Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

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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.

Feeling Lonely is Not the Same as Being Alone

Lindsey Smallwood

This isn't the first time I've written on loneliness. It probably won't be the last. No matter how many connections I make, people I befriend, babies I birth, I think learning to be alone is one of the deep joys, true sadnesses and profound challenges of my life. (There aren't many things I can say that about!) I'm thrilled to be back at Middle Places with thoughts on solitude, extroversion and why Jesus always gets to ride shotgun. 

For someone who's never alone, feeling lonely happens way more than you might think.

I'm raising two toddlers, so on any given day there's a lot of cuddling and carrying and breaking up wrestling matches.

I work part-time at a church, where I lead Bible studies, meet with women and use shared office space.

I'm an extrovert and my free time includes things like workout classes, mom's group and book club.

I'm married, which in my case means I sleep close enough to my husband to feel him breathe.

And add to all that, I'm pregnant, so even when I actually am alone, I can feel a tiny person swimming around inside me.

And yet, even with all of these daily connections, I find myself wondering about the quality of my relationships at church, in my friendships, with my family. Though I'm grateful for all the places I'm connected in this season of life, I find myself searching for more because I'm feeling lonely.

When I think back to the early days of our marriage, I remember long walks with my husband, holding hands as we caught up on life and dreamed dreams together. These days, walks include a double stroller, snacks, a just-in-case diaper bag and a nearly super-human patience to answer my two-year-old’s repetitive questions over and over again without raising our voices.

I long for the days when I’d go meet a friend for happy hour, and we’d talk so long and laugh so hard that we’d have to order dinner to have more time together. Those extended times of just hanging out feel like a distant memory in my current life where every minute has to be coordinated and arranged in advance.

I know this is a season – and I can’t even count the number of times people stop to tell me how quickly this time passes. But I hear about the fun date nights my neighbors do every week, and I notice the way some of my other mom friends seem to make space for fun time together and I wonder if I’m missing out.

The truth is I am missing out. It’s inevitable. None of us can do it all, so there will always be areas where our lives seem to fall short. That’s the danger of comparing our lives with our neighbors.

But here’s the other piece – I always have been missing out. Even during the time I now recall as blissful early in my marriage, if I’m honest, I remember how I wanted us to have more couple friends, or I worried we weren’t planning enough for the future. And for all of those fun friend times, there were nights where no one texted back, where I found out I hadn’t been included, where I obsessed over whether I’d said or done the wrong thing during a coffee date or small group meeting.

I’ve always been searching for more in my relationships, for friendships and connections that are meaningful and deep. It’s a human problem existing since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had an actual perfect relationship – with God and with each other – and still they wanted more! It’s that longing that led them to the sin that would take them away from the garden forever.

It’s never going to perfect. My relationships with others, even in my best moments, won’t offer the total fulfillment my heart longs for. But in the midst of the search, of trying to find contentment in the season I’m in, I have this wonderful promise from Jesus –

… I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

If you're feeling lonely, consider this:

A woman in our church decided to try and make that promise seem more real to her during Lent. She created an actual physical space for Jesus everywhere she went to remind herself that He is, in fact, always with her. At work, she pulled an extra chair into her cubicle. At the dinner table, she set an extra place. Even in her car, she made her friends ride in the backseat during those 40 days because, of course, Jesus always rides shotgun.

What a way to paint the picture!

He’s there.

In my loneliness.

In the search for meaningful relationships.

In the longing for more.

In the challenges of this season.

Jesus is with me. Always. Every moment. Ready to soothe my doubts and calm my fears and offering a relationship better than any I’ve ever known.

I’m learning to see Him.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

Learning To Be Gentle

Lindsey Smallwood

I'm back at Middle Places this week - on learning to be gentle when you're used to coming on strong...

The pastors at my church preached through Philippians this fall. It’s a particular favorite of mine and it was a treat to hear it again, to consider Paul’s instructions on community and perseverance as they relate to this season of my life.

The week before Thanksgiving, the message focused on this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted those words, I’ve sat across from college students and grandmas in Bible study and reminded them not to be anxious but instead to trust God. When my family has had hard seasons, I’ve told myself to rejoice always – no matter what our circumstance. I’ve prayed desperately for peace that passes understanding, for myself, for those I love.

But somehow, as many times as I’ve read and shared and prayed and preached and quoted this passage, there’s a piece in there that I’ve just missed.

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

It’s not hard for me to figure out why I’ve skipped over it. Gentleness isn’t my strong suit. Strong is, actually, my strong suit. I’m strong and loud and clumsy, a story-teller with gifts for teaching and leadership. The idea of gentleness being what is evident about me is a stretch.

But I’ve been holding that word – gentleness. Turning it over in my head and thinking about it in my relationships. What would it look like to be more gentle?

Luckily, since I live life in proximity to actual people, I’m realizing I have a bazillion opportunities to practice gentleness everyday.

When my husband is home late from work and I’m supposed to leave for book club…

Lindsey, be gentle.

When my toddler takes a beloved ornament off the tree and smashes it in his Tonka truck…

Lindsey, be gentle.

When an old friend reads a blog post and leaves comments that are surprising and hurtful…

Lindsey, be gentle.  

This word is reminding me of who I want to be, someone who holds those around me carefully, protectively, even when it’s hard or it costs me something or they’re in the wrong. Gentleness doesn’t need the last word. In fact, the words gentleness uses give life and dignity to those around them. Gentleness always thinks of the other person first.

Not unlike Jesus, who tells us that He himself is gentle and lowly in heart. I want to take His yoke and learn from Him because I know He’ll treat me gently – and show me the way of gentleness, caring for others as He cares so well for me.

Gentleness is not weakness, it’s a choice to surrender strength in order to love those around us. Gentleness is truth-telling with kindness, it’s mercy instead of justice, it’s not keeping a record of wrongs. I’m not sure if it’s evident to all yet, but it’s becoming more evident to me. Gentleness is the Jesus way and I’m learning to walk (gently) in it.

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.

Starting with Hello

Lindsey Smallwood

In the common area of our university housing apartment building there is a playground.

It’s quiet there in the middle of the day, the swings sit empty during the hours when most children are eating lunch, finishing their school day or napping. But right at 3:00, it comes alive with groups of school-age kids playing basketball and riding bikes, preschoolers digging in the sandbox, and babies in their mother’s arms as the women exchange stories and gossip.

The community where we live is very diverse, as the college attracts students and scholars from all over the world. I’ve found the people to be generally friendly, even though we all speak many different languages. We have shared a meal with our Korean neighbors, exchanged travel tips with a new family from Israel and walked to library story time with friends from Ethiopia.

And still, everyday when 3:00 comes and I think about going to the playground, I feel nervous. There’s a subtle fear, a quiet question – Will I know anyone? Will anyone talk to me? Will it be lonelier there watching other moms interact with each other than it is here in my tiny apartment alone with two babies?

Recently, our RA asked to interview our family for a feature in the community newsletter. We told stories about our hometowns and hobbies and submitted a family photo. The week after the newsletter came out I went to the playground with my two sons. I had scanned the faces of the other moms who were present and knew that I didn’t speak the same language as any of them. I flashed a quick smile to the ones I’d seen before and sat down, scrolling through my phone as a defense against my loneliness.

Suddenly a little boy came up to me excitedly, pointing at my toddler.

“Hello! Hello! This is Bobby! From California!” he exclaimed in his sweet Chinese accent. “I am Sammy, I have seen your picture at my house.”

“Hi Sammy, “ I replied, smiling, realizing that he must be talking about the newsletter.

“That is my mom,” he pointed to the tiny woman pushing the stroller toward us, “and that is MY Tommy.”

Sammy gestured toward to the large baby sitting in the stroller and then looked back at Bobby, my almost 2 year old. “You have a Tommy AND I have a Tommy. Two Tommys!”

His mother approached, out of breath and smiling. “Sammy’s been wanting to meet you. My baby is Tommy too.”

We sat there, comparing our sweet babies the best we could, given that she speaks very little English and my proficiency in Mandarin is worse. But there was a thrill of connection, we both had babies named Tommy and that was enough to create laughter and camaraderie. I tucked my phone into my pocket and left it there, exchanging my safe virtual world of think pieces and status updates for the real one in front of me where I didn’t speak the language but still was being invited to participate.

Here’s the thing – those quiet questions that come with me to the playground, they’re present nearly everywhere I go.  At church, at book club, at music lessons, in new situations and everyday moments, I’m fighting the feeling that I don’t yet belong, the fear that I’ll make a misstep, the uncertainty of not knowing how to build a bridge of connection to those around me. And the temptation to sit alone and build a neat orderly online world where I can pick and choose what to see and read and talk about will win out if I let it.

But then Sammy runs up.

And I’m reminded that all it takes is some little slice of life in common and a willingness to try. There’s a bravery in saying hello, in taking a step toward someone, in seeking to find common ground – and great joy in discovering the ways we are more alike than different.

So here’s to trying a little harder, to putting away our phones in favor of the real world right in front of us. Here’s to quieting the voice that says you don’t belong or you don’t know how to connect. You do.

It starts with hello.