What I’ve Learned About Trust From Math Worksheets

“I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”*

—Said by Not Me…

Hypothetical Question that I’m sure is not based in anybody’s actual reality for ya:

How does a person go from being totally worried that they won’t be able to make it through what happens tomorrow (if any of the things they fear were to happen tomorrow did) to a place where they feel like they can face anything?

I may have figured out the answer while looking at my kids’ Math worksheets.

Hi, my name is Caroline and I’m a homeschooling Mom. You probably knew that already.

Right now, I have a “Third Grader” and a “Kindergartener,” but if you are also inside the special world of homeschooling, you probably know that those are flexible terms.

My Kindergartener (almost always) totally loves Math. He gets excited about Math time, wants to breeze through two or three lessons in one sitting, and is overall just enjoying the subject at this point.

We’re just a few lessons away from finishing his curriculum for the school year, so I’m stretching it out a bit by tossing in a few extra “fun” practice worksheets in between. Usually these take the form of “Color by Number Addition.” Total fodder for developing the next Isaac Newton, right?

In case you decide to study that worksheet and discover some errors, be warned: the goal here isn’t perfection, it’s practice!

The third grader, on the other hand, isn’t super stoked about Math at present. The lessons are more involved, and they involve some analytical thinking, some brain-stretching, and generally a bit more focus than this kid is used to investing in schoolwork. (Because it mostly just comes easily for him.)

In the lesson above, I wrote down a thought to help this particular Math student remember not to try to solve a problem without first understanding what he was trying to figure out. Note to self, this is an extremely important life lesson worth writing about another day…

Okay. So you know the players: kindergartener and third grader. Now this, is the game.

Kindergartener totally wants to do third grader’s work. But? He’s not ready for third grader’s work. If you still need practice at addition, you’re probably not ready for division. Third grader doesn’t want to do third grader’s work. Because? It’s stretching him and that makes him uncomfortable.

Where do I fit in? I have a special privilege, as the parent, of making the judgment calls, and saying “Sorry kindergartener, but you’re a kindergartener, and we’re gonna keep working on what we’re working on. When we can, we’ll include you in the Math games third grader and I play, and we’ll eventually get to that third grade stuff. We just need to press on with the kindergarten stuff. For now.”

Now, sometimes, just so you know, even with the kindergartener, we arrive at a place where we don’t want to do what we need to do. Feel free to examine Exhibit C, below.

Kindergartener wasn’t really interested in working on this Math Lizard today. Math Iguana? Math reptile. He kind of just didn’t feel like it. But I was confident he had the skills (and he was allowed to use the abacus) and I wanted him to press through the I don’t feel like it’s and put some effort into it.

I didn’t give the kindergartener a third grade worksheet, but I did give him a challenge that I believed he could handle. When he tried to avoid said Math sheet in favor of playing legos, we sat down and had a little pep talk, where I told him I believed he was able to do it, if he tried, and I encouraged him with some strategies for getting it done.

I gave him the short term (pre-snack time) goal of getting all the questions on the lizard done, and with strategy and motivation, he achieved that goal before the banana was sliced and peeled.

Are you getting impatient for me to tie this together? Great, me too.

In my finite wisdom, I still recognize the importance of the process. In the Classical Conversations neck of the woods, we often talk about “Trusting the Process.” Another tangent for another day but grab this key thought: a lot of things, including our own hearts and souls, are in process. And in God’s infinite wisdom, I imagine He has a handle on what that process is supposed to look like.

Pause on this slice of Scripture with me:  “Now may the God of peace […] equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” {Hebrews 13:20a & 21}

The “Easy-to-Read” Version (yes, that’s a thing) actually says, “I pray that the God of peace will give you every good thing you need so that you can do what he wants.”

What an idea! God will give you what you need, so you can do what He wants.

Trust the process.

Maybe in some areas of your life you’re dying to jump into Advanced Calculus, but there’s a reason God’s holding you steady on Algebra right now.

Maybe in some areas of your life you feel like God has you doing Advanced Calculus and you wish you could go back to Algebra. Like, yesterday, please God, and thank you very much.

But if I, with my simple little finite mind am able to recognize in my own children how to foster the process of their growth, in our conversations, in our reading choices, and yes, in our Math studies, how much more can I trust our All-Knowing, All-Loving, great God who is our Father, to foster a process of growth in my life to help me become who He created me to be?

Can you see the possibilities truly believing that opens up in your soul?

You could trust that whatever happened — from that time you ran into a neighbor’s mailbox while dropping off a kid at a friend’s house (oh, wait, that was me!) to that time your boss called you into his office to tell you he just didn’t think you were doing a decent job (also me) — was part of God’s process.

And all that hard change we talked about yesterday: losing loved ones, moving towns, finishing school or watching kids leave the nest, you could trust that God’s hand was right there, you could trust that He could work all of it together for your good.

How much would that change our perspectives on change?

If we truly trusted God with our process, with all the days of our lives, then we might somehow come to a place where we could wholeheartedly say:

“I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”*

— Originally said by Mother Teresa, but maybe someday also you and me…

Believing God is there, able to do great things with all the hard, the scary, the change? Could change everything.

The kindergartener made some great progress on that Math Reptile today. Tomorrow, I’ll gently hand it to him again, and if he’s willing to trust me enough to listen and give it his best, I think tomorrow it might be filled out, colored in, and we’ll continue with the process.

xCC

 

*Mother Teresa, as quoted in Come Be My Light {Read This Book!}

This post, like some posts on my site, contains affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love! And a small disclaimer: we loved Mr. Stink but there’s a little bit of potty talk. Make it a read-aloud and skip that part! (wink)


Is This One Thing The Heart Of What’s Hard About Being Human?

Last week I mentioned my own journey with grief, four years down the road. And while pondering my own journey and what I’ve learned in the process, I’ve also been thinking about my precious Mother-in-Love, back in our beloved South Africa, grieving the loss of my second “Dad,” her wonderful husband, after nearly 50 years of marriage. He would’ve turned 78 today. A friend of mine lost her Mom very recently, another lost her elderly father two weeks ago.

So basically, if there’s a list with the names of people who are grieving, let’s just say I’d be an idiot if I thought I was the only name on it.

This week I sat still for a while beside my Cowboy Gentleman Hero Hubs, and just stared and thought about his grief, his mother’s grief, my friend’s, my own — and it struck me that this one simple thing is at the root of everything that’s hard about the human experience:

Change.

Losing a loved one means change. Life changes. They are no longer here, and try as you may to make things the same, it’s just impossible. Things will never be the same. A different life is ahead of you and you don’t know yet what it’s going to look like. Whether it’s a spouse or a parent or a friend you’ve lost — somehow life is going to be different tomorrow from how you thought yesterday. And what you most desperately want is for someone to tell you it is still going to be good — it can somehow be okay.

Change is hard. What are we supposed to do about it?

And it doesn’t take death to bring change to our lives. A friend texts… Her daughter is grieving the big move they recently made. Her old friends are far away, and she hasn’t found new ones yet. She is struggling. Change is hard.

Even good things can be daunting because of change. I remember so vividly the fear I had about graduating high school. It was exciting that those years and years of school finally brought me to the place where I could walk away with a diploma, but what was life in the next season going to look like? Was it going to be okay? Living in a new town away from home? I was scared.

Change is hard. What are we supposed to do about it?

As I scribbled these thoughts down, trying to put words to a swirl of impressions, I realized all the beginnings — bringing a baby home, starting a new job, and all the endings — burying a parent, ending a relationship — they all have this common denominator that makes them feel like a sucker punch to the soul.

Tomorrow will be different from yesterday. Very different. And you don’t know how.

Think about the most hectic, high-stress environments in the world. War-torn countries where a building is there one day and it’s bombed and gone the next. A person is alive today and unexpectedly gone tomorrow. Change is at the center of it.

Consider the fast-paced environment of the Emergency Room. People are coming in quickly, people are exiting quickly, some will leave alive, others aren’t going to make it.

And conversely, what are some of the most peaceful (man-made) places in the world? What do we create for our children at pre-school? We create a place where they will get to do the same things each day or week. They will come to expect a routine and feel comfortable with it. They will typically not be as peaceful on days where the routine is changed.

Routine can be comforting. Knowing what to expect can be warmth to the soul.

To some degree, we all feel a sense of peace and comfort in the consistencies of our day-to-day lives. We want to know there will be food tomorrow. We want to know there will be a useful employment for our time tomorrow. We are unsettled when this is not the case.

But change is in the very fabric of our being. Our cells are dividing and our blood is pumping and oxygen and water levels are fluctuating and a couple of thousand dead skin cells are being shed every single second. In small, consistent ways, everything is changing. Including us.

If it’s in our nature to crave consistency and peace, how do we survive in a world where — whatever it is — it is always going to change sooner or later?

I just finished reading through the portions of Scripture that recount       the life of David. From I Samuel to II Samuel, and finally I Kings, the Bible walks you through year after year in the life of this creative, warrior, Psalmist, king — so flawed and full of shortcomings, and still so brave and full of goodness.

I arrived at his last words, and still a few more scenes of decisions (some regrettable, like the census) and glorious moments unfold in those last days. The story continues in 1 Kings with Adonijah (one of David’s sons) presuming to be king, and David specifically placing his son Solomon on the throne instead. And I paused to reflect:

Where is the part where David had peace and ruled and was like that sheep in the green pastures by the still waters?

Where is the part where they say “And he ruled peacefully and stuff was really happy until he rested with his fathers and was buried…”

But that part’s just not in there.

So I started to wonder — how did David feel so inspired, and able to write:

For You have made him most blessed forever;
You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
And through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved. {Psalm 21:6-7}

Basically it seems to boil down to this one word — one simple, five-letter word that gets you from freaking out to feeling okay…

TRUST.

What’s the only real answer for all the change life can throw your way?

Mother Teresa put it this way…

“I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”*

How do we trust the process? How do we trust that it’s going to be okay when we don’t know yet if it actually will?

How in the world do we accept everything He gives, and commit our hearts to actually giving everything He takes?

Where in the world do we find inside our fragile selves the space for that scary five-letter-word, trust? Especially in a world where every day is different from the day before?

Turns out we find trust when we find the God we’re trusting in.

More thoughts on that tomorrow…

xCC

 

Two Things I’m Sure Of Four Years After Losing My Dad

It’s a Monday afternoon, four years to the day after I watched my Dad take his last breaths on earth. There’s a baby he never met watching Little Einsteins from the vantage point of her comfy high chair in the next room. Her older sister dances on either side of her — the four month old that was a beautiful altar, a place where I met grace and thanked Jesus daily in the midst of loss — she’s four years old now. Watching, dancing and drawing pictures of unicorns. Simultaneously. Her wispy blonde hair stretches past her waist and what a thought it is that she’s lost two grandpas in her four short years.

Once upon a time, my Dad stuck a pen in a Christmas card for me. Years before I’d ever written a blog post or much of anything besides papers for grades and a single short story for the university literary magazine, he wrote in that card that my words would help others — and me at the same time. The pen has long since disappeared, but the words etched something into my heart I don’t think I’ll ever lose.

What a remarkable thing it is for a parent to see something in a child — even when a child doesn’t see it.

Around these parts, winter gave way to an early spring that dissolved back into a flurry of late snow and cold temperatures. I can’t see the wind outside, but I can see the trees moving.

What can I say today that I couldn’t say four years ago? I can’t help thinking if he wanted me to do one thing today, writing words would be it. On the anniversary of such a hard time what words do I have to help others — and maybe myself at the same time?

Well friends, this is what I’ve got to offer on this windy Monday evening, offered with a prayer that they do help…

Two life-changing truths have changed my soul as I’ve walked the road of loss these four years. Simply put:

If you’re looking for reasons to feel sad, you’ll find them.

If you’re looking for reasons to give thanks, you’ll find them.

I guess sooner or later, we tend to find what we’re looking for.

If you want to count all the ways you’ve been cheated, all the things you missed out on, and all the ways other people got a better deal and are playing a better hand than you, you’ll find reasons to count and keep right on counting. You might even write a list long enough to fill up a spiral-bound five-subject notebook. And then you can go back to the store for another.

But let me warn you: that road is likely to take you places you don’t want to go.

It’s been said a hundred thousand times in a hundred thousand ways, but whichever way you choose to say it, it comes down to the same simple truth: Comparison is the thief of joy.

I could sit on the couch today — or any day — and count the ways I feel cheated because they still have their Dad around and I don’t.

Or because I wasn’t here for the majority of his last decade on earth.

Or because there was a lot I still wanted to sort out, understand and put together about that Renaissance Man, my Dad.

If you’re looking for reasons to feel like you got the short end of the stick, my friend, hear me: you. will. find them.

But when it all shook out and those yellow flowers were laid on that coffin and all was said and done? I can only point to Jesus and give thanks that I know how to point to Jesus and give thanks.

That day I started counting up: Eighteen Months I was back in my hometown seeing my Dad almost every day.

Two countries my Dad stamped his passport in, when he traveled halfway around the world to see me and to meet his grandchildren.

Three children that call me Mama were held in his arms, in his heart.

Four years he got to call himself a grandpa.

Four months he got to know my first daughter.

And for more than a decade, he’d been going to church, changing from the inside out. And for more than a decade, the things between us that threatened to break us apart started breaking apart instead.

The branches outside are still waving in the wind coming off the river.

And there’s a wind that can blow our souls to count our losses, blow our heavy hearts toward sadness. And maybe thats’s our natural inclination: to see and compare and think if only and wish things could’ve been different.

But the trees outside my window, branches swaying in the breeze? They’ve weathered decades and decades of hurricanes. You can see where limbs are missing. You can see the years have been rough. But what you don’t see is the roots, roots out so far, down so deep in the sandy soil our little house rests on. The branches are blowing, even today, but the roots are holding on.

We can choose, you know?

Choose to let the wind blow our souls this way and that, choose to let comparison steal the joy that’s rightfully ours, paid in advance and in full before we ever started our own journeys here on Planet Earth.

Or we can choose to dig deep and find ourselves rooted in holding onto the One that’s been holding us all along. And we can choose to count it all joy. We can choose to see a million reasons for our souls to sing.

We can choose today, and we will choose again tomorrow.

Whatever you choose to look for — that’s what you’re going to find.

Look well today, friends. See.

xCC

 


How To Find Your Way Back When You’ve Been Gone For So Long

It’s been swirling, echoing in my head for a few days now. Well, life feels so busy and the pace so frenetic, it might be a few weeks… a month? Okay, I’ve lost count, but here it is:

We have as much of God as we actually want.

If it was my own thought, out of my own brain, I’d have taken it with a pinch of salt and moved on. But I knew it was from somewhere besides this mind inside my head that is presently juggling homeschooling, toddler proofing (re-proofing?), meal planning and a schlew of other tasks on the list that make me feel foggy-brained at the end of many-a-day.

I haven’t fallen off of any metaphorical faith-wagons, mind you. I’m opening the Bible and praying (albeit sporadically) — but I sense in my soul there’s a deeper fount — I’ve tasted it before, and I don’t taste it right now.

We have as much of God as we actually want.

It was A.W. Tozer who said it. Wrote it. Probably both. And while at first the thought might feel a little insulting, the underlying truth in the idea might gradually feel a bit more like a punch in the gut: if you aren’t feeling very close to God, perhaps it’s you who moved.

Ponder this thought that’s also not from my own brain for just a moment:

“How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him.”  (Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

A while back, I decided to throw a little Reader Survey onto the interwebs to find out a bit more about you lovely people that Google Analytics tells me so little about — other than just that you, dear readers do exist, do visit this page, and come from different parts of the planet (no surprise there) — and I found out so many good things.

You were all so incredibly warm and kind in your thoughts, your thanks, and your encouragement. I wish I could write a jillion books and dedicate one to each of you.

What started as a whim developed into a very intentional concluding question for the survey. I asked, “If I could write a post just for you, what would you want me to write about?” One precious person (I didn’t ask for names for the survey so I’m not sure whom) asked these exact words:

How to find your way back when you’ve been gone for so long.

I wanted to sit across from you, friend, with a big cup of coffee for each of us, and look you right in the eyes with these words:

Precious one. Dear one. I don’t know your pain or your story but I know there have been seasons where it seemed like God was a million light years away and I was the last person on Earth He wanted to hear from. Like I was in the pit and why would He actually want to get me out of it — I bought my own ticket here!

This random verse I memorized when I first became a Christian popped into my head on more than one of those a-thousand-miles-away occasions and helped so much:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. {Deut. 4:29}

And do you know where there is?

Anywhere.

Any. Where.

You don’t have a long walk to take because Jesus made this amazing promise: I am with you always.

Even though you feel distant, know that He is near. He sees. He knows. He is well acquainted with your sorrows.

And friend, after I take this next sip of my big cup of coffee, I want to give you two steps for turning the ship around. Two steps for finding the way back. They both come out of one simple verse that I hope you’ll take to your heart.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. {Heb. 11:6}

Don’t let those first few words throw you for a loop or make you feel more lost — hang with me for a second.

There are two simple things the writer of Hebrews has in mind for planting your feet in and grounding your whole soul right there at the feet of Jesus.

Know that He Is.

I know you believe that. You believe it because you believe He exists. You believe you were once near and you now feel far away. But if you dig a little deeper, I want you to think about what you believe about God. Do you believe He’s good? Good enough to send His Son for you?

He’s the One who promised that nothing could separate you from Him and His love for you (see Romans 8 for a great list of things that can NOT separate you from God…).

He is eternally, unchangeably, incredibly, indescribably God — and you are His chosen, His worth-dying-for-Beloved.

If He is — and He is good — you are loved. This is true.

If you can nod your head to this part of the story, then read on to step two.

Know that He Is the Rewarder of Those Who Diligently Seek Him.

Once you’re convinced in your soul that He is, you’re already on your way to this part of the story. Kind of like just discovering for yourself that He is, this part is also gloriously good.

Even though you’ve found Him, you get to keep looking for Him.

Sometimes, even though He’s always right there, He draws back what you might “feel” about Him being right there.

Why, you ask?

Well, lots of reasons.

Sometimes, the best stuff comes from digging in.

Here’s a little story. The Hero Hubs is originally from a tiny little mining town almost smack-dab in the middle of South Africa, called Welkom. (Translation? Why yes, it’s Welcome.) And if you could drive from Bloemfontein with me to visit Welkom, you’d see these hills, that from far away look just like any other hills. But the Free State is super flat, so they seem sort of out of place. When you get closer, you realize they’re these gargantuan, almost perfectly symmetrical and therefore obviously not natural, man-made hills that come from mining underground.

Welkom was the center of the Gold Fields in South Africa, and South Africa was once the world’s biggest gold producer. For decade after decade, mining companies dug down into the Earth, so much so that they left those giant hills of processed Earth behind them in the process.

Why were they willing to dig and dig and dig? We all know mining is a risky, dangerous endeavor, right?

They were willing to dig because they knew they were going to find something valuable. Something precious. Something important. Something useful. Profitable even. And it was just there for the taking — if they were willing to dig.

If they were willing to dig.

I’m sure you can put the string of thoughts together from here. You could probably write the sermon in a nutshell for me, right?

While this world is full of fast-paced, quick-results, speedy satisfaction, the God of the Universe just isn’t the Insta-God we sometimes wish He was.

But He is. And, He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

And you will find wisdom so valuable. Gifts so precious. Love so important. Understanding so useful. Knowledge that will be profitable for your soul. And it’s there for the taking — if you’re willing to dig.

Maybe that looks like starting to write down things you’re thankful for every day.

Maybe it looks like beginning to worship your heart out in the shower.

Blow the dust off the cover of the Bible and read a chapter of Proverbs every day for a while. (31 Proverbs, about 31 days each month — win!)

Give some thought to some deep thinking about what Jesus says He wants us to do, how He wants His people to live — and go out in your own small ways and love. Flowers for an elderly neighbor. A smile for the stranger at the grocery store. Pay for the car behind you at the Drive-Thru.

The best part of this deal is you don’t have to find the way back — you get to find the way forward.

This is a new season. When God writes new chapters, they’re better than the one before. There will be new rewards as you diligently seek Him.

So friend, maybe we can write this Nutshell Sermon together: Believe that He is. Believe that He is the Rewarder of those Who Diligently Seek Him. And if from there — ANY there — you seek Him with that one precious whole heart of yours — you’ll find Him.

Let me know how it goes?

And? Thank you for sharing your heart.

xCC


What the Wonder Pets Can Teach Us After This Presidential Inauguration

While millions of Americans woke up this morning to look out the window and see if the sky was falling yet, check their Facebook news feed, and choose words of complaint or fear to update their statuses, I think a trio of Nick Jr. characters might have a plausible solution for the problem we’re facing.

Their names are Lenny, Tuck, and Ming Ming, and in case you didn’t know, they’re a guinea pig, a turtle, and a duckling, respectively. The Wonder Pets team has been rescuing baby animals and saving the day with teamwork for I’m guessing the better part of a decade now.

And last week, when I was home with a sick four-year-old, and the boys who’ve “aged out” of Wonder Pets watching were out of the house, I gently suggested (with secret hopefulness) that the Wonder Pets would be a good choice for my couch-bound little girl.

We found our way to an episode where the Wonder Pets save Humpty Dumpty and then save a Meerkat family (thanks Amazon prime) and as I sat on the floor with toys and a baby in my lap, this scene unfolded in front of me and I was seriously impressed.

All you need to know for all of this to make sense is that Lenny, Tuck, and Ming Ming are school pets who get calls to go save the day after the school bell rings and the kids have gone home. They hop in the fly boat they assemble in just about every episode (from a frisbee, some tinker toys, and a notebook paper sail) before they take off through a secret-cubby passageway.

Here’s a visual for assistance.

source

In this particular episode, the sail of the fly boat is torn, and the WPs need to decide how to quickly remedy the situation so they can get on with the mission. Ming Ming quickly finds a block, which she thinks could serve as a useful replacement, while Tuck finds a small pair of shorts. When they can’t agree on which to use as a replacement, Lenny suggests a vote.

Each candidate gets the opportunity to explain why their choice is the best, with Ming Ming exclaiming proudly:

“I know a block seems strange,
but a vote for a block is a vote for CHANGE!”

Turtle Tuck comments on the shorts being soft and cuddly, and more like a sail. The votes are tallied, and Tuck’s shorts are chosen for the sail. But pay attention friends, because I wouldn’t be typing out this whole Wonder Pets story if it wasn’t going somewhere and this is THE KEY…  After Tuck’s block is chosen, Ming Ming sadly walks away, saying “Bummer! I’m outta here!” Lenny quickly calls after her:

“Ming Ming, now that the vote is over, we need to be on the same team!”

Ming Ming is surprised, but gladly rejoins the team, and the mission to save the day continues.

Thank you for baring with me through what might seem like a preschool lesson — since you’ve hung out this long, I hope you’ll at least read/scroll through my reasons why this lesson could be exactly what our nation needs right now.

First, We Can All Agree We Wish We Could’ve Found a Better Person for the Job of President.

If we’re all willing to step off the soap boxes on either side of the fence, I think we can agree that there’s a lot lacking in terms of the man who is now officially the 45th President of the United States of America. We’re sad that divorces, drama and derogatory comments are such a big part of the story of Donald Trump. Political views aside, I’m still totally disappointed Ben Carson, husband of one wife and a man with so much wisdom and character, wasn’t put ahead of Trump as the candidate of choice. John Piper expressed what many, many Americans are thinking today:

“Few parents would say to their young people: strive to be like President Trump. That is a great sadness.” –John Piper {source}

{Please read this article by John Piper which is a powerful encouragement on how to live and pray as a Christian in this season.}

Second, We Can All Agree To Choose to Be the Change that No President Could Ever Make.

While having a new president in the oval office will change some things, it won’t change everything. This is where we have the privilege of stepping up — and we have to. Anger, divisive comments, name calling, and negativity are not going to change things. But choosing to be on the same team, as Lenny the Guinea Pig puts it, can change everything.

Being on the Same Team means we must:

  1. Choose our words carefully, because you care about how they will make other people feel. If we want to be on the same team, we have to consider how our words will affect others. Updating your Facebook status to say “Class is back in the White House” is hurtful and divisive. Be a team player by staying positive and choosing words that will uplift everyone on the team.
  2. Respect the choices of our teammates. If your neighbor wants to march in Washington, or send funds to support Planned Parenthood and you wish Planned Parenthood never existed, it’s okay. Respect your teammate. If you want to enter into a kind and genuine dialog about an issue, take it offline and do it over coffee. Creating a social media back-and-forth argument seldom makes progress, but often causes hurt and frustration. Maybe in that real life meeting, you’ll be slower to speak, and quicker to listen, and you’ll make some important discoveries — perhaps you’ll uncover some important details about your neighbor’s past you didn’t know before, and you’ll begin to ‘get’ their point of view. Seek to understand.
  3. Be Brave Enough to Say I’m Sorry. We will make mistakes along the way. We will hurt our teammates–but we have to work together to move forward. If someone offends you, go to them gently, and try to find a path to peace. When you realize you’re the one who has blown it, be brave enough to say you’re sorry. Let your paths be marked by peace.
  4. Go Out of Our Way to Find Ways to Be a Team. Choose today to look for people who don’t look like you, think like you, or agree with you, and try to make positive connections. A bright smile and a wave to the person who gives you a chance to pull out onto the road when you’ve been waiting a while is a gift. A decision to pay for the coffee or the groceries of the person behind you in line is a gift. A decision just to speak, to look for something good and say something kind is a gift. Show kindness to the co-worker most people are frustrated with. Look for secret ways to be a blessing.

What if we all took Ann Voskamp’s Dare to Be The Gift Today, to take five minutes every day to be generous and show love?

Mother Teresa said, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love….The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love.” {Source}

And Jesus challenges us: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” {Matthew 6:3-4, NKJV}

Whether Jesus is the center of the Universe for you or not — but especially if He is — your mission today has not changed from your mission yesterday. The greatest commandment was summed up so gently, and so simply, that it could’ve been included in an episode of a preschool show:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” {Mt. 22:37-40, The Message}

What can you do today to show love? To reach out? To be a gift? Don’t walk away because the vote is over and you’re not happy with the results. Walk forward, loving God and loving people the best you know how.

A people with great love cannot help but become a great people.

xCC

 

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Before You Put Your Behind in the Year That’s Past

I’ve heard there are just a few things in this world that you can watch and watch and never grow tired of watching: Falling snow, waves at the beach, and babies. Maybe there’s one or two more, but there’s definitely babies.

And I have a 14-month-old one that has taught me a few things, when I’ve given her some focused attention. She has this funny little habit that I don’t remember the others having — silly as it sounds, I’m always surprised when each new kid is unique and different and not a miniature version of the older kid in our crew of the same gender. Anyway, she has this habit of picking things up, observing them ever-so-briefly (guess they aren’t things you can watch forever) and then just chucking them behind her with gusto before moving on.

Get out of my way, Baby Einstein book!

Move off, My Little Pony!

Sayonara, xylophone! 

She once managed to snatch the bib off of her little neck and turf it with such impressive NBA-behind-the-back-pass skill, it landed perfectly in the space between her little high chair booster seat and the chair it is strapped to.

I’m going somewhere with this, so let me just move on and tell you when this little habit of hers is the most amusing. When our beloved little Kittycat is in the bathtub, and loses interest in a toy in the tub, she promptly says Get Behind Me! and gives it her characteristic behind the back toss. But the movement creates a bit of a whirlpool, so give it a few seconds, and the rubber duck she’s chucked behind her back will be back in front of her again.

Which is kind of a lot like life, am I right?

Maybe you’re ready to put the year that’s past behind you. Maybe things didn’t shake out the way you’d hoped. You didn’t achieve the dreams or accomplish the goals. Maybe you lost a relationship or a job or even someone you loved.

I have one Hero of a Hubs who was pretty ready to tell 2016 not to let the back door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha. (Except he’s not southern so it would’ve sounded way more posh.)

But knowing that rubber duck of a year hasn’t disappeared just because I threw it behind my back in the bathtub, I’ve been asking myself questions. Now that I’ve made another trip around the sun, what have I learned? What do I need to do differently if I want different results at the end of this collection of 365 days? And what do I need to have in my soul so that the hard and the hurt don’t come back to haunt me?

Back in December, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend who lives a couple of hours away — one of those friends with whom, although two years have passed since you’ve seen them, you still pick up right where you left off. We got on the subject of processing our childhoods, and she shared that she and her sister had completely different perspectives on their lives growing up, even though they were in the same house with the same parents, and they’re quite close in age.

Their different recollections of experiences prompted her sister to ask once:

“Were you even there?”

And I filed that thought away with a question: what is it that can make two different humans walk through the same experience and take away two completely different things?

Last night I came across these words in this book and wondered if they might be a big part of the answer:

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.*

What you remember and how you remember it.

What you remember and how you remember it.

Will I simply remember 2016 as the year I didn’t accomplish a lot of the goals I set for myself — or the year I wrote my first book proposal, did some great stuff with my kids, and listened to Jesus trying to help me understand faithfulness?

Will 2016 stick in my head only as the year we said goodbye to my precious, amazing father-in-law, or will I remember it as the year the Lord gave us three more wonderful weeks with him — which in incredibly glorious timing ended just days before he breathed his last breaths?

Is anyone expecting to arrive at the end of the year to say, “Wow, that totally went exactly how I planned it?” Because — really? And…is that the life you really want?

In a fallen, broken, heart-breaking world, perhaps the weight on the scale shouldn’t weigh as heavily on your heart as the weight of your mission. What in the world are you here for? Are you welcoming His glorious goodness in? Pouring it out with love?

I just finished this profoundly powerful book, Come Be My Light. It’s filled with the private writings of Mother Teresa — letters she wrote, things she often said, woven together with the story of her calling and her journey toward Jesus. One of her many firm resolutions was:

I am ready to accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a Big Smile.**

Knowing the deep interior trials she journeyed through (I’m sure this will be more fodder for conversation in another post), it is an incredible act of faith for her to say these words.

For now, I just want to challenge you with this thought. Before the year that has passed is long and far behind you, join me, and let’s ask our souls a few questions:

What did I learn in 2016? What can I celebrate and give thanks for?

Where do I feel I missed the boat in 2016? What should I repent for? Are there people I need to ask forgiveness of?

What’s the one thing that strikes me most deeply about 2016, and how can I process it and move forward? Is there a loss I need to give myself permission to grieve? A mistake (or several) I need to forgive myself for? Somewhere I need to work for reconciliation? Does it seem like something was missing last year that I need to start looking for?

It challenged me deeply to consider that it’s not so much what happens as what you remember and how you remember it. I hope you can list out a string of blessings and gifts from the year that passed twice as long as a list of grievances… and guide your one precious heart to move forward well, joyfully, gratefully into the year that is to come.

Soak in these words deeply, friends, and ask Jesus to help you live them…

Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. {Prov. 4:23, NLT}

xCC

*Gabriel García Márquez, quoted by Ann Voskamp in The Broken Way. (36)

**Mother Teresa in Come Be My Light, (235).

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Three Things to Remember if You’re Searching for the Perfect Christmas This Year

There’s this image deep in the recesses of my mind, that’s as much a feeling as it is a picture like you’d see on a post card. It changes a little every year, but underneath the trappings and trimmings somewhere, I see children that belong to me with clean faces and Christmas jammies. There’s hot chocolate and maybe popcorn and the tree is sparkling near the fireplace. Lights twinkle. The family is together and Christmas music is playing and we’re snuggling under blankets on the couch watching a movie or the kids are putting together puzzles on the coffee table while their affectionate Mama and Daddy look on. It’s cozy and there’s good food and no one fights or hollers and nothing is uneasy or unsettling.

Most of you probably know, if you have a kid or two, or honestly, if you’re just a human that spends any amount of time in the company of other humans, the idyllic pictures we can create for ourselves in our minds might be a possibility with some stretch of the imagination — but those picture-perfect moments never last long. Someone is going to spill the whole ginormous bowl of popcorn and someone is going to be upset because I wanted to put that ornament on the tree or because She is still looking at me or because He called me [fill in the blank] again. And while those sentences might make it sound like it’s the kids who wreak havoc on all visions of candy-cane-and-sugar-coated bliss, we know we grownups don’t make it much easier.

If you find yourself wanting to chew your nails off in dreaded anticipation of doing everything possible (and then some) to make Christmas perfect and still knowing it is going to fall hopelessly short of that Currier & Ives Post Card in your mind, I have a few thoughts that I hope will help change your mind about what the Perfect Christmas looks like.

1. It is Broken, and You Can’t Truly Fix It

If you read no further than this statement, let this be as far as you get:

We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. This is why we need Jesus. This is why Christmas happened.

If you find yourself wondering why you never feel settled, always feel like something’s missing, can’t create perfection no matter how hard you try, know that it’s because this world is flawed. Broken. Messed up. Troubled in a million ways. You weren’t made for this. We inherited sin and brokenness the day we were born. But this isn’t what we were made for.

We are homesick for these feelings of total comfort, total acceptance, and lasting peace, because somewhere inside our broken spiritual condition, there’s a part of us that knows things could be better, perhaps even should be better. Our nostalgia might tell us there was beautiful perfection somewhere in our childhood, and as adults we struggle to recreate it. Or, we lose a loved one, and with that loss feel as if there is a perfect piece of our lives now gone, never possible again. But the problem is deeper still.

C.S. Lewis described this “spiritual homesickness” in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory” like this:

“Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books and the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself….Now we wake to find…[w]e have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken in…

Our life-long nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.”*

If it feels like something is missing in this world, in your life right now, it’s because Something is.

2. You Are Going to Mess Up, Too

We realize our kids are flawed. Our spouses, our family, our friends, they are all flawed. We cannot create “The Perfection” we seek without them — because without their presence it could not be perfect — but then, it can’t be perfect with their presence, either. They are humans, and so am I, so are you. And after a moment’s pause we might realize, even if we’re the only ones here, trying to create Pinterest-perfection for us to enjoy alone, we are still flawed. We will still fall short. This holiday season, days before the Thanksgiving turkey was even carved, I’d already let words fly out of my big mouth, already destroyed the attempts at the perfection I hoped for in time spent with family, already offered a half dozen apologies, already gone to Jesus sorry.

We all mess up.

Last year, I didn’t really want to send a Christmas card, partly because I was getting used to being a Mom of four, but also because I just couldn’t find a picture that felt “perfect.”

I felt like my poor newborn looked like a bald alien! (Perfectionist, much?)

So what are we going to do? Rake ourselves across the coals? Let our frustrations with all the ways things go wrong destroy any chance we have at “Happy Holidays”?

3. Nothing Kills Joy Faster Than Misplaced Expectations

That point following number 3 is not the whole truth — but perhaps it’s a very important part of it. We fool ourselves if we think we can work hard enough to make it all perfect right now. But our ideals about perfection can become the thing that keeps us from the connection that we need, that could help us a feel a little bit more at home in a broken world. We feel our home is too messy or too small or too something — and we avoid welcoming people into it. We want to extend our hands to people living in poverty, maybe not halfway around the world but maybe at least in our own town. But we’re afraid it won’t go well. We’re afraid we’ll get hurt, or do something dumb, or say something wrong. Or maybe the soup kitchen just doesn’t look like that Currier & Ives poster Christmas, so we’re not even going to attempt it.

Fear of things being even harder and even less perfect stops us from giving ourselves, giving our time, considering foster care, doing big things, and saying yes to Jesus in one way or another.

Two weeks ago I spent a morning at a Christmas play put on by adults with social, or mental difficulties. Although there were wonderful costumes and live animals and interesting lighting and effects, the play wasn’t perfect. There were long delays between scenes. Lines were not delivered by Hollywood actors and actresses. There was a hiccough or two along the way.

But I wept more than once, watching it all unfold, listening to these beautiful people put on a play that told an amazing story about God’s Plans — always so much greater than ours. From these humble and precious souls, a story of lives changing, and the story of Jesus unfolded side by side, and my heart pounded in my chest.

As the song “Mary Did You Know?” played, a man playing Jesus stood at the bottom of the stage, surrounded by other cast members. As the lines “the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again… the lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb….” so Jesus touched the people surrounding Him and they walked away joyful, changed, with lifted arms, and shouts of Praise God! escaping from happy voices.

I squeezed the four-year-old sitting in my lap a little tighter and absolutely wept.

This is the message. This is the beauty of the Christmas story. 

This is it: Jesus came. He left all the perfection of heaven to enter into our incredibly imperfect world. We fall so short. We are not as kind as we want to be. As gentle as we ought to be. As generous as we need to be. We hurt each other and we’re flawed and fallen and failing. We are NOT PERFECT.

But we can offer Him what we have. We can offer Jesus our broken, selfish selves, and say “Your will be done.” Mother Teresa prayed that Christ would constrain her in such a way that she would never, ever say No to Him.

We can also say Yes. And we can offer ourselves to Him, and be poured out to the world around us. Like the bread at the Communion table, Jesus can choose us, bless us, and break us to feed a multitude.

We should not expect a Perfect Christmas. Jesus didn’t come to make this life perfect. He came to change the world in such a way that when all is said and done, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and millions of souls will know He came to rescue them. He came to make all things new. He came to set us right with God.

How do we wrap all this up with a bow? What are our lives supposed to look like? Truly, we can only wrap our selves, our hearts up with a bow, and offer them back to Jesus.

Jesus, help me to follow you.

Jesus, I’m so scared, but help me not to say No to you.

Jesus, Yes. Help me say Yes.

Jesus, thank You.

——

From our home to yours, Merry Christmas, friends.

xCC

*Quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory as found in Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God.

One Great Way to Unwrap 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.

We do our best to do give our children some {read: not a lot of} meaningful, purposeful gifts this season (I’m planning another post to share some of our favorite useful/educational ideas with you) but what I don’t want Christmas to be all about at the Collie house is presents.

I keep asking this one thing:

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.

book2

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!

Two years ago, 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.

book

Sometimes right after breakfast, sometimes when we’re back in PJs at the end of the day, we dive into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Starting December 1st, we’re led through 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 (more on those in a second) 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 when we took the time to sit down together, to be still and to think and to talk, 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.

In the sitting still and reflecting I just felt like… this is what I want to do most in this season.

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

ornament1

Last year I hot-glued some felt to some cardboard to create the most awesomely rough-looking Jesse Tree you’ve ever seen… but my children love it.

tree1

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.

book4

So friends, if you’re hoping to introduce some new traditions into your Advent Season, or if you’ve been on the fence pondering this book for a while, please consider this my whole-hearted recommendation. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift has been a gift to our family, and I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season. I’m genuinely excited to share it with you!

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?

xCC

P.S. In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released two years ago. 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. If you’re looking for something special for yourself in this season, perhaps for that early morning cup of coffee on the couch moment, I highly recommend this!


 

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