Seeing Gifts Everywhere You Look

Seeing Gifts Everywhere You Look

I had a birthday this week, and it was wonderful. I was with lots of the people I care about the most, and there was a wonderful collaborative effort to make the day special for me. It was. There were cards and cake and chocolate, and gifts to unwrap, including the gift of a little time away from my little people with a friend, which was fun and just really nice.

It is easy to smile when there are gifts to open!

The next day I was out on the playground with my kids, simultaneously pushing two boys in swings, while playing peekaboo with a just-now-waving her wee hand little girl in the stroller. The boys ran and climbed and zoomed down the slide, I played along with the make-believe-moments, as a shark that turned into a good Pirate, and as a space alien that became an astronaut.

Surrounded by my three small people, on a day with a perfect temperature, the sun streaming in through the trees to make tunnels of light, my heart was warm and well aware: this is another gift to open. Thank You, Lord, it is good.

Caroline Collie 002

The boys continued their climbing and jumping while I watched from a shady spot in the grass with the Belle. Music played from my phone that brought me back to Scotland, exercising in the student gym, strolling through the city at my own leisure with headphones in my ears.

Kind of a lot has changed since then.

I stared off into the distance, reflecting on how time has passed and life has changed, and noticed a single piece of pine straw, suspended and dancing the air, caught in a single thread of a spider’s web.

My first thought caught me by surprise: how quick I was to say in my mind, “Look! A gift!”

Somehow everyday simplicity is becoming a joy to hunt out and savor.

I’ve been training my heart to keep seeing all of life through that perfect picture frame, that 5 x 7 of thankfulness, that helps me remember that even when the word “gift” is not immediately apparent when I look at a situation, somehow, it’s very possible that I’ll still have the privilege of seeing the gift if I keep my eyes open (or more often my heart).

Seeing gifts in the nice breeze-by-the-river moments will perhaps always be easier than seeing it in the moments where two out of three children are hollering at the top of their lungs, because there’s an argument about which show is going to fill up their TV time or who did the thing that wasn’t supposed to be done.

Last night, HH and I reflected on the fact that we didn’t book as many weddings this year as we had hoped. We already have a few booked for next year which we’re very excited about, but this year’s wedding season was not nearly as busy as we would have hoped. But as we stopped for a moment and thought about that, about what has happened this past year, losing my Dad and accepting the unexpected part time job of settling his estate, learning to be a family of three and kicking off a career of homeschooling, moving house and starting life over in a new place…

suddenly it was easy to see what we hoped for but didn’t have as a gift, too. 

We were blessed with plenty of business, HH has stayed busy with a camera in his hand, and, perhaps one of the greatest gifts I’ve been reflecting on lately, life just keeps happening one day at a time.

None of us can be completely sure what will come our way next year or next month, or even next week. But we can enjoy the life that we have in front of us each day, and we can train our hearts to see the gifts in that day. Whether its a stuffed bag of goodies from a very thoughtful Mama (thank you again, Mom, I love you!!) or looking down at a two-year-old’s cheeky grin and pearly white teeth as he tells me he loves me at bed time, or even enjoying the little bunny rabbit we love to watch munching the grass that has grown up under the pig-cooker in the backyard — it’s an opportunity to see a gift and to unwrap it by letting your soul whisper a silent thank you to your Maker, the One that all the good and perfect gifts come from.

Perhaps you’ve been looking for reasons to give thanks for a long time, and if so, I’m sure you can wax poetic about how life-changing it is. But maybe you haven’t been much for giving gift-hunting a slice of your everyday time. Friend, all I can say is, try it. Try looking for reasons to be thankful each day. And not just for the obvious, your family, your job, your home – although they are important gifts to count again and again, start looking for those simple moments that Elizabeth Barrett Browning referenced when she said:

Earth is crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

You might find in time, that your heart begins to walk around barefoot, and for your life? It will make a gloriously beautiful difference.


With Love for the Jerk at the Bank

It’s been a while since I gave any thought to that nice old saying, Every Person Has a Story. But a Friday afternoon incident at the bank brought it home to me again. And I thought it was a lesson worth sharing.

Here’s the backstory.

Today, on the six month anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was busy opening envelopes and recording check amounts and numbers. My Dad was a part of a ministry called Samaritan Ministries International, an alternative to traditional health care. Each month, the members of SMI send their “share” to another member who has a “need”, at the direction of the central office. I’m surprised I haven’t shared with you about this ministry already, we (the Collie family) are also members and had a great experience when the Belle was born — but it’s a topic for another day.

My Dad’s need, namely, his significant hospital bills was published by SMI this month — the significant delay related to the hospital’s delay in sending the big bill and was not the fault of SMI. This means that over the course of September, I’ll be receiving hundreds of checks in the mail, with cards and words of encouragement and prayer, and those checks will cover the hospital bills from my Dad’s final days. {I hope all this makes sense, but feel free to ask questions in the comments if it doesn’t.}


I had about 110 checks to deposit into the Estate bank account this afternoon, and after spending a good wee while opening those envelopes, recording the details and so on, I was pretty spent, so I went to the bank and hoped it would be okay for me to not fill out a deposit slip listing each individual check.

The bank was short-staffed for a Friday afternoon, but I only waited a moment before my turn in line. I explained the backstory to the 110 checks I needed to deposit and asked if it was okay for me to not singly list out each check on a deposit slip. The teller was very happy to run them through her system for me and I was totally relieved.

At the time, she was the only teller behind the counter; another was in her office with several clients sitting across the desk from her, and the third was manning the drive through window.

I’ve been in the process of settling my Dad’s estate for about six months now. There are a heap of unusual twists and turns and loose ends, which mean I’ve made lots of trips to the bank settling different accounts, and the tellers have been very friendly, and we’ve gotten to know each other a little. While we waited for the checks to go through, she asked how my children were doing. We chatted some more, she continued the process of entering the checks, and I looked back over my checklist, trying to guess what the total was supposed to be, because, really, I hadn’t gone through and made sure everything was clear.

It was the end of a long week, my third week of homeschooling, still unpacking from our move, the anniversary of my Dad’s death… for some reason the thought of the holidays without him had been looming ahead of me all week — I was pretty much just spent.

I overheard one customer waiting in line complaining to another about the wait and specifically using a few words that made me think he might be referring to me taking a long time getting my deposit done. I decided to believe the best about the gentleman and assume he wasn’t actually referring to me.

But, as the transaction came to a close and I gathered my things to leave the desk, he commented, loud enough for the entire bank to hear:

“Are you sure you don’t want to take a little more time and make the rest of us wait a little longer?”

The loud, overbearing tone and rough and disrespectful words felt like an unexpected slap in the face. I spun around on my heels and said, “Would you like to know why that transaction took so long? I am depositing checks to pay my Dad’s hospital bills… he died…”

But before I’d said three words, even louder, even more disrespectfully he chirped “NO NO NO I don’t want to hear it.”

Maybe I spend too much time at home with my Hero Hubs and children, where no one is allowed to speak to anyone in that sort of manner. But the shock of the interaction really stung,  and I walked out muttering my regrets that the world didn’t revolve around him.

I climbed back into my van and erupted into a pile of tears. Today? Really, today?

After a few minutes {okay, maybe several} I’d managed to compose myself and I was ready to run the next errand on the list before heading home.

Deep breaths, tissues. Jesus.

By the time I pulled into a space in the parking lot at Walmart, I was upset all over again thinking about the interaction. I sat in my van for a few minutes looking over my checklist and trying to figure out why the teller said there were 112 checks when I could only count 111. I looked for my phone in my bag to open the calculator and see whether we’d still come to the same total. When I picked it up, it was vibrating.

I answered with a shaky voice, and the teller from the bank was on the other end of the line. She called to apologize for how the other customer had spoken to me.

“He’s a {occupation title removed so as not to incriminate anyone} in town, so I guess that’s just his attitude all the time.”

“It was wrong and completely uncalled for and I’m sorry.”

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

I thanked her for calling more than once, we wished each other a good weekend. A few more deep breaths and tissues and I was ready to let my tear-stained face into Walmart. Although I seriously considering leaving my sunglasses on, the first shopper who looked at me funny forced me to put them on top of my head.

Moments before, in the middle of that brief and heavy-hearted drive from the bank to the Walmart parking lot, I brought this care to the Lord the best way I knew how.

I was reminded of one very important thing: in every situation, Every Person Has a Story. The person who cuts you off in traffic, the Mom who just can’t devote an evening to a PTA meeting, the guy who seems totally disinterested when his kids are screaming on the bus. The girl who might look like she’s just a selfish and careless youngster taking up the teller’s time at the bank with small talk while people are waiting.

And, even the jerk at the bank who has something very unkind to say, after his patience is worn too thin at having to wait a few extra minutes before seeing a teller. Was he abused as a kid? Did he recently lose someone he loved? And perhaps has noone ever encouraged him to consider the possibility that God has a plan for his life that is so much better than being a walking, talking meaniepants?

Every Person Has a Story.

It was a fresh, timely and good reminder for me. As I hunted a space in that parking lot, I waved at the employee who looked down on his luck, standing outside and speaking with a friend. I smiled graciously when the aisles were too full and I had to navigate a sea of fellow shoppers and gently ask if people wouldn’t mind moving their carts for me to get through.

I waved another car that had just left the little Perfect Perks coffee hut in front of me so that she wouldn’t have to wait for all the cars behind me to clear in order to get moving.

I remembered one important thing: I’m not the only one who’s hurting. None of us are alone, facing a sometimes cold, often broken world. And the guy at the bank and I? We might actually have a lot in common. Perhaps we’ve both experienced a significant loss recently. Perhaps we both feel like there are more tasks on the to-do list than we can actually accomplish.

One thing is for sure. Love is the best answer for every broken question. Kindness is the best medicine to give a hurting world.

Every person has a story.

And today, even when it hurts, I’m grateful for the reminder, and I’m grateful this is mine.


That Still, Small Voice

It all started with two completely different incidents that told me the same thing. First, there was a book a friend thought I should borrow. Someone else had recommended it back when my Dad was in the hospital. It was about a doctor who had a near-death experience and spent an extended period in a coma. When, against all odds, he regained consciousness, he had a story to tell about the experience “on the other side.” Since two people had recommended it, I figured it was worth giving it a read.

A few chapters into the book, something just started to seem off to me — and with a nod at giving as much respect as possible to the experience this guy says he had, something in my gut was just going Uh-un. {Let’s also acknowledge another fact that I had to come to terms with — this guy was in a coma for seven days and had a miraculous recovery, and my Dad was in a coma for seven days, with a very different ending.} By the time I was almost midway through the book, I sensed this whisper — that quiet voice where you’re not sure why, you just know it in your knower. And the whisper said, “Stop reading this. It’s not good for you.”

Being the very sensitive and thoughtful gal that I am, I promptly reasoned out why I needed to continue reading the book in my own mind. My counterarguments included the fact that I would have to tell the truth if my friend asked what I thought: “Um, thanks but, I kinda dropped that book like a bad habit” and another thought, which I rarely live up to, “it’s good to finish things, you’ve started, right?”


But a chapter or two later the whisper was unmistakable — and I finally closed the book and only opened it again to remove the business card I’d turned into a bookmark.

Over the next few days, I pondered the reason why I needed to close the book, and it became clear that the guy was describing an experience of the afterlife that doesn’t line up with Biblical Theology. In contrast, if you read Heaven is For Real, for example, the things that Colton Burpo describes about his near death experience agree with descriptions of heaven in the Bible. The encouragement about the beauty and greatness, and goodness of Jesus in that book strengthened my faith and encouraged me to dig deeper, celebrate more, remember again how great and powerful, and how kind and loving God is.

This book, instead, left this icky feeling in my gut, as if I was trying to build a brick house with sand instead of bricks — trying to pull together something that was never going to build anything, never give me a firm place to stand. And it just made me feel bummed I lost my Dad, really.

But a redemptive purpose was at hand — the bigger lesson behind the experience. The real sermon in the nutshell was:

The Holy Spirit is speaking. I might hear, but I am not listening or obeying.

A few days later, a completely different encounter seemed to whisper the same message. I am still juggling many tasks surrounding the settling of my Dad’s estate, and picking up an estate-related check at a lawyer’s office about twenty minutes away was on the list. I decided on a whim, about forty minutes before lunchtime, to throw the kiddies in the car and quickly run this errand before lunch. And — maybe I should mention — I didn’t know exactly where the lawyer’s office was.

Sometimes stupidity looks a lot like bravery.

I loaded the small people into the van with no small amount of effort, and was eventually ready to go, after running back inside to grab something and something else at least twice. Neither of those something elses were a diaper bag, by the way. I didn’t even remember that.

Finally pulling out of park and into reverse, I glanced over my shoulder to see a big red truck in the driveway. I put the swagger wagon back in park and hopped out to find out Who and What. A roofing estimate was ready and the gentleman who’d done the estimate dropped it off personally to explain a few things. I thanked him for the estimate, and after a brief chat hopped back in the car to get going.

And there was that whisper again.

This is not a good idea. Put the car back in park and take the kids back inside. Don’t.

But brave (stupid) me, being the sensitive and thoughtful gal that I am, promptly reasoned This needs to get done. And, it’ll be really quick. And, I’ll feel like thebombdotcom if I manage to cross another chore off the list with three kids in tow. And, I’ll call the hubs and he can help me navigate my way there since… look at that… Google Maps doesn’t actually know how to get me there.

An hour later, I was back where I started. In the driveway at our house. With a crying baby, two whining and hungry kids, and no check. I never found the lawyer’s office. Google Maps and Bing completely failed me. An extended detour wasted a good twenty plus minutes of my time. It. was. a. stupid. waste. of. time.

And there the message was again, a solid sermon in a nutshell:

The Holy Spirit is speaking. I might hear, but I am not listening, or obeying.

We took a trip up to the mountains a few weekends ago celebrate our anniversary. In six years of marriage, we’ve lived in three countries, had three kids, and called about six different places home. There is good cause for celebration.

I decided to “unplug” for the weekend. My laptop stayed at home, my phone was only used for the purpose of calling or texting, and I kept that to a minimum. And I learned a few things in the process.

First, if you can figure out where your heart is by observing where your mind is, my mind wonders where my phone is, and not where my heart is, no less than twenty times a day. If HH walks out of the room — even just to the loo — I immediately grab my phone to glance at how my game of Words with Friends is going, the time, maybe my email, or … you guessed it… Facebook.

And I mean what I say — if my mind immediately thinks PHONE before I sit down to nurse a baby, before I change from one room to another, anytime someone exits the room, or when I’m about to go to the bathroom — my phone is where I am devoting a heap of my time and attention.

Here’s some scary sauce for you. It’s the definition of worship:

The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.

My pattern is clearly one where I show more love and devotion to this sacred object that I constantly keep in close proximity, rather than the Deity — the Lord, my God, my Savior, the One I want to call my All in All.

If step one is diagnosing the problem, step two is finding the solution.

I started by apologizing to God. Lord, You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’ve repeatedly sold you out for an extra half hour of youtube before bed.

And then I apologized to my Words with Friends buddies, acknowledging that if I don’t have time for my Lord, my Bible, or prayer, then I don’t have time for Words With Friends. Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That, replied my understanding friend, Mona.

I proceeded to begin deleting apps my from my phone. And I began to feel a great weight lifting. The self-inflicted pressure of keeping up with social media fluttered away. No, Pages Manager App, I don’t care that we got new likes. Sorry, Facebook, you are no longer allowed to notify me every time anything happens. To anybody anywhere ever.

But more important than the removal of the things that are not beneficial is bringing in the things that are. This means renewing my commitment to choose a reasonable bedtime over an episode of whatever show it is at the moment we’re barreling through a season of on Amazon Prime. What a novel idea — to get up early and be with the Lord, rather than to stay up late just to be entertained!

My Dad would’ve turned 65 today. And dealing with losing him is a constant reminder that we don’t know how much time we have — and time is the one thing we can’t buy more of — so it’s in our best interest to give ourselves a good long look in the mirror to ask — what am I doing with the time I’ve been given?

Just as the bucket empties just the same whether you knock it over or it has a slow leak, I am praying for help as I slowly take baby steps toward re-focusing, re-centering, and re-committing to live a circumspect life with Jesus at the center. He will fill up the cup to overflowing again, He will show me what to do with the time that I have. Thank heavens for a God who comes near to the contrite (Psalm 34:18) — I regret allowing urgency to determine my daily course of action, and allowing entertainment to pretty much fill all the space between one urgent task and the next one.

More thoughts on this Re-centering are on the way, but in the meantime, I’d love a slice of your story. Do you feel like you’re making the most of the time that you have, or do you feel caught in a cycle of distraction?



P.S. Thanks so much for your prayers when I shared a message about my Dad on Father’s Day. If you’d like to hear it, you can download it here. I kept it together – and I know prayer had everything to do with that. Thank you.

Kind of a Big Update (But Still Small)

Maywhobiddyhaps things have been a little quiet ’round here. I suppose that depends on your definition of quiet. But it’s for very good reason. A few very good reasons. So shall I continue?

Well, for starters, a little opportunity has come up for the Hubs and myself (which would not involve us moving country or even home – bonus!) and which we are considering and praying about. It seems like a good idea — I am just hungry to know that it’s a God-idea. More on that later.

I’ve tried out going no-poo. (As in quitting shampoo and using this alternative method which is supposed to mean you only have to wash your hair like once a week and it’s still going to be fabulous.) I’ve held off on telling you about this adventure because I didn’t know what to say yet. I fell off the wagon this morning because my scalp was really itchy. I’m going to try again — probably when we get back from SA. Does this relate in any way to the conversation we’re having right now? Mmmm…probably not.


This is what the Bear looks like these days.


Also, we are preparing for a little trip to Atlanta for Easter (scoping out spots for the Bear to hunt Easter eggs) and looking forward to hanging with Unky Russ again. Maybe seeing Rory and Sarah! (Rory whose kilt I was sporting the other day, and Sarah, his unsinkably-good-spirited Lord-loving wife). AND I hope hope hope we’ll be traveling to that South African food store that makes me feel right at home.

Not long after we get back, (11ish days I think?) we take off for SA. Which is VERY exciting. For a gabillion reasons which include seeing Goo-Goo and Gammy and Auntie Lyn, AND seeing Unky Vaughan and Auntie Penny get married. On a game reserve in South Africa — gorgeous!! — where we’ll also get to do game viewing and relax and shew-wee I am pumped!

In other news, I am searching for the bottom of my laundry basket, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen it I’m beginning to think it does not actually exist.

This is what Tiger Tank looks like these days. He is taking steps now and then!
I’ve also been working hard on a redesign, so that, true to my word, I will change the name of this here blog because I’m not blogging From Africa any more. (Still with love of course.) By the time I get it done, I might be blogging from South Africa again. For a month.
Here’s a snippety-preview of what might be coming. Unless I throw it all out and start over again. I already did that twice. And lost half my work once. This might be a pattern I should have checked out.

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{Any guesses at what that design is going for?}

In addition to that tidbit which I’m sure will keep you on the edge of your seat, there is a significant possibility that we’ll be able to go to Agnes’s wedding. Yes, it’s Alan’s wedding too, but ya know, Agnes was pretty much the missing link that made sure our second child wasn’t born in a car or on the side of a highway. And so to us it’s Agnes’s wedding. {But we love Alan and we’ll be very glad to see him, too.} And ohmyheart I am already thinking about what the Ring Bear should wear. Lord let it be so!

Then there’s this last little piece of information that draws to a conclusion the many reasons why I’ve had a less-than-average amount to say lately. It does involve the fact that I’m not good at keeping things quiet and so I’m better off just hushing until it’s time to speak. It also involves me being ridiculously tired and fighting regular bouts of nausea. And needing to tinkle at 3 am.

And doing something for the first time and the third time at the same time, this November. (See if you can figure that one out.)

And thats the Big (but still small) update!

More Than We Can Handle

We talked about it in bed a couple of nights ago…was it a Biblical statement? “God will never give you more than you can handle?” That evening Katie — brave and beautiful, living out the Gospel as a single Mom with a houseful of orphans-come-home in Uganda whispered the thought in a blog post: Does He give us more than we can handle so that we will turn to Him?

Yes, Katie — I think so.

Because the point of living out the Gospel-life is learning that in Him we have everything we need for life and godliness. When babies won’t nap and houses need scrubbing. When the refrigerator is empty and we don’t know what we’ll eat tomorrow. When we say goodbye to children for the last time and watch them lowered into the ground.

This testimony has been told, near and far for generations:

Jesus! He is enough.


We didn’t come to a conclusion in bed that night, though as the case usually is my mind was made up. He does give us more than we can handle. Then He also gives us Jesus.

And then the God-whisper comes again, on my screen, a link from a friend — this mother who handles the more-than-you-can-handle by His grace. She has said goodbye to a son named Asher, and my heart tightens, I swallow hard, I look away and tell my eyes not to cry. Arms full with four babies three and under and this is how she does it:

Jesus! He is enough.

I go back to thinking about how we’re going to make it, an unknown future, a known and good God. We’ve got questions, He’s got answers. I’ve got worry. He’s got peace. I don’t know about tomorrow, but He is here today.

Jesus! He is enough.

These words I’ve linked to — they are worth taking the time to read.

And these thoughts, perhaps worth pondering. If He does give us more than we can handle but we think that He won’t — will we know how to handle it? If instead we trust that no matter what fiery furnace or lion’s den we face, we rely on this Truth, this Word, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us — the Word, the Man who is the Truth — surely we can face it all.

Jesus! He is enough.