Have you ever watched an episode of the show Shark Tank? Our family is hooked. I mean, my husband is an entrepreneurship professor, but oddly he’s not the one driving our current obsession—it’s our twelve-year old son (insert laughing/crying emoji here). Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show where real entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs (the sharks) in hopes that the seasoned professionals will invest in their new idea and help them grow their business.
People come in passionate about their ideas for everything from gourmet cupcakes to reflective life-saving devices. The entrepreneur gives a quick synopsis of what their product is, the need it fills, and why the sharks should invest in them. Next, the expert entrepreneurs (with net worths of over $50 million a piece) ask tough questions, give advice, and frequently make offers to invest in the proposed new business ideas for a percentage of the entrepreneur’s company.
It takes passion and guts to go on this show and face the scrutiny of the sharks. Our family loves to hear the wacky and interesting pitches. We also love to guess which, if any shark, will partner with the excited entrepreneur. And we are dumbfounded when the person pitching an idea refuses to listen to the advice of the seasoned millionaires and turns down deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they want to do things their way. They really want their business to be a retail store instead of an online store even though the folks who have made millions online are instructing them to go away from strip malls OR they really want to sell their product for a premium price when all the sharks who have made a bundle selling things on QVC and Best Buy recommend they make their product less expensive and sell it the masses. The entrepreneurs come to the show for expert advice and funding, but they often walk away from it, because they don’t want to hear what the specialists are suggesting.
He who has ears, let him hear. –Matthew 13:9
Do we do this? Do I do this? Do I go to God for expert advice, and then turn away from Him, because what He has to say isn’t always what I want to hear? Things like; be patient, not now, not him, not here, try again, forgive, go deeper, one more time, bite your tongue…to name a few.
I get it. I’ll spend months or years pouring myself into a manuscript, searching for perfect words and phrases, studying Bible passages, rewriting, revising, and rewriting again. And then I hand it over to my critique partners, agent, or an editor. My manuscript always comes back with countless edits. And my instinct is, I can’t take out that chapter, I worked so hard on it. Or I don’t want to find a different example to use here. I felt that one illustrated my point. But then, I take a deep breath. Put aside my pride. Let go of “my way.” And realize, these opinions are expert opinions—from writers I trust, an agent who is on my side, editors who know the industry. These comments aren’t a personal affront; they are words of wisdom given with kindness, to help my writing grow. My kids get similar input from their coaches. Friends get it from their doctors or bosses—advice from those who know best. This is what the sharks are trying to give the business owners who come on Shark Tank—knowledge, wisdom, a deeper understanding.
And this is what God gives us too. We go about our lives making our choices, planning our days, doing our things, fighting our battles. We wish God would just clean up our messes, make our decisions easy, and solve our problems. But are we turning to Him to get the answers? Or just hoping He’ll drop a new job, cure, or nap, in our laps? Are we listening to the advice He’s already given us—His knowledge, wisdom, and deeper understanding that comes from Him, because He is God? Or are we walking away from it, because it conflicts with what we’d like to hear?
Should we take that job? Hang out with that person? Attend that event? Go that place? Confront this friend? The expert opinion is there—at our fingertips between the pages of the Bible. It’s also available when we pause and talk to God and let Him fill our heart with answers, or maybe when we talk to another friend who loves Jesus and she reminds us who God is and how that impacts our decisions. Yes, we want answers. We all want answers, but are we listening when God gives them to us?
I’m reminded of that story about a man in a flood who begged God to save him. A woman came along with a raft and told the man to hop on. He said, “No, thanks, I’m waiting for God to save me.” A guy came by with a boat and told him to climb aboard. The man said, “No thanks, I’m waiting on God to save me.” As the waters were surrounding him, an airplane flew overhead and dropped a rope. But the man didn’t reach out, because he was waiting on God. He died in the flood, went to heaven and asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I sent you a raft, a boat, and an airplane! Why didn’t you hop on?”
I’m full of questions, too. I have big questions like how to handle a strained relationship. I have smaller questions like wondering if I should run more to build up my cardio or pull back to protect my trick knee. God wants to guide me. He wants to guide you, too. He has plans for us for glorious living, and he wants us to walk into those plans and live them full out. God’s not going to keep it a secret from us. If He really wants us to move or invite that person or take a chance, God will let us know. Maybe that’s why Jesus asks six times in the Bible, “Are you listening to this, really listening?” Mark 4:23
We need to listen to the advice He’s put in front of us. Keep our eyes open—seek Him in prayer and through studying His word. Seek Him in those around us. Take time from our whirlwind summers to allow His love and peace and joy to sink into our sunburnt skin. We need to understand that sometimes that raft or expert advice from a shark is the answer from God we’re looking for. And just because it’s different than what we hoped to hear or how we thought it might sound, doesn’t mean we should tune it out, or walk away.
My heart is circling around three questions this week. All because of Shark Tank. Gheesh.
I’m praying for all of us this week. That we truly understand how great our God is. Those millionaires on Shark Tank have some brilliant business ideas. Can you even fathom how much greater God’s advice is? I’m praying we understand this awesomeness, and then tap into Him—the guidance and love He freely gives us, the offers He makes. I’m praying we’re bold enough to joyfully say, “God, I am so excited to go with your plan—to accept your offer!”
When I was ten a new family moved in behind us that also had a ten-year old girl. Our moms decided we should walk to school together. The girl, Jamie, became my best friend. We played Legos, and Kick-the-Can. We ate dinner and slept over at each other’s houses on a rotating basis. We rode bikes, splashed at the pool, danced to David Bowie, helped each other pick out homecoming dresses, visited each other at college, were in each other’s weddings, and still to this day, Jamie gets me on a secret special level—because she’s known me for so long, knows so much of my backstory.
When we were little, along with climbing trees, I loved to read and write stories. Jamie loved to draw. These things seemed as normal as any of our other activities. But actually our passions for these things were specific to our characters—things woven into our very beings.
Jamie recently came by my house for lunch. While my oldest grabbed a snack, Jamie asked her about college and her major and the question college kids often get asked, “What do you want to do when you get out?” Also known as, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a very popular question this time of year with all the graduations going on. My daughter talked about her goals, dreams, and plans to get there.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” Jamie said emphatically, then turned to me.
“Did you always want to be a writer?”
“Always.” I nodded.
When we were young I knew Jamie was talented at art. Every drawing, pastel, or craft she did was amazing. When we were in high school she painted me a beautiful picture of ballerinas for my birthday. And she knew I was a bookworm, always reading. I geeked out about English class. These things have always been innate to us. What is that thing that tugs at your heart—that has always been a part of you?
In high school, I effortlessly confided in Jamie about my crushes and the family drama I would never want anyone else to know about, but somehow I hesitated when it came to sharing my writing aspirations. For me, it just sounded so outlandish—that I would want to become a writer—because who does that? Who gets to do that? So I followed a predictable path with a mission invisible to the outside world brewing inside my heart. Jamie, always being the braver one, declared an art major. We both graduated college, and ironically landed in sales jobs.
But guess what? Today, Jamie is an artist. Like a legit paints gorgeous abstracts of swirling color and sells her canvases with impressive price tags to homes all over the country.
And I am a writer.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11
God had always planned it this way—equipped us to enact the very desires of our heart from the get go. He has plans for you, too. And they are as beautiful as one of Jamie’s paintings.
They say the thing you most want to be when you’re little, is most likely what you’re supposed to be when you grow up—set aside things like being Dora. (Yes, one of my daughters wanted to be Dora) This thing that you’ve always loved, looked forward to, somehow had a knack for, got energized from doing is the very thing God planted in your heart to do—to do well—to do often. When we’re young we haven’t heard yet that we are too short, too tall, live in the wrong place, that only guys do that, that we need to know someone, or we aren’t good enough at math to ever be able to do “that thing.” All we understand is that we love doing that thing, and we happen to be pretty decent at it.
As Viktor Frankl said, “We don’t invent our missions. We detect them.” They’re already in there! Embedded in us by our Creator. And our hearts lean that way instinctively. Our missions were so clear and obvious early on. What lights you up? That should be the first clue on your detecting journey as to what you are called to do. Did you ever tell anyone? Did you ever pursue that passion? It’s not to late. Not now. Not ever. To find it, and more importantly, to do it!
Sure, Jamie and I both had to work at our dreams. It takes commitment of time, energy, and money. Making dreams into realities requires support networks. We both happen to have fabulous husbands who cheer us on in our pursuits, but support could also come from a friend, coach, parent, mentor, an artist group, teammate, or classmate. It also takes thick skin. I can’t speak for Jamie, but I get way more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses.’ But it’s easier to invest in endeavors when you’re passionate about them, because you sense you were made for it, that God made you for it.
So take everything you can—each experience, lesson, place you’re put, absorb it all; use it towards your mission in life. The marketing, product positioning, and promoting Jamie and I learned in sales jobs now come in super handy when she pitches paintings to a gallery, or when I pitch manuscripts to an editor. Nothing you’ve done up to this point is a waste of time. You get to use it all, towards what you’re supposed to be doing. God will use all of it.
What did you want to be when you were little? Are you doing it? What’s stopping you? What can you use from where you have been to help you do that thing you were built to do?
God created you distinctly from every other human for a beautiful purpose. He poured all kinds of talents and loves and cravings and preferences into you. He assembled them all together when He made you. They’re all still there. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly to do that thing or pursue that dream. Share it with someone you trust today. Start living your God-given mission! You’ll feel alive and vibrant when you do. You are the only one who can paint that picture, write that song, coach that team, run that program, teach that class, raise money for that cause, fight for that piece of legislation. God’s hoping you’ll accept His invitation to do the good work He created you to do. When you say, ‘yes,’ not only will you thrive, but the world will be a better place.
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Our icemaker has been broken for months, but I’m chilly approximately 92% of the time, so it hasn’t really been a priority for me. However, this past week the thermometer crept up it to 90 degrees, and my poor kids are melting into puddles before my very eyes, so yes, I called the repairman. Along with the warmer temps, we have ants. I scheduled an appointment with the bug guy. Apparently next Thursday is convenient for him. The check engine light is on in my car. This requires a call to the auto shop. Our disposal isn’t working. I called our plumber, but he’s on vacation for two weeks. Bless. And our bathroom? I promise you do not want to see what it looks like. Let’s just say after I called plumber #2, this job required not one, but two plumbing TRUCKS with “the machine.” Our toilet had to be taken out in the yard. And yes, a shop vac and quite a bit of bleach were necessary. We’re okay for now, but they do need to come back in a couple of weeks to check on things and put a new top or end or something on the pipe they had to cut through. You’re welcome for not having any accompanying pictures of that mess.
Witnessing all of this mayhem, my oldest daughter told me the thing she dreaded most about being a grown-up was that she’d have to make all of these phone calls. #adulting
None of these things get fixed without the phone calls. We really don’t have a choice, unless you’re a mechanic, plumber, electrician, and exterminator all rolled into one. Which, I am clearly not. It rarely takes one call to solve the household problems. This isn’t three clicks of your heels and you’re back in Kansas. So you make another call and another until the sink is fixed, the light goes off, the bugs go away, and yes, the toilet flushes. When we have household problems, we need to make calls and make them persistently. Period. The end. No way out.
And when we have problems with a relationship, stress, depression, being underappreciated, overwhelmed, overtired, or overworked, we also need to call out—to Jesus. Persistently. He will always answer, always know exactly how to help, and never put us on hold (if He did, what kind of Muzak do you think heaven would play?). But sometimes it does take more than one call. Not because Jesus is incapable. Please. This is the guy who knocked down the walls of a giant city with trumpet blasts and rose from the dead. Pretty sure He can take on anything. But sometimes it takes multiple calls to Jesus to set things straight, because it’s a multi-step task, or because we have to do something—use self-control, start the process, send the letter, take the trip, get out of our comfort zone, or possibly, make the phone call, and He’s waiting on us to take action. Sometimes, it takes more than one prayer session, maybe more than dozens of moments on our knees, because it’s simply not time yet. But we still have to make the call. And keep calling. God is there. He’s answering. And He’s listening.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
So what does calling Jesus look like? Same as it looks to call anyone else.
I called my mom this week to debrief on all the end-of-school-year stuff. She was a teacher for decades and certainly understands what the last week in May looks like, but Mom wanted to hear about field day and how I cried when the eighth graders sang their farewell song. Jesus also has a good pulse on the calendar and is aware of what’s going on, but He wants to know about the graduation, awards ceremony, recital, concert, and service. He wants to know if there were any good snacks, how cute your kids were, how much effort it takes to keep track of all of the forms, instruments, sports equipment, and lunch boxes. He wants you to want to share it all with Him. He smiles and claps at the joy of it all. And then in the areas where this is rough—you’re overwhelmed or end of school doesn’t look the same for you as it might for “typical” families, Jesus steps in and helps.
Over lunch the other day, a dear friend and I reached over our sandwiches, grabbed hands, and told each other our most urgent prayer requests. She shared a hope for one of her kids. I shared something going on in our family, something that’s broken, that I simply cannot fix. She nodded, reminded me that God is in control, shared a similar situation her family went through, and promised to pray. Jesus also extends His hands to us. He listens so very well. Of course He already knows all of our dreams and all the things that are off kilter, but this gives Him the opportunity to encourage us, comfort us, to remind us that He has gone through something similar. “I was a human, too,” He says. “I had people lie to me, try to trick me, abandon me, and call me names. I watched people I love get sick and mocked and hurt. I know what your pain feels like. I promise, I’m here for you.”
The other night after I’d told all the kiddos good night, locked the doors, turned out the lights, and crawled under the covers I whispered to my husband something I did that day that disappointed me. I’d lost my temper with one of the kids, and it was eating me up. I’d apologized, but it felt like too little too late. Brett reached over, rubbed my arm and said, “It’s okay. They know you love them. Let it go.” Jesus wants to know, too. I mean He sees when things go down, and He knows when something makes us feel all yucky inside, but He wants to hear us get it off our chests, say, “I’m sorry.” And when we do, Jesus says, “It’s alright. I love you. I took care of that over 2000 years ago on the cross. Time for you to let it go.”
A few days have passed since I started drafting this blog. The repairman came, but he had to order a new icemaker, so I bought a bag of ice at the store and we’re making do. The bug man sprayed for ants and said the first day we’d see more of them as they’re attracted to the bait—eww—and then they should go away. We got my car fixed, but no lie; my husband’s car has a flat tire. I couldn’t make this up. And so we keep making phone calls. Life is unpredictable and often challenging. More things will go wrong in our homes and families with our health and with our dreams, but with Jesus on speed dial, we have an expert to turn to, someone who knows how to fix All. The. Things. But even more fantastic than that—Jesus is the best listener and the ultimate comforter. Add Him to your contact list and star Him as a favorite. Praying to Jesus is the best call you can make today. And everyday.
My daughter came downstairs, her long, thick hair still wet from the shower. It had been a long day. She had one of those tired headaches that can only be solved with sleep, but she was staring down a 6:00 AM alarm waking her for school the next morning. She looked at me with giant blue eyes and held out her brush. “Could you please brush my hair? Really gently? I can’t do it softly enough myself.” This resonated so deeply. Do you wish someone would be gentle? Are you maybe not even able to be soft enough with yourself?
I’ve been blessed in the last couple of weeks to visit with some brilliant, gorgeous, strong women, who are basically rocking the socks off the world. But underneath the surface, these friends seem exhausted, run down. They’re juggling work, family, health, and the enigma of getting it all done, getting it all done well, and succeeding at this juggling act all of the time. One of my friends recently landed her dream job. But the dream job required a move and she’s exerting large amounts of effort trying to settle into her new space, meeting new friends, figuring out where to do anything—like get an oil change, and proving herself in this dream job. She’s with the opportunity, but starting fresh takes extra time and energy—more than normal. And she’s worn out.
Another friend is a sales rep and they’ve had a change in their product line. In good ways, but also in learn new and different strategies; reinvent the process kind of ways. Plus she has a medical issue. On top of her kids, marriage, house and groceries. And she’s slightly frazzled. Yet another friend has this huge, brilliant idea to create something new and exciting. This plan won’t pop into being by itself. It takes extra hours, extra mental capacity, on top of my friend’s current carpools, current exercise routine, current commitments. And she’s pumped up about this big beautiful idea God gave her, but trying to do it all—well it’s overwhelming.
And I’m praying for all of my friends in their busyness, praying for peace, and moments where they can slow down and find things that they can let go of. I’m praying for all these friends as I’m cramming writing time into every spare minute of the day, because my manuscript is due to my publisher in a week. My son has play practice? I’m there. With five resource books and my laptop spread across a row of seats in the theatre. My daughter has gymnastics. Same. It’s Saturday? Cool. I’ll set the alarm early and respond to the comments from my project manager until my cuties wake up. And, in the meantime….I'm still hustling to get it all done. Prep for Bible study. Write notes for my kids’ lunches. Log a few miles at the gym. Keep up with the mystical clothes hamper that is miraculously always full. How does it do that?
I LOVE doing all these things. I love my family. I love to write. I love Bible study. I’m doing these things today, just like I did them yesterday, and last week, because that’s what I do. I get the stuff I want to do done.
But my husband had to sit me down, and take the figurative brush out of my hands. His words were wise, but they felt sharp: You can’t do it all?
Hmm, I thought. Why not?
Husband: You are on deadline. This is not your normal. For the next week, let go a little.
My friends are swamped, but me? I’ve got this. Right? Let go? Of what? Not my kids. Not this sweet man talking to me. And the writing, well I kind of signed a contract. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good.
Husband: Let’s order pizza tonight. Let the kids make dinner one night. What else is easy? Let’s do that.
Me: Okay, fine. I like pizza. Sounds good for tonight. I’m so agreeable. Problem solved. Moving on.
Husband: I’ll pick the kids up from school tomorrow.
Me: But you have work. I was fine with the pizza thing, but that’s plenty of help, thank you very much.
Husband: I know, but I can grab the kids. Not every day, but tomorrow. It gives you an extra hour.
Me: Silent, but insides screaming, I’ll do it. I’ve got this. I can do this. I can make it work. Because I want to. Because I can find a way. Because I hate letting people down.
But Brett is not suggesting, he’s telling, and he never tells me what to do. I must be manifesting the symptoms I see in my friends, that look behind the eyes, that I’ve got this, but it’s hard and any minute I might slip. It took courage and love for Brett to speak this to me. I glue my lips together and try to listen. I nod. It’s like God has grabbed me and is making me lie down. And these blunt words? They actually sound like gentleness, sound a lot like grace.
I needed someone to be gentle with me, and I didn’t even know it. I saw it in my friends, but not in myself. How about you? Do you wish you could be treated gently right now? Are you incapable of being soft enough with yourself?
The good news? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures. Meaning, when we’re burning the candle at both ends, staying up too late and remedying this routine with too much coffee the next morning (anyone?), Jesus says, “Stop. Lie down. Rest.”
He leads us beside still waters. Sigh. Did somebody say still?
Take a deep breath. Look at your to do list. What can you erase or delete? What are you trying to do, because you expect you to do it, even though maybe no one else expects it, or maybe someone else could do it just as easily? Can it be delegated? Can it wait a week? Is there someone you could ask for help? Could you pay someone to watch the kids for an hour or two, or to clean the house this one time, or even pay the $5 for Clicklist to do the grocery shopping for you? You don’t have to answer every text, call, and email as they pop on your screen. You don’t have to do it all. Period.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Be gentle with yourself. I know there is so much to do, great stuff, important stuff, deadline stuff. But you don’t have to do all of it. And when you can’t even be gentle with yourself, Jesus will be. He’ll soak warm sunshine into your skin, provide a moment where for some reason the house is quiet, or maybe He’ll have your spouse or friend or coworker unexpectedly tell you, “I’ll do this thing. I’ll make this call. I’ll write this note, so you don’t have to.” Accept the grace. Lie down. Don’t fill that still moment with another to-do. Fill it with Jesus. Hand him your hairbrush or your to-do list or your expectations, and allow Him to gently restore your soul.
I was digging around with my mascara wand along the edges of the tube mining for clumpy dregs for about three weeks longer than I should have. As soon as I threw away the old one and opened a new tube it was like someone had reinvented mascara all together. It was smooth and coated my eyelashes effortlessly in one swoop instead of about ten tries. My lashes stayed black all day long. It was amazing.
The razor in my shower was no different. Every time I reached for it I thought, “Eh, I should probably get a new one out.” But I was already in the shower, and needed to shave then, and didn’t feel like I had time to get out, splash down the hall to get a new one, and commence showering again. By the time I’d get out of the shower, my brain had gone eight jillion other directions and I’d completely forgotten about the razor. But yesterday I picked up my razor, and it had rust on it. Game changer.
My disgust of the rusty razor made me clear out all kinds of things I’d kept way past their usefulness—socks with holes, the stretched out t-shirt, ALL of our CDs, because, Spotify. I played tug of war with myself, because I love all of this music, but I don't need the CD's to hear any of these songs. It was time to let go. It made me wonder what else I’ve been holding onto in my life, beyond things. What had I been okay with keeping that was barely getting by, somehow making do, or even though it was dangerous or useless simply hanging onto, because it seemed easier to keep then to trash?
These thoughts filled my brain on the way to coffee with a friend. Over steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness we shared stories, laughter, and prayers. Near the end of our visit she leaned over and said, “There is one thing I’d really like you to pray about for me. I don’t want to be, but I am so bitter about,” and she named something that had gone upside down in her life. “I hate that I care. It’s so stupid. I know it’s not of God. I need to let this go. It’s a thorn in my side.” I heard the confession tumble out of my dear friend’s mouth. But as she spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the thorn of bitterness in my side, the thing I’ve been holding onto for way toooooo long.
I spat my confession right back at her. The words tasted like venom. Why would I hold so much yuck in my heart? Why did I care what a certain person said, how they passed, when they failed, where they went, or with who? What good did it do anyone? When Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us, this certainly wasn’t what He had in mind. It was embarrassing to admit I was harboring all of these icky feelings, but it was easier with a friend who understood. We grabbed each other’s hands and prayed on the spot that we could turn over the entire mess to God, that He would remove the thorns in our sides we’d been holding onto. It was such a relief. And although, I know we both have a lot of work to do to completely let go, immediately there was a sense of freedom.
With a new year, I want to clean out more than my toiletries and sock drawer. I want to clean out my heart. This year, I’ll be praying for my friend and I to let go of our bitterness, to turn it over to God, let Him be the judge, allow us to love and offer grace. What have you been holding onto—a grudge, a grievance, a regret? Has it been easier to keep it than to let it go? Are you afraid what will happen if you pull out that thorn? Has it been more convenient to keep being angry, sad, worried, or avoiding something or someone then splashing down the hall and replacing those feelings with fresh ones?
The thing about new razors is that they’re much kinder to the skin than rusty ones. Fresh mascara works better, clumps less, and doesn’t make my eyes itch. Why did I wait to change them out? The same is true with past arguments and disappointments. When we trade them out for fresh outlooks, grace, and embracing what we have and where we are, we’re safer, we function better, and we feel better. Why did we ever hold onto all of those things in the first place?
I’m planning on making 2018 the year to pull out my thorn. How about you? Will you join me?
I picture us grasping our thorns and yanking them from our sides. It will probably hurt, it might even bleed, but then our aches can finally heal. Whew. Once those thorns are out, I imagine us handing them over to the God who loves us. I picture Jesus getting out the Neosporin, rubbing it gently on our sides, picking out cute Band-Aids with polka dots or Poke Mon, whatever your thing is, and kissing our hurts. I picture Jesus showing us the scar on His side where He was pierced for us and saying, “I understand your pain. I love you. You’ll feel better now.” And then I’m pretty sure we’ll walk into the New Year breathing cleaner air, relieved of past harm, hurt, and mistakes. Sigh. I feel better already. Praying you do, too.
Happy New Year.
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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.
I am in introvert. It’s not a bad thing or a true confession. It’s just how God made me. For goodness sake, I am a writer by vocation, which translates into sitting by myself for hours on end making up stories. I love to go on runs and walks by myself. Vacation to me never includes Jet Skis and always includes sitting someplace with a view reading books, journaling, praying and basically being still. I love others immensely and treasure one-on-one time with them, I really do. Yet I require headspace and silence to create, think, cope and process.
But even us introverts crave connection. I cannot do life by myself. Cannot. None of us can. None of us were meant to. God created us for community.
Do you have a solid community? Admittedly, I hear “community” and envision four women my age who work out together, do Bible study together, swap clothes, meet for coffee every Thursday morning, with kids all on the same teams and whose husbands are also best friends—think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for grown ups. Maybe you have this, which is awesome. I do not, which used to make me think I didn’t have a community—that I’d failed in this arena. But that’s not true. What I have is different, but also awesome.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. –Hebrews 10:24-25
This is quality advice. Because spurring each other on toward love and good deeds is solid. But the Bible does not say this has to look like a novel. This week has been a snapshot of my fantastic and completely different and scattered community. My super tight inner circle consists of my four adorable kids and hunky husband. I love them fiercely. However, our communities must span past the walls we live in for them to fully work their magic. Girls need girls. Guys need guys. We need people who do the same kind of work and deal with the same issues, as well as friends of varying ages, different lifestyles and locations so we can gain perspective. The last twenty-four hours for me were packed with more social interaction than I may have from now through Christmas, and although that is not my default, it was good for my soul.
What does your community look like? When was the last time you connected with them?
I visited my daughter who is a freshman in college, away from home for the first time in her, translation my, life. (I get a hall pass to count her as my community, because although she’s still one of my adorable kids, she now sleeps in a dorm room in Indiana instead of in our house.) Our visit was priceless. We laughed, shared stories that could never translate over texts, and ate brownies topped with some kind of fudgy whipped cream. When we said goodbye I honestly felt like a piece of my heart broke off and walked down the sidewalk with a backpack slung across her shoulders. But there is beauty in knowing that some of my heart can travel with her. And some of her heart with me.
Within an hour and a half of me returning home my mom came to town for an overnight visit. Can we talk about my mom? She tutors kids, volunteers at blood drives, makes meals for everyone she knows, and drives neighbors to the doctor. Plus she always wears a smile, constantly talks about how blessed she is, and means it. Being around her puts a positive spin on everything. She asks great questions, listens to all the details of my life no one else would ever want to hear (like how I saved 83 cents at Kroger and the journaling activity the middle school English teacher did with my daughter’s class). My mom makes it all feel important, like it matters, like I matter.
Literally two hours after my mom drove off (leaving behind Texas sheetcake and turkey tetrazzini for us to devour) an out of town friend got out of a meeting she was having in my town! I got to see her for exactly nine minutes and it totally refueled my tank. Energy leaks from her body into mine when we hug. She is funny, beautiful, insightful, smart as all get out and typically goes a million miles an hour. She is one of those special few I can get vulnerable with and fully trust. She loves Jesus and somehow totally gets me and accepts me and my quirks.
Next day, a handful of my sorority sisters came to town for an impromptu reunion. #perksoflivinginacollegetown. These girls? We met when they were eighteen and I was nineteen. We’ve all logged a lot of miles—careers, marriages, moves, babies, loss, struggles, overcoming since we pledged our sisterhood. To reconnect with some who I hadn’t seen in decades and others in a year meant both being flooded with memories and meeting a group of wonderful new women—the ones they’ve all grown into—all at the same instant.
A daughter, a mom, an out of town friend who I met at Bible study years ago by a fluke, and a handful of girls who wore the same shirts to Greek Week in the 90’s is not how most would define ‘community’. But it’s where I find some of mine. We all need other people to fully become who God created us to be. Their stories help form our stories. Their triumphs inspire us. Their struggles expand our viewpoints, teach us lessons. Their ideas, experiences, and thoughts prompt and broaden ours. Hearing their hearts reinforces what we hold dear and helps us dispose of ideas we should have never let enter our minds in the first place.
Please know there are broadly two kinds of community, both are incredibly valuable. There is the general, learn, gather, socialize, laugh, carpool, expand your knowledge and ideas kind. And then there is the special, safe one. No matter how fun or interesting a group may be, you can only reveal your heart to a trusted few. If you share a secret with the masses, it’s no longer a secret. If you confess your greatest fear to too many, someone will unintentionally mock it or use it against you. Both types of communities are important. The inner circle is just more sacred.
Whether you’re typically a loner or always travel with a posse, find some special people, a community or two you can plug into. This can look like just about anything. But make sure it contains some people who will listen to and hear you, who will love and encourage you, who will challenge you, build you up, energize you, feed your soul, point you back to Jesus over and over again, and remind you that you are His, that you matter, because you do. They help remind you of your true reflection.
P.S. Just for the record, my mom borrowed one of my sweatshirts for our morning walk. One of my sorority sisters was also my roommate in Atlanta when we had our first ‘real jobs’. We each owned two suits and swapped them back and forth to make it look like we had enough ‘work clothes’ to get us through to casual Friday. And, as I write this I am wearing a pair of my daughter’s jeans. So, maybe, my community looks a little more like the Traveling Pants than I gave it credit for.
My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
Not really the kind of headline that goes viral.
If I changed this to “How to Achieve Your Dream in Seven Days” or even “Seven Weeks,” well those titles would get a lot of hits. Because we’re all looking for easy solutions, step-by-step instructions on how to get things done, on how to make our crazy, hectic lives simpler.
But this blog isn’t about the quick fix or the three easy steps to success—it’s about obedience and more importantly, about God’s personal love.
I have two friends releasing novels this week. I’ve been blessed to sit in the stands and watch their dreams come to fruition. The most beautiful part is how personally God has guided each of their journeys and loved them completely along the way.
We all have dreams, goals, hopes and wishes. The ones God gives us are the ones that tug the hardest, resonate the deepest. These are the dreams to fight for, to work towards. There are no guarantees they will be easy to achieve or occur at all how we expected them, but if God plants a seed in your heart, it will grow. It will bloom in beautiful ways.
In July of 2010 my friend, Tammy, sent me the manuscript of a picture book she’d been working on, Walking Miss Millie. Tammy’s writing was golden. I could picture the illustrations that might accompany the compelling text—ticket stubs, a scruffy dog—the kind of detailed pictures that mesmerize kids and their parents.
But God knew better. The story had so much to say about friendships that transcend all stereotypes—age, race, circumstances—it couldn’t be contained to the pages of a picture book. God urged Tammy to write more—to expand. It meant work and perseverance. Adding characters, dialogue, new scenes, and thousands of words. The work God asked of her, and the work Tammy obediently put in, grew her picture book into a historical fiction middle grade novel—the kind teachers and students will read together and eagerly discuss.
Tammy has several nonfiction titles under her belt, but writing Millie was new terrain. With this foray into fiction, she needed an agent and a publisher. She found them, but the whole agent/publisher thing wasn’t a snap of the fingers—it required reworking, editing, polishing, re-sending, rejection, starting all over again and praying for a writing love connection. Tammy’s obedience to God’s nudges paid off. Because how it turned out, is how God always meant it to be. Walking With Miss Millie releases on the Fourth of July. Saturated in the heat of the South, Tammy’s pitch perfect writing voice captures the characters, their hearts, their struggles, and the beautiful things that connect us all.
Seven years ago my brilliant friend Beth scripted the first several chapters of the novel she'd always dreamed of writing. Her goal was to continue until she finished. But God knew better. Babies, moves, jobs and other life events forced Beth’s book to be shelved. Beth couldn’t get back to it until 2014. Which frustrated her, and made it challenging to get back in the groove. But she listened to God, when He said, "Stop," and again when He said, "Go!"
If you’ve met Beth, you’ll immediately imagine what type of book it is—hilarious, smart, sassy and deeply spiritual. She describes it as “the book she wanted to read in her early twenties, but couldn’t find anywhere.” Beth wrote, Lu, for all the girls like her out there—those no longer eating the spoonfuls of Christianity or philosophy or life lessons from their parents, but actually claiming their faith as their own, and trying to figure out what that meant. As I read through the chapters of Lu’s life, it's evident why Beth had to write the beginning before and the rest now. If she’d started the book in 2014, the beginning would be watered down. Beth needed to experience a rough chapter in her own life to nail the opening. If Beth had tried to bring the book to completion seven years ago, she wouldn’t have been able to pen the climax or ending. God needed to do all kinds of things in Beth's life to breathe life into the pages of her novel. Tonight is her release party. The world can experience the complete story, as God always intended it to be.
That’s how God works—knowing exactly what we need, when we need it, how we need it.
Seven years is a long time. For anything. But in both cases that was exactly how long it needed to be for these books to be the books that they have become--to reach their full potential, to touch hearts and souls in the way they now do. Both journeys are so different, but both my friends achieved their dreams. And they did it through faithfulness to God’s journey for them.
Whatever you’re dreaming about today, know God loves you completely. He is guiding each step in a way that will truly best benefit you and the work He's set out for you. Even when it looks like a detour or construction, be faithful. God's intentions for you will be unique, purposeful and beautiful. And if you want a reminder, check out Walking With Miss Millie and Lu. Not only will they be great additions to your summer read pile, they will be a tangible testimony of how things work out when we trust God and His plans.
No matter what you’re working toward, no matter how long it seems to be taking, don’t worry. God has the next chapter written—it’s a page-turner and it will be amazing.
Laura L. Smith