Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part Two

"Home is where one starts from."
~T.S. Eliot
Miriam CarsonMiriam Carson is one of the most beautiful, classy, elegant women I've ever known in my life and if she knew I said that she'd crack up laughing. Mim was my dance teacher in high school and choreographed nearly every show I was in between 1997 and 2001. She choreographed our show choirs in middle school and high school, never missing a competition with us which I later found out was a blessing that most of us failed to realize. Most choreographers didn't show up to cheer on their kids, much less travel with them.

She was one of the few dance teachers left who still taught real, beautiful, true dance. She taught us to appreciate classic music, dance styles and dancers, not by telling us to love it, but by loving it herself and growing us up with it. She put us in classy, tasteful, stunning costumes and never let us perform in anything that made us uncomfortable...again, something I took for granted until I realized that this was an exception for choreographers, not a rule. She taught us how to do our hair so that it was never stringy or hanging in our eyes. She taught us how to do our makeup. She taught us how to look beautiful on stage in a natural way. She was an extremely influential person in my love for theatre and Broadway. I so looked up to the way she watched shows, what she thought about them, how she critiqued them.

I started dancing with Mim later than most kids. Many of those that she had taught had been with her from the time they were about three years old and stayed with her all through high school. But even though I jumped in late, she always treated me like one of her own. To have danced with Mim was to be part of a family, and although I was more like an adopted member, I was taught and loved just the same.

In 2001 she closed her studio. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever gone through, and I didn't even have the connection to it that so many other people did. But Miriam remained one of our greatest supporters and encouragers. She had been a huge source of support during my years as a Summer Theatre Workshop director and even today, she wanted to know all of my stories about working on The Wizard of Oz this past summer. She's even trying to plan a trip to come down here for next summer's show.

Her love for us and her interest in our lives has not withered with time and I'm so thankful I got to spend as much time with her as I did while I was in Marysville last weekend. Few things made me feel more welcomed and at home than when I walked into the restaurant on Thursday afternoon and she threw her arms around me after not having seen me in probably 4 years and said, "It's so good to hold you again!"

People like Miriam Carson are rare and they are priceless.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hometown Glory: Part One

"When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn't the old home you missed but your childhood.”
~Sam Ewing

Last weekend, I had the great blessing of going back to my hometown, the first time in 2 and a half years. I called it Sue and Jen's Food Tour 2009. There's something about having a million different people to catch up with that causes you to plan a different person to have every meal with. I shouldn't need to eat again until next Monday.

But it was a sweet time of seeing and hugging and laughing with the people who shaped my middle school and highschool years, arguably the most influential. As much as the actual town has changed, the people and my relationships with them seem to have picked up right where we left off and that I could not be more thankful for. So, here's part one on my people in the small town of Marysville, Ohio...

Tom and Sue Powell
I can say in all sincerity that I don't know where to begin with these two. They have made me laugh harder and be more silly than just about anyone I can think of. Tom is a photographer who used to work for our tiny little local newspaper before he and his wife Sue opened their own studio in town. My senior year of highschool I worked for them as an assistant when Tom had to go on location and then in the studio doing all kinds of odd jobs. When I came back from college in the summers they always found work for me to do.

Working for them was the first time I realized I truly could love a job. I not only loved it for the actual work that I got to do and the people I got to meet, but because Tom and Sue were, and are, two of the most amazing people in my life. When I first went to work there I had quit my job working as a hostess at Bob Evans. At the restaurant I had been told that I was not allowed to visibly wear my cross necklace or any other "faith-related" symbol. I didn't know if this was common in most workplaces so I asked Sue when we had the dress code talk if I needed to keep it hidden. She said, "If you ever hide your faith in here, I don't want you to work here anymore. I have an angel that hangs over our cash register and if somebody doesn't like it then they are welcome to go somewhere else." That was the end of that conversation, but only the beginning of many others about God and church and faith.

Tom and Sue supported everything I was involved in and encouraged me in all my busyness, basically allowing me to make my own schedule with them, working around all the other activities I was involved in. They took a sincere interest in my life and I never once doubted whether or not I could talk to them about anything I was dealing with. I never really had to though because the moment I walked through the studio door I was laughing. They are two of the funniest human beings that have ever walked this earth. They're crass and they're outspoken and gruff and Tom's always got a big pile of tobacco behind his lip, but there is something so endearing about both of them that I've never been able to put my finger on. I could never help but smile when I was with them. The most boring job of the day never failed to be entertaining when I was with them.

I relied on them so much when I lived there and I didn't realize it until I walked through the studio door the other day and just felt safe. Something about that place will always resonate as home with me.

I spent hours in there on Thursday just laughing, talking, catching up on life, making fun of Tom like I always did and helping him set up his own facebook profile. He still calls me by the nickname he gave me 7 years ago, Jenna 5. We talked about what's going on in my life and he asked me to come back and work for him, just like he does every time I'm there. Tom is a Marine, a Vietnam war vet and on Thursday he told me stories about his war experiences, probably more than he had ever shared before. At one point I said, "Tom, how did you survive it?" And he just looked at me and said, "I don't know," then he walked back into his office and walked back out with a little black box that had just a few letters on the outside that said, "Purple Heart." On the inside was a beautiful, worn, unmistakable medal, given for having been wounded in battle. But surviving what the two men standing next to him did not. But like Tom, things never stay serious for too long and he said, "You know one time I just took off running and my captain said, 'Powell, why are you running?' and I said, 'Because I can't fly. Sir.'" We laughed and moved on with the conversation, Sue giving me the little pieces of stories that Tom wasn't willing to share.

I wish I even had the words to write about them to feel like I was doing more justice to who they are, what their personalities are. But I don't. I'm not that talented. If I ever were able to write something that I felt like accurately captured the essence of these two in general and in relation to my life, I'll feel worthy of calling myself a writer.

But until then...

The Garden of the Saints

"The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God's grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way. Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure.

But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives."
~Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Me and My Girl...

I have loved this baby since before she was born because I love her parents. SO much. But yesterday, more than any day that I've been here, I realized that I love her just because she's Avery. Because of her personality and her smile and her sweetness and because of the little person that she is and will become. And I think yesterday she realized she might be okay with me too. For most of the week we would play and laugh and be silly, but yesterday, on numerous occasions, she just sat with me. Just sat and leaned up against me and relaxed. She smiled any time I walked by and at one point even "crawled" across the floor to get to me. It was a transition that I didn't even realize was going to be made, but yesterday was different. And so precious. I know that I'll leave and it'll take awhile before I get back and we'll have to go through it all over again, but I'm so thankful that in this short period of time we were able to cross that line. I know that for the rest of her life I'll just be "Crazy Pretend Aunt Jen," but I hope she'll always know how much I love her, not simply because she's Sarah and Erich's baby, but because she's Avery Piland. The one and only.

Birthdays and Babies

Yesterday was oh so much fun! Sarah's friend Lindsay came over so we could celebrate her 30th birthday! Happy Birthday Lindsay! And she brought along her precious little ballerina, Grace. You can imagine my excitement...
Oh hey, there's little poptart...

Oh...look at that face...

Sarah made an AMAZING Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake. With peanut butter frosting. Ohmygoodness. Oh, and she lost the "3" candle. So...yeah...
Sweet baby Grace

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pretty fly for a white girl

Avery lookin WAY cute in her new suit. I'm not biased about it. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My favorite part so far...

There are few things that make me happier than getting to pretend to be a photographer, and this was probably my favorite part of the week so far...

Monday's Fabulous Moment

It passed us by. I'm not gonna lie. We missed it. As we sat down to eat dinner tonight the phone rang. Sarah picked it up, looked at the caller ID and set it back down. Erich and I looked up and she said, "It's the NRA. " What...MFM right there. Just as I realized that this was my chance, it stopped ringing. The MFM that got away. That being said, Monday had a truly fabulous moment. Erich made dinner. Greek salad. Red pepper hummus and pita bread. Chicken stuffed with spinach, feta and mayo and wrapped in bacon. Oh my...

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but most nights I'm lucky if I'm not eating ravioli out of a can.

That truly was a fabulous moment on a sweet Monday night.

Well good morning Sunshine!

I can't resist. I'm in love.

A week of rest...

This week I get to spend a few days resting with and getting loved on by this bunch...
...and it is SO sweet. I'm learning that I am terrible at resting. I love it for a day. And then I feel recharged and ready to get back to life. Ready to be productive. Whatever that means. But this week is going to be different. Because yesterday I was ready to go. But didn't have to. Today I was ready to go. But didn't have to. And while there's a part of me that almost gets anxious, I realize that this is what God calls us to. This is where we get to re-center, re-focus, and come back to Him. And what better way to do it this week than with old friends and a precious little one. I traveled to Toledo, Ohio and have been completely loved and served and feel like I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want. I've been getting homecooked meals, napping in the middle of the day and watching movies. I couldn't feel more blessed to have such loving people to escape to and an amazing home to go back to at the end of the week.

Bath Time!

Avery's first big girl bath...

This kid is a fish...

And the best part...the little raisin foot...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Living in Community

"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Acts 2 lays out what a "Biblical community" looks like. It's something that I've heard discussed so much, that so many churches strive to facilitate. But for all the talk and all the attempts, when it comes down to it, it takes real people stepping up as a group and sacrificially choosing to live it out, every single day.

In the days leading up to my grandpa's death, I saw people step it up that way. My closest friends were in prayer for me and my family. They encouraged me and empathized with me, realizing that I had never been through this process before and didn't know what to expect or get taken care of. The day I found out he died, I had help making a "to-do" list of everything to get done before I left town in 24 hours, not knowing when I'd be back. I had a co-worker step up and work on her day off for me. I had a friend who made post office and leasing office runs for me and another one who went to the mall with me to find an outfit for the funeral. Plans were put on hold to get me to the airport and my family was waiting and ready to do whatever they needed to once I got there.

My family exhibited qualities of Biblical community that could be a blog post all their own.

Throughout that week I got numerous text messages and emails from my Austin family. I'm not sure an hour went by on the day of the funeral that I didn't hear from a different person. Simply realizing that it was important enough to my friends that they even spread the word to so many people about it was mind-boggling in itself.

Upon returning to Austin, a hard journey, I came back to something even more amazing. The exact amount of money needed to cover the cost of a wildly expensive, last minute, surprise plane ticket home. Money that had been provided by my friends and parents of the girls in my Bible study that quite by God's grace covered the cost almost to the dollar. This is where I got a little lost...

In America we learn to be independent and strong financially. We graciously turn down things that are given to us, thinking that it would be weak or even unfair for someone else to give us what they rightfully earned. My head, influenced by 25 years in this society, told me to somehow figure out how to just give it back, despite not knowing where it all really came from.

But I was convicted. And I was wrong. And I got a serious heart check.

Of the many spiritual gifts God has blessed His people with, one is giving, a gift that not only implies a desire to give to others, but the means to do so as well. If I were to not accept such a gift, I would be hindering the good work God had called others to do. They had responded graciously and obediently and for me to give that back to them would be wrong, put at its most simple. I thought about the hours I've spent with my 7th graders. The time I've been able to give to them, realizing that I don't do it out of obligation to them or God. I do it because it's a gift and a passion God has given me and it's one of the ways I find the most JOY in serving. If any of those parents were ever to look at me and say, "We so appreciate the thought, but we'd really like you to stop spending time with our girls because we want you to keep your time," I would be crushed. Even if it was quite well-intentioned, it would take something from me that brings me tremendous joy. Using our spiritual gifts is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying actions that we have in life. And I seriously considered taking that opportunity from someone else.

To do so would have been...prideful. Arrogant. Stupid.

Acts 2 says that the apostles were selling what they had and sharing it with anyone in need. And what is extremely humbling to admit is that I was in need. No, I don't have $600 stashed away somewhere to pay for emergencies. And while someone could have looked at me and instead thought that it was my own fault and I'd just have to figure it out, they didn't. They just provided for me when I was in need out of what God had blessed them with.

More than ever, I understood community.

There's an amazing part of that passage that somehow is so easy to read over. The very last sentence says that day by day people were being saved. EVERY DAY people were being saved because they saw the response of the disciples' faith, which was so contrary to the tendencies toward selfishness and independence.

I could never be more thankful to be the recipient of such community. And while I may never be given the opportunity to return the favor, I pray that God will give me the opportunity to use my gifts in such an extravagant way for others.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A few scattered thoughts

On September 1st I posted a Monday's Fabulous Moment about my grandma, and commented on how lucky I was that at 25 I still had all four of my grandparents. And just over a month later on October 3rd, that changed. My grandpa passed away at about 6:00 that morning after a perforated ulcer caused infection to spread through his body. He was 78 years old and while I knew in my head that these people won't live forever I realized in the shock of his death that I never actually believed it. He was tough. A Korean War hero. He was strong and courageous. I guess I just never thought a standard infection would be something that could take him, especially not as quickly as it did.

Grandpa died on Saturday and I flew home on Sunday. I walked into my aunt's house and wrapped my arms around my grandma, and through tears she said, "Your grandpa loved you so, so much. He was really proud of you." All those feelings of guilt, the whole why-do-I-live-so-far-away-from-my-family thoughts disappear when brought into that light. Because I know that we're not all called to simply stay put. God moves us around and brings us to the places that will be the most glorifying to Him.

"...and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist..."
~Acts 17: 26-28

And I knew Grandpa was okay with that. I knew every time I talked to him and he'd say, "Hey Jen! How's Austin!?" I knew every time he started one of our phone conversations by asking me how the weather was. He was the kind of grandpa that let us kids ride his four wheeler down dirt roads and too close to ponds without requiring adult supervision. He was the kind of grandpa that taught us how to drive his van out in the field. The kind that I could be at total peace knowing that he genuinely was okay with me going wherever I needed to go in the world. Because of that, I could return home to my family that weekend, welcomed and loved like no time had passed since I was last with them.

The service was beautiful. A military funeral like he deserved. Up until this point, I had never been through the death of a close family member. I would see other people at funerals and visitations and they always seemed so...put together. I never understood it. I had heard of and read about "peace that surpasses all understanding," but until I had the opportunity to stand for 4 hours visiting with family members, talking to the pastor that would be doing grandpa's service, and seeing the box of his ashes sitting on a table surrounded by pictures of him, I had never felt that peace quite so obviously. I told one of my dad's cousins I felt like I had a God shield around me. There was just this calm in my heart, the same calm that I saw in my grandmother. The kind of calm that allowed me to tell the pastor stories and just laugh. The kind that allowed me to look at all the pictures and remember the good things and just smile. The kind of calm that doesn't really allow you to feel the depth of death all at once. It wasn't a fog like I always thought it might be. I was very coherent and remembering everything that happened, every conversation, every laugh.

It's like God just lets you have little pieces at a time though. If it all really sank in at once, we simply wouldn't make it through. But I believe there are times when you have to hand things over to God to carry. And then there are other times when He simply doesn't give you an option. He simply holds onto the heaviness, and brings it to you, piece by piece, as He deems necessary.

The time I had with my family that week was sweet. We went back to the land my grandparents lived on, one of two places that I've been able to call home from childhood to today. I'll soon be down to one place, my other grandparents' home, when that land gets sold. But I looked out at the pond and remembered my grandpa calling the fish in the morning, the fish who knew he was carrying food for them. I went into the woods and found the fort he had helped build for us when we were kids. I sat on the patio outside where he made the best barbecue in the world. I went in the room where I slept one summer and tried not to cry when I got waken up by coyotes howling. I sat at the kitchen table and ate soup with my grandma and we talked about how he made the best homemade french fries, and how he used to pick on me that of everything he cooked so well my favorite thing was french fries.

It really was just a precious time, leaning into my family and being given the opportunity to be leaned on every now and then. As the days have gone by, and I realize that a week ago today I came back to Austin. And a week before that I got the call that he was in the hospital. And the week before that it wasn't even a thought in my mind, I realize how powerless I am. And how powerful our God is. How sovereign. How sweet.

My grandma said it best that weekend: "This was the Lord's will." Thy will be done.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have a couple little pet peeves...

I'm not a generally annoyed or bothered person. But 2 things got me today:

#1. The bank being closed on Columbus Day. Why. I don't even know what Columbus Day is.

#2. Twitter language. I don't speak it. I don't read it. I don't understand it. I appreciate the twitter social circle on facebook and that I choose not to be part of that circle. That part I'm okay with. But, if your facebook status is seeking help, or needing people to serve, don't write it in Twitter-speak. We don't all speak that language. And I don't want to have a translator just to figure out what you need help with.

:) Other than that, just enjoying a quiet rainy day in Austin, Texas.