The future of love is not fragile

To Luke, with all my love.  Happy Birthday, sweetheart. 

I am so glad my daughter, Clarabella,  will be growing up in this era.  I am aware that is not something you hear too often these days.  I know the world is a god-awful mess and that there are more than enough things that need fixing.  And I know the planet is literally on fire.  But despite all that, I am so hopeful for her future.

There are a number of reasons for this, but today’s reason is “Frozen 2.” Specifically, Kristoff. I saw this movie weeks ago, and while I loved the songs, what has stayed with me is a single short line by Kristoff. He swoops in to help Anna when she is in trouble, but rather than focusing on rescuing her, all he says is “I’m here. What do you need?”

Can you imagine anything more right or perfect?  “I’m here, what do you need?”  I think my jaw dropped at that line and I haven’t managed to pick it up since.  Additionally, Kristoff’s entire role in the film is centered on his love for Anna, which he talks (and sings) about openly and honestly.  What an incredible example for kids to see today.  I’m so grateful to Disney for that.

The fact that this example exists in a film that my daughter will watch (probably so much that I will get sick of it) makes me so happy.  There are glimpses of this sort of moment in other films, like “Wonder Woman” and…ok I can’t think of any other popular films at the moment that have this kind of supportive male role.  So thank God for Kristoff.  And for my husband Luke, Clarabella’s dad.

If Kristoff is a good example in a film, Luke is an example she will get to see every day.  Luke, to me, exemplifies what it is possible for a man to be.  He is unfailingly supportive, joyful, and unabashedly loving.  He is also deeply kind.  The traditional wisdom is that men are supposed to be strong and unemotional, but I can’t think of anything that portrays strength better than supporting another person.  Patience and kindness are an enduring kind of strength.  Frozen 2 gets this right too.  At the end of the film, Kristoff reminds Anna that his “love isn’t fragile.”  Love isn’t fragile. It is a strong and powerful force that can be relied on.  The love of another person should be something to lean on.  Luke’s love is like that.  I have been blessed by it time and again over the last decade, and it has been a constant in Clarabella’s life since the day she was born.

Growing up, I was very interested in love and boys and relationships.  It was pretty much my favorite topic.  I loved the idea of being in love, of falling in love.  I wish I could go back and explain to my younger self was real love looks like, or that I could ensure that Clarabella will know as she grows up.  But I know that my teenage self wouldn’t get it.  My parents set a wonderful example of a loving relationship and partnership, but only so much will get through a 14 year old’s hazy ideas of romance.  What it has taken me a decade of marriage to learn and what I hope Clarabella will understand is that “falling in love” misses the mark.  Love is something to lean on, to be buoyed by, not something to fall into.  Love is not fragile. And a true partner will express the strength that comes from love. 

I am glad examples of this are beginning to exist in films.  I am even more grateful, though, for the daily example of partnership and love that is set by my husband.  Clarabella, I hope that you find someone as kind and loving as your dad.  Even more, I hope you grow up to be just like him.  I hope you are that partner to another someday.  I am truly hopeful.

Of Pregnancy and Public

I am 39 weeks pregnant and due to meet baby any day now.  Thank God.  I am so ready to be done being pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t disliked being pregnant.  I’ve had a pretty uneventful pregnancy and have really loved the feeling of baby growing and kicking and turning.  It has been amazing to have this completely unique connection to what will very soon be a tiny little person.  I will never have this connection with him or her again, and I have cherished it.  I’ve liked being pregnant.
Me and my mom at one of my baby showers
What I have utterly detested is being pregnant in public.  My mom told me once that I am a very private person. Until she said that, I hadn’t thought of myself that way. She pointed out that despite how comfortable I am talking with people, being outgoing, and sharing about my life, I stay very private. I am capable of sharing my life story with someone and still revealing nothing about how I think and feel about the world. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not, but I don’t let many people see things I don’t want them to see.
Pregnancy has been a very jarring experience because of that. It is something so personal and so special to me, but it is something that others can know just by looking at me. And it is something about me that, consciously or not, people feel they have a right to. They ask about it constantly, they offer advice, they smile and say “aw” at my belly, they invade and impose. And it is all from a place of joy and love and so I smile back and answer and thank and laugh. I’m happy to be pregnant and I don’t mind talking about it. But that’s when it is my choice and on my terms. And it rarely is. It’s exhausting for me. Being pregnant should not make me everyone else’s business. It should not take away my personhood or my privacy. It shouldn’t take away my power to talk about my life on my own terms. But it does.
Being pregnant has defined me to the rest of the world since I shared the news and started showing.  If pregnant women seem easily annoyed, consider the idea that it may not be hormones.  It may simply be the fact that they have not been seen as their own person for the past nine months.  It’s enough to make anyone a bit cranky.
I never get asked “how’s it going” at work anymore. Now it’s “how are you feeling?” That isn’t really a question about me, it’s about the pregnancy. It is well meaning and sincere, but it does not change the fact that it is a question asked of a pregnant person, not a peer.  Now that I’m at the end of my pregnancy, I’m getting a lot of “Is the baby here yet?” questions.  No, the baby is not here yet.  Obviously. If it was, I am pretty sure I would have mentioned it.  It has been nine months of this sort of thing, and I am very ready to be done with it.
I have loved being pregnant, and I am so excited to meet my baby and be a mom.   But pregnant women do not stop being their own person.  Below are some suggested questions to ask instead of asking about the pregnancy:
How was your weekend?
Have you seen any good movies lately?
Do you have any fun plans this week?
What are you thoughts on (insert current event here)?
Can I get your take on this project?
Where in the world would you love to travel?
Do you have any good book recommendations?
I wish I had been asked more questions like that over the last few months.  It would have reminded me that I am still interesting, still have something to share, am still more than what is happening with my body.  When you define someone by their body or biology, you deny their humanity and take away their autonomy.   I have become much quieter in the last few months.  I hope this side effect of pregnancy is one that will fade away – not just for me personally, but for all women someday.  We are still ourselves, and we can be asked more.

Hope for the Holidays

My organization, Community Action Partnership, runs more than twenty programs and services for low-income families throughout the year.  This year, I was asked to take the lead on our school supply distribution and holiday programs.  I loved being part of collecting donations of backpacks and school supplies to help kids get a solid start to the new school year.  We were able to give out over 2,000 backpacks to kids in need this year.  The community response was incredible.  We were even able to give older students scientific calculators.  It was such a cool thing to be a part of.

Backpack donations for 2018 Project Student Success

Now the holiday program, Hope for the Holidays, is in full swing.  Through this program, donors can “adopt” low-income and homeless families and shop for them based on wish lists that they submit.  Donors can also “adopt” a senior this year, and can also donate new toys for kids.  Hundreds of families sign up for this program every year, and every year donors step up to meet the needs of all of these families.  Basically, our community is amazing.  I’ve always loved this outpouring of generosity.  But this is the first year I’ve had much to do with the client family side of the program.

Gary Scott Jen reading '91
My dad, my brother, and me at Christmas a million years ago (1991 probably)

I’ve always thought it was so wonderful of donors to adopt these families so that kids can have a nice holiday.  I never gave much thought to the adults in the families.

Today, I’m spending my day going through wish lists submitted by the families and getting them ready to send to donors.  And I am struck again and again but the love and care that goes into these lists.  These parents are often homeless, in crisis, wondering where they will find the next meal for their kids or how they will keep the heat on or make this month’s rent.  They are dealing with things that would break most people.  But they take the time to fill out these wish lists.  They find a way to get to our office to sign up.  The love and care that is evident in these lists is so humbling.  These parents are so connected to their kids.  Each wish list reflects the hope that they have for their children, their desire to protect their children from the stresses that they are facing.

This program is more than a nice thing to do at the holiday season.  I thought the program name, “Hope for the Holidays” was just a nice alliteration.  It isn’t.  This program truly does represent the hope that these families have.  The hope that next year will be better.  The hope that children will find a safe future for themselves.  The hope that even if it is just for one day, troubles can fall away and be replaced by children’s smiles and joy.

I’m grateful to these families for reminding me what the holidays can be.


For more information on CAP, Hope for the Holidays, and how you help, go to