Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Hanging in to the Finish

Lindsey SmallwoodComment

By the time this post gets published, I will have likely had a baby.

Oh God, please let that be true.

But today, as I sit at my computer with my feet up on the desk, I’m 8 months along and feeling huge and uncomfortable. I have to go to the bathroom all the live-long day. Everything makes me cry. Bending over requires a fully thought out getting-back-up strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted this pregnancy, celebrated at each happy milestone as the months have progressed, can’t wait to add another little life to our family.

But today? I’m done. D to the O to the N to the E. As in get this guy outta here already.

But no. He’s tucked in tight for a little while longer. And my job is to persevere until this season is finished.

Truth be told, most of life is like this. There are seasons and jobs and sometimes even people we’d like to be done with. But often, we have to wait until the time comes, hanging in there to the finish. The thing I’m trying to remember this week, swollen ankles and all, is how God offers joy and peace in the middle of it.

I like Kay Warren’s definition from her book – Choose Joy Because Happiness is not Enough.

Joy is the settled assurance God controls all the details of my life. The quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright. The determined choice to praise God in every situation.

Paul knew this. He wrote the book of Philippians, essentially a treatise on joyful living in community, from his prison cell.  In chains and unable to make choices about his life and freedom, he nonetheless expresses deep joy in Christ and exhorts the Philippians to do the same.

We’ve all seen examples of this in our life, people who face death, disappointment, loss, uncertainty with a steady gaze toward Jesus. There can be joy, even in grief and trials, when we choose to trust a God whom Scripture tells us is immensely trustworthy. On our worst days we still have the best hope. That’s where joy comes from.

Peace is similar. It is a result of trusting God. But whereas joy comes when we trust our lives to a big God who holds the whole world in His hands, peace comes from choosing to rest in Him in the middle of the storm.

To say it differently, joy comes from looking up from our circumstances and remembering God is at work. Peace comes when we look over and see God is with us in the middle of our circumstances. His presence offers comfort only He can bring.

Here’s an example from my real life this week. After a long day with two busy boys, dragging around my giant belly, and trying to keep things somewhat orderly while not passing out in our not-air conditioned house, I made dinner.

While I stood at the counter chopping grapes and walnuts for chicken salad I looked up and noticed a picture on the wall. It’s a picture that’s always there, a snapshot of my little family that I’ve looked at 100 times before. But seeing it there reminded me of what all this current waiting is for – the tiredness, the mess, the dirty hair and peanut butter stained shirt, the yelling from the other room, this is an answer to prayer.

This is my family. This is what I begged God for and looking at that snapshot filled my heart with joy.

A few minutes later, Chris walked in the door. He took off his shoes, dropped his bag, hugged the boys while breaking up some kind of fight I was only vaguely aware of and then came into the kitchen where I was getting out plates and silverware.

“Hey you,” he said, (“You” is our most frequent term of endearment) and then leaned in to give me a kiss. And as he did, I felt myself relax. Because if Chris is home then my partner’s there, I can enjoy him. And my load gets lighter because not every little thing that’s going on in our house is my responsibility anymore. He shares the responsibilities with me, even taking them from me sometimes. And when he’s there, usually, life just gets better.

That’s peace. Joy is persevering in our circumstances, knowing that we are part of God’s bigger story – and it’s a good one. Peace is acknowledging His presence with us right in the moment where we need Him and learning to experience the rest that comes from trusting Him.

Peace is a rest that comes from being cared for. To experience peace, we have to truly believe 1 Peter 5:7 which says –

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

If we want to know joy, allow the Holy Spirit to remind and teach us again that God really is in control, working all things together for our good. And if we want to know peace, we have to be willing to rest from our efforts to solve our own problems, giving our cares to God and finding peace in His presence with us.

Especially when you have a while to go until you finish.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places

Life: the Sublime & the Mundane

Lindsey SmallwoodComment

The day I got married was my all-time favorite day.

Sure, I went a little nuts with the hot glue gun in the weeks leading up to the big event, making over-the-top bird cage centerpieces. And yes, there were tears I vowed I'd never cry about things like booking the band and the catering menu. But by the time the actual day dawned everything was perfect.

I mean not perfect.

My dress got stuck on the back row pew and I almost got slingshotted backward walking down the aisle. And there were pictures we forgot to take and people I didn't get to talk to. But still, there was magic in the air, as everyone we loved gathered in one place to sing and dance and eat cake.

My heart has never been so full, before or since. Thinking about our final dance, spinning around and singing along to Journey's Don't Stop Believing never fails to bring a smile to my lips.

Compare that to yesterday. My husband is sick, which is not his specialty. He's grumpy and tired and struggling to get life done with a cough that won't quit. I'm in the final weeks of pregnancy and am having trouble sleeping, so the days are long and exhausting. My toddlers are feisty balls of energy that leave a mess in any space they've occupied for more than two minutes, so everything in my life is dirty or out of place.

By bedtime last night, not only did our tiny apartment look like a tornado had blown through, there'd been yelling and harsh words and even a slammed door.

Not exactly magical.

But that’s life – the sublime and the mundane, the good and the bad, our best days and our worst. If we’re living as people who really believe God works all things together for our good, to make us more like Jesus, then we should expect both kinds of days.

The author of Ecclesiastes knew this. In many ways his book is a warning that life’s highs and lows can be deceptive. Good times create the false expectation that life will always be good. It won’t.

Bad times create the illusion that life has no meaning, no purpose, no justice. Not true. 

What is true is that life is both/and. God designed it that way, as we read in Ecclesiastes 7:14 (The Message):

On a good day, enjoy yourself;
On a bad day, examine your conscience.
God arranges for both kinds of days
So that we won’t take anything for granted.

Both kinds of days are in the plans, friends. So don’t be surprised when life is terrible – or wonderful. That’s how God arranged it.

There’s a warning implied here and it’s this: Don’t spend your good days waiting for the other shoe to drop. Take time to enjoy your life. Treasure those moments when everything is working, when the music is playing, when it seems like love is everywhere you look.

We're in the middle of some big life changes. If I’m not careful, I end up filling good days of time with friends and meaningful work and joy in watching my kids play with worries about the future and silent brainstorming about logistical challenges. Instead I’m trying to remember this advice from the author of Ecclesiastes to enjoy life, savoring the good days and not filling them with fears about the future.

And on the days when doors get slammed and things get yelled that I’d rather not repeat here in cyber-space, I’m taking time to tune in, to listen to the Holy Spirit, to examine my heart and ask myself where I need Jesus in the middle of it all.

God arranges for both kinds of days so that we don’t take anything for granted.

I’m learning to live that truth.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places

How to be Kind in a Raging World

Lindsey SmallwoodComment

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be kind.

As we get deeper and deeper into this intense political season where passions run high and tempers are quick to flare, I’ve heard a number of people imploring us all to be kind. It seems like good advice on its surface. I strongly believe my social media feed would benefit from more kindness and less outrage.

But what does it mean to be kind in a raging world?

As I attempted to think of a moment my own life to illustrate kindness, I was overwhelmed with so many examples I wasn’t even sure how to pick the best one.

I could tell you about the time my mother-in-law spent two days meticulously cleaning our house after the moving truck came to Berkeley. Using a toothbrush to make things sparkle I didn’t even know were capable of sparkling.

I could tell you about how the friend who brought our family a meal every week for a few months so I could catch my breath in a season of getting adjusted to a new place and managing a small baby and a toddler.

I could tell you about the kindness of the man on the plane a few weeks ago, who moved to a middle seat so that my one-year-old could have his own seat instead of being my lap infant (which is a joke anyway because, at eight months pregnant, I have very little lap and at nearly 22-months-old, he’s hardly an infant).

Even as I started to think of this list, I realized all of us have our own moments and stories where we’ve experienced kindness in important ways. In fact, it might be worth it to think about those for a moment. Really. Close your eyes right there at your phone or your computer and let yourself enjoy it, remembering moments, people and places where you were well cared for, where people were friendly, generous, considerate to you.

I want you to remember what it feels like to receive kindness.

Isn’t it fun to remember?

Doesn’t it make you smile, fill you up, want to tell someone your good story? Remembering how it feels to receive kindness inspires me to want to practice more of it in my life.

And that’s what kindness is, it’s a practice. Kindness is a quality of the heart, it’s something we need to be. But in addition to being – kindness is something we do.  Kindness invites us to action.

At it's root, kindness means to be useful. To see a need and meet it. To look for ways to be helpful.

We can do that. As Christians we can be kind because we’ve all received such kindness from God, whose kindness moved Him to give us Jesus, that we might know God and enjoy Him forever. Jesus shows one piece of kindness.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” Luke 6:35

We’re not kind to get kindness, we’re kind because the Holy Spirit is shaping us into people who are more like Jesus. Jesus showed us kindness even when we could have cared less, even when we treated Him with contempt. His kindness is what leads us to repentance, his practical love helps us understand a God who created us to be kind to each other.

In a world where you can be anything, be kind. Look for the places in your everyday life where you can be useful. It could be as small as holding the door and as big as giving away something that really matters to you. It’s the Jesus way, and it might just change this loud and fearful world, one kind act at a time.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.

When Learning Looks Like Failing

Best of...Lindsey SmallwoodComment

Over at Middle Places, we're thinking about learning this month. Turns out, my own learning hasn't been pretty lately...

Learning looks a lot like failing right now.

Like when I tried to teach a new song to kids at our church's VBS program last month. I hadn't practiced the motions before I started and ended up tripping myself and tumbling dramatically to the carpet. Much to the delight of the assembled four-year-olds watching my slow motion dance-tastrophe. 

Or the long strange silence reverberating through the sanctuary on a Sunday in June. The room should have been filled with the sound of the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Except I assisted in worship and forgot what came next. Just totally forgot, even though I held the program in my hand. The silence might have gone on forever had the choir leader not stood up from his seat in the loft and prompted me that now would be a good time to affirm our faith together. In my flustered state, I called for the offering instead.

Nothing like standing up in front of 500 people and getting it all wrong.

Sometimes the failing looks less embarrassing and more endearing. Like this picture I snapped of my two-year old last month. Those sweet little shoes are on the wrong feet, but they’re on at all because he did it himself. He’s learning, figuring out a new skill one piece at time.

That’s the thing about learning anything that matters. Most of time making mistakes is part of the process. Experimenting and trying and failing and trying again.

I didn’t know this when I was younger. A lot of things came easily to me, especially academics. In fact, school was so easy for so long that when I began to struggle with upper level math and science courses in high school, I just assumed that those were beyond my abilities, that I wasn’t a science person. The truth is I hadn’t yet learned to persevere when things didn’t come easy to me.

But God in his great grace has given me a lot of opportunities to learn to persevere since then, challenging jobs, a long-term relationship and especially parenting  have all been spaces of learning how to fail — and try again. In all of these contexts and more, I’ve noticed the best and most important things in my life require carrying on even when it’s hard, even after you fail.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them of the calling to grow in our understanding and bear with each other. He writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

 

Don’t give up! Keep on doing the right thing even when you’re weary, even when yesterday you made a spectacular mess of things. When we’re building toward what really matters, we keep our eyes on the final result, the harvest God has planned, not the ways we get tripped up on the way there.

Like the sweet VBS kids who managed to learn God’s truth through music despite my terrible dance moves. Or my son, who’s continuing to build skills allowing him to fulfill God’s purposes in his life someday.

And me. I’m signed up to assist in worship again next week. You better believe that I’ll be practicing in front of the mirror in hopes of avoiding another thundering silence. But ultimately I know I’m learning to lead, that the opportunity to work on a church staff and serve our congregation is a way that God’s growing me in this season.

Learning sometimes looks like failing. But as we persevere, even when we’d rather sit in the back row and not risk embarrassment, we move closer to the good things God called us to do.

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.