Reach for Beauty {Five-Minute Fridays}

Reach for Beauty

Sometimes we need to uncover the beauty within the chaos of our lives.

But others, we have to run out the door, to reach for the beauty out there, beauty that exists outside of our chaos.

So yesterday, I woke early hoping to hit the pavement running. To inhale the fresh breeze and breathe in freedom before my responsibilities woke, ready to go. But alas, my husband had left before dawn for an early meeting, so I ran around our 4/10 of an acre instead.

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That got old, real quick. But the kids’ trampoline stood there looking lonely, so I mustered up some oldies but goodies known as the pike, the herky, and the toe-touch.

What a riot! It was the most fun way to start a day of teaching and feeding and cleaning and Mommying. I had the trampoline and the whole backyard, all to myself for an hour.

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Today, I remember why I should have worked a little harder at the stretching part. I never stretch enough, and I’m feeling those hundred midair toe-touches. My legs are telling me I’m not 15 anymore. Ow.

Reach for Beauty

Sometimes we need to walk away from all these walls that confine us. We need to come out from under our ceilings to unhindered spaces where limits disappear. We need to take an hour away from the questions and requests for food and the lure of wiping one more crumb or washing another dirty dish, away from the books and papers and toys and faces all begging for a little more attention.

Sometimes the best idea is to become like a child for an hour, uncaged and in awe of vividness and blue. To be framed by walls made only of swaying trees, to walk on a floor of green beneath a wispy ceiling.

Sometimes the best encouragement comes when we fix our eyes on soft morning sunlight and singing birds flying through trees all pointing toward heaven.

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All this outdoor artwork settles me. Reminds me God is tall and I am small. Whispers my place under God–where I always exist, though I’m not always conscious of it. Where I can feel that God is in all and through all and holds all things together.  

May you find some vast, lonely space and time this weekend, to the backyard or beyond.

Who Will You Tell?

IMG_4239At the crack of every dawn, he burrows into our cozy bed like a puppy dog, making himself at home.

“I LOVE your big bed, Mommy!”

I roll out after cuddles and kisses, and little man stays. While his Daddy and I work on waking up, he jumps and dives, tosses pillows, and messes the whole bed up the way only a 3-year-old can.

At some point each morning, I tell him, “It’s time for no more jumps…time to make Mommy’s bed.” Of course, he wants to help. But he wants to do it his way. As do I, tugging and smoothing and rearranging.

There’s one forbidden little pillow that I keep in the corner. It used to belong front and center in the pillow pile, but now there’s a thread loose. Whenever we move it, tiny black sequins fall off onto the bed. I keep it around because it’s still beautiful, but I only use it on special days, like when company’s coming. The other days, it stays hidden in the corner beside the bed.

Little man just doesn’t understand my position on the sparkly pillow. He loves that pillow. He considers every day a special day. Without fail, he grabs it out of the corner when we’re making the bed. He jumps, and sequins fly.

I tell him to put it back. We don’t need it on the bed today. I don’t need more sequins to chase down today. He disagrees. We discuss it again, and again. Finally, this morning, he finds the right words for his argument.

He schools me in the art of love, from his little point of view.

“Mommy, I have to put the sparkly pillow on top…because you like the sparkly pillow, and then it means I Love You!

Oh my. I missed that in our argument over which way is better.

Sometimes it takes the little ones to show us how to really love.

Do it all. Spend it now. Say it big. Pull out the sparkly pillows. Tell everyone you love, that you do. Don’t assume they already know. Don’t save it for later. Let them hear it again, today, now.

People are hurting and losing hope. The events of this week have been a big reminder of that. At a luncheon yesterday, I listened to statistics about how many people feel alone. Most of them live near others, but they don’t feel like anyone really cares.

Who will you care for today? Who will you tell, or show that you love? With whom will you spend time and listen to and follow up with?

Who will you remind of a love that never fades or fails?

This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:10-12

 

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.      1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Perfectionism, Cured

Welcome back, friends!

What? You didn’t know we were taking a little break here? I didn’t really know either. But when I unplugged for a while, I enjoyed it so much, I just kept it going.

Today I’m back because I read an excellent book last week, and I think it’s one for all of us. Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory just released The Cure for the “Perfect” Life: 12 Ways to Stop Trying Harder and Start Living Braver. 

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Kathi and Cheri are leading a rebellion, because “Perfectionism isn’t Christian. It’s just crazy.”

I have history with perfectionism. Not perfecTION—just to be clear.

I was 14 when a close family friend passed away. He was like a big brother to us, so my sister and I went to see a grief counselor. Charlie listened to me talk and then offered some strange feedback. I wondered if he was confused about the purpose of our visit.

He started throwing around the P word, and I sat there thinking, I’m not a perfectionist. I’m the most not-perfect person I know! I didn’t want that label. Because if I was? Then I was a massive failure at it. If you’re a perfectionist, shouldn’t you be a lot closer to perfect?

He sent me home with a stack of handouts on black and white thinking. I highlighted only the parts that applied, so about ¾ of the pages turned yellow.

That was the beginning of my rebellion against perfectionism. Though it took almost a decade before I admitted to maybe-sortof, just a smidge of a problem.

I had the privilege of contributing a story to the book.

I had the privilege of contributing a story to the book.

 

Kathi and Cheri call Perfectionism a bully, along with Performancism, People-Pleasing, and Procrastination. These P-bullies share one common goal: “to convince you to pour all your energy into creating and maintaining an image. This image is based on who they say you should be.”

Oh, that word. Should. I lived under its pressure, always striving to be more, just to make it to where I should be. I did it as a teenager. A college student. A new wife. And then the shoulds metastasized, when I became a new mom. Should-ed on at every turn.

While I wish I’d had this book a decade ago, it reminded me how far I’ve come with this kind of thinking. Half the book didn’t even need  highlights. All glory to God!

See, fear is at the heart of Try-Harder living. But good news–“God wants to unlock the chains of fear, freeing us from its power”.

When fear rules, it’s an indicator that we haven’t fully experienced God’s perfect love. Maybe we simply need to take the little girl inside of us to Jesus, whose perfect love casts out fear. To me, Cure for the “Perfect” Life is a book about living brave, free from fear.

So come, join the rebellion! There’s room for all of us. Pick up a copy of this book, and join us at www.facebook.com/TinyActsofRebellion.

If you’d like a peek, click here to read the first chapter.

To find out more about this book, or to purchase it, click here. 

Lost Shoes {Five Minute Fridays}

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We used to hide her brown leather shoes every time she came to visit.

Her cigarettes too, but those we’d bury or break. It’s not that we were so full of mischief, but we knew those things could kill a person. It was all we could do, to help.

She would say her goodbyes and head for the door. I can still hear her giggle. My sisters and I stood behind a corner wall and tried to keep our laughter hidden.

Then Mom or Dad would call. Girls? GIRLS! Where are Aunt Connie’s shoes???

We pretended to work hard to figure out where she left them.

I guess she’ll have to stay… But it never worked out that way. The shoes would turn up, from inside the dollhouse or deep recesses of a little closet in the Strawberry Shortcake bedroom.

I think she loved the way we begged her not to go, my gentle Aunt who visited often from her house just up the road.

I wonder when we stopped hiding her shoes.

When long afternoon visits went by the wayside. When all of us moved and left our childhood VIPs behind.

I wonder why it takes an urgent phone call, or a fall, or a treasured aunt lying sedated on a hospital bed with a failing heart, to wake these stories within us again.

Stories about chilly Michigan afternoons spent playing UNO round a small kitchen table. Stories filled with simple laughter, and lots of it.

Stories about an aunt with a quirky monkey collection stretched around the perimeter of her shaggy green family room.

Stories about a time when there was always time for people to stop in and visit.

Stories of a modest upbringing, made rich because of all the people who filled it.

These stories come back, and we tell them, because the past we treasure is never really lost. Because we can always remember.

And somewhere in their telling, we understand a little better. We remember why we stopped hiding shoes.

Blue Water

beach3She grabs his hand. “Come with me, Daddy!” He gives in without second thought.

She leads him down the beach, splashing through little pools of water, leaning on his arm, pulling him this way and that.

They stay that way, hand in hand, for most the long walk to the pier.

I follow behind with boys grown tall, enjoying the snapshot of my girl and her Dad.

Remembering what it’s like to be that little girl, in love with her wonderful Daddy.

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One of my boys wraps bare fingers around sand crabs. He laughs when tiny toothpick legs dash across his skin. He loves to hold God’s creatures in his hands, to show and tell.

Another one tries 20-question style to extract from my brain our plans for the rest of this day and the next. I don’t know all the answers, but he’s not convinced of that. I encourage him to chill–to just go with it, and it frustrates him. These phrases are not my norm. This is my vaca-vocab.

The littlest wants to make sure I lay eyes on every seagull overhead, that funny red house up the beach, shiny shells in the sand, and that big wave he plans to ride one day. He only wants me to experience every excitement with him. He doesn’t care that there are 4 other family members vying for my attention.

We’re living the beach life today, where gifts roll in like waves at the shore. Like waves of grace, one might say.

Every minute of this feels priceless. Except the exhausted minutes. Those are a dime a dozen.

My senses are on overdrive. This ocean’s a giant beauty. A feisty, beautiful giant.

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Nothing on earth stills me like waves at sea. Nothing overwhelms like this blue water touching sky, morning, or moonlight.

I swell with hope here. I dream. I’m filled with both longing and contentment. I’m home somehow.

The sea has a voice, and it speaks to me. It tells me to still more. To learn the strength of quietness, the art of sitting down on the inside when life swirls fast around me. The sea reminds me, He’s got this. Millions and billions of waves remind.

It tells me to embrace my life more purposefully, but with open hands. None of it belongs to me, yet I get to play my part.

I stand before this vastness, in wonder. Wonder and worship and a heart of praise. God, you are good.

I ponder my clinging–my closed, tight fingers. These human hands are tired, and I lay it all down again. Because when I pretend all these gifts are mine, then I fear the loss of them.

I promise the maker of the sea I’ll learn to travel light. I’ll learn to live with hands wide open.

 

He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; He puts the deep into storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. (Psalm 33:7-8)

 

Birthday Week

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It started with little packs of my favorite Trident (Cinnamon) gum wrapped up in birthday notes a week early. Then a box of my favorite cereal in my car with another “Happy Birthday Week” note. He showered me with little gifts, which grew in value each day.

We were college students when he started Birthday Week, with the gum and cereal and handmade notes. My husband looked for any reason to prolong a celebration.

This tradition stuck. It was easy when it was just the two of us. Everything was easy then.

Except the part where you keep the gifts a secret.

I don’t do so well at that. But only because I do dumb things like leave items in shopping bags on the front seat of my car. My husband, will see something out of place and just happen to find his birthday presents. Year after year. I’ve never been the world’s best secret-keeper. I blame this completely on my Dad, by the way. Who’d be so excited to give gifts, he’d leave trails of hints and wouldn’t stop talking about them.  :)

Birthday week became a little harder but infinitely more exciting when babies came. One by one, until there were four of them, and here we are celebrating Birthday Week with our kids again, Year 11.

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My big kid turns 11 today, with his ever-expanding brain in his head and bigger-than-Mom’s feet in his shoes. Most of his 11-year-old friends haven’t hit the same manly stride yet, which is just how he came, a little ahead of the size curve.

There are things about this age I really do not enjoy, not one bit, and I feel the need to be honest about that lest anyone thinks we have anything extra figured out about parenting boys. For the one person left who hasn’t witnessed our family in meltdown-mode, well–now you know this is a thing for us.  :)

But there’s more about this kid, at this exact age, I love. So here’s a little birthday shout-out to end another birthday week, to my big kid.

The one who’s daily telling me a handful of jokes from the mouths of friends or pages of books, even if too often I’m saying, Let’s not repeat that one. The one with a bunch of 2, 3, and 4-year-old fans, because he loves to take good care of the tinies (unless his friends are around). The one who plays hard, works hard, reads hard, runs hard. Who performs top of the class, no matter which achievement test he takes. The one who’s read so many books of the Bible, all on his own and in addition to a hundred other books consumed this year. The one who puts my childhood summer reading contest victories to shame.  The one who loves his friends and family deeply, and who loves a good party or team sport at least as much as a Barnes & Noble date with Mom. Or a project (including drills and hammers) with Dad. The one with all the issues we nitpick, and the ones that seriously have to go. (You know the ones.) But the one made up of so much more we love and like and beg for more of, because at the end of the day, it’s his hearty laugh, his sweet smile, his hugs, and (most of) the words that come out of his mouth, that we treasure.

Happy Birthday to our first big life-changer!

What If?

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It was 5:00 on a rainy Thursday, and everything was just normal.

I spent that day running errands by myself, crossing items off my list, running, reading, resting a little. My mom was loving on my kids, giving me the day off from my life as a homeschooling Mom.

My husband trained his sales staff on a new tablet system around our kitchen table that day, leaving unexpected afternoon time for us to talk. I was just about to get in the car and pick up our little people from Mom’s house.

30 seconds later, nothing was the same.

None of my plans mattered anymore. That beach trip we needed to call and set up, the blog posts I wanted to finish, lesson plans waiting on my desk, the shelves my hubbie was about to build in the garage for me to organize…all of it seemed pointless.

My husband took the phone call I’ve always feared. I could hear it in his voice, something urgent. About my Dad.

On our way to Mom’s, he called a friend, who came over immediately to stay with our kids.

It took forever to get to the hospital. Combine rain with rush hour, and Raleigh falls apart. The ambulance took Dad to the furthest hospital across town, Big Wake. We kept asking Why? Why did they take him to Big Wake?

We knew he was installing blinds on a high ladder when he fell. And that he didn’t know his last name. We talked to the customer who found him, to our office staff and installers, to God, to the hospital, but we could only grasp for clues during the 40-minute ride.

We found him in the emergency room, in and out of consciousness. His main concern was getting out of the neck brace. At one point, he told a nurse, My neck’s not broken. I would KNOW if my neck was broken! He made us laugh, even while we all stood around his emergency room with him lying there, in and out of sleep.

The next morning, they moved him to a room in the Neuro ICU for a few days. Things were up and down. We talked with doctors and googled every idea they tossed around. Some doctors thought a stroke caused the fall. But in the end, the brain bleed was in a location consistent with a fall and not a stroke.

My older sister flew in from Tennessee. It was touch and go for a little while, but Dad started looking better. Waking up a little here and there. Remembering more. They let us take him home.

But then the fevers began. High fevers, shaking, confusion. We went back to the emergency room. His fever came down, and they sent us home. After another night of high fevers, Mom and her friend (a nurse) took Dad back to the emergency room, determined to get to the bottom of this.

They were leaning toward meningitis, which made stroke feel like a win.

But a friend mentioned Lyme Disease, and Mom remembered Dad pulling a tick off his leg the week before his fall. Suddenly his labs were consistent with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and they started him on antibiotics.

He looks like a million bucks now. Other than the purple eye, some extra gray hairs, and a lot of bumps and bruises. Oh, and he cannot complete a proper push-up yet. But who knows why we know that?

I wish I processed “ordeals” like this more quickly, but instead my feelings come in fits and spurts. In the middle of traffic, in the middle of the store, in the middle of vacuuming or reading my littlest a story.

I thank God He’s not done with my Dad {here} yet. But it’s the lingering question that stops me.

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What if?

What then?

Before I knew Dad would be okay, I had to answer. Even if—I will trust God. Even when His plan comes opposite my wishes. 

Because even in our heartache, God is good. Because He is coming again to set us free from pain and death. Because NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, not even the most painful losses.

After the last couple weeks, I’m more certain of this than ever.

 

The Way We Spend Our Messy Days

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I’ve hated the messes for as long as I can remember.

I like things tidy. I like things put together. I like my favorite overused phrase: Everything has a home. So get your junk and take it to its home…sweetie.

I like things clean. At least the counters and floors. Oh, and the walls. I like the walls without all the prints and smudges.

Is that so much to ask? I’ve been asking that question almost a decade. Since the first little bull-in-a-china-shop grew big enough to clunk around and bump around and rub his little prints around.

I never really wanted the answer. We share this home with four little tornadoes (of varying intensities). They see this as space to run and roam and play hide and seek in. Space to sort and create and build and spread out in. Space to bring their friends into, to leave doors swung wide open and carry sticks and rocks and turtles and birds into.

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They see this as the kind of place with a good pantry to raid for lemonade and disposable cups for their next new business. And the kind where mattresses become slides and closets become candy-wrapper collection areas. The kind where sleepovers happen often and carpets reveal marker stains and walls bear gloss stains, because some days the whole place becomes the artists’ canvas.

Most days, the whole place becomes the canvas, all these artists painting life on these walls.

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Often I fight for my own art in this place–for the pretty, in its place, sorted and organized, chosen and scrutinized, put together, “as it should be” kind of art.

But they fight harder for theirs–the messy, mismatched, scattered in every space, the loved and discarded, any and everywhere kind.

Who doesn't want a toilet decorated with monster trucks???

Who doesn’t want a toilet decorated with monster trucks???

They live life loud and in my face, and some days, I know I spend too much time and energy cleaning the life up after them.

But some days, it’s like I peek behind the curtain of all my tomorrows. The mess is okay there, and I know it.

Because the mess reveals the life they’re in the process of enjoying. That life is better than just okay with me. That life is my life now. My best life now.

It’s the childhood they’ll always carry with them, the days of building together this family I’ll always carry with me.

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These days are the icing on my favorite cake, even though it’s too much at times. Though it leaves a mess and sometimes stains. Though it gets sticky and everywhere. Though it stretches me and steals my comfort. I’d order it again, or make it myself. Again and a thousand times more.

Even though it’s the kind of life that can never be contained, this mix of mess and art and life and glory, the way we spend our days.

 

When Ordinary is its Own Kind of Brave

Happy Monday, friends. Today my friend Lisa-Jo Baker is guest-posting in this space, to inspire us in our ordinary bravery. Read on, and be blessed….

 

Most of my days look the same as the day before.

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And I wonder what to write about because, really, there’s nothing new.

The alarm goes off at 7:20 and I go into Micah’s room to rub his back and try to bring him awake on the right side of the bed. Jackson gropes for his glasses and walks through to use to the bathroom, never ever heeding my shrieks to, for goodness sakes close the door!

Zoe wakes up bright and chipper and her hair all standing haywire on end, straight up from her head.

Breakfast is bagels and cream cheese or toast or cereal or sometimes fried eggs and bacon if we have enough time.

And I have practiced, months and months of practice, of keeping my voice calm despite what my blood pressure is doing as the clock ticks toward the inevitable arrival of the school bus and the boys still don’t have their shoes and socks on.

But it’s ordinary. So very ordinary.

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I have meetings and deadlines and I write blog posts if I’ve got one that climbs up out of my head and demands to be written down.

I wear make up even when I’m working from home because it helps me feel awake; present in my life. I sit at the kitchen table in the pool of sunlight that streams in through the huge windows and I’m grateful for these small moment of ordinary glory.

But 8 hours tick by like that. Zoe goes to preschool every other morning and I’m left with my house and the dishes I don’t feel like unloading from the dishwasher and so many moments are simply the choice to keep showing up.

Meeting the kids as they get off the bus, figuring out snacks and math homework and new ways to trick Jackson into finding his reading assignments interesting.

The world spins by so slowly outside our windows.

I wonder what I got done and I stay up too late because I don’t feel like doing it all over again tomorrow.

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I wish for weekends away with just Peter.

I wish for movie nights out.

I wish for quiet conversations that don’t require kid-inserted subtitles.

That’s just the truth of it. That this season is very very slow and ordinary and I have to remind myself that this is what brave looks like for me. For us.

It doesn’t involve platforms or pulpits or speaking tours or social justice or passports.

It’s counting how many mornings this week I’ve held onto my temper and chosen to love my six-year-old toward a day of meaning for him. It’s showing up today and today and again today.

Because every day is building a lifetime of what they will remember about their mother and right now and here it’s OK to have late afternoons of lying under the grey blanket and simply stroking the hair of a boy who has outgrown his baby-skin by far. And still I pet his hair because he loves it. And me too.

And this? This is beautiful too. This is significant and necessary and real and I am loved not by the size of what I do but by the God who watches me do it. Today and today and again later today.

He makes all the things I do beautiful.

The ordinary glorious beautiful things.

 

{To see the video reminder of why ALL mothers are braver than they know, click here}.

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This guest post comes with love from Lisa-Jo Baker to our community in celebration of Mother’s Day. If you haven’t already – treat yourself, your mom, your sister, your BFF or your grandma to a copy of her new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom. No matter what stage you’re in when it comes to motherhood, we promise it will encourage. And remind you that you are braver than you think.

 

Does Your Small YES Matter? {Another Giveaway!!!}

RhinestoneJesus_spine_mockup A few years ago, Kristen Welch was just a mom from Texas, writing a blog about parenthood. And then she took a trip to Kenya, with Compassion International, hoping to encourage families to sponsor children living in poverty.

But when she experienced life in the slums of Nairobi, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “These living conditions were not for the living.”

Desperate and hopeless and angry, she silently questioned God. How can you allow this??? But she felt His response–Kristen, how can you?

It was that exact moment, when she knew her life would never be the same.

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Yesterday, Kristen Welch released her new book: Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough. As part of her launch team, I am honored to celebrate this book with her, and to give away 2 copies on behalf of her publisher.

It’s taken me a couple weeks to wander through her story. It made me pause and pray and think about the state of my heart. It’s an encouraging story, one I think any of us could relate to in different ways.

Kristen started with a desire to make a difference in the world for Jesus. But things didn’t turn out the way she’d planned, and at some point, she stopped dreaming to simply survive life. God used her trip to Kenya to wake her up to His heart. Afterward, He gave her an opportunity to do something, and she said yes.

In Rhinestone Jesus, she tells her story of founding a non-profit called Mercy House Kenya, a maternity home for young girls in extremely difficult circumstances. It’s an amazing story, and chapters are still being written. As of May 1st, they are preparing to open doors to the SECOND HOME!!! Mercy House Kenya is growing, to accommodate more mothers and babies.

Kristen hopes her story shows us that our small yes matters. We often want to do something “big” for God, but she challenges us to lay the “big” down. To begin with the next small thing, right where we are. Say yes in your mess–yes to loving God and loving others. See one need near you, and do what you can to meet it. Don’t be paralyzed by ideas about what’s most important or about doing enough.

Say yes now in small ways, because when you love someone and care for their needs, you’re changing their world. And you’re changing yours, too.

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Now for the book giveaway: Please answer this question in the comments by Monday, May 5th at noon to be entered: What is just one way you can love God and love others this week? Do you know of someone sick or lonely or hungry or in need? How can you help someone in the next week?