Run Your Own Race

I was rounding the corner at mile 12 when I heard the sirens. One mile to go, but what’s with the sirens? And then I see them.

Three elite runners.

Synapses in my brain fired in spite of the excruciating pain radiating from my knee, and I realized that these guys were about the finish the marathon. “Yep, I’m being lapped by these guys,” I thought, instead of enjoying the fact that I was in my last mile. Of course, so is everyone else in the pack around me. Yet it stings. Or, maybe that was my knee.

And so began the trash talk in my head. You know – excuses, rationalizations, and the comparisons.

I wish I could run without knee problems, like Yolanda Younger-than-Me.

I wish I looked cuter in my running gear, like Nora No-muffin-top.

I wish I were faster, like Nancy Never-Stops-Training.

I wish I were running the full marathon, like I did last time.

What I really wish is that I’d silence these voices of comparison and condemnation. I’m pretty certain that I’m not alone in this. Most of us get caught up in noticing what other people are doing. And envy (or regret that we’re not doing it as well as they are) may even creep in. I see it in parenting, in homeschooling, in work, in ministry, in skill sets, in talents… And while we shouldn’t be walking around with blinders on, we should be wholly focused on the path that God has laid before us. Complete focus and dedication to Him. When we do that, we’re better equipped to look around and cheer for others instead of being critical or envious. We’re able to encourage others to run their own race, because we know that we’re not competing with them. We’re free to run our own race with peace and assurance because we know that God ordained it.

God has called each of us to a unique place in life. Let’s center ourselves – our thoughts and actions – on Him and celebrate that place. Let’s run the good race and follow the path that He lights for each of us. And, let’s cheer for each other along the way.

Happy running (or walking, or skipping, or hopping, or however you do it), my friend!


Lessons Learned from the Lego Men

photoTo say that my son loves Legos would be the understatement of the year, maybe a lifetime.  And so, it was no surprise when he asked if he could bring them along to church.  He pitched his plan perfectly – he’d put them in my purse until it was time for “big” church and then he’d play quietly with them.

After a millisecond pause to consider, I happily agreed.  Because every mom of a 5 year old boy knows how hard it is for them to sit still for an extended period of time.  And the same motherhood gets nervous when said children create a stir during a quiet service, and we all know that 5 year old boys squirm, wiggle, bounce, dangle, and whisper in high volumes.  It’s much more like a softened… scream.

And so, Lego men sounded like a fabulous idea.

There was one rule: he had to make sure that the brotherhood of Lego men behaved during the service.  He agreed and we were on our way.

After getting settled in our seats, he gave me the sign and I retrieved the little figures from my purse. At first, they laid on the chair staring at the ceiling. (I guess they hadn’t had their coffee yet.)  As the music began, I thought they may perk up – you know, dance on the chair in front of us or hover in the air around us to the rhythm of the music.  However, being new to church, they were a little reserved. And so they continued to sit quietly.

But as the sermon began, they came to life. They jumped and flipped and chased. They had a delightful time – quietly, of course.

I looked at my son and smiled. I looked at the Lego men and smiled. They inspired several observations.  Of course I couldn’t process them all immediately because I was listening intently to the message.  But, as I thought about it later, here’s what I was reminded by these little colorful men:

  1. Everyone is welcome in church.  Whether you’re a Power Ranger, Ninja, Robin, or a Storm Trooper, God welcomes you. He beckons, “Come to Me.”  He loves us with a love we can hardly comprehend. Do we extend that same invitation of love and make others feel welcome?

 

  1. We all need Jesus. We are different colors and shapes and sizes but we all have the same need for Jesus. We may not agree on politics or even parenting, but we all need Jesus.  We have different faults, different weaknesses, different struggles, different desires , and the same need for Jesus. Do we embrace each other as we recognize that need or distance ourselves due to the differences?  Let’s extend grace… and love… and kindness… and help in tangible ways.  Because, we all need Jesus.

 

  1. We may all be different characters playing in a different storyline, but something holy happens when we come together to worship God.  We bring our pasts with us– our hurts, regrets, failures, and utter messiness – but beauty, healing, and transformation happen when we receive His love and grace.  Where ever we are in the plot of life, when we worship Him, our focus shifts from our microcosm of the world to His glory. What better place for that to happen than in community?

While none of these observations is particularly profound, they serve as great reminders.  Because sometimes – probably too often – we forget what church is really about. It’s not about singing and socializing. It’s not about listening and learning. It’s about worship.  Yes, those other things happen, and that’s great.  But let’s not forget about the worship.  True worship.  The kind of worship where we recognize who He is, our desperate need for Jesus, and His perfect gift of grace.  When we’re so focused on celebrating Him, His light and glory shine.  A beautiful, pure light that beckons, “Come to Me.”  And so, like my son, you’ll want to bring all your friends to experience the splendor of worship.


A New Career?

smileI saw a job description today for a Happiness Engineer. Perhaps you’ve heard of this job title. I had not. But, I love it! And, I want to be one.

Essentially, this person is a customer service and support technician for a software company. They assist customers. They offer creativity in problem solving. They fix things and make people happy.

This is who I want to be. Not for computer services and products but at home, as a wife, mother, and teacher. In the world, as a friend and neighbor. As a writer. I want to be a Happiness Engineer. I want to offer solutions… and cheer for people… and say kind things… and point people to a loving God.

But there is a job description and qualifications. First on the list:

Patience and grace.

While I still have plenty of opportunity for growth in these areas, God has already begun a work in my life. I trust that He’ll continue. But it does make me a little nervous because growth is painful sometimes. It stretches and exercise muscles that may have been hiding. Within hours of starting to write this piece, I was presented with an opportunity to offer patience and grace. And I must say, it was a struggle. But, with prayer and a little encouragement from another, I did it! At least this time.

And so, I welcome the practice. I’m up for the challenge because I’d rather try and fail than to never have attempted great things. How about you? Would you like to join me? Any other aspiring Happiness Engineers out there?

Peace and grace to you in life’s journey!


30 Days of Loving Your Family

Free Printable:  Daily calendar with fun ideas for loving your family.

love – 30 day calendar


30 Days of Love


Grace in Grieving

Seven years after the life and death of my daughter, I see patterns in my grief. There are times of the year that are more difficult  – like now, as I approach her birthday.  While Ashlynn’s birthday continues to be a day of celebration for us, the time leading up to her birthday evokes a range of emotion.  I am often restless and feel unsettled. 

While I am not preparing birthday celebrations of the typical variety, I am preparing a way to honor her life on her birthday. And so, I want it to be special. I want it to be meaningful. I want it to demonstrate my love for her. But throughout all the thought and preparations, I am keenly aware of her absence. Thus the restlessness.

In the past, I’ve berated myself for allowing these unsettled feelings to take root. But this year, evidence that grief is a journey and a process, I am extending myself some extra grace. It’s OK that I may not be able to articulate my feelings or that I react to daily life in atypical ways during these few weeks. I am choosing to embrace the freedom to focus on her life and fully grieve the loss of her presence.  And, I’m choosing to call it progress.

I hope you’ll give yourself permission to embrace your grief where ever you are in your journey. Feel it instead of ignoring it. Identify it. Accept it as a part of reality. Because I believe that in doing so, it takes us to the next level of healing. The timeline of grief is not linear and our response to grief will fluctuate over time. Instead of fearing it, let’s embrace it… in memory of our loved one.


Baptism Gone Wrong

My 5 year old son recently asked about baptism.  He was mostly interested in the mechanics of it – the actual event- because he has heard talk of it, but has no memory of seeing someone baptized. Conveniently, we were kayaking at the time of his inquiry, so I offered to demonstrate in the water. 

While it seemed like a great idea at the time, hindsight offers a different view.

After the demonstration and thorough explanation in 5 year old terms, he wanted to play “baptism” whenever we were in the water.  And so, he and his sister took turns at this symbolic act of washing away their sins.  Unfortunately, one dunking wasn’t enough.  They were apparently filthy sinners and eager to help cleanse the other.  And the inevitable happened… It got out of hand.  They nearly drowned one another.

I was forced to intervene loudly from the beach, ” No more baptizing allowed!”. Ok, so I didn’t really yell it because I thought it might be bad PR for God and I didn’t want to create an odd little scene. But, I did intervene (while trying to contain my laughter).

And, as I reflected on their innocent play, I began to think about how it mirrored real life.  How often are we quick to recognize the sins of others and offer our help in cleansing them with our drowning judgement…or criticism… or silent treatment…? We feel justified in our righteous thinking when really we are revealing our own heart issues.  God ultimately sees our heart condition and true cleansing comes only from Him.  May we seek Him in all things because we all need His mercy and saving grace. 

And, if you happen to be around water sometime this week, offer to let someone dunk you. Repeatedly and ruthlessly. It will serve as a great reminder when tempted to think that someone else needs our help fixing their sin. Let’s focus on our own junk and let God take care of the rest.


Detours and Distractions

Detours and Distractions
I had two choices according to Mapquest, and so I picked my favorite. Only, I was distracted and missed my exit off the interstate.
OK, Plan B. I’ll take option 2. No worries.
Then my thoughts started to wander and I missed that exit, too! I couldn’t believe it. I was about to cross the river and then there’d be no turning back, so I quickly pulled over to program my GPS. I should have done it sooner. Luckily, I got back on track easily and was only about seven minutes late to my meeting.
Distractions.
Preoccupation.
Detours.
They cause us to be rerouted in life. I eventually made it to my destination but it took a little longer and didn’t go as planned. Isn’t most of life that way? We get distracted and take our eyes off God. We chase our own plans and take little detours.
I used to get frustrated, even berate myself, wondering what I’d missed by inadvertently choosing a different route. But, the reality is, I always make my way back to God. At some point, I realize that I’ve detoured in the midst of my distraction and then realign (or recalculate, in GPS terms). My destination is the same, and I’ve grown along the way, so perhaps I need to let go of the idea that I may have missed something. I really should focus on what I experienced as a result of my actions and learn what I can from the adventure, all while taking in the scenery, exploring new territory, and even daydreaming a little along the way.
Yes, life is about a destination, but it’s also about the journey there. Enjoy!


Something about the Beach

Something about the beach draws me to God.  Maybe it’s the rhythmic sound of the waves. Or the combination of the breeze carrying the smell of the salty ocean spray that transports my heart and mind towards Him.

I am fascinated by the beauty and the details at the beach. All of the shells and evidence of sea creatures intrigue me.  How can each beach be so different, ever changing, yet staying the same– the same beauty, the same elements, the same praise worthy creation of God?

I discovered a new delight on my trip this week.  Sharks’ teeth!  I have found a stray tooth or two over the years, but this particular beach boasts of them in abundance.  I found one that reminded me of this fact, and so, the search begin.  At first, I didn’t find anymore.  But one night while researching the post-poison-ivy-hives that I had developed (another post for another day), I decided to take a break and see if there were any special techniques for finding these shiny black gems in the sand. And, of course, there were blogs and web sites that offered tips and strategies.  

With only 30 minutes until sunset, I was armed with new info and went tearing for the beach.  I found 5 of them in 45 minutes…yes, it had gotten dark and my dear husband was using the light in his cell phone to support my new obsession.  Calling it quits on our last night of the trip, I knew I had only one last chance to search. I checked the tide schedules and realized I would be getting up much earlier than I wanted the next morning. But, I was not disappointed. The beauty of the ocean as the sun is still rising and the quiet lapping of the waves would have been enough.  Intoxicating, actually. But, I also found eleven more of those little black beauties in less than an hour.  Each one involved a process of seeking, celebrating, and thanking God for the beauty of His creation all while living in the moment.  I was completely focused.

The cycle of seeking, celebrating, and thanking was what made it so enjoyable to focus. And,so, in a season of life where I have been struggling to live in the moment and focus, I am feasting on this important lesson.  I will see Him more clearly when I seek, celebrate, and thank Him with the same focus and intensity as I did searching for the shark’s teeth.   All else fades into the background when I know what I am looking for.

I pray that you see God’s beauty today as you focus on seeking, celebrating, and thanking Him for all His goodness.


The Journey Continues

Recently, I was asked to participate in a parent panel at a perinatal and infant loss conference. I’ve always been willing to share my journey openly with people, but somehow I struggled with finding the words to say as I was preparing for the session.

It was a safe audience: pastors, chaplains and lay ministry people. Yet suddenly, I didn’t know what to say about my grief. There were plenty of hard things I experienced and advice I could give to people working with a grieving a mother. But nothing seemed adequate. Or appropriate. Or comfortable. Nothing felt right.

 What is wrong with me? I uttered audibly. I don’t get it. I’ve shared my story a million times. I feel like I could do it in my sleep, but I can’t find the words. I shared my dilemma with my husband. And finally, as I was talking, I was able to name my struggle.

I’d been asked to share about my story as it pertained to grief. That essentially highlights my daughter’s death. And yes, she died, but when I think of Ashlynn, I don’t think of her death. I think of life. Her life. We cherished her life. We celebrated her life. And yes, we experienced her death but that’s not the part I hold onto. I focus on what she added to our lives not the vacancy that drove my grief.

Finally it made sense why I was wrestling.

And so, I took another step forward in my grief as I processed my thoughts. I was intrigued that there are still things to consider and work out related to my grief. And I was thankful for the new discovery about her life. As time passes, I have less frequent thoughts of her and so I always welcome the opportunity to think and feel deeply about her. Until the day I can wrap my arms around her again, I’ll grasp the glimpses of her life that come my way.