Blog | Lindsey Smallwood


When Life Gives You Lemons

Lindsey Smallwood

As weird as it sounds to me today, 5 months ago I did not want to move to California. 

When Chris got the job offer here, I congratulated him and then cried by myself. Trying to make a life in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley seemed too ambitious. Houses here are twice as much as they were in Colorado, 4 times as much as Michigan. Everything’s more expensive here. Plus the pace of life, the culture of materialism, the radical inequality between rich and poor - where would I fit into all of that? There were 100 places where it seemed like it would be easier for us to go. I wrote out all my fears in my journal.

Once I got the fears out I started to dream a little. I had a firm handle on what could go wrong. But for the first time I started to imagine what could go right. I remembered the mountains, the beaches, palm trees and redwoods. I thought about all the people we love here. I imagined all of the opportunities that exist living in such an innovative and well-connected place.

And I thought about lemon trees.

I love lemon trees. Looooooove. My grandma had one at her home in Monterey County when I was growing up. We had one in Berkeley. I love the smell and watching the fruit grow. I love every lemon thing: scones and cakes, fresh juice soaked into salmon, wedges squeezed in iced tea. I wrote down “lemon tree?” in my list of dreams and left it there.

When we were house hunting, we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Tiny apartment downtown near campus? Condo in a family-ish neighborhood? A house an hour away? We started applying for places and quickly realized it wouldn’t be about what we wanted as much as what we could get. The market to get a rental is very competitive, with requests for us to send personal resumes and family photos.

We got to the final round for a house on a hillside nearby and then got a text saying that they’d given the house to someone else but we were the next choice. I felt like the runner up in a beauty pageant I did not want to be in.

We applied for a condo, only to be told that the HOA specified the unit could not be occupied by more than 4 people. I told the woman that I was keeping all my people so we’d have to pull our application.

One landlord told me he preferred not to rent to people with children, another place seemed promising but wasn’t willing to wait for us to come out 5 days later when they could sign a lease with someone who was already in front of them.

Then I found a Zillow listing for a small house in our price range and sent in my application without totally thinking it through. There were no pictures of the backyard, just the promise there was one. The photos they did have weren’t great; the place seemed old, and not in a charming way. I kept looking.

But the little house’s landlord liked our application and offered us a lease long distance, sight unseen. We asked friends to go walk through for us, to make sure everything was on the up and up and then nervously committed to living somewhere we’d never laid eyes on.

When we came for the first time to get the keys, I couldn’t stop smiling. I loved the blue tile in the kitchen, my very own laundry room, the closet with shelves built in. I could see how our family would fit here. Plus there was a pumpkin patch in the front yard which was delightful and unexpected.

But my favorite surprise of all was the lemon tree blooming out back. I cried little tears, a gift flowering under our windows, a reminder that this new season might be challenging and the way forward isn’t yet clear, but there’s so much to look forward to.

The first lemon from our California tree.

The first lemon from our California tree.

This morning I went out to water the tree. I sing it it sometimes, because I can and because my tree never interrupts me on the chorus to say “Hey mom, Hey mom, Hey mom.” And as I sing my song to the flowering blossoms turning to little lemon buds, I marvel at the truth that sometimes dreams come true because we work and hustle and make it happen. But sometimes dreams come true through no fault of our own.

That, I think, is Grace.

Answering the Unanswerable Question

Lindsey Smallwood

Heather Caliri is a gracious writer and editor - and now an online friend. (You may remember her wise words here this summer - Peace is a Tough Britches Choice.) I'm writing at her place today on finding grace in an unexpected place: a professional development seminar. 

Image Credit:  Peter Belch

Image Credit: Peter Belch

I’ve always enjoyed thought experiments, riddles that cause you to stop and consider life in a new way. My Grandad and I once spent a long car ride reasoning out the age-old “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” argument. You know, ‘cause on the one hand, who would have sat on that first egg but on the other, how could a chicken just appear? Deep thoughts.

After making a decision to follow Jesus as a college student, the question of whether humans have total free will or if God acts sovereignly in a way that makes the outcome of our lives predetermined was one of these thought experiments. It was fun to turn around in my head, interesting to consider how Scripture could be used to support both arguments, but at the end of the day, it seemed an unanswerable question and one that didn’t affect my everyday life very deeply.

The thing I didn’t fully understand was that the Christian ministries and churches I was a part of were squarely in the first camp, holding tightly to the idea that the total responsibility for our salvation rests with us, that we must exert our free wills to respond to God lest we miss His grace. In my own heart, this belief system resulted in a deep uncertainty about my worthiness. Had I repented of sin enough to receive God’s mercy? Was I as faithful as I should be with my gifts and talents or would Jesus find my efforts lacking when my life was over? Would someone I knew go to hell because I hadn’t told them about God?

I lived with these quiet questions constantly, even as I worked in full-time ministry and assured other people of the gracious welcome of a loving God. Because I had implicitly accepted the idea that our salvation is based on our response, I never felt truly certain of God’s love for me.

One fall, a well-known theologian and seminary professor came to a nearby church to give a two-day seminar on the Old Testament. I had heard him preach on a podcast and appreciated his way of making academic theological knowledge understandable. I was in the middle of a dry season spiritually, wrestling with doubt and wondering if ministry was the right place for me.

In four sessions over two days, he told stories from Old Testament heroes like Moses and David. I saw these passages afresh, gaining new insight about my own walk with God. But more than anything else, as I listened I began to feel warm waves of grace wash over me. For in his telling, I heard, perhaps for the first time, a theology grounded in the idea that God is sovereign, that it is He who calls and saves and keeps, that He upholds us even when we falter and fail. This wasn’t pre-destination as a cop-out for bad behavior, this was a serious view that God acts to redeem and sustain the creation He loves, regardless of our sinfulness.

It was a transformative weekend for me, an offer of an easy yoke. I had been keeping a record of my own wrongs in my head, always wondering if I was one sin away from losing God’s favor. Though I loved my ministry work and the people in my church and Christian community, my faith was always coupled with fear. After eight hours of theology seminars, I found myself crying tears of gratitude that, as He had done for the greats of Biblical history like Abraham and Daniel, God chose me. He picked me, He called me, and He loves me because He has already redeemed me and made me his own.

I think the answer to the question of whether the world is ordered according to human free-will or God’s sovereignty is likely a both/and. Either extreme misses something important about the nature of God and humanity. And yet, in wrestling, in taking steps toward an answer and hearing new perspectives, there is the opportunity to know God in new ways.

For me, that new way of seeing God brought both healing and change. It was part of what lead me to leave full-time ministry. As I started over in a new city, I found a church that emphasizes God’s sovereignty, even as I continue to believe that we play an important role in our own faith stories. I haven’t stopped believing my choices matter. As a wife and parent, in many respects it feels like my choices matter more than ever. It’s just that finally, totally, completely, I believe that Paul’s assertion in Romans 8:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.



Read this post where it originally appeared by clicking here

Not Going Camping

Lindsey Smallwood

Happy Friday friends - I'm coming to you live from my comfy spot at the Hot Springs with my family and sharing some words over at Middle Places on giving yourself permission for just good enough. Here's hoping you take these words of grace and enjoy the holiday! xoxo

I want to like camping.

In theory, I love it - smelling the fresh air, getting away from the routines and responsibilities of home, making space for adventure, creating memories together. But in practice, it ends up being

  1. exhausting – because even without two kids under two it’s hard to sleep in a sleeping bag. Seriously. It is so hard to get in and out of those things. Someone has got to find a way to make it easier.
  2. dirty. Every time we go I end up with laundry. FOR. DAYS. So much to clean – blankets, hats, hiking clothes, swim suits, towels – on and on it goes. Plus five days later my hair still smells vaguely of campfire smoke even after I lather, rinse and repeat with my best John Frieda.
  3. chaotic. There are only four of us, but we take so much stuff for one night away. Five full meals, four changes of clothes, three sets of blankets, two pack and plays and a partridge in a pear tree. Loading and unloading the car takes half the trip!

Nonetheless, even with all these challenges, we keep making reservations to live the dream at campgrounds all around our new home state of Colorado. We’ve toured Grand Lake, driven up the Poudre Canyon, spent the weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park and hiked the Beaver Creek trail in State Forest. We did all of these adventures with our Suburban loaded down with coolers full of camp-stove food and travel cribs that fit in our ten-man tent.

Until this weekend.

We had reservations to join friends from church at Lake Dillon, a beautiful mountain lake about two hours from our home. I had bought the food and finished the laundry and packed all the things my boys would need for our overnight trip. We were supposed to head up Saturday morning, spend the night and come back Sunday afternoon.

I woke up yawning Saturday morning, the night had not felt nearly long enough and I was not ready for the high-energy job of caring for an infant and a toddler who were already singing loudly from their cribs. I rolled over to see Chris grimacing, knowing that it would be many hours until our heads hit these pillows again.

“You want to call an audible on this one?” I asked. “We don’t have to go, our friends will understand.”

“No, no,” Chris replied. “We said we were coming, we should go.”

“What if we just went for the day?” I pushed back. “We could hike and picnic and see the lake and then head home for bedtime.”

Chris looked at me, fully awake.

“Yeah,” he said. “That actually sounds really nice.”

We scaled back our weekend plans and did the easier thing. Our friends teased us a little bit, but when we had both kids bathed and in bed at 8:30 and were cuddled up on the couch watching a movie, it wasn’t hard to feel like we’d made the right choice.

It’s not always easy for me, the lesser choice. To come for only a part of some event. To help with only one aspect of a project. To make the spaghetti and not the meatballs. It’s like there’s an invisible task master on my shoulder, barking orders, reminding me that I need to do it all to feel successful, that only in completing all the items on my to-do list will I feel accomplished.

The truth is that letting things go means usually means getting something in return. Only bringing snacks to Bible study instead of volunteering to lead the group means I can spend the time I would have needed to prep hanging out with my new neighbors. Buying storebought pesto instead of handcrushing basil leaves frees me up to finish a writing project. It might not taste as good, but it’s good enough.

Sunday morning my whole family slept in until 9:00. That would have never happened in a tent. We spent the morning together, rested and connected. It wasn’t the plan, but it sure felt good to us.

Friends, is there something you need to let go of? Are you trying to do all the things, only to find you’re left tired and wondering why? Tell us more in the comments below and give yourself permission for good enough this week.

To Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Lindsey Smallwood

Dear Kate,

Congratulations on your sweet baby girl!

Btw, can I call you Kate? I feel a bit like I know you since I watched your wedding in my living room and regularly browse your vacation pictures in magazines.

We actually have a bit in common you and I – we were both born in 1982, setting us solidly in our mid-thirties. We’re both married to swell guys. We both love sporting the wrap dress – aren't they just the best? Flattering on everyone.

And now we’re both mothers of two! I know, two! Can you believe it?

One other thing we share: we both have sweet little blonde-headed boys born on July 22, 2013.

It’s true. We became mothers at the same moment, you and I.

Was it wonderful for you?

Every time I think of that day I smile as I remember the unparalleled wonderfulness of seeing Bobby for the first time, holding him to my chest, smelling his head.

I’m sure you know what I mean – since you got to do it again on Saturday – don’t their sweet little baby heads smell amazing? Fresh from heaven, yum.

At some point, as we were being moved to a recovery room after Bobby was born, someone turned to me and told me “You know, Kate Middleton just had her baby too. A boy.”

Knowing we shared that day, you and I and our sweet babies, gave it a little extra magic.

Which is funny because I used to kind of hate you.

Well, hate is a strong word.

Envy is probably truer.

You see, the summer before Bobby was born I had a miscarriage.

It was awful. Losing that longed for little life.

But it was living through the weeks that followed that were most difficult of all.

The sadness about the loss –

Remembering the tiny body outlined so clearly on the ultrasound, knowing that I’d never meet this person I’d dreamed about.

The fear about the future –

Wondering if we were starting down a road of losses and infertility treatments and struggle.

The regret about the past –

Feeling shame for the drinking and drugs and poor health habits of my youth and anguishing that I’d somehow ruined my eggs and my chance at motherhood. Mostly feeling that somehow I deserved this loss, that it was my fault.

Then in November, the day before my husband and I left for a three-week trip to Australia, I took a pregnancy test on a whim and discovered we were expecting again.

What should have been good news was met with fear and anxiety, which I had plenty of time for since instead of the hurried distractions of work and home life, we were on a twenty-two day holiday down under.

And so we saw the sights and celebrated a wedding and tried to make the most of it, all the while I was lost in my fears.

Would this pregnancy end like the last one?

Was that twinge the beginning of a miscarriage or the normal stretching of early pregnancy?

Did my nausea come from our trip or from new life doing what it does?

And this thought I just couldn’t shake: Maybe the baby was already dead inside of me.

On the last day of our trip, reading the newspaper in our Melbourne hotel room, there you were, plastered across the front page.

“Will & Kate Announce Royal Pregnancy”

My eyes welled up with tears as I read the article.

You were sick, it said. Really sick. You needed fluids and hospitalization.

I was jealous. Because I’d read more WebMD than I cared to admit and I knew you sickness meant that your baby was thriving.

I felt fine and it scared me.

And now, there’d be you, in my news feed, in my magazines, in conversations with co-workers. Your royal pregnancy, progressing along like normal, while mine, I’d convinced myself, would end again in grief.

I was afraid to hope.

Even after seeing a heartbeat at 7 weeks, getting a clean genetics test at 13 weeks, and hearing a good report at 20 weeks, I still couldn’t let myself believe that my baby would be ok. That I would be ok.

It was easier to prepare myself for the worst.

Every time I saw you, read news of your pregnancy or bulletins on your maternity style, I felt this cold fear – that for the rest of my life, I’d watch your child grow up in the public eye while I would mourn another lost little life.

I don’t know when the fear started to fade exactly.

I think it was in May, with about two months to go in my pregnancy, when it occurred to me that everything might turn out ok.

That our baby could live.

That my dreams of being a mother were about to come true.

I was hoping, living in the unknown with joy.

All of a sudden I found myself thinking about baby cuddles and bathtime and teeny tiny pajamas instead of miscarriage and stillbirth and SIDS.

One of the ways I knew I was letting myself hope was that instead of a feeling a hot flash of hate when I saw your picture in the checkout line at the grocery store, I reached down to touch my own swollen belly in solidarity.

And smiled.

So on July 22, 2013, that scary, wonderful day, as Bobby lay on my chest and they told me that you’d had your baby too, I felt astonishing gratitude.

For the miracle in my arms.  One I didn’t deserve or earn or work for.

It was almost like a whisper –

You may not be a princess, Lindsey, but there’s grace for you too. And today, you get to hold it in your arms.

I felt thankful too for your sweet prince because in my hormonal post-partum delirium, all I wanted was for everyone in the world to know the happiness I felt at that moment.

And then, later, gratitude for knowing that instead of being a rival to envy, you would now forever be someone I associate with one of my deepest joys.

A few months ago, we brought home our second child, like you are now.

It’s been a blast. I’m telling you – two babies at home is such a fun season.

So dear Kate, I’m lifting my latte to you today, as you welcome a new little love into your family.

Here’s to parenting two kids under two. Laugh often and take all the naps you can get.

Here’s to hope instead of fear, to joy instead of envy. I'm sure you know something about hoping after dating a prince for the better part of a decade. I bet you also know that worry and comparison only make the hoping harder. There’s grace enough for all of us. Grace in the waiting, grace in the hoping, grace in the holding. I hope you feel it while you cuddle your tiny darling today.

And here’s to rocking those wrap dresses – seriously, they are so forgiving.