The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
It’s raining. Heavy drops pelt our wood deck just off our family room. I hear water rolling down the roof and trickling down the smooth glass of the windows. The sound fills our momentarily quiet house, as two kids are at the rec center, one’s playing video games, and one is showering. The swooshing, dripping, pattering sounds like a symphony of various water instruments all playing their parts, together forming a gorgeous gift to my ears. That is, if I listen. Because earlier, when I was sending someone’s Christmas list to Grandma, making a reservation for dinner, and booking a haircut for my son, while filling my water bottle, I didn’t hear it. It was raining then, just like it is now, but I missed the beauty of it. Somewhere in my head I acknowledged the weather, but I wasn’t listening.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Jesus asked his disciples after telling them about the sower who scattered seed on various kinds of soil. This exact phrase is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so I feel like it’s important, a verbatim quote. So am I really listening? Are we? And when I look at the story Jesus had just told about some seed taking sprout, and other seed not so much, I realize how important it is to listen to Him, because I want His seeds to grow in my life, to flourish, to produce fruit. But is His voice what I tune my ears to, or do I allow the noise of the world to drown Jesus out.
Because life is noisy. And when it’s not, when it’s silent, we get antsy, and seek to fill the quiet. If no one’s talking in the car, we flip on the radio or plug in ear buds. If we’re standing in line we tap our phone screens filling our brain with visual noise, quotes and scores, snaps and stories. One friend I love has multiple televisions on throughout her house, so her rooms don’t feel “too quiet.” What if instead, we grabbed those pockets of silence as opportunities to hear God? When we fill our days with so much sound, are we able to hear God above the noise? Am I even trying to?
Yes! Of course I want to hear God. And I am trying to. So, I get out my Bible and journal in the mornings. And I read and I write and I pray. But I often get distracted. Because the dryer buzzes, and the UPS man rings the doorbell, and someone asks if I’ve seen their keys, and I get a text, and now that I’m on my phone... Instagram. Plus I remember I still want to send a card to a new friend who wasn’t on our list last year, and wrap those cozy sweats I got one of the cousins, and order one more thing from Amazon, and get the chicken out of the freezer now so it has time to thaw. And then the Bible verse that was resonating, the thought I was about to jot down, that thing God and I were talking about escapes me. And I try to go back to where I was.
Sometimes I step back in the flow of my conversation with God, but sometimes I don’t, because now I don’t have time, and I’ll return to it later. Or will I? Sometimes God and I have a fantastic chat in the mornings, but by three in the afternoon it’s nowhere on my radar, or some mornings I go through the motions, but my brain is on all the other things and nothing seems to stick. But I want it to. I want to know what Jesus has to say. About my marriage. About my kids. About my writing. About all of the things. So, am I listening? Are you?
In the last week my daughter had a piano recital, my youngest son had his Fine Arts night, and my older son played guitar in church. So much beautiful music to hear. My daughter, who hasn’t played since she was little, practiced her song over and over, and was a bit nervous to play in front of all those people for her exam grade in piano class. I prayed that she’d do her best, that she’d be confident in her playing. And she slid onto that bench and pounded out “All of Me,” on the keys filling the theatre with beautiful chords. I held my breath the entire time. It was lovely. My youngest warned us his bell for the bell song was “bigger than his head,” and thus difficult to ring. He also warned, “Don’t look at me, because, I’ll mess up.” But I couldn’t help but look, and pray his bell would ring, and he’d actually enjoy the experience. Sure enough, he lifted that giant brass bell, and the notes rang clear and loud. During worship on Sunday my ears honed in on the electric guitar, because when my son plays I want to hear his part. I peeked at him up there in his plaid flannel, and prayed he’d use his talents to glorify God. The notes from his instrument filled my ears and my heart with joy.
I was listening. Extra hard. Because these are my kids. And I love them. And I’m proud of them, that they played their songs all in with their various levels of interest and talent. This is how God listens to us—completely tuned in. We’re His kids, and He loves us, and He’s proud of us, in all of our unique skillsets both when we do the things we love and the things we’re assigned. If the God of the Universe is paying so much attention to every note we play, are we listening to Him?
Wow. I’m trying. But not always as intently as I’d like to. I make excuses, but I didn’t make excuses when my kids were playing, and God doesn’t make excuses when I’m talking to Him. So, for me, I realize it’s time to ditch the distractions and get back to being full-on focused on Jesus.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” —Matthew 13:16-17 MSG
Jesus gave us the ears and the opportunities to hear Him—what a gift! So, are we listening, really listening, like we’d focus on our kids in a concert, or our favorite part of our favorite Christmas song, or the funniest line from Elf? Because Jesus is listening to us. And He has so much to tell us, so much love to share with us. He tells us we’re chosen. We’re holy. We’re loved. We’re His. If only we’ll listen.
The rain has stopped now. A bird chirps out my window, insistent and shrill. I hear it, because I’ve put myself in a quiet place, where I can hear better. It’s a reminder to me, to set myself up well to hear Jesus. To temporarily tune out all of the other noise each morning, to take advantage of moments of silence throughout my day, to hone into the beautiful melody of love and forgiveness and joy and courage and strength Jesus sings to me, to all of us. It’s my all-time favorite song. And I want to listen to it, really listen.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
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.
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.
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.
My youngest has always been allergic to peanuts. A few Zyrtec and Kleenex won’t take care of his problem. Peanut allergies are life threatening. We’ve cleared our home of anything remotely resembling a nut. We’ve become experts at reading ingredient labels. We bake our own treats for parties and celebrations to ensure his safety. Epipens are stashed in every car, purse, backpack and cupboard of our house.
This summer Maguire had his annual allergist appointment. The doc did a skin test to check the status of his allergy and…there was no reaction. Zero. Next came a blood test to confirm the findings of the skin test. The results…negative. No peanut allergy? What? There was still one more test. Dun, dun dun…The Peanut Challenge, which basically consists of eating peanut butter for two hours in the doctor’s office while they monitor you. If something goes wrong, the doctor has the antidote to rescue you. If all goes well, you’re officially deemed no longer allergic. That day Maguire ate spoonfuls of Jif, and he was completely fine.
It was incredible. Life changing. Freeing! Maguire was thrilled he could now eat Reese’s and go out for ice cream without having to ask the worker for a clean scoop to ensure no nutty remnants from another flavor touched his vanilla. We were thrilled our son was safer in those situations. But despite all of the joy, gratefulness, and freedom, it was oddly hard to accept. Maguire has always been allergic to peanuts. How could he just start eating them now? How was it possible that Maguire was instantly free? He hadn’t taken a class, eaten pounds of spinach, or stood on his head to remove his allergy. It just vanished.
The same is true in our relationship with Christ. We don’t have to do anything, eat anything, turn around three times or pray a set number of minutes each day. Just by accepting that Jesus died for us, cleans our slates. We are no longer soiled by our recent or long gone past. We are not condemned by our mistakes, strangled by our fears or chained to our worries. I know that. Just like I know Maguire has outgrown his allergy. But how often do I question the freedom Christ offers?
When the school office called asking where Maguire’s Epipen was, I answered hesitantly, heat pounding, “He doesn’t need one any more.” Was he safe? I knew he was, and yet…
I put a note in his lunch and saw a peanut butter sandwich nestled inside. It freaked me out. I’ll have to sanitize his lunch box. No, I don’t. Because peanuts can’t hurt him any more. And we are also safe. Free. Loved. We don’t need backup medication or extra special sanitation.
Jesus says, “I love you. Just how you are.”
And I believe Him. Most of the time. Yet some days, I feel the need to prove myself—to God, to the world, to my family. I don’t want to let others down. I don’t want to let God down. I don’t want to let down my guard. Because I want to be a good wife and mama. I want to tell great stories. I want to be the kind of person Jesus wants me to be. Which are great desires. Just like keeping my son safe is a great desire.
But I have to accept that medical tests proved Maguire is no longer allergic. And more importantly I have to full out accept Jesus’ grace. That it is truly ALL I need. I have to stop doubting and second-guessing. I don’t have to take things into my own hands, just in case God doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t capable of handling the situation. Because God knows everything. And He can handle everything. In my life and in yours.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
What are you freaking out about right now? The balance of your bank account? Your relationship status? Your grades? Your quiet time, playing time, personal time, airtime, time of departure or arrival?
Christ’s grace is sufficient. Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I have this. Trust me. Don’t believe me? Look at all the times I’ve guided, saved, directed, and held you up in the past. Still don’t believe me? I died to save you, that’s how much I love you.”
“Right. He’s got this.” We don’t have to freak out. We do need to do our part. But then we have to trust. And when we do, we can outgrow our dependency on trying to prove ourselves worthy. Jesus says we are worthy. Jesus says He loves us. And nothing we eat or do or forget or achieve can ever change that.
There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
Laura L. Smith