About the Things New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Resolve

If we took a poll, I’d guess on average 10 out of 10 people like the idea of a fresh start. At least 9 out of 10. And the start of the New Year feels like this ginormous blank sheet of paper, laid out before you and divided into 365 separate boxes (366 this year!) and the possibilities for filling those boxes are endless.

The goals pile up: fitness, rest, doing the things that you’ve dreamed of doing, saving up for something big, perhaps giving more… and everyone takes a deep breath and hopes they can stick with this thing or that thing they’re committing to, because at the end of these 366 days, something will be really different if they do.

But, for many of us, there are hard places in our lives right now and some of them won’t be solved with New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes it’s a diagnosis we’re facing. Sometimes it’s wanting to be at home with the kids but the finances won’t allow it. Sometimes it’s wanting to be out and working and you just can’t find anyone to say yes. Sometimes getting married and having kids seems like a dream that will never become a reality.

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For different reasons, it can feel like someone else is holding the reins to your one very precious life — and you just hope and pray and trust that they realize how significant the impact their action or inaction will be for you.

So what do you do when there’s a place in your life that a good ol’ resolution won’t resolve?

How do you move forward when you feel like something or someone is holding the hands on your clock to keep it from ticking on?

Perhaps there are a million different ways to handle being stuck in a Valley of Postponement but I’d like to narrow it down to three simple encouragements for somehow moving forward even when you’re sitting still.

Do What You Can Do

Maybe you can’t make a resolution to change this tough thing you’re waiting to change. As the famous old prayer goes, “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Never forget to take a step back and look at what you can do to make a difference in your situation. Maybe you’re hoping for a promotion in the workplace, and that decision firmly rests in someone else’s hands. But are you putting in the effort, aiming to add the value that will earn you that promotion? Are you actively searching for that opportunity you’re hoping for? Rolling up your sleeves to do your part?

When facing challenging situations in the past, in addition to praying and doing my best to listen for that still small voice, I’ve occasionally asked myself a question that almost seems imbecilic: If one of my friends came to me with this problem of mine, what would I tell my friend to do in this situation? And then, I’ve been surprised at how quickly the obvious answer has come, and I’ve laughed at how complicated I’ve made it.

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Be truthful with yourself. Are you listening to the leading of the Lord and giving yourself the best advice, or is a defeatist attitude enabling you to sit back and say “This problem of mine is 100% in somebody else’s hands”?

Put briefly: Pray, AND, Do What You Can Do.

Look For What God Might Be Doing

Once upon a time I was on a beach in South Africa, off for a peaceful walk by myself, puzzled over a worrying whisper of the enemy that had been troubling my heart for a few days. I stared down at the sand as I walked, and suddenly noticed a section of sand that looked like sand but somehow also looked different. I reached down and realized it was a little rock, lying on the sand, perfectly colored and speckled to look just like the coarse and speckled sand that covered that distant shore.

As I held it in my hand and thought for a moment, I heard the Lord whisper, “Just because you can’t see what I’m doing, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something there. It doesn’t mean I’m not at work. I am at work, even though you might not see it.” I’d almost missed that little rock that looked the same as everything around it — but there was something there, a tangible something, indeed.

Have you ever heard The Message version of those simple words from Jesus about not worrying? This shed a whole new light on the idea of trusting and taking it one day at a time for me.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” {Matthew 6:34, the Message}

Remember that change is still happening, God is still moving, even when you can’t see it or quantify the difference. Today, you are closer to the day when change happens, even if nothing in your life says so, simply because you’ve lived one more day.

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Sometimes we can feel like we’re trapped in a situation, when truthfully we’re much more free than we realize. We can feel like we’re stuck in the mire, when truly, we’re on holy ground, and God is training us with our future in mind.

I worked in a Pawn Shop for a year after finishing my masters’ degree, and it seemed like a valley of postponement because I was dreaming of leaving the country to minister in another part of the world. Once I began to recognize that this was a God-ordained place where my Good Father intended to teach me something new, I started paying attention. Through the challenges, and in a place I never expected, I learned lessons incredibly important for my soul that became very precious to me in the season that followed.

Where we are at this very moment is often much more God-ordained than we’d like to believe.

So. You feel like you’re taking a look at the part your can play in the situation, but maybe you haven’t spotted a speckled rock on the shore of your challenges at the moment. Still, in this hard place, you can choose to keep looking, and even to trust that things are happening that you can’t see.

This is a good day for you to look for what God is doing today.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so I’m going to hit the pause button and return with a second installment and one more encouragement for how to move forward in places where a New Year’s Resolution just can’t resolve what’s happening for you. I hope you’re encouraged, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Look out for part two tomorrow!

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If You Need to Be Reminded That This, Too, Is A Season

Outside the window, it seems like yesterday, November’s naked branches were arching up toward the sky like arthritic fingers. I delighted in those dogwood flowers when they showed off their dazzling pink hues this spring, and smiled at the verdant life and color of the bright green leaves that shaded the grass beneath all summer. Fall came along and those leaves quickly dried and darkened, and quick as a flash, December arrived, trees gnarled and naked again.

I look forward to life coming to those branches once more, to looking out the window and smiling as the trees seem to blush like half a dozen bridesmaids scattered about our lawn in coordinating shades of pink.

There’s a bit of time that needs passing before we get there.

December. For some folks, it’s the most wonderful time of year. These are the days they count down toward, look forward to. You know the ones — the folks who have an extra sparkle in their eyes as October draws to a close. The first to get the tree up, the last to take it down.

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For others, this is the most depressing season of all — the season that brings reminders of days that seemed warmer and brighter and happier in some distant past. Folks thinking of faces that won’t be gathering around the table this year. Traditions that feel broken because that certain someone’s not around to make them happen.

Nearly three years ago I spent a week wandering in and out of a hospital room where my Dad lay barely breathing. The days stretched long with spritzes of hand sanitizer and transitions to the lobby to nurse a three-month-old, more hand sanitizer and transitions to a room to stare at one of the most important people in my 30-some years of life as he lay dying. I ran into a precious old friend whose Dad had a heart attack the same day, was lying in a bed one floor up. We marveled that we were experiencing the same sufferings.

A few days later her Dad was home, healthy and recovering.

A few days later, my eldest son, just four, was laying my bright yellow tulip on the casket for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I watched that friend of mine’s Dad dance at her wedding last year. He’s a kind-hearted and gentle, good man. I was happy to see him again just a few weeks ago. I’m thankful her story was different.

Mine was a season for grieving, hers was a season for gratitude.

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Swinging by the tree

Our precious little fourth bundle of joy arrived seven weeks ago, just a few days after a friend, due two days before me, lost her precious little fourth bundle of joy.

And from far-off corners a dear old friend of mine and I chat over Skype, me introducing baby four to her eighteen-month old, and us grieving together the loss of her second baby at just ten weeks on the inside. Her voice quivers just a little in the telling of it – they don’t know if it was a boy or a girl.

But this she knows and this she says: I could feel God with me through it, and it’s amazing: I’ve never been angry.

Words don’t come easily for me, as we chat away my afternoon in North Carolina, her evening in Stuttgart.

Now is a season of grief, and now is a season of gratitude.

And Advent is the season of the coming — and, for us folks in the northern hemisphere, perhaps it’s no coincidence that this coming takes place very near the absolute shortest, darkest day of the year. The Light of the World showed up when things were at their darkest — and these days, when our world and our lives are at their darkest? They’re the days when we stop to celebrate the coming of the Light.

He arrived during a period known as the Pax Romana — a time when the Roman Empire reached its peak in terms of land area and population, and experienced about 200 years of economic prosperity and peace.

For the people benefiting from Roman rule it was a season of peace, but for those oppressed under Roman rule? Perhaps it wasn’t.

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He arrived into peace that only lasted for a season, peace that only existed for some — to bring about peace that will be everlasting. Good News of great joy for all men…

If yours is a season of comfort and joy, good tiding and life and light, be sure to share that goodness with others, for whom the season isn’t so Merry and Bright. Down the street or halfway round the world, or both — celebrate the coming of the Light by shining it wherever you can. Know that this, too, it just a season — share and love and bless and trust that when your season changes others will do the same for you.

If yours is a season where the branches feel naked and gnarled, a season that feels more like grief and less like gratitude, know that it is still exactly this: a season. And right at the start, when the floods dried up and a season of great, worldwide devastation came to an end, a promise came with it:

“While the earth remains,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
winter and summer,
and day and night,
shall not cease.” {Gen. 8:22}

God promised the seasons would keep coming, and they have. They surely have.

So whether these days feel merry and bright, or you’re feel hard-pressed and discouraged, know that, this, too, is a season, and as a good friend of mine reminded me the other day, we are a weary world, rejoicing.

If yours feels like a weary world, you can still stay in the story, you can still do some rejoicing.

The Good News to all men isn’t just that He came, it’s that He’s coming again.

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If You’re Hungry for the Presence this Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

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A few years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Last year, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

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We dove into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp and I was so, so glad we did. Starting December 1st, there is a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

It all to points to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

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I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, last year Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming.

loved getting up in the morning before the kids, sitting on the couch where I could stare at the Christmas tree shining bright in the still-dark morning, and just beginning my days thinking about how precious this season is, and why. {Whether that will be entirely possible with our new little kitty cat on the scene this year remains to be seen — but here’s trusting I’ll squeeze it in somewhere.}

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So friends, consider this an invitation from me to you to consider welcoming some new traditions into your Advent Season. I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season and I’m excited to share it with you.

I hope to be able to write and reflect on the glorious goodness of the Savior throughout the season, but I wanted to share this with you now, because there’s still time to grab a copy of one or both of these wonderful books, and allow them to bring your family into some meaningful conversation about the Presence, that might draw focus away from the presents! Don’t worry if you don’t jump in on December 1st!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

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Just so’s ya knows — This post was not sponsored by Ann Voskamp or Tyndale Publishers. I bought both books and was excited to share them with you in case you’d like to create some new traditions with your family this season. The links to Amazon are affiliate links. You might also find the books priced well at christianbook.com — we just found it cheaper with free shipping at Amazon. :)

We Have Kids Because We Have Hope {Introducing Our New Baby Girl}

I awoke at 5 am, stirred by a gentle tightening of the muscles stretched around the great balloon of a midsection that used to be my waist. Just five hours earlier, Hero Hubs had pulled into the driveway and collapsed into bed, after capturing a beautiful wedding day with his camera, over an hour away.

But that’s not where this story begins.

The day before I’d tiptoed around the house, trusting that nothing was going to happen while HH was so far away. The wedding was scheduled before we knew we’d be expecting, and it was the day after my due date. We had a sense of peace that it would be fine, all would be well, and I held on tight to that in my heart, and did my best not to be anxious.

I decided to get up and start making notes, just to keep track on my phone of the timing of the contractions. Unlike the birth of the Tank — a story better suited for Hollywood with a high-speed drive to the hospital and a birth nine minutes later, and different as well from the arrival of the Belle, when contractions started sometime after 5 in the morning and she was on the outside before 7 am, this was a peaceful increase.

I stood in the bathroom waiting to see what would happen, started putting on makeup because if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that is somehow part of my relaxing-my-way-into-giving-birth routine, and things were still and slow and peaceful. I got back in bed, from around 6 to around 7 am, and the contractions were still happening, but still more than ten minutes apart, so I’d snooze for a bit, wake up and mark the time of the contraction, and then fall asleep again.

Finally, around 7:30 the pace was beginning to pick up, and I woke a bedraggled dear Hero of a Hubs to announce that I needed a lift to the hospital, to which he replied:

“You’re joking, right?”

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They offered to wheel me up to the Labor & Delivery floor when we checked into the hospital around 8:30, but I decided it would be better for me to walk and allow labor to keep progressing. It was a pleasant thing to think about: walking in as one and walking out as two.

Just a week before I walked through those hospital doors, a precious fellow Mom who is a part of our homeschool community gave birth. Her due date was just two days before mine, and we’d been talking about who might go first, and she was also expecting a girl, to add to the three beautiful daughters she already has. The baby was stillborn. They named her Caroline Grace, and her funeral was just the day before I went into labor.

I wept when I read the news, wept again nearly every time it came to mind over the next two weeks. How do you keep going when a part of your own heart stops beating?

By 8:45, I was hooked up to a monitor, and the nurses were waiting for my next contraction to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing. Those squiggly lines on that piece of paper meant something more significant than ever before.

For as long as I can remember, the Hubs and I have had a sense that four was our number. With each child’s arrival, there was a sense of great joy and excitement, but there wasn’t yet a sense of completion.

Does the story of a life start when the parents are dreaming of her coming into being?

After twenty minutes or so of monitoring, contractions were beginning to progress, and the unanimous decision was that I should head to a delivery suite. We shuffled down the hall, and chose the same room I’d shuffled into three years ago to give birth to the Belle.

A familiar face greeted us, as the OBGYN I’d visited during both of these last two US-based pregnancies, recently transferred to a practice in another town, was back covering a weekend shift. I was happy to see her.

Just like the Belle, my water hadn’t broken, and with contractions coming steadily, she decided to break my water and see if things might speed up a little.

They did.

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Two weeks after her arrival, the tiny little stump of an umbilical cord finally came off and I sighed a deep sigh — happy that the little stump was gone because I am always so nervous about those things getting caught on something and yanked out, but sad because it was a sign of change, so soon — her need for her Mama will slowly transition from complete dependence to complete independence, perhaps me at home hoping to hear how she’s doing in some far corner of the globe if she follows in my or her Dad’s footsteps one day.

After they broke my water, the contractions gradually went from significant to intense to ohmyheavens thankyouLord thispainisforapurpose.

Unlike previous deliveries where the feeling to push was so intense I couldn’t imagine not pushing, this time the doctor suggested maybe it was time to push, and I decided maybe that was a good idea.

Today this little treasure of a girl is three weeks old, and I’m following the news about the great loss of life in Paris. I visited the City of Light when the Bear was just ten months old. We adored the sights, the ambiance, the food, and we took in all that we could on a shoestring budget with a baby in the baby carrier, strapped to Hero Hubs’ hero chest. The Bear fell asleep as we strolled through Notre Dame, my mouth consistently gaping open at the beautiful, my neck strained from so much looking up.

It’s hard to see so much darkness falling into a beloved city of light.

The dim lights in the delivery suite were shut out as I squeezed my eyes tight and pushed for all it was worth. After the suggestion about pushing, we all got ready and I, not having any pain medication coursing through my veins, took to my normal practice of hollering my way through those final moments before birth. Fortunately, there were only a couple of minutes of pushing or else I might’ve had a couple of days without a voice after her arrival. And the nurses might’ve stopped to get earplugs.

I pushed and my thoughts were with my friend who lost her precious girl. I pushed and thought about my Dad not getting to meet this last baby until we’re reunited in heaven someday. I pushed and gave thanks that this pain was for a purpose — holding onto faith instead of fear and believing a healthy baby girl would soon arrive.

She did.

They laid her in the little baby bed nearby and I saw her tiny face, and I was once again transported back to Scotland, to seeing the Bear’s little face for the first time. From the look on her face to the hairs on her head, she seemed like a beautiful little carbon copy.

I was overwhelmed this time, with hearing her cry. I know it: this isn’t always the outcome. This world is broken, and there is darkness and people are blowing themselves up and trying to take as many people out with them as possible, and babies don’t always get to see the light of day.

I wondered then, and I suppose I always will, why I am the recipient of such gifts.

Of this I am deeply aware: I am undeserving.

I mess up. I yell. I make bad choices with words. I say things that hurt other people. I choose the low road sometimes.

But there is hope. I hope to raise these four precious children to be lights in a dark world. Although I’m occasionally the one pulling out my hair, I believe in the possibility that HH and I can raise kids who will challenge convention by radically pouring out their hearts. There is evil in the world today, but there is good, too. The good is what makes life worth living.

They laid her on my chest and I could scarcely make out the word in a whisper, as if saying it too loudly might mean it wouldn’t come true: Catriana.

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Her name has roots in our beloved Scotland, a variation of the Gaelic version of Catherine, meaning pure.

Perhaps her story starts there, where her Mom and Dad met, just over a decade ago.

The truth is all of our stories have their genesis in the Creator who dreamed us into being, long before our parents’ parents’ parents’ took their first breath. He saw it all. He knew who would arrive on October 25, 2015, how much she would weigh, what plans He had for her life.

While lots of folks seem to think we’re a little crazy to want four children, I sometimes think a lot of folks are crazy not to. 

I’ve stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and marveled at the beautiful city of Paris below. My heart has swelled full at the beauty of Cape Town, from the vantage point of Table Mountain. Looking over the incredible blue-green waters off the coast of Roatan in Honduras from a little boat-plane in the sky made me feel like I’d found a slice of paradise. Walking across the stage with my second Masters’ degree at the University of Edinburgh was exhilarating.

But my hope for the world, and my hope for the next generation, are tied to this gift from the Lord that keeps on giving. These children that challenge me, show me how selfish and flawed I am, and still make me feel so precious and important.

It is exceedingly, above and beyond glorious.

Perhaps the greatest mark I’ll leave for His glory, with the days and years I’m given on Earth won’t be the folks I helped encourage toward the God who loves them, the feet I’ve washed, the things I’ve said.

I imagine it’s quite likely that the greatest mark HH and I will leave for the glory of God will be the legacy of raising children who unashamedly love God and want to make this world a brighter and more beautiful place for His glory.

The calling of the church is to be the true City of Light — the city on a hill that loves so pure, so deep and so selflessly that the world can’t help but see, and say Jesus.

Catriana Claire Collie is here. A gift that weighed exactly 8 pounds and 15.6 ounces. We rejoice as undeserving recipients. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.” Her peaceful arrival, her joining our family — it is truly a taste of grace.

We have kids because we have hope.

We welcome this precious girl with hopes that the world will be just a little better each day, because she is a part of it.

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–With Prayers for Paris and for the Fellers

 

Why We Need To Remember Everybody’s Junk

I shuffled past the living room this morning with a basket of laundry on my hip and an empty coffee cup in my hand, on a mission to make laundry happen while all the Collie boys are out of the house capturing weddings or cheering for Pirates, when I was stopped dead in my tracks. My sweet little nearly-three-year-old was on the couch in the living room watching an episode of Diego, and the expression on her face was just about the saddest look I’ve ever seen on that little face, aside from her actually full-out crying about something.

Chirp, chirp, chirp…

I paused to listen to the TV, and a tiny cotton-top tamarin (think adorable little monkey) was singing a sad song about how he really missed his family. He’d been separated from his family, and he was inside a little cave, singing and listening to the echoes, because it made him feel like his little tamarin family and friends were with him.

Chirp, chirp, chirp… he sang, and chirp, chirp, chirp… came the echoes.

Once I realized everything was okay, I snapped a picture of her little face and carried on with my laundry mission, but I realized her little face was an answer to something I’d been thinking about all morning.

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I’m nearing the end of my fourth pregnancy, and most Mamas know that this is the part where things transition from moderately uncomfortable to dang this is hard. Some women have heartburn, some women find it nearly impossible to find a comfortable position to sleep in (and then get up six times a night to pee), some women feel like their bellies are about to split open from all the pressure. Stuff typically just starts to hurt, and even though labor is not an easy experience, you start praying it’ll come soon.

The really hard thing about arriving at this stage in pregnancy perhaps isn’t the discomfort itself — it’s that you’re this uncomfortable and you just have to keep going.

Unless you’ve been put on bed rest and are specifically told that you can’t do anything until your little one decides to make an appearance, you probably fall into the category of the majority of women who are hurting and just have to keep going. Because everyone still needs to eat, dishes and clothes still have to be washed, and children still need to go places.

But that situation that can feel so challenging for the pregnant lady? Truth is, the world is full of people who are hurting and just have to keep going.

Something recently reminded me of that fateful interaction with the guy at the bank who was brutally unkind to me when I had over 100 checks to deposit, paying my Dad’s medical bills. Afterwards, when I was in the car, trying to wipe away the tears, and a bank teller called to apologize for how that guy had spoken to me, I wrote that…

I was in a puddle again — just totally appreciative that she’d taken the time to call me and apologize for something that wasn’t even her fault. It is funny how having a witness to pain, having someone agree — that happened to you and it wasn’t right — somehow makes walking through something more bearable. {full post here}

The world is full of hurting people who just have to keep going, and we all long for somebody to sympathize with us, right where we are. They don’t have to fix anything. We just want them to care. Because if we know somebody cares, we can get through just about anything.

The Hero Hubs has been working crazy hard in the weeks leading up to this little one’s arrival. He’s looking forward to giving himself a little paternity leave when she does arrive, but this is a busy season with weddings, commercial work and other photo sessions, and as tired as he is, he knows for a little bit longer he needs to just keep going.

Instead of wallowing in loathing our individual discomforts in this season and seeing who can moan the loudest, I think we’ve done a decent job of showing compassion for each other, making sure we express our care, and even just our recognition that this isn’t an easy season for them. I try to help with his correspondence, he is wonderful and gets the groceries for me.

Our human tendency is to be the one who moans the loudest and expresses the most pain, but it’s so important in trying times to keep the perspective that the world is full of hurting people who just have to keep going.

There are plenty of Mamas who are very pregnant and just keep going, widows and widowers who feel like life is already over, but just keep going, people who show up at their job to find out the doors are closed and they don’t have a job anymore… and they have to keep going.

We all want to look down at our phones and see someone calling just to say I see you where you are, and I’m sorry it’s hard, and I wish it wasn’t.

Jesus showed up in a hurting world, and though He experienced pain that we can only begin to imagine, still His constant heartbeat was to reach out to the hurting, the forgotten, the overlooked, the passed-by. In a crowd of people, He stopped to find that one woman whose desperation pushed her through just to touch the hem of His garment in hopes of finding healing. He was a witness to her pain, and even though she’d already been healed, He didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say I see you where you are.

This morning, I saw my little girl expressing compassion and concern for a fictional character, and it reminded me that it is good and healthy, and a wonderful part of the human experience, for us to be compassionate and show concern for others who are hurting. I wonder — do we grow up and begin to feel so hurt ourselves it’s a challenge for us to keep noticing others who are hurting?

Even if you are going through a rock-bottom challenging season right now, dealing with pain in your body or aches in your soul or worries in your heart, remember that everybody’s got junk they’re walking with. That doesn’t make your pain less significant. Take comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only hurting person who feels like you just have to keep going.

Then take a moment to encourage someone else who might be walking through a hard time, struggling to keep putting one foot in front of the other today. You don’t have to be able to fix the problem to say you care. Expressing compassion can keep us soft-hearted and gentle in an all-too-often rough and tumble world. We can trust God to give us what we need to keep going, and, maybe, when we need it most, our fellow humans will be kind enough to return the favor.

xCC

The Best New Mantra You Can Adopt For Today (And Tomorrow)

I had a birthday last week. You might be the type that dreads the reminder that you’re adding a year to that fateful number that just keeps getting higher, but I’ll be honest with you, that is so not me. I really, truly love birthdays. Mine included. Especially.

I love reflecting on the year that has passed, thinking about all there is to give thanks for in the present, and dreaming about what might happen in the year ahead.

And I like cake and presents, too.

I also like thinking about what I’ve learned in the year that has passed. For example, this year I observed that the comfort level of a pair of underwear seems to often be inversely proportionate to the price I paid for it.

Lesson learned.

Kids at Jockey's Ridge

But one of the things that’s consistently remarkable to me is how easy it is for me to forget some of the basics in the midst of all the “big stuff” of life. 

Yesterday, we woke up to the usual morning routine. We’re showered and dressed and have usually read the Good Word — and Hero Hubs has usually put in an hour or so of work — before the kids’ feet hit the floor. Little feet patter towards our bedroom around 7:00 am (it doesn’t happen sooner thanks to this little clock we bought on Amazon), we do breakfast and coffee and then get started with whatever needs to happen on that particular day.

This morning, I offered to read the Belle a book before getting started with homeschool with her big brothers. To my surprise, she ran down the hallway and grabbed a book off the shelf at the end of the hall — a shelf that houses some books I ended up with that were my Dad’s and some that belonged to my sister, most of which I haven’t read.

She came scurrying back to me with The Power of a Praying Woman — clearly not a children’s book. When I suggested an alternative, she insisted on that book, and then proceeded to open it up to a random page as if she intended to do the reading.

Have I mentioned yet that she’s two?

So I sort of said, “Suit yourself” and offered to start reading the random page she’d opened the book to. She clenched the book even tighter–perhaps out of concern that I intended to pull a fast one and swap the book for something else. Then she started to “read” in an adorable sing-song voice, belting out words I’d never heard her say before:

“God loves me, too.”

And on it went, over and over, just those same four words, usually followed by a giggle:

“God loves me, too.”

{You might’ve seen this already if we’re Instagram buddies or you’ve liked With Love on Facebook!}

The strangest part? I’m not sure where these words came from. We do pray, and talk about God (more so with the boys since they’re older) and we do go to church, but this little creature’s usually in the nursery with the littlest kiddos–and her most beloved nursery workers speak Spanish during nursery time. So when the Belle responds to Dora the Explorer’s promptings, she has incredibly beautiful pronunciation… but I don’t think she heard those words at the church nursery.

I decided to take a video of this precious declaration with my phone, and she was very willing to say it over and over, smiling and laughing almost every time.

And then I thought–this girl knows she’s loved, but do I? Did I need this reminder today?

Well.

You know how I mentioned forgetting the basics because of the “big stuff” on the road of life?

Man, I really do that sometimes.

And I carry my personal failures around on my back like a heavy sack of rocks with tiny little mouths. They whisper: You aren’t being patient with your children. You raised your voice again? You said you were going to get up but you slept in. This thing or that thing isn’t getting enough of your attention. You are falling short. Overspending. Overeating. Overdoing. Have you ever heard the word balance? Be honest with yourself… you’re just a hot mess right now.

It’s a lot of weight to carry. Every mistake. Every shortcoming. Every time things don’t work out how you hoped they would and you feel sure you’re to blame even if you’re not sure why.

But what did the God of the Universe want to whisper to my soul–and to yours through these words you’re reading right here–so badly that He was willing to align the stars for my two-year-old to declare it?

God loves me, too.

I am falling short in a heap of little ways. I don’t always do the right thing. Say the right thing. Make the right choice. But still:

God loves me, too.

If you can take a deep breath and really let that truth sink in friends–then it can become a truth that truly changes everything. The God who stretched out on a cross to show how deep and wide His love is? He’s not watching your performance and taking notes to send home a report card. He’s not waiting for you to fail so He can zap you in some cosmic bug zapper.

What He’s been whispering all along is that He loves you without a thought for your shortcomings. And, because of your shortcomings, He decided to make a way for you to still know His love, for you to be forgiven and welcomed into His love.

Will things go better if you ask for His help and follow His lead?

For sure.

Will He love you anyway when you don’t?

Absolutely.

His Grace and forgiveness are almost unfathomably deep mysteries. But we can start with this truth that’s simple enough for a two-year-old to smile at, though perhaps we can live our whole lives still coming into a fuller, deeper understanding of the incredible goodness of it:

God loves me, too.

Let it sink into your soul today, friend. And make it a mantra to remember, for all your tomorrows.

xCC