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Out of the Ordinary

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. 

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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, 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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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.


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. 


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. 

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Making a Home Where You Are {Jamie Wright Bagley}

Out of the OrdinaryLindsey Smallwood

So excited to feature Jamie Wright Bagley today, a mama/writer/poet friend I met through my #wholemama group this summer. I love her thoughts about making a home as art and calling. And I might feel a trip to Ikea coming on...

Homemaking is my dream. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that these days, because of my beliefs that women are capable, worthy, and excellent at so much more than playing a certain role, but I think I have to say it anyway, because it is true.

It is not my only dream, but homemaking is one of the big dreams of mine. I don’t think it’s a women’s role anyway. I believe it is an artist’s role. And art belongs to all of us as an invitation and a birthright.

Inside each dwelling is a daily invitation to artistry. I want to put paint on the walls and curtains on the windows and flowers in the backyard and on my dining table. I want to decorate with area rugs and throw pillows and cozy blankets draped neatly over the back of the sofa. I want to simplify my home so that every item and surface can experience the joy of restoration daily or weekly. Why? I love beauty, and I want to create space to live, and laugh, and love well.

Live. Laugh. Love.

I saw these words on the wall of a home on an HGTV show, right after the home had been staged to sell. I don’t watch HGTV regularly, because cable is not on our personal priorities list, but when a show comes to Netflix, I will breeze right through a season of home makeovers and restorations, because they feed the fire of my homemaking aspirations.

My home-ownership dream is yet to be fulfilled. This year, upon realizing not only had we been in our living space for four years but that we would need to continue for at least another year, there was a stirring in my heart where despair usually sets in. While I usually become forlorn at the prospect of being “trapped” in a place that is not my ideal housing arrangement, this year I saw it as a chance to dive in and explore my resources. The stirring was a question: What if wecould make this place home right now? We have all the important ingredients: It takes love, laughter, and vision. It takes caring, determination, and commitment. It takes a healthy dose of creativity. We could certainly do this!

My husband and I accepted the invitation to artistry. We redecorated our living space this summer on a teeny, tiny budget, and it was so good for our hearts. We checked sales papers, and walked through Ikea several times, looking more than buying. It has taken a lot of exploring to decide what we like, because our taste preferences are often opposite: He finds peace in darker colors and earth tones, while I find joy in all things light and bright. He finds comfort in large and overstuffed furniture, and I love to relax with clean lines and lots of white space.

We started small with a couple of needed bed frames. Then it was a new curtain for the shower, where the choice was based on style preference rather than price point. It makes a big difference to buy what you love, even if it costs a little extra. Not a lot extra, mind you. I’m talking $10 or so, because when I say “teeny, tiny budget,” I am not joking. Our wiggle room lies in giving things up, like wine, or cream for coffee, or dessert treats. Those things are not missed because of the happiness factor: A newly decorated room shoots that happiness meter right up to Wowza! When an ordinary apartment has been transformed into a cozy home, the soda and chocolate deficit suddenly seems less significant.

Live. Laugh. Love.

I need these words in my home. I need them to call out from the walls each morning when I rise too early, and move too slowly, and worry too much to be grateful for the goodness of life. I need them to be the prayer I always pray, the blessing I speak over myself and my family, and the mantra I repeat to keep me on track with the things I value: Home, happiness, and togetherness.

Once upon a time, I didn’t bother to have feelings about home decor, or find things that made us happy, because I didn’t believe I was “home” yet. We’ve moved around through a lot of rentals, and I have always shrugged and found it pointless to make it lovely since we probably wouldn’t be there for very long. Renting is hard on a homemaking heart. Waiting is hard on a homemaking heart. It is hard, but it is not impossible. It is possible, and it is worth it. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of what matters the most. I think that’s what inspired our summer makeover.

Life is never the same old, same old. It’s far too breathtaking for that -In ALL the ways! 

This year, I started to believe it.

In the storm of a transforming life, Jamie clings to what matters most: connection, empathy, freedom, happiness, hope, and love. Dreams may have a life cycle, but they are always worth pursuing. What keeps her going is the poetry of living, breathing, and sharing from the depths of her heart.  Find more of her words at or on Twitter @jamiebrightley.

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