Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
I'm blessed to have my friend, Brenda Yoder, guest blogging here this week. Brenda is a certified counselor, speaker and writer who is passionate about balancing the busyness. Anyone out here need a little of that? Yeah, me too! Her newest book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind, released yesterday, March 13!!! To celebrate we're giving away a copy of Fledge right here and now. To find out how to enter....keep reading.
I walked out of my classroom pulling my cart of books and memorabilia behind me. I turned off the lights, shut the door, and my heart broke in two.
I had failed. I wondered why other people could handle raising a large family while teaching high schoolers but I couldn’t. While I had won teaching awards and made my US History classroom engaging to my students, the stress of teaching over 150 high schoolers and parenting four kids from high school to first grade took its toll on me.
Our busy family schedule with sports, chauffeuring kids, and homework pulled me in different directions in addition to grading papers, getting groceries, and moody teens. I was stressed out, irritable, and reactionary most of the time with yelling and angry outbursts towards my children.
I was a mom in the early fledging stage of parenting—the stage of release. My oldest was a high school sophomore and the youngest was in first grade. Life passed by school year after school year and my parenting and professional workload increased along with it. That particular school year my student numbers soared to 180. Being emotionally and physically exhausted when I got home, I had little patience for the barrage of “Mom, Mom, Mom” demands when I walked through the door. I had even less tolerance for my own teens’ snarky comments or disrespectful attitudes. I dreamed of the day when fewer kids were in the house so I could catch a break from the stress and mess that had become our life.
Then I realized there were only two years left with all four of my children at home. If something didn’t change, the memories my children would have of the years with all of us at home would be of an irritable, contentious mom. It was far from the dream I had of motherhood. Something needed to change before my firstborn went to college. That change had to come from me.
Since then, I’ve learned most families have some pain while raising teens and young adults. Here are 5 essential truths I’ve learned as a counselor and parent who has fledged three of my four children.
Thanks, Brenda! I especially like the part that it doesn't all fall on us! Brenda wrote Fledge to encourage parents in this season of growing pains.
TO ENTER TO WIN your very own copy of Fledge either:
1. Leave a comment below, maybe mention something you're trying to do on your own.
2. Share this blog on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (make sure you tag me on your post, so I know you shared it)
4. Open to citizens of continental U.S. only. Winner will be chosen in a random draw and notified by March 21.
I was having coffee with my friend, Beth, trying to get caught up on all of the things. She asked, “So, what kinds of New Year’s resolutions did you make?”
I looked her straight in they eye, defied society and said, “I didn’t make any.”
“No way,” she replied. “You seem like such the type.”
I am such the type. Beth knows me well.
I am a girl of lists and schedules. In fact I don’t know anyone who likes to “know the plan” more than I do, or who gets more ruffled when “the plan changes.” In a life where I wear many hats, juggle many schedules, mother four and a half kids (I lovingly refer to my husband as #fifthchild) there is so much to tend to each day and week. So much of it would fall through the cracks if I wasn’t diligent about the family calendar App—figuring out who will get a ride when, where, and with who.
But this great quality of mine, this one of making sure things get done—that my husband and I take time to date, that my writing assignment is turned in, that the forms are signed and submitted, is also a coping mechanism that can become a problem. They say our best trait is often our worst trait. See, when I feel like things are out of control, I have a quick fix for that. I can plan, and in doing so, control all of the hourglasses, clocks, and timers, or so I pretend.
My second semester of college was a time when things felt out of my control. I had pledged a sorority. My roommate had not. Instead she got super involved in a great student org. All of our plans to be besties and do everything together got fragmented by my obligations and her obligations and all the places they did NOT overlap. My high school boyfriend and I decided to “see other people.” All of our plans to live happily ever after evaporated. The novelty of college had rubbed off. Classes were hard. New friendships were hard. I felt I had no control over the events and circumstances around me. In attempts to cope with the unknown I started scheduling my days—writing out the hourly details on a piece of skinny paper and clipping it to my planner—so I could “control” the big picture and the details. Not like, oh tomorrow I’ll study at the library in the evening. But like freaky, insane girl:
8:00-8:30 eat breakfast
8:30-8:45 room, grab books, walk to class
10:00 stop by sorority, hang out with girls
11:00 write letters to Little Sis and Bridget
12:00 eat lunch
12:45 Change for aerobics.
1:00 aerobics …for every freaking half hour and hour mark of the day.
I stuck to it like glue. Oh, that’s not the time I had scheduled to visit with friends, too bad, guess I won’t visit with them. Oh, I don’t have that much homework tonight. I still scheduled three hours to study, so I’ll stay at the library and read ahead, go over the notes again. All the showers are taken. Guess I’ll stand here in the gross dorm bathroom until someone gets out, because this is the time I’d scheduled to shower. Give me a rule, even one I wrote for myself, and I’ll keep it. It’s amazing I advanced to sophomore year without being put in the nuthouse.
Planning is great. And I applaud everyone with resolutions, goals, lists for the New Year. My problem is, if I make a resolution I’ll be so sickly strict about it. Walk 15 miles each week? Come Saturday night I’ll be walking circles in my kitchen instead of snuggled on the couch with my kids watching a great movie, because I need to hit that goal. Read three books a month? No one might hear from me the 28th through 30th. All phone calls and coffee dates canceled, because people, I have a goal to meet. Spend 15 minutes with Jesus at lunchtime everyday? God could be telling me something super important, but oh, look at the time, fifteen minutes is up. Next.
I can’t stand it, but I’m a legalist. This kills me, because Jesus warned us not to be. He got on the Pharisees every single day about being so uptight about rule following. I took ballet my entire growing up years where we pointed our toes constantly. Not surprisingly being flex comes hard for me.
There is zero wrong with having a plan, setting goals, chasing dreams. These are all amazing things; fabulous ways to make great use of the time God has given us. And I do have some dreams and goals for the year. I’m just not writing them down or saying them out loud. Instead I’m talking every day to Jesus about them. Okay, see, I can’t do that, because if let’s say, next Wednesday I focus all of my prayer time on one of my kids I’ll feel like I slipped on the every-day-dream-and-goal-prayer. Let’s try again. I’m talking to Jesus about my dreams and goals this year. Lots. Often. Also, I’m asking Him how I can use my time to glorify Him, asking Him what inputs I should tackle, trusting Him with the outputs. Living expectantly of what He’ll do. At least this is my aim.
When we live strictly within the confines of our calendars and to-do lists and even resolutions there is mock safety of having a plan, a false sense of security that we have everything under control. We don’t. We can be so constricted and unavailable to the miracles Jesus can work when we plan it all out. If we instead focus on Him, we’ll be blown away! His plans and ideas are always so much more fantastic than anything we could think up or plan on our own.
God told Moses to spread his arms over the Red Sea and it would part (Exodus 14:16). Probably not in Moses’ planner for the day. But Moses spread out his arms, and that Sea split in two, allowing the Israelites to escape Pharaoh and his powerful army.
Jesus told the disciples who had put in an incredibly long work day, who felt like they were banging their heads against the wall, catching zero fish for hours on end, wives waiting at home, muscles aching, sweat dripping in their eyes, to cast out their nets one more time. After the whistle had blown. After they were spent. But the disciples listened to Jesus, went off the plan, and voila, their nets were bursting with fish (Luke 5).
I have no idea what Jesus has in store for my life this year or for yours. Because walking on dry land through a sea and catching netfulls of fish where there were none is beyond my brainstorming or even wildest dreams. This is the whole point. God’s ways are phenomenal, unpredictable and take-our-breath-away fantastic.
Some of you may need goals and plans and lists or else nothing will ever get accomplished. Super. Some of you may have resolutions, because there are bad habits that need to be kicked, and healthier plans that need to step in to gear. I applaud you. For you, resolutions might be the impetus to get started, try again, think bigger, get focused. Bravo! You, go! I’m excited for and proud of you for focusing on bigger and better things. But for me, I know I end up using these good things as a means for me to attempt to control things. My resolutions end up controlling me. I don’t want them to, because God is actually the one in control, and I long to hand it all over to Him.
I plan on talking to Jesus tons this year, leaning into His truths, and His ways. Will you join me? I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
My husband called, “I thought you were up here?”
“Up here,” I replied with an inferred, “duh.”
“The bathroom door is open, your office door is open, the closet door is open. It looks like you’re in the middle of a million things,” Brett said. "Did you just get an idea?"
“Yup.” And this is me on any given day. A mess in the middle of a million and one.
Putting on mascara, typing down a phrase—a key phrase—hello, it’s urgent! Or a plot idea or description while changing shoes, emailing a teacher, throwing in a load of laundry and deciding which necklace to wear all while drinking coffee/water/coffee/water. Basically I’m a mess in the middle of a million things. Eventually I’ll finish the story, be completely dressed, have make-up on, push send on the email, get the clothes folded and sadly abandon coffee until tomorrow and it will all look as it is supposed to-ish.
But in the middle. I’m an absolute mess.
You? Anything messy in your life today? Anything halfway done? Partway done? Thinking about starting to be done? In this college town, it’s finals week. And students are shuffling into the coffee shop in their pajamas, messy buns, and glasses, because getting ready is hard, and all they really want is a bottomless cup of dark roast and to be done. The professors are no different, except they’re not allowed to wear pajamas to class. They’re giving the finals, grading all of those finals, and then recording the grades. Basically everyone in town’s desks and dorms are a mess.
So is my kitchen. We’re getting the cabinets painted white (to match the chairs I painted this fall). Yay! But first—chaos. Every cabinet and drawer is open—maybe I should throw all of the contents away, because ew. Everything is off the shelves and in a heap on the living room—more potential items to fill the garbage cans. Plus the dust these items were hiding—yikes! So, my downstairs looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through and I have to pull a cool yoga balance to open the fridge.
Getting where you want to go takes work, effort, and mess. To make frosted sugar cookies you dirty endless dishes and sweep up sprinkles for weeks. But they are delicious. And worth it. And these are our lives! Learning a new way of doing something, investing in new relationships, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the envelopes, hanging the lights, unpacking boxes, researching new topics, rewriting, rerecording, editing, scrambling to finish before year end, following up, sending another text, praying, discerning, praying, discerning, praying.
And it all takes time. And it’s messy, and unfinished, and parts of it are scattered everywhere. But God is using all of it. Every last piece of the process! Every piece of Scotch tape and candy cane. God is using the rehearsals, the trial balloons, the readings, the exercises, the discipline, the parts you delete. And He’s using it for His good and His glory.
…okay…it’s a few days later. My kitchen? Ended up like this. OhmygoshIloveit. The college students are one by one trickling home to be with their families to celebrate Christmas. The professors are getting ready to sit by the fire and unwind. A few days ago in the midst of the mess it was all so hard to envision.
Just like pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary riding on a donkey looked like a mess. No room in the inn, a barn with animals and a pile of straw to give birth to your first baby…um, pretty messy. No thanks. Hard to envision this as God’s great plan to save the world. But it was. Jesus did come down to earth. He did die on the cross to cover all of our sins. He is the Savior of the World! So worth waiting for! Worth every bit of the messy process. Worth all the stuff in the middle that looked like chaos and like it would never happen, and never work, and like it couldn’t possibly be going as planned.
You guys the miracle of Christmas looked like a mess, but God knew what He was doing all along. And look how it turned out! Glory to the newborn king! And the story repeats itself over and over again in our lives. We’re a mess. Everything is everywhere. God knows how to fix us. And then He does. He uses all of the in-betweens and rough drafts, studying, and first takes to make something glorious happen.
No matter how messy things look for you today, this week, this season, God is using it. He loves you. He’s reaching all the way down to earth to you. He came all the way down to a manger and then a cross for you. You might feel like you’re in a middle of a million things, but inhale, because God is truly in the middle of it all with you. And His greatness and peace will have no end.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:6-7
…if you’d like more reminders on finding your true reflection throughout the week, follow me on:
Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
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.
Last year the music icon, David Bowie died. I loved his music. And his multi-colored eyes. And his song, “Changes”. “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn to face the strange.” Our lives are always changing. And those changes can seem strange or awesome or unexpected or confusing or exciting or unsettling or just plain unknown. As Heraclitus of Ephesus put it, “The only thing constant is change.”
Does it ring true for you? Do you have any changes in your life right now? Big ones? Small ones? Ones you’ve been planning for? Ones that blindsided you?
With back to school our family’s life is jam packed with change—new teams, new teachers, new classes, new students. There are minor changes, like the 24 emails I’ve received in the last week about my kids’ soccer teams. Twenty-four! Each and every one detailed some change. We have a joyous change—our youngest just outgrew his peanut allergy (praise Jesus!). If you read last week’s blog, you know we just dropped our oldest off at college. That is a major life changer. I’m still a bit weepy, so I won’t dwell on it, but at least we had eighteen years to prepare for it.
But part of that predicted change took us by surprise. Like the fact that the week before we took Maddie to college:
1. One of her three roommates decided not to come to school this year and
2. Maddie’s college soccer coach resigned.
We didn’t see those coming.
But you know what? God did. God has never once been blindsided. God has known for ages where Maddie would go to school. He knew exactly why the one roommate needed to wait a year. God knew the coaching staff was going to change. Sometimes the need for change is immediately obvious to us. Some things we may never figure out. But we don’t need to. Not if we stay true to who we are and trust that God has promised to be on our side. Because whatever’s going on, He’s got it.
So the roommate thing? I don’t know why it shook down like it did, but I do know my daughter and her other roommate stayed true to their plan, they went ahead and moved in. Now the two of them share a ginormous dorm room designed for three or four girls. I don’t know the details about the coach, but it sounds like she had a fantastic opportunity that was important for her to take. And all the girls on the team, Maddie included, who showed up to the first meeting and to practice, they still get to play college soccer. And…the new coach is fantastic!
Our family is in the midst of some other transitions, too. We understand why we’re here, but we don’t yet quite understand how it’s all going to play out. On many levels we don’t know what this shift looks like yet. But God does. And He’s working in and through it. Our family plans to stick together, put in our best effort, stay true to our identity and trust God with the rest. Whatever is changing in your life, God is working in and through it, too.
Most of the time I can accept change. I remind myself, “God must have a reason.” But then I stumble, “What is the reason? When will I know the reason? If this door is closed or that door is opened, how is God going to guide me next? What does this new path look like?”
I want to know. Oh, how very desperately I want to know. But I don’t have to know.
Because Heraclitus of Ephesus was wrong. The only thing constant is Jesus. And even though everything else changes. God does not. Not ever. I can cling to that. So can you.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
That means Jesus is never going away (Revelation 1:8). He’s never giving up on us. He will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He will always love us (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus is always working things out for good (Romans 8:28). Whew. When I sink into those truths, changes are not only okay, but the question marks are okay, too. There is excitement in the fact that God is on the move, even if I have no idea how or what that looks like. Because Jesus doesn’t change, He is the one thing we can count on. Always.
So here we go, folks. I don’t know what changes are staring you down as you read this, or which ones will surprise you next week or next month. But I do know when those changes come, we don’t have to face them by ourselves. We can stand strong in who God created us to be. God will be the constant we can cling to. The rock that is Jesus is unmoving.
Put out your hands. Imagine something you adore is in those hands—beautiful, delicate shells you’ve gathered on the beach or maybe sweet, colorful M&M’s. Now close one hand into a fist. And leave the other one palm up and open.
With your closed hand, you’ll ensure you get to keep your treasure. No one can take it. It can’t get knocked out. But you know what? If someone spots a perfect purple scallop or finds twelve more candies in the bottom of the bag, they can’t give them to you. They can’t permeate your clinched fingers. Now imagine not shells or M&M’s but God’s blessings in your palms. Do you want to keep your hands open to what He puts in or takes out. Or do you want to hold tight to what you know and to what you want to keep?*
Because this is life, isn’t it? We want to hold on tightly to the things that are important to us—our jobs, our money, our time, our homes, our space, our family. We want to be able to control it and keep it and have it available for when we need it. We’re fearful the things we hold dear will get knocked out of our grip. But when we clutch too tightly, we risk never seeing what it would be like if something was added. We also have it backwards. Because all those things that are “ours” are actually His. We wouldn’t have any of them without God. God is the giver of all. If we have a roof over our heads, someone to hug, air in our lungs, a meal in front of us, it is because God is good, and He has showered us with gifts.
We love these gifts God gives us. And then we beg God to let us keep what we love. But do we ask Jesus what He thinks would be best now, in this stage of life, in this time and place? If we could be doing more for His kingdom if we let go a little bit of that and maybe added a pinch of that?
I’m learning that the letting go is when we actually fly. When you get the nerve to walk to the edge of the diving board, and not clutch it with your toes, but release yourself into the air, you feel the freedom of flying and then the thrill of plunging into cool water. Could you do a belly smack? Sure. Is it possible you’ll get water up your nose. Very. But are those things worth the exhilaration of the moment you’re in the air, and the one after that when you’re under water? Absolutely.
The day this blog goes live is the day I take my oldest daughter to college. Talk about having to learn to let go. Yikes! But there is such beauty in an open handed approach. For 18 years I’ve held my daughter in my hand. I’ve loosened my grip a little bit with each passing year—from sending her off to preschool, to letting her go on her first sleepover away from home, to later handing her a phone and then car keys, and now this…
And with each letting go there is uneasiness, uncertainty. How will it go? Will she have fun? Will she be safe? Will she be nervous? All legit questions. But the better ones are these: Who will she meet? What will she learn? How will she grow? What will she discover? Because it is in the opening of our hands, that God can clean out the things inhibiting us, stifling us, keeping us back, or maybe even hurting us to make room for Him to pour in His blessings.
Right now as I type this I hear the squeaky peep cheep of baby birds. One of our screens is ripped at the corner. It looks like a little flap. A mama bird has snuck under that flap and built the safest nest possible for her babies. Their nest rests in the corner of a windowsill with its very own door. Can you believe God? He had those babies hatch right as I’m packing up my baby girl. And today? They're learning how to fly! I get to observe first hand the beauty and glory of those fledglings learning how to flap their tiny wings and leave their nest. How sweet and personal is our God? Why would I ever question the way He does anything?
It is in the letting go that we learn to experience the thrill and pure joy of flying—whether that’s our own flight, or the soaring of something we’ve created, something we’ve built, or someone we love. It is in the letting go, that God can fill up our hands, hearts and lives with unexpected blessings. And then, with His help, we can soar.
*thanks to my friend, Diane, who shared with me a sermon she heard on living open handed for God that helped inspire this post
Laura L. Smith