Blog | Lindsey Smallwood


Finding God in Unexpected Places

Lindsey Smallwood

Our summer sermon series at The River Church Community is called Finding God in Unexpected Places. I love this idea - that God might not be where you expect God to be - because for a long time I thought I knew exactly where to find God. Turns out I was thinking too small.

Actual footage of me trying to get out of my Christian bubble. ;)

Actual footage of me trying to get out of my Christian bubble. ;)

Last Sunday I got to add to the conversation with this sermon on what it’s meant to me to experience friendship with people of other faiths. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve learned in these relationships - and delighted by the ways God has shown up in our midst. Also there’s some bits on Wonder Woman, Kim’s Convenience and the tree in our garden that makes me cry.

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.

Heavenly Treasures {Jamie Calloway Hanauer}

Lindsey Smallwood

Lindsey here. Today I'm honored to feature a guest post by a fellow writer and personal friend Jamie Calloway Hanauer. Jamie was one of my first mom-friends, her two youngest are just a little older than mine and she welcomed me into motherhood with tips on which Bible studies had good childcare and how to sneak time for yourself - all new moms need a friend like that! 

Jamie's telling us about an out of the ordinary season where she had to give up one dream to go live another. 

My husband was recently offered a job at a faith-based non-profit in Washington, DC. It’s the job of his dreams: working on policy to help the word’s neediest rise from poverty. We are both thrilled with the opportunity.

I did not, however, enter into the moving process with such a glad and thankful heart.

At the time the offer was made, we lived in California, a full 3000 or so miles away from my husband’s dream job. So when I heard that his greatest life desire had been offered to him for the taking, my response was not what it should have been. Although I was happy for him, my thoughts turned not toward the good work he would be doing for the world’s poorest, or how my own work for those in need would be better served by living in the hub of American politics, but instead to the realization that, in order to make the move, we would have to sell our home.

Our California home was the first we owned. We purchased it as a “fixer-upper,” and we put years of thought, love, and sweat into “fixing” it to meet our specifications. I picked out every paint color, every light fixture, even agonized over door hinges. I told myself it was understandable to feel disappointment at leaving behind a labor of love, but I found myself saddened to the point of wanting my husband to refuse the job. After all, San Francisco has jobs, too. Why couldn’t he find his dream job there?

But the truth is, he couldn’t. His field of work is housed in the nation’s capitol, and to be part of that work—and part of following God’s call to serve the poorest among us—we had to be there. Three thousand miles and several time zones from the four walls we first called home. And honestly, the move would better serve my own vocational goals of impacting policy related to women, children, and the impoverished. It was a win-win situation in many ways. My worldly ties, however, muddied my thinking. Instead of feeling joy that we would be able to serve more people in more ways—thus following the teachings of Jesus and lifting the burdens on our hearts to help others—I felt angry that I would have to give up my treasure: my home.

I laid awake nights, crying about losing the kitchen cabinets we had built to the exact dimensions needed to hold my widest serving dish and extra-tall blender. The homemade curtains in my daughter’s room that would be useless in another home. The attic we had planned to turn into a master suite. I begged God to hand my husband another job offer—this time a local one—on a silver platter, preferably one that would fit into my custom cabinets.

Somewhere in the midst of feeling sorry for myself, I began to realize just what it was I was asking God to do: to convince my husband to give up on a job that could lift millions—millions!—out of poverty, while also allowing me to better serve needy women and children. Why? So that I could keep my comforts, my material belongings, my beloved square footage.

In that moment of realization, it could not have been clearer where my heart’s treasure was. It was in California, residing selfishly in about 3000 square feet of living space.

That is not the person I want to be, and on most days, I don’t think it’s the person I really am. But knowing what’s important in life and then acting on that knowledge, especially when it’s uncomfortable and requires sacrifice, is hard. I’m not often faced with situations where I have to be so uncomfortable. It’s one thing to take a sick friend a meal on a day that I’m already overwhelmed. It’s another to sell a home and pack up and move cross-country with three children, a dog, and no friends, family, or community to welcome you.

But sometimes that’s exactly what God requires: giving up our worldly treasures so that we can build our true stores in Heaven by acting as here-and-now agents of His great love, and going where He needs us, instead of where we (think we) need to be. It might not be easy, but then again, who ever said it would be?

In years past, Jamie has been a hotel housekeeper, a graveyard shift donut fryer, and a welfare recipient, as well as an attorney, White House intern, and an elected official. In her current life, Jamie is a writer, editor, and M.Div. student at Fuller Theological Seminary. She blogs at, and you can also find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Lindsey again - are you challenged to think about where your treasure lies today? I know I am. No matter what season I'm in, I always find that there's something I've decided to hold on to, instead of laying my life out fully before God. Isn't Jamie's story a beautiful reminder to live life with open hands? Skip down to the comments to tell her what it meant to you today.

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

Going First

Lindsey Smallwood

We moved to Boulder exactly 3 months and 2 days ago.  I knew when we got here that this season likely has an expiration date, due to the nature of my husband's job. Could be a few months, maybe a year or two, possibly longer - we just don't know yet, which is a story for another day.

But that was a hard truth that kept rattling around in my head while I was unpacking all those boxes. 

How long will my dishes get to sit on this shelf?

How long will my pictures get to hang on this wall?

How long will my heart get to feel at home here?

The temptation in times like this is to hunker down, to withdraw, to protect yourself. You know these seasons, like when you're moving on to a new job next month or when school is almost out. It's hard to put yourself out there, seems strange to try very hard, knowing that it'll be over soon.  

Investing in a community requires courage and effort and the possibility of failure.  It's hard work. But what's the alternative? Isolation? I know all too well that self protection only leads to loneliness and fear. 

Chris and I talked about this a lot in our early days here and decided that as much as it was possible, we wanted to go for it. We looked for any opportunity to create new relationships.

Mom's Playgroup? Check! 

Indian Color Festival in the Courtyard of our apartment? Why not? 

2 for 1 burrito night at Qdoba with our neighbors? Obviously!

You name it, we tried it.

In Berkeley, we didn't do a ton of entertaining because we lived in a tiny cottage and never felt like we had the room.  But our location has changed our perspective.  Even though our campus housing apartment is still pretty small, we've had dinner guests and playdates and even hosted a Valentine's Day pancake party.  

Because we're trying.  We're building.  We know we need to be known and loved so we're looking for ways to know and love everyone we meet.

Do we still miss our friends in Berkeley? You bet we do. 

And even though we've met some awesome people here and are in the process of growing new relationships, that takes time. Time to hear their stories and tell ours.  To share our real selves, to be known not for our introductory biographies, but for the flawed, messy, hopeful people we are.

So we're working on it.  

I read this great quote by Jennifer Dukes Lee yesterday:

Quote & image courtesy of

Quote & image courtesy of

I love this! It's a succinct way to describe how to find community. 

Go first!  

Want to be in a book club? Start one!

Wish you would get invited out to coffee? Ask someone to join you!

Feel like you need someone to pray for you? Tell them!

It's better than feeling sorry for yourself at home.  It's even better than cloistering up with Mint Chip and your Netflix queue. I promise.  I've done that too.  

Like maybe yesterday.  

Because this whole thing is a process, finding your people, giving of yourself. And I'm so thankful in the midst of all of it for Jesus, the friend who never fails.

What about you? Is there a place where you need to go first? I'd love to hear about it.