One of my best friends, Amy, and I have a joke about making dinner. I’ll text her a picture of the rotisserie chicken I grabbed at Kroger and make some humorous comment about secret recipes. She’ll send back a picture of her family-sized Chick-Fil-A bag and reference how she’s “cooking”. One day she messaged, “Are cake pops a meal?” We’re hilarious.
The truth is, life is busy. We’re both mamas. We’re both writers. We’re both trying to hold all the pieces together. And that means some nights the best dinner we can muster up comes in a box or a bag. This of course is absolutely fine, because our people eat a hot meal (or a meal with frosting). But there are other nights, despite our hysterical text stream, where our best dinners involve actually cooking.
Today was a cooking day. My oldest baby is home from college visiting. I wanted to make her favorite dinner—lasagna. I learned long ago from a chef friend that the secret to good food is good ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the meal turns out. So, when I actually take time to make lasagna, I use hand-rolled, fresh mozzarella from Jungle Jim’s, this fabulous market near us. Guys, it’s not even the same substance that comes shredded in a bag. It is so amazing. I also use these tomatoes from Italy. I know. They’re canned tomatoes. Who cares, right? But they’re yummier. They’re sweeter. They just are. They’re not more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, they just taste better. And fresh basil? Sigh. This is my favorite ingredient. It adds a layer of flavor that can’t be replicated.
The better the ingredients, the better the meal. I think this mantra holds true to all parts of our lives.
Which translates into bringing our best games to everything we do, because the more we put into it, the better it will turn out. This is so true. When I prepare before a conference call, thinking through the questions I want to ask and the questions I might be asked. When I pull out my favorite notepad and a brightly-colored pen jotting down some main points prior to the call and taking notes during the call, the conversation is more productive. If I read all the passages, pray, research and journal about them for the Bible study I lead, Tuesday morning conversations at study are more focused and richer. When I get a great night’s sleep, eat healthy, am hydrated, stretch before and after, my morning runs are fantastic, energizing for my body and therapeutic for my mind.
But we all know that’s not always how it goes, is it?
Today Kroger was out of fresh basil. They just didn’t have any. They had this fresh-ish basil in a tub, which is far superior to dried basil in a spice jar, but not the same as fresh-cut leaves from my yard in the summer. Sometimes I’m rushing to my desk for the call, flying through the Bible-study lessons, and my legs feel like lead.
So how do we do this? How do we metaphorically cook with the best ingredients, when they’re not always available?
We look in our pantries, open our fridge, swing by the grocery and bring the best ingredients we have. Whatever that is today. Often this means improvising. That might mean basil in a tub. Or stewed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. It could mean a run that morphs into a stroll to be able to complete my route. It could mean getting to just a little of my Bible every day, the parts I can get to, and if I can’t journal, at least trying to think through some of the questions in our study book in my brain.
It always means praying. Because talking to God about all the things going on is the best ingredient I’ve got up my sleeve—the secret ingredient to save all the recipes, even the ones it looks like I’m burning or flubbing up. Praying over the conference call before the phone rings. Praying on the way to Bible study for God to fill in all the places I’m not prepared, to give me words where I need to speak, and silence when I need to hush. Praying over my children, my interactions with them. Praying over my marriage. Praying over my writing. Praying over all of the things all of the time.
Because the best ingredients available for today’s recipes might be totally different than the best ingredients that will be available tomorrow. We’re never sure how our legs or voices or patience will hold up. We can’t control if someone else is running late or running out or stands us up or if they raise the prices for the things on our list. Some days we come down with the flu or the blues. But we still need to show up. We still need to try. And we still need to sprinkle in the secret spice of prayer. My best tomorrow looks totally different than my best today and it looks completely different than yours on any day. Some days my best is homemade lasagna and others my best is pizza delivered to my doorstep. But when we keep trying, keep giving today the best ingredients we have to offer, praying over all the places we and the world falls short, together, we’ll make the tastiest lasagna. And ultimately we’ll make our world, delicious.
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I'm blessed to have my friend, Brenda Yoder, guest blogging here this week. Brenda is a certified counselor, speaker and writer who is passionate about balancing the busyness. Anyone out here need a little of that? Yeah, me too! Her newest book, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind, released yesterday, March 13!!! To celebrate we're giving away a copy of Fledge right here and now. To find out how to enter....keep reading.
I walked out of my classroom pulling my cart of books and memorabilia behind me. I turned off the lights, shut the door, and my heart broke in two.
I had failed. I wondered why other people could handle raising a large family while teaching high schoolers but I couldn’t. While I had won teaching awards and made my US History classroom engaging to my students, the stress of teaching over 150 high schoolers and parenting four kids from high school to first grade took its toll on me.
Our busy family schedule with sports, chauffeuring kids, and homework pulled me in different directions in addition to grading papers, getting groceries, and moody teens. I was stressed out, irritable, and reactionary most of the time with yelling and angry outbursts towards my children.
I was a mom in the early fledging stage of parenting—the stage of release. My oldest was a high school sophomore and the youngest was in first grade. Life passed by school year after school year and my parenting and professional workload increased along with it. That particular school year my student numbers soared to 180. Being emotionally and physically exhausted when I got home, I had little patience for the barrage of “Mom, Mom, Mom” demands when I walked through the door. I had even less tolerance for my own teens’ snarky comments or disrespectful attitudes. I dreamed of the day when fewer kids were in the house so I could catch a break from the stress and mess that had become our life.
Then I realized there were only two years left with all four of my children at home. If something didn’t change, the memories my children would have of the years with all of us at home would be of an irritable, contentious mom. It was far from the dream I had of motherhood. Something needed to change before my firstborn went to college. That change had to come from me.
Since then, I’ve learned most families have some pain while raising teens and young adults. Here are 5 essential truths I’ve learned as a counselor and parent who has fledged three of my four children.
Thanks, Brenda! I especially like the part that it doesn't all fall on us! Brenda wrote Fledge to encourage parents in this season of growing pains.
TO ENTER TO WIN your very own copy of Fledge either:
1. Leave a comment below, maybe mention something you're trying to do on your own.
2. Share this blog on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (make sure you tag me on your post, so I know you shared it)
4. Open to citizens of continental U.S. only. Winner will be chosen in a random draw and notified by March 21.
I was having coffee with my friend, Beth, trying to get caught up on all of the things. She asked, “So, what kinds of New Year’s resolutions did you make?”
I looked her straight in they eye, defied society and said, “I didn’t make any.”
“No way,” she replied. “You seem like such the type.”
I am such the type. Beth knows me well.
I am a girl of lists and schedules. In fact I don’t know anyone who likes to “know the plan” more than I do, or who gets more ruffled when “the plan changes.” In a life where I wear many hats, juggle many schedules, mother four and a half kids (I lovingly refer to my husband as #fifthchild) there is so much to tend to each day and week. So much of it would fall through the cracks if I wasn’t diligent about the family calendar App—figuring out who will get a ride when, where, and with who.
But this great quality of mine, this one of making sure things get done—that my husband and I take time to date, that my writing assignment is turned in, that the forms are signed and submitted, is also a coping mechanism that can become a problem. They say our best trait is often our worst trait. See, when I feel like things are out of control, I have a quick fix for that. I can plan, and in doing so, control all of the hourglasses, clocks, and timers, or so I pretend.
My second semester of college was a time when things felt out of my control. I had pledged a sorority. My roommate had not. Instead she got super involved in a great student org. All of our plans to be besties and do everything together got fragmented by my obligations and her obligations and all the places they did NOT overlap. My high school boyfriend and I decided to “see other people.” All of our plans to live happily ever after evaporated. The novelty of college had rubbed off. Classes were hard. New friendships were hard. I felt I had no control over the events and circumstances around me. In attempts to cope with the unknown I started scheduling my days—writing out the hourly details on a piece of skinny paper and clipping it to my planner—so I could “control” the big picture and the details. Not like, oh tomorrow I’ll study at the library in the evening. But like freaky, insane girl:
8:00-8:30 eat breakfast
8:30-8:45 room, grab books, walk to class
10:00 stop by sorority, hang out with girls
11:00 write letters to Little Sis and Bridget
12:00 eat lunch
12:45 Change for aerobics.
1:00 aerobics …for every freaking half hour and hour mark of the day.
I stuck to it like glue. Oh, that’s not the time I had scheduled to visit with friends, too bad, guess I won’t visit with them. Oh, I don’t have that much homework tonight. I still scheduled three hours to study, so I’ll stay at the library and read ahead, go over the notes again. All the showers are taken. Guess I’ll stand here in the gross dorm bathroom until someone gets out, because this is the time I’d scheduled to shower. Give me a rule, even one I wrote for myself, and I’ll keep it. It’s amazing I advanced to sophomore year without being put in the nuthouse.
Planning is great. And I applaud everyone with resolutions, goals, lists for the New Year. My problem is, if I make a resolution I’ll be so sickly strict about it. Walk 15 miles each week? Come Saturday night I’ll be walking circles in my kitchen instead of snuggled on the couch with my kids watching a great movie, because I need to hit that goal. Read three books a month? No one might hear from me the 28th through 30th. All phone calls and coffee dates canceled, because people, I have a goal to meet. Spend 15 minutes with Jesus at lunchtime everyday? God could be telling me something super important, but oh, look at the time, fifteen minutes is up. Next.
I can’t stand it, but I’m a legalist. This kills me, because Jesus warned us not to be. He got on the Pharisees every single day about being so uptight about rule following. I took ballet my entire growing up years where we pointed our toes constantly. Not surprisingly being flex comes hard for me.
There is zero wrong with having a plan, setting goals, chasing dreams. These are all amazing things; fabulous ways to make great use of the time God has given us. And I do have some dreams and goals for the year. I’m just not writing them down or saying them out loud. Instead I’m talking every day to Jesus about them. Okay, see, I can’t do that, because if let’s say, next Wednesday I focus all of my prayer time on one of my kids I’ll feel like I slipped on the every-day-dream-and-goal-prayer. Let’s try again. I’m talking to Jesus about my dreams and goals this year. Lots. Often. Also, I’m asking Him how I can use my time to glorify Him, asking Him what inputs I should tackle, trusting Him with the outputs. Living expectantly of what He’ll do. At least this is my aim.
When we live strictly within the confines of our calendars and to-do lists and even resolutions there is mock safety of having a plan, a false sense of security that we have everything under control. We don’t. We can be so constricted and unavailable to the miracles Jesus can work when we plan it all out. If we instead focus on Him, we’ll be blown away! His plans and ideas are always so much more fantastic than anything we could think up or plan on our own.
God told Moses to spread his arms over the Red Sea and it would part (Exodus 14:16). Probably not in Moses’ planner for the day. But Moses spread out his arms, and that Sea split in two, allowing the Israelites to escape Pharaoh and his powerful army.
Jesus told the disciples who had put in an incredibly long work day, who felt like they were banging their heads against the wall, catching zero fish for hours on end, wives waiting at home, muscles aching, sweat dripping in their eyes, to cast out their nets one more time. After the whistle had blown. After they were spent. But the disciples listened to Jesus, went off the plan, and voila, their nets were bursting with fish (Luke 5).
I have no idea what Jesus has in store for my life this year or for yours. Because walking on dry land through a sea and catching netfulls of fish where there were none is beyond my brainstorming or even wildest dreams. This is the whole point. God’s ways are phenomenal, unpredictable and take-our-breath-away fantastic.
Some of you may need goals and plans and lists or else nothing will ever get accomplished. Super. Some of you may have resolutions, because there are bad habits that need to be kicked, and healthier plans that need to step in to gear. I applaud you. For you, resolutions might be the impetus to get started, try again, think bigger, get focused. Bravo! You, go! I’m excited for and proud of you for focusing on bigger and better things. But for me, I know I end up using these good things as a means for me to attempt to control things. My resolutions end up controlling me. I don’t want them to, because God is actually the one in control, and I long to hand it all over to Him.
I plan on talking to Jesus tons this year, leaning into His truths, and His ways. Will you join me? I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even our Elf on the Shelf.
In the morning, I woke an hour before I set my alarm my brain whirring a million miles a minute. Although I’d felt like I’d been preparing nonstop for Christmas since we lit the first Advent candle, when I’d gone through my closet the day before and started sorting through bags and laying things in piles, I realized I’d done a pretty poor job of shopping for my amazing kiddos.
I’d purchased, gathered, and wrapped the teacher gifts, the cousin gifts, the baby gifts, the gifts for Columbus, and the gifts for Cincinnati. I’d planned menus, shopped for food. Had it in separate bags in the fridge, freezer, and pantry for the appointed visits and times. I’d mailed the cards.
But aye aye aye! Where was the jersey I’d ordered? Where were the p.j. pants? I did push “confirm order,” didn’t I? Did I ever buy the hat I’d considered purchasing? I felt like I had almost nothing for my four kids who were definitely on the nice list. I felt like I’d failed. Because I’m the mom. Because I love my kids. Because it’s my “job” to take care of the Christmas gifts. And I’d done a stinky job at it. I lay there under my covers tangled in self-induced guilt, then got up, read my Bible (but didn’t let it sink in—too preoccupied with failure), brushed my teeth, and was still teetering on panic mode. I confessed my freak out to my husband who kicked into the most beautiful gear.
“What do we need? I love last minute shopping. Give me a minute. I’ll go to Walmart.”
Neither of these words is even in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. I do not do last minute. And I cannot do Walmart. I’m sorry. It’s just too everything for me to handle.
But my husband, he lives for this stuff. He probably passed around wassail and cookies to the workers. And he gave me the gift I needed most for Christmas, something I’d rarely get for myself—grace.
You guys. This is not a pass/fail class. I don’t know where you feel you may have failed this holiday season. Did you forget the postman? Your boss? Your assistant? Did you burn the roast or break the dish? Did the paint on your crafts smear? Jesus doesn’t care.
Or… maybe you nailed it. Maybe your turkey turned out golden-brown. Maybe you made your list, checked it twice, and got gold stars next to every single line item. Maybe Chip and JoJo called and asked how you made your cards and tree and table all look so perfect. Jesus doesn’t care. Either way. And it’s not that He doesn’t care about you. Quite the opposite. He cares so much about you and your heart and your peace, that He would never judge you on your performance. Jesus is not keeping score or judging or measuring your worth on your holiday checklists, cooking performance, or ability to find the perfect gifts.
This wasn’t going to be a blog. I was going to take the week off. So there’s only one picture and I didn’t check for spelling errors—so sorry, not sorry. But I needed you guys to know. That I fail. That you fail. That none of us are perfect. Nobody. And it’s okay. You are loved. You are valued. Exactly as is. No matter how someone (including you) would have rated your Christmas performance.
We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.—Romans 3:23-24
In a world where everyone is trying to advance, and make it to the next round, and get the judges to pick them, you don’t have to. You’ve already made it. Jesus came once and for all to settle the score. You’re in. By yourself there will be days when you fall short, but with Jesus you’ll still always come out on top. Curl up the fireplace with a blanket, a book, some cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream, plus maybe a candy cane, and take a deep breath. Breathe in His grace.
Because, that’s what Christmas is all about.
Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
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I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Are you feeling thankful?
Your house may be filled with the aroma of cloves and pumpkin. Maybe the family members you love dearly have already arrived—their footsteps echoing on the floors their laughter filling the house. Or perhaps they’re on their way as you stir the sauce or run the vacuum. But today you might also have an ache that no hot pad, bath, or amount of Advil will soothe. The people you most long to see might not be coming this year. You may have recently had some questions answered, some problems resolved or perhaps a new batch of issues recently sprouted up. The year ahead might suddenly seem exciting, uncertain, or bleak.
But we can all be thankful. Despite our circumstances. Because Jesus hears our praises and our cries. God longs to be with His people. He wants to toast all of the joys and triumphs in our lives with a glass of the finest wine. Jesus wants to heal our wounds, comfort our hurts and answer our prayers. No matter who we will or won’t see over the holidays, Jesus wants to hang out with us and hold us close. In fact, that was one of His favorite things to do while He was on earth.
Jesus celebrated at weddings, invited Himself over to dinner, passed around fish to a giant crowd, broke bread with His disciples, even cooked them breakfast. Jesus longs to spend Thanksgiving with us. No matter how many place settings we’ve put out, no matter if we use our finest china or paper plates, if we’re pouring wine or apple cider or water, Jesus wants to dine with us. He doesn’t care if we make cornbread stuffing from a family recipe, tear open a bag of Pepperidge Farm and add hot water, or if we’re gluten free. Jesus isn’t judging on if we let a cylinder of cranberry jel slide from a can (it is so gross, but I confess I love that stuff) or if you simmered berries over a stove and sprinkled in cinnamon.
Jesus doesn’t stress about the meal or the serving spoons or the weather. He loves to be with us. Because He loves us. And being loved? Isn’t that what we all crave? Having someone who loves us that perfectly, completely and unconditionally—isn’t that the most incredible thing?
Isn’t that the ultimate thing to be thankful for?
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. —Psalm 118: 28-29
Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
The last time I got my hair done I had some lowlights added. Chlorine from summer pool days, hours of sun shining on my head at soccer fields, plus the highlights only stance I’d taken the last few times I had my hair done, all added up to my tresses looking slightly less honey and a little on the platinum side. It was time. But lowlights seem so counterintuitive. I’m paying to keep the golden glow of my childhood forever, why would I darken the sheen?
Why? Because dark helps us focus on light, illuminates the glow, so it shines even brighter.
The lowlights? They show off the paler strands. The contrast is lovely, somehow richer, and fuller, than a straight up blonde. But in life we tend not to focus on our lowlights, but on our highlights—the signed contract, the win, the award, the cupcakes we frosted to look like adorable pumpkins, the stunning vistas taken during our vacation, when in truth, most of our life is lowlights.
We rarely share scrubbing the toilets before guests arrive, the rewrites and revisions on our papers, the hours of doing flashcards with our kids so they pass that time test, the acne cream we dab on our zits, or the spills and extra trips to the hardware store that went into our latest home improvement project.
This past week, I experienced some lowlights. Didn’t you? Not major ones, but some less than shining moments.
I didn’t post a single one of these events on Instagram. But guess what? In these darker spots is where I turned to Jesus and saw His glory shine so brightly.
When those soccer boys walked off the field, I knew there was nothing I could say to ease their hurt or make them smile. And so I did what I do when I can’t do anything else. I hugged my son tight and prayed. I prayed for him and his team and their sweet hearts, that they would find their worth in Christ and not in goals or wins. That they would find joy in the season instead of pain in its end. I felt God’s love fill me, remind me where my worth was, and felt Him soothing and loving those boys.
I was kicking myself for snipping at my fun-loving daughter. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I let little things go? My stomach in knots, I turned to Jesus and said, “I adore my daughter and can’t stand arguing with her. She is funny and smart and smiley and loving.” And before I even finished listing to God all the things I love about my girl (which clearly, He already knew) I was flooded with all the reasons that young lady is sunshine in my life. All my icky feelings vanished. Next day we had a laughfest baking brownies together. God is so good.
The woodpile? Yeah. Okay, so I am a klutz. My parents sent me to ballet lessons as a girl in hopes I would stop bumping into things. I fell in love with dance, but still bang into stationary objects on a regular basis. I was helping my husband lug a pile of leaves into the woods. My foot got caught. For unknown reasons I refused to let go of the tarp and catch myself. Instead I went down, smack onto a piece of sharp wood and have a nasty four-inch cut across my shin to show for it. You are so glad I didn’t post a photo! Trust me. My husband and daughter came to the rescue. Feeling the way they loved me was priceless. It hurt, sure, but it’s a mere flesh wound. This cut gave me the opportunity to thank God for people who love me, and pray for anyone I know suffering from chronic pain or lingering ailments. My sore leg gave me a fresh perspective on how jam-packed with blessings my life is.
Ever wonder what Jesus’ social media accounts would have looked like? I imagine Peter running His accounts for Him, and Jesus chastising Peter for only showing the highlights. Jesus was all about down and dirty—drawing in the dirt, making paste out of mud, touching lepers who had highly contagious skin disease, talking one on one with the town harlot, chatting with the naked guy named Legion, who liked to cut himself with rocks.
Am I dismissing the lowlights or embracing them? Am I taking time to watch Jesus open my blind eyes with the mud of life? Are you?
What tough stuff did you wade through this week? What mire are you still desperately trying to climb through? Have you turned it over to Jesus? Asked Him to bring light to the darker spaces? To use these hardships to illuminate your life?
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
I am thankful for all of the highlights of my life. So. Very. Grateful. I’ve been blessed with a dreamy husband, four kids whom I adore more than oxygen or chocolate, the sweetest mother, and I get to tell stories for a living. Please! This week I went to the farmer’s market, made apple crisp, had date night with my hubby—all darling photo ops. But I am also blessed by my lowlights—the learning moments, the times I turn to Jesus and say, “Help!” and watch Him turn up every single time, shining His almighty flashlight into my dark places.
Jesus is not afraid of the dark. Instead He uses it to show us how bright He is. Whatever seems murky or muddy this week, hand it over to Him and watch His sunbeams light up your life.
I am in introvert. It’s not a bad thing or a true confession. It’s just how God made me. For goodness sake, I am a writer by vocation, which translates into sitting by myself for hours on end making up stories. I love to go on runs and walks by myself. Vacation to me never includes Jet Skis and always includes sitting someplace with a view reading books, journaling, praying and basically being still. I love others immensely and treasure one-on-one time with them, I really do. Yet I require headspace and silence to create, think, cope and process.
But even us introverts crave connection. I cannot do life by myself. Cannot. None of us can. None of us were meant to. God created us for community.
Do you have a solid community? Admittedly, I hear “community” and envision four women my age who work out together, do Bible study together, swap clothes, meet for coffee every Thursday morning, with kids all on the same teams and whose husbands are also best friends—think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for grown ups. Maybe you have this, which is awesome. I do not, which used to make me think I didn’t have a community—that I’d failed in this arena. But that’s not true. What I have is different, but also awesome.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. –Hebrews 10:24-25
This is quality advice. Because spurring each other on toward love and good deeds is solid. But the Bible does not say this has to look like a novel. This week has been a snapshot of my fantastic and completely different and scattered community. My super tight inner circle consists of my four adorable kids and hunky husband. I love them fiercely. However, our communities must span past the walls we live in for them to fully work their magic. Girls need girls. Guys need guys. We need people who do the same kind of work and deal with the same issues, as well as friends of varying ages, different lifestyles and locations so we can gain perspective. The last twenty-four hours for me were packed with more social interaction than I may have from now through Christmas, and although that is not my default, it was good for my soul.
What does your community look like? When was the last time you connected with them?
I visited my daughter who is a freshman in college, away from home for the first time in her, translation my, life. (I get a hall pass to count her as my community, because although she’s still one of my adorable kids, she now sleeps in a dorm room in Indiana instead of in our house.) Our visit was priceless. We laughed, shared stories that could never translate over texts, and ate brownies topped with some kind of fudgy whipped cream. When we said goodbye I honestly felt like a piece of my heart broke off and walked down the sidewalk with a backpack slung across her shoulders. But there is beauty in knowing that some of my heart can travel with her. And some of her heart with me.
Within an hour and a half of me returning home my mom came to town for an overnight visit. Can we talk about my mom? She tutors kids, volunteers at blood drives, makes meals for everyone she knows, and drives neighbors to the doctor. Plus she always wears a smile, constantly talks about how blessed she is, and means it. Being around her puts a positive spin on everything. She asks great questions, listens to all the details of my life no one else would ever want to hear (like how I saved 83 cents at Kroger and the journaling activity the middle school English teacher did with my daughter’s class). My mom makes it all feel important, like it matters, like I matter.
Literally two hours after my mom drove off (leaving behind Texas sheetcake and turkey tetrazzini for us to devour) an out of town friend got out of a meeting she was having in my town! I got to see her for exactly nine minutes and it totally refueled my tank. Energy leaks from her body into mine when we hug. She is funny, beautiful, insightful, smart as all get out and typically goes a million miles an hour. She is one of those special few I can get vulnerable with and fully trust. She loves Jesus and somehow totally gets me and accepts me and my quirks.
Next day, a handful of my sorority sisters came to town for an impromptu reunion. #perksoflivinginacollegetown. These girls? We met when they were eighteen and I was nineteen. We’ve all logged a lot of miles—careers, marriages, moves, babies, loss, struggles, overcoming since we pledged our sisterhood. To reconnect with some who I hadn’t seen in decades and others in a year meant both being flooded with memories and meeting a group of wonderful new women—the ones they’ve all grown into—all at the same instant.
A daughter, a mom, an out of town friend who I met at Bible study years ago by a fluke, and a handful of girls who wore the same shirts to Greek Week in the 90’s is not how most would define ‘community’. But it’s where I find some of mine. We all need other people to fully become who God created us to be. Their stories help form our stories. Their triumphs inspire us. Their struggles expand our viewpoints, teach us lessons. Their ideas, experiences, and thoughts prompt and broaden ours. Hearing their hearts reinforces what we hold dear and helps us dispose of ideas we should have never let enter our minds in the first place.
Please know there are broadly two kinds of community, both are incredibly valuable. There is the general, learn, gather, socialize, laugh, carpool, expand your knowledge and ideas kind. And then there is the special, safe one. No matter how fun or interesting a group may be, you can only reveal your heart to a trusted few. If you share a secret with the masses, it’s no longer a secret. If you confess your greatest fear to too many, someone will unintentionally mock it or use it against you. Both types of communities are important. The inner circle is just more sacred.
Whether you’re typically a loner or always travel with a posse, find some special people, a community or two you can plug into. This can look like just about anything. But make sure it contains some people who will listen to and hear you, who will love and encourage you, who will challenge you, build you up, energize you, feed your soul, point you back to Jesus over and over again, and remind you that you are His, that you matter, because you do. They help remind you of your true reflection.
P.S. Just for the record, my mom borrowed one of my sweatshirts for our morning walk. One of my sorority sisters was also my roommate in Atlanta when we had our first ‘real jobs’. We each owned two suits and swapped them back and forth to make it look like we had enough ‘work clothes’ to get us through to casual Friday. And, as I write this I am wearing a pair of my daughter’s jeans. So, maybe, my community looks a little more like the Traveling Pants than I gave it credit for.
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