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Don’t Fear: Live Out Your Mission!

There is hope amongst the living. There is power in fellowship. Sometimes a hug is the difference between peace and despair.

Who knew sentences like those would become controversial?

Who could have predicted that being amongst the living; gathering with friends; and hugging a coworker could be harshly judged and seen as irresponsible? 

What a crazy era we are living through.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and much has happened in my life.

While much of the country has been living a life in sequestered seclusion since March, for me, 2020 has been a marathon endurance event that I’ve had to run like a sprint. There has been very little breathing room or time for deep reflection. The staccato has been: Go. Go. Go. Go. Do. Do. Do. Do. Keep on going. Keep on going.

It’s been the same for everyone at the ministry where I work. People suffer, and still need food. Even with eviction moratoriums, rent still accumulates; landlords want to be paid. The daily ministry business must get done.

This year we received a record number of donations, and helped an unprecedented number of people (thank you God!) Until recently, I booked every single donation; deposited and cut every single check. The human resources challenges have been overwhelming and often difficult to navigate as we stewarded our staff through the COVID crisis. My job required my presence, and even on the days when I worked remotely, the need to work, and work hard, stayed consistent. 

My year has been defined by a strong sense of determination and purpose; a stark contrast to many other people, who have been forced to float in a seemingly perpetual holding pattern while we watch the pandemic unfold.

Most of the jobs in our ministry require our physical presence. And, while my family was able to stay home and quarantine, isolating was not something I could do…at least not much.

I’ve been going out into the world, pushing fear and angst aside, because there was a greater mission. 

There is still a greater mission. 

The truth is that, though a good portion of the workforce works remotely, there are many who cannot.

As this COVID epidemic wears on, I’ve become increasingly aware of how different the effects of this pandemic each person’s life. So much depends on your age, your work situation, and where you live in the nation.

There are people who are able to work at home, rarely leave the house and even wear a mask while driving alone in their cars.

There are people who are high-risk and still work full time with the general public because they feel their calling usurps any inherent risk that may come from the virus. 

Some people have kept their kids at home, isolated from all other children. Others go to the park and let their kids mix with the general public. 

Some states have closed their churches, not allowing public gathering or even singing; other churches are meeting indoors, implementing precautions to limit the risk of exposure to COVID.

The presence of fear permeates our country; fear of being close to each other; fear of sickness; fear of dying…and the news channels, as always, perpetuate that fear. As we surf the thin line between prudence and fear, fear continues to win.

I’ve been living this season with several truths resonating in my heart, and perhaps they will encourage you today:

  • Every day ordained for us was decided before we were even born (Psalm 139:16). I might get sick. I may die from COVID. I may get in an accident going to the grocery store…the fact is that nothing I can do will change God’s timing for my life, and the number of days that were ordained for me. So, I will be prudent and wise…and I will also trust that even if I get sick, God’s greater plan is at work.
  • God may call us to serve in dangerous situations, but the safest place we can be is exactly where He intends us to be. That is where His divine protection resides. The world needs love, hope and encouragement now more than ever. A friendly smile is hard to come by in a masked and isolated world…
  • As Christians, we believe in eternal life. When we die, our lives don’t end. So, even if we die pursuing our purposes, we win in the end, because we are with Christ. There truly is no sickness; no peril, no conflict; no enemy to fear. We know the conclusion, and it is beyond good. There is so much freedom in that truth.

This is the drumbeat of hope that has kept me going during 2020. This is the staccato that has kept my pace moving forward, forward, forward, to help, serve and encourage the people God brings into my path. 

God’s purpose for my life in 2020 was not to isolate, but to immerse myself even more fully in the lives of the community around me. Following that purpose with my coworkers meant bills were paid; hundreds of rent and utility checks were cut; and thousands of people were fed. 

God’s purpose for your life in 2020 likely looks different than mine, but it is just as important. I encourage you today to live out your purpose with diligent wisdom, and without fear.

As Psalm 91 says, we do not need to fear sickness or war or strife when we draw close to God. He will protect and guide us as we accomplish the purposes He has for us in our generation.

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Letting Mistakes Refine You – Not Define You

Overcoming mistakes while pursing your callingShe wasn’t my child, but I felt my heart swell with mom pride as I watched her perform. She sang with a full, strong voice and owned the stage with confidence. I found myself pulled into her character until….sudden silence…she forgot her lines.

Her performing face dropped into panic as she looked towards the prompter and, after a few beats, picked up where she left off.

I said a silent prayer for her: “Don’t let this take you off course, sweet girl. Keep on pressing into what you know. Be strong. Be brave. Don’t let this slip up define your performance!”

After a few haltering lines, she pulled through, resuming her confident glow.

The show was about being who God made you to be; not trying to be someone you aren’t. It was a perfect message for the kids who performed it, and as I watched the songs unfold into a story, I realized these 45 minutes were speaking to me, too.

The transitions I’ve endured over the five years have made me acutely aware of who I am, and who I am not.

I will never be an expert at crafts. My house, though functional and cozy, will never be featured for its sense of design on HGTV. I bake good cookies my kids love, but are not pretty enough to sell. My knees won’t allow me to run a 5K any longer, and my penchant for chocolate and ice cream means I will never be a super model.

I know you’re surprised.

What has caught me off guard is how God has been showing me the gifts He HAS given me, and the importance of being diligent to pursue them. I’m excellent at details, as well as seeing the truths that create the big picture. I love to read, study and learn. I treasure nurturing my family. And ultimately, all of these feed into an overarching gift, which is writing.

I’ve been investing more of my time into these callings, and actively trying to live them out — but I make mistakes. I get distracted. I forget my purpose. Then the litany of self-contemptuous thoughts race through my mind, making me focus on how badly I messed up, rather than the times I succeeded.

I have trained myself to be self-critical; to analyze interactions, and my words, and my responses. Instead of reassuring and refining me, these thoughts end up bullying me, making me feel like a failure, time and time again.

I know I am not alone.

As a boss, there were many times our staff made mistakes. I could see the bad news on their faces before they spoke a word. We did our best to address each issue with grace, love and instruction, which ultimately made them into stronger employees.

Amongst girlfriends, it’s common to hear complaints about a short coming; or a flaw with their appearance; or a gaff they made at work. Self depreciating humor is part of our culture, but it can become such a habit it becomes a destructive part of our internal monologues.

So, what’s a better way?

I think it begins with focusing on who God says we are, and letting ourselves be defined by those solid truths.

God loves us. He created us. He gave us each unique talents and skills to use in our world (1 Peter 4:10). He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us; To give us hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)

As Christians, we are called by God to do the things He created us to do. He promises to equip us with all we need, to complete the task at hand. (2 Cor 9:8)

He says we are loved, and accepted and treasured. When we step out on faith and pursue these callings, the Bible says God delights in it. (Psalm 37:23)

Pursuing our callings can be a bumpy road. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite parts of the choir performance was the moment the actress forgot her lines. Instead of slinking off the stage, or collapsing into tears, or throwing her arms up in the air in a fit of disappointment, she kept going. She kept pressing forward until the flow returned, and it was as if the blip never happened.

I believe that blip was for a reason. It was for the people like me, who needed the reminder that, just because you fall, doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. Sometimes our stumbling tells a story to the people surrounding us. They might need to watch you make a comeback, to have faith they can, too.

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New Plan: Be Content With Simple Things

Survival & SimplicityThere is value to simple fun; fun that costs nothing other than free time and a place to play.

When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t play soccer, take ballet, or do art classes. I went to school, came home, played in my yard, and planned various ways to spy on my teenage sisters. 

I was frequently bored, and had to find creative ways to fill my time, like pretending the rock garden in our back yard was actually a kitchen; or finding a packet of morning glory seeds in my mom’s junk drawer and planting them next to the pillars on our side porch. My mom stared at them in disbelief when they began to work their vines up the pillars, wondering how they could have possibly grown on their own.

We had three very old out buildings behind our midwestern farm house, and I would endlessly examine their floors and corners, looking for treasures from the families who came before mine, but usually just found disturbing spiders.

I have always had an active imagination, and I think most of that is because I had to entertain myself as a kid. I had to create my own simple fun. This was common amongst children when I was growing up.

Kids of today have different childhoods. “Fun” is often organized, planned for, and often paid for. Trampoline arenas, climbing gyms, pottery painting, Chuck E. Cheese…As my friend Delissa once said, it’s a “Pay to Play” era. Somehow having my kids at home, all of the time, has made me realize how much I seek entertainment from the outside world, and I have conditioned them to do the same.

I am also becoming more and more aware of a monologue in my brain that is a bit neurotic. It’s a compulsion to do something; to fix things; to remove boredom; to invest in my kids’ education; to give them another experience. It goes something like this:

“Have my kids done their homework? Have they answered emails from their teachers? Did I buy the snacks I promised for the kindergarten classroom?” Oh wait, there is no school.

“My kids haven’t moved enough today. We need to enroll them in something, anything. Rock climbing? Tae Kwon Do? How much would that cost every month?” That’s right, there are no classes right now.

“He’s interested in coding. I wonder if there are any coding camps he could do this summer?” Oh…yes, most camps are cancelled.

“He’s been on his screen too much today. This isn’t good!” Oh, but that’s the only way he can do his school.

“Has he seen his friends lately? We should plan a playdate. What about socialization?” Oh, that’s right, we aren’t allowed to see anybody!

So often, my answer to each perceived problem is an action; it’s DOING something. But in an era when we literally can’t DO anything with our kids outside of our home, this dialog is completely useless.

So I’m having to resort to new thought processes. I have to be OK with many things being broken; or different; or just kind of existing as is. Here’s what I’m noticing:

Our lives are far less chaotic. We are lingering at the dinner table instead of racing through to get to an activity.

It’s a nice break from the outside world of teenage pressures. I feel like my teenagers can be themselves in a way that isn’t possible when they are out on the town, perpetually embarrassed by their parents and little brother.

We are all getting a little crazy, and the craziness looks different on each of us. If you are  trapped in a house with your kids and your spouse, you know exactly what I mean…if not, I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

My kids are remembering old interests, and are spending time doing hobbies that had been set aside because of the busyness of school. They have been reading books for fun again.

In many ways, this time is reminiscent of when we homeschooled. On the days when I work from home, we eat all three meals together; we share stories; we talk about old memories from when they were little…

And it’s kind of like a family vacation because we are all together on this adventure, with little interaction with the outside world.

But there is also an overwhelming sense of unrest. As much as I love having my children at home, and all of the family time we’ve had, things aren’t as they should be. Teenagers love to be with friends. My kindergartener misses going to the park. My parents have been in isolation for months now, with no reprieve in sight. Things aren’t right.

A difficult season calls for a different plan. So I’m working hard to adopt a new approach to life, and to school, during COVID-19. Here’s my new plan for the remainder of this season. It’s based on embracing simple things, and easy expectations. Maybe it will resonate with you:

Activity #1: Survive as well as we can. Let’s face it, shopping with gloves and a mask is no fun, especially when grocery stores are depleted. Contracting COVID-19 is even more scary. I’m here to say SURVIVAL IS ENOUGH. But just surviving can get boring and repetitive, which leads to the rest of my list…

Activity #2: Bake cookies and try some new recipes. When my dad had a heart attack at 43, I remember my older sister telling me to stop crying, and then pulling out the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies with me. Doing something ordinary like baking distracted me, easing my spirit, and made the time pass more quickly. It is the same today.

Activity #3: Do the little things that give us joy. Like baking. Or watching the baby bunny in the backyard. Or looking at old family photos.

Activity #4: Do the school work that must get done, but realize that the majority of the “work” in this season is character development. We are all learning about endurance, patience and being content in any circumstance. I, for one, like seasons like this to pass quickly (which illustrates why I apparently need more practice learning those character traits).

Activity $5: Exercise and breathe fresh air. Exercise is my Prozac. If I don’t move, everyone suffers.

Activity #6: Focus on our blessings more than our hardships during this season. This is a lesson I’ve had a lot of practice in since the closure of our small business three years ago. It has taught me that gratitude is a choice, and it is something that has to be practiced. When I practice being thankful, I realize that, though there are a lot of hard and unsolvable things in life right now, I am also surrounded by blessings. It’s a constant, repeated choice to choose gratitude over grumbling, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Activity #8 Embrace the simple fun. Card games; binge watching a Netflix show; reading books; making the cats chase after the laser pen…my kids have the chance to live my childhood for awhile. I’d like to enjoy it with them. How about you?

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Waiting for Easter and normal life to return…

I can’t imagine how disillusioned and disappointed they felt. In one day, their hopes, dreams and plans vanished, as they stared at Jesus, dead on a cross. The one they had given their lives, and their livelihoods, to follow: Dead.

In 2020, we have the benefit of knowing that the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross. That on Easter Sunday, He miraculously rose from the dead. But his disciples, friends and family didn’t know the full story during the long hours that spanned from Jesus’s death until they found His tomb empty on Easter Sunday morning.

And here, as we sit in the isolation of COVID-19, we are in a season of unsettled waiting, as well. Many are in despair. We bounce amongst the walls of our homes, and wait. We go for a walk, and wait. Those of you who are essential workers are working, working, and working and waiting for a chance to stop and rest.

We don’t know what is to come. We don’t know what is next. We don’t know if our very lives may be lost; or our livelihoods; or maybe both.

But God does.

Who would have imagined a virus could spread across the world and shut down nations, economies and everything within? That the entire modern world would be isolated in their homes, afraid to interact, and terrified of catching an invisible illness?

God works quickly, decisively, and resolutely sometimes. And often, ironically, those periods coincide with a season of waiting for what’s next. Like this season of waiting.

Here are some things to ponder, during this odd and unlikely time:

– What have you written off as being dead, that is actually in the process of being brought to life (or resurrected) in a new way?

– What areas have you let fall to the wayside in the busyness of your normal life?

– What things are you desperately missing (Church, Starbucks, chicken wings, your kids going to school, the novelty of a schedule) that you took for granted?

– Who are you missing that you cannot see right now, even if you wanted to?

I think this season of waiting is making me immensely more informed of the many blessings of my normal daily routine. Don’t you?

As for me, I’m living out this COVID-19 pandemic one hour a time. Some hours I feel like it’s the best thing, having more downtime with my family. Other hours, I feel I am on 2020’s hit list.

Today, however, one thing is very clear: COVID-19 didn’t stop Easter weekend from arriving; a weekend when we are reminded of God’s power. He brought Jesus back to life, and He will do the same thing for us, our circumstances, and our lives.

Our faith can be made stronger, or fall apart, during times like these. Let’s help each other stand strong, look up, and wait patiently.

It really is a matter of time until the miracle of a daily routine will be given back to us. Let’s be ready to embrace it with a new perspective, fresh gratefulness, and a full awareness of the blessing that comes from living “normal life”.

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Small Business Owners – I Understand!

Oh, Small Business Owner, how I feel for you.

I understand the fear of knowing what tomorrow holds. Stay-at-home orders mean a lack of sales, dwindling business prospects, and evaporating savings accounts.

I understand the faces that pop into your mind at night: Your employees and the faces of their children; those children who are fed each week by the income brought in by your ideas, innovation and persistence. How will those good, good people pay their bills if you lay them off?

I know how you are sitting up, looking for a new market, or a new way to address the same market, to bring in some kind of revenue to bridge this ever-widening gap of income.

And let’s just acknowledge that, when they talk about how most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, the truth is that many American small businesses do, too. The income from this week pays for next week’s payroll…

I know how, even if you have a decent savings stacked away, or a line of credit, how quickly payroll and rent eats that up. $250,000 in the bank can become $250,000 in debt in a few short months for many small businesses. It’s nothing to lose the cost of an entire mortgage or two, with a few months of bad business.

You never thought you’d see 20 years of brutally hard work evaporate, seemingly overnight, right? I get it.

These are the times that small business owners live in a haze of caffeine, anxiety, and endlessly stretching their minds for a great idea that might save the day.

And dare I suggest that the idea that might save the day is this: You don’t need to save the day. 

Run your financials; make projections; create plans and worst case scenarios and backup plans, and whatever you need to do to reconcile the crazy in your mind with the craziness surrounding you…and then take a walk.

Go breathe the air outside, feel the sunshine on your face, and hold your little boy’s hand as he picks up dandelion bouquets. Notice the things in your life that have nothing to do with work, and begin to cherish them in a new way.

If you are like I was, you have become so entrenched in running your business that somehow you became your business. Its success or failure equals your success or failure. And that’s not the truth.

Your business is an entity that you created, grew and gave life to. And just like all things, it has a beginning date, and an end date. Statistics say that most small business owners will outlive their business. Statistics also say that second businesses are often more profitable and better run than the first.

What if this is a turning point for you? What if this is the thing that makes you finally focus on what you’re supposed to be doing? What if it allows you to trim a department or make a change you’ve been knowing you should do, but couldn’t find the justification to do it? Or what if it’s time to stop this business, so you can embrace something new?

I have learned and grown a huge amount in the three years since I closed my small business. I didn’t plan it, and I didn’t expect it…but once I surrendered to a new course for my life, I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years. I was able to release the pressure and my own expectations, and look forward as a new chapter began to unfold.

And guess what? I like the new chapter!

My prayer for you, Small Business Owner, is this: That you trust God. That you seek Him out, and ask Him to show you the next step, and the next step, and the next step. And that you embrace that fact that He loves you, and He will give you the wisdom you need to endure this season, and whatever challenges or successes it includes.

While I’d love to tie this up with a neat little bow, the truth is that this season is really hard. Stand strong, breathe deep and press on into tomorrow, one day at a time, knowing you truly are not alone.

Photo: The staff of our small businesses, West Coast Imaging and Aspen Creek Photo, in 2016

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The Legend of the Yosemite Snow Banner

It was my first time in the Ahwahnee bar, that cold March night in quiet Yosemite Valley. We were lucky enough to know locals on that first visit, and they wisely advised us that an inexpensive way to enjoy the historic Ahwahnee Hotel was to linger over a nice cocktail. 

It was warm and dark in the bar, with a motif of dark wood and what I remember to be deep red curtains lining the floor-to-ceiling windows and back wall. It had the aura of a place that had hosted many conversations; many deep thoughts; and many bodies tired from a day of exploring and ready for a bit of rest. It felt like old friends and relaxation.

The cocktail menu featured warm drinks that my young self had never imagined. Hot cocoa and coffee drinks mixed with rums, liqueurs and splashed with whipped cream. After much studying, I settled on a Snow Banner: A hot chocolate drink with Irish cream, cherry liqueur and a generous dollop of whipped cream. The server brought it to our table in tall glass mugs. I immediately cupped my hands around it, lacing my fingers through the handle and felt the warmth seep into my cold fingers. I lifted it to my lips and tasted the sweetness of the cocoa; the bite of the whiskey and the delicate whip of the cream. It tasted to me like heaven itself, and it was torturous trying to make that single drink last…I wanted more from that very first sip, and I never wanted it to end.

Years went by, and the Snow Banner lived in my memory as the best winter drink that had ever crossed my lips. Each year, I went to the Ahwahnee, hopefully looking at their hot drink menu, but I never saw the Snow Banner again…

Until the year we took our staff to Yosemite for a Christmas party. 

Our small business was overwhelmingly busy before Christmas, and in January we’d have a party to thank everyone for their hard work, service and care. One year, we decided to take our staff members and their spouses ice skating in Yosemite, followed by drinks at the Ahwahnee. Though our business was located right outside Yosemite National Park, several staff members had never been ice skating at the Curry Village rink, with views of Half Dome, and none had experienced a hot winter drink at the Ahwahnee Bar (and we weren’t rich enough to take everyone to the Ahwahnee dining room for dinner).

As we settled in around a large table, we perused the menu, and I reminisced about the Snow Banner…how there had never been another drink like it; how its flavor captured all that was magical about my first trip to Yosemite, and like all first times, could never quite be repeated.

A waiter took our orders, and I began to tell him about the drink. He got an inquisitive look, and said, “Just a minute.”

A few minutes later, he emerged from the depths of the hotel with an Ahwahnee Bar menu from 1993. The edges had been nibbled by mice, and he informed me that he kept a filing cabinet of old menus, and the mice sometimes got into it.

As I looked at the menu, midway down the page, I saw the Snow Banner. I stared at the ingredients, feeling vindicated that this drink that I had never again seen on the Ahwahnee Bar menu, actually existed. It wasn’t a made-up fantasy.

The waiter looked satisfied, too…as someone who had worked at the Ahwahnee for decades, you could tell he was excited his memory was able to take my story, and stitch it back into reality.

Of course I ordered a Snow Banner that night. As I sipped it, looking at the faces of our staff members, it tasted different, but still amazing. 

It’s true that you can’t repeat first times, but sometimes reliving legendary memories during a new chapter of life makes it even sweeter. I felt like I had completed a circle. I was no longer a college student, engaged to my fiance, and visiting Yosemite for the first time. I was 15 years older, a boss, a mother and a wife, living the life of my dreams as we grew our home and our business just outside of Yosemite. 

That night at the Ahwahnee, with the mouse-chewed menu and the Snow Banner in my hands provided a new memory…the kind where, for just a few moments, you fully realize the full measure of your blessings, and it fills you with fresh thanks and awe.

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A Remedy For Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Everything about Thanksgiving reminds me of someone…

The pile of recipes in my recipe book, written by my best friends from college; a recipe for curry sauce I first ate at a friend’s house 20 years ago; family recipes from my mom and mother-in-law…

Making stuffing and hearing my mom’s voice telling me to, “Yes, melt a whole stick” of butter in the pan, bucking my low-fat diet of the 1990s.

Pies…and how my mom would give each of us a little scrap of leftover dough to roll out, spread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. I would roll and stretch and roll and stretch to make my little dough pastry as thin and wide as possible.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with my little family, I feel a little homesick…not for a specific place, but for the people of my past Thanksgivings, and for who we all were, at that age, in that chapter of life.

There were the Thanksgivings of my growing up years…my mom waking in the early morning to put a turkey in the double oven of our old midwestern farmhouse, shooing us out of the kitchen as she bustled to make a feast…and her bustling in the kitchen of the old brick colonial when we moved to Ohio…and how every year, my mom and dad would invite a collection of friends who, without family nearby, claimed us as their “holiday family.” I miss our “holiday family” members.

There was the Thanksgiving when my sisters and I, and their boyfriends, walked to a local tree lot, and brought home the Christmas tree, all by ourselves. I was 17, and I  wore a navy peacoat and a red plaid scarf that kept me warm and cozy on that bitter Ohio night. I remember feeling old, and free, and mature as we assessed each tree to try to find the perfect one for our family’s home.

A few years later, I married Rich moved across the country where we found our own “holiday families” since we were far from our own families.

We had a Thanksgiving in Yosemite with a friend who cooked the entire spread from the year’s Martha Stewart magazine. We had Thanksgiving with friends who mashed potatoes with a hand masher…and another set who made stuffing with oysters.

Our first year in Oakhurst, we learned to make our own Thanksgiving, with a $20 bill that we somehow stretched to buy turkey, potatoes and all of the fixings except rolls…that was the year I learned that rolls were a critical part of the Thanksgiving tradition for my husband. We always have rolls now…

There was the year we had Thanksgiving for 17 people in our 900-square-foot townhouse, with the table stretching into the stairwell…and the one I cooked when I was 8 months pregnant, serving 14 people dinner in our new mountainside home.

As rich as these memories are, as each Thanksgiving passed, I found myself feeling nostalgic; Yearning for the experience of the previous years…for my sisters and parents; old friends; and time with family members who had passed away.

I feel the same this year. There is a vacancy that is left by warm memories; a yearning to relive that time again; to capture those moments that can absolutely not be relived.

The nostalgia used to make me think I lacked something…that if I was just nearer to family, I’d feel complete. But now that I am near family, I find myself missing old friends, and our spirited conversations, and how the dreams and hopes we had in our 20s are different than the ones we have in our 40s – and how our kids are teenagers, and I want to hug the little people who used to fill my home with so much noise and toy explosions.

This year, my third Thanksgiving in Tennessee, I cooked the same dinner I’ve been cooking for 20 years. Rich carved the turkey, and as we served dinner to our little family, I paused to look at each face, because someday, I will be missing this Thanksgiving: The one where our kids were still in our home, safe and sound and eating the food I made. A Thanksgiving before boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses and grandchildren. This Thanksgiving with a 15, 13 and 5 year old…and us in our 40s, healthy and in love with each other, even after all life has thrown our way.

Maybe it turns out that the best cure for that homesick nostalgia, isn’t to try to relive the past. It’s continuing to invest in making sweet new memories, with whoever God puts in my life today.

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Excellence Matters: Embrace Your Calling

Home ownership came with a lot of life lessons, especially concerning our septic system. As a kid, I’d always grown up with the convenience of sewer lines…you flush the toilet, and it all disappears.

It turns out that septic systems require a bit more attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until four years into home ownership, when our septic lines started failing, leaking sewage into a nearby stream. It wasn’t good.

I don’t remember the name of the man who taught me how to take care of my septic system, but I remember one thing: He was passionate about them.

As he sat on the tailgate of his pickup truck, his dusty cowboy hat framing a nearly toothless mouth, he taught me that I had two septic lines, and I needed to manually switch them every few months. He taught me about things like bacteria and leach fields and sledge layers, and what happens when the sledge layer makes it into the leach fields (it’s not good).

I sat there, soaking in this new knowledge as if I were learning the most riveting subject matter, and walked away understanding how to take care of the intricacies of this system that I had purchased with my house, but had formerly known nothing about. Even better, he fixed our septic system.

Four years before that, I sat signing my mortgage papers with my friend, Terri. Terri is a fellow mom, with kids near the age of mine. We spent years in our Bunco group sharing the details of our lives. But seeing Terri in action in her job was inspiring to me.

At the time, she was a mortgage broker, and over the course of an hour, she distilled 30+ pages of contracts into easy-to-understand nuggets. She reviewed each page with a critical eye, showed us where to sign, and explained the subtle nuances of the fine print. That day, I gained a new appreciation for the gifts my friend brought to her job…and was again, amazed at what a well-embraced calling looked like in action.

I can think of countless times I’ve been amazed, watching a person’s gifts at work:

  • The surgeon who mended my son’s cleft lip into a complete smile.
  • The nurses who expertly guided chemo into my husband’s body, and watched over him with an experienced eye.
  • The photographer who decided sandhill cranes were something worth preserving, celebrating and documenting…so he spent a chunk of his life doing just that.
  • Another photographer who gave his time, talents and money to the Raw Sea, helping preserve the last untouched ocean on our planet, allowing scientists a space to study and learn, so they can help the areas of our planet that are anything but untouched.
  • The barista at the coffee shop who made a pretty picture in the milky foam during a particularly trying day.
  • The mom of four kids who somehow managed to keep a calm, steady voice, though her kids were running circles around her…

Excellence matters.

Deciding to be a master at your trade blesses people and our world.

I’ve seen so many people coast through life, giving a half hearted effort as they punch a time clock. What if we embraced our lives; our jobs; our roles in life; as more than a means of making money? What if we saw it as EXACTLY where God wanted us to be, at this point in time, for a unique purpose? What if we saw it as a divine appointment to make the world better, or to simply make someone’s day a bit better?

The longer I live, the more I’m realizing that embracing my callings, for all they are worth, is the one single thing I can do to improve our world. Because no one else has my unique background, skills or desires.

And no one else has yours.

Today, I challenge you to embrace your calling, wherever you are at this exact moment of your life, and use it to bless the world — whether it’s as a mortgage broker; or repairing septic systems; or protecting a corner of our planet; or a person or animal in need; or momming your kids; or making a good cup of coffee for the tired person in front of you.

If we do our life’s work with our whole hearts, it will make the world a different place around us — and beyond us, as we inspire others to do the same.

Colossians 3:23
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

Faith, Joy, More Posts, Work

Changing The Landscape Of My Dreams

Life started out with great, big dreams…

When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being an anchor person for the Today Show. A small-town girl, I longed to live in New York City: a place full of nightlife, action and the endless possibility of being “discovered” and made instantly famous.

That dream came to a halt my freshman year in college when I worked at my college TV station. I found myself surrounded by cranky, stressed-out people who agonized to produce a newscast every night at six, only to have to do it again, and again, and again…a never ending production cycle that clearly left my colleagues burned out and bitter. That didn’t look like a fun life.

I switched my dreams from anchoring the Today show to editing one of the major lifestyle magazines I’d read on my childhood coffee table…maybe Women’s Day, or Family Circle, or Good Housekeeping, or Seventeen. That idea led me through the rest of college, and to a summer internship in New York City, where I found myself living my dream: I was in a big city; pursing something I thought would fulfill me; living a life beyond the confines of my small town…and I was shocked to discover, I was horribly, awfully lonely.

I was surrounded by a city of over 8 million people, and I knew no one; my summer roommates had exceptionally bad moral standards; and instead of feeling like I was constantly on the edge of being “discovered” I felt entirely unimportant, unvalued and unseen. Virtually no one made eye contact with me without a dirty look, for an entire summer. That wasn’t a fun life.

So I threw away those dreams, and embraced a new one…

With TV anchoring, living in New York, and working on a major magazine off the list…I decided to pursue quieter things like wilderness and exploration. I aligned my hopes and dreams with those of my boyfriend (now husband) who dreamt of exploring the Great American West.

We found ourselves living in Yosemite Valley for a summer that amazingly extended into three years…and then spent 19 more years in a town just outside the National Park. We owned a business, worked on our own terms (often odd hours, and really, all of the time), and again…we were living our dream.

Our company printed hundreds of thousands of prints and exhibitions for some of the best photographers of our time. Our prints were distributed in The White House, hung in The Smithsonian and many state capitals, and were regarded as being amongst the best in the world. It was a lifestyle that left us, and our staff, stretched thin. It was invigorating and exciting, and increasingly exhausting. In the end, it left us realizing that somehow the fun life we’d pursued had changed into something unrecognizable. We had to let go.

When your dreams fall apart, or aren’t what you imagined…It’s hard to let go.

When the relationships you imagined, turn out to be something altogether different than your heart’s desire…it’s hard to know how to continue.

When you imagine your life going a certain way, by a certain time, and you look up and are living the exact opposite life you envisioned…it’s hard not to despair.

It either makes you give up on dreaming, or it makes you change your idea of dreams.

And that’s what I’ve been working on, these past few years: Changing my concept of dreams. I found myself pondering things like:

What if life is a series of dreams, instead of one great, big, make-it-or-break-it dream?

What if we allow those dreams to be simple steps forward in a hopeful direction?

What if, instead of putting all of our hopes and dreams in the end result, we embrace each hope and inspiration, one at a time and treasure it like that first morning cup of coffee, cradled warmly in our hand?

Can we allow the destination to be something beyond our control?

Can we allow the dream to change along the way, without stamping “failure” on the experience when it doesn’t lead where we hoped it would?

What if my dreams weren’t about my own ambitions, but were focused on who I wanted to be, in my heart…how I wanted to live, in my attitude…how I showed love, in my actions?

What if dreams weren’t anchored in the hallmarks of success…fame, and money, and a big house with a new car…but in being encouragement to other people; offering hope, and truth, and light in a world that is increasingly troubled?

What if I laid down my expectations for life, and other people, and just said…enough already. I’m not okay, you’re not okay…let’s just have some coffee and hang out and laugh in this insanity that is life?

What if I truly allowed God to change my dreams into His dreams for my life, one decision at a time, and decided to be okay with my life being rewritten into something new?

I’ll tell you a few things that happen, when you begin to dream into life this way:

– God begins to rewrite your life for the better. You find yourself doing things you never expected to do, helping people you never envisioned, and feeling surprisingly fulfilled.

– Relationships evolve, becoming richer and deeper as life moves to a more meaningful level.

– The million details of daily life become more profound, as you become more aware of all God is weaving together in your life, and in lives around you, even in the brokenness (and often because of the brokenness).

– Your spirit moves more freely; more peacefully and more hopefully as you anchor your idea of success to simply living each day as best as you can.

– You find yourself really, truly beginning to embrace the life you have, by intentionally filling it with the things that matter.

– You let go of the end-result, and allow the current of life to shift and change your dreams into something new, yet once again.

Phillipians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
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