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Feeling Lonely is Not the Same as Being Alone

Lindsey Smallwood

This isn't the first time I've written on loneliness. It probably won't be the last. No matter how many connections I make, people I befriend, babies I birth, I think learning to be alone is one of the deep joys, true sadnesses and profound challenges of my life. (There aren't many things I can say that about!) I'm thrilled to be back at Middle Places with thoughts on solitude, extroversion and why Jesus always gets to ride shotgun. 

For someone who's never alone, feeling lonely happens way more than you might think.

I'm raising two toddlers, so on any given day there's a lot of cuddling and carrying and breaking up wrestling matches.

I work part-time at a church, where I lead Bible studies, meet with women and use shared office space.

I'm an extrovert and my free time includes things like workout classes, mom's group and book club.

I'm married, which in my case means I sleep close enough to my husband to feel him breathe.

And add to all that, I'm pregnant, so even when I actually am alone, I can feel a tiny person swimming around inside me.

And yet, even with all of these daily connections, I find myself wondering about the quality of my relationships at church, in my friendships, with my family. Though I'm grateful for all the places I'm connected in this season of life, I find myself searching for more because I'm feeling lonely.

When I think back to the early days of our marriage, I remember long walks with my husband, holding hands as we caught up on life and dreamed dreams together. These days, walks include a double stroller, snacks, a just-in-case diaper bag and a nearly super-human patience to answer my two-year-old’s repetitive questions over and over again without raising our voices.

I long for the days when I’d go meet a friend for happy hour, and we’d talk so long and laugh so hard that we’d have to order dinner to have more time together. Those extended times of just hanging out feel like a distant memory in my current life where every minute has to be coordinated and arranged in advance.

I know this is a season – and I can’t even count the number of times people stop to tell me how quickly this time passes. But I hear about the fun date nights my neighbors do every week, and I notice the way some of my other mom friends seem to make space for fun time together and I wonder if I’m missing out.

The truth is I am missing out. It’s inevitable. None of us can do it all, so there will always be areas where our lives seem to fall short. That’s the danger of comparing our lives with our neighbors.

But here’s the other piece – I always have been missing out. Even during the time I now recall as blissful early in my marriage, if I’m honest, I remember how I wanted us to have more couple friends, or I worried we weren’t planning enough for the future. And for all of those fun friend times, there were nights where no one texted back, where I found out I hadn’t been included, where I obsessed over whether I’d said or done the wrong thing during a coffee date or small group meeting.

I’ve always been searching for more in my relationships, for friendships and connections that are meaningful and deep. It’s a human problem existing since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had an actual perfect relationship – with God and with each other – and still they wanted more! It’s that longing that led them to the sin that would take them away from the garden forever.

It’s never going to perfect. My relationships with others, even in my best moments, won’t offer the total fulfillment my heart longs for. But in the midst of the search, of trying to find contentment in the season I’m in, I have this wonderful promise from Jesus –

… I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

If you're feeling lonely, consider this:

A woman in our church decided to try and make that promise seem more real to her during Lent. She created an actual physical space for Jesus everywhere she went to remind herself that He is, in fact, always with her. At work, she pulled an extra chair into her cubicle. At the dinner table, she set an extra place. Even in her car, she made her friends ride in the backseat during those 40 days because, of course, Jesus always rides shotgun.

What a way to paint the picture!

He’s there.

In my loneliness.

In the search for meaningful relationships.

In the longing for more.

In the challenges of this season.

Jesus is with me. Always. Every moment. Ready to soothe my doubts and calm my fears and offering a relationship better than any I’ve ever known.

I’m learning to see Him.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

Making a Home Where You Are {Jamie Wright Bagley}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

So excited to feature Jamie Wright Bagley today, a mama/writer/poet friend I met through my #wholemama group this summer. I love her thoughts about making a home as art and calling. And I might feel a trip to Ikea coming on...

Homemaking is my dream. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that these days, because of my beliefs that women are capable, worthy, and excellent at so much more than playing a certain role, but I think I have to say it anyway, because it is true.

It is not my only dream, but homemaking is one of the big dreams of mine. I don’t think it’s a women’s role anyway. I believe it is an artist’s role. And art belongs to all of us as an invitation and a birthright.

Inside each dwelling is a daily invitation to artistry. I want to put paint on the walls and curtains on the windows and flowers in the backyard and on my dining table. I want to decorate with area rugs and throw pillows and cozy blankets draped neatly over the back of the sofa. I want to simplify my home so that every item and surface can experience the joy of restoration daily or weekly. Why? I love beauty, and I want to create space to live, and laugh, and love well.

Live. Laugh. Love.

I saw these words on the wall of a home on an HGTV show, right after the home had been staged to sell. I don’t watch HGTV regularly, because cable is not on our personal priorities list, but when a show comes to Netflix, I will breeze right through a season of home makeovers and restorations, because they feed the fire of my homemaking aspirations.

My home-ownership dream is yet to be fulfilled. This year, upon realizing not only had we been in our living space for four years but that we would need to continue for at least another year, there was a stirring in my heart where despair usually sets in. While I usually become forlorn at the prospect of being “trapped” in a place that is not my ideal housing arrangement, this year I saw it as a chance to dive in and explore my resources. The stirring was a question: What if wecould make this place home right now? We have all the important ingredients: It takes love, laughter, and vision. It takes caring, determination, and commitment. It takes a healthy dose of creativity. We could certainly do this!

My husband and I accepted the invitation to artistry. We redecorated our living space this summer on a teeny, tiny budget, and it was so good for our hearts. We checked sales papers, and walked through Ikea several times, looking more than buying. It has taken a lot of exploring to decide what we like, because our taste preferences are often opposite: He finds peace in darker colors and earth tones, while I find joy in all things light and bright. He finds comfort in large and overstuffed furniture, and I love to relax with clean lines and lots of white space.

We started small with a couple of needed bed frames. Then it was a new curtain for the shower, where the choice was based on style preference rather than price point. It makes a big difference to buy what you love, even if it costs a little extra. Not a lot extra, mind you. I’m talking $10 or so, because when I say “teeny, tiny budget,” I am not joking. Our wiggle room lies in giving things up, like wine, or cream for coffee, or dessert treats. Those things are not missed because of the happiness factor: A newly decorated room shoots that happiness meter right up to Wowza! When an ordinary apartment has been transformed into a cozy home, the soda and chocolate deficit suddenly seems less significant.

Live. Laugh. Love.

I need these words in my home. I need them to call out from the walls each morning when I rise too early, and move too slowly, and worry too much to be grateful for the goodness of life. I need them to be the prayer I always pray, the blessing I speak over myself and my family, and the mantra I repeat to keep me on track with the things I value: Home, happiness, and togetherness.

Once upon a time, I didn’t bother to have feelings about home decor, or find things that made us happy, because I didn’t believe I was “home” yet. We’ve moved around through a lot of rentals, and I have always shrugged and found it pointless to make it lovely since we probably wouldn’t be there for very long. Renting is hard on a homemaking heart. Waiting is hard on a homemaking heart. It is hard, but it is not impossible. It is possible, and it is worth it. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of what matters the most. I think that’s what inspired our summer makeover.

Life is never the same old, same old. It’s far too breathtaking for that -In ALL the ways! 

This year, I started to believe it.

In the storm of a transforming life, Jamie clings to what matters most: connection, empathy, freedom, happiness, hope, and love. Dreams may have a life cycle, but they are always worth pursuing. What keeps her going is the poetry of living, breathing, and sharing from the depths of her heart.  Find more of her words at www.jamiewrightbagley.com or on Twitter @jamiebrightley.


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Coming Home: A Love Story

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

Dr. Ashley Hales is a wise and generous mama-writer. I enjoy following along at her blog - especially as she shares stories of finding grace right in the middle of life's messiness. Today I'm over at her place - Circling the Story - with an reflection on the gift of coming home again. 

As I write this, my dad and my brother are in the driveway tuning up the race-car they take to the local dirt track on the weekends. There is a rich, savory aroma hanging in the air from the bean soup my mom is simmering on the stove. I can hear the sound of plastic hitting plastic as my sons try to build a tower with blocks in the living room. And nestled in the couch with a cup of decaf coffee and time to write, I smile at the familiarness of it all.

I am home.

Not the home where I live most of the time, the tiny spot in the family dorms where my husband makes homemade pesto and the boys and I dance to trombone music in the afternoons. I’ve left that home for a month away. I’m living again in my parent’s house these five weeks, in the town where I was born, the neighborhood where I was raised.

It’s good to come home.

There are the obvious reasons, like not being the only one in charge of planning the meals and the gift of a bubble bath while my parents take my sons to the park.  There are hugs from my favorite church ladies and lazy afternoons spent laughing with my mom while the boys nap. We tell inside jokes and eat meals made from family recipes and enact little rituals I’d forgotten about, like the daily pot of oatmeal and coffee hour after church. Present in all of these moments is an ease that comes from being totally known. These are my people, they love me. It’s like a long exhale after 6 months of making a life in a new city. I don’t have to tell my stories here, because my family already knows them.

It wasn’t always this way.

Throughout late adolescence and into my college years, I was always trying to conceal, finding acceptance through revealing only parts of myself I thought people wanted to see. I was a Christian living with deep doubt, an athlete practicing an eating disorder, a beloved sister and daughter struggling through depression and a string of broken relationships. I didn’t want to be fully known because I hated the reality of who I was, didn’t want to be really seen because some part of me knew that I would have to change. Being known felt scary.

Because home wasn’t a place I could hide.

My family saw me, saw the distance between who I was trying to be and the real aching broken person underneath. They challenged me, asking questions I wasn’t ready to answer but needed to think about anyway. I didn’t come home often in those years, and when I did, the trips were short and busy. Coming back in that season was a taste of what I was dying for, a longing to be known and loved for who I was. But it was also a reminder that in order to live into that place fully, I needed to let go of the layers of sin and secrecy keeping me from the real connection I craved.

Eventually love changed me.

I found love in Scripture, in prayers prayed at recovery meetings, in the church I started attending. I found love in the quiet whispers of grace that spoke in my moments of weakness and self-doubt. I found love in the community of friends I met in a campus Christian group. And all this love reminded me of the love I’d known my whole life long, being known and held by the people who named me and raised me and saw me through dark days. For the first time in a long time I was ready to let them love me again.

Love led me home.

Now, home is a gift. It’s stories with my babies and loud laughter; it’s easy forgiveness and hope for each other. It’s a place where I can be fully myself and know that I’m accepted, even if my parents watch Fox News while I listen to NPR and my brother would rather talk Nascar than new babies. Home isn’t perfect and it isn’t always easy, but there’s a beauty in the ordinariness of being together inside these four walls, loving each other for who we really are. 

And I’m so grateful.

 

 

Find this post where it originally appeared at Circling the Story by clicking here

The Kingdom of God is like a Big Blue Truck

Lindsey Smallwood

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a HUGE Abby Norman fan. Her writing packs a punch and leaves me longing for more. So honored to get to share at her place today as a part of her Modern Day Parables series. 

My dad loves all kinds of cars.

He doesn’t just love to drive them - sedans and SUVs and trucks and go-karts and racecars - he’s a student of how they work. He has no fewer than five subscriptions to car magazines. He can explain why a particular car is making a particular sound better than the guys on Car Talk, although admittedly without their great accents.

When he goes on vacation, he plans his trips to coincide with events at racetracks so he can check out the latest and greatest racing in other parts of the country. On weekends, he and my brother take their own racecar on the road. Nine months ago, Dad sold me his old Suburban and sometimes when he calls he asks how it’s doing before he inquires about the 2 year old I named after him.

I told you, the man loves cars.

For most of his life, the choice about which vehicle to own for his personal use has been an expedient one. There were kids who needed seatbelts so he sold the two-door coupe. There were icy roads in Alaska where we live so he got a four-wheel drive. Once he even won grand prize in a poetry context and received an SUV for his efforts. But none of these were exactly what he wanted. They were free or sturdy or useful for transporting a hockey team.

Until last year.

After agreeing to sell me the Suburban since I have my own growing brood on icy roads to consider, Dad was in the market for a car and for the first time since before he got married 37 years ago, he was free to pick any car he wanted. Up to date on all of his options due the aforementioned magazine subscriptions, Dad jumped to test drives and quickly settled on an enormous Chevy pick up. I’m sure it has a real name, like the Megatron Truck Monster 3000, but I don’t know it. Trust me when I say, it’s big.

At the car dealership, Dad was given the option to customize his own version of the giant truck, which would then be assembled at the Chevy factory. He spent a long time pouring over the details, selecting the color of the leather seats, the high quality surround speakers he’s always wanted, the tow/haul features that would make it compatible with pulling the racecar trailer he loved. No detail escaped his attention.

He was given a code by the car dealership that allowed him to track the truck’s progress at the factory. One Wednesday morning he got an update that his carefully designed truck was born in a factory in Detroit. (Cue rad Eminem song here.) For the next two weeks, Dad watched online it was loaded onto a semi, driven across country to Seattle, packed onto a boat and shipped north to Alaska. On the day his big blue truck arrived, gleaming in the Alaska sunlight, Dad took Mom on a date way out of town to enjoy it’s long-awaited appearance.

Today, Big Blue, as we call it, is as beloved as when it arrived in the port 7 months ago. Dad fills it with gas every Sunday, keeps it washed and polished. He’s carefully made a couple of needed repairs after problems arose, which he can do because he’s read the entire manual on how it works, knows it inside and out. It sits, shining in the driveway, ready to take him to work or on a park-date with his namesake two-year-old grandson who also happens to love “Big Boo.”

And as I watched my dad tinkering with it tonight, it struck me that the kingdom of God is like a giant Chevy pickup truck and you are the truck.

Yes, you.

You were dreamed about, longed for, carefully planned no matter what story you’ve been told about your conception. Each part of you was designed with intent by a maker who calls you “good” and “beloved.” You’ve got bells and whistles and they’ve all got a purpose, even if you can’t see it yet. You are known, so fully, so completely, that no part of you is a mystery to the One who loved you first. No matter what happens – what messes cloud the view or problems need repairing –  the King of this kingdom is cleaning and restoring and making you like new again, every single day.

If you need to find Him, He likes to hang out in His truck.