I am in introvert. It’s not a bad thing or a true confession. It’s just how God made me. For goodness sake, I am a writer by vocation, which translates into sitting by myself for hours on end making up stories. I love to go on runs and walks by myself. Vacation to me never includes Jet Skis and always includes sitting someplace with a view reading books, journaling, praying and basically being still. I love others immensely and treasure one-on-one time with them, I really do. Yet I require headspace and silence to create, think, cope and process.
But even us introverts crave connection. I cannot do life by myself. Cannot. None of us can. None of us were meant to. God created us for community.
Do you have a solid community? Admittedly, I hear “community” and envision four women my age who work out together, do Bible study together, swap clothes, meet for coffee every Thursday morning, with kids all on the same teams and whose husbands are also best friends—think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for grown ups. Maybe you have this, which is awesome. I do not, which used to make me think I didn’t have a community—that I’d failed in this arena. But that’s not true. What I have is different, but also awesome.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. –Hebrews 10:24-25
This is quality advice. Because spurring each other on toward love and good deeds is solid. But the Bible does not say this has to look like a novel. This week has been a snapshot of my fantastic and completely different and scattered community. My super tight inner circle consists of my four adorable kids and hunky husband. I love them fiercely. However, our communities must span past the walls we live in for them to fully work their magic. Girls need girls. Guys need guys. We need people who do the same kind of work and deal with the same issues, as well as friends of varying ages, different lifestyles and locations so we can gain perspective. The last twenty-four hours for me were packed with more social interaction than I may have from now through Christmas, and although that is not my default, it was good for my soul.
What does your community look like? When was the last time you connected with them?
I visited my daughter who is a freshman in college, away from home for the first time in her, translation my, life. (I get a hall pass to count her as my community, because although she’s still one of my adorable kids, she now sleeps in a dorm room in Indiana instead of in our house.) Our visit was priceless. We laughed, shared stories that could never translate over texts, and ate brownies topped with some kind of fudgy whipped cream. When we said goodbye I honestly felt like a piece of my heart broke off and walked down the sidewalk with a backpack slung across her shoulders. But there is beauty in knowing that some of my heart can travel with her. And some of her heart with me.
Within an hour and a half of me returning home my mom came to town for an overnight visit. Can we talk about my mom? She tutors kids, volunteers at blood drives, makes meals for everyone she knows, and drives neighbors to the doctor. Plus she always wears a smile, constantly talks about how blessed she is, and means it. Being around her puts a positive spin on everything. She asks great questions, listens to all the details of my life no one else would ever want to hear (like how I saved 83 cents at Kroger and the journaling activity the middle school English teacher did with my daughter’s class). My mom makes it all feel important, like it matters, like I matter.
Literally two hours after my mom drove off (leaving behind Texas sheetcake and turkey tetrazzini for us to devour) an out of town friend got out of a meeting she was having in my town! I got to see her for exactly nine minutes and it totally refueled my tank. Energy leaks from her body into mine when we hug. She is funny, beautiful, insightful, smart as all get out and typically goes a million miles an hour. She is one of those special few I can get vulnerable with and fully trust. She loves Jesus and somehow totally gets me and accepts me and my quirks.
Next day, a handful of my sorority sisters came to town for an impromptu reunion. #perksoflivinginacollegetown. These girls? We met when they were eighteen and I was nineteen. We’ve all logged a lot of miles—careers, marriages, moves, babies, loss, struggles, overcoming since we pledged our sisterhood. To reconnect with some who I hadn’t seen in decades and others in a year meant both being flooded with memories and meeting a group of wonderful new women—the ones they’ve all grown into—all at the same instant.
A daughter, a mom, an out of town friend who I met at Bible study years ago by a fluke, and a handful of girls who wore the same shirts to Greek Week in the 90’s is not how most would define ‘community’. But it’s where I find some of mine. We all need other people to fully become who God created us to be. Their stories help form our stories. Their triumphs inspire us. Their struggles expand our viewpoints, teach us lessons. Their ideas, experiences, and thoughts prompt and broaden ours. Hearing their hearts reinforces what we hold dear and helps us dispose of ideas we should have never let enter our minds in the first place.
Please know there are broadly two kinds of community, both are incredibly valuable. There is the general, learn, gather, socialize, laugh, carpool, expand your knowledge and ideas kind. And then there is the special, safe one. No matter how fun or interesting a group may be, you can only reveal your heart to a trusted few. If you share a secret with the masses, it’s no longer a secret. If you confess your greatest fear to too many, someone will unintentionally mock it or use it against you. Both types of communities are important. The inner circle is just more sacred.
Whether you’re typically a loner or always travel with a posse, find some special people, a community or two you can plug into. This can look like just about anything. But make sure it contains some people who will listen to and hear you, who will love and encourage you, who will challenge you, build you up, energize you, feed your soul, point you back to Jesus over and over again, and remind you that you are His, that you matter, because you do. They help remind you of your true reflection.
P.S. Just for the record, my mom borrowed one of my sweatshirts for our morning walk. One of my sorority sisters was also my roommate in Atlanta when we had our first ‘real jobs’. We each owned two suits and swapped them back and forth to make it look like we had enough ‘work clothes’ to get us through to casual Friday. And, as I write this I am wearing a pair of my daughter’s jeans. So, maybe, my community looks a little more like the Traveling Pants than I gave it credit for.
I think most of us have at least two personas.
One is the uncomfortable, uncertain version of ourselves. When we are around specific people or in certain settings we tend to feel insecure and underestimate our capabilities. Personally, in these situations I lower my head, keep quiet, stay on the edges of conversations and groups, unsure of what to say, not feeling like I have much to contribute. I have friends who react the opposite in these same scenarios. They become louder, spewing things they don’t even mean to say, things that are a bit too snarky, or that challenge others as protective armor from having to reveal themselves. You might have a different default mode altogether that you use to cope with the places and people where you feel out of place. None of these is our best or brightest. These are the places we need to spend less time.
But then there is our true self. The way we feel and act when we are in our element. Where laughter comes easily, where we believe our ideas matter, where we can look people straight in the eye and say how we feel without any fear of being judged or misunderstood. When the weather seems perfect and our clothes feel comfortable and our phones stay tucked in our pockets and purses and we never glance at the clock, but wish we could stay a long while. These are the places we need to spend more time.
Which one of these personas are you currently living?
There is a scene in The Little French Bistro by Nina George where one of the main characters sees an artist’s portrayal of her. She is overwhelmed, because the woman the artist has depicted is stunning, captivating, positively beautiful and mesmerizing. Conversely, the character finds herself quite ordinary and unremarkable.
She asks the artist, “Is that how you see me?”
The artist replies, “That is how you are.”
It is a powerful scene. Because the woman was amazing. She just couldn’t see it in herself. Just like all of us are captivating. But we’re quick to dismiss our value and often struggle to see our true reflections. But Jesus? He always sees our true selves. And He always sees us as magnificent.
When we compare ourselves to others, measure ourselves against social media, and strive to make ourselves known—to get our numbers on the board. We often sell ourselves short. We focus on our faults and the places we do not excel. But Jesus created us. He created you and I uniquely and distinctly. He formed us to do amazing works. Allow Him to remind you who you are in Him. That you are as captivating as a masterpiece in a gallery—able to make those passing by pause, ask questions, and ponder. You truly make hearts beat faster, mouths curl into smiles, and brains expand their thoughts.
How do you find this beautiful self that’s sometimes so hard to see? Start by hanging out with Jesus. When I’m with Him, I see a me that doesn’t even resemble the woman who sits awkwardly on the fringe of a conversation or pants to keep up in a race or whose brain hurts when she looks at financial statements. Instead I see a woman who gets high on telling stories, who is loved by her family, treasured by her Savior, and therefore beautiful in a distinct way. Spending time with Jesus opens our eyes to better see the people who see our true personas and to the things that make us more of our true selves.
Once you’re vision has been cleared up a bit by Jesus, start doing fewer things that empty you. Do more of the things that thrill you, bring you peace, make you feel whole—that could be kicking instead of throwing the ball, teaching or taking a class, rocking a baby, or hiking a trail. Slowly stop spending time with the folks who drain you, who make you feel small. Your stunning true reflection is lost on them. Instead seek out the people who recognize you for the treasure you are.
How do you see yourself?
How do others see you?
How do you want to be seen?
The truth is you are Christ’s masterpiece. It’s time to allow Him to show you who you truly are. You might be surprised at the capable, worthy person you see in the mirror. You might turn to Jesus and ask, “Is that how you see me?” He is certain to reply, “That is how you are.”
The thing about promises is that you keep them.
Or we’re supposed to. But everyone knows some promises hold more weight than others. There are some promises we don’t even pretend will be kept, because we know that either the maker of the promise is unreliable or the nature of the promise is impossible to keep. Think back to junior high elections—the poster that read “Jake for President, if I get elected I promise less homework and more ice cream in the cafeteria.” Um, Jake? Seventh Grade Class President doesn’t hold that kind of weight.
It’s gotten to the point that a promise isn’t enough. We have to swear by it, commit to the promise in writing, or the promise of all promises—make a pinky promise. But even those promises—contracts, vows, oaths—sometimes get broken. But God? He never breaks a promise. Never.
I’ve been working on a writing project this summer, which has put me deep in the books of the Old Testament. I’ll be honest, if I’m picking a chunk of the Bible to read, I prefer the letters from Paul. That’s not where God put me. I found myself imbedded in the pages of thick detailed books where I prefer to skip the battle scenes and go straight to the stories about lion’s dens and fiery furnaces. But it was important for my project that I read every word.
And in that reading, God blew me away. There were passages I thought I knew well, and others I hadn’t spent much time on, but page after page God opened my eyes to one particular truth—He is the God who keeps His promises. Every single time.
God said to an older man and woman with mega infertility issues, “Your kids and grandkids will outnumber the stars.” Abraham and Sarah were skeptical. They both tried to take matters into their own hands. Sarah even laughed out loud at God’s promise. But their son Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90!!! God built a nation out of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Just like He promised.
God said to Gideon, “You’ll win this battle with a handful of men against a gigantic army. Oh, by the way, you can’t use weapons. Just bring some torches, pots and horns.” Gideon was hiding when God found him. He had a rinky-dink army and no battle skills. But God kept his promise. The enemy defeated themselves. Biggest ‘own goal’ ever.
God said to Joshua, “I’m going to give you this city. All you have to do is walk around it for a week.” And the three tiers of walls that stood four stories high around Jericho literally crumbled to the ground. I get lost easily and have circled many a city block. Thankfully, nothing has fallen down. But when God promises something, even if it sounds ludicrous or impossible, it happens. Because God keeps his promises.
I could go on, but the point is if God says something is going to happen, it will. There are some promises God has across the board promised all of us, like that He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), which would be plenty on its own. But there are more personal promises that He’s made to me and to you. God promised the shepherd boy David he would become king of Israel. God promised Noah he would be safe from a giant flood when there wasn’t a drop of rain in sight. Those most likely aren’t the promises God has spoken to you lately, because those crazy unlikely sounding promises were very specific to David and Noah. God has other specific promises, possibly super out-there promises, for you and me.
Sometimes God’s promise is something I could never dream up, but God could and does—as in the project that planted me in the Old Testament this summer. God taught me so much through this storytelling assignment, I am blown away. And I never saw it coming.
What has God promised you? Hang on to the fact that He never breaks His promises. No matter how we mess up, how tired we are, how defeated or unworthy we feel. God’s promises don’t look like worldly promises. They’re way more spectacular. And they always come to fruition in ways richer and fuller than we could orchestrate on our own. Whatever God is promising you today, it will happen. I promise.
Not really the kind of headline that goes viral.
If I changed this to “How to Achieve Your Dream in Seven Days” or even “Seven Weeks,” well those titles would get a lot of hits. Because we’re all looking for easy solutions, step-by-step instructions on how to get things done, on how to make our crazy, hectic lives simpler.
But this blog isn’t about the quick fix or the three easy steps to success—it’s about obedience and more importantly, about God’s personal love.
I have two friends releasing novels this week. I’ve been blessed to sit in the stands and watch their dreams come to fruition. The most beautiful part is how personally God has guided each of their journeys and loved them completely along the way.
We all have dreams, goals, hopes and wishes. The ones God gives us are the ones that tug the hardest, resonate the deepest. These are the dreams to fight for, to work towards. There are no guarantees they will be easy to achieve or occur at all how we expected them, but if God plants a seed in your heart, it will grow. It will bloom in beautiful ways.
In July of 2010 my friend, Tammy, sent me the manuscript of a picture book she’d been working on, Walking Miss Millie. Tammy’s writing was golden. I could picture the illustrations that might accompany the compelling text—ticket stubs, a scruffy dog—the kind of detailed pictures that mesmerize kids and their parents.
But God knew better. The story had so much to say about friendships that transcend all stereotypes—age, race, circumstances—it couldn’t be contained to the pages of a picture book. God urged Tammy to write more—to expand. It meant work and perseverance. Adding characters, dialogue, new scenes, and thousands of words. The work God asked of her, and the work Tammy obediently put in, grew her picture book into a historical fiction middle grade novel—the kind teachers and students will read together and eagerly discuss.
Tammy has several nonfiction titles under her belt, but writing Millie was new terrain. With this foray into fiction, she needed an agent and a publisher. She found them, but the whole agent/publisher thing wasn’t a snap of the fingers—it required reworking, editing, polishing, re-sending, rejection, starting all over again and praying for a writing love connection. Tammy’s obedience to God’s nudges paid off. Because how it turned out, is how God always meant it to be. Walking With Miss Millie releases on the Fourth of July. Saturated in the heat of the South, Tammy’s pitch perfect writing voice captures the characters, their hearts, their struggles, and the beautiful things that connect us all.
Seven years ago my brilliant friend Beth scripted the first several chapters of the novel she'd always dreamed of writing. Her goal was to continue until she finished. But God knew better. Babies, moves, jobs and other life events forced Beth’s book to be shelved. Beth couldn’t get back to it until 2014. Which frustrated her, and made it challenging to get back in the groove. But she listened to God, when He said, "Stop," and again when He said, "Go!"
If you’ve met Beth, you’ll immediately imagine what type of book it is—hilarious, smart, sassy and deeply spiritual. She describes it as “the book she wanted to read in her early twenties, but couldn’t find anywhere.” Beth wrote, Lu, for all the girls like her out there—those no longer eating the spoonfuls of Christianity or philosophy or life lessons from their parents, but actually claiming their faith as their own, and trying to figure out what that meant. As I read through the chapters of Lu’s life, it's evident why Beth had to write the beginning before and the rest now. If she’d started the book in 2014, the beginning would be watered down. Beth needed to experience a rough chapter in her own life to nail the opening. If Beth had tried to bring the book to completion seven years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to pen the climax or ending. God needed to do all kinds of things in Beth's life to breathe life into the pages of her novel. Tonight is her release party. The world can experience the complete story, as God always intended it to be.
That’s how God works—knowing exactly what we need, when we need it, how we need it.
Seven years is a long time. For anything. But in both cases that was exactly how long it needed to be for these books to be the books that they have become--to reach their full potential, to touch hearts and souls in the way they now do. Both journeys are so different, but both my friends achieved their dreams. And they did it through faithfulness to God’s journey for them.
Whatever you’re dreaming about today, know God loves you completely. He is guiding each step in a way that will truly best benefit you and the work He's set out for you. Even when it looks like a detour or construction, be faithful. God's intentions for you will be unique, purposeful and beautiful. And if you want a reminder, check out Walking With Miss Millie and Lu. Not only will they be great additions to your summer read pile, they will be a tangible testimony of how things work out when we trust God and His plans.
No matter what you’re working toward, no matter how long it seems to be taking, don’t worry. God has the next chapter written—it’s a page-turner and it will be amazing.
Thunderstorms were predicted all day, but I wanted to go for a walk. I checked the weather for the time with the lowest percentage chance of rain (35% at 8:00 AM). Around eight I peeked outside—not currently raining. This was my chance. I darted out the door and took a lovely walk on a pleasantly warm February morning without the slightest sprinkle. It doesn’t always work that way—thus me selecting my jacket with a hood and carrying an umbrella just in case—but without a plan, without a strategy it’s even harder to avoid the rain.
And just like I have to plan and strategize to avoid rain, I have to plan and strategize how to avoid social comparisons. Because they’re everywhere, and just like thunderstorms we can’t avoid all of them, but we can plan around them, and protect ourselves against them.
What does that look like? For all of us it looks different, because we all have different comparisons that plague us.
There was a season a couple of years back when I had a book series release with a new imprint. It was crazy, awesome, exciting and exhausting. All of the authors were encouraged by our agents and our imprint to constantly be checking sales numbers. We ran a giveaway…did it increase sales? We held a Twitter party…how did that impact sales? Our books were featured on a blog hop…which books’ sales spiked on which days? And, I hate to admit, it wasn’t just the agents and publisher who got addicted to checking our sales numbers, I did too. And it was toxic. Because some days I would feel good about my writing, other days I would feel bad about my writing, and some days I would compare my writing to the other authors who I totally adored. Ick. Ick. And double ick.
Because my writing has nothing to do with sales numbers and everything to do with Jesus. He is the one who gave me words, stories, ideas and opportunities. Jesus calls me to write, and so I write. I try and do my best. I turn over the rest to Him. And He will put the words and stories He gives me into the hands and hearts He needs them to be in. Whether one book was meant to touch just one person’s life in a profound way, or thousands of lives in small ways, He knows and He’ll make it happen. But that’s none of my business. I’m just called to write. For Him.
So, I stopped. I no longer check sales numbers and rankings. They’re there on Amazon. I can peek at them right now if I want to, but I don’t want to. The only time I look is if I’m required to report the numbers for a new proposal or for taxes. This is a way I can intentionally avoid social comparisons.
How about you?
Throwing away your scale? Check, I’ve done that, too.
Resisting searching job opportunities when you’re already happy with your job—because it just shows you what everyone else is making, where they’re living, what their supposed job descriptions are.
Where do you tend to compare yourself that you can avoid?
Is there someone you need to unfollow on social media, because every time you see their posts you get a little jealous, or feel a little smaller? Is there a person you need to hang out with less, because every time you’re with them you wish you were more like them, or because they make you feel inadequate?
We can’t avoid all social comparisons. I’ll go to a meeting and the girl next to me will have the most gorgeous pair of boots, and I’ll second guess my own boots and covet hers. A mom at a basketball game will tell me about how she’s been spending a lot of time on Pinterest and cooking all these new, delicious meals for her family. And I’ll start wishing I had time to go on Pinterest, let alone cook new, delicious meals for my family, and end up feeling guilty that I don’t. When these things come up, there’s no way to avoid them, but we can protect ourselves against them. We need to put on our virtual hoods and put up our spiritual umbrellas. We need to go back to reminding ourselves who we are—that we are loved by God. That He doesn’t care about our boots or bruschetta. We need to take Paul’s words to the Corinthians to heart:
We are each given specific gifts and talents and situations by God to glorify God. We’re not supposed to have the same sales numbers, job description, family room or menu as anyone else. We’re supposed to rock what we’ve got, and rock it for God’s glory.
So when we can avoid comparisons, lets do it.
For all of us it’s different. But the storms of social comparisons will come. Let’s be intentional about sidestepping the storms when possible, and arming ourselves with the umbrella of truth that we were created to inspire awe so we can stay relatively dry when the rains starts falling.
I am in the midst of so many different stories.
I’m currently reading three different books for pleasure, information, and content. I’m also binge watching The Gilmore Girls with my oldest. My youngest is reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even though he’s a proficient reader every couple of days we snuggle up on the couch and read some out loud together. My thirteen-year old and I are trying to consume as much Fixer Upper as possible. And my fifteen-year old has recommended his favorite book of all time for me to read. I love it. All of it.
But I can’t possibly maintain full engagement in all of these stories. So…I’m skimming the commentary I’m reading, picking up and putting down my other books when a spare moment arises, and catching intermittent episodes and chapters with my kids. But jumping in and out of stories without knowing how they begin and end can be frustrating and confusing. If I miss Chipper and JoJo making a shack look chic I’ll still be okay diving into the next episode. But I need caught up on who Rory Gilmore is dating and who Count Olaf is currently disguised as… or I’ll be a little lost.
My faith story also has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in order for me to know where I am, to be caught up with what Jesus is doing for me, on what my faith even means, I need to be aware of all of the stages of this beautiful story.
The middle is easy, at least to see what’s going on. That’s where I am. Daily messing up, celebrating, stumbling, laughing, and falling short. In desperate need of God’s perfect grace. And at the same time, joyful, peaceful and fulfilled, because even though I certainly haven’t earned it (not possible), Jesus offers me His constant love.
The beginning? It doesn’t start with me. I need to go back to Season 1, Episode 1 to get a handle on the plot. Your story starts here too. Way back in chapter one it says:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. --Genesis 1:27
Got that? God created all of us in His image! I’m hooked. You? That means no matter what you saw when you looked in the mirror today, you reflect the greatness of God. It means God could have made you look like anything, but He chose to make you exactly how you are, so you could reflect a piece of Him in some uniquely, awesome way. He loves you that much! Thinks you’re that special. So intentionally created you.
Skim ahead to the New Testament or Part Two. Jesus says, “I know there’s so much pressure to be perfect—and it’s hard. But you don’t have to be perfect for me. I love you for who you are, and I’m going to take all of that yuck—the regret, the shame, the nervousness—and I’m going to nail it to that cross with me." This is the climax of my story (and yours if you choose it). The part we can’t miss. Because Jesus did two things for our stories that no villain can ever steal:
1. Proved how loved we are.
2. Gave us grace, so we never have to prove ourselves again. Ever.
Lastly, the ending. I’m not a girl who jumps ahead, who reads the final pages of a mystery to see who did it before discovering all the clues, but in the case of my faith story I find it critical. It reminds me of when my kids were tiny and we’d watch any Disney movie, and the mom would die in the first eight seconds. I’d push pause, hold my kids and say, “It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.” I need this too. Because on the days when I get stuck in a rut, or discouraged, or frightened, when I feel like I’m not enough, God tells me, “It’s okay. It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.”
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”--Revelation 21:2-4
Talk about happily ever after.
So when I am worried about something one of my sweet children is dealing with or an illness of a dear friend, when I question my validity, when my stomach is in knots trying to decipher how to handle a controversial situation, I go back to the beginning and ending of my story. And I’m reminded that I was beautifully created by the Master Creator, on purpose, for His purpose. And…I know that His love conquers all. That He will wipe every tear. There will be no more pain. Then no matter what page I’m on in my life, whether it looks thrilling or bleak or fantastic, I know who I am and where I’m going. I know that I am loved. That my life has meaning. And that makes me want to keep turning page after page.
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