Sunday, January 20, 2013


I love lazy Saturdays.

My kids still haven't figured out how to sleep in, so they wander in my bedroom, one by one.

First, my middle child, carrying her Madame Alexander doll. "Can I snuggle with you?"

Of course. I scoot over.

Next, my young son. "Mom, I had a bad dream."

I groggily turn and pat the bed on the other side of me. There's plenty of room. He climbs in.

We cuddle, the three of us, somewhere between consciousness and dreamland. I don't know how many minutes pass. One? Ten?

Then my oldest child comes in. She's fully dressed, awake, ready to start the day. "Mom, can I play on the computer?"

"Mm-hmm," I affirm, rolling over to create some room for myself, resituating arms and legs that have streched across the mattress and wrapped around me, reducing my personal space in the king-sized bed to about ten inches. How can such small humans take up so much room?

I'm vaguely aware of the hall light switching on. The desktop computer playing its "powered-on" arpeggio. And the best sound of all: the gurgling of the coffeemaker.

I congratulate myself on what a great idea it was to teach my older kids how to make my coffee.

Soon, cuddles turn to conversation, and I resign myself to getting up. We make a game of it. I pretend to be dead weight as the kids scooch me over and grab my feet and pull me up.

We are a little parade of pajamas down the hall to the office, where my oldest is playing on the computer. The kids plop in the armchairs. I detour to the kitchen to pour my coffee.

In the two minutes I'm gone, the kids are already squabbling over the computer.

"Hey, it's MY turn! No fair! You've been on the computer forever."

"No, it's not! Mom said I could play it!"

"Hey, get out of my chair!"

My little guy, who had apparently climbed up beside his sister, wails in response.


I walk into the office, steaming mug in hand, and call a moratorium on the computer. "If you can't get along with electronics, then you'll have to get along without them." I shut down the desktop.

Three gripy children wander into the kitchen, variously accusing the others of it being their fault, reaching past each other to forage in the pantry and the fridge, aimlesslessly searching for food.

I twist open the blinds to a sunshiny morning and recruit them to help me make breakfast.

One turns on the music. Another stirs the batter. Another helps me flip the pancakes. The table is set. Vitamins portioned out. Apple juice poured. Jesus Calling for Kids devotional placed on the table.

Gradually, tattling turns to teamwork and breakfast is ready.

Between bites of blueberry pancakes, I tell the kids our plans for the day. I have to work today, so they'll be going to Gran's house. My younger sister is bringing her kids over so they can play.

My kids are eager to see their younger cousins, who weren't able to join us at the last family gathering. They can't wait to tell them all about their adventures in the big, country ranch house where we overnighted in Goldthwaite, graciously provided to us by a family friend as we gathered for my grandfather's funeral.

The kids remind each other of their stories--the "wild dogs" they encountered in the pasture (which turned out to be the next-door neighbor's pugs), the five cousins piling on top of each other in Keith's red truck as he took a bull out to join his cattle--and their mad dash to dive back into the truck once the two bulls met. Their "hike" to the windmill with their uncle. The time my little guy got to "drive" a pickup (atop the actual driver, of course).

The stories are interrupted by my ringing cell phone. My mom wants to know, would it be okay if she took my kids to see their other cousin's basketball game? If so, we'll need to be at her house a couple of hours earlier than expected.

The kids whoop in excitement. All the cousins! They'll get to see ALL of them!

Breakfast is hastily abandoned. I call them back to clear their spots at the table. And then I call them back again, reminding them for the upteenth time that "putting up your dishes" does not mean leaving them in the sink. I introduce them to the dishwasher. (Someday their spouses will thank me.) And I remind them that the pancake syrup isn't going to walk itself back to the pantry.

Three hopping, giggly kids quickly finish cleaning the kitchen and bounce off, Tigger-like, to get dressed.

One daughter insists on taking a shower first. Another wants me to braid her hair. Little guy is detemined to wear a "basketball outift" so he can shoot some hoops with his oldest cousin, who is twelve and, as the only other male cousin in our family, like a rock star to my son.

I wander up the stairs and into his closet. Basketball clothes? We settle for windpants and a T-shirt that reads "USA." He pulls out his only pair of Nike shoes, the ones with actual shoelaces.

A few minutes later, I'm in the downstairs office, editing a manuscript at my laptop.

My son, dressed down to his socks, carries his shoes downstairs. "Mom, can you help me tie my shoes?"

He passes his oldest sister, who is standing at the hall mirror, Stridexing her forehead.

"I'll help you, Buddy," she offers.

He plops on the floor, small legs extended, laces agape. She crouches down beside him and I pretend to be working... but I can't help listening as she shows him how to make the bunny ears and thread the laces. He can't figure it out. She patiently shows him again. And again... until his clumsy fingers can finally form the loops.

In the background, I overhear my middle daughter in my bathroom, belting out "How Great Thou Art" at the top of her lungs in the shower.

And I freeze-frame the moment.

This moment. This.

I don't want to cheapen it with a picture. That would turn the sacred ordinary into newsfeed fodder. Some moments are simply too precious for the mom paparazzi.

So I just hold the memory.

Snuggles and squabbles.

Tattles and teamwork.

The four of us have formed a new family. Our new normal. No longer feeling incomplete but whole.

All of us, finding our way amid preteen hormones and sibling drama and homework and manuscripts and school activities and book deadlines.

It's not perfect. At times, it's downright messy. But it's ours. Our little family.

This family.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Perspective

Happy New Year!

Don't worry...this isn't another one of those "new year's resolutions" posts. I think setting goals is a great idea, but I've learned the hard way that I don't actually know what the coming year holds.

Plus, I confess: I'm a teensy bit intimidated by all those resolutions about losing 50 pounds or running a marathon or writing the next great American novel. Around here, my personal goals are more like "keep the kids alive" and "try not to run out of coffee."

So instead, I'll just tell you about something that's been percolating in my heart for about a week. Let's call it a "new year's perspective" post. Better?

* * *
It hit me on Christmas Eve.

I was blessed to have my kids for Christmas break again this year, and we kicked off our bevy of Christmas Eve traditions by attending candlelight service at The Village Church with my family.

The kids and I arrived early to meet my sisters and save rows for our clan. As the clock ticked toward 1:00, I ducked out of the sanctuary, weaved through the lobby, and peeked outside so I could escort my elderly grandfather to his seat.

Amid the throng coming through the front doors, I heard someone call out, "Jenny Haney!"

I love when people call me by my childhood name.

I turned to see my college friend John. After exchanging delighted greetings and "great to see you"s, John introduced me to his lovely daughter and filled me in on his post-college life--a decade in the military, a wife and kids, and a successful career as a surgeon.

Then it was my turn.

I told him about my kids. That I'm still editing books. And that I'd spent most of my post-college years in ministry, planting churches with my husband...but then he left us, so now I'm a single mom.

"I'm so sorry," he said sincerely. "I heard about that."

As we wrapped up our conversation and parted to find our respective family members--it hit me:

Why do I define myself by that?
I'm so much more than The Pastor's Wife Who Was Abandoned.

* * *

It's strange how tragedy brands you, at least for a while.

I remember those awkward weeks during my sophomore year, when I was The Girl Whose Dad Died. Fifteen-year-olds are supposed to be getting driver's permits and going to the mall and giggling at movies, not grieving the death of a parent. The shock of it reveberated through the school halls in whispers from friends and faculty alike who weren't sure how to treat me.

But I've long since put away that nametag. I no longer identify myself by my father's death. It affected my life profoundly, of course, but it's not something I feel compelled to tell people anymore.

My father's death shaped me, but it doesn't define me.

And, like you, I've weathered my fair share of trials and tragedies since then. But I haven't let any of those things define me. If you and I met at Starbucks to catch up or to get to know each other, I wouldn't mention those circumstances in the "who I am and what I've been doing" part of our conversation.

So why was I letting this particular trauma define me?

* * *

To be honest, part of the reason my scarlet D seared so deeply was that my situation was so scandalous. The shock of it reverberated throughout our community from church members and neighbors alike who, too, felt betrayed.

But the biggest part was that I hadn't yet chosen to put away that nametag. Maybe deep down, I wondered, without that label, who would I be?

For fourteen years, I had defined myself as a pastor's wife. Bible study teacher. Church planter. For many of those years, I was the sole or primary provider for our family of five. My life was a cyclone of ministry and mothering and editing and marital issues and making ends meet. I was having babies and birthing churches, trying my best to nurture them and help them thrive.

It's been a long, long time since I was Jenny Haney--girl who loves God, hangs out with friends, plays spades, and can find the fun in almost anything.

But you know what? It's long past time for me to set aside the cumbersome labels of "single mom" and "abandoned wife." I don't have to define myself by those circumstances anymore.

Yes, I've grieved. And yes, my life has been profoundly and permanently affected by the situation. But honestly, I'm much healthier and happier and, well, more myself now than I've been in years.

So after setting aside the nametag of "single mom," who am I?

I'm Jennifer Haney Stair--woman who loves God, hangs out with my friends, plays the Wii with my kids, and can still make almost anything fun.

Yes, the divorce has shaped me.

But it no longer defines me.

* * *

And you know what, sweet friends? Whatever you're going through doesn't have to define you either.

You don't have to wear that nametag of The Woman Whose Husband Has Cancer or The Man Who Lost His Job or The Parent of a Special-Needs Child. I don't know what your nametag says, but I know what's it's like to feel so wrapped up in that identity you feel compelled to bring it up in conversation--as if you've been so branded by your pain that you have to wear it on your lapel.

Yes, the circumstances we face in this life shape us.

But our identity is something else entirely. It comes from our Creator, not our circumstances.

So no matter what your new year's resolutions may be--or whether you make resolutions at all--remember, the ultimate goal is not what you DO. It's who you ARE.

"You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it.
Live out your God-created identity.
Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
--Matthew 5:58 (The Message)