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When Extraordinary Hovers An Inch Above The Ground {Cara Meredith}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

You guys. Today's guest is my online and (amazingly) in-real-life writer-friend Cara Meredith. We're both former pastors and teachers, both lovers of Jesus and the Bay Area, both mamas to two boys. I'm so honored to have her words here today, reminding us of the wonder that's right in front of us, if only we'll pay attention. It's been a theme for me lately, and this piece struck all the chords my heart's been singing.

Enjoy.

By all outward accounts, today was just another day in September. 

We hauled ourselves to church this morning. We read books and watched Curious George and Mama went grocery shopping all by herself to the local co-op eleven minutes down the road. We walked around the lake and we swung on swings at the park. My boys and I ate margherita pizza and baby carrots and dill pickles for dinner because Dada was gone, being a friend to someone who really needs his buddies right now. 

It was completely ordinary, in every sense of the word. 

But wonder and holiness and even a sprinkling of magic filled our day, because that’s just how it is: the ordinary tends to be most extraordinary, if you ask me. 

Our ordinary, everyday lives burst at the seams with cycles of life and death and resurrection, spinning and tumbling over and over again. Gifts of grace lie in wait around every corner, if we’re just willing to open our eyes and take a peek. 

Truthfully, I wanted a better answer to this question of novelty, of extraordinariness. If I could, I’d tell you a story of paragliding in the Swiss Alps, of feeling like I was never quite so alive, never quite so birdlike when screams and laughter and silent awe shuffled together, one into the other, like a deck of cards. Or I’d tell you about the first time I went SCUBA diving in the Puget Sound, when I wore a five millimeter wetsuit and figured out that the best way to clear my ears so I could descend thirty feet was simply to gulp. The pressure released, and with every gulp I was treated to new life: hearty lingcod and gardens of giant plumose anemones, red algae and 80-year-old rockfish. 

But I never seem to get very far in this storytelling, because then I hear his song. 

Literally. 

My three-year-old tends to pick a song of the day, and today, in the middle of September, he chose “Jingle Bells.” 

It wasn’t necessarily wishful thinking on his part, with dreams of sugarplums (or Santa’s bounty-filled sleigh) dancing through his head. It was merely the tune he honed in on. 

So when the rest of the congregation joined in a jazzy rendition of an old hymn and sang, “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms,” Canon tried his hand at a new set of lyrics. He just wanted to see if “Dashing through the snow” fit the beat, I suppose. 

Then, after church, we turned off the radio in the car and rolled our windows down and joined in the chorus with him, completing every line with a Hey! as he’s instructed us to do. 

We sang it as he rode his scooter down the hill, just because, and he sang it in the bath with Baby Brother, bubbles sprinkling their caramel bodies like speckles of snow. 

And I guess that’s why I can’t get over this extraordinariness, for it’s the gift of the present. 

Hovering an inch above the ground, I have to be fully attune to its invitation, or I just might miss it. It woos and dares and beckons me jump on in, to taste and see the colliding bounty of goodness and holiness and grace. 

For this ordinary is the extraordinary, just as the extraordinary is sometimes quite ordinary. Even if I don’t always believe it, even if I want it to look a little shinier and sparklier on the outside, it’s there - and it’s mine and yours and ours for the keeping. 

Might our eyes be open to seeing and receiving and opening it each day.

Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco area. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can find her on her blogFacebook and Twitter


Right? So gorgeously written. Where's the extraordinary in your everyday? Jump on down to the comments to tell us more and leave Cara some love. 

Have your own story to share? Check out my guest post guidelines and send it my way!

We Are Better Together

Lindsey Smallwood

I had just left the psych ward.

Dramatic, but true. Years of practicing a secret eating disorder had left me broken in body and spirit. Finally a health crisis prompted a friend to take me to the doctor. Now, after eight weeks in the hospital painting my feelings in art therapy and checking boxes on a nutrition chart, I was discharged with no place to go.

I wanted to return to the university where I was halfway through my junior year, but I’d missed too much of the semester to return to campus. Family counseling during my hospitalization had not gone well and I wasn’t ready to do the necessary making of amends to go home. Living with friends while trying to take care of my mental health seemed awkward.

Then I got an invitation from my 78-year-old grandmother. I was welcome to come and live with her; in fact, she said she’d be glad for the company. She’d never liked living alone.

Grateful for a place to land, I packed the contents of my Austin dorm room and drove to Grams’ house in rural Colorado. She welcomed me like I was home for the holidays, with joy and delight at my arrival, rather than judgment about my appearance or questions concerning how I’d spent the last two months. From the minute I stepped through her door, there was a sense of abundant grace.

We settled into a rhythm as roommates, reading the paper over Grape Nuts each morning and watching Law & Order reruns after dinner. I sold jeans at a retail store in the mall while Grams worked puzzles with friends and tended to the house. Though I hadn’t been to any church in a long time, Grams and I attended Sunday services together, a starting place for my reconnection with God. This growing faith, along with the work I was doing in therapy, gave me hope that I would actually be able to heal.

Over meals prepared according to my medically prescribed nutritional plan, I began to tell Grams parts of my story, glimpses into the loneliness, self-loathing, and shame that had marked most of my adolescence. My revelations were met with sympathy and stories from her own life. Until then I’d always seen her as a sweet Jesus-loving old lady who made great blueberry muffins and loved to play cards. I’d never considered her as a woman with aches and dreams and longings. But as we talked each night over steamed vegetables and bland portions of protein, our real selves began to show and I discovered that not only did I love this tiny woman who had taken me in, I really liked her too.

About a month after I arrived, Grams needed unexpected foot surgery. Following the operation, she was unable to walk or drive her car for some time. I was happy to help run errands and take her to doctor’s appointments. I also ended up attending Bible study with her since that felt better than just chauffeuring her there. Sitting in that sweet circle of women, I began to open myself up to faith again, finding that the God I had known in childhood was still there, despite my long and intentional ignorance of His existence.

One evening, as I prepared dinner in the kitchen, Grams called from her chair in the living room where she had her broken foot elevated on the ottoman.

“You know,” she said. “I think God knew I would need you here while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Hot tears filled my eyes as I put down the paring knife. I walked to her chair.

“Grams,” I said, taking her hand. “I think God knew I would need you while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

She smiled. “He gave us each other.”

Yes, He did.

My plan for my life had been binging in secret and purging in shame. God’s plan was stories shared over meals at a table set for two. For years I had chosen secrets and self-harm but in the face of Grams’ gracious love, I could tell the truth and begin to hope for the future. What had initially seemed like a place of last resort became an oasis of hope. Grams taught me how to love myself by holding my stories with tenderness. God loved me through her compassionate care.

That’s what He does. God takes ordinary old ladies and makes them instruments of His mercy. God takes confused bulimics on the mend and uses them to bring life to the lonely.

God gives us each other to walk everything out over meals and errands and television reruns.

Even when broken in body and spirit, we are better together.

Though more comfortable when hiding, we are better together.

If far from home in an unexpected place, we are better together.

Always, always, we are better together.

This post originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

You Belong

Lindsey Smallwood

I'm back at Middle Places today, with a reminder that no matter where you've been or where you're at, you have an invitation to belonging. 

After we’d attended our church for a few months, my husband and I decided to become members. We took the required class, wrote statements of faith and attended a special lunch with the pastors. The final step was to stand and be affirmed by the congregation on a Sunday morning.

I had joined churches in the past, like the congregation I worshipped with in college and the church plant I served in during my first job in ministry, so my expectations for our part for the service that morning weren’t to do more than to stand and wave to those around us.

On membership Sunday, the pastor read our names aloud, inviting us to come forward along with the other candidates for membership. After explaining the process to the congregation, she asked us to kneel. Taking a small jar of oil, the pastor knelt in front of me, her hand gently anointing my forehead as she said softly:

You belong to Christ. And because you belong to Christ, you belong to us and we belong to you.

She smiled into my eyes as they filled with tears. What a precious gift, to be welcomed so explicitly, to be told that this place, these people were now a home to us.

I listened as she went down the line, kneeling in front of the other new members.

You belong…

You belong…

You belong…

How often I’ve longed to hear these words. There have been seasons – junior high school, my first job, moving across country – where it felt like there was nowhere to call home. The deep desire for belonging is an ache as real as hunger or fatigue.

Connection with others is more than a want, it’s a need that when left unmet can lead to heartache and depression.

Isaiah 43:1 gives us this promise:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” (ESV)

We are not alone, left to find our way through life’s journey. We belong to God. He lovingly redeems us and calls us by name. And, just like our pastor so beautifully spoke over us in front of the congregation, because we belong to God, we belong to each other, invited to participate in real community where we can be known and loved.

As I looked out into the church that day, I didn’t know how true those words would become. I hadn’t yet seen how these people would come along side us – through words of encouragement as we struggled as newlyweds, in shared grief after we lost our first child in a miscarriage, with joy and homemade meals after we brought home our sons. God loved us through their kindness, generosity and tuna casseroles.

He loves you too. He has redeemed you and called you by name. You are not alone. The church is God’s family and you are a part. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been or if you’re waiting to jump in to a new community, know this – we belong to Christ and we belong to each other. There’s a place for you here.