Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Holidays

Longing for Home, or something like it

Lindsey Smallwood

I spent most of last month at home in Alaska where I grew up.

One of my favorite parts of going home again is the way so many things appear unchanged. The same sweet ladies still sit in the back of the church on Sunday mornings, hugging everyone in a ten foot radius. The annual Christmas party with sleigh rides and homemade egg nog feels much like it did when I was growing up. Even going to the mall in my hometown brings on feelings of nostalgia, remembering many hours spent there in years gone by.

The truth is that none of those things are truly unchanged. Those ladies are now in wheelchairs and walkers, nearing the end of their lives. The party is as different as it is the same, the faces present have changed over the years, as has my connection to them. Even the mall has had a facelift, with new stores and new décor.

I know those things are true, but I still want it all to be the same. I’m longing for steadiness.

Maybe it’s life with my little ones, who seem to learn new skills and grow bigger every time I’m not looking. 

Maybe it’s the news, with stories of collapsing governments and fragile economies.

Maybe it’s my own reality, facing the prospect of another cross country move a year from now.  

My friend Whitney has a life-dream to be a regular at a local coffee-shop, to be greeted by name and to be able to order “the usual.” She worked on this for awhile when we were living in the same town in California, stopping into the same place each day, ordering the same thing while she waited for her bus. Still, after months of practicing this little ritual, the barista’s still asked her name, still didn’t know her order. When she moved across the country, she vowed to try again.

I get what she’s after, I want it too. To know and be known, to find a little oasis of predictability (or three) in the vast desert of change. 

Maybe that’s why this verse we read this morning at Bible study has been echoing in my head, inviting me to consider it anew.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17

Did you see it?

Not only is He the author of every good thing there is, God never changes. He doesn’t change. My understanding of Him might change. My faith can change. My circumstances will certainly change. But He won’t. He doesn’t.

So that ache I have for steadiness in an uneven world?

I think it’s actually a longing for the One true constant, a needfulness of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. It’s a desire for reconciliation with God, communion with the Lord, eternally unchanging.

It's my heart reminding me that this world is not my home.

The ache can’t be satisfied with mall trips and church lady hugs. It’s met in quiet, in worship, in remembering the One who made me and loved me enough to die in order that I might be made anew.

In a swiftly turning world, that love remains forever.

Surprised & Delighted

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

You guys, today I have a totally fun story featured at (in)courage, which I love because

  1. (in)courage has writers I deeply admire, like Ann Voskamp and Deidre Riggs and Lysa Terkeurst and Liz Curtis Higgs. These are gals whose books are on my shelf. So I'm totally fangirling to even be included in the awesome-ness over there. 
  2. It's a Christmas story, which - let's be honest - is always actually the best kind of story. Because Christmas is the best. I'm sorry. You can't tell me and my Mariah Carey CD otherwise.

Here's a quick peek at the intro, I'd love it if you hopped over to read the whole thing at (in)courage, I'll share the link at the bottom of this post. 

I had no idea it was coming.

This speaks to how clever my mom was about surprising me because I was a notorious present-peeker. Unwrapping packages without ripping the paper became my specialty. Each year I spent hours stealthily surveying the gifts under our tree, carefully pulling back the tape to discover what was inside and filing a mental inventory of who was getting what. By the time we reread the nativity story on Christmas Eve, I usually had every box accounted for.

But not that year.

I was 10 years old. As we opened our presents, I thought I knew the contents of each package with my name on it, a new dress, some socks and underwear, and a set of books I couldn’t wait to dive into.  When we were nearly finished exchanging gifts, my mom reached behind her rocking chair and pulled out a narrow package.

She handed it me, smiling as I shook the box, wondering at its contents. I took off the paper and gasped when I saw what was inside. It was a phone! Not a cellular phone — those were the size of a loaf of bread in 1992 — this was a landline phone for my bedroom, my very own extension. It was made of neon foam, like most great things were in the 90s, with an oversized yellow ear on the top and giant hot pink lips serving as the mouthpiece. I immediately imagined myself laying on my bed and having private talks with friends from school, like the girls in the books I adored.

I was completely surprised and totally delighted. It was the perfect gift, a sign that my mom knew me, knew what I would love, even before I thought to ask for it myself.

As I tell this story of Christmas, I’m struck that it is also the Story of Christmas. We think we know what’s coming but we’re handed a surprise.

“ . . . for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” {Matthew 6:8, ESV}

We would never dream of asking for a baby born in poverty to an unwed mother, but the incarnation is exactly what we’ve always longed for. It’s the reality of God with us, loving us enough to enter in to our experience. The gift of Christ’s coming in the Christmas story is God’s way of showing that He knows us, understands us, and has been planning to delight us all along.

God’s gift to us is Himself.

He’s everything we want and yet totally surprising, the way good presents usually are.

 

This post originally appeared at (in)courage.
You can find it by clicking here.

There's Nothing To Do But Wait

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

On the ways joy makes strange company with grief and other realities of Advent this year...

I miscarried six weeks ago.

I keep thinking that I’m over it, that I’m okay. What right have I to grieve when I have two tiny boys at home to cuddle and read to and tuck into bed? There are longing-to-be-mamas and those who’ve had to bury the children they’ve nursed and held in their arms. Surely my loss is insignificant in comparison.

But then I see my sweet friend across the room, her belly swollen with new life and hot tears begin to fall down my cheeks. The hurt is not over, grief still hovers close. It aches during insurance commercials and bubbles up when I hear the baby crying next door.

There is nothing to do but wait—for healing, for another chance, for the mercy of passing time.

Now Christmas comes, the story I’ve loved since childhood, of far-off kings and unexplainable stars, of angels and shepherds and unlikely hotel rooms. The story of hopes finally fulfilled, promises made true. All of it centered around pregnancy and birth and a baby. I’m not sure I can hear it so readily this year. For as angels fill the sky and prayers are answered in Bethlehem, my own prayers end in questions.

There is nothing to do but wait.

I hate the powerlessness of hope. Waiting to find out what comes next is uncomfortable, unsettling, hard. And yet as I listen again to the long cherished story of Advent, I remember that those who wait are always in good company. Elizabeth had longed to become a mother for most of her lifetime. Anna had prayed for years for God’s kingdom to come to Jerusalem. Even Mary, with her angel visits and promises from God, had to watch and wait, year after year, as her miracle baby grew into the dying Messiah.

The stories we tend to tell are the ones with action, climax, conclusions. But life—real, faith-building, character-shaping, soul-growing life—happens in the waiting, where it’s hard and lonely and unclear.

Advent reminds us that our waiting is not in vain. God is working behind the scenes to make the world right. He’s answering prayers and fulfilling promises in strange and surprising ways. Because only God could bring kings and shepherds to the same stable. Only God could grow new life in a virgin’s womb.

I don’t know what comes next, how the prayers I’m praying now will be answered. But I know that the same God who hung the star in Bethlehem has plans for me, for hope and for a future. So I sit to hear the good story of Christmas once again. The joy throughout makes for strange company in my grief. I listen anyway, treasuring its mysteries, longing for Jesus’ Advent in my own story.

But, for now, there is nothing to do but wait.

 

This post originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine.
Find it by clicking here

Play to Your Strengths

Lindsey Smallwood

Happy Thanksgiving friends. I'm NOT making the turkey this year - and for that and so much else, I am thankful...

Sophomore year of college I decided to become a lifeguard.

The summer before I'd totally loved spending every spare moment swimming at the pool in the dorms where I worked as an RA. I figured not only would training to become a lifeguard fulfill the phys ed requirement for my undergraduate degree, it would also provide a guarantee of an awesome job for the following summer.

I registered for course number 85673 - Lifeguard Training and Certification in November, when the spring semester schedule opened. Over the Christmas holidays, I bought not one but two red one piece swim suits and a new gym bag to look the part. When the first day of class finally arrived in January, I had told everyone I know that I was becoming a lifeguard.

I walked across campus on a morning cold by Texas standards, so excited to start this next adventure, already imagining myself hanging out with my new cool lifeguard friends. After poolside instructions from the teacher, we got in the water.

And then I remembered something really important.

I don't like to swim.

I know.

There, in that Olympic sized pool, facing the roped off lanes and whistle blowing, I flashbacked to swimming lessons in elementary school where I learned that while I love the feel of the water, gliding through the pool using different strokes and taking breaks to float on my back and look at the ceiling, I hate the rigors of training, the competition, trying to race against the clock or against my friends.

I love the pool but I’m not lifeguard material.

I remembered this story this week because I kind of did it again. Thanksgiving’s on Thursday and my in-laws are coming in town. My mother-in-law called months ago and told me she’d prepare the meal but I told her, no, that of course I’d love her help, but that I enjoyed cooking and was looking forward to preparing the Thanksgiving feast.

Both of those things are true. I do enjoy cooking. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. But as it has kept getting closer and closer on the calendar, I’ve been noticing that thinking about it makes my head hurt and my stomach turn. The truth is I’m dreading it. I love the day, time with family, everyone in one place watching the parade and eating great food. And most of the time, on days that are not national holidays, I like to cook, when it’s low stakes, when I’m boiling spaghetti for hungry kiddos or frying up taco meat for dinner with the neighbors.

But Thanksgiving is like cooking a symphony, trying to conduct 8 dishes at once, most of them squarely outside my repertoire, with one oven and a tiny microwave on a deadline enforced by (hungry) family members. I’ve done it a few times, for hungry college students when I was in ministry, for a group of Australians when we were traveling down under in November, for our neighbors, but it’s such a challenge for my skill set that thinking about doing it makes me clench my fists in anxiety.

I love to cook but I’m not Thanksgiving material.

So just like I got out of the pool that cold January day and walked, embarrassed, back to the locker room, realizing that there was no way I wanted to complete lifeguard training, new swimsuits or not, I’m walking out on Thanksgiving too. My husband and his mom are tasked with shopping lists and recipe gathering, chopping and sautéing and I’ll be building block towers with toddlers and popping in to sample their handiwork – both skill sets squarely in my wheelhouse.

We’ll all enjoy the day a little more for it.

There are a lot of things you can’t walk away from – parents of toddlers have to change a lot of diapers and do a lot of laundry. Children of ailing parents must tend to their needs and offer care as they can. But sometimes holidays (and life) can get filled up with things we do because we think we ought to or because we wished we liked them or we’ve just always done it that way.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead, maybe this year is a chance to play to your strengths, organizing the family card tournament or offering to do the dishes, rather than finding yourself staring down the neck of a turkey you’d rather not spend eight hours with. I have friends who realized that helping with a community Thanksgiving event for homeless people brings way more joy for them than laboring over a meal at home. So they do it, as a family, and look forward to it all year.

Make a boundary. Trade a chore. Try something new. Look for ways to play to your strengths so you can enjoy your people.

It’s what the holidays are all about.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.