Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Kingdom of God

When Life Falls With The Leaves

Lindsey Smallwood

I'm back at Middle Places this week, on the changing seasons, the good news of the gospel and making room for hope again after miscarriage...

There’s a tree in the courtyard near our apartment building.

When we moved in last January it was leafless, covered in a blanket of snow. On Easter morning we took a picture in front of it, delighted that spring time had brought soft green leaves and bright pink blossoms to decorate our common area. As summer came, the blossoms became some kind of tiny cherry-apple hybrid, a fruit adored by the squirrels that share our little community.

And now, as the days grow shorter and the air becomes cooler, our big green tree has set it’s leaves on fire – they blaze orange and yellow, blanketing the ground below as each day more and more flutter off the branches and down to their resting place in the grass.

Autumn has arrived.

I’ve never really noticed the seasons this way before. I grew up in Alaska, where some describe the seasons as nearly winter, winter, still basically winter and summer – short and sweet. There was high school and college in Texas, which was a bit of the same in reverse. And then nearly a decade in California, where the seasons change nearly imperceptibly as we enjoy life outdoors all year round.

But Colorado does it right. There are four beautiful seasons here and for the first time this week, I’m entering the fourth, autumn. The tree in our courtyard is like those on the hillside and the ones I see lining the streets around town, alive with colors, leaves blowing through the air as the sense that the world is changing is everywhere.

After watching it now for nearly a year, I find myself considering the lesson of that tree outside our apartment, dying then resting each year to allow for new growth in the season to come. It reminds me of the promise of the gospel that a new life awaits us, if only we’ll die to this one. I see myself in that tree, a thousand little leaves beginning to turn. And I hope that what’s dying are the places I no longer need, the mask of having-it-all-together, the stains of dishonesty, the false pride in feeling important for using my gifts.

There was a literal death in my body last week, a miscarriage that caught us by surprise. As I’ve grieved and rested and begun to heal these last few days, I’ve fought the impulse to ask why. Why another baby lost? Why more death? Why not this time?

It’s not that why isn’t allowed, I can “why” all the live-long day. But why is less helpful than “What’s next?” And for me, I know that what’s next has to be letting go of the dreams I’d started dreaming, the plans for this sweet little life that is complete much sooner than I might have chosen. I have to let those hopes die here in my tears, as I’m held by my Comforter and Keeper, so that my heart can start to hope again.

Death isn’t easy, but it makes way for something new. It’s happening in my courtyard and it’s happening in me, if I’ll let it. I want to surrender, to open my hands and let the leaves I’m holding onto fall where they may. It’s scary, letting go, but I can do it if I trust that I am rooted and established in Christ, who holds me together, redeeming these little deaths into something full of new and lasting life.

 

Any death dangling on your tree this week, friends, waiting for you to let it fall? Hear this gracious word of new life today:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

 

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.

Shaking the Dust Off

Lindsey Smallwood

Today I'm over at the Redbud Writer's Guild blog, a community of women where I'm so proud to belong. The topic is rejection, which I'm learning, is never the end of the story...

I got rejected this week. 

It was an article, a story I was a really proud of, submitted to a prestigious magazine where a couple of my friends have been published recently. I'd polished the prose, even had someone look it over before I sent it in, only to receive a not-unfamiliar response. 

"Thank you for your submission but..."

Pricks of disappointment coupled with waves of insecurity began to wash over me. It's hard not to take it personally, to see someone else's lack of need or interest in your gifts as a statement of your value. My instinct is to self-criticize, picking myself apart and looking for weaknesses. And while a healthy amount of reflection is reasonable, cruising on the "I'm-so-lame" train doesn't help anyone...

I didn’t know this when I was younger. In my teens and twenties I let rejection tell untrue stories about me. After finding out that I wasn’t invited to a party or that I hadn’t gotten into to a program I was excited about, I would wallow, sometimes for weeks, in “Why (not) me’s?” and “They’re the ones missing out.” and “Maybe I’m not good enough’s…”

Oh man. So much missing the point.

The truth is if you want to be a person who accomplishes anything that matters, you have to take risks. Risks inevitably open up the possibility of failure and rejection. And when we find ourselves rejected, left out, looked over, wallowing is a waste. Those are moments instead to start anew, try again, finding new opportunities to use our gifts for God’s glory.

We have a great example in Jesus, who Peter described as “rejected by men but chosen in the sight of God.” Jesus was left out, despised, misunderstood by so many, but instead of holding onto that reality He clung to His identity as God’s beloved son. His focus was always on His mission, telling the truth about God everywhere He went. This is our model, living out our callings as beloved children of God, even when we find ourselves excluded from places we really want to belong.

It’s a lesson I keep learning.

When this summer I was passed over for a leadership position in a community group I’m involved with –

As I find myself adding another rejection letter to my file.

After Facebook shows me I wasn’t invited to a friend’s party.

Even though it feels personal, rejection is usually situational. It’s about timing, space and compatibility, it doesn’t speak to who we fundamentally are. The truest thing about us is that we are created and welcomed and wanted by a loving God. A God, who through Jesus, initiates a new kingdom where there is work to be done and not a lot of room for wallowing.

In my writing, my participation in local organizations, my friendships, my hope is to glorify the God who made me and gifted me with words and skills and relationships. I want to follow the kingdom way of Jesus, who encouraged his disciples to face rejection by shaking the dust off their feet and moving on toward new places of ministry and influence.

As I shake the dust off here in my corner of the kingdom, I’m remembering again that when following Jesus, rejection is never the end of the story.

 

This article originally appeared at The Redbud Post.

Behold, The Noun!

Lindsey Smallwood

This month at Middle Places we're writing about reconnection - finding the places in ourselves, in our relationships, in our activities, in our faith where we need to be brought together again. Today I'm telling a story about Bobby and how his new grasp on language is helping me reconnect in unexpected ways. 

My toddler is learning to talk.

He has a few verbs, like "Help!" and "Drink?" And, if we try to strap him in the stroller, he inevitably announces that he'd rather "Walk!!!" More recently he's added a few adjectives to his repertoire. His favorites are "Messy" and "Bobby's." Last week when I went out with Chris for a date night and actually wore a dress and high heels, he looked me up and down and declared "Nice!"

But mostly, his vocabulary is a constant parade of nouns.

Bird!
Tree!
Car!
Bridge!

There's a thrill of excitement in his voice when he uses his newfound words, connecting language with his experiences. What was once a blur of light and color is now "Sunshine" and "Flowers" and "Bees". These days walking with Bobby is never about getting from point A to point B, it's always about discovering what exists along the way. And with his growing but limited vocabulary, he's inviting me to notice our world with him.

I’m usually in a hurry. I love to say yes, so I’m often trying to hustle to get all the “to-dos” checked off before bedtime. And while we’re going from playgroup to the dry cleaner and he’s exclaiming “Doggie!” and pointing at the terrier walking by, I find myself repeating the same refrains – “Come here, Bobby” or “This way” or “Hurry up.”

Lately, though, I wonder if it’s my toddler that has the right idea.

In Emily P. Freeman‘s new book Simply Tuesday, she considers that perhaps what matters in life are not actually the things we usually ascribe of meaning to, the important meetings, the getting things done, the big events. Rather, it could be that what happens on an average Tuesday is really the life we long for, if we can learn to live into it.

Let’s dig deep, not to create meaning where there isn’t any, but to see Christ, our companion where he actually is, not where we wish he was. Let’s gently poke our sleepy souls, refusing to wait for a big event to wake us up. Let’s stop running from ordinary time but begin to sit in the midst of it.

I want to reconnect with that part of myself, the part that sees Jesus in ordinary time. I want to stop rushing from one thing to the next and live into the little moments in between, where God is just as present.

Recently I wrote a story for Abby Norman’s Modern Day Parables series. In considering the way that Jesus used parables and writing my own, I’ve begun to see again how God’s kingdom is everywhere. The kingdom of God is like the firefighters who raised money for their waitresses’ dad. It’s like the laundry on the line, washed and made ready again. It’s like the lost TV remote, out of place and longed for.

And as Bobby walks to the parking lot, exclaiming his nouns with delight, the kingdom begins to come in my heart – smelling the flowers by the playground and feeling grateful again to abide with the One who clothes the lilies of the field.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus is just as present in the dirt, stopping to watch a worm wind back and forth with my 2 year old, as he is at Bible study.

But as my toddler points his chubby finger to the sky and yells “Clouds!”, I’m learning to stop and behold them, their swiftly changing shapes, lovely and mysterious, offering the promise of rain to make things new again.

I’m finding God’s kingdom in the nouns.

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.