Writing scared

I’ve been afraid.

And tired.

And tired of being afraid.

I used to spend my weekday mornings, when the girls are both at school, writing—often with a sense of urgency. If I don’t get these words out of my head, where will they go? When there’s a story tickling my brain and I choose to ignore it, I become a highly irritable, overly sensitive person. So typically, for the sake of my emotional health (and that of everyone around me), I am obedient to the nudge: Write it down. Somewhere. Anywhere!

But with the exception of one essay for The Drafting Desk and a handful of random sentences scribbled on scraps of paper, I have written nothing down since December. Not the blog post I’d had swirling in my mind about the books I read last year, not the thoughts I was doing battle with about choosing a word of the year, not the advent insights that are no longer timely.

None of it.

You know what I’ve been doing instead? Here’s the gist. I’ve spent my time:

Repainting various rooms of our home
Organizing my desk and shelves
Planting seeds in pots in my backyard
Rearranging furniture
Switching out random pieces of home décor—mirrors, prints, lamps, curtains, wreaths
Listening to podcasts
Reading
Watching [garbage] TV series on Netflix
Knitting squares for a someday-blanket
Cross-stitching

Mostly (sans Netflix), they’re innocent things. Not harmful. Good, even. And in all of those activities listed (again, sans Netflix), there are stories and eye-opening lessons that God has been teaching me. But instead of writing them, I’ve buried them. Continue reading

One little word

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

—Eugene Peterson, The Message (Romans 12:1-2)

Early in 2016 but far enough into the year that I considered myself late to the New Year’s resolution game, I wrote about choosing my first-ever word of the year. Or, more accurately, how God pressed the word upon me until I said, “Okay, okay!”

I don’t like committing to much, because a commitment is a commitment. If I break it, I’ve failed—and failure is embarrassing. Keeping a commitment to a single word that I was supposed to weave throughout my entire year seemed like a terrible idea, setting myself up for humiliation. Especially a word like brave.

We were over at our friends’ house the other day, and the kids got into the dress-up clothes. As they paraded out to the living room as a flower fairy, a princess, and a bear-T. Rex-dragon-king for admiration from us four adults, we oohed and aahed and wowed, and then our friend said to his daughter and mine, “You look so brave!”

Not pretty, or beautiful, or fancy—brave. Not a compliment based on their appearance as adorable little girls (though they are), a compliment given intentionally based on what he wanted them to believe about themselves. They can be brave. They are brave, whether they know it yet or not.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever had someone say to me, “You look so brave!”

Before this year, I don’t think I ever believed that I was or could be.
Continue reading

Before we click Unfollow

I noticed earlier this week that at some point—I have no idea when—I must have accidentally hit the “Like” button for the Facebook page of a certain political figure as I scrolled through my newsfeed. When I discovered what I’d inadvertently done, I laughed because of who the figure was and how that blue thumbs-up might have been interpreted. (I’m not going to name the figure because it’s not relevant to this post.)

But then I started putting two and two together and I realized some people had likely unfollowed or blocked my posts as a result of that “Like.”

That was sobering. Suddenly my accidental click didn’t seem funny anymore.

Since the election, I’ve seen well-meaning, kind-hearted people posting instructions on how to block certain friends/pages from being visible in our newsfeeds when we don’t agree with the content they’re sharing. I’ll admit, I use this tool myself and will say that there are times when it is useful and even necessary. I block junk, fake news, posts with foul language, and over-sharers (sorry!), among other things. Sometimes I need to step back from a certain feed for a season, for the sake of my own heart. You likely have your reasons too, and I think that’s all ok. Too much is too much.

But I regret my own haste to “block” and “unfollow” people lately based on the sharing of views and opinions that don’t line up with my own. I am sorry for it. For someone who requires so much grace, I sure am stingy with it. 

I’m challenging myself, and I’ll encourage you, too: Don’t cut people out—of your newsfeed or your life—just because you have political or ideological differences. Don’t create a bubble for yourself that only includes likeminded folks. Take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and remember there’s a person on the other side of your screen—a human being, just as loved and cherished by God as you are. Let that sink in for a minute.

Let’s be better at acknowledging each other’s humanness and the fact that it’s not only good to have relationships with people with whom we disagree, it’s necessary.

I think we are all capable of more kindness, compassion, and empathy.

My first step was to take a peek at the people and pages I had hidden from my Facebook feed. From a computer, you can do this by hovering over the News Feed header in the left column. Click the gear that appears to the left of the words “News Feed” and then select “Edit Preferences.” A new window should pop up. Click on “Reconnect with people you unfollowed” and see who’s there. You might be surprised. (I was.) From there you have the option to re-follow people from your list.

As I looked at mine, I prayed for God to soften my heart toward friends with opposing views, and then I added some back into my bubble.

One step at a time.

Who’s with me? 


For an insightful analysis on this topic, I’d recommend this article.

Reflections on a messy room

I’m a grown-up, and I don’t clean my room. 

Not on a regular basis, at least. I’m more of an emergency cleaner. (Think: annual termite inspection time, or the plumber is coming.)

I try to keep the rest of the house at minimum, picked up—toys back into baskets at the end of the day, counters wiped down, clutter categorically shuffled off to wherever it belongs. Sure. But the master bedroom, the one I share with my husband of 12+ years? Well, it’s another story.

I get away with this because 1) my hubby is extremely tolerant of my bad habits and 2) it’s a given that visitors understand master bedrooms are private spaces. You might walk into someone’s home and wander around their living room or kitchen, eyeball their bookshelves and admire their artwork or photos. But the master is off-limits. You just don’t go in there.

So when people are over, I simply close that door and pretend like that part of the house doesn’t exist.

Except… I know what’s in there.

And it’s not just piles of unfolded laundry. It’s clutter. It’s dresser tops stacked with books, ponytail holders, crumpled receipts, jewelry, candy (chewy Sweet Tarts are my current vice), clothespins, hairbrushes, old to-do lists, those little plastic tabs used to attach price tags to clothing, and all forms of junk in between. It’s an unruly stash of old shopping bags I keep stuffing behind the full-length mirror because they might be useful at some point. (They won’t be.) It’s a closet exploding with old shoes and bags I do not need and have no room for but haven’t been able to part ways with yet. It’s stacks of books on the floor and an out-of-control dust bunny infestation.

You can guarantee our guests don’t see this sweet, sacred space unless they’re particularly nosy (you know who you are). But I am keenly aware of the embarrassment sitting just on the other side of my living room wall. And no matter how surface-clean the “public” half of my home looks, I know the truth. It’s a sham. I’m a fraud. 

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The past week has been heart-wrenching in what feels like a million ways. I’ve witnessed shock, panic, fear, thrill, grief, cruelty, meanness, hatred, disappointment, hope, kindness, resolve, love, and anger coming at various times, in waves, from different people from all angles from all of the circles I find myself part of. People are feeling right now, and their feelings are big. My feelings are big, too. I haven’t slept this poorly or cried this much since we were in the newborn stage of child-rearing.

By Sunday, I felt like I might implode.

So I did what any rational person would do. I went to my room.

And then I cleaned it.

I folded and hung the laundry that had been sitting in baskets for weeks. Yes, weeks. I weeded items out of my closet that should have been dropped at Goodwill a long time ago. I got down on my knees, vacuum in hand, and attacked the dust creatures beneath the dresser and bed—some of them rather large. (At one point I shut the vacuum off because I thought for sure I’d sucked up one of the girls’ stuffed animals. Nope. Just a prehistoric dust bunny.)

At first I laughed at what was becoming obvious—my sheer lack of discipline when it comes to cleaning. (There are people who think I’m very “type A” but I’m really very… not. My brand of perfectionism takes on other forms.) Amusement-slash-embarrassment gradually turned into disgust as I watched the vacuum fill with the nasty stuff that had been lurking on the floors, in corners, behind and underneath furniture.

In all the yuck, I saw how much I’d neglected this one room, the room my husband and I share, a space that’s supposed to be a safe haven and retreat.

And there on the floor, as I reached and stretched the vacuum hose into hidden spaces where filth lurked, I also saw my anger, my short temper. I saw resentment. I saw grudges I’ve stubbornly been unwilling to let go of. I saw pride. And it was gross. 

A fine layer of dust, when not promptly wiped away, grows into something that takes on a life of its own. [Dust] bunnies do what [dust] bunnies do.

I can close the door and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But eventually it’ll get under my skin, because I know it’s there and that at some point, something has to be done about it. Eventually “out of sight, out of mind” will fail me.

Oh, and cleaning my room isn’t a one-time event. (Wouldn’t that be great though?) Within the week surfaces will need dusting again, trash will need to be tossed, and fresh loads of laundry will need to put away.

Daily maintenance. Ugh.

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I’m restless and frustrated by what’s unfolding in the world around me. I want to do something. Take action. (Perhaps you feel it too. We need to feel it.)

But first I need to stop acting as though my own mess and brokenness don’t exist. I cannot pretend that I’ve never been part of the problem of sin in the world just because my dirt is behind a door that I keep closed. The pride, the anger, the resentment—it’s all gotta go.

So I have to open the door and red-faced, invite Jesus into the room. It’s laughable to think I’ve kept it a secret anyway—He knows full well what a slob I tend to be. The amazing, unfair thing about grace is that He’ll come right in and get to work, even though I’m the one who made the mess and allowed it to get to this state. 

He will wipe everything clean and clear away the dust. Take out my garbage. Pop open the window so that a fresh breeze can blow through. And in doing so, He will ready my heart so that I am prepared to listen, to care, to step into a story other than my own.

On being the light of the world, at Publix

There are two Publixes in my town, and MY Publix, being slightly out of the way and in a quieter area, has been a delightful spot since we moved here six years ago. It’s bright and clean, and the employees are the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. The best part? If I hit it at the right time of day, it’s practically empty (so, good for me, not for Publix). You know the introverts of the world prefer grocery shopping alone and making eye contact with no one. And if I can make the trip without my kids in tow? *Insert praise hands emoji*

Well. Months back, a new apartment complex opened next door to my sweet, quiet, peaceful Publix, and as new residents began moving in, this terrible thing happened. All these people started shopping at my grocery store. They were suddenly crowding my aisles and forcing me to wait in a line at the deli counter (so, good for Publix, not for me). I could no longer find a parking spot in my usual row. A lover of consistency and routine, I didn’t adapt well to any of this. So many people everywhere! And some of them so grumpy, right there in my happy place! Where did they even come from?

My initial reaction was to change my approach to grocery shopping. I would no longer take my time strolling up and down each aisle, enjoying my solitude and the ’80s tunes playing overhead. No, I would be a defensive player. (That might be the one and only sports analogy you’ll ever see here, by the way.) Keep my head down, stick to the list, push my cart swiftly and with authority, make small talk with no one, beat the other shoppers to the short line, swipe my card, and get the heck out of there. I survive! I win!

But God. (Isn’t it always “but God”?)

It started with a man, cart full of groceries, two little girls up front and another walking beside, on a day when the checkout lines were particularly long. I had beaten him to the shortest line with my own full cart. I looked up and we made eye contact, and something in my heart said, “Move.” So I took a couple of steps back and beckoned him over from his place in the line next to me.

He took me up on the offer with a grateful smile, and I stepped behind him and waved at the little girls in the cart.

It was a tiny interaction that didn’t cost me much—maybe five extra minutes of standing. It wasn’t a huge moment in the history of grocery shopping and checkout line acts of kindness. But God stirred something in me right there between the tabloids and the candy.

I can be a gospel-sharer anywhere and everywhere I find myself. As a follower of Christ that’s not a task to do, or something I turn off and on as needed—it’s who I am.

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It’s time to change the way I look at grocery shopping—and every other mundane task that brings me into contact with other humans, for that matter. Every day is full of opportunities to be Jesus to someone who needs him. I just haven’t been paying attention—or worse, dismissing some opportunities with “but not right now…”

It’s not that hard or scary, either. I can do this stuff:

• Make eye contact with employees and other customers. Engage.

• Smile at people—even when they butt you in line or grab the last of the BOGO Oreos off the shelf.

• Let others go first.

• Be a helper.

• Share a positive word. Look for the opportunities to strike up a conversation with someone—which teriyaki marinade you prefer, why Oreo Thins are better than original, whatever. (That’s right, I said it.)

• Befriend the cashiers and baggers. Learn their names. Talk with them about your obsession with Hamilton. (Yeah, I did that.)

• Beat them to the punch by telling them you hope THEY have a great day first.

• Leave with a smile, not in a huff.

• Teach your kids to do all of the above.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…” —Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:14-16

Lord, help me not to look past the people right in front of me every day—at Publix, at the post office, sitting in car line after school—stashing my lamp under a basket just because I’m in a hurry to get errands done. 

Where do your daily outings take you? What else would you add to the list above? Are there opportunities to be a light in places you hadn’t considered before?

The interaction might seem insignificant in the moment, but believe me, it’s not—not to the person on the receiving end. (It will change you, too, by the way.) And there’s no one like our God to take those little moments and turn them into something beautiful and kingdom-building.

 

Back to school and a prayer for my girls

IMG_6839I am not one of those moms who wishes it was always summer.

I love those moms. But I’ve had to accept the fact that at this stage at least, I’m just not one of them. Last year I made one of those summer bucket lists for me and the kids—sure, it was on sticky notes, but at least I wrote it—and guess how many items we checked off?

Zero.

I love a good list, but you know what I loathe? Not accomplishing anything on a list I made for myself.

So this year, there were no lists, no plans, no expectations. And summer has gone a lot more smoothly  than I thought it would, until two weeks ago, when all the together time started getting to the three of us—the 2-year-old, the 8-year-old, and me.

Overnight, they were done with summer, and I was done with summer. My darling angel children were now kicking, picking, and yelling at each other. All that unscheduled time was starting to make me feel twitchy and prone to yelling too, and all of a sudden, heading back to school sounded like the Best Idea Ever.

It’s been like waiting for Christmas ever since. HOW MANY MORE SLEEPS? (That’s me asking, not the girls.)

It’s not the getting-the-kids-out-of-the-house part I’ve been most looking forward to—though let’s be honest, I do look forward to that. It’s the return of a schedule I can count on, and shopping for school supplies and new sneakers, and the promise of a turning season. I know it won’t cool off here in hot, hot Florida for a good long while, but I don’t care. When the school year begins, it means fall is coming soon, and fall is my favorite time of the year. Turn, turn, turn. Let’s get this show on the road.

But now I’m sitting here at the dinner table at 9:42pm thinking about tomorrow morning, when my baby—who was just born yesterday, wasn’t she?—will step into a preschool classroom for the first time. She’s been talking about it for weeks now. “I’m going to PRESCHOOL! I have friends and a TEACHER!” I know that those two days a week are going to be fun and valuable for her, and I know that God is giving me those precious hours to myself because there are words He wants me to write and goals He is pushing me toward, for my own heart and for the kingdom. But preschool feels so big.

And then tomorrow afternoon, after scooping up my toddler from her first day and kissing her smooshy little face off, I will take my other baby—wasn’t she just born yesterday, too?—to meet her 3rd grade teacher. Third grade. Third grade. 

My mind is just one big pile of clichés about kids growing up too fast and savoring the moment and days being long but years being short. When more seasoned parents say those things to me, I roll my eyes. Yes, I know, I know.

But I’ve been weepy for days and just realized why. It’s because Christmas is almost here—we’re down to just hours away—and maybe I’m not quite as ready as I thought. What if they’re not ready? Have I prepared my daughters well for the next season? Cue the tears again.

Where else to go but to my knees?

God, hold their sweet, soft hands as they step into the new and different.

Make their hearts tender and sensitive to the feelings of others—both their peers and their teachers.

Remind them of Your Word, tucked safely in their hearts.

Give them eyes to see the child who needs a friend.

Make them bold enough to be that friend.

May they observe other potty trained children and take note (You know which one I’m talking about). Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of.  

Help them to make thoughtful choices.

Fill them with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Help them to give themselves grace when they make mistakes. Guide them in their I’m sorrys. May they extend grace to others and forgive freely.

Help them to be kind-hearted and to serve, even when it’s hard.

Open their minds to all that You have to teach them this year. Help them to soak up knowledge and grow in wisdom and in their love for You.

May whatever they do—from fingerpainting and building with blocks to writing book reports and performing in class plays—be done with their whole hearts.

Lord, please make them brave girls.

Make me brave, too.

What I learned in April

What I learned_ April

April went by so fast (cliché, I know, I know), yet its beginning feels so distant at this point that I’m struggling to remember—so I’m especially grateful today for my little yellow Moleskine notebook and that I had my wits about me enough to jot a few things down throughout the month. If I hadn’t, well, buh-bye memories. (Full disclosure, I spent 10 minutes looking for the notebook in order to write this post.)

So here’s April in a nutshell, short and sweet (well I tried, anyway): 

• I attended the Influence Network‘s one-day conference in Charlotte on the 9th (the first of several they’ll offer this year), and it’s tempting to just transcribe my scribbles for you here because there were so many takeaways that I found poignant during this season. (I won’t, though.) The kicker for me was this: Want to invite people into your life? Share your story. I listened to women talk bravely and honestly all day long, some through nervous laughter, some through tears. And I was completely ashamed of myself when I realized I had made judgment calls about several of them before walking in the door that day—solely based on their appearances and social media presence—and I had been so, so wrong. These were real women who had walked (or were still walking) through times of real pain and real struggle. I had no idea. Their faith was astounding. I was blown away by their testimonies and honored that they were willing to invite a room full of strangers into their stories.

There’s a lot more there, but this isn’t supposed to be one of those posts, so I’ll leave it for now.

Hamilton. I’m talking about the Broadway musical. (Yes, I was just introduced this month. Yes, maybe I do live under a rock.) Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? 

• Ready for another cliché? I blinked, and all of a sudden my tiny newborn baby turned 2. Didn’t we just bring her home from the hospital last week? When did she go from this:

10293562_10154158508470324_2110380520204866727_oto this?

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Sigh.

Even journalism majors need to work on their writing skills. I’ve been taking Ann Swindell’s online course, Writing With Grace, and while it was humbling to acknowledge my need for a creative writing refresher, her course has turned out to be an incredible encouragement to me on this little journey. We’re a little over halfway through the six weeks, but I’m already willing to say I highly recommend it. There’s always room for improvement, and there’s always something new to be learned—not to mention the publishing field is ever-changing, and it’s been about, oh, 13 years since I’ve taken a writing class. Yeah, I was overdue. Onward!

• Finally, this month being brave looked like:

not pretending I like something just because it’s popular. Doesn’t that sound silly? But certain books, music, movies, blogs, podcasts, whatever—it’s hard for me to say, “Actually, I didn’t really enjoy that” when someone (especially someone I admire) is raving about it.

answering the question, “So, are you going to have any more kids?” with all the back story you could ever want. It was probably the most challenging post I’ve written to date, but God’s nudging on this one was not to be ignored. I was moved by the many responses I received, and it was affirmation, once again: When God tells you to share your story, share it. You need to tell it, and someone out there needs to hear it.

Until next month…


Check out what others learned in April here, and join in! 

Miss the March edition of What I Learned? You can find it here.