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.
I carry every ounce of stress that ever comes my way in my shoulders. It doesn’t matter if a car nearly hits me or if I forgot to email someone back or if I’m under a serious deadline—it all goes to my shoulders. And after days and weeks and months of every worry burrowing deep into my rotator cuffs, the muscles get tight and sore and oh so very tense. So, once or twice a year I splurge—I mean all out luxury—and get a massage. I pay someone to work out those knots in my shoulders. They rub and roll and dig into my tissue, literally kneading away all of those stresses one by one. Meanwhile this lovely calming music plays in the background, and the scent of fragrant candles wafts through the air. And by the end I feel all floppy, relaxed, and bendy like a giant jellyfish floating back to the parking lot. Ahhh.
But afterwards… I’m still late to a meeting or a game, and I spill milk all over the counter or coffee all down my white shirt. I’ll still get a rejection from an editor, and feel like I don’t have enough time to get to all of the things that need to be done. So, one by one the stresses pile back on my shoulders. The massage is awesome, and offers me extreme peace and relaxation. But only temporarily.
We all crave peace. In the midst of our whirlwind lives, I find it critical to seek peace. Massages are one way. I’ll also go for a walk or read a book or sip some tea or take a yoga class or sit out on my back porch and watch the sun set. I love all of these activities, and they are all healing to me. But at some point the massage is over and so is the walk, it’s time to roll up my yoga mat, my teacup is empty, and the sun has set.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7
Thankfully there is one type of peace that is eternal—the peace Jesus offers us. Jesus’s peace surpasses all understanding. He offers it to us daily. We just have to tap into it. Just like you need to tap into a maple tree to get its syrup. That means in the midst of chaos saying, “Jesus, please bring me peace. Please help me not snap at my family members, slow down even though I’m running late, not worry about tomorrow, because I trust that you have it under control.”
It’s really hard when all of the balls we’re juggling appear to be on fire. But that breath, that moment of asking, “I have a problem, and I need some help, Your help, God, Your peace,” makes all the difference. It might not get you there on time or help you ace the test, or win the game, but you’ll get where you’re headed in a better state of mind, less flustered and you’ll be less anxious while answering the questions or playing the game, which means you can be more focused on doing your best at the task at hand.
Jesus will dig into your tense spots and knead them out one by one with His absolute, pure, unconditional love. And the peace He offers is easier to attain than an appointment at a spa, lasts a lifetime, and is absolutely free of cost to you. He’s already paid your bill plus the tip.
Peace be with you.
One of our family traditions is summer movie nights. We have four kids. We love movies. Therefore, we watch lots of movies with our kids. But sometimes the kids don’t see eye to eye on their movie pics. The boys love adventure movies. The girls could watch all of the High School Musicals and Camp Rocks over and over again. We try to guide our kids towards healthy media choices. And some movies that are appropriate for my teenagers are less appropriate for my younger kids. This equals lots of compromise.
And compromise can be great. This summer, together, we’ve watched the entire Back to the Future series, and most of the Indiana Jones movies. I even convinced our clan to watch The Little Prince with me, because j’adore Le Petit Prince!
But summer movie nights? Well, this is a coveted night when one child picks the movie they most want to see. The other kids all agree to honor the chosen child on their special night by finding something else to entertain themselves, knowing they will all get their turn. These nights are special, because my husband and I get to curl up on the couch and spend quality time with one of our priceless children. It gives that child a chance to choose, to be in charge, to see the movie they’ve been dying to see. Plus, my husband and I get four of these cozy evenings sprinkled with popcorn. #parentperks
After plowing through the entire Percy Jackson book series this year (twice), Maguire selected The Sea of Monsters, which was super fun, a little scary, plus gave a hilarious nod to Jesus when Mr. D. (a.k.a. Dionysus) while turning wine into water said, “The Christians have a guy who can do this trick backwards. Now that’s a God!” Our God is pretty cool, isn’t He? Not to mention this film is packed full of reminders of how no matter how bad things seem, in the end good does overcome evil. Time and time again. Guaranteed, folks.
Mallory chose Soul Surfer. Somehow I’d never gotten around to watching this true story of a rising teen surfing star who loses her arm in a shark attack. An entire box of Kleenex later, I am now an all-in Bethany Hamilton fan. This woman’s faith through an incredibly dark personal storm blows me away. She doesn’t let losing a limb stop her from competing in a sport where everyone else has two arms. Think you’re up against some obstacles today? Give this flick a view. Here’s how Bethany equates her life to surfing, “When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up, because you never know what's over the next wave... and if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all.”
Max picked Concussion. And I was wary. Because I’d heard it was gruesome. I’m also not a huge fan of sports movies. And honestly, I freak out over the number of concussions soccer players get, and I have three kids who love to head ball. But Concussion is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. I recommend all of you watch it. This weekend if possible. This is the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, a genius Nigerian doctor (brilliantly portrayed by Will Smith), who discovers a brain disease, CTE, which affects people with repeated head injuries. Early in the film, Bennett challenges a friend “to be the best version of themselves.” See why I like this guy? Later, Omalu is challenged to adhere to his own advice. He uncovers CTE as not just a disease, but also the potentially fatal disease that has now struck at least 90 NFL players. Needless to say, taking on the NFL is like taking on Big Tobacco. Omalu is called nasty names, loses his job, and is threatened to be deported and killed all in order to “hush up” his discoveries that America’s beloved sport of football is dangerous. But Omalu won’t be silenced. He stands true to the best version of himself without faltering. Bennett’s faith is too strong to cave. The truth that the trauma of repeated blows to the head incurred by playing football is life-threatening is hard to swallow, painful, and dangerous. But again and again Dr. Omalu shares his findings, fights to have them publicized, and implores an NFL official to “tell the truth.” The real Dr. Omalu shares in an interview with Frontline about Jesus’s story of the Good Shepherd going after that one sheep. He says his work is like that, if he can save one athlete—that one sheep, it will all be worth it. I cannot stop thinking about this man and the role model he is for us to stand up for what we believe in.
We haven’t gotten to Maddie’s movie night yet, but we will. And I can’t wait to view her choice, learn from it, pop some corn, and spend some special time with her.
Our summer movie nights give our kids a small glimpse of how special they are to us. But God also uses these films to remind me how special we all are to Him, how He will fight for us, and stand by us, how He will never forsake us, and that no matter what, He will conquer evil.
How about you? What was your favorite movie this summer? Why or how did it impact you?
Just like Robert Fulghum writes that all he needed to know he learned in Kindergarten, I might argue everything I need to know I could glean from Vacation Bible School.
10. Churches don’t have to look a certain way. Ours was transformed to look like a cave for Cave Quest. And it was pretty cool. And maybe we should keep it this way.
9. Leaders should stand out. My daughter proclaimed she looked like a Cheeto and even though they were a bit bright, all the kids could find the leaders in their “leader shirts”. They knew who to ask if they had a question and who to seek if they needed help. If you are a leader of any kind, do your people know it? Is it obvious they can approach you with problems, if they’re confused, if they need guidance? What would it take (minus an orange tee) to let them know?
8. I can hope in Jesus. I can. You can. It doesn’t matter what you are currently facing—will you make the team? Will you get the job? Will you find the right guy? What next? No matter what the outcomes of your uncertainties, Jesus has plans for you, plans to give you hope and for a future Jer 29:11.
7. Cold popsicles on a hot summer day are good for you
6. I get courage from Jesus. Life is scary sometimes. There are test results looming. You’ll have interactions with people who make you feel incapable and small, and unexpected expenses when your checkbook balance is low. On our darkest days, facing tomorrow looks terrifying. But fear is never from God. Yes, when necessary He instills a sense of warning in us, so we can react accordingly. But fear? No. His perfect love casts out fear. So whatever you’re afraid of, hand it over to Him. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6
5. Helping others feels good.
Through World Hope our VBS raised enough money to provide an education for Yeanoh and Samuel, two children from Sierra Leone who have dreams, but can’t afford the education to launch them. To make it interesting there was a contest held to see who could raise more money—the boys or the girls (complete with a pie in the face for the loser). Each night a huge production was made of counting the donations to see who was winning. The concept of helping kids in another part of the world became a thrill. Our kids helped provide these kids with an education, but also learned about a new culture, felt like they’d made new friends, and most importantly discovered they can make a difference. And that’s how helping others feels—gratifying and satisfying.
4. Singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” at the top of your lungs is liberating. It was phenomenal how boldly and proudly the kids at VBS proclaimed their decision to follow Jesus. It’s amazing when I say it out loud, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve decided, no matter where everyone else is heading, I’m following Jesus,” it lessens the stress of decision making, lowers the level of anxiety about what’s next, and just plain feels good.
3. Jesus gives me direction. Speaking of following Him, where is He leading? For all of us it’s different. Every day. Today He might be leading us to be social—to call or visit with a friend old or new. Tomorrow there might be work to be done—loads of it—clients’ questions to answer, dishes to wash, meetings to attend. The next day He might call us to rest, to recharge and renew after a crazy week. But no matter where He’s leading you today, He will always lead you in the right direction. That’s the kind of Good Shepherd He is Psalm 23.
2. Jesus gives me power. Not super powers, like x-ray vision, but He is way more powerful and necessary to me than my phone charger. He gives me strength when I’m exhausted, energy when I’m worn out, and a turbo boost to do what’s right even when it’s harder and takes longer. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength Phil 4:13. And so can you. We just need to plug in.
1. Everyone is miraculously, stunningly beautiful. AKA, you can’t judge a geode by it’s exterior. One night the kids smashed a dull stone with a hammer, revealing gorgeous crystal formations inside. Yes, geodes are packed with spectacular glimmers, but so are we. All of us. Intricate patterns and light catching features that God, our Creator, has formed inside of us.
When we take these VBS lessons and live them out in our lives, when we decide to follow Jesus, and find our hope, power, and direction from Him, then we will reflect His light like prisms—we’ll illuminate our true reflections.
How about you? Any VBS memories or life lessons learned? I'd love to hear in the comments below.
The other day I wanted to wear my white jeans. I went to my closet but couldn’t find them. I started flipping through piles, digging through shelves, and even asked my daughter if maybe, she’d borrowed my white jeans. When she said, “no,” and I still couldn’t find them I got a little frenzied, and in desperation may or may not have thrown all of my jeans on the floor.
Later, calmer, as I refolded my jeans and lined them back on my shelf, I shook my head, because I clearly have too many pairs of jeans. And the thing is if you have too much of something, it weighs you down, gets in your way, and makes it harder to do the things you were made to do.
Too many pairs of jeans meant not being able to find the pair I was looking for. Which were a waste of time and a source of unnecessary stress.
Too much ice cream too fast gives me a brain freeze. Too much sun burns my skin. Too much caffeine makes me jittery. Too many things scheduled into my day stresses me out as I try to do it all and get there on time. But there are more dangerous things too, aren’t there? Too much spending can cause financial strain and debt. Too much time with the wrong people and we can start to lose sense of our true selves.
My heap o’ jeans led to a good old closet cleansing. Yes, all of this excess in the picture—bags upon bags—came out in one day (and I hadn’t even touched three of my kids’ drawers yet). All of this stuff was hampering ease of finding things, decisions about what to wear, making it difficult to shut drawers. It was time to purge. These items can now go where they can do some good – old goalie jerseys to the local soccer program, outgrown school uniforms to younger kids at the school, and clothes we just don’t need to the local community charity. Of course, when I start to get rid of excess it just opens my eyes to how much of it I have, and how much more I need to clean out. But it’s not just my closets that need cleared out.
Is there any excess baggage you’re carrying around? Too many late nights leaving you exhausted? Too many texts from someone who belittles you making you feel small and desperate? Too many episodes of Friends leaving you unproductive? Too many hours stressing about the same job/relationship/fill-in-the-blank over and over again instead of handing it over to God? Too much time on social media making you brain-dead? I know a lot of people focus on spring-cleaning, but there’s no time like the present to get rid of whatever is bogging you down.
When I get rid of excess, I pare down closer to the core of who I am, my true essence, my true reflection. When I purge the things cluttering my life and heart there is less in the way of who God created me to be, and more time and space for me to just be His child.
What about you? What excess do you need to get rid of in your life?
I’m snuggled on the couch with my youngest on a rainy Saturday morning watching Prince Caspian with tears dripping down my cheeks.
Yes, I’m a total Narnia fangirl. Can’t even count how many times I’ve read all of the books by C.S. Lewis or watched the movies, but I am so enamored with these tales because they resonate so strongly with me and my faith journey. And just as Aslan tells Lucy in the story, “Things never happen the same way twice,” I am never hit by these stories of a magical land, and their perfect, untamed ruler, Aslan, the same way twice. This viewing I was deeply challenged about the motivations behind all I do.
In Prince Caspian, High King Peter and his royal siblings have been magically called back to the land of Narnia to help this nation and its people (um, well, citizens) in a dire, dark time. Peter is not only excited to be back in his realm, but also thrilled to be High King once more—to be respected, honored, to have people seek his opinion and listen to his ideas. And we all seek that, respect, honor, self-worth. But Peter gets it wrong. I get it wrong too, day after day.
Peter starts making plans—which way to go, how to attack the enemy, and other kingly type decisions—but he makes them without seeking guidance or direction from Aslan (who represents Jesus in this allegory). And not surprisingly, he and his companions get lost, lose time, resources, troops, and are forced to retreat. Just like when I start making plans—deciding what to do and how to do it, how to strategize my days, my goals, fight my personal battles without consulting Jesus. Guess what happens? Duh. I get lost along the way, distracted, waste time and resources, and end up feeling like a failure.
There is a pivotal point in the movie when Peter’s sister, Susan, asks Peter, “Just who are you doing this for anyway?” Ouch. Clearly this is not Peter at his best. And I had to ask myself, who am I doing life for? Who are you doing your thing for today?
Convicted, Peter changes his tune, slightly. He raises his sword and calls one of my favorite battle cries, “For Narnia!” And he almost gets it, but not quite. Just like when I make a special meal for my family and think, “This is to make my family feel loved and special.” Or when I write an article about true beauty, and think to myself, “this is to help show people how beautiful they are.” I’ve almost got it, but not quite. My family is awesome, and I want them to know it. I do write to spread the word that we are all unique beautiful individuals. You may be folding someone’s laundry so they have clean clothes, or working someone’s shift as a favor to give them some relief, or working late to help a client solve a problem, or maybe you gave up something for Lent, because it helped you with self-control. There are plenty of good causes, good reasons to do what we do, but ultimately there is one that matters more than any of the others.
May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others
Than all the others
“Full Attention” by Jeremy Riddle
There is a turning point in the movie where the final battle is all but lost by Peter and his troops. The enemy is overtaking them in droves. Left with no choice but to attempt to save the lives of the remaining good guys, the Narnians are retreating once more, this time to their fort. But the enemy implodes their fort, their one safe place. There is nowhere left to run. Nowhere left to hide. It is only at this desperate, hopeless place that Peter looks at his companions, nods, and knows exactly what to do. Peter turns around to face the enemy he’d been running from head on, pulls out his sword and changes one word in his call “For Aslan!” He screams and rushes towards the oncoming opponent. This is Peter at his absolute best, bravest, humblest, wisest, kindest—the most brilliant version of himself. Yes, this is the part where tears stream down my face.
And in this exact moment Aslan’s reinforcements, an army of trees, appears, and overtakes the enemy. Doing it for Aslan instead of for himself, or even for the noble cause of his nation is a gamechanger for Peter. Who am I fighting my battles for? For me? For a good cause? Or for Jesus? Why am I so stupidly trying to do things my way, when time and time again God shows up and turns the tables, and knocks down my walls, and clears the way for victory?
When I call out, “For Jesus!” I’m no longer struggling, no longer feeling like not enough. My eyes are opened to unexpected opportunities. I can see myself better for who I am, and what I am called to do. I am more able to see a better version of myself, my true reflection. You can too. It only takes changing one word in our battle cries.
How about you? Who are you working, playing, studying, parenting, living for today?
When I’m at the beach I wear these heinous shoes all day, every day. They are the dorkiest item of apparel I own, but I wouldn’t even consider walking through the sand without them.
As soon as my feet hit the boardwalk leading from the condo to the beach, my family parts like the Red Sea, and I take off sprinting past them, sometimes with the pool bag flapping at my side, until I am ankle deep in ocean. I look ridiculous. I know I do. I look like I’m being chased by a Land Shark. People probably joke at dinner about the crazy lady they saw running by herself onto the beach, speculating about what motivated me to act like a maniac. But I do not care.
See, I’m allergic to fire ants, and not just like “achoo” or “dang I got a rash” but like” jab me with my Epipen and rush me to the hospital ASAP.” So to avoid these little buggers who live in hot, sandy places, I cover my feet and keep them in the wet sand where the ants are less likely to bite. And it is worth the ugly shoes and the strange antics to stay safe. Every single step of the way.
I’m sure there are many other things I do that seem strange or counter cultural to someone observing, but I do them for self-preservation. You probably do too. At dessert while out to eat with some girlfriends recently, one friend offered another friend a bite of her brownie. She answered, “No thanks. It looks so good, but I’d have to pay for it for a week.” She is gluten free and knows the wheat in baked goods attacks her body. The bite of rich, chocolaty brownie, although oh so yummy, just isn’t worth it for her. I have another girlfriend who needs her sleep. NEEDS IT. Like no one else I’ve ever met. She wakes up, takes her kids to school in the mornings and goes back to bed for another hour or so every school day. As a result every minute she’s awake she is more energetic, more productive, and happier. It is what she needs to be healthy and in a good place. And so no matter what everyone else does or thinks she should do, she deliberately gets her sleep.
It’s not always convenient to do the thing that’s best for you. But it’s essential to do it anyway.
The most significant thing I do each day to keep me grounded, safe, full of joy, and in the right frame of mind is to read the Bible. Most mornings I am on the fly—attempting to sneak a jog in before it’s sweltering hot, trying to get one of my kids on time to an early morning soccer game, hoping to get a bit of writing in before the rest of my family wakes up. And then there are the days when I am just sooo sleepy. But regardless of how handy or opportune, deliberately starting my day in the Word keeps me anchored to who I am.
So before I pull my covers off, I reach under my bed, pull out my Bible and my journal and see what God has in store for me for the day at hand. My morning time with my Bible:
There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG
Just like my awful pink beach shoes keep me safe from seemingly harmless insects that are life-threatening to me, beginning my day immersed in the Word of God protects me against seemingly innocent insults, rejections, comments, stresses and tensions, and reminds me I am wholly and completely loved and accepted, just as I am. And this reward is so fulfilling that I am always glad I woke up early, took the time, or waited to get started on something else. Always.
How about you? What seemingly countercultural or inconvenient things do you do to keep yourself grounded, safe, happy and shining your true reflection?
Do you remember in Dead Poet’s Society when Robin Williams’ character challenges his students to stand on their desks, “because we need to constantly look at things in a different way”? I didn't stand on top of a desk, but I did sleep in my daughter’s bottom bunk for a week. And I truly gained a fresh perspective.
My husband was sick, like wiped out. I love him very much. But I know if I catch whatever he has, the whole family will go down. To help me avoid his germs, my younger daughter made herself a nest of sleeping bags and pillows on her floor and insisted I take her bed. This gracious act of selfless love was so touching and so much like what Jesus calls us to do. It gave me an elevated appreciation of her giving spirit. Who knew sleeping in the bottom bunk, which is definitely not my usual routine, would help me see more clearly the love of not only this daughter, but of my whole family? This new perspective helped me see their true reflections more vividly.
The whole husband being down to the count thing heightened my realization of how much he contributes to our family life. I hope I always appreciate the ways my husband pitches in, but wow, when all of a sudden he can’t help get the kids to practice, or find the missing stuffed panda bear because he really needs to rest—it is in these moments that I am in awe of how much I rely on him on a daily basis and of how selflessly he loves me and our kids. I am also blown away by all of the single moms out there who do everything all by themselves every day. You ladies are awesome!
One night mid-week I noticed our refrigerator was leaking all over the floor as one daughter walked in the front door from soccer practice AND at the exact same moment a support board on my youngest’s bunk bed snapped—while he was sleeping in it. No lie. My fourteen-year old son, keenly aware of the absence of Dad and the insanity of the moment, said, “Mom I’ll take care of the bed (and his startled and alarmed younger brother), so you can take care of this.” He motioned to the soggy puddle spreading across our floor. I cannot tell you how grateful I was. Or how mature my boy looked to me. My little guy is no longer little. He stepped up in incredible ways without being asked, prodded, or bribed. The view of him from the kitchen floor was stunning. Like totally makes my eyes tear up proud of the young gentleman he is growing into.
Instead of our usual splitting up the evening shifts running the family shuttle to soccer fields, weight rooms, and band practice I was flying solo on taxi duty. I love this time with my kids getting them where they need to be, where they love to be. But I also love the evening routine at home—relaying stories about our days, getting ready for the morning ahead, reading books to the younger crowd and tucking them in. I love that my youngest still wants me to lay him down. But he stepped up too. While I was pretending to be an Uber driver each night, he showered, put on his pajamas, packed his lunch, brushed his teeth, read to himself, and crawled under his covers—by himself. Without a single complaint. Just a request that I kiss him when I got home. And as I kissed his sweet, sleepy cheek each night, I saw even more clearly how beautifully my youngest is growing into the person God created him to be.
There seemed to be more to do each day than in a normal week, because there was. And when I finally crawled under my own covers, well, my daughter’s polka dot covers in her bunk, I was exhausted. But despite my to-do list, every evening I still beat my oldest to bed. I know, because she sleeps in the top bunk. She is a hard worker, one of the hardest, but from the view in the bottom bunk, I witnessed her climb the ladder to the bed above me each night later than she would have liked, because she was busy helping her friends, doing extra training for her sport, grinding through hours of homework without a grumble. In the mornings, I’d comment, “You were up late.” And she’d grin and shrug without the hint of a grumble, “I’m fine.” Not only did I have a more vivid view of how intensely my daughter puts her all into everything she does, but also of how graciously she takes on her responsibilities.
I love my family, dearly. Every day I think they are awesome. But a week in a different bed was like getting a new prescription for my glasses. It showed me more acutely and crisply what treasures they all are.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Sometimes it takes getting outside of our normal routines, our normal spots and approaches to see the beauty in our life and the people in it. Just like hanging out with Jesus gives us a whole new life, letting the past be the past, and allowing each new day to brim with opportunities for love and grace.
Are you stuck in a rut? Going through the motions of getting from here to there, of getting through the day? Taking anything for granted? Try finding a different perspective. You can climb on a desk if you like. I recommend sleeping in a bunk bed. But maybe it just means changing where you set up your laptop or where you go on a walk. Maybe it means choosing a different seat in class, a different spot to unroll your yoga mat, or a change up in the table you eat at in the cafeteria. But I challenge you to find a different view this week. You just might be amazed by how blessed you are.
There’s something that lures even this non-sporty girl to the NCAA tournament. In the process of 67 games there are so many beautiful stories—countless surprises, nail-biters, overtimes, upsets, and tearful moments surged by both “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Monday night was the grand finale of the tournament, and for me there was not one, but five shining moments that stood out exemplifying what being the best versions of ourselves, embracing our true beauty, looks like.
1. Even though everyone was convinced they would lose, Middle Tennessee State University (a 15 seed), believed they could beat Michigan State (a 2 seed). They not only imagined the unthinkable, but MTSU went out there and played their hearts out, making their dream a reality winning 90-81. This is only the 8th time in NCAA history this kind of upset has happened. It wasn’t a fluke or a tight ending. MTSU—the underdog, the predicted loser, the presumed weaker link—outplayed the team that many, including March Madness authority, Dick Vitale, thought would win the entire tournament. As Michigan State’s coach, Izzo, said after the game, “We got beat by a team that played better than us today. There were no bad calls. Nobody missed a free throw that would have saved the day. We just kind of got beat.” I do feel badly for Michigan State, but MTSU reminded us that we all have potential, that we all have God-given talents, and we are called to use them to the best of our abilities, even when things look bleak. MTSU exemplified hope to all of us underdogs fighting our own giants, showing us that even when the world doesn’t believe in us, God does.
Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. Samuel 17:49-50 NKJV
2. Typically when we think about March Madness, we’re not thinking about the music, but Pitt’s band showed us not only how important a fight song can be, but more importantly how to live out the Golden Rule. Pitt’s band heard Weber State’s band would be unable to attend their game—Weber would be without anyone to musically cheer them on. Knowing the importance of a band and a fight song for moral support, Pitt’s band stayed in town after their own team was defeated earlier in the day to play for Weber State. Not only did they stay, but they ditched their own outfits for Weber State spirit wear, learned, and played Weber State’s fight song as enthusiastically as if it were their own. The Pitt band could have gone home. They could have been bitter about their loss. They could have shown zero interest in learning another random team’s song. But instead they exhibited how beautiful it is to love your neighbor as yourself. This class act was a reminder to all of us to do unto others, and that is beautiful music to everyone’s ears.
And Jesus answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:11
3. Another example of being the best versions of ourselves, living to the full potential of our true beauty was given to us by a young man named Angel. After winning the game against Wichita State, scoring a career high of 28 points, and advancing his team to the Sweet 16, Angel Rodrigues, the University of Miami’s point guard was asked by a CBS reporter what he thought about the praise his coach gave him. Angel responded, “Well first, let me give all the praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Here is his big chance to take a bow, to pat himself on the back, to revel in the glow of stardom, but Angel humbly points the spotlight back to Jesus. What a beautiful example to sports fans everywhere. What if we all did that? What if every time we got a compliment, achieved a goal, conquered a problem, or overcame a struggle we first, before anything else, publicly gave all the praise to Jesus? What a beautiful reminder of where our identities, our true reflections come from. No wonder his name is Angel.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
4. When the Virginia Cavaliers (a one seed) lost to the Syracuse Orangemen (a ten seed), you might have predicted something ugly might ensue from the UVA side of the bench, but instead, their coach, Tony Bennett, exhibited the truest beauty. As Bennett watched the 16 point lead his team had established disappear, he never yelled. Not once. He knew his boys were playing hard, doing their best. After the game the press wanted to interview the coach of the losing team who many (*cough* including me) had slated to win the tournament. When asked what he would say to his team, Bennett, replied he had an old church song ringing in his ears, “’Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’” He continued, “There will be some weeping and some pain for some nights because of this, but absolutely, joy will come in the morning for these guys, “ Bennett said. “For what they’ve established for our program, where they’ve taken us—what they’ve done for me – joy is coming. My guys are disappointed tonight, but they’ll look back and see what they accomplished, that what they did was amazing.”Did I mention this game took place on Easter? What a beautiful message to remind us all that even though basketball is pretty addicting in the spring, something even more important is taking place. That just as things looked bleak and dark for the world on the original Good Friday, God was at work, there would be joy in the morning. For all of us. That no matter what we’re going through right now, today, you and I, Jesus loves us. He’s cheering for us. And that message of amazing grace is the most beautiful thing I know.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 NKJV
5. Only in the Big Dance could a tango between two brothers create such a beautiful finale to the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, Nate Britt from UNC played against his adopted brother, Kris Jenkins, who by the way made the winning shot for Villanova to win it all. Nate and Kris met playing AAU ball together as youngsters, but due to extreme challenges in Kris Jenkins’ family, the Britts not only took him under their wings, into their homes, but legally adopted him. Kris says about the Britts, “They accepted me for who I was and elevated me as a person and made me better. It's something that I'm always thankful for. I thank God for it every day." In the past few days the Britts traveled back and forth from Philadelphia, to Louisville to Houston in order to see both of their sons play. And the brothers? Both of them were there to cheer the other one on in their final four wins prior to their match up Monday night. Kris Jenkins experienced family trauma (separation of parents, death of a sibling), struggled academically, and ten years ago was placed in a family that was not his own. His story could have been one of desolation and defeat. But a family who loved him as if he were their own, the nurturing of the Britt parents and of his brother, Nate, strengthened, enabled and inspired Kris to go to college, play the game he loves and make the shot that was heard around the world.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this.” John 15:12-13
How about you? Did you notice anyone exuding true beauty during the tournament? I’d love to hear your highlights. Leave them in the comments below.
While grabbing an apple in the kitchen to fight off a mid-day stomach growl, I heard an erratic banging from the dining room. I peeked around the corner to spy a large black bird flapping his wings and flying straight toward one of the windows--crash—hitting it so hard, he fell back to the ground in a feathered heap. Was he dead? How long had he been down here? How in the world did a bird get in our house?
The bird quickly answered my first question—he was not dead—by rearranging his body, raising his wings and aiming straight toward another window, only to repeat the whole crashing and crumpling scene. A close-up wild bird is very different than gazing at one flittering through the trees. He appeared so much gawkier, louder, and infinitely crazier. My instinct was to get him OUT! But he was like a lunatic, also probably severely concussed, so I avoided his hysterical flapping (I did not want him plummeting into me) by ducking through the hallway to open the front door. I swung the wooden door in and the storm door out, sliding the catch so it would stay open, all while talking to the bird as if it were a toddler, “Come on bird. Here’s the door. You can go outside now. Here you go.” But where did he go? He was nowhere in sight.
I followed my ears to the clatter of colliding and flapping in the living room. He must have snuck in this room, like one of those secret passageways in Clue—where you can go straight from the Conservatory to the Lounge even though they’re on opposite ends of the game board. He had tricks up his feathered sleeves, and he was now head-banging against the window in his new room. When he fell to the floor. Again. I rushed past him to open the back door leading to our screened-in porch “Alright, bird. Come on out to the porch. I’ll get this door open for you too, or the front door’s still an option. Either one works for me.”
I got the screen door open and finally remembered to breathe as he soared onto the porch. Brilliant. Until he crashed straight into one of the screens. I now know the origin of the word “birdbrain”. I closed off the porch, so he couldn’t get back in the house, and kept talking to him while shooing him time after time in the direction of the exit. After several crash and burns, he flew outside. I slammed and latched the door behind him.
Finally free of the problem of having a large bird flopping around my home, I pondered how he ever got so misplaced that he ended up here, that he thought he wanted to be in our house instead of out in the open where he belonged? How did he get so confused, distracted that he couldn’t distinguish glass or screens from air, from wide-open spaces? I considered how the more exhausted and anxious he got, the more he seemed to spin out of control.
But I do it too. Do you? Do you ever run into the same wall time and time again? Trying to do it all by yourself, ignoring the voice coaching you out to freedom
Instead of embracing the trees and sky where God has placed you, do you ever seek something you’re not suited for, somewhere unbecoming of the beautiful being God created you to be? Have you ever banged your head on the glass thinking it might be a way out, crashed into a screen when you’ve flown a little too high or too low?
Like that bird, we all get off track sometimes, misplaced, confused about where we want to be, where we should be, what is truly important. We find ourselves someplace we never imagined, and we can get trapped there. Appearances, brands, numbers on the scale, on test results, on the scoreboard, or in our checkbooks distract us. We get tired and stressed, which confuses us and we start making bad, frantic decisions. But how do we get back on track, back to our true selves, our true reflections?
It’s easy, if we’re willing to take a deep breath, get our bearings and listen. God is opening doors and windows giving us fresh opportunities and new chances, shooing us to the openings, to the ways out of bad situations and into wide-open spaces. He’s talking to us saying, “Look over here!” We just need to listen.
And when we pull ourselves out of our heaps and fly to the beautiful places He’s providing for us, we can stop feeling scared, lost, overwhelmed, or incapable, and spread our beautiful wings and soar as He designed us to do.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1
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