Saturday, March 24, 2007

From the Keukenhof

On Wednesday, we drove to the coast to a little town that hosts a huge flower garden, the Keukenhof. It seemed a very fitting place to take some engagement pictures.

This is one of my favorites. I love the look of contentment and peace on Niels' face.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My future in laws

Almost fifteen years ago I took a "retreat of silence"--a weekend away by myself to think about my life, reflect on some things and really ask God for direction. It was a very significant point in my life for several reasons.

First, I sensed God give me a life mission:

To establish a godly heritage
To make an eternal difference
To choose joy, regardless of my circumstances

Some years ago, I came to realize that even if I remain single, I can help others establish a godly heritage through my book, my support and my prayers for their marriages. Granted, I don't always make the right choices for the other two aspects, but having a life mission helps me guide my decision making more often than not.

Second, I sensed God give me a vision for my life:

I would write a book, marry and raise a child.

At the time, I had no interest in any of those things, so I really wondered where that thought came from. But over time, I saw the vision come to life: in 2004, my book was published, and now I know I'll marry in 2007, and now I believe that, in time, the last part will come to pass as well.

Third, in response to some counseling from my pastor, I did a LOT of reflecting on what marriage should and could be. Though my parents are wonderful people, they weren't able to show me how to marry well the first time. The main reason I feared marriage was that I feared failing at marriage. The only way I knew to avoid divorce was to avoid marriage. My pastor reminded me that God is my heavenly Father, and that if I let Him, He will help me to find and maintain a marriage that lasts. He encouraged me to create a list of qualities that I should look for in a future husband. When I went on my retreat of silence, I struggled to make this list. I realized that before I could ask God to bring me a worthy husband, I had to first figure out the qualities that would make me a worthy bride.

I ended up with a list of ten character qualities. From there, I was able to come up with ten character qualities for my future husband. While I did receive some well-natured ribbing for my list over the years, I found it to be a very helpful tool as I started dating with marriage in mind. First of all, by having ten qualities, it prevented me from dating just anyone. However, by having only ten qualities, it prevented me from being too picky. Most importantly, since the list contained character qualities--things a guy had some control over--it became my prayer list for my future husband all those years I wondered if he even existed.

I won't publish the list here, of course, because I won't show the list to my fiance until after we're married. But for the point I want to make today, I'll share one item:

HIS PARENTS OR ANOTHER COUPLE HAVE PROVIDED A MARRIAGE MODEL—A set of mentors to guide us to a joyful, godly marriage—Deuteronomy 4:9. If his parents are not married, I want to know that he has learned from their mistakes, sought to address the negative habits he may have inherited and has found an older couple to be mentors to him (3/7/99).

The point I was getting at with this item is that he has been intentional about finding wise counselors to help us, and is humble and teachable to seek out wisdom from others. Originally, I admit, I had a strong preference for someone whose parents weren't divorced. However, I had my heart broken by someone who said that he liked everything about me but it would be too difficult for him to handle the divorces in my family. I realized how hypocritcal it was for me to require something I couldn't provide myself, so I added the addendum.

All this background leads me to my thoughts today on my future in-laws, Jan & Kitty de Jong. Niels and I have been with them round the clock for nearly a week. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God has provided me with such an amazing couple. Niels' Dad, Jan, got up at 5am to drive 90 minutes to meet us at the airport. He greeted me with a beautiful bouquet of real Dutch tulips and a three cheek kiss, Euro style. When we arrived at their home later that day, Niels' mom, Kitty, also greeted me warmly. They knew of my love for China, so they designed a beautiful necklace for me with the Chinese symbol for happiness, telling me how happy they were that Niels found me and that there only son was no longer alone in the States.

Over the last few days, I've come to appreciate both Niels and his parents better as I see how much they love life and each other. They are such a fun, affectionate couple, with a willingness to make sacrifices for the things that are really important. One of the most touching moments came when Jan brought Niels and I to his store. On the front window was a sign (in Dutch, of course, so Niels translated) stating that the store would be closed all week for important family business. I was so moved that his parents would sacrifice a week's pay to be able to spend time with me.

Of course, the highlight of the trip has been Niel's proposal in Paris. Again, Niels' parents were part of the occasion, driving with us and sharing hotel rooms with us. Best of all, they were able to take many beautiful pictures. As we walked back to our hotel fom dinner that night, I thought about how hard it must be for them to live so far away from their son. Niels told me that his dad is his best friend, and now I can easily see that it's true. I know that they will miss so many of our firsts, and even more of our everyday life, so it makes my heart smile that we were able to share our special engagement day with them alone.

I've waited such a long time to marry, and now that I've met my Mr. Wonderful, I am so grateful to God for the wonderful way that He has provided even more than I would have hoped for. It took a long time because he had to first come to the States, and then meet God. And to have such awesome in-laws is a fabulous bonus. They are an amazing couple and I look forward to many more visits and opportunities to learn from the wisdom they have gained in their nearly 38 years of happy marriage.

Engagement pictures!!

Here are a few of the pictures from our Paris engagement! Niels is such a romantic!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

At Last!!!!

After 35 long years, God has answered my prayer in an amazing way.

Last night, in a garden at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, Niels proposed to me and I said YES! Niels is an incredible, godly man. I love that he is so open and loving, teachable and humble, intelligent and curious. I see him around the kids I live with and know he's going to be a great dad. He's a human GPS, so I know we'll never be lost. He loves to learn, whether through reading or Google or Wiki or conferences or wise counsel from those we respect, so I know that we will always be surrounded and led by wisdom. He has a sensitive heart, quick to forgive and seek forgivness, so I know he will love me well.

We have had a wonderful time in Europe with his incredible parents. On Sunday, we went to Amsterdam to catch my dad, sisters, and brother-in-law on a layover to Israel. Niels made good use of the time by asking (and receiving) my father's blessing. He asked for my mom's blessing a few weeks ago when she visited us in Ohio. Niels' dad is a photographer, which is a wonderful gift because he and Niels' mom came with us to Paris and now we have some wonderful pictures of our important day.

We're off for a day of sightseeing (and more pictures), but you can read all about the proposal on Niels' blog.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We made it!

It's 3 in the morning here in Holland, but since it's only 10 in the States, of course I'm wide awake. Don't tell Niels I'm still up! He sent me to bed hours ago!

Our trip to Europe was wonderfully eventful, a fact we especially appreciate after learning of planes that spent the night on the runway due to the freak storm in NY...where we flew out from just a few hours early!

No upgrade to business class on this flight, but we did have an extra seat next to us because the plane wasn't full. It was like our own little pilates class trying to find a comfortable way to sleep. Not totally successful, but Niels and I did both get a couple good hours of sleep. I passed most of my waking hours watching Joe Somebody and practicing my Dutch.

We actually arrived quite early in Cologne, Germany. We got through customs in just a few minutes and found our luggage in record time. I figured I'd have some time to freshen up before meeting Niels' dad, but he was quite early as well. When I saw him walking towards us with a big beautiful bouquet of yellow tulips, I'm completely fumbled my well-practiced greeting, "Aangenaam kennis met u te maken," which means "Pleased to meet you." I'm sure I sounded like a five year old. I think he appreciated the thought anyway.

Niels is quite the world traveler (as it turns out that I am becoming!), so he planned a full day for us. Our bodies told us it was 2am, but it was a bright new day. Niels did a great job describing our day on his blog, so I'll let you read his description.

Today was a much more relaxing day. I was able to sleep in til 1pm!!! Then Niels made me get up. After showering and checking our email, we walked to the neighborhood supermarket. It's been fun taking this trip so soon after my trip to China because I think I'm more able to appreciate the world's diversity. I've been very blessed that both these trips (and my quick trip to Canada last month) have revolved around being with friends and not simply tourist trips. One of my favorite things to do is go to the everyday life places--supermarkets, pharmacies, and of course, book stores! I had a lot of fun today pointing at the different things in the stores and I think Niels had a lot of fun explaining the quirks and curiosities of Dutch culture.

A few observations of my trip so far:
  • Niels' family is great! They have made me so welcome. In addition to the flowers, Niels' dad worked with a jeweler friend to design a Chinese necklace for me. It's beautiful and the thought that went into it makes my heart smile.
  • Tonight we had an amazing dinner with Niels' parents, Oma (grandma), sister and sister's boyfriend. It was kinda of like fondue, but not really. At the center of the table sat a grill sort of thing, with six mini-frying pans on it. Then, all around the table were plates of chopped food: beef, chicken (kip), pork, gyro meat, peppers, potatoes, pancake mix (yes, pancake mix), eggs, etc. Each person used the little pan in front of them to cook their own food. It was really, really good!
  • In the grocery store, eggs and milk are found in the regular aisles, not the refrigerated section because "everyone knows you refrigerate them after you open them."
  • Most stores have almost a whole aisle of just licorice, and pretty sizable potato sections as well.
  • "American" food isn't necessarily something an American might know of. For example, in Belgium, we stopped for a snack. I had pomme frites (French Fries). The owner asked if I wanted American sauce with my fries. American sauce? I tried it, but still not sure exactly what to call it...maybe mayo meets ketchup meets chili sauce! With pizza, "American" means thick crust, and there's a brand of pizza that has names like "Texas," "Hawaii," "Boston" and my favorite, "New State." Several brands offer "four season" pizza, which has four different types of pizza toppings, each on their own quadrant. Good idea, actually!
  • It's not a good idea to have the TV on after 11pm or so.
  • Paprika is by far the most popular potato chip flavor.
  • The Dutch like their roads to have curves--right and left and round and round
  • The toilets took a little getting used to. In China, my friends had one bathroom for #1 and another for #2. Here in Holland, you flush #1 with the little button and #2 with the big button.
  • In addition to their fondness for cheese slicers, the Dutch have quite a few kitchen gadgets, like cute little teaspoons--they call American teaspoons something else-- and a "jelly spoon" which is a teaspoon with a little hook so it can hang of the side of the jelly jar without falling in.
  • Niels' dad took us to his shop tonight. He's a very talented photographer. We had a great time looking at pictures he's taken. He also took passport pictures of us and lent us a video camera for our trip. But the best part was seeing the sign he posted in the front window stating that the store will be closed all week for family affairs. It makes me feel so special to know that he values time with us over potential sales at his store.
Okay, now I'm starting to get tired. Tomorrow will be an early day. Up at 7, out the door at 8 and off to Amsterdam to catch Dad and my sisters at the airport. They have a nine hour layover before heading to Israel to visit my sister's father-in-law. So we're going to introduce the families and do a little sightseeing in Amsterdam.

Goede nacht!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And we're off!

My year of international travel continues this week. After starting the year off in China, and a trip to Canada last month, my boyfriend Niels is taking me on a European adventure. We leave tomorrow (Thursday) and arrive Friday morning in Cologne, Germany. The flight is eight hours, but after surviving the thirteen hour flights to/from China, I think I'll be okay!

The trip started off as a joke when I found out my dad, sisters, and brother-in-law have a nine hour layover in Amsterdam on Sunday. I made the comment to Niels, who grew up in The Netherlands, that it isn't fair that my dad gets to go to Holland before me. Niels started checking flights and voila, we're going to meet Dad and the gang at the airport.

In addition to Niels meeting my family, I'll be meeting Niels' family and friends. A few highlights of the trip will be doing a tour of Niels' life in Holland and Belgium, visiting a castle in Germany, adding Luxembourg to my growing list of countries visited, and a special trip to Paris.

Au revoir!
Tot ziens!

Home for Sale: Take 2

When Niels and I were talking to his mortgage guy, he affirmed his decision to buy by saying that Ohio is the second least worst real estate market. Key quote: "Only Michigan is worse." Sigh...

There was a nice 24 hour period where it looked like I had both an interested buyer and renter, but alas, both possibilities fell through. So, as of tomorrow, the house is back on the market again.

If you're in the Grand Rapids area, or would like to be, please spread the word. No matter where you are, please send up a prayer.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Kellie Pickler: "I Wonder"

Last season on American Idol, Kellie Pickler, provided a lot of entertainment with her thoughts (or lack of) on a variety of topics.

Her new single, however, offers a little more depth to her character:

I Wonder
performed by Kellie Pickler

Sometimes I think about you
Wonder if you’re out there somewhere thinkin’ ‘bout me
And would you even recognize the woman that your little girl has grown up to be
‘Cause I look in the mirror and all I see are your brown eyes lookin’ back at me
They’re the only thing you ever gave to me at all

Oh, I hear the weather’s nice in California
There’s sunny skies as far as I can see
If you ever come back home to Carolina
I wonder what you’d say to me

I think about how it ain’t fair that you weren’t there to braid my hair like mothers do
You weren’t around to cheer me on
Help me dress for my high school prom like mother’s do
Did you think I didn’t need you here to hold my hand, to dry my tears
Did you even miss me through the years at all?

Oh, I see the weather’s nice in California
There’s sunny skies as far as I can see
If you ever come back home to Carolina
I wonder what you’d say to me

Forgiveness is such a simple word
But it’s so hard to do
When you’ve been hurt

Oh, I hear the weather’s nice in California
And just in case you’re wonderin’ about me
From now on I won’t be in Carolina
Your little girl is off, your little girl is off, your little girl is off
To Tennessee

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Deciding to Decide

In the three years since Generation Ex was first published , I've refered to certain sections more than others. One that I've often shared, especially as I talk with other singles, has to do with how to feel confident about entering marriage with a particular person.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Anticipating Our Triggers:"

The Romance Trigger
As Wallerstein discovered, the prospect of initiating our own intimate relationships is the most universal trigger. Our fear that we may get divorced paralyzes us. Often at this point, we have a strong need to try to figure out why our parents divorced, so that we can avoid their mistakes.
As we grow older, we will naturally compare our lives to our parents.

Becky’s mom was twenty when she married, and thirty when divorced two children later. Though Becky actively dates now that she is in her twenties, she is utterly opposed to marriage before her thirtieth birthday. She wasn’t even aware of the rule she had written for herself until a would-be fiancĂ© pushed for the reason behind her snub. “I love Greg,” she explains. “He is everything I want in a husband. But I know that Mom loved Dad when she was in her twenties too, so I how do I know that this love will last into my thirties? I think maybe if I wait until I’m thirty to marry, then I’ll be over whatever caused Mom to be unable to stay married to Dad.”

When it comes to our own romantic relationships, we desperately want to know that we are choosing well. Because we have experienced the negative side of marriage, we are not anxious to enter the relationship thoughtlessly. In fact, our past may cause us to be so overly cautious, and our expectations so lofty that not even Christ Himself could live up to our requirements.

In reality, people are imperfect and relationships are fluid. As much as we may want to control or accurately predict our future, the fact remains that the “we” of our relationship is like a boat drifting without an anchor. If we are not intentional about our course, we will not reach our destination. As individuals, we will have bad days, make wrong choices and occasionally allow our emotions to overcome our reason. We must marry knowing that our significant other’s imperfections are evidence only of their humanity, not proof of their incompatibility.

That said, here are a few questions to think about when considering marriage:
  • Does my relationship with this person enhance or distract from a growing relationship with Christ? What is my effect on this person’s relationship with Christ?
  • Are the life goals of this person compatible with the calling I feel God has placed on my life? Can I serve God better with this person or without?
  • Do the things I like about this person form a strong enough foundation that the things I don’t like are inconsequential in comparison?
  • Have we worked through issues of money, sex, expectations, conflict resolution, spiritual interpretations and the role of faith in our lives and marriage?
  • Have I worked through the issues stemming from my parents’ divorce, and do we realize that issues will continue to arise? Do we have a plan for anticipating and dealing with those issues in an honoring way?
  • Can I honestly share my feelings and frustrations with this person, and can I support him or her without resentment —even when this person is the object of my hurt feelings or frustration?
  • When we have disagreements, do we have enough unity that the disagreement is less a matter of him (or her) against me, and more a matter of us against the conflict?
  • When I think of this person as a potential parent, do I like what I see?
  • Imagine that you have made the decision to marry this person. Don’t tell anyone, but wear that emotion for a few days. How does it feel? Does it fill you with dread and fear, or peace and anticipation?
  • Am I willing to forsake all others (family, friends, members of the opposite sex) to make this person my first earthly priority? Am I willing to choose to love, honor and seek this person’s best interest, despite my feelings at any given time, and regardless of their willingness to do the same for me?
  • Does our relationship have the support and approval of those closest to us?
  • Are we both capable and willing to put the other’s needs before our own wants?
  • Are we both committed to a lifelong marriage, willing to work out our differences in a mutually satisfying manner?
  • Is this person my best friend?
  • Do I believe, and am I willing to accept, that this person is God’s best for me?

If you can accurately and honestly answer in the affirmative to most of these questions, you have likely chosen well.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And so it begins....

I'm not the most political person--though I loved West Wing. Today I ran across an article about Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani of interest to children of divorce:

Mar 6, 2007
Maggie Gallagher

Back when he was mayor, Rudy Giuliani made a very good point: "75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers. ... "(I)f you wanted a social program that would really save these kids ... I guess the social program would be called fatherhood."

This week Rudy made another good point: "(B)lended families are challenges, sometimes they are. And the challenges are best worked on in private."

Painful is the only word to describe what it was like for the rest of us to
watch as Andrew Giuliani, America's mayor's 21-year-old Duke sophomore son, stepped up to tell his truth to The New York Times: that he would not be campaigning for his dad. "There's obviously a little problem that exists between me and his wife," the younger Mr. Giuliani said. "And we're trying to figure that out. But as of right now it's not working as well as we would like.

Privacy is an important family value, but it is not more important than listening to children of divorce as they struggle to tell their side of the story.

There is a larger truth here that bears some attention. Illegitimacy is how
poor kids lose their fathers. Divorce (and yes, remarriage) is how too many
middle-class kids do.

For Andrew is not alone. One study of mostly white, middle-class adults whose parents divorced when they were kids found that the vast majority reported distant relationships with their fathers. A review of the social science in the Journal of Marriage and Family concluded that it's not just single unwed mothers whose kids struggle: "(M)ost researchers reported that stepchildren were similar to children living with single mothers on the preponderance of outcome measures and that stepchildren generally were at greater risk for problems than were children living with both of their parents."

Yes, remarriage, and the blended families it creates, can bring new possibilities of warm family relations, and the many divorced fathers and stepparents who've succeeded in rebuilding warm family ties deserve credit. But too often the blending process produces painful loyalty conflicts instead.

What can be more painful for any child than feeling that your father has chosen his new wife over you?

This being a two-year-long presidential cycle, many focus on what the latest in the Giuliani family saga means for Rudy's candidacy. National Journal's Hotline speculated: "It may be unfair, but almost nothing reflects personal character better than -- or more accurately than -- your family. We think: If Giuliani is disqualified by Republicans, it'll be because the sturdy stature of his character collapses, not because he is pro-choice."

Newsweek's recent poll suggests just the opposite: that the 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who self-identify as "social conservatives" are far more concerned about public positions on abortion, gay marriage and gun control (with between 30 percent to 50 percent saying social liberal views would make them less likely to support Rudy). Still, it can't help Rudy to have this reminder now that his family life can make Hillary's look good. Or for us to imagine what it would be like to have him face Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), a husband, father and fatherless son in the general election. Divorced Dad vs. Deserted Son. What psychodramas lie ahead!

For the rest of us, who are not all politics all the time, there's a different bottom line. Rudy was right back in the '90s: Fathers matter. And I hope he finds a way to make this thing right, too. There's a big truth on painfully public display: It's hard to be both a good husband and a good father if you're not married to the mother of your children.

Living Life

It took me longer than the average author to write Generation Ex. In some ways, one might say it took my whole life because I first had to experience parental divorce before I could write about it. While that's true, it also took me longer once the book was contracted. Of course I had submitted a proposal, and my publisher had approved the general content and theme, but I still had to find 65,00 clear, concise and compelling words to flesh out the ideas.

Certain parts of the book were more difficult to write because in writing I realized that, although I knew what I needed to do to heal, I hadn't fully put my own advice in action. My editor, the wise Liz Haney, took those opportunities to offer some great advice: "You can't write about life until you live life." Sounds simple, right? But those words gave me such freedom when I was faced with deadlines. They gave me freedom to hang out with my friends, play with my dog, watch a movie or take a nap. They also pushed me to do the hard things, like have some honest, but kind, conversations with those who had hurt me. They pushed me to create new patterns of relating and doing, not only in theory, but in practice. It was the best writing advice--and life advice--I've received.

The last three years have been full of change. On the plus side, I was able to see my first book published. On the more challenging side, sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury has changed every aspect of my life. I'm no longer working full time in the career I loved. I no longer live in the home I was able to afford when I worked. I no longer live alone, for that matter, as I now share a sometimes chaotic home with a very generous family of five. I'm no longer living in Michigan, my home of the last eight years. I've moved to Ohio. I no longer attend the big community church of which I've been a member the last five years. I'm now part of a small but growing house church. But perhaps the biggest change is that I'm no longer completely single, for I've been dating an amazing man for the last six months, and it's safe to say that the next year will bring a whole new set of changes, this time for the MUCH better.

Niels has been the most incredible agent for healing change in my life, not only with my head, but also with my heart. At a time when the pre-injury Jen would have felt the least secure, least worthy, least valuable, God brought along a man who adores me for who I am today. It took a while to believe it, but in the new version of my life, I'm living and learning to love life in the slow lane.

So the posts may be slower in coming these days--much like my thoughts and moments of inspiration. But I'm trusting the Author of my life to keep me going as I simply live life.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


This is one of my favorite pictures from our trip to Toronto last weekend. We're laying down on the glass floor in the CN Tower, the world's tallest building. If you look very carefully, you can see the streets below.