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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In Stormy Political Seas, These are Words To Remember about Faithfulness

As far as colors go, gray might just be one of my favorites. I’m sitting on a gray couch beside gray arm chairs resting their feet on a gray area rug. I painted the clock on the wall gray. And, how’s this for timing, I’m wearing a gray t-shirt this very moment.

But when it comes to life decisions, ethics and even Theology, gray is a hard color for me to swallow. In the university setting, during an ethics discussion, I didn’t like it when I felt like we were in gray territory and there wasn’t a clear black or white solution at the end of an hour’s discussion.

In the years that have followed, I’ve since come to have a different understanding of gray areas. Gray has become a new color for me, so to speak.

Earlier this year, many of you might’ve read this post I shared about my word for the year: Faithful. This word was like a tiny whisper to my soul from the Lord, just nudging me to keep my ears open and my heart listening to what He had to say.

This year, I’ve come to realize faithfulness and perfection are not the same thing, and I don’t have to be so hard on myself.

foodbaby

I’ve learned that other people might not know what faithful looks like for me — so I don’t need to fear judgment or outside opinions. It’s the Lord first and foremost I’m called to be faithful to.

And this bullet shot out of a speeding train pierced my heart through while I was writing the Swim Your Own Race series a few years ago:

Your Race is in Your Lane.

Translation?

Your faithfulness and my faithfulness are going to look completely different. But that does not mean we are not both being faithful.

I have friends who have never taken their kids trick-or-treating because they feel it’s wrong to celebrate Halloween. I have friends who make a big deal out of Halloween and see it as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

Will I give the one side a high five and tell the other side they’re ridiculous? Obviously not.

Faithfulness looks different for different people, because God has different plans for each of us.

Am I saying there aren’t cold hard black and white areas where I think there’s no room for discussion? Of course not. We had some friends over for dinner this weekend and were discussing their denomination’s stance on a particular faith issue. The husband of this sweet couple commented, “We try to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.”

That’s wisdom worth taking notes on.

Thousands of years ago, do you know how Alexander the Great became the ruler of one of the largest and most expansive empires of all time? War. Battle. Great strategy and Physical Domination.

How did Genghis Khan found the longest contiguous empire in history? Think the Mongols took a vote? Think again. Invasion and domination.

In Ancient Greece, Athens was known as a city where people had voices, and political decisions were discussed in an open marketplace. Down the road in Sparta, strength and physical domination were the most highly valued prize. But the Athenians were on to something we still believe today: the idea that an uneducated mass of people can be very easily ruled over, even bullied, truly. But educated individuals, given the right to vote, can elect officials that will represent their ideals well. It was a novel idea in those days.

Today, my fellow Americans and I have the privilege of casting a vote to elect the officials that will rule over us. I think about a very dear friend back in Zimbabwe, where elections aren’t really true, honest or real. My Hero Hubs is a resident alien, (and a South African Cowboy Gentleman) he watches from the sidelines. We mustn’t take it for granted: the democracy we call a “unalienable right” is still in many places a far off dream, a hoped-for-someday privilege.

If we do have the privilege, we should not take it lightly.

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Paul once wrote these words to the Corinthians to encourage them in their generosity:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. {II Cor. 9:6-7}

Like the Corinthians in their decision to give, before we make a decision and fill in a bubble on a ballot, we should wrestle in our hearts before God. This soul-searching is the most important part of the process. The Corinthians would have had to consider whether they were being greedy or trusting God for their provision, perhaps how much they were able to give and still meet other commitments. Similarly, we must wrestle with what we value most — are there certain political ideals we want to hold most firmly to? Certain character traits we feel are the most important? Are we valuing the right things most?

At the end of the day, some Corinthians would’ve given one amount, and others would’ve given another. But those different amounts didn’t mean one was being faithful and another was not. Each decided in his own heart and hopefully gave as the Lord led him.

I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the parallel to you — based on what’s on our hearts, what ideals we value, what character traits we are looking for, we will perhaps come to different conclusions about how to appropriately mark a ballot on November 8th.

But there is a beautiful conclusion for all of this:

We can feel differently about issues and still each be faithful to what God is speaking to our hearts. God might lead one friend to choose not to trick-or-treat at Halloween, and another to be out in the community with her kids in costume.

We can all do different things, and still be faithful to what God is leading us to do.

The most important part of the process is perhaps the wrestling. The drawing near to your Creator and doing your best to bare your soul and hope to live your days with a clean conscience before God, trusting that you listened to the Holy Spirit to the best of your ability.

As this political race comes to a close, remember that you are swimming your own race, and your race is in your lane. Faithfulness will look different for you than it will for the person to your right or your left.

Fix your eyes on Jesus, friend, love and respect your neighbors and their race in their lane, and just keep swimming your race with faithfulness.

xCC

 

What to Do When Dreams Look Like Hard Work

I stared across the table at her for just a moment or two this morning. She scarcely has more hair today than she did a year ago when she was born. She’s one year old and I’m thinking about where it all began, and how it all began on the outside.

A little smirk crosses my face as I think of a comparison between giving birth and the experience of being in war. There’s blood and momentary confusion and yelling (that would be me) and you know that all of life is not contained in this moment — you just have to get through this moment to get to the good on the other side. I ponder all that, and that word — labor — and how it’s the same word we use for work.

Hard labor.

Manual labor.

Six days shall ye labor… and rest on the seventh.

She smiles and bounces the feet that dangle underneath the tray of her high chair. And an old thought strikes me in a new way:

It seems like the hardest things in life sometimes are also the best things.

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Whether it’s the numerous challenges of pregnancy and labor (or the challenges of the parenting years that follow), whether it’s the challenge of pursuing that PhD or writing that book or building something amazing, composing something amazing, there’s labor, and it is a part of the story that good things come from.

The labor of sowing the seeds and watering and weeding and waiting, and finally, reaping what you’ve sown.

The labor of teaching small and precious ones day in and day out, sowing those seeds and trusting the world will reap them years from now.

In a great conversation about these thoughts today a friend of mine put it succinctly: Just about everything in life requires hard work except watching TV.

Barring those moments of laying on the couch and being entertained by a screen in the room or a phone at your nose, life does require work. And the things that are really worth it? They usually require the most.

I’m making fresh commitments to myself about working hard right now.

About resting well and appropriately, yes, but also about knowing my own frame and, based on that, committing to work hard to achieve personal goals.

It convicted me deeply when I read these words recently in Tim Tebow’s new book:

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

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The Bible puts it this way:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. {Gal. 6:7}

Pray about everything. Seek wisdom. But know that in addition to that praying and that seeking, you will also have to do your part. You will have to put in the time at the gym. You will have to put the seeds in the ground. You will have to dust off that resume and start putting it in front of new sets of eyes. You might have to stop spending when you should be saving.

The hardest part might just be stepping out of the boat — doing something that doesn’t look like the “normal” everybody else has going on. Putting in extra efforts at the end of that 9 to 5 instead of putting your nose to a screen.

Jesus lived a life like nobody else because He was a Man like nobody else. In our own small ways, perhaps we are called to go and do likewise.

I write these words to myself — pondering the things that might perhaps have been birthed with the time I spent on the couch instead.

But I write to you, too, knowing there is probably more inside of you. A dream. A hope. An idea of some kind that could scratch an itch you feel in your soul and feed a need in the world around you.

If I dream of seeing my name on the front cover of a bestseller, I’m going to have to put in the hard work to make that happen.

If we dream of having world-changing kids, we’re going to have to put in the hard work to raise them to change the world.

If you dream of making ______________ happen… what are the practical steps you need to take to do something about it?

Looking across the table at this baby who’s just one, I come to rejoice in the fact that in different ways, and in His good timing, God is faithful to our labor. Fruit doesn’t always come the way we want, as fast as we want, as much as we want. But we will not reap what we have not sown.

Lean hard on the Holy Spirit to direct your efforts, to prune you and give you wisdom, that you might bear much fruit.

And don’t be afraid if the path you see ahead of you looks like nobody else’s. It’s not supposed to.

xCC

 

 

 

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How To Develop a Supernatural Six Pack

It was after 11:30 – probably closer to midnight when they came out of my mouth, and it felt like they were never in my mind first. I was scrubbing the carpet in earnest, in the boys’ bedroom, and suddenly, I heard them as I said them. Maybe I should back up and tell you how I got there first.

It was an answer to prayer, around Christmastime a few years ago, when finances were very tight and I was hoping and believing it would somehow be possible for the Hubs to go snowboarding sometime that winter. It’s one of his most favourite things to do in the world, and he hadn’t had the opportunity since before we were married. I was trying to work something out when an invitation came his way, and, even though it meant he’d be away for nearly a week, and I’d be at home with three kididdles, I was still very excited, very thankful, very encouraged that God made a way.

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He left early early on a Tuesday morning. His first night away, my Mom and I juggled the three sweet peas pretty well, spaghetti on plates and baths and bedtime. After my Mom headed home, my friend Mona arrived, who, bless her soul, was willing to camp out at our house for the week — a big blessing because I didn’t want to be the only adult around in the evenings.

It quickly became apparent that it was a good thing Mona was present.

very good thing.

About the time I was planning to retire to bed, we heard a big cry from the boys’ bedroom. I knew it was the Bear and rushed in to find him, his pillow, his sheets, and a reasonable amount of the carpet by his bed covered in… how shall we say it?

His dinner.

I grabbed him up and hurried him into the bathroom for round two of the new mini-series Return of the Noodles. Moments later, I had the Bear soaking in a bubbly tub, his brother chillaxing on the couch with Yo Gabba Gabba (and precious Mona, watching along) and, armed with some I-need-this-now DIY carpet cleaner I’d just shaken together in a spray bottle (one part white vinegar, one part water, a few drops of tea tree oil, pray and shake well…) I was ready to meet those noodles head on.

I stripped the bed and began rinsing and scraping and piling things into the washing machine, and I began to start thinking about my thoughts as I vigorously scrubbed the carpet beside the Bear’s bed.

If this is the first night with the Hubs away…what next… well, surely it can only get better from here…

Am I really scrubbing carpet at 11:30 at night right now? And is this the first time I’ve ever had to be the vomit cleaner? I guess the Hubs normally tackles this job…

It was after a pause, and a sigh and a deep breath that the words exited my mouth without entering my thoughts:

Teach Me, Jesus.

And strangely enough, while scrubbing that noodled carpet at an hour when all’s well when all sleep well (usually) He did.

I was met with a strange kind of peace — the unexpected kind that brings a smile to your face even though you don’t know why. It slows your anxious pulse, calms the whirlwind in your mind.

Suddenly I was thankful. Thankful I’d decided to ask Mona to come and spend the week at our house. Thankful Tiger Tank was chilling on the couch with her instead of doing a dirty noodle dance or wailing because he couldn’t join his brother in the bath. Thankful there was the perfect amount of white vinegar left for this job, and how in the world did it happen that I finally found the tea tree oil at Walmart for the first time, just last week.

Coincidence? I think not.

I remembered Katie’s story. About the time a rat crawled into the back of her oven. She fought back the need to throw-up as she bleached and scrubbed and cleaned. She threw up once and got back to work.

My thoughts continued. Thank You, Lord — at least I’m not puking at all this.

Three simple words put me back inside that 5 x7 of thankfulness:

Teach Me, Jesus.

And I’ve since discovered that they have a multitude of uses.

It now seems so obvious, that all the moments that find me like this — struggling to scoop up too much laundry at once, the four-year-old shouting for assistance with a bum wipe in the bathroom, the toddler, diaperless and missing, which is a risk because the baby is awake and dangerously vulnerable in her play place, and of course because the toddler could pee somewhere — I can pause for a moment (or breathe on the way to check the baby before wiping the bum and finding the toddler) and just say it again:

Teach Me, Jesus.

Because I fully believe the Creator of the Universe is not sitting on a gigantic throne in the cosmos hurling challenges, distress and laundry our way for fun.

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The glory of the moments where you feel like you’re suffering is that great stuff can, and does, come out of it:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. {Rom. 5:3 -5}

From the bounty of His infinite goodness, God patiently walks us through the things we feel like we’re just striving to endure each day. He is stretching the muscles in our soul. Building a robust strength in our spirits.

Perhaps by the time I go to meet my maker, I will have supernatural six-pack abs.

How do you work those core faith muscles?

In all things, give thanks.

And when it gets hard, ask, and then listen: Teach Me, Jesus.

There’s no pill you can take. No supernatural steroid. No way to get from I kinda-believe-sometimes to “supernatural six-pack abs.” You’ll have to walk through the hard things, and lean hard into Jesus.

If you need an extra little something to get you through one of those moments — when your boss chews you out and lets you go, or the toddler stands up in excitement over having pooped in the potty only to discover the poop hasn’t dropped yet and OOOPS there it is on the floor and there he goes…. (that happened, people), or you just don’t know how you are going to keep on putting one foot in front of the other if something. doesn’t. change. like. now. — I wholeheartedly recommend giving these three words a try.

Teach Me, Jesus.

If you are willing to ask, He will.

xCC

 

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— Adapted from the Archives

 


There Are Stars in the Southern Sky

It was just a few short weeks ago, but it feels a lifetime. Hero Hubs and I were sitting outside with the lights off, half a world away with the sounds of the African night all around us. For days, we’d been watching a small family of bats that was nesting in a little space between the doorframe and the door nearby, and at dusk they’d come out to begin their nightly ritual of swooping through the air above our patio.

As the bats collected their meal, a few insects at a time, the hubs and I talked. We stilled, hushed and listened to the birds and the sounds and the low murmur of television sets and other human life in the cottages nearby. The incredible gift of echolocation amazed us and we watched how quickly the bats changed course: their flight might be aiming straight at our heads, then they’d adjust direction within inches of our ears and we’d hear a gentle swoop as they passed.

It was one of those irresistibly special moments where I thought to myself, “I wonder… could anyone else in the world being doing exactly this thing at this moment?”

I was delighted by the experience, grateful we were outside thinking and talking and looking up and not inside staring at screens. And while the idea of a few bats whirring past my ears made me a bit nervous, I just decided… I am not going to be afraid. I’m going to live this experience, this moment.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And I can honestly say I’ve never seen stars like I’ve seen them from the southern hemisphere on a clear night, near the bushveld and far away from bright lights and city pollution. It’s become a ritual on every journey back to SA. We always find at least one night, and we look up at the sky together, sit quiet and talk. We talk about our lives, what we are hoping for or preparing for in the season ahead. And this time we talked a lot about my Dad-in-law’s (I prefer Dad-in-love’s) health. We were startled by how fragile and weak and declining he seemed when we arrived back in SA.

Three weeks. It was a precious and good time making new memories with family. We were also privileged in our visits into Kruger National Park. Blessed to see animals and sights we’d never seen before in the previous ten years of game viewing together. Lions mating, wild dogs with pups, a hippo having an argument with a crocodile, and back at our cottage, several gorgeous species of kingfishers fishing right off the porch where we were staying. We watched yellow weavers making nests in an acacia tree overhead, listened as they chittered feisty arguments about who would get which branch, marveled as they clipped away at last year’s nests and let all that hard work drop into the pond below to make space for new nests.

It was as if the very voice of God was whispering to my soul with every sight, with every sound, with every blessed moment… I’m with you and I love you.

I was grateful for that whisper — I just didn’t know yet how much I needed it.

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We spent our last few days in Bloemfontein, soaking in the last few moments with Mom and Dad before we’d be half a world away again. On one of our last nights, Dad had a roll of toilet paper by his chair, which he decided to pass to sweet baby Catriana (now ten months old) to see what she might decide to do with it. She rolled it out and began tearing strips into shreds, and I watched her enjoying her new toy, but I really took in Dad just enjoying her. There was a beautifully bright gleam in his eyes.

At the end of those three weeks, we said a really hard, really sad goodbye. Living far away is just hard. Really hard. For the last four years, every goodbye has been a scary could-this-be-the-last-one goodbye.

With Bloemfontein in our rear view mirror, we endured the treacherous five hour drive to ten hour flight to fourteen hour flight to five hour drive home. We arrived exhausted, and after a brief rest, jumped in to all the commitments on the calendar. Quiver Tree Academy (our homeschool) started up again, at least until everyone got knocked out by some unpleasant virus that came for a visit.

The news came just two days after our return, Dad was in the hospital. Day after day we did our best to keep going here, while waiting to hear news about Dad, doing poorly there.

Life is messy hard when you are mostly waiting but have to keep living.

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We’d only been home ten days when we heard the news.

I’ve had the privilege of calling two men Dad in my lifetime. And now my second Dad had breathed his last breath. That night, Hero Hubs drove to the airport to get on a plane the next morning, headed back to our beloved country again.

It has rained every day this week, and the stormy skies seem to reflect the sentiments in my own soul. Grief is a path that can take you in several directions, almost simultaneously. Angry and sad, grateful and glad for the memories, hurt and fearful when you consider the great separation between you and this person so dear to you… you can jump from one path to the next, one emotion to the next, in the blink of an eye.

You can be sitting still on the outside, but on the inside, your soul feels like it’s rocking in a tiny boat on tempestuous waves.

For days now, we’ve been mostly sad. I’m sad that it seemed best for the kids and me to stay here while HH traveled home to bury his father. We FaceTime, sad at this loss, sad at the separation.

It takes a while for me to remind myself that sad is often right, and appropriate, and it’s okay. Not every sentence needs to end with an exclamation point.

I think about what wise old Job said to his wife, when she was so bitter at all the sadness in their lives and said he ought to curse the heavens for all the broken parts of his life.

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” {Job 2:10}

We came home to the leaves falling from the trees, the reminder that part of the renewing is in the letting go. The beloved dogwoods in my front yard will bloom again in the spring, but first leaves have to fall. This too is part of the process.

It can be awfully hard to lean into trusting that even though you’re not in control, somehow life can still be okay. It can be hard to sit still and trust the special gift God gave the bat to keep it from hitting you in the head. But a small kind of miracle can take place if you can let go.

New leaves will push through in the spring and life will be renewed. A tiny whoosh passes by and your ear canal catches it and tells your brain — that’s the sound of a tiny little bat who just changed direction mid-flight to avoid colliding with you. Rejoice in how amazing it is. Even if it’s also so simple.

The Dad our family will say goodbye to tomorrow was often a man of few words, but also a man who spoke up when it was time to speak. He was a man who made efforts to greet cashiers at the checkout in their native language, and even if the first three languages he tried didn’t work, he kept trying.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

I’m grateful we had three more weeks of memories so recently. I’m grateful Dad had 77 years of life. I marvel that he was just a few weeks shy of being married 50 years to the one and only love of his life.

Living out a promise faithfully for 50 years. Beaming in his last few days at the mischief of passing a roll of toilet paper to a baby just to see what she’ll do.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And there are stars right where you are, too. And it’s amazing to think the light that you’re seeing often started its journey from those distant places before you were born. The very star you’re wishing on might’ve died years ago, but the light it let off is still on its journey in this direction.

Even though his journey wasn’t an easy one, Dad had a light in his eyes and goodness in his heart, and it’s a gift to think about how that light still shines, and will still shine in his absence.

Sometimes, the simple things are the most amazing.

xCC