I Like to Tell Stories

When the girls were little, pretty much from the time we got them until just a few months ago, I worked all the time.  I had a full-time job in a church.  I loved my job and the people I worked with each day.  It was a challenging job in so many ways, and fed some really great parts of me.  But it also fed some not so great parts of me.  That's truth.

I remember that I used to explain to Shannay that I had to work because my job was helping people love Jesus more.  Some mornings when I would leave for work or drop her off at the day care and she would balk (freak out is a better description, that or have a near nuclear life-shifting meltdown) I would say, "Shannay, Mommy has to go help people love Jesus more."

When I think about that now, ugh.  I'll bet that sweet little girl was thinking, "But I need you Mommy.  "I" need you to stay here with me.  "I" need you to help me not be afraid.  "I" need you to constantly remind me that my world will not ever be an evil, scary place again."

That's not really the direction I was going with this post, so let me shift back.

I used to try to explain to her what I did as my work.  Why I had to be gone all the time.  And I think on her level, she got it.  Mama had a job.  People have jobs.  Jobs help us eat and have clothes and have a place to live.  Jobs are good.

And over time, she got used to me being gone all the time.

Then life changed.  And Mama was home all the time.

At home and on her computer.

A few weeks ago I was explaining to Shannay what my job was.  (She asked me why I didn't go to work anymore.)

I explained to her that when I was on my computer, I was working.  That my work was writing. When she asked me what I was writing (which by the way EVERYONE asks), I thought about it for awhile and then I said, "Well, I guess you could say I write people's stories for them."

Yesterday, she was playing at her desk near mine and she had a pretend laptop on her desk.  When I asked her what she was doing she said, "I'm doing my job."

So I said, "What's your job, Shannay?"

She said, "I'm helping my friends tell their stories.  Just like you, Mom."

Melt.  My.  Heart.

All that to say, I'm still getting used to answering the question, "What do you do for a living?"  I still have days where I miss the interaction with other adults. But moments like yesterday make the transition so much easier.  What do I do for a living?  Well, I guess I'm helping my friends tell their stories.

People Are Complicated

God created human beings to live in community; with Him, and with others.

And I don't know about you, but sometimes, that plan is a difficult one.  It has been my experience that sometimes people disappoint you.

Sometimes they don't live up to your expectations.

They aren't sensitive to your pain nor do they offer you a shoulder when you need one.

Sometimes they are in a hurry when you need their time.

And they minimize your trials or worse yet, make you feel small because your trials aren't as significant as theirs.

It has been my experience that people hurt you, use you, betray you, doubt you, lie to you, dislike you, unfriend you, and even talk about you behind your back.

They say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, think the wrong thing.

They don't fulfill your emotional needs, or your physical needs, or your spiritual needs.

But here's the greatest lesson I've learned.  They aren't supposed to.

Most of the time, when I am disappointed by others, it is because I have expected them to be perfect; to live up to and exceed my expectations.  I have expected them to fill some place that isn't theirs to fill.  I need Jesus, but I look for fulfillment and completion and approval from people.

All that to say, God's Word says, "And my God will supply all of your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." People are complicated.  God's Word isn't.  Love People.  Live in His Word.

Meet Lauren and Prepare to Fall in Love

I am going to tell you such a sweet story right now that it is absolutely going to melt your heart. And if it doesn't, then it is quite possible that you have no heart and you should immediately check to see if you have a pulse.

 I want you to meet Lauren. She's 11 and in the 5th grade.
(Seriously, how cute is she?!)

For the last 6 months, she has been going to breakfast with her dad, Michael Lukaszewski, and writing a book called, "The Clown That Lost His Funny." It's a story of a bald clown that experiences a tragedy and loses his ability to be funny, causing him to have to work a boring job. 

She created an outline, interviewed real clowns, wrote a draft, had people give her feedback, and even worked with an illustrator.  I'm quite taken with this young writer, and I have never even met her.

When I read about Lauren's dedication to writing her first book, I thought to myself, "Look, if kids can get a million likes on Facebook and TV interviews on GMA and the Today show, just for writing a poster about a puppy, surely we oughta be able to help Lauren publish her book!"

So that's why I decided to blog about her.  Because she is PRESH!  And she's a writer.  And we writers have to be a community and help each other.  And also, I admire her tenacity.  She saved up money for almost a whole year to buy her own computer so she could write her book on it!  OMgosh, I want to squeeze her, she's so cute!

I also just love that every Saturday morning for 6 months, she and her dad went to breakfast together to work on this book.  Even if for some crazy reason she doesn't get her book published, (and by crazy reason,  I mean because you didn't run right over to this site and donate some money to help her start her project . . . seriously . . . do it . . . or check your pulse),  but if for some crazy reason she doesn't get published, it's still such a beautifully sweet thing that her daddy took the time with her to do this.  Those are memories that will last a lifetime.

And in case you haven't been convinced solely by the cuteness factor,  here is another picture of this adorable 11 year old girl, sitting at Cracker Barrel working with her daddy. (Look at that hot cocoa!  Look at the determination on her face.  Check your pulse.)

There's a lot more information for you on her Kickstarter page (she has a kickstarter page!  That just makes me want to squeeze her harder!  And she came up with some great rewards for those who help her realize her dream.)

And really, if all that isn't enough to convince you to go help this girl, you should also know that she has already planned other books in this series, including "The Dog Who Lost His Bark."

All that to say, won't you please join me in helping Lauren publish her book by participating in her Kickstarter?  And also, will you post this blog to your wall, tweet it, pin it, share it with friends by email, put it on the evening bark, whatever you can do to get the word out!  And I think it would be really nice if you'd drop her an email to encourage her.  Just to be safe though, let's send our emails to her dad here.  (or check your pulse!)

(Click on the Facebook or twitter icon below to share)  Or click the Pin Button!

Top 5 Ways to Get Comcast to Discount Your Bill

My stupid internet has been down off and on for about 4 days now.  It started on Saturday, and I probably should have called Comcast on Saturday, but I was so insanely frustrated at the thought of having to sit in the "Call and Hold" loop for 30 minutes that I kept putting it off.

Plus, I knew that the Customer Service Rep was going to want to walk me through the motions of "fixing" it, only to tell me at the end of a very annoying and long conversation that I needed to schedule an appointment for a technician to come out and fix my problem.

Finally, when I could take it no longer, I decided I'd call.  My call went something like this:

THEM:  "Bienvenido a Comcast."

ME:  "I don't speak Spanish."

THEM:  "This is Comcast.  Are you having problems with your cable or your internet?"

ME:  "My internet.  And I'd like to start this conversation by telling you that I appreciate the work you are about to do for me. I know your job is difficult and people are often frustrated when they call you.

I know you have a checklist that we have to go through, so I'd to take this opportunity to save us both some time, if that's okay.  

  • I'd like to begin by telling you that I have checked for outages in my area.  There are none.
  • Next, I'd like you to know that I have checked my power supply, and it is working.
  • I have also checked all of my connections, wires, cables, etc. and they are all secure.
  • I unplugged my modem for 30 seconds and then plugged it back in.  Then I unplugged my modem from the wall and from the router for 2 minutes.  After waiting the full 2 minutes, I plugged everything back in.  
  • I have reset the modem and restarted my computer.
None of that has worked.  Is there anything else I should do before we schedule a technician?"

THEM:  (Laughed Out Loud) "Would Tuesday at 10 be a good time for you?"

Total conversation time: 3 minutes.  Including holding time.  SCORE!

Before I hung up I also said, "I appreciate your valuable help today.  You were incredibly professional. My frustration is not with you but with a service I pay a lot of money for each month.  Is there something Comcast can do to offset my bill this month for this inconvenience and time without service?"

THEM:  "Yes Ma'am.  I can credit your bill $25.  Would that be satisfactory?"

Couple secrets I know about Comcast (and the top 5 ways to get Comcast to help you quickly, with less frustration AND discount your bill!)

  1. When you call in, select the option for Spanish.  Your wait time will be minimal.  The operator will answer in Spanish.  Tell them you don't speak Spanish.  They will still help you.
  2. Their Customer Service Reps have terrible jobs.  They spend the bulk of their 8 hour shift being yelled at, told off, talked down to, and cussed at.  I had a close relative who worked there.  I know this first hand.
  3. They have a set list of questions they have to ask you.  It's literally a checklist. They aren't asking questions to annoy you.  They can't assume you've taken all the correct steps to figure out your problem.  But if you don't want to "run the checklist" then do all the things I said above BEFORE you call, and tell them what you have already done before you get too far into the conversation.
  4. Be nice to your representative.  They need a friendly voice.  Do it because it's the right thing to do, but also know it comes with a reward.
  5. Ask for a discount off your bill.  Your representative has the authority to authorize a discount without asking a supervisor.  (up to $25!)  The nicer you are, the bigger a discount they'll offer you.
All that to say, I guess it's true what they say, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I don't really know why anyone would want to catch flies, but I DO KNOW that people want to save money.  So yeah.  Go.  Save some money.  And be nice to people.

Who Are You?

"I am a freelance writer."

Those words are rolling off of my tongue a little easier these days, but I still pause before I say them.

You see, I was something else for a lot of years, so my old answer is still the first answer on the tip of my tongue.  

And there is this annoying, awkward gap between the time it takes that answer to form itself on my tongue and the time it takes my heart to remind my brain that I am something different.

A gap that causes a very pregnant and sometimes awkward pause.

Also, saying you're a freelance "anything" sounds like what people say when they don't have a real job.  (Especially if I say it right after a very pregnant and awkward pause) :)

You know, 'cause in the back of my mind I'm saying, "I work from home in my jammies with a laptop."

But as I was praying this morning, and I was thinking about all of this, I realized that I keep saying I "am" this and I "was" that, as if I am somehow defined solely by my vocation.

I work as a freelance writer.  I used to work as a pastor.  Prior to that I worked as a teacher and prior to that a business executive.  But who I am at my core is the same.

I'm still Carol Jones.  Wife to Mike,  mother of four incredible kids and one god-given daughter-in-law, Jesus lover, daughter, friend, mentor, and child of the King.

I am neither a subtotal of my mistakes, nor am I solely defined by the work I do.  Those are pieces of me, certainly.  They add color and description to a beautiful tapestry that God is weaving.

All that to say, who are you?

Joy Comes

"Some days are diamonds.  Some days are stones.  Some times the hard times won't leave me alone."

If you're old enough to recognize these lyrics, you'll know they are from a song written by storyteller and songwriter, John Denver.

And for some reason, I woke up today with this song in my head.

I find that each day I awaken is a crapshoot in terms of my emotions.  I've been encouraged that this is normal.  That I'm a mere five months away from a life-changing event in my life.  That I should cut myself some slack.

But I'm a "pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-get-on-with-it" kind of girl.  So I'm not so good in the "cutting myself some slack" department.

I woke up this morning, early, not by choice, but decided to use the time to sit quietly before the Lord.

He was silent.

Or maybe I wasn't.

It's most likely the latter than the former.

I awakened with a heavy heart for no particular reason.  Perhaps I dreamed dreams that bore a weight only my spirit perceived.  Even His Word, normally quite comforting, seemed like print on a page. And though it said, "the joy comes with the morning," I felt no sense of that; only a deep longing for the truth of it.

Then my morning beckoned me (and by "my morning" I mean two singing four year olds who had awakened at 4:30a.m. and never fully gone back to sleep), so I closed my Bible, sighed heavily, and headed upstairs to quieten the "morning" before it awakened my husband who worked most of the night.

I confess, I was quite frustrated as I walked up the stairs to their room.  Was there no peace to be found this morning?  And then I opened their door.

And the whitest eyes grinned at me in the darkness.  And the sweetest voices said, "Good Morning, Mommy."

All that to say, funny thing about the Lord.  Sometimes he uses what we see in the darkness to bring light to our troubled minds.  I love that about him.  He's a "teachable moment" kind of guy.

"And though the sorrows will last for the night, His joy comes in the morning." - Psalm 30:5

The Life Cycle of a Scar

As I mentioned earlier, I have a scar on my arm.  It's not pretty.  But it's better than it was.

I remember seeing that scar the first day I took the bandage off my arm, 8 days post-op.  All the steri-strips had fallen off, and all that was left was a very exposed, very raw scar.  I couldn't cover it with long sleeves; it was painful to touch, to try to cover, so I pretty much stayed inside the house, content to be alone with my wound while it healed.

Within a few weeks, I could tell it was getting better, but still it was red and raw.  At least it was no longer painful to the touch, so I could put on a long sleeve shirt and go outside into the world.

As more time passed, I was still acutely aware of the scar, and at times, others were aware of it as well. But for the most part,  I no longer thought about it all the time.  Every now and then, I'd bump it, and it would hurt, and I would remember it was there.

It's still there.  Not yet healed, but not so raw.  Just . . . well . . . there.

I am assured by the folks that know these things, that someday my scar will be a tiny little line, a small reminder that I once had something bad happen to me.

I think that's the way of scars.  And the usefulness of them.  They are a small reminder that something bad once happened to us.  And that we survived.

All that to say, I guess I'll learn to love this scar I am presently carrying.  You know the one I mean.

How Many Aggies Does It Take?


I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about this post.  I'm excited on so many levels.

1.  Because I love people who step outside the boundaries of comfort to relieve the burdens of others.
2.  Because I have an obvious heart for orphans and the people who help them.
3.  Because I have gotten to watch this couple's story unfold in real time.  And it's awesome.

A little background.  I met Matt Hemberger a LOT of years ago at a church where he was serving as an intern.  During that time, he talked about a girl he'd met that he was pretty sure was "the one."  I remember thinking, "Oh Matt."  But sure enough she was "the one" and they not only married, but have since had a baby and gone on to do some incredible things in the world.

A few months ago, I started noticing this organization, Ags for Orphans, on all my friends' walls on Facebook.  Then I saw a picture of Matt with a sweet little Haitian boy, and something about Ags for Orphans.  Really, I didn't give it much thought, just thought Matt must have taken a mission trip to Haiti or something.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Matt Hemberger and his wife, Meghann, were not only the Executive Directors of Ags for Orphans but that they were the FOUNDERS.  Seriously, have I mentioned that I love it when people step beyond the boundaries of comfort to relieve the burdens of others?  This is a young couple.  And even though I'm not all up in their personal business, I know this.  They are young.  They have a baby.  They have a mortgage and cars and jobs and the stress that comes from all of that.  Managing that alone would be enough.  But it wasn't enough for them.

Because there are orphans in this world. ORPHANS.  

I asked Matt why they started Ags for Orphans (which he totally downplays the part where they are the FOUNDERS) and he said, "We started it out of a simple desire to adhere to God's call to care for the orphan - and make a lasting impact on the world we live in. "

Yeah, they started an organization that is BLOWING UP (for my older friends, that means getting big in a hurry) because they, you know, just had a simple desire to adhere to God's call to care for the orphan.  That blows my mind.  I'm sorry.  It does.  Heck, they could have just gone on a mission trip.  But NO.  They founded an organization, leveraging the strength and the passion of the Texas Aggies, and are partnering with Coreluv International.

Did I mention how EXCITED I was about today's post? 

There is plenty, plenty, plenty of information about Ags for Orphans on their website.  You know you're going to be on the Internet clicking around for awhile, so instead of wasting hours deciding what to pin next, click on over to their site and read about what they are doing.

But before you do that, I want you to read about a few simple things that you can do to help.  (Keep in mind that "simple" to Matt and Meghann was to start an entire organization . . . this is way simpler than that!)

  • Go to their facebook page and like it.  (For real.  You probably "liked" Grumpy Cat.  This is way better!)   Do this right now.  But come back.            I'll wait . . .
           Awesome.  Welcome back.  And thanks.

  • Go get you some gear!
  • Donate.  $1, $10, $10,000  Whatever you have that you want to give.  But give something.
  • Go on a trip!  There are three or four to choose from.
  • Check out their site for all the really great ways you can get involved.

And lastly, just to really entice you to get on board with something that is totally awesome, I'm giving away one of these.  (Yes, there's a catch.  Deal with it.)


Here's what you have to do to enter:
  • First off, pin this.  If you aren't on pinterest, I forgive you.  But get someone else to pin this to their board.
  • Secondly, go to facebook and "like" their page.  I told you to do that already, but some of you were so anxious to keep reading my incredibly well written post that you skipped that little step earlier.  I forgive you.  But do it now.  (I'm incredibly forgiving today).
  • Thirdly, Tweet something about Ags for Oprhans and use the hashtag #AgsforOrphans  If you aren't on Twitter, I forgive you.  But ask someone you know who is on Twitter to tweet this for you.
  • And finally, comment on this blog and let me know that you did all of these things.  And just because I'm being so incredibly nice today, I will give you an entry for EACH of these things that you do. But you HAVE to comment or you won't be entered!

All that to say, how many Aggies does it take to help an orphan?  One more.

Now go on.  Help an orphan.  Even if you're not an Aggie. 
(And don't forget to comment!)

Sometimes We Don't Want Logic, We Want Compassion

I recently had a follow-up appointment with my dermatologist about my "not, not cancer" spot on my arm.  When I had the procedure done, she told me that I would have a scar, but that the way she was going to sew it was going to leave a fairly minimal scar, one that she could even do some minor abrasion therapy to later on to render the scar virtually unnoticeable.

On the day I left my surgical appointment, I left with the idea that I would remove my bandage, see a minimal scar and a few months later at my follow up appointment, I'd go in and she'd do her magic on whatever was left.

That is categorically NOT what happened.

First off, when I removed my bandage I had a hideously red and very bumpy scar.  It actually looked like someone had sewn an angry, red, fuzzy caterpillar to my arm.  There was nothing minimal about that scar.  So, I called the doctor's office and got what is probably a very commonly relayed "Calm Down" speech.  I was assured that within 6-8 weeks I would be fine, my scar would be fine, the world would not end, and I could someday wear sleeveless shirts again.

Fast forward 6-8 weeks and that is categorically NOT what happened.  My scar was less red, but other than that, pretty much the same.  I decided not to panic this time and gave myself a pep talk.  (Not the Kid President kind of pep talk, but more like the "don't be ridiculous Carol, it's a scar, not an amputation, geesh!" kind of pep talk.)  I also decided not to call the doctor and get another lecture about calming down.

But every time someone would see my scar (I'm not even kidding here people!) they would say something like, "oh my" or they would suck their breath in sharply.  Clearly, a surprisingly ugly scar.

So, when I went in for my appointment, I was ready to take that dermatologist to task over that scar.  It wasn't at all what she told me I was going to get.  It was far, far worse.

I feel the need to tell you that my dermatologist is an incredibly sweet person.  Very soft-spoken.  Very sensitive in her bedside manner.  So when she said to me, "Mrs. Jones.  You're being superficial about this.  You have a small scar.  It's significantly better than death by cancer, which is what you could have experienced had we done nothing," I was somewhat taken back.

And I cried.  I mean like a baby, snotting, sobbing cried.  (So embarrassing.  I am an ugly crier, so there I sat with a red-splotched face and a hideous scar on my arm).  Ugly from head to . . . well . . . elbow.

I said, "I know you're right.  Of course you're right.  My logical mind can tell me you're right.  And then there's my illogical mind that just wants to be pretty."

All that to say, perspective is important.  Of course I understand I'd rather have a scar than cancer.  But sometimes hearing what you already know is still just hard to hear.  Sometimes, we just want a little compassion.  Sometimes, we just want someone to tell us it's all going to be okay.

When Their Story Isn't a Fairy Tale

Of late, Shannay has been asking lots of questions about adoption.  There were a couple of colliding factors that prompted these questions.  One was that we were in the pediatrician's office and the only reading material they had in the exam room was pregnancy magazines (weird).  The other factor was that we fostered two babies right in a row, within a week of each other.

For a four year old, both the notion of a baby growing inside of someone, as well as the idea that there are babies who don't have homes, is quite disconcerting and prompts all kinds of questions.

Shannay's questions started off with "Why is her belly so big?" and "Did I grow in your belly?" to "Why doesn't she (the foster baby) live with her mama?"

These might seem like easy questions to some, but with Shannay, you can rest assured that whatever she is verbalizing is just the tip of a very deep iceberg.

Her questions eventually grew to "Are you my real Mama?"  and "Why are we giving her (the foster baby) away?" and "Are you gonna give me away?"

So we've had lots and lots of dialogue about birth moms and real moms and fostering and homelessness and so on.  It's definitely unfamiliar territory to me, and I am constantly praying and looking for books and words about how to talk to my daughters about their story because their story is not an easy one.

This morning, I was up early and working when Shannay got up, came downstairs and snuggled up under my arm while I typed.  In the sidebar of the particular client's blog I was working on was a picture of a Compassion International Child.

Our dialogue went like this:

S:   "Mama, why is that girl so sad?"
M:  "Well, she's probably hungry and dirty and maybe she needs a drink."
S:   "Where is her mama?"
M:  "Well, baby, I don't know.  Maybe she doesn't have a home."
S:   "Why she not have a home?"
M:  "Shannay, some people, even little children, are homeless.  They don't have a place to live or sleep. Isn't that sad?" (I figure, it can't be too early to teach about these things.)
S:   "Mama, we have to help her.  Like we do.  Til her mama can help her or she gets a new mama."

WHAT?!!!  I was stunned at the depth of her understanding.

Now, she wasn't too thrilled that I didn't know who this little girl was or how to get to her to help her.  But I assured her that someone was going to help her, and then we talked a little about Compassion and groups like them.

All that to say, I'm still struggling with the right words to talk to my daughter about her adoption and her very difficult story.  I know at the right time, God will give me just the right words to speak over her and into her heart.  In the meantime, I love that God is already giving her a heart of adoption.

I plan to write about what I am learning and post it to my blog,  "What Color is Family."   You'll find it at ThatCarolJones.com coming March 25th.  (Yes, it's a shameless plug.  Deal with it.) :)