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.
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.”
Not really the kind of headline that goes viral.
If I changed this to “How to Achieve Your Dream in Seven Days” or even “Seven Weeks,” well those titles would get a lot of hits. Because we’re all looking for easy solutions, step-by-step instructions on how to get things done, on how to make our crazy, hectic lives simpler.
But this blog isn’t about the quick fix or the three easy steps to success—it’s about obedience and more importantly, about God’s personal love.
I have two friends releasing novels this week. I’ve been blessed to sit in the stands and watch their dreams come to fruition. The most beautiful part is how personally God has guided each of their journeys and loved them completely along the way.
We all have dreams, goals, hopes and wishes. The ones God gives us are the ones that tug the hardest, resonate the deepest. These are the dreams to fight for, to work towards. There are no guarantees they will be easy to achieve or occur at all how we expected them, but if God plants a seed in your heart, it will grow. It will bloom in beautiful ways.
In July of 2010 my friend, Tammy, sent me the manuscript of a picture book she’d been working on, Walking Miss Millie. Tammy’s writing was golden. I could picture the illustrations that might accompany the compelling text—ticket stubs, a scruffy dog—the kind of detailed pictures that mesmerize kids and their parents.
But God knew better. The story had so much to say about friendships that transcend all stereotypes—age, race, circumstances—it couldn’t be contained to the pages of a picture book. God urged Tammy to write more—to expand. It meant work and perseverance. Adding characters, dialogue, new scenes, and thousands of words. The work God asked of her, and the work Tammy obediently put in, grew her picture book into a historical fiction middle grade novel—the kind teachers and students will read together and eagerly discuss.
Tammy has several nonfiction titles under her belt, but writing Millie was new terrain. With this foray into fiction, she needed an agent and a publisher. She found them, but the whole agent/publisher thing wasn’t a snap of the fingers—it required reworking, editing, polishing, re-sending, rejection, starting all over again and praying for a writing love connection. Tammy’s obedience to God’s nudges paid off. Because how it turned out, is how God always meant it to be. Walking With Miss Millie releases on the Fourth of July. Saturated in the heat of the South, Tammy’s pitch perfect writing voice captures the characters, their hearts, their struggles, and the beautiful things that connect us all.
Seven years ago my brilliant friend Beth scripted the first several chapters of the novel she'd always dreamed of writing. Her goal was to continue until she finished. But God knew better. Babies, moves, jobs and other life events forced Beth’s book to be shelved. Beth couldn’t get back to it until 2014. Which frustrated her, and made it challenging to get back in the groove. But she listened to God, when He said, "Stop," and again when He said, "Go!"
If you’ve met Beth, you’ll immediately imagine what type of book it is—hilarious, smart, sassy and deeply spiritual. She describes it as “the book she wanted to read in her early twenties, but couldn’t find anywhere.” Beth wrote, Lu, for all the girls like her out there—those no longer eating the spoonfuls of Christianity or philosophy or life lessons from their parents, but actually claiming their faith as their own, and trying to figure out what that meant. As I read through the chapters of Lu’s life, it's evident why Beth had to write the beginning before and the rest now. If she’d started the book in 2014, the beginning would be watered down. Beth needed to experience a rough chapter in her own life to nail the opening. If Beth had tried to bring the book to completion seven years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to pen the climax or ending. God needed to do all kinds of things in Beth's life to breathe life into the pages of her novel. Tonight is her release party. The world can experience the complete story, as God always intended it to be.
That’s how God works—knowing exactly what we need, when we need it, how we need it.
Seven years is a long time. For anything. But in both cases that was exactly how long it needed to be for these books to be the books that they have become--to reach their full potential, to touch hearts and souls in the way they now do. Both journeys are so different, but both my friends achieved their dreams. And they did it through faithfulness to God’s journey for them.
Whatever you’re dreaming about today, know God loves you completely. He is guiding each step in a way that will truly best benefit you and the work He's set out for you. Even when it looks like a detour or construction, be faithful. God's intentions for you will be unique, purposeful and beautiful. And if you want a reminder, check out Walking With Miss Millie and Lu. Not only will they be great additions to your summer read pile, they will be a tangible testimony of how things work out when we trust God and His plans.
No matter what you’re working toward, no matter how long it seems to be taking, don’t worry. God has the next chapter written—it’s a page-turner and it will be amazing.
Seven new planets were discovered orbiting around a star named Trappist-1 last week! Seven! They’re about the size of earth, and we didn’t even know they existed!
Closer to home, this Amaryllis grew out of a bulb in the middle of winter in my own house. It’s not quite as remarkable as the planet thing, but considering any plant I come in contact with withers at my touch, it’s pretty amazing. (I’m like the Freeze Miser without ice).
And the God who created these stunning blooms, literally unfathomable when you look at the brown onion-like bulb they spring from, and our solar system packed with all those stars and planets (apparently way more than we could ever imagine) He created us, too.
Some days it’s easy to go around doing our thing. Rolling over, tapping our alarms, checking our phones, brushing our teeth, driving to school, work, spin class, and before we know it we’re washing up the dinner dishes, sliding on pajamas and crashing into our pillows, so engrained in our routines that we don’t notice. That we don’t notice the daffodils are poking up their heads, the people we love most have something behind their eyes, something on their minds, the song on the radio is the one we kept hearing at the beach, the scent of our soap smells like Grandma’s pies, that some time during the day God used us in some incredible way, that God created us for unbelievably phenomenal work.
Yes, I’m still a bit amazed by this whole planet thing, and I’ve pointed out the flower on our counter to my kids about 94 times each, but I also stand in awe of the way one of my girlfriends sings like a rock star, when I can’t carry a tune, how my mom makes meals for every neighbor and friend she knows when I struggle to get dinner on the table for my own family, how another friend can walk in a room and effortlessly remake the space with her instincts for color and layouts, when I’m just hoping to get around to the dusting. I’m not saying that I wish I had those gifts, sure they’d be nice, but this is not a jealous rant, just a moment to observe how many incredibly awesome and irreplaceable people God has created. To pause. And be in awe of how He uniquely gifts each of us.
And as I see the beauty in each of the women I get to hang out with, it reminds me that God created me to do specific work as well. Just like He created some of you to teach a certain skill, to listen to somebody’s problem, to mediate another disagreement, to create delicious cupcakes, to make people laugh, or to block the other team from scoring. What did He create you to do?
Don’t go through today without noticing.
Without observing the beauty in each of the individuals around you.
Without realizing the potential within yourself.
What amazing skills and talents do your friends and family members possess? Compliment them. Remind them. Encourage them, in case they haven’t detected their talents for themselves, in case they’re about to give up.
What do you do well? What comes naturally, something you might take for granted, that the people around you marvel at? Thank God for the ability to sing, run, analyze, listen, navigate, tell jokes, be patient, think outside the box, be silly, cook, make a difference. Thank Him for making you you. Now go out and shine like a planet, bloom like a flower, and knock the socks off the world.
A powerful February gust shakes the over 100-year old towering trees in my back yard. I watch them as they waver like drunken sailors. It’s mind blowing how such seemingly stable oaks and maples can sway so violently. The wind settles, but it takes the trees a moment to dig into their stabilizing roots and halt their motion. They tremble and wave their branches once more, then finally settle back into their stations.
Me, too, I whisper to the trees. Me, too.
And I start to sway. My self-image is deeply rooted in the fact that Jesus loves me, and this keeps me from being blown across the street or falling down, but I do stagger.
I dive back into my to-do list, but I feel jittery, like I’d chosen a second coffee instead of that tea. I push off the feeling of inadequacy, shoving it aside, so I don’t have to deal with it, acting like none of those things bother me, because I know they’re not supposed to. But that leaves me feeling unsettled and unable to focus. No matter what project I begin, I can’t shake the lingering pit in my stomach that something is off. I’m like one of those trees waving back and forth, out of character, and not how I’m intended to be.
How to get back to normal?
I have a tendency to avoid conflict, but it really is important for me to address it. So I start the inner dialogue about what truly has me irked. I gloss over surface annoyances and finally get to the root of the problems—the button pushed, the label attached, the part of me that feels like it hasn’t measured up. There. At least I know what I’m dealing with. The name calling inside my head saying, “not good enough” has been quieted. Because I know better. And so do you. Now, the wind has stopped, but I’m still swaying a bit. Ever been there?
I need to dig my roots deeper, back into the nutrient rich soil of God. I start praying. I tell Him how I know it’s ridiculous, how I know it shouldn’t bother me, but that it does all the same. And together we unravel what happened and how it made me feel. God sets me straight. My self worth has zero to do with my ability to make a reservation or balance a hot beverage. The real issue isn’t with the needy friend, but with my feeling that I need to solve their problems and how I feel inadequate when I can’t make things right. The button pusher is so busy manning their switchboard; they don’t realize how I tick, or what I even value. And a criticism from my past has long since expired. The same holds true for you, with whatever ways you feel you’re not measuring up.
Talk to Jesus. Let Him remind you what truly matters, who you truly are.
We are more than conquerors. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. We are to be strong and courageous. We’ve been left with peace. Our hearts are not to be troubled.
As I talk with God, He reminds me I don’t need to prove myself, and that my worth is not based on my worldly performance. He helps ground me and reminds me I am not a failure because I don’t solve all problems, avoid all accidents, have all the right words, and a myriad of magic tricks up my sleeve. Jesus tells me over and over that I am loved, that I am His, and that that is more than enough.
And once again, I stand tall, extend my branches, and breathe deeply.
Whatever is making you waver today, talk to Jesus about it. Reach your roots deep into Him. He will hold us firm on the promise of His love.
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
I am a shedder.
I leave long, curly blonde hairs on the carpet of your car, the pillows of your couches, on the backs of the seats at church, and on your shirt when I give you a hug. My hairs clog the sink and get tangled in the rollers of the vacuum. If I’m ever a suspect for anything, the detectives won’t need to look for my fingerprints or footprints—all they’ll need to do is follow my trail of tresses.
I know I leave my hair everywhere I go (sorry about that) but what else am I leaving behind? When I leave yoga class, Bible study, your kitchen table, are there smiles lingering? Laughter? Sarcasm? Complaints? Prayers? What am I imprinting?
Are people glad I came, or do they sigh with relief, grateful for my departure?
I’ll never hear the conversations and comments after I exit a room, but I can choose how I act when I’m in that room. My husband and I went to see Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, speak last week. Mitch shared one of the most important things Morrie taught him, a lesson Albom weaves into all of his books, is that “one life touches another and another.” Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22: 39
If I’m going to fully love my neighbor, if our lives are going to touch people one way or another, we can choose to try to love them and touch them in positive, meaningful ways. We all get that choice. Each time we enter a room. If we’re running late and juggling our keys and our purse and our coffee, we can grump and make excuses and make a big deal about our woes OR we can smile and laugh and greet someone. When we’re listening to someone speak—whether that’s a doctor, pastor, counselor, boss, co-worker, best friend, spouse, student or one of our own kids—we can choose to continue with our busyness, our business, on our phones OR we can choose to look them in the eye, give them our full attention, and truly listen.
Even when we’re the ones who need help, who are asking for advice, who need help carrying a load—physical, emotional or mental—(because some days we do need help) we can still choose to say, ‘thank you,’ to let the person know how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are for their help.
I’m going to be a lot of places over the next few weeks—soccer games, sports banquets, my children’s schools, church, visiting family for the holidays to name a few. How about you? Where are you headed? How will we act? What will we leave behind? In this season of thankfulness, let’s make a pact to remind others of all that they have to be thankful for, to have our presence be something they are thankful for, not because we are awesome or brilliant or have all of the right answers, but because we can choose to shine light in dark places, to choose hope over despair, and to choose compliments over criticism.
When someone finds one of my hairs—which they’re bound to do—after parting ways with me, I pray they pull it off their sleeve or pick it off their floor and smile, that I have left them with peace, strength or a little joy.
Ever heard of Nerf Wars? No, they're nothing like Star Wars. Nerf Wars are when teams of teens make a bracket (like you would in any sports tournament). The teams go against their assigned opponents with the goal of hitting more members of the opposing team with Nerf bullets than the opposing team hits of your team by the end of the assigned time. Shot players are out and can no longer shoot. Winning teams advance to the next bracket. It’s like an extended game of dodge ball, only with Nerf guns. Got it?
But as with most games, there’s a lot to be learned by the rules—life lessons. I’ve had the pleasure of spectating and strategizing with my daughter as she partook in this war with her friends, and I’ve learned a few strategies I want to apply to my daily life.
1. Be intentional
There is a thrill, an excitement, and a little bit of anxiety during Nerf Wars, because at any moment you could get shot. It’s all in fun—it’s just a game, so the stakes aren’t high, but still there’s that strange feeling that someone is after you. My daughter had to rethink her daily tasks. She had to be intentional about things she usually did by rote, things she took for granted. She asked if she could park in the garage instead of the driveway, so she could pull her car in, shut the garage door, and never be out in the open where she could get shot. She started conversations with people she hadn’t chatted with before, so she could decipher when and where her opponents were going. She planned new routes home from school in case she was being followed.
I, too, need to be more intentional. There are so many things I habitually do without even thinking about them. I eat the same things for breakfast, read the same blogs, and sit in the same seat at church. What if I approached each day fully aware and intent on expanding my horizons and picking the best routes for my daily life instead of the most familiar ones?
2. Never leave your wingman.
Just like in Top Gun, In Nerf Wars it’s not only important to be in constant communication with your teammates, it’s also critical to have someone with you—a wingman. Maybe your wingman will drive while you roll down the passenger window to shoot an opponent. Maybe, if they’re already out of the game, your wingman will act as a human shield to protect you from oncoming Nerf bullets. Maybe a wingman will help you find someone’s house, or just to keep you company or make you laugh while you’re on a stakeout.
I also need a wingman. We aren’t created to do life alone. We all need people to talk to, to laugh with, to plan with. Some days I need my friends and family to act as human shields, protecting me from unkind words or rejections from the world. I definitely need a small, close circle of people praying for and with me. I hope my wingmen and wingwomen and wingkids never leave my side. I’m reminded how important it is to stand by theirs
3. Stay in the light
I cracked up each night when my daughter called, asking me to turn on all the outside lights. When she pulled up to our house, she wanted a clear view—wanted to see if anyone was waiting to attack her.
I also need to stay in the light. I need to stay where I can see what’s going on, where I can tell the difference between right and wrong. There are places I’ve been and people I’ve been around, that when I’m there or with them, everything starts to get dim, maybe even dark. Where decisions are harder, where lines get blurry. You probably have your darker places, too. But Jesus is light. And when I stay grounded in Him, I can see what’s coming, and not be taken by surprise. I can see things for what they truly are, and act accordingly. When I shine His light on any situation it gets brighter and clearer, and I am immediately less concerned about the unknown.
I don’t know what battles you’re fighting today. I hope they’re just all fun and games, like Nerf Wars. But I know some days the battles are real. When they are, be intentional, keep a wingman close by, and stay in the marvelous light of Jesus.
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