Today’s Most Important “To Do” – Seeing What’s In Front of Me

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Yesterday I was greeted by a package on my porch with one sentence scrawled on it: “you made a difference today, Cara.”

It made me smile. Whether they knew if I truly made a difference didn’t matter. What mattered is they had taken the time to encourage me. Someone spoke my name, wrote it on a box, and thought good thoughts of me.

It reminded me how we all long for this – whether it’s from the boxes on our porches or over morning coffee in our kitchens. Being seen and heard by those around us breathes life into our days. It shows us we matter and our earthly participation is significant. This is such a simple thing, yet it’s also the easiest for me to forget.

When I put my phone away at the checkout in the grocery store, I see the cashier’s face and name. I can notice that it’s an unusual spelling and it prompts an interesting conversation about what their mom imagined when she named them. I can look into their eyes and notice what kind of day I guess they are having. I can admire something wonderful in them.

By being present, I can see them and be with them, even if only for a few minutes.
One of the kindest things we can do for each other is to connect what we hear to what we can guess others feel. My friend Beth is next level at this. We were walking together recently and I shared the ordinary news of my days.

As a good listener does, she pointed out the impact of things I clearly glossed over. She was able to see the heaviness of the decisions on my spirit. She saw me, she heard me and invited me to notice the hard thing too. In the noticing, I felt like I wasn’t facing things alone. She didn’t try to fix it or change it, but she was willing to be with me in it. She gave me the gift of being willing to sit right next to me in my messy situation, even though it wasn’t glamorous or social media worthy.

If we are serious about doing our one precious life well, being professional see-ers and hear-ers may be the main thing. We may be extraordinarily busy and importantly consumed by all the life stuff. I get that we all have places to be and significant stuff to do. Yet I know every one of us longs to be seen and heard. If it’s truly one of the most life-giving things I can do, why aren’t I doing it more? Why isn’t it the biggest, fattest, priority item I put first in bold letters – to see and be with the people I cross paths with?

If you want an example of someone who was fantastic at being with the people before him, check out all the people Jesus deeply saw. The Bible is loaded with examples of people going to great lengths just for his gaze to rest upon them. We all long for that personal touch, a deep glimpse, a personal word, or a heartfelt encouragement with those we meet and spend time with. We long for those around us to truly see us.

The truth is it doesn’t take much time to look people in the eye, to put down my phone or my work or laundry, to stop in the midst of the chaos and be deeply where I am and richly aware of the people around me. It doesn’t take much to notice who is in our midst and the good things they do to bless our lives. We all long for someone to see us, truly see us, in the midst of our busy days. What a gift to do that for someone else today. To be able to pause long enough, get outside of my head and checklists to notice someone else and their wonderful qualities.

My most important daily “to do” is to be present to who is before me, in love.

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7 Life Lessons My Dad Taught Me From Golf

My dad, Cesar Colon-Bonet, my son, Campbell and me celebrating Masters Week in 2004.

For me, the two best things about spring are the weather and the Masters Golf Tournament.

If you aren’t a golf fan, the Masters is like the Super Bowl of golf held in Augusta, Georgia at one of the most beautiful courses in the world. What I appreciate most is not only the tradition and history, but over the years witnessing the love of the game my father held so passionately.

My dad taught me to play when I was ten. As the youngest of five children, tagging along to the golf range or riding in the cart meant I had my dad’s undivided attention for several hours. To be honest, I didn’t love golf as a kid. My dad was pretty demanding as a golf teacher. But the demanding part was because he understood that doing something well required sacrifice. In this way, golf became a rich metaphor for life in my family.

My dad passed away last year during what would have been Masters week. It feels fitting and perfect that he went home to golf on the other side of heaven at that time. I smile as I imagine him, rum and Coke in hand, golfing with The Master, watching The Masters from above. (Hopefully, rum and Cokes are allowed in heaven.)

As an adult, golf still holds a complicated relationship. It’s sort of like the crazy uncle you love to be with – they are a total blast, but they frustrate you beyond belief at the same time. Even though I struggle as a golfer, the lessons stay with me. Golf is the only sport I know that the more your practice, the possibilities of not improving are still fairly high.

Golf’s greatest gift and greatest challenge is that it demands all of you. You cannot be thinking about dinner plans or last night’s argument or what you should do later. You have to be fully present to all of it. It’s easy to get lost in the challenge, nature, fellowship, and the game. Even now, after years of playing, I can’t say I’m much better than when my dad was teaching me to chip balls into tires in the backyard at age 10.

As I take stock of all I have learned from my dad, here are seven favorite life lessons I’ve learned from golf.

1. Be fully present.

2. Keep working at your game – some days will be terrible and some will be fantastic. Hold onto those fantastic shots.

3. Notice the beauty in your midst as you play.

4. It’s always a good idea to stay out of trouble – traps, woods, water.

5. You never want to be out of bounds.

6. When playing your worst, it’s a good idea to stay quiet and keep impeccable manners.

7. You are only one swing away from the next great shot.

After so many years of swinging a club, I’m learning that golf is so much more than a game. I’m grateful my dad taught me how to play. I think of him every time I pick up a club. It’s given me a deep appreciation of doing hard things for the pure fun of it. It’s given me a point of connection I share with the people I love – as it’s something my husband, my son and I can all enjoy together. It’s shown me that sometimes mastering something isn’t the point.

Golf has given me perhaps the greatest life lesson of all: just play.

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Why Homeschooling Is Worth It

An Excerpt from Nourish: Encouragement for Parents Homeschooling Through High School

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Nothing pursued out of love will ever be lost.

When I began to think about how much I put into our homeschool season, I wondered if all of this effort would be worth it. Was it truly worth pouring every ounce of myself into my kids’ education?

Certainly, with everything there is a cost. With this time, I could be working, bringing home more money, and buying more stuff. I would have better hair, nicer clothes and enjoy a lot more lunches with girlfriends. Most likely, I would exercise more and have more time for coffees, shopping, errands, and “me” time.

When I compare those things to the bigger vision, they feel hollow.For me, the long-term view holds the things I call “homeschool gold.” Things such as hearing my son pour out his heart on what he thinks about a subject. Gold also might look like sharing an audiobook together and having rich conversations about the story and characters. As a homeschool parent, I have the opportunity to guide my child’s heart on a daily basis, or at least be available to do so. When I think about it in this way, there is no comparison.

While you are in the homeschool years, it’s not wrong to miss things you enjoyed before this season. It’s perfectly fine to have nice clothes, spend time over coffee with girlfriends, or have “me” time. It’s wonderful to sprinkle those into your schedule. If you are clever, you will still find a way to weave those into your life.

When I’m discouraged, I pile on all the reasons why this season stinks. My child hates this. I hate this. Why are we making ourselves miserable? If he attended regular school, I would have time to clean, cook, and exercise. I would be a better wife, a better mom, a better everything.

Maybe. Or maybe I need to give myself some grace. Perhaps I need to simplify, slow down, delegate, do less, put my phone down, or stop looking at social media. Quite possibly if I am struggling, it could be a character issue, mine or my child’s.

Homeschooling magnifies our strengths and our weaknesses. Not only does it require facilitating classes like algebra and British literature, but also unexpected subjects like my own pride, ego, perfection, and approval issues. In homeschooling, you will have to look at your own stuff and you might not like it.

But our God is big enough to handle it. I trust He has amazing plans for my family. I believe deeply and unequivocally this pursuit is worth it.

Even if we choose not to homeschool beyond this year, month or week, the time spent walking alongside my child with loving intentions will never be lost. God uses all of it. He will do the same for you.

Walk in a manner to show your family that homeschooling is worth it. Trust that your child and your family are worth it. Know deep in the places in your heart that your God is more than worth it, because He is.

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How to Be a Next Level Neighbor

5 Simple Ways That Might Make Your Neighborhood a Better Place

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I thought I was a good neighbor before the pandemic. It turns out, I had a lot to learn.

When my friend picked out the book, “The Art of Neighboring” for our church small group study, I was like the straight-A student thinking I had this one in the bag. After all, I knew most of my neighbors’ first and last names. For some, I had their email addresses. I even knew their dogs’ names. I soon came to learn there’s a big difference in knowing someone’s name versus knowing someone’s heart.

Our study started out with a powerful story of how 20 pastors were looking to change and love their community in a more meaningful way. They smartly invited the mayor to give his input. The mayor put it simply, “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a better community of great neighbors.” (pg. 19, The Art of Neighboring)

One of the authors, Dave Runyon sums up this moment of humble irony, “In a word, the mayor invited a roomful of pastors to get their people to actually obey Jesus.”

It sounds so simple. In Mark 12:31(ESV), Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”In my mind, changing the world should involve big, sweeping, important-sounding tasks. Could good neighboring really be the thing that would help our communities to be better, grow stronger? Could caring for my actual neighbors truly be that significant?

It was worth finding out.

This year, I have begun to learn more than my neighbors’ names. By being intentional in connecting with them, they have graciously allowed me to share more of their lives. We have shared meals, tools, recipes, walks, grocery store runs, pet help, health concerns, and prayers for each other. I have even learned how to receive care from them too, which is not easy for me. As time unfolds, my hope is that we will continue to deepen our connections. The most significant thing I learned was that most of my original assumptions about my neighbors were completely wrong. I’m so grateful to walk deeper in this season with the people who surround me.

Now is the perfect time to lavishly care for your neighbor, Jesus style. If you don’t know any of your neighbors’ names or if you know all of your neighbors well, now is the perfect time to nurture more meaningful connections. If nothing else, you will figure out who is the best neighbor to borrow spices or tools from. Can we really change the world by caring well for our neighbors? I hope you will join me in trying to figure it out.

Here are five simple ways you can consider for upping your neighbor game:

1.Touch Base.

It seems like a simple thing to give a call or text your neighbor, but for my neighbors who aren’t going out much, it is huge. If you don’t have your neighbors’ phone numbers, leave a note in their mailbox with your name, email, and number. Tell them what days you usually run errands and encourage them to let you know if you can help. This is not a one and done, make this a regular habit.

2.Share Something.

You never know how your leftovers can make someone’s day. I had a huge tray of lasagna that I was planning to freeze but remembered my neighbor across the street mentioned she was having knee surgery. I shared my lasagna with her and she treated me like I brought her gold. Share anything you have, no matter how small. Cookies, sourdough bread, herbs from your garden. You never know how being thought of by someone else changes people.

3.Pay Attention.

Taking walks in the neighborhood is an easy way to meet neighbors. Take the time to ask people’s names, how they are, if they need something or find things they care about. If you are like me and forget people’s names, it’s grace-filled to share that. Saying something like, “I know we’ve been neighbors for a long time and I should know your name by now, but can you remind me of your name again?” Being humble is endearing and human. Remembering the little things like names and interests shows people you are present to who they are.

4.Invite Prayer.

Prayer is powerful. It’s also a meaningful way to encourage each other and care for your neighbors. When neighbors share struggles, tell them you’ll pray. It doesn’t have to be huge or heavy, but you can share simply, “I’ll be praying for you.” If you know they are a Jesus follower, ask them how you can be praying for them specifically. While you are walking or driving around your neighborhood, intentionally cover the homes in prayer. There is no greater way to speak peace and unity over our surroundings.

5.Gather Simply.

I wanted to bring my neighbors together but wasn’t sure how to begin. I came up with the simple idea of gathering in the cul-de-sac for a one-hour social on a Friday. After six hours of hanging out together and having the most fun we had had in a long time, we realized we were on to something. Since then, we have gathered regularly and everyone brings their own everything – food, drink chairs, and snacks. We dress for whatever the weather brings. The street was the great equalizer as no one had to clean, cook or host. It was simply a chance to connect and enjoy each other.

I deeply believe Jesus meant for us to love our actual neighbors. Not just their names or their cars or their pets, but loving them enough to get to know them in an authentic way. Just like our faith, neighboring well doesn’t need to be complicated. There has never been a more important time to get Mark 12:31 right. Loving our neighbors may be exactly what a hurting world needs.

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An Average Girl’s View on Eating Plants

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I call it the “Year of the Broccoli.” My husband calls it his skinny jeans season. Regardless, about this time last year, we both decided to take a break from meat.

It started out as a challenge for Lent to see what it would be like to be veggie-based for the 40 days leading up to Easter. When my husband found out what I was up to, he decided to join me as a good sport. At first, I thought it was simply a creative cooking challenge to only eat plants. But what happened next was pretty amazing.

My husband had his annual physical a little over a month after starting the challenge. Not only did he quickly shed 10 pounds, but his annual bloodwork came back so remarkable, even his doctor wanted to know what he was up to. My results were subtle – I simply slept better, felt lighter and clearer-headed. My skin looked nicer. I eventually did lose some weight, but not as much as my husband’s eventual 20 pounds. I’m not sure how to explain it, but we just felt better entirely.

With COVID in full force, it became the perfect time for making health a priority. To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone should become plant-based. What I will say is that we had some pretty remarkable results without trying very hard. Overall, we aimed not to be too legalistic about it. Sometimes we ate bacon. If someone cooked us a special meal that had meat, we ate it happily. But for the majority of the time, we were plant-based.

Full disclosure: I’m not a dietician. I’m not a scientist or a medical doctor. I’m pretty average in my cooking abilities. I know just as much as you do about eating healthy. But I did learn some new recipes and tried a bunch of things with vegetables. If you need more reasons besides COVID and boosting your immune system, being plant-based is pretty Biblical (see the book of Daniel). But there are always exceptions, aka Adam and Eve, where plants didn’t work out too well. So there’s that.

Nevertheless, here’s what we learned after a year of eating a plant-based diet:

You Will Be Fascinating, Sort Of.

People will make fun of you for eating only plants at first but then be totally fascinated. My husband loved it when his friends were dying to know how he dropped 20 pounds, seemingly without trying. I didn’t lose weight like that, but when people found out we were plant-based, without fail, the conversation typically went like this, “tell me everything.”

It Takes Time.

Like all new things, it takes time to get the hang of it. Most people thought being plant-based means salads and carrot sticks at every meal. Not true. It does take a bit of re-thinking for how you do meals. Vegetables do require chopping, prepping, and a different mindset for main courses. To make it more automatic, I ordered a mail delivery vegetable box. You will have to play with spices and food groups that may be new to you. Learning how to make tasty things with tofu, lentils, beans, and other things I hadn’t cooked before was foreign cooking territory for me. We definitely threw away some things that tasted terrible. But for the most part, it was a fun new adventure in eating.

Keep Your Favorite Things.

Burger Sundays were something my husband wanted to make sure we kept even if we were plant-based. This required some tinkering. There are plenty of faux-meat products on the market, but the ingredients in some of those are actually worse for you. The fake meat stuff makes for good transition foods, but eventually, you may want to move beyond them. Play around with creating your favorites like veggie burgers, pizzas, nachos, and other things that feel like treat foods. With a little experimenting, it’s amazing how delicious the plant-based version can be.

Treat it Like a Fantastic Health Experiment.

After we had gone plant-based for 40 days, it was hard to go back. Surprisingly, our tastes changed and we were able to enjoy food differently. In fact, when Easter came and I put out the big ham, my husband refused to have any of it. He loved the way he felt so much, he didn’t want to go back. I’m not saying we will always be plant-based, but I do know we enjoy keeping plants as central for our meals. Try it for whatever amount of time you like – a day, a week, a month. See if you notice a difference in how you feel.

Keep Learning to Stay Inspired.

If you are curious about plant-based living, start with watching some documentaries and learning about it to see if it’s for you. A few good sources to consider are: The Game Changers, Engine 2/PlantStrong and Forks Over Knives. If you need help with meal planning, check out some plant-based cookbooks from your local library to inspire you. The Engine 2 Diet has many simple, hearty recipes that are a perfect start to figuring out where to begin with plants. I also love the How Not to Die Cookbook for great cooking and healthy living advice.

Give Plants a Chance.

There are a few downsides to being plant-based. You may find that restaurants have nothing on the menu for you other than a salad. Sometimes you may feel like the oddball sticking out. My encouragement is to make it work for you. When friends make a special meal involving meat, have freedom to give yourself grace and eat it, or not. If you are at a restaurant and want to enjoy meat, enjoy it fully. We decided as a family to make plant-based eating our goal, with the option to enjoy other foods as special if desired. When we do enjoy occasional meat, we appreciate it completely.

My encouragement is to give plant life a try. Perhaps it’s Meatless Mondays or rotating every other day as full-on veggie-focused. Make it work for you. From a health benefit, there are virtually no downsides. It’s a fun experiment for your health – then you, too, can declare your own Year of the Broccoli.

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What Do You Want, Really?

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When’s the last time you shared, out loud, what you truly want?

For me, it’s been a long time. Dreaming about what I want in my head is easy, but if I’m honest, it’s more difficult to say it out loud. Saying what you want requires paying attention to your inside self. It’s thinking through the wilderness of your life and declaring, “there it is, this is what I want.”

This question was inspired by an article I read recently called, “What I Want” by Sean Dietrich. It was a beautiful, poetic piece written by a thoughtful guy dreaming out loud for his life. Sean is such a thoughtful guy and I hope you will take time to read his words as men like him are worth the listening.

His question reminded me how so often I live out the opposite. What I don’t want frames my boundaries and becomes the way I view everything. It’s easier for me to be critical, to set things aside and distance myself from the “don’t want stuff.” It was rare and refreshing to consider, “what do I want?”

My first response defaults to big, unsolveable things like world peace or the cure for cancer. I want that, but I also want simple things too, like getting a good night’s sleep for a change. Or a fantastic cheeseburger. The things you deeply want are more than a happy wish list. They drill down to specifics of your character and your heart. They are clarifying and true.

What I love about asking ourselves what we really want is that there is a realness to it. There’s an authenticity here I long for and I’m guessing you do, too. With apologies to Sean, I think to make it even better, I would add the word, really. Asking “what do you want, really?” requires something. It demands you to look deeper at your personal stuff and convinces you there is an answer. But only if you are brave enough to do the work.

So here goes….What I want, really:

1. To break up with approval for good.

2. To get really good at loving big, even when people don’t deserve it.

3. To deeply get how loved I am by God and for others to lavishly get how loved they are by Him too.

4. To be able to forgive like my dog.

5. To see setbacks and disappointments as refining, lovely work.

6. To be a champion sleeper.

7. To end hunger – with all of our technology and brilliance, no family should ever go hungry.

8. To be unafraid to dream big fat ridiculous dreams and go after them.

9. To live and tell hilarious stories that family and friends will retell long after I’m gone.

10. For people to leave encouraged after spending time with me.

11. To spend more time listening, wondering, and loving instead of criticizing, telling, and complaining.

12. To treasure whatever age I am as the best age yet.

PS Thanks to Sean Dietrich and his article, “What I Want” which inspired this story. I hope you will take five minutes to read his beautiful piece here. I especially loved his words about bonfires and baseball games at his funeral and his desire to lift heavy wheelchairs for women made me grateful for men like him.

PSS Now it’s your turn – what do you really want? Take some time to write it down or better yet, say it out loud. Or if you are feeling brave, share one of the things you really want here.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Ready to Grow?

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:11 NIV

My mom was the Jedi master of cultivating plants.

Friends of mine would show up with dead sticks of once-beautiful orchids and beg, “can you please take this to your mom?” Plants in her care became almost unrecognizable with her tending. After weeks of classical music, constant nurturing, and lavish love, plants under her watch had no choice but to surrender to their full amazing glory.

My abilities with plants, while solid, aren’t quite as masterful. I love it because it reminds me of her, not because I’m particularly good at it. Now that we are knee-deep in the season of winter, growing something feels almost visceral. My heart aches to see something thriving. Right now, I absolutely crave the tiny green shoots of possibility, freshness, and resiliency.

On a recent particularly bad day, I desperately bought some seeds online. It felt like an act of defiance to buy the 8 tiny bags of heirloom greens and sugar snap peas. More importantly, it felt like me shaking an angry fist at winter to say, “you aren’t going to beat me down. Or at least not yet.”

Planting those seeds felt like a bold act of faith. As I placed a tiny speck of a seed into the growing material, producing anything appears highly improbable. Still, I plant those barely-there seeds anyway. I place my tray of hope in a sunny spot and I wait.

My heart longs for the tiny, elegant tendrils of baby growth. The delicate, seemingly impossible flowers of sugar snap peas are always one of the first spring crops. I usually forget about planting them until the moment has passed and I’ve missed my window. Not this year. This year I’m desperate to grow something, nurture something, tend something and watch it flourish. Even if it doesn’t, the hope rests in the trying and trusting, whatever happens, it is worth it.

What about you? What are you longing to nurture in your heart? What new bold seeds of opportunity are you ready to press into fresh soil? What new things need to be cultivated, watered, nourished, and placed in a sunny place to burst forth in showy wonder for you

Maybe you are like me and you need to plant something. Or perhaps you are like my friend Terrie who longs to begin a YouTube channel with jokes she is so perfect at telling. Maybe you are like my friend Laurie who wants to create a baby book for mothers who have lost babies and need a tool to grieve. Perhaps you are like my friend Dena who captures stop-in-your-tracks photography and longs to make her work more widely known. Or maybe you simply want to start exploring what dreams need to be awakened in you.

Whatever you long to plant, the world needs you to do it. Just like I needed sugar snap peas, the world needs Julie’s jokes and Laurie’s place to grieve. We need Dena’s photos to remind us that beauty is everywhere. We need you to plant that thing. The sooner the better.

More than anything, it feels true to hope in the possibilities.It feels right to be bold in dreaming and starting. With a wink to my mom in heaven, I play classical music for my sweet tiny baby seedlings. I whisper love over them as I pray for the day when they are strong and vibrant and bursting with life. I pray you will do the same.

No matter how ridiculous, no matter how impossible, under the great Gardener, there is a place for your tiny idea to grow.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The Lovely Place of Hard-Fought Joy

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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

If joy were a vitamin, I would be deficient this week.

Nothing felt right. No amount of carbs, scrolling on social media, chocolate or Instagram inspiration made me feel better. An anxious longing set up shop in my heart and wouldn’t go away. In desperation, I searched the scriptures for some encouragement, any encouragement I could find.

Of course, I happened to be studying Philippians, basically the Bible’s “joy letter” from Paul to the church.God is so clever. Reading through the verses, you would have thought Paul was the richest, luckiest, happiest guy in the world. Basically, the Bill Gates of the Bible. Digging deeper, I am reminded Paul wrote the letter from prison, probably chained to a Roman soldier, with no hope of being released anytime soon or the prospect of certain death. He had to rely on the kindness of his church to even have something to eat. Further, his future held strong chances of ending badly. How in the world could Paul be so happy?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4 NIV)

Really Paul. Rejoice always? He even repeats it to be clear. I don’t even feel like pretend rejoicing. Paul was next-level good at keeping the joy flame going. He knew God had already worked things out, Paul knew his job was to stay joyful.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)

That last line might be one of the most quoted verses from the Bible, but I never grow tired of hearing it’s promises. I long for Paul’s confidence. I copy out his words in my journal in hopes they become part of me. I long for the ability to deeply get Paul’s secret. I don’t think this kind of joy comes from studying enough or praying enough, I think it takes time and fire to learn joy like that. Paul knew deep trust because he had faced deep trials. I can’t begin to understand all Paul faced, but I certainly want his resilient style of joy.

What I’m learning is joy isn’t smiley-faced all the time. Joy can be known deeply through tear-stained cheeks and aching lonely hearts. Joy isn’t reserved for summertime sunsets but found in wintertime storms that remind me of the comfort of home. I know it’s perfectly okay to miss those feel-good times. But the joy found in the depths is the true joy I think Paul talks about.

Joy in my mind looked like an always happy, weekend attitude. But quiet, resilient joy looks like pressing into what is, resting in our boredom, holding close the anxiety and the unanswered questions. It’s found from sitting with our brokenness and enduring. It’s pressing into the difficult wilderness side of ourselves to fully get that God is still with us and for us. Those hard-fought joy days are the ones that invite us to steep ourselves into the authenticity of who God has called us to be. Deeply confident, pressing in, resilient, Paul-style joyful.

Through the difficult days, God invites us into deeper waters. I’m learning His joy isn’t finite. It isn’t only found in a book, or a building or when things are going well in our lives. Joy is a hard-fought confidence. It is sure and fiery. It is still there waiting for us even when we don’t feel like it.

I know my joy will return. I trust that God is sending it my way, I just have to wait for it. In the meantime, I pray, I rest, I press into what is and trust that this is the kind of joy Paul knew so well.

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What’s Good?

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“… always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”1 Peter 3:15

I have a friend who always greets me with the expression, “what’s good?” Never, “how are you?” or “we are fine and you?” But always, “what’s good?”

What’s funny is I never know what to say. Fumbling over my words, there is an awkwardness to his question. I mentally search my life like I’m on some sort of Jeopardy-style quiz show where the right answer wins me a prize. His question made me pause to consider why this question was a stumper.

I want my words to shine easily as in 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I don’t get why coming up with an answer to “what’s good?” is so hard.

As a Christian, I want to be bursting with what’s good. There are so many good blessings to celebrate: a loving spouse, good health, a cozy home, a vibrant family, and an abundance of resources. I get to live side by side with a Savior who loves me in ways that are hard to understand. I am living in a light-filled relationship with Christ and then I get to spend eternity in heaven. There are truckloads of good things to share.

Instead of those words, I stumble over what to say. I search my day for the most interesting thing I think he wants to hear. I point out any recent accomplishments or good news activities. In my striving to please, my words reflect my ego and my pride. I’m ashamed that the best thing I can think of amounts to what restaurant I ate at recently.

Even though I’m disappointed with myself, I know Christ understands. He knows my heart and if He were hanging out over pizza with me, I think He would encourage me to remember I am still a work in progress. He would give me armfuls of grace and invite me to kindly consider a more interesting response.

Yet I don’t think our responses are the ultimate point. I think Christ calls us to live out overflow mode so people can’t help but see Him in all we are and all we do. As Christ-followers it’s not entirely about the words we speak, but how we live our lives and the light it produces as a result. Am I a light shiner? Can people tell He is in me? More than the words I speak, does the life I live reflect Him?

That’s where I want to go to work. Jesus calls me to a higher standard. I’m ready with my response. I’ve given it a lot of thought for the next time my friend asks me, “what’s good?”

My response will be simple: “Everything is good in Him.”

How to Love Well

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 3 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love the ones you’re with.

Not only are these cool song lyrics, but also definitely a catchy notion. For me, singing those words is far easier than doing the hard thing of loving well. More than Valentine’s cards and candy, I’ve been thinking about how I can love my family better.

Some days I’m pretty good at it, especially on Saturday mornings. It’s easy to encourage my family on days when I feel good, am well-rested, and have the energy to pour into them. It’s not so easy on wintry days when I haven’t slept well, have a million things on my plate, and mountains of mundane to do. Those grays days are when I’m reacting to the overwhelm and responding with a harsh attitude to the people I claim to care about most. Love the ones you’re with? Maybe tomorrow.

Full disclosure – there have been some grumpy folks around our home lately. I’m not naming any names, but let’s just say it’s not the dog. I know I can be a jerk too, so I’m not passing the buck. Truly, I want my default setting to love as Christ loves me. Loving no matter what. Even when I have every reason not to, I want to choose love anyway. I know this requires more of me, requiring me to love big and forgive big.

Perhaps the greatest vision of loving well is found in 2 Corinthians 13:4-7. You probably have heard this scripture at every wedding or anytime a sermon is shared about love. I find when I know a passage well, I don’t truly read it thinking I can’t learn anything new. Yet when I take my time, I always see something fresh. Reading slowly over these words reminds me of the kind of love I long to create for my family. My hope is reading these familiar words inspires you to consider them for your family too.

“Love is patient and kind;” (2 Corinthians 13:4)I’m grateful this verse starts out with the best reminder of all, patience. Loving unconditionally starts with being patient and kind to myself first, so I can radiate that to my family. I know when people show patience with me, it gives me comfort. I want to be this patient comfort to my loved ones.

“Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)My tendency is to repay bad behavior with more bad behavior. True love requires more. It requires me to be better than that. I am learning to trust that God is a big enough God to bless us all specifically in the way He decides. I don’t have to make someone else feel bad when I feel bad. God redeems all of it.

“It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6)This passage invites me into a deep breath moment. There’s a whole lot of freedom in not having to have my way all the time. I don’t have to be right to feel right. I can let go of the need to have it all figured out, to demand life is fair, or claim the victim if I’ve been wronged. God defends me. I can rest in His promises and His care. I can hold things lightly to allow room for those I love to be who they are. There’s room to breathe for everyone.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (2 Corinthians 13:7) This last line gives me such comfort to know that love will always remain. What I’m angry or fired up about right now will be forgotten in a year. Probably by next week I won’t remember that thing that made me so upset. The people I care about are where my heart comes to rest. Love will endure if I tend to those important relationships. Love always wins.

When in doubt, love. Because love never fails. Diving deeper into these scriptures reminds me of a vast love that never fails. In His great wisdom, God paints a picture of what loving well looks like. We don’t have to do more research or sit at the feet of another wise academic to tell us how to love. We can read three sentences from scripture and get it. I want to love my family in ways to inspire and encourage their hearts. I know there are a lot of things I get wrong every day. Yet, loving my family well is what truly matters. They are worth the kind of love this scripture invites us to live. They are worth my dedication to get it right.

Loving my family well is a worthy pursuit.

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