Different folks and different faith backgrounds within the Christian church meditate on different words or ideas during the four weeks of advent as they prepare for Christmas. This week I’m focusing on love.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. How I trembled at the sight of the Abominable Snowman when I was little. Gratefully, I’ve conquered that fear.
Each year as I watch, I’m a little befuddled when Rudolph and his buddies arrive at the Island of Misfit Toys. To me, none of the toys live up to their “misfit” name. A cowboy riding an ostrich seems exotic. A toy gun that squirts jelly sounds super fun, especially if it’s strawberry, because yum. A Charlie in the Box is clever, and that spotted elephant is so stinking cute. I have no idea why he’s a misfit. And Dolly? No one in my family can even figure out what makes her not fit in. Yet, each of these toys bemoans their quirks, the things that make them different. They play the comparison game and end up feeling unloved and unwanted.
Sounds a little bit like us.
We wish we had skin like her, or a set of wheels like him. We think if only we had this aspect, that job, those boots, that relationship, or wore that size, then we’d be happy.
But God tells us differently. God tells us we are His masterpieces, His perfect creations, who He has equipped for the specific work He has uniquely designed for us. God asks, “I made you in my image, why would you want to be any different? Why would you want to be like someone I created for an entirely different purpose and destiny than the phenomenal one awaiting you?”
Why would we?
Santa shows up on the Island of Misfit Toys and puts every toy in his bag. He doesn’t turn down any of them. Not one. Santa doesn’t say there’s no room for a train with square wheels or that only flying birds (not swimming ones) can sit with him. Santa sees and values each toy’s individuality. He understands that every toy has the power to bring joy and love into the heart of a child. Santa loves them all for exactly who they are. And at the end of the movie, when each misfit toy grabs a colorful umbrella and floats to the home of their future child owner, they are transformed. They are still them—polka dots, square wheels and all—but they realize their potential, they begin to see their true reflections.
And when we understand how loved we are by our Creator, that He crafted us perfectly and intentionally, that there’s room for all of us in God’s kingdom, that He doesn’t reject any of us, not a one, that our uniqueness can accomplish things no one else can accomplish, that we each have the power to bring love and joy to this world, just as we are, then we too, can begin to see our true reflections.
This is what Christ’s love looks like—a flawless mirror showing us we are not misfits. We are worthy, and we are treasured.
As you light your Christmas candles or your tree or plug in your giant yard blow-up Minions with Santa hats, breathe in God’s incomparable love, and remember that to Him you have infinite value.
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
“Who here is a library nerd?” John Wood asked the crowd at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University last week. Not only did I raise my hand, but I was all in. Because I may be the BIGGEST library nerd. I am a lover of books, a collector of stories. I want to read every classic, every new series my kids pick up, every book my friends recommend. I want to read them all and learn and get carried away and discover new friends, places, and perspectives. I am a reader and a writer and a storyteller. Words and books are my very pulse.
But one seventh of humanity can neither read nor write. They don’t have access to books, any books, let alone books in their own languages, books that teach literacy. But founder of Room to Read, John Wood is changing that. The man famous for his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, was on a trekking trip in the Himalayas when he was challenged by a native schoolmaster, “Perhaps sir, you will some day come back with books.” Something inside John was stirred. Deeply. He left his high-paying executive position at Microsoft despite being repeatedly asked by his peers, “Are you crazy?” and has since reached 10 million kids. Ten million! That is world changing.
John believes every child should have the right to be educated, that just because they were born in Nepal or Sri Lanka doesn’t have to mean they lost the lottery when it comes to their future. Every child? Now that’s a bold goal. Bold goals are one of the lessons John says he has learned leads to success.
Are you being bold in your goals today? Because I know I’ve let some of mine slip. I have big dreams and God-inspired ideas. I have talks I’m itching to give, books I crave to publish, blogs I want to write, lives I hope to touch, people I long to remind that they are marvelously created by the ultimate Creator, and therefore they are a-ma-zing! But some of my grandiose dreams get lost in to-do lists, get squelched by rejections, get buried in the ins and outs of daily life. Sometimes I’m checking boxes, getting back on the treadmill, doing what I’ve always done. Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing all I can, but that’s not true. And it’s not enough. It’s not.
I’m not saying God calls us to grind ourselves to the quick. But He does challenge us to get going, get moving, get doing for Him. He has His hands on all of us, for something special. What’s the special thing God is urging you to do? The God who came up with the original designs for volcanoes and invented thunderstorms is not wimpy. He’s not a half-way kind of guy.
He doesn’t want me or you to be either. God strengthens us and empowers us and gives us these dreams, and He expects us to boldly chase them.
The question is, what are you going to do with yours? What has God put on your heart that you’ve been tinkering around with, dipping your toes in the water? It’s time to dive in head first. To be bold. As John Wood says, “Bold goals attract bold people.” And they do. Will people tell you, “no”? Of course. Will obstacles get in your way? Most definitely. Will God part the Red Sea, tumble the walls of Jericho, turn water into wine—make crazy, awesome, amazing, huge things happen that are supposed to happen when you are faithful to His call. Absolutely. So be bold today, and together, we too, can change the world.
What bold dreams are on your heart? What are you going to do with them?
Even though the years since I’ve attended school have come and gone, I’ve never gotten off of a school calendar. I live in a college town. My husband is a professor. I have four kids. In my life, the abrupt change the first day of school brings is more significant than January first. To me, back to school is New Year’s Eve—a season of change, unlocked potential, resolutions, goodbyes, hellos and opportunities.
My youngest told me that although he LOVES summer, he’s really looking forward to school starting, because he’ll get to see all of his friends, wear his new gym shoes, draw with his new Crayons (there is something thrilling about a new 64 pack with sharpened points all lined up by color), and start his flag football season. Our conversation made me smile.
Those are great things to look forward to.
What are you looking forward to this fall?
I’m excited to unroll my yoga mat that’s been collecting dust all summer. I’m eager to move my Mac off the kitchen counter where it’s been hanging out for impromptu writing sessions—aka the moments my kids were otherwise occupied—back to my writing nook where I can spend hours with two of my best friends—Words and Stories. And Bible study starts soon. I’ve missed those women and the structured discipline of studying God’s word. These are all awesome things I’m super geared up to get back into.
But today, the day my kids all go off to school and leave me, the day I sit at the kitchen table and eat lunch by myself, the day the house is eerily silent, is the hardest day of the year for me. A piece of my heart walks out of my car and into my children’s school, leaving me with a missing piece and an ache—as if part of me has been taken. I love those kids. I love summer. I love summer, because I get to spend so much time with them.
So I’m bittersweet. You?
There are hellos of new roommates and goodbyes to families as college students lug their crates into their dorms. Ends and beginnings to our places in neighborhoods, churches and workplaces as we move, relocate, and reallocate pieces of our lives. Seasons change, and God calls us to embrace each one. Just like the first page of a brand new spiral notebook, the possibilities of fall are endless and full of promise. To help ease my transition, I bought my own back-to-school supplies, because please, look how adorable these are, and because they help my creative juices flow (plus with each Yoobi product I purchased an item will be donated to a classroom in need—cool, right?) New notebooks and markers are fresh starts, bright ink, slabs of marble, just waiting to be carved.
And this is the life Jesus offers us everyday. He says, “I know you’re still bitter from that argument, frustrated with the coach from last season, stressed about how carpool could possibly work, anxious about today’s meeting, freaked about balancing a new routine, concerned about a new school, a new job, a new home, but why? Anything you’ve done in the past where you’ve messed up, I’ve erased, I’ve washed clean by dying on the cross. Anything you’re facing, I’ll be with you. Fear not. For I am with you. Always.”
So open to a new page, friends. This doesn’t mean forgetting your old friends, teammates or family, but it does mean embracing where you are, the place and time God has placed you. For me, it means not dwelling on the fact that I can’t go to the pool with my kids today, and instead diving into a writing project I’ve been chomping at the bit to start.
Say you’re sorry.
Begin something new.
There are so many possibilities awaiting us today, ours for the taking, if we’ll reach out and seize them.
What fresh starts are you looking forward to this fall?
There’s been a lot of chatter about the article in Time, Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?
I have a lot of friends who cringe at the word “princess”, who smirk at the mention of “Prince Charming”, but me, I grew up wishing I was Cinderella. It’s not that I had a wicked stepmother. My mom is the most generous, loving, giving woman I’ve ever met. But the idea of scrawny, nerdy me with ribs poking out, giant glasses and a propensity to bump into and trip over everything in sight possibly having someone fall in love with me? Well that sounded too good to be true, but awfully nice to dream about.
Disney princesses are not evil. They’re fantasy. And, I find them quite inspiring. Some of the princesses in question were originally published in a book in 1812 by the brothers Grimm. Disney’s Snow White released back in 1937. If you’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these classic tales, take a moment to consider other media put out in those years and how women were depicted; consider the culture they were released in. But if there is anything in a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, that goes against your beliefs or values, you have a choice. You get to choose if you or your family watches. And once you make that choice, you have a responsibility to act upon that choice. Parents, you can’t just pop in the DVD and disappear. You need to watch these movies with your kids and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, the lessons learned. There are some kick butt princesses out there—Merida from Brave, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Rapunzel from Tangled with her frying pan as a weapon and her decision to chop her locks and go brunette. These girls are way more recent than 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and much stronger and independent, as well. You might be sick of hearing “Let it Go,” but Elsa wanted nothing to do with a prince. She was fighting the battle of trying to please others, of her own self-doubts and insecurities. And her sister, Anna, learned that the real man of her dreams was not the apparently charming royalty, but the somewhat clumsy, singing-to-reindeer, ice merchant guy who loves her for who she is. Not bad lessons, these. Even older classics like Cinderella impress the value of good friends (Jacques and Gus), the idea we should never give up, and the concept of an amazing man rescuing us, which sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And that is someone to put my hope in.
The truth is, parents are responsible for guiding their children through all of their media choices, not just Belle and Ariel. And as we grow older, we are also responsible for our own media consumption. Fifteen minutes into The Wolf of Wallstreet as an adult and I had to turn it off. Maybe you loved it. Leo is an amazing actor and Scorsese one of the best filmmakers. But I couldn’t stomach the demoralization and objectification of women in the opening scenes. To me those fifteen minutes were capable of way more damage to a girl’s perception of what she’s supposed to look like and how she’s supposed to be treated than a lifetime of watching Beauty and the Beast. Ask yourself if you were more affected by reading a Disney picture book about Pocahontas every day after Kindergarten or 50 Shades of Gray as an adult? As a writer, I am a proponent of freedom of speech and of artistic expression. Artists should use their God-given gift of creativity to express themselves, to entertain, to make a statement. It is up to us to decide what media we feel is safe for our families and ourselves to consume. And that decision is personal and individual.
If Cinderella’s not your girl, you might like Mulan, the story of a young Chinese woman who becomes one of the greatest warriors in the Asian empire. Just like we have the right to freedom of speech in America, we also have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely for yourself and your family. If the media you’re consuming hardens your heart, goes against your core values, is something you turn off or shut down when someone else enters the room, reconsider. Choose music that inspires you and makes you dance. Choose shows that make you laugh, give you goosebumps, or teach you something new. Choose books that make you think and cry and hope and dream. Choose movies that do the same. And whether you’re selecting media for your children or for yourself be intentional about your choices.
I grew up longing for a Prince Charming, hoping one day The Perfect Guy would sweep me off my feet and change everything. After countless unhealthy relationships I was blessed to marry the man of my dreams, but my awesome husband can’t be perfect. He’s human after all. But there is a Perfect Guy for me, and for you, but that guy, is Jesus. That idea imprinted on me as a girl dreaming of being Cinderella, that someday, somehow, someone would rescue me, was real. Someone would. Someone did. I just didn’t understand my Prince was the Prince of Peace. I certainly don’t blame Disney for my misunderstanding. If anything it cemented my desire to be rescued, so when Jesus did rescue me, I craved it, I grabbed His hand and let Him take me away from my old life and into my new.
What are your thoughts on princesses old and new and how they shape our views? Do you have a favorite princess?
Are you a Prince fan?
In high school there were so many mornings as I was getting ready, when I popped a Prince cassette into my jam box (80’s girl), cranked up the volume, and sang along at the top of my lungs. I’m sure my parents loved that.
Tragically, it was confirmed this week that the cause for Prince’s death on April 21 was a drug overdose. Tragic, because Prince was so talented, so young, and apparently, so very unhappy.
Prince seemingly had it all. All those things we wish for? All those things we dream about—that we think would make life idyllic? He achieved so many of them. Have you ever said…
If only I could play an instrument.
If only someone would notice me.
If only I could sing.
If only I could dance.
If only people found me attractive.
If only money wasn’t a problem.
If only I could get a record deal.
If only I could be in a movie.
If only I could be on the cover of a magazine.
If only I were famous.
If only I could win a Grammy award.
If only I could play the Super Bowl.
If only I had millions of dollars.
Items on our bucket lists Prince achieved. But despite being able to play 27 instruments, winning seven Grammy awards, an Academy Award, selling over 100 million records worldwide, being considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, living in a palatial multi-million dollar estate, Paisley Park, Prince died alone. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t content. Because he was missing something.
See, we’re all born with a longing in our hearts—a longing to be loved, accepted, recognized, to use the gifts and talents we’ve been given in a way that will make a difference, get us noticed, earn us applause. This is not a bad thing. This is truly how we were created. God longs for us to seize the day and live life to the absolute fullest. But no matter how much we achieve, there is only one thing that can truly satisfy this longing. This one thing will satiate us completely when nothing else will.
All these worldly things—popularity, fame, money, success—give us a temporary thrill, a temporary high. But the next day we’ll want more. One gig, or sale, or tournament win, or A on our report cards, or client, or heart on Instagram, as we all know, is great, but it’s never enough. Because once we have one, another one looks awfully sweet, and we crave more. Not only will we want more, but our coaches and teammates will be counting on us for another point, our bosses will be looking to us for another deal, and (I speak from experience) our agents will be expecting more book sales.
And although our accomplishments should be celebrated (as we talked about in last week’s blog), none of those things will fulfill us; they aren’t truly what we crave, as Prince could have told us. Author Matthew Kelly says, “You can never have enough of something you don’t need.” But there is one thing that will make us feel full and complete. One person whose applause is constant and counts for everything. Jesus.
Jesus made you and me and Prince and Morris Day. He made us exactly who we are. And when we live a life in relationship with Him, talking to Him, trusting in Him, turning our problems and cares and worries and mistakes and victories and triumphs all over to Him, then not only does Jesus cheer more loudly and clearly than a thousand retweets or a thousand fans, but His acceptance of us for who we are, for who He created us to be is, all we need. Jesus totally satisfies our cravings, fills the empty hole inside that seems to be always longing for something more. Jesus’ love is what we were created to seek. It is His applause we were made to pursue. Because it is completely gratifying. And when we allow Jesus’ love to surround us—we don’t need another anything else, we have everything we need.
I’ve ridden in a limousine once. It was my grandfather-in-laws 90th birthday. The champagne cork was popped at the last three graduation parties of members of my husband’s family. See, there’s something my father-in-law taught me, and that is the importance of celebrating the big stuff.
He was behind the limo and the champagne. He was the one who didn’t just give up smoking, but wrapped up the last pack of cigarettes he ever bought, the unfinished pack that marked his decision to quit, and gave it to his dad for a birthday present. He was the one that when our first baby was born, grabbed my mother in law, hopped a plane from Cincinnati to Atlanta, a train from Hartsfield airport to the hospital and arrived within moments of her birth. My father-in-law, Rick, knew that the high points in life are rare, and deserved to not only be celebrated, but to be celebrated with flair, with a bang!
This is the time of year when the number of celebrations seems a bit overwhelming. There are graduations from everything from preschool to grad school. There seem to be countless parties, and thankfully sheet cake (man I love sheet cake, especially the corner pieces laden with frosting). Tis the season for ballet recitals, guitar recitals, art shows, baseball and softball tournaments, end of school year carnivals, festivals, and class parties. Not to mention, June is the month for weddings.
But don’t let the number of events lessen the importance of any of these events. Diplomas don’t come easily. There are countless pages of homework, flips of flash cards, problems solved, essays written and rewritten, study sessions that go into that piece of paper. Recitals are fun to watch, but they are a fleeting demonstration of the hours of rehearsing that go into the final performance.
My son graduated from 8th grade last night. He has spent the last nine years in his grade school with the same group of kids. During those years he’s gone from reading Jack and Annie to John Green. Moved from playing Old MacDonald on the piano to Ed Sheeran on the guitar. He’s also grown about four feet taller. So, yes, we went out to dinner, took tons of pics, and I made cheesecake, because it’s his favorite.
But there are other things we need to celebrate, too. Learning how to ride a bike, getting a driver’s license, mastering a headstand, finishing a major project—the work that went into it, the obedience to see it to completion, the satisfaction of typing “the end” or pushing send or turning it in or zooming through the neighborhood on wheels. We should take time to celebrate an acceptance of a new job, an award or scholarship, a position on a team, because it signifies an intentional “yes” to move forward to take the next step.
There are so many go to the grocery days, mow the lawn days, crank out the edits days, work an extra shift days, run one more lap days. So on the oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-exciting-days we need to celebrate.
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 NKJV
How you celebrate is truly up to you, but do it big, do it grand. Don’t just tell your family about the job offer you’d been waiting for at the breakfast table as everyone is grabbing their granola bars and dispersing for the day. It’s not braggadocios to say, “I’ve been working on this for months and I can finally play the song, got my article published, broke my record, or completed the marathon.” The people who adore you will want to congratulate you. Let them. This is a chance to revel in the ways God is faithful, in the times He helped you push through the walls, kept you keeping on.
Don’t just type an email to your sister who finished her final class for her masters program or to your girlfriend who got engaged. You don’t need to send a town car or pour the bubbly, but you do need to do something special—something that signifies how awesome it is that she was faithful and used the gifts and talents God endowed her with or that God is faithful and brought the person into her life she’s been waiting for.
Think through who achieved what and then put some thought into how to celebrate. You could treat someone to a meal or a cup of coffee. You could make a poster, decorate their front door, write congratulations with washable paint on their car windows. Do they like music? Block out their calendar and take them to a free concert in the park or grab their phone when they’re not looking and download some new tunes onto it that you’re pretty sure they’ll love (pay with your Apple account of course). Do you have a green thumb? Plant flowers in their window box. Do they love to cook? Tie a bow on a fresh pot of live basil for them to snip all summer. Did they finish a really exhausting season where they gave it their all. Make cupcakes with frosting in their team colors. Be you. Be original. Be sensitive to the person you’re celebrating (if they hate crowds, please don’t throw them a giant surprise party). But do revel in life’s milestones and accomplishments.
God created this day. He’s the one who brought you or the person you adore this far. He gave each and every one of us skills and drive and motivation and time and resources and maybe even a few lucky breaks to get us where we are. And God created us to rejoice. So don’t do it half-heartedly. Be all in and go all out for your celebrations. There are plenty of days, but this Day, this one deserves something extra special. Rejoice in it.
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.
Life isn’t a fairy tale. But in the 2007 movie Enchanted it is. Well, until the beautiful Disney cartoon damsel gets thrown into a well by the wicked stepmother and gets catapulted into the scary land known as dun dun dun Manhattan. As out of place and crazy as Giselle, the idyllic princess, seems when she lands in New York, she does something we don’t do enough, something I don’t do enough. She boldly and unaffectedly notices and comments on the true beauty of individuals around her.
When Robert and his daughter spy Giselle helpless and stranded in the Big Apple, they take pity on her and let her stay with them for the night. The next morning, Robert’s girlfriend, Nancy, arrives at the apartment and throws a fit when she finds another woman there. Nancy full of New York style and attitude couldn’t be more different than Giselle (who showed up the night before in the poufiest dress in the history of the world and her hair in mounds of ringlets). But instead of noticing their differences, or returning Nancy’s snarky comments, or questioning why Nancy isn’t dressed in ribbons and ruffles, Giselle sincerely exclaims, “Oh, she is lovely.”
Later in the film, Giselle approaches a woman in Robert’s office and says, “Oh my goodness, your hair is lovely. You’re beautiful. The man who holds your heart is a lucky fellow indeed.” And to the woman’s husband, who is in the midst of divorcing his wife, Giselle proclaims, “You are lucky, just look at the way your wife’s eyes sparkle.”
Do you approach strangers and compliment them that specifically?
You don’t have to say it like Giselle—in princess speak—but imagine approaching someone, looking them in the eye, and saying:
Why not? What’s holding you back? What if we truly noticed beauty in everyone? In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” Are we shining that light? Are we brightening those around us, illuminating their true beauty?
It sounds totally dorky. But why? Why have we embraced such a satirical state that genuinely approaching friends, let alone strangers, and telling them how marvelous they are feels weird? We’ve been called to cheer others on. Paul explains it like this in Ephesians 5: 17,19 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is… Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.
Giselle wasn’t too far off, singing all the time.
When someone genuinely compliments me, it makes my day brighter, so why wouldn’t I take opportunities to shine light like that to others? I’m not talking stalker style. I’m not talking insincere, fake compliments either. I mean truly noticing the beauty and talents of those around us just as we notice the beauty of a flower or appreciate the flavor of a decadent brownie.
Think what a difference we could make if each of us gave an authentic compliment to a stranger today. Tomorrow I’m attending a prayer service at my kids’ school, running a few errands, and taking one of my children to soccer practice. I have multiple opportunities to identify and point out true beauty in others. I’m challenging myself, and you, too, to seek true beauty in someone the next place you go. Who knows whose day we could brighten? It could lighten someone’s dark mood, bring a smile to someone on the verge of tears, give hope to someone feeling hopeless. A compliment could remind one of God’s beautiful children of their beautiful true reflection.
I’d love to hear, leave a comment on the blog sharing how do you plan on shining some light today?
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