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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.

Liturgical Dancing, A Bike Light, & Enya {Kari Wilhite}

Lindsey Smallwood

Oh you guys - today I get to bring you something special. Kari Wilhite is a writer whose words seem to dance and sing. She and her friend Holly collaborate on a blog I always enjoy reading called Dreadlocks and Goldilocks - go check out their pictures to see which one is which. Today Kari is sharing about how God used a silly moment in her living room to turn her heart. 

We were at a definite low-point in ministry, if not the lowest.  At our church for 13 years we were at a leadership stalemate that was tearing us apart.  For the bulk of our marriage I had been a fan of ministry but the situation we were in brought me to the point of wanting to hit the button that said “just forget it.”  My husband and I were not in agreement and the leadership conflict was taking weeks to mediate instead of just one simple evening meeting.  I gave my husband the silent treatment par excellence for the first time in our 20 year marriage. I would not budge.

One particular evening 3 of our 4 children engaged in a theatrical dance.  It was an out-of-the-ordinary experience and one I could not have anticipated; it must have been birthed in God’s heart. I am sure the kids felt the tension in the household between their father and I, although they had no idea what was going on with “church” stuff.  It was as if their movements were giving physical witness to what was happening within us.

And we just watched...

///////

I wanted to just
get them in bed
so I could too
hoping
tomorrow he would be
closer
to an answer.

I was just done.

Instead, God escorted me
to watch them,
our children,
dance
in an hour of
spontaneous theatrics.

I sat in darkness
arms folded
trying
to muster up
smiles of encouragement
for the cast
as he sat
across the room
in frame similar.

Enya played
beautifully loud
drowning out my
inner discourse
the shoutings of
“I’m just done with this church!
Just make a decision!
Let's make a change!
We don't have to be in "ministry" to serve Jesus!
Why won’t he listen to me?”

Bike-light became
strobe light
in-sync with deep, dark notes
past play-times it annoyed
but that night
its pulsating
soothed my nerves.

And they danced.

They took turns.
They danced alone.
They danced together.
They watched their
        silhouettes flash on the
        wall behind them where lonely fiddles hung.

They moved with the force
        of the strings
        and the drums.
They embraced one minute.
They dramatically, gently
        shoved to the ground
        the next scene.
They shadow-boxed,
        laughed, gave commands.
They switched roles of
        nurture, angst
        rescue, celebration
        respite, safety.

My agitated soul
God just held still
for that hour
as we watched this
play from heaven
from the innocence
of my babes.

At the time
I could only receive
half-heartedly
and now
I see it with
grace-clarity
with
extreme
gratitude.

This unexpected
gift from
another dimension
echoed my pain
nourished my depths
strengthened my moment
in a most
beautiful display.

///////

We made it through that leadership dilemma/opportunity/challenge and we are still at our church. It took time, prayer, vulnerability with friends and even some therapy. I am grateful and overwhelmed by God’s grace and provision in bringing my heart back around to falling in love again with where we are.  

///////

Kari Wilhite used to be a "pastor's wife" and now wholeheartedly enjoys being "Kari" who happens to be married to Steve, who happens to be a pastor. She loves befriending the disabled, solitude in her backyard, watching the Brady Bunch with her kids and doing spoken word at a local coffee joint. Kari lives in Bonney Lake, WA with her husband and 4 children. Find more by Kari at her blog, Dreadlocks and Goldilocks.

///////

Lindsey again. Don't you love how Kari paints us a picture with her words? Is there a season you need to "dance through" this week? Hop on down to the comments and to share your story (and thanks) with Kari.

Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I'd love to hear from you.

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.