I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Are you feeling thankful?
Your house may be filled with the aroma of cloves and pumpkin. Maybe the family members you love dearly have already arrived—their footsteps echoing on the floors their laughter filling the house. Or perhaps they’re on their way as you stir the sauce or run the vacuum. But today you might also have an ache that no hot pad, bath, or amount of Advil will soothe. The people you most long to see might not be coming this year. You may have recently had some questions answered, some problems resolved or perhaps a new batch of issues recently sprouted up. The year ahead might suddenly seem exciting, uncertain, or bleak.
But we can all be thankful. Despite our circumstances. Because Jesus hears our praises and our cries. God longs to be with His people. He wants to toast all of the joys and triumphs in our lives with a glass of the finest wine. Jesus wants to heal our wounds, comfort our hurts and answer our prayers. No matter who we will or won’t see over the holidays, Jesus wants to hang out with us and hold us close. In fact, that was one of His favorite things to do while He was on earth.
Jesus celebrated at weddings, invited Himself over to dinner, passed around fish to a giant crowd, broke bread with His disciples, even cooked them breakfast. Jesus longs to spend Thanksgiving with us. No matter how many place settings we’ve put out, no matter if we use our finest china or paper plates, if we’re pouring wine or apple cider or water, Jesus wants to dine with us. He doesn’t care if we make cornbread stuffing from a family recipe, tear open a bag of Pepperidge Farm and add hot water, or if we’re gluten free. Jesus isn’t judging on if we let a cylinder of cranberry jel slide from a can (it is so gross, but I confess I love that stuff) or if you simmered berries over a stove and sprinkled in cinnamon.
Jesus doesn’t stress about the meal or the serving spoons or the weather. He loves to be with us. Because He loves us. And being loved? Isn’t that what we all crave? Having someone who loves us that perfectly, completely and unconditionally—isn’t that the most incredible thing?
Isn’t that the ultimate thing to be thankful for?
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. —Psalm 118: 28-29
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
The last time I got my hair done I had some lowlights added. Chlorine from summer pool days, hours of sun shining on my head at soccer fields, plus the highlights only stance I’d taken the last few times I had my hair done, all added up to my tresses looking slightly less honey and a little on the platinum side. It was time. But lowlights seem so counterintuitive. I’m paying to keep the golden glow of my childhood forever, why would I darken the sheen?
Why? Because dark helps us focus on light, illuminates the glow, so it shines even brighter.
The lowlights? They show off the paler strands. The contrast is lovely, somehow richer, and fuller, than a straight up blonde. But in life we tend not to focus on our lowlights, but on our highlights—the signed contract, the win, the award, the cupcakes we frosted to look like adorable pumpkins, the stunning vistas taken during our vacation, when in truth, most of our life is lowlights.
We rarely share scrubbing the toilets before guests arrive, the rewrites and revisions on our papers, the hours of doing flashcards with our kids so they pass that time test, the acne cream we dab on our zits, or the spills and extra trips to the hardware store that went into our latest home improvement project.
This past week, I experienced some lowlights. Didn’t you? Not major ones, but some less than shining moments.
I didn’t post a single one of these events on Instagram. But guess what? In these darker spots is where I turned to Jesus and saw His glory shine so brightly.
When those soccer boys walked off the field, I knew there was nothing I could say to ease their hurt or make them smile. And so I did what I do when I can’t do anything else. I hugged my son tight and prayed. I prayed for him and his team and their sweet hearts, that they would find their worth in Christ and not in goals or wins. That they would find joy in the season instead of pain in its end. I felt God’s love fill me, remind me where my worth was, and felt Him soothing and loving those boys.
I was kicking myself for snipping at my fun-loving daughter. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I let little things go? My stomach in knots, I turned to Jesus and said, “I adore my daughter and can’t stand arguing with her. She is funny and smart and smiley and loving.” And before I even finished listing to God all the things I love about my girl (which clearly, He already knew) I was flooded with all the reasons that young lady is sunshine in my life. All my icky feelings vanished. Next day we had a laughfest baking brownies together. God is so good.
The woodpile? Yeah. Okay, so I am a klutz. My parents sent me to ballet lessons as a girl in hopes I would stop bumping into things. I fell in love with dance, but still bang into stationary objects on a regular basis. I was helping my husband lug a pile of leaves into the woods. My foot got caught. For unknown reasons I refused to let go of the tarp and catch myself. Instead I went down, smack onto a piece of sharp wood and have a nasty four-inch cut across my shin to show for it. You are so glad I didn’t post a photo! Trust me. My husband and daughter came to the rescue. Feeling the way they loved me was priceless. It hurt, sure, but it’s a mere flesh wound. This cut gave me the opportunity to thank God for people who love me, and pray for anyone I know suffering from chronic pain or lingering ailments. My sore leg gave me a fresh perspective on how jam-packed with blessings my life is.
Ever wonder what Jesus’ social media accounts would have looked like? I imagine Peter running His accounts for Him, and Jesus chastising Peter for only showing the highlights. Jesus was all about down and dirty—drawing in the dirt, making paste out of mud, touching lepers who had highly contagious skin disease, talking one on one with the town harlot, chatting with the naked guy named Legion, who liked to cut himself with rocks.
Am I dismissing the lowlights or embracing them? Am I taking time to watch Jesus open my blind eyes with the mud of life? Are you?
What tough stuff did you wade through this week? What mire are you still desperately trying to climb through? Have you turned it over to Jesus? Asked Him to bring light to the darker spaces? To use these hardships to illuminate your life?
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
I am thankful for all of the highlights of my life. So. Very. Grateful. I’ve been blessed with a dreamy husband, four kids whom I adore more than oxygen or chocolate, the sweetest mother, and I get to tell stories for a living. Please! This week I went to the farmer’s market, made apple crisp, had date night with my hubby—all darling photo ops. But I am also blessed by my lowlights—the learning moments, the times I turn to Jesus and say, “Help!” and watch Him turn up every single time, shining His almighty flashlight into my dark places.
Jesus is not afraid of the dark. Instead He uses it to show us how bright He is. Whatever seems murky or muddy this week, hand it over to Him and watch His sunbeams light up your life.
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.
My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
My youngest has always been allergic to peanuts. A few Zyrtec and Kleenex won’t take care of his problem. Peanut allergies are life threatening. We’ve cleared our home of anything remotely resembling a nut. We’ve become experts at reading ingredient labels. We bake our own treats for parties and celebrations to ensure his safety. Epipens are stashed in every car, purse, backpack and cupboard of our house.
This summer Maguire had his annual allergist appointment. The doc did a skin test to check the status of his allergy and…there was no reaction. Zero. Next came a blood test to confirm the findings of the skin test. The results…negative. No peanut allergy? What? There was still one more test. Dun, dun dun…The Peanut Challenge, which basically consists of eating peanut butter for two hours in the doctor’s office while they monitor you. If something goes wrong, the doctor has the antidote to rescue you. If all goes well, you’re officially deemed no longer allergic. That day Maguire ate spoonfuls of Jif, and he was completely fine.
It was incredible. Life changing. Freeing! Maguire was thrilled he could now eat Reese’s and go out for ice cream without having to ask the worker for a clean scoop to ensure no nutty remnants from another flavor touched his vanilla. We were thrilled our son was safer in those situations. But despite all of the joy, gratefulness, and freedom, it was oddly hard to accept. Maguire has always been allergic to peanuts. How could he just start eating them now? How was it possible that Maguire was instantly free? He hadn’t taken a class, eaten pounds of spinach, or stood on his head to remove his allergy. It just vanished.
The same is true in our relationship with Christ. We don’t have to do anything, eat anything, turn around three times or pray a set number of minutes each day. Just by accepting that Jesus died for us, cleans our slates. We are no longer soiled by our recent or long gone past. We are not condemned by our mistakes, strangled by our fears or chained to our worries. I know that. Just like I know Maguire has outgrown his allergy. But how often do I question the freedom Christ offers?
When the school office called asking where Maguire’s Epipen was, I answered hesitantly, heat pounding, “He doesn’t need one any more.” Was he safe? I knew he was, and yet…
I put a note in his lunch and saw a peanut butter sandwich nestled inside. It freaked me out. I’ll have to sanitize his lunch box. No, I don’t. Because peanuts can’t hurt him any more. And we are also safe. Free. Loved. We don’t need backup medication or extra special sanitation.
Jesus says, “I love you. Just how you are.”
And I believe Him. Most of the time. Yet some days, I feel the need to prove myself—to God, to the world, to my family. I don’t want to let others down. I don’t want to let God down. I don’t want to let down my guard. Because I want to be a good wife and mama. I want to tell great stories. I want to be the kind of person Jesus wants me to be. Which are great desires. Just like keeping my son safe is a great desire.
But I have to accept that medical tests proved Maguire is no longer allergic. And more importantly I have to full out accept Jesus’ grace. That it is truly ALL I need. I have to stop doubting and second-guessing. I don’t have to take things into my own hands, just in case God doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t capable of handling the situation. Because God knows everything. And He can handle everything. In my life and in yours.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
What are you freaking out about right now? The balance of your bank account? Your relationship status? Your grades? Your quiet time, playing time, personal time, airtime, time of departure or arrival?
Christ’s grace is sufficient. Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I have this. Trust me. Don’t believe me? Look at all the times I’ve guided, saved, directed, and held you up in the past. Still don’t believe me? I died to save you, that’s how much I love you.”
“Right. He’s got this.” We don’t have to freak out. We do need to do our part. But then we have to trust. And when we do, we can outgrow our dependency on trying to prove ourselves worthy. Jesus says we are worthy. Jesus says He loves us. And nothing we eat or do or forget or achieve can ever change that.
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's Recent Coverage in ...