is not looking out for us. We do not believe in a “Prosperity Gospel”, where God only shows His love through earthly blessings and rewards.

Someone else also brought up their favorite part of Revelations, where the martyrs cry out saying, “Don’t forget about us and the blood we spilled!” and the Lord listens and gives them their say. Someday, even if it’s not soon, I know that our boys will be given a chance to be heard, and that the evils done against them by their parents will be healed.

I will continue to struggle and grow through these thoughts and frustrations, but I am so happy for a group of friends who can walk alongside me in these ways.

Married for 8 Years (!)

wedding 31

On one hand, it’s hard to believe that Jesse and I have been married for 8 years (together for 11!). And then, it also feels like longer than that. In my mind, we’ve always been together.

My entire adult life has been spent together with Jesse. We started dating when I was 17, just 6 weeks into my first year of college at Biola University. Sure, I have a few stories of going on a couple initial dates with other guys, a few GYRADS here and there. And then there were 2 miserable weeks in which we were broken up (thanks for that smart idea, 18 year old self!). I used to regret that I never had a chance to “grow” on my own, that I never had a chance to grow into my own “person” before starting a relationship with someone 3 years older.

2004, right after I turned 18

2004, right after I turned 18

Looking back, however, I just feel grateful. I’ve made no secret of the fact that at 17 years old, I was not headed down a great path. I’d just gotten done with a toxic relationship, one in which I was reeling from for months. I was desperate for attention. I was self-obsessed, drowning in my own grief and issues. I had an on and off again eating disorder that was waiting in the wings every time my perfectionism reared it’s ugly head. I was already in hundreds of dollars of credit card debt due to my out of control spending habits.

Looking back, I think that God loved me so much that he knew I needed someone to help. Someone other than my parents that I would listen to. Someone that I would admire enough that I would want him to respect me back. Someone who loved me enough to risk my wrath and help me to change. Someone I would want to change for.

When we were still just friends, I remember the first day I knew that Jesse would always be my safe place, the one that God had put on this earth for me to run to. I had just gotten one of “those” phone calls, where something tragic has occurred and you know your life will never be the same. One of my best friends back home had died, and I was reeling in shock. Jesse had also just found out, and he immediately ran all over campus looking for me. We saw each other from across the lawn, and he held me while I cried and cried. The world was reeling around, but the moment he held me the spinning stopped and everything slowed back down.

When I look back, I see how very different my life would’ve been without Jesse, and it scares me. Sure, I might have figured it all out eventually, but I have seen many who are still miserable and trying, well into their 30s. I am glad that my path was different– shorter time in which to change, more intense, loud arguing (anyone who has witnessed a Jesse/Kelly fight knows what I’m talking about!). But, in many respects, it got done. All of the hard work Jesse and I did those first tumultuous years of dating paid off.

If I hadn’t learned what I did, I don’t think I would’ve had the patience to parent a teenage girl at the ripe old age of 26. Or four boys at 27. Or move across the country THREE times. Or endure a grueling house hunt/buying experience. Or support him through grad school.

God used all of that arguing to grow me into someone He wanted to use for His kingdom. I know for a fact that Jesse was the instrument by which God fashioned me. I learned to take serious things lightly, and I learned to care deeper about those things which endure. I learned how to protect someone’s heart other than my own. I learned what it means to address those deep and scary flaws within the context of a loving friendship.

Thank you, Jesse, for being the best friend that I can share everything with, good, bad, gross, hysterical, tragic and momentous. You are a wonderful father to our two boys, and you are the spiritual head of our home. I am so grateful that you found my messed up teenage self and decided to look past all that and love me. Thank you for being a safe place for me to run to.

Jesse and Kelly Big Sur 2014 washed colors

The Photos Have Arrived!– My Roommate’s Wedding

bridesmaids with bright flowers and gray dresses

About a month ago, I wrote about the wedding I was a part of up in Napa Valley. My dear roommate, the only good roommate I ever had (besides Jesse much later, haha!) got married to a fellow chemist she met during her doctoral program at UCSB. He absolutely adores her, as you can see from these photos, and I’m so happy that they finally found each other. Plus, the groom’s name is Anthony– a name that will always be near and dear to my heart. What’s not to love?

(All photos were taken by Chris Howard Imagery).

Kristen beautiful bride

funny bridal party picture

bridesmaids with bright flowers

I don’t know why every wedding photographer manages to get a picture of me making a funny face. I’m serious. I think this has happened at every wedding I’ve been in.

Kelly funny face

 

Their “first look” meeting.

First Look Picture

I want them to frame this one, fo’ shur.

wedding picture palm trees

And this one.

beautiful wedding picture

And this one.

Wedding Golden Hour couples picture

Wedding Napa Valley hills

Basically, they should cover their new loft apartment (in downtown SB! Yeah!) with pictures.

Wedding Golden Hour

Wedding namecards

The ballroom.

wedding table with purple flowers

Kristen handmade all of the invitations, programs, and menu cards from a custom letterpress she bought! 8 years ago, she teased me because I handmade all of the paper for my wedding. She came up and said, “Kelly! I totally take that back now! I see why you wanted to do it!”

handpressed menus for wedding

Coral and Purple Wedding Flowers

 

Beautiful Wedding Cake

 

Party Favors table for wedding

 

Sweets table at wedding

On the dance floor!

Jesse and Kelly on dance floor

Sparklers sendoff

Sparklers at night wedding

 

I’m so glad I got to take part in such a dear friend’s wedding. May God grant them many wonderful years together!