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Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

I am a highly sensitive person being raised by four emotional and sensitive kiddos. There’s a lot of feelings in our house. If there is one place that our family is “extra,” it’s in the emotions department. Even my husband, who is our rock and perpetual optimist, is full of palpable energy on any given day. Whether it be positive, negative, hopeful, discouraged, giddy, nervous, angry, lonely, joyful or silly, chances are one of us is currently feeling it. Although the road of insecurity and attempts to “not take life too seriously” have been long, I have come to accept this tenderness as a strength about us and be proud of it too.


These words, from the late poet Mary Oliver, are plastered in our entryway:


Instructions for living a life. Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.

Phew. If you are also a highly sensitive person, you might relate to this fact: I have no problem whatsoever with paying attention. I am taking it all in. Always. Sometimes too much. It’s the “Be Astonished” part that trips me up if I am not careful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m watching attentively, and feeling a lot of things as a result; but, “astonishment” isn’t always what comes next. I see this second part as a choice, really. It’s a re-framing of any scenario.


When my kids were younger, one of my sons struggled with allergy induced asthma. If you have ever seen a toddler, with blue lips, struggle to breathe you can understand why I get goosebumps any time I recall those nightmarish nights in his room -- breathing machine blasting, inhalers in hand, and tears on my face.


“Just breath, love. Calm down. It’s going to be ok,” I would say, though hardly convinced of these words and pretty far from calm myself. In the middle of the night, when you have 4 kids, 4 years old and under, it’s a poor time to try out rational thinking. I was on high-alert and so scared. Yet, that was the invitation we had been given -- to choose calm in the face of anxiety. I doubt I need to point this out, but on those nights…I was NOT astonished.


But, today as I look back, I am. And often, the very next morning after those terrifying nights had passed and the sun rose again, I found myself amazed that we were still standing. To be truthful, we were somehow improved when it was all over. Not healed or cured from asthma, but closer as husband and wife, mother and son. We were more intimate, more raw. We had to rely on each other, on doctors, on our family and community (my best friend is a nurse and I dragged her out of bed more than once to bring her stethoscope to my son’s chest in the dark hours of the morning to listen to his lungs work. The beauty of that image is not lost on me). The stress of it all stripped away the fluff and left us with a clear vision of what really matters. The view of all that is priceless became crystal clear in those times, and that was astonishing.

I don’t love the memories of those years. My son has since outgrown his asthma, which is what we had hoped for. I would never go back to those long, excruciating nights of waiting for the next inhale; or worse, peering out the living room window waiting for the ambulance to arrive with their advanced breathing equipment. Yet, the astonishing things that I see from where I stand now, wouldn’t be visible without all the struggle. It’s hard to be amazed without knowing the mundane or painful. Do awe and wonder even exist without the absence of both? I’m not sure.


I won’t ever spout clichés in the face of burdens. There are way too many mysteries surrounding my faith for that. I will, however, pay better attention and hope that there is something to be astonished by. Maybe it’s the simple, uncalculated and automatic inhale and exhale of my breathing. To all the weary, anxious and sensitive mama’s out there: Deep breaths, eyes open, hearts ready to share. This is the way to live a life and to do more than survive it. Thanks for letting me “Tell about it.”



Jenni lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband of 16 years and their 4 kids (three of which are officially teenagers now! GULP). With a heart for social justice, adoption, and creation care, she currently walks along her children as they explore their own strengths and the wildness of nature through home based education. In her spare time, she is pursuing her certification in aromatherapy. Her priorities include helping others on their wellness journey through providing education on the usage of essential oils and radical self-care. You can tune into to some of that by following her on Facebook and Instagram at Citrus & Clove.



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