Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Guest Post

When It's Bigger Than You Thought

Lindsey Smallwood

I’ve been on the road lately.

Last fall a nearby church invited me to speak to their mom’s group about neighboring, being present to the people God puts in our path. The talk was well received and the group leader shared my name and contact information with other mom’s groups in the state. Since then I’ve fielded invitations from many group leaders to come and encourage their women with funny stories and a fresh dose of truth.

It’s been a blast.

I’ve spoken to rancher’s wives in a tiny farm town, rocked the microphone in a strip-mall church start-up, and found myself in front of a stained glass window telling a story about failed efforts at breastfeeding.

Last week I invited my friend Gina to join me as I headed down to a nearby suburb to speak at a nighttime gathering of young moms. We had about an hour in the car to catch up while we made our way to the meeting. I had entered the address the group leader sent into my GPS, so although I was following instructions about when to turn, I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were going.

Until suddenly the computerized voice told us we’d arrived at our destination.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I was shocked. This wasn’t a tiny farm town, a small chapel with stained glass or a strip-mall start up. This was a mega-church and I mean MEGA. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a church so big in real life. It looked like it could possibly be big enough to host a professional sporting event. And the parking lot was packed.

My heart began to thud in my ears.

“Okay, wow,” I said to Gina.

“How big is this mom’s group?” she asked, echoing my own questions.

I hadn’t read the email that closely. Had they neglected to tell me that I was the opening act for Jen Hatmaker? Was it possible that I was about to speak to 3,000 women? Would my thoughts on cultivating friendships in this season of life work as well in a cavernous auditorium as they did around the table with a dozen mamas in a small town?

“Yeah, I’m not totally sure,” I replied to Gina, breathing deeply, trying to steady myself. I noticed in that moment that I hadn’t remembered to change my pants, which bore evidence of a day spent with 2 toddlers including food from lunch and dirt from playing at the park.

Why hadn’t I changed my pants? Why hadn’t I read the email? WHAT WAS HAPPENING?

I prayed, quickly, under my breath that God would carry me through whatever it was we were walking into and in we went.

As we entered the atrium, with 4 story ceilings and a fully appointed restaurant in view, an electronic marquee prominently displayed a listing of that day’s events. As I read the list, I felt myself relax. There were entries for a high school play rehearsal, a 7th grade basketball tournament, a support group for recovering addicts and a class about blending families after divorce.

And the mom’s group, upstairs, in a classroom down a hallway. Which sounded just about right.

When we walked into the room, we were warmly welcomed and invited to join a table full of other young moms, one of whom was also sporting dirty pants. My people.

The night was sweet, laughing and telling the truth about some of the challenges of developing relationships while raising children. We ate too much chocolate and told our real stories. One woman at my table cried as she shared how much she longs for deeper connections in this stage of life. As Gina and I said our goodbyes, I felt grateful, satisfied. I was in my sweet spot, speaking and teaching from the front, sharing stories in small groups, leading times of prayer.

Here’s the thing – I loved that night as it was, but I also loved that moment, that tiny space where I had to breathe deeply and accept that I might be about to get up in front of a stadium full of people. It was scary and thrilling and reminded me when life doesn’t go according to plan we can lean into what we know to be true.

That dirty pants don’t actually matter.

That God is present for big jobs and little ones.

That all we need to remember is to do the next thing.

If you’re lucky, the next thing will have fun new friends and a plenty of chocolate.

 

This post originally appear at Maeve's A Wee Spoon.

I Don't Need That Jesus {Lindsey Austin}

Lindsey Smallwood

Excited to feature a new voice on the blog today - mostly because as I read Lindsey's story, I could totally relate - both to her fatigue in this season and her longing for a Christianity that reflects who Jesus really is. Is there some #metoo there for you too?

My kids were watching a happy Christian television show.  The kind of bad TV from the 80’s that airs on some random public station, over the antenna, with ultra cheesy choreography and bad music. It’s not what I would have chosen for them, but let’s be honest, sometimes I just don’t care what they watch.  I’m raising a toddler and a preschooler, and there are times that I’m simply thankful to have a moment to breathe. If bad puppeteering about Jesus means I can have a few minutes to browse Pinterest or use the bathroom all by myself, I’m in.

But now it was time to get ready for bed and the TV was still on. The puppets had ended, and the station was showing an interview-style show from one of those studios where everything is gaudy, from the vinyl gilded furniture to the flowery language.  Big hair, bad make-up, phony smiles, and Holy Ghost tears were everywhere. I don’t remember the exact lingo, but I heard something along the lines of how they were once lost but now are found. How finding Jesus was so beautifully transformative, they hadn’t had a struggle or a sin in the past fifteen years. Once Jesus takes up residence in your heart, they claimed, life is peachy.

I stood there, sick baby on my hip, trying to convince my boundlessly energetic preschooler that it was time for bed, and shaking my head at the show. I was frustrated. They made the Christian life seem perfect, as if Jesus saves us and we become sealed off like Bubble Boy, where sin and struggle cannot penetrate.

One look at my life blew their theory apart. I’d missed a day of work to care for a feverish baby who had exploded three (count them: one, two three) diapers and wouldn’t stop screaming for Mama. Meanwhile, all these people could talk about is how lovely their life with Jesus is. Could their Lovely Jesus come into my chaos and put these kids to bed while I down a quick glass of pinot grigio?  Could their happily-ever-after Jesus please tell me why I believe, yet my daily life is still so hard?

As I listened to their show, I realized something: I don’t know their Jesus at all. And frankly, I don’t need Him.

What I need instead is to hear about the actual life of Christ. I need to hear about the Word made Flesh, a real human person whose cousin and dear friend was murdered unjustly. The Savior who got so worn out He needed to rest while his disciples kept walking. The Jesus who, after sweating in the desert sun, needed to stop and ask for a drink of water from the woman at the well. The Creator who took a nap in the bottom of the boat before speaking to the wind and calming the seas. I want someone to tell me about the Resurrected Lord who was frying fish for the Disciples the morning after the tomb was found empty. 

I don't need to know the Bubble Boy Jesus. I need to know the Christ who understood life is hard. Making the Christian life out to be before and after shots from The Biggest Loser is disheartening for the Christian and a big fat lie for those who don’t yet believe.

Life with Christ truly is so much better, but I still have to change these messy diapers.


Lindsey Austin completed three years of ministry school and then shifted gears for a degree in speech language pathology. These days most of her time is spent keeping a toddler and a preschooler alive.   When Lindsey is able to break free from wiping bottoms and noses, she enjoys all things crafty, as well as writing about a Jesus who speaks to her in tangible, practical, and often mystical ways.

Connect with Lindsey at http://www.facebook.com/graceismessy or read more by her at http://iamsteveaustin.com/ where she blogs with her husband Steve. 


Can you relate to Lindsey's longing for a Jesus who is real in the midst of our mess? Let her know your #metoo in the comments below.

I Want To Be Afraid Of Other Things {Meredith Bazzoli}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

I really heart my writer friend Meredith. Probably because besides looking for truth and beauty, she always manages to find the funny - like when she thought she got left behind in the rapture (what evangelical kid didn't? right? anyone?) or when hearing a kid play his recorder during the offertory at her church inspired her to challenge us all to be weirder together. Today's story has some laughs - and some real truth I'm still wrestling through. Enjoy. 

Photo:  Lilliana Winkworth

Photo: Lilliana Winkworth

 

One of my improv teams went on a trip to a cabin in the middle of a series of corn fields. It was an unlikely retreat, a small town in Wisconsin where bars and churches compete for the attention of bored citizens. Certainly not a vacation town, just a place where people live, farm, drive their pickups, and gaze at outsiders with suspicion and curiosity.

After arriving under the cover of night, straining our eyes in the darkness to discern whether we were on a road, long driveway, or cow path, the daylight made the area seem friendly-- a pastoral ideal or perhaps a Mayberry, where everyone knows your name.

We walked down the country roads as a team, and I even picked a wild violet and tucked it behind my ear. We sang to cows, taking thirsty gulps of the country air, stretching our limbs in the wide open spaces. Those who had arrived yesterday had some magical locations to show the rest of us, places already storied with the adventures of the day before.

As we approached one of the properties, I felt my palms begin to sweat. I hated the feeling that I might get caught, and as we sauntered down the road, it felt like the eyes of the town were on us. My people-pleasing reaches beyond bosses and friends to strangers in a small farm town in Wisconsin--I didn’t want to get in trouble. What had appeared to my teammates to be an abandoned barn the day before seemed more like an old barn on someone’s actual working farm. 

When a man pulled into the drive on a tractor, I thought I might explode with anxiety, but this guy ended up being pretty nice. He was taken in by the ragtag group of city folks who found farm life fascinating and open spaces, irresistible. He gestured to the schoolhouse across the street, a more decidedly abandoned building and told us how he used to attend school there. He gave us permission to roam his property, but warned us his barn was nearly falling over.

The schoolhouse became the object of our interest. At some point, a double wide had been parked in the school yard, along with an old Ford that looked like it could have played a part in the O. J. Simpson trial.

Photo:  Lilliana Winkworth

Photo: Lilliana Winkworth

The cabin of the car was stuffed with newspapers dating back to the 1980’s. I thought my teammates went around the back to take pictures, but when I rounded the corner, I saw another person hoisting themselves up into the broken frame of a window. Two of them already stood knee deep in what appeared to be the dumping grounds for an entire family history.

They held up one treasure after another. When you’re uncovering 70’s wedding pictures, entire sets of ancient china, victorian era couches, and mint condition 19th century shaving brushes, you don’t feel like a trespasser, you feel like an archaeologist, wiping the rat droppings off priceless pieces of the past.

One by one, my teammates braced their foot against the base of the crumbling window frame and helped each other in. For a while, it seemed like it was our space, a long forgotten secret left for us to discover, but then we heard a rumbling motor sidling up next to the school house.

As one of the teammates on the outside just looking in the window, I rounded the corner to meet two farm boys with sideburns and overalls, that most definitely had a gun in their pickup truck. They were straight out of a Coen brothers movie or my imagined worst case scenario. There were two extra tall cans of mountain dew sweating in their cupholders. We smiled our naive city-folk smiles but they looked back with stony, “what the hell do you think you’re doing” stares.

“You’re on our bosses property…”

“Oh sorry guys, we thought this belonged to the farmer across the way and he had given us permission to look around.”

“Nope, that’s the other Jim. We work for the Jim who owns this property.”

At this point, I grabbed the hand of one of my teammates. More-so than an actual fear of cops showing up and giving us a stern talking to, I hated the idea of being in trouble. I hated the idea that these two country bumpkins sent to come get us saw me as stupid or un-likeable.

At what point had my greatest fears become so shallow? So outwardly focused, so wrapped up in my anxiety and self-hatred?

As a kid growing up in pre-9/11 America, I was most afraid of robbers who most definitely lived in my basement. Their footsteps would echo behind mine as I ran for my life up the basement stairs. I worried over my parents dying while I was away at sleepovers and thought through how I would escape my house if it caught on fire.

Somewhere in my teens, the fears started getting more tame--less cinematic and more existential. I worried about finding a group in English class or finding someone to sit with in the cafeteria.

These types of dread followed me through college and beyond. I feared coworkers dislikes and the annoyance of guy friends; I analyzed my behavior and interactions with a terrible feeling in my gut that I was unlovely and unlikeable. I avoided risk and “trouble” to preserve a perfectionist ideal, not out of moral or ethical conviction.

Sometimes it takes something like trespassing in rural Wisconsin to make you examine these fears. As more town members parked on the road and the owner’s wife pulled up with fire in her eyes, I had a little conversation with myself… “Don’t be afraid of this.”

Photo:  Lilliana Winkworth

Photo: Lilliana Winkworth

I want to be afraid of holding back on my dreams and missing opportunities to live abundantly. I want to live motivated by love, unafraid of what people might read into my actions. I want to be kept up at night dreaming about the day ahead, inhaling breathe as precious life running through me. I want to fear negative inertia and being controlled by negative thoughts.

More than anything, I want fear to transform to awe, to a posture with arms open and face held up to drink in the smell of crunchy leaves or spring blossoms, or to feel the chill of a winter wind. I’m still rolling around in my head the idea of proper fear, imagining what life free of shame and people-pleasing would look like. I don’t know if I know yet, but I see glimmers.

That day, we escaped major consequences and suffered through only a few stern talkings to about the dangers and legal liabilities of trespassing. We all felt a bit spooked and ready to return to the city. But I left with this thought rolling around in my head...

I want to be afraid of other things. 

Meredith (Vosburg) Bazzoli is a writer and comedian living in the Chicagoland area. Meredith loves hearing and recording other's stories, finding glimmers in the mundane,  exploring and collaborating creatively, making good food, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday. She writes about living the revealed life on this blog and performs at the iO and Playground theaters in Chicago. Meredith is married to Drew, a web designer and 6'4" man with the self-described physique of a tube sock. Connect with her on InstagramTwitter, or her blog


Me too, Meredith, me too. Didn't you find yourself nodding along at the end of this one, friends? Skip on down to the comments and leave Meredith some love. 

Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I love to feature good words. 

Call Me Maybe {Lily Ellyn Dunn}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

I'm so pleased to welcome Lily to the blog today. Lily writes about life, books, faith and figuring it all out - so basically all of my favorite things. She's just back from a long season living and teaching in South Korea, which is where her out of the ordinary story takes place...

It was the night of the end-of-the-year teacher’s dinner at the Korean elementary school where I worked as an English teacher. After several rounds of speeches of which I understood only a handful of words, and copious amounts of nodding, bowing, and smiling, we’d been released to the buffet. Although I’d been living in Korea for several months now, I was still unsure of the etiquette in many situations. I closely watched my coworkers for guidance on what I should eat and how much to take. I’d long ago given up on trying to figure out what was in the various unfamiliar dishes and decided to take whatever looked interesting and make the best of it.

After managing to eat most of my dinner without fumbling my chopsticks or dropping food all over myself, I started to relax. I still felt awkward and out of place, but I understood the dynamics of a work dinner with colleagues. I had a framework for this kind of social setting. And then they wheeled in the karaoke machine.

Perhaps the only thing Koreans love as much as kimchi and soju is singing karaoke, or norebang as it is called in Korean. Singing is such a deeply embedded part of Korean culture that it’s virtually unthinkable to be Korean and not sing (sort of like being Korean and not drinking, but that’s a different story for a different time). Much like golf in America, singing karaoke is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do as part of a business meeting or work event.  

When we’d first arrived at the restaurant I’d scouted the room for the telltale sign of the cart with the microphones, speaker, and video screen and had been comforted when I didn’t immediately see one. I should have known there was always one in reserve.

Once the principal announced that it was time for norebang, the book of song choices was thrust into my hands and I was told, “Here. Choose song! English!” I tried a polite, “No thanks! I’ll just listen!” but my coworkers seemed to take this as a personal affront. “Just choose. Just one is OK!” they badgered until they eventually wore me down.

It should be noted that I love singing. I sing to myself all the time. But I am objectively bad at it. And for some reason, I’m much worse at karaoke than I am at singing a capella or singing along to the radio in my car. I know those machines are designed to make everyone sound like a pop star, but when I use them, I lose all sense of rhythm and pitch.

I flipped through the song book, heart racing, unable to concentrate on the words on the page much less make a purposeful decision about what to sing.  “Which one? Which one?” my coworkers asked. They wanted to pass the book to someone else.

Something caught my eye. Finally, a song I recognized! I pointed triumphantly and they nodded enthusiastically. “OK, OK. Wait one minute,” and cued up the machine.

And then, there I was, in front of the entire faculty, My heart was beating so hard I thought I might pass out, when the sweet strains of Carly Rae Jepsen’s international hit, “Call Me Maybe” came through the speaker.

My vice principal seemed inordinately pleased to see me singing, but I could tell that my coworkers were underwhelmed by my abilities.  My face was bright red and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t possibly make it to the end of the song when I had a flash of genius. I remembered a conversation I’d had with the music teacher, Mr. Kim, about western pop music. He’d been complaining about the Justin Bieber song his sixth grade students were learning for the school festival, but then mentioned that he had a daughter who loved the song “Call Me Maybe.”

I threw a Hail Mary. “Now, Mr. Kim! Sing with me!” I yelled into the mike. I grabbed the second mike from the cart rack and thrust it into his hands. The fifty-year-old Mr. Kim looked startled for a second, then put the mike to his mouth, “And all the udder boys, try to cha-ase me. But here’s my number. So call me maybe,” he belted out.

We were a hit.

Ok, maybe not a hit, but we were certainly memorable.

I sat back down feeling shaky and embarrassed, but also exhilarated. If you’d told me a year before that I would do a duet with a middle aged Korean man to a Carly Rae Jepsen song in front of a roomful of coworkers, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. But there I was, doing the unfathomable.

Was I embarrassed? Extremely. Was it one of those situations where I thought it was horrible, but everyone else thought it was great? No. Everyone else also thought I was horrible. (“Hmmm….Lily Teacher…Maybe you no more singing?”) But that’s OK.

It’s OK because for once I didn’t let Embarrassment or Shame dictate my choices. I didn’t let Shame tell me how to feel about myself afterwards. I said yes to something that was out of my comfort zone, and while it didn’t end in an inspirational success story I could publish in Reader’s Digest, it taught me something important.

Failure isn’t the worst thing. You will survive embarrassment. You can let Shame tell you who you are and who you have to be, or you can chase hard after Life until you catch up to him, then try to play it cool while you slip him your digits.

“So... here’s my number. Call me, maybe?”

Lily Ellyn Dunn is a faith-wrestler, a freelance writer, a substitute teacher, an avid traveler, and (most importantly) an ice cream connoisseur. She and her husband are trying to adjust to life in Columbia, SC after two years in South Korea. Lily writes about life, faith and every day grace on her blog, http://lilyellyn.com. You can also find her on Twitter @lilyellyn.


Wow! Didn't you love that ending? Failure really isn't the worst... and oh how I need to hear that often and loudly. Leave Lily a comment below and let her know your favorite karaoke song... or how much you liked her piece. 

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