I failed the Write 31 Days challenge.

Write 31 Days month has come to an end. (Actually, it ended yesterday, but instead of writing I went grocery shopping alone.) Is it okay that I’m relieved? I scrolled through to count—surely I hit at least 20 out of 31 days—and realized that I only published 15 posts this month. This one is number 16. I shared the number with my husband in an admission of defeat, and his response, “So? Who cares?” made me laugh. No doubt God knew I needed someone like Dan to do life with. He’s been doing a 31-day challenge too, by the way—#inktober on Instagram, with a drawing a day. Maybe next year I’ll do that one instead; it seems less painful.

The old me and the new me are doing battle over whether 16 out of 31 is failure. Math says yes; old me says yes. But I’ll venture that there’s been much more to this practice than just the discipline of writing (or attempting to write) every day for 31 days. It was no coincidence that Lindsey mentioned the challenge to me or encouraged me to join in. This topic was no random thought that popped into my head. No, this one had Holy Spirit written all over it.

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My writing process is a combination of unearthing memories, ripping off band-aids, living those dreams where I’m standing in front of a crowd and realize I’m only half-dressed, having ideas come to me in the shower, trying to recall scripture from memory, being the last mom to pick up her kids from school because I just have to finish this thought!, crying, and hearing—no, seeing—God speak to me as my fingers move across the keyboard.

It’s not the prettiest thing. In fact, it’s messy and mentally and emotionally draining. So today, on November 1st, I feel wrung out, even though it’s “only” post number 16. But I also feel fuller and freer than I did at the beginning of the month. And wasn’t that the point of it all? I’m beginning to grasp my mission. I’m thinking more deeply about the choices I make each day. I’m seeing more clearly what kingdom-living can look like, and how I can be free to live it.

New me is here to say that 16 out of 31 is not failure. 

***

My church has been in a series on the book of Daniel for several weeks now (if you’re living in fear during this election season, go read it), and though we’re on chapter 9, there’s a verse in chapter 1 that keeps coming back to me. It says that while King Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the young men he selected were to eat only what he ate and drank, “Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank” (verse 8).

He resolved. But it wasn’t about striving or earning. He just knew what God wanted him to do, so he did it. That’s what I call fierce determination. A done deal. No discussion, no pros and cons list, no “But what will people think?”, no hemming and hawing.

As someone who tends to run on the indecisive side, I find Daniel and his resolve inspiring. So coming out of this writing challenge and in light of all that the process has taught me about God and about myself, I’m resolving to do some things, too. I initially included them here in this post, but I’ve decided to keep them private. They all involve having and showing more trust, faith, humility, grace, and love—a heart shift that I want to be the motivation behind my actions.

I don’t feel like this is the end of examining the intersection of grace, freedom, and the rules, so don’t be surprised if I circle back around to these ideas again. But for now, I’ll close out October with a renewed love for the One who offers me grace upon grace and shows me what it means to be free.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Finding freedom from my device

While we were away last weekend, in an effort to avoid overage charges on our data plan (spoiler alert, we went over anyway), I turned off all notifications from apps on my phone. No Instagram banners, no red buttons to tell me I had 64 unread emails, no bzz bzz from Facebook Messenger.

This crazy, unexpected thing happened.

My phone got boring.

Without the screen lighting up to tell me someone was interacting with me on the internet (true or not true? hmm) and no banner begging me to swipe right and open that app, it just went dormant and lost a bit of its appeal.

It was then I became aware—and a little ashamed—of how frequently I had been absentmindedly swiping apps open and beginning to scroll.

See, I like a clean surface on my phone. I have trouble ignoring alerts, texts, and banners because I know the clutter is just sitting there, waiting to be cleared off. I just need them to be off my screen. 

But I hadn’t realized that the result of this madness was that I’d unwittingly trained myself to respond to the dang thing lighting up. Light! Swipe! Scroll! Like! And then 45 minutes later…

I guess Pavlov was onto something.

Full disclosure, I didn’t stop using it altogether. I confess, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from posting the Instagram gold that is fall leaves and cute kids. But gosh, it was such a simple change to just turn the junk off and enjoy the silence. And what was I missing out on by not getting my eyeballs onto every new status, share, tweet, photo?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But if I’d been more interested in checking out what was happening elsewhere via the device in my hand than engaging with my people and my surroundings right then and there? I’d have missed everything that mattered—watching my beautiful children experience a piece of God’s creation, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, the colorful canopies of trees, the sweet smell of mountain air, the feeling of chill through my jacket from fall breezes, meaningful conversations with my husband.

Everything. 

***

This other thing happened, too, while notifications were off—secondary but worth mentioning: My mind seemed to clear. I felt more on top of things. More organized, less forgetful. More conversational, less likely to trail off mid-sentence.

I’ve blamed my increased level of scatterbrained-ness over the last few years on bringing children into the world, but now I’m wondering if I should have been pointing the finger at myself, phone in hand, instead of at my darling daughters.

Has research been done on this? Probably. There’s something there, I am sure of it.

***

It’s easy to argue with myself about whether I need the notifications. I help manage a couple of social media accounts—my husband’s business pages and those for The Drafting Desk—so having alerts turned off gives me a small amount of worry. What if a potential customer asks a question? What if a follower leaves a heartfelt comment that beckons a response? What if a spammer leaves a comment that needs to be deleted? 

So then I have to ask myself: Is this people-pleasing rearing its ugly head again? Or is everything going to be okay if I take care of it within 24 hours instead of within 24 seconds? What matters, and what doesn’t?

I think I already know the answer.

And for now, the alerts are staying off.

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***

As a little bonus, here are some other tried and true methods for finding freedom from your device:

Leaving it within reach of your 2-year-old.

Leaving it within reach of your 8-year-old.

Getting carsick in the passenger seat.

Allowing it to fall between couch cushions.

Setting it down in the 2-year-old’s room and then putting her down for a nap. (Risking naptime disruption is not worth it.)

Leaving it in the car. (You can’t go retrieve it because opening and closing the front door might wake up the 2-year-old. See above.)

Forgetting to charge it.

Receiving a warning text from your provider that you only have 10% of your data for the month left when there are still 12 days until the next billing period starts.

See? It’s easy. Here’s to freedom.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

 

 

The gift of starting over

I haven’t been the best 31-day writer, it would appear. But as this series has been an experiment in looking at grace, freedom, and the rules, it seems fitting that in the process, I broke the rules I set for myself about how this whole thing would go. I opted to leave the laptop behind when we went on a trip to North Georgia last weekend—and you can ask my ever-so-patient husband about how much I toggled back and forth over what to do about this writing challenge. In the end, I was grateful to be as free as I chose to be from my screen and the internet for those few days.

I know that no one was looking for an explanation as to why writing for 31 days straight is beginning to look more like writing for 20ish days here and there, and perhaps it’s a bit of my people-pleasing side that I felt the need to share this with you. But there it is, and I’m letting it go.

***

So I’m home now, sorting through the 500 photos I took on our trip (that’s not an exaggeration, it’s a real number), and reflecting. This is one of our favorite spots:

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On last year’s visit, we only encountered one other couple, who offered to take what would end up being one of my favorite family photos. This place was quiet and peaceful, secluded. How wondrous to stand in front of something so beautiful and grand, and to be the only ones there. It felt like our secret. We made a note to ourselves that this would be a place we’d return in the future.

This year, we encountered a few other groups of visitors. They seemed as disappointed to see us in “their” spot as we felt seeing them in “our” spot.

No one offered to take our photo.

One woman complained repeatedly about the low water levels, as though the waterfall’s beauty was ruined.

As we tried to take a photo of ourselves, my 2-year-old’s feet slipped out from under her and she bonked her head and immediately erupted in sobs.

My camera wasn’t working right. (Or maybe it was user error.)

I got completely spooked by a gigantic black dog that came bounding up the trail ahead of its owners. (I thought it was a bear.)

I began to feel like I was coming untethered, the all-too-familiar experience of grand expectations slipping from my hands.

I had a choice to make, right then and there. I could have given a big, loud sigh and whined, “Forget it! Everything is ruined!”—and believe me, I was close to that point. My husband knew I was there, too. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You don’t need to take it that far.”

He was right.

Gratitude is a perspective-changer when my expectations don’t line up with reality.

So I called out to God in my heart and asked for peace and perspective (and gave my still-teary daughter a pack of fruit snacks, the cure-all), and the downward spiral that had begun came to a halt. I gave myself a minute to breathe, look around, see where I was and who I was with, appreciate it in all of its perfect imperfection, and pull myself back from the steep ledge of “This is not going the way I imagined it would go.” 

God shows me so much grace in those moments—through opening my eyes to everything I’m missing when I’m selfishly wrapped up in my own feelings of disappointment, and through the endless patience (and often, forgiveness) of my husband and children.

Grace hears us say, “Scratch that! Help! I’m ruining everything, and I need a do-over!” and responds without hesitation, “You got it. Fresh start happening in 3, 2, 1.”

I was given the gift of starting over, right there in the middle of the day. And it wound up being my favorite day of our entire trip—perfectly imperfect.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Dancing alone

I was chatting with a friend recently about how perfectionism looks different for different people. For example, she calls herself a perfectionist, but one who doesn’t care about what other people think of her. People-pleasing isn’t a struggle for her like it can sometimes be for me.

Perfectionism manifests itself in a million little ways. When my friend and fellow writer Lindsey asked me back in the spring if I might be interested in starting an email newsletter with her on this very topic, my first thought was, But I’m not a perfectionist. She mentioned that my blog posts tended to carry a lot of perfectionist themes, just like hers did. I went back to do some re-reading, and let’s just say you can fast-forward from there to last month, when we launched The Drafting Desk. In our first issue, I wrote:

“It’s not a trait I think any of us want to claim—I sure didn’t. But then I took a deep breath and decided to dig a little deeper. I thought about how I have historically made my parents, sisters, roommates, and eventually my husband and children (whoever has had the pleasure of living with me) late because I had to change my outfit one more time. How in college, I rerouted my career path because a couple of professors gave me Bs. How I’ve spent nights lying awake, reliving conversations from earlier in the day, panicked that I said the wrong thing or might have been misunderstood. How I still get so stuck on the fact that I am not the best that my first inclination is to give up on the very thing God has called me to do.” 

My husband and I took the girls to a bluegrass festival at a state park not too long ago. The crowd was kind of sparse, most of the attendees camped out in lawn chairs, legs kicked out in front of them, nodding their heads to the sounds of banjos and mandolins and sampling fried dough from the food truck parked in back (ohhhh, fried dough). We followed suit, and sat.

img_7520My eyes immediately landed on one woman toward the front of the crowd. She was standing, swaying, and clapping her hands. My family looked at each other and giggled. This woman was in her own world, and clearly she loved the music and was having the time of her life. It didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest that not one other person around or behind her was standing. She stood alone, danced alone.

I laughed, but honest? I envy people like that—like my friend, too. They don’t care who’s watching; they’re just doing their thing. Meanwhile, you can hardly get me to dance at a wedding reception. I’ve always been so afraid of looking ridiculous, even when there are 50 other people on the dance floor looking just as ridiculous. It’s one of those sneaky ways perfectionism shows up in my life, even though until recently I’d never labeled it as such.

I scrolled by this Anne Lamott quote (from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life) on Facebook today:

“… what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” 

I think I’m inching toward a place in my life where this stuff—the worrying over what others think and whether everything is just so—matters less and less. I’m seeing what a waste it is to not participate, to not try something new because I’m afraid of failure or of how others might perceive me. Wise women have told me that this happens as you get older.

It could have something to do with my age or resolve, but I think it has more to do with getting to know Jesus better.

Admittedly, the self-consciousness lingers, in some situations more than others. But I’m finding that the more I hand my days over to Jesus, the more I abide with him and trust him, the less I’m concerned with anyone’s opinion but his.

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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Forgetting t-shirt day

When you forget to check the planner on a Monday morning, something is bound to get overlooked.

This morning, 2-year-old on my hip, tiny backpack and lunchbox in hand, I strode across the preschool parking lot, through the gate, and around the corner, and we peeked through her classroom window. It’s easier to say good-bye when she knows there are other kids in there already having fun. In my sing-songiest voice I said, “Oooh, I see lots of friends to play w—” Oh NO. They’re all in their blue school t-shirts. Every one of them. 

Today was t-shirt day. I knew that. I wrote it down a couple of weeks ago. In my planner. Which is still open to the Saturday/Sunday page.

I felt awful. I know—she’s only 2. It’s not the end of the world if she’s the only kid in there wearing a green dress in a sea of blue, and to be honest I’m not sure it registered in her mind that she was dressed differently than everyone else. But it was pizza day, too. And I’d made her lunch. No pizza and no shirt like the rest of her class.

I’m the mom who forgets about these things sometimes.

But I’m also the mom who drives back home, digs the t-shirt out of the hamper, sprays it with Downy, pops it in the dryer for 3 minutes, and then drives it back to school.

Yes, yes I did.

The preschool director poked her head out of her office and walked out to greet me, asking if there was something she could help with. I held up the shirt. “It’s t-shirt day. I forgot.”

She smiled and tilted her head, taking in all of my frazzled-ness. And then she walked over and hugged me, a genuine, comforting hug, no hesitation. “We moms know how to feel the guilt, don’t we?” she said.

I nodded. A couple of other moms waiting by the front desk laughed. They knew it was true. The director took the shirt and said my daughter’s class was on the playground and that she’d run it out there for me.

She was right about the guilt. I felt terrible—all over something as ridiculous as a forgotten t-shirt that my 2-year-old would not have remembered come tomorrow. Or even come this afternoon, most likely. She changes her clothes 12 times a day.

It bothered me a whole lot more than it bothered her (which was not at all). Kind of silly, right?

My point today—and I’ll make it quick—isn’t about letting things go, or not being too hard on ourselves, or how we all make mistakes. I say those things a lot here (for good reason).

All I want to say today is: Be the one to open your arms and offer a hug to someone who feels like a mess. 

Just hug ’em.

It’ll turn their day around.

Turning planner to Monday now…

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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Autumn & grace

Florida isn’t really known for its changing seasons.

Quite the opposite, it’s the haven people from other parts of the country rely on for its consistently warm weather, booking south-bound flights when winter gets to be a little too much, lasts a little too long. I’m looking at you, New Englanders. That first winter’s snow sweeps you up in its romance, but a March blizzard is enough to make anyone cry uncle and run for the sunshine.

Some of the leaves here in Central Florida, where I was born and have lived most of my life, change color and fall to the ground—in January. The temperature at some point in September or October drops from a stifling 98 degrees to a more tolerable but still unsatisfactory 86 degrees.

Around this time, I, along with the rest of the female population of this region, go ahead and order pumpkin spice lattes and throw on scarves and boots anyway.

I beg the season to change, knowing the weather won’t likely cooperate. Soon my husband, two girls and I will head to Georgia for a weekend so that we can experience, however briefly, the feeling of leaves crunching beneath boots and the way the brilliant palette of oranges, yellows, and reds overwhelms our senses. My eyes just can’t soak in enough color, and I never can seem to preserve it to my satisfaction with the camera.

It’s usually enough to tide me over until November, when I start aching for what comes next. I won’t witness it where I live, but I know it will happen (and I can live vicariously through my northern friends’ and relatives’ Instagram feeds): Dropping temperatures. Crispy leaves drifting to the ground, leaving naked trees behind. The first winter’s snow, turning the world white and pristine. A fresh palette. Knowing that beneath the cold earth, new life is brewing, miracles that will burst forth come spring, as sure as the sun rises and sets.

It is just one of God’s countless promises fulfilled. It’s grace.

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
—Genesis 8:22

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Here in the Sunshine State, the changing of seasons tends to be subtle, less dramatic, easy to overlook—some might say nonexistent. But our souls, regardless of what’s happening in the physical world around us, recognize something deeper happening as we move further into autumn. Our hearts are tuned to crave the falling and sweeping away of what was and to turn expectantly toward what is ahead.

Gathering. Advent. Hope.

Fall is my favorite season, bringing with it new rhythms, school supplies, my birthday, cooler, drier air (eventually), holidays and festivities. But I know that for many, this movement toward the end of the year is unwelcome for a number of reasons—added stress, tumultuous family relationships, the deep ache of missing a loved one.

I believe God designed our hearts, ever so intentionally, to seek and to turn toward him, expectant and believing that whatever comes our way in the next season of life, his promises are good and true. So whatever the circumstances, I want to orient my heart toward Christ and choose to place my hope in the One who created the seasons to change—not only by the spinning of this earth on its axis, but within us.

Because I know that he remains ever faithful and steadfast, even as the seasons carry on with their turning.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
—Hebrews 10:23

Fall is close, I can feel it in the air—even if that air is a little on the warm and humid side.

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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Worrying over words

I’m an overthinker, I think.

In the past I’ve overanalyzed some of the most innocuous conversations—not what the other person said, but what I said (or didn’t say). I touched on it a bit here a year and a half ago.

What if they thought I meant this but I really meant that other thing? What if I unknowingly offended them? What if I, however unintentionally, hurt their feelings?

I do my best to put myself in other people’s shoes, consider situations from perspectives different from my own. Most of the time, this is a good thing. It helps me to hold my tongue in situations when I might be tempted to spout opinions that could potentially be hurtful or damaging, and (I hope) enables me to be a little more gracious to the people around me.

Other times, I get so wrapped up in the what if this, what if that, that I completely freeze. Use words, Rebekah. Speak! **crickets**

***

You know all those “Things to never say to (fill in the blank)” articles on the internet these days? Those articles (I’m being generous calling them articles) make me feel crazy. Never, ever, ever say any of these 4 or 8 or 19 things to a new mom / a mom with a lot of kids / a mom of an only child / a pregnant woman / a single person / an extrovert / an introvert / a man / a woman / I could keep adding to this list for a while. There are loads of them. Type “what not to say to” into the Google search bar, and watch the list populate.

How in the world am I supposed to keep up with all of these rules so as to never accidentally offend someone? I’m already cautious with my words, but lists like that leave me feeling chained and silenced. Can someone tell me what exactly I am allowed to say or ask?

***

Several years ago, I ran into a then-acquaintance (now a friend) in the preschool parking lot. I was on my way to work after dropping off my daughter, and she was headed back home to her other kids after dropping off her son. I was wearing a button-down shirt, neat pencil skirt, and ballet flats. She was wearing exercise clothes. And when we stopped to chat for a minute and she complimented my attire, I said, “Oh, thanks!” and shrugged. And then I looked at what she was wearing and said, “I wish I could be home in my gym clothes right now.”

What it sounded like (insulting? condescending? jealous?) wasn’t what I intended at all. She just looked so comfy and chill, and I felt like a stressed-out preschool mom who was late for work—and she knew that. I, on the other hand, got back into my car, face aflame, and rested my forehead on the steering wheel. WHAT did I just say? Did I just imply that I think she has a cushy gig as a stay-at-home mom, sitting around in yoga pants and drinking coffee while I have to slog off to the office? I immediately began drafting an apology note in Facebook Messenger to clear things up, ’cause that’s what I do.

Turned out she hadn’t been offended in the slightest. She laughed and waved off the whole thing. She got it. Thank God for people who understand that we are all human.

***

I met a new(ish) friend for dinner the other night. As I drove to the restaurant, I wondered if it would be a quiet meal. Two introverts trying to get to know each other can be interesting sometimes.

My thoughts were way off base. Our meal wasn’t quiet at all. Three hours and two glasses of Pepsi each later, we only decided to wrap it up because we figured our husbands might be wondering what happened to us. We shared stories, asked questions, admitted our flaws, talked about some hard things, and laughed a lot. I went home feeling filled up and encouraged instead of drained.

And I didn’t mentally critique my end of the conversation later, like I sometimes do.

I’m trying to pin down what made it different. The game changer, I think, was honesty. I was able to speak freely and openly right off the bat because she started the conversation that way. No pretense, no pretending. And that made me feel safe to do the same. We both dove in.

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Honesty starts a chain reaction. You open up to me, I open up to you; I open up to someone else, they feel encouraged to do the same. The process reaffirms faith, reveals bits of God’s bigger story, and builds authentic community.

***

People who understand and offer grace when what’s in my head comes out of my mouth all wrong? They set me free. Honest, real-life conversations set me free. Wouldn’t it be great if we did less list-writing and had more of those instead?


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.}