Letting change change me

I wrote the essay below for the May 20, 2017 issue of The Drafting Desk, a monthly collaboration with my friend Lindsey. Click here to learn more!


It’s hot enough here in Central Florida that my kids have already been in their grandparents’ pool twice (though the water is still too cold for Mom).

In an effort to get a jump start on things this year, I went ahead and signed up my 3-year-old for refresher swim lessons. At 4pm every weekday for the last three weeks, I’ve sat next to the pool and observed as the skills came back to her—kicking, paddling, holding her breath, rolling onto her back to float—like riding a bike. She loves the water, and I love watching her and chatting with her swim instructor for those 10 minutes every afternoon.

But then, just like that, she was dubbed swim-ready and we were finished. On the last day, we said goodbye to the instructor and I choked back tears.

Tears. Over the end of swim lessons.

What is wrong with me?

We’re standing at the edge of a season when so many things wrap up—end-of-the-school-year concerts, dance recitals, class parties, thank-you notes, teacher gifts, goodbyes to friends and other parents and teachers I’ve come to adore. I dread all of it. It reminds me that my children are growing, moving up, moving on (and often that means I have to move on with them). At 8 and 3, at least they’re not moving out—but I know it’s only a matter of time before that happens, too.

Oh gosh. Hold on while I look for the Kleenex.

It would appear I don’t cope well with change—but then, I already knew that.

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Continue reading “Letting change change me”

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 “One little word”

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

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.

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.

 

What I learned {the summer edition}

What I learned_ summer 2016

There are still three weeks of summer left, if we’re getting technical about it, but my kids have been back in school for two weeks already and I’m itching for the next season. So, here we go!

I should never, ever post a photo online of the stack of books I’m planning to read in three months. It’s just embarrassing. There were seven books in my stack, one of which I’d already read most of and so will not count here (Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler).

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Seven books didn’t seem like a totally outrageous goal. But here’s what I actually finished: 

1. Stacey Thacker’s new book, Fresh Out of Amazing, which I had the pleasure of getting my hands on early as part of her book launch team. It was wonderful. Stacey’s stories are so clearly God-written, and I kept forgetting I’ve never met her in person—the more I read, the more I thought of her as a friend and a mentor. Her words are those of the girlfriend you sit and chat with over coffee at Panera, and I appreciate that kind of writing.

2. Three-fourths of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography. Fine, one-half.

That’s it. No, really. I blame Netflix and my children.

Before helping your child say buh-bye to the pacifier, be sure you are prepared with chocolate. And earplugs. One day in July, I decided I was tired of chasing down my 2-year-old’s pacifiers. So I did something rash I never would have gotten away with when her big sis was little: I walked around the house with a pair of scissors and cut the end off every paci I could find. (Pure evil, I know. I know.) The look on her sweet face when she tried to put them in her mouth! She declared them all “broking” and threw them in the garbage, and I thought, Hurrah! I’ve won! I’m a genius!

And that moment was followed by the worst three days we had all summer.

This is why I’m not spontaneous.

Building websites is fun. My friend Lindsey and I launched a new monthly email newsletter just last week, and I had the best time pulling together the website (really!). We used Squarespace, which I was already familiar with and is pretty easy to use—I’m no master coder or anything. But there was something incredibly satisfying about working on it—the challenges, formatting, troubleshooting, coming up with work-arounds when Squarespace wouldn’t let me do what I had in mind. Nerd alert!

TheDraftingDesk_promo1PS: Go subscribe to The Drafting Desk!

It was harder than I expected to send both my girls off to school this year

IMG_7094_blogThere are coyotes in Florida. Silly me for not knowing this, right? I’d heard about local spottings via my neighborhood board, but the only coyotes I’d ever seen myself were on Wild Kratts, and this one:

wile_e_coyote(Doesn’t count.) Until last weekend, when this one showed up in my backyard. IMG_9389

So, who wants to send their kids over to play now?

On a solemn note, I won’t be able to recall the summer of 2016 in future years without acknowledging the Pulse shooting. I’m still struggling to fully wrap my mind around the devastation that occured less than three miles from the house I grew up in. We witnessed something incredible in the aftermath of the horror though. I watched (as did my little girls) an entire community come together, uniting in prayer, hugging total strangers, and giving—giving so much. My 8-year-old and I scrambled around our house to find notepads, pens, snacks, and little gifts for those stuck waiting at local hospitals for their wounded loved ones, and together we delivered them to a local church. She and I sat and wrote notes to encourage people we will never meet. And I learned that though my children won’t fully understand the tragedy or significance of that day for years to come, our response mattered. Our prayers mattered. More tragedy was to come in the weeks that followed, here in our country and around the world. I believe God continues to sing comfort and love over those still wrapped in grief.

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I felt a cool breeze over the weekend, and the meteorologist might say it’s the result of tropical weather, but I’m calling it hope. Fall is coming, everyone. Hang in there.


I missed Emily Freeman’s link-up this time around, but if you want to check out my past editions of What I Learned, you can find them here

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.

Quiet

Less talking, more listening.

Less writing, more studying.

Less noise, more quiet.


I’ve been working on the discipline of journaling. I have volume upon volume of journal pages filled during my high school and college years stacked in a closet, but somewhere in adulthood, between stepping into the working world and then stepping back out again (and in again, and out again), I stopped taking pen to paper.

Lately I’ve felt pressed with the need to take up the practice again, so I picked up a spiral-bound notebook and one of the pens my husband—who knows my fondness for office supplies—had stuffed into my Christmas stocking, and over the last few weeks have been scribbling away.

Sometimes I copy scripture, or a quote from the book I’m reading. This has gradually turned into writing down my own prayers, but most recently, I was surprised to find myself no longer writing to God, but seeing that the words in my notebook were those of Him speaking to me.

And He kept telling me to just hush.

When you’re trying to step into a calling as a writer, as a storyteller? Well, that’s not exactly what you want to hear from the One who, after all, did the calling.

I’ve been fighting the silence, evidenced by the handful of drafts sitting open on my screen. But nothing has come together, nothing has made my heart pound the way it only does when something right and good is in the works… so drafts they shall remain for now.

What I will share, though (because my heart is pounding as I type this), are those sentences from my journal where the pen scratch shifted away from my own ramblings and moved toward something that mattered more—His promises to my confused heart.

So, if you find any comfort or encouragement in these words, then they are for you as well:

Quiet. Hush. Be still.

Hold on to Me and to no one else.

Rest in Me and in nothing else.

Find your worth and value at the foot of the cross—not in friendships or appearances or invitations or accolades—in Me and Me alone.

You are who I say you are. You are the woman I created for such a time as this.

Follow Me, and Me alone.