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”

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.

What I learned in September & October

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My summer break from What I Learned turned into a fall break and well, here we are. A bit of what I learned during the months of September and October:

Daniel was around 80 years old when he was thrown into the lions’ den. What?! He’s typically portrayed as youthful in all the children’s Bible illustrations I’ve seen, and I never stopped to look at the actual timeline and where this event falls in Daniel’s life. It changes the story a bit, doesn’t it? Can you imagine the scene?

There are always opportunities, even during the most mundane days, to be a light—including while grocery shopping.

• I did not succeed in writing every day for 31 days for the Write 31 Days challenge. But I did write 16 essays on grace, freedom, and the rules, and I learned something new about myself and about God’s love for us as I worked through each post. I also learned that I had more words in me than I thought I did. One of my biggest fears about participating and committing to a central theme was that I would run out of things to write. But as it happens, I barely made a dent in my list of writing prompts. I wrote a little more than 10,000 words during the challenge. And there are more tumbling around in my head—so I’ll be returning to this topic down the road.

Stranger Things is so good. My husband originally watched the Netflix series on his own and determined I wouldn’t like it. (I’m prone to nightmares and waking up in the middle of the night convinced there’s a dinosaur in my bathroom, so I didn’t blame him.) But I decided to be brave (or maybe just succumb to peer pressure) and watched it over a series of Monday nights with him, my sister, and her boyfriend—and surprise! I loved it. I didn’t want it to end! And bonus—no nightmares.

I can get carsick from the front seat. Yes I can, and yes I did. Constant turning around in my seat to assist kids in their snack and entertainment needs + stop-and-go traffic through Atlanta + that Chick-fil-a chocolate chunk cookie I just had to have = throwing up in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel.

My family was so gracious to me in that messy, gross moment. We were trying to get to our weekend destination in the Georgia mountains, and the drive had already felt so long. My needing to stop (and then hunt for a convenience store with Dramamine in stock) made us late for our intended arrival time, which meant walking into an unfamiliar cabin in the woods with our children, in the dark, while our host casually chatted about bear sightings and house fires. (My 8-year-old immediately asked to go back home.) I felt guilty for all of it.

The kindness of my husband and girls was reflective of God’s compassion—and made me aware of how often I receive that compassion, only to turn around and act harshly with others. Would I have been so gracious and patient if one of my kids or my husband had been the one losing their lunch? I hope I would have. I certainly will be in the future.

Speaking of compassion… I can’t get through this list without mentioning what I’ve learned through this election cycle, so I’ll share just a few things (no political commentary here, so you can keep reading in peace):

Seeing photos of the candidates as children reminds me of their humanity and that God created them and loves them. The idea came from this guide, which helped me to shift my thinking about them.

These words from Beth Moore.

• I’ve learned that platforms are much, much more complicated than they appear on the surface. Some things are just not as simple as I once naively believed. I’ve also learned that I don’t need someone to tell me who to vote for and why, because I have the Holy Spirit, the Word in front of me—the life and words of Christ!—and the ability to seek God for wisdom and discernment. He gives generously to those who ask (James 1:5).

And back to Daniel one more time… If you need a little perspective during this election season and a reminder that God is the one in control, read the book of Daniel. He made King Nebuchadnezzar go crazy, eat grass, and eventually recognize God’s authority. Nothing is impossible. When fear threatens to creep in, I need to read the Bible. I already knew that, but during this season I need to be reminded every single day.


Want to check out past editions of What I Learned? You can find them here

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.}