A Beautiful Day

Seven years ago, Will’s cousin invited us to the U2 concert in Nashville. We were about to leave town when we got the call that his wife was in labor. And it was not going well. They were headed to Vanderbilt Hospital and said we could come pick up the tickets from them and head over to Vanderbilt stadium.

Should we still even go? With mixed emotions, we hit the road to Nashville anxious to see them in person.

When we got to the hospital, we exchanged hugs as the doctors came up with a plan. Things were unsettled. The elevator doors closed as we parted ways with Will’s cousin, also a physician, who said, “it’s not good.”

With heads hung low, just steps away from that hospital room in the stadium, we waited for U2 to start in silence. Oh, how we wished the seats beside us were filled by the faces we had just seen. We felt guilty for being there and worried. We were waiting for news and praying while trying to make sense of the turn of events. The atmosphere shifted as U2 came on stage and played “Beautiful Day”.  At the exact time the song began, we got the text that baby Dylan had arrived and that momma and baby were healthy and doing great. With happy tears we sang the song at the top of our lungs and texted them a video of Bono’s words echoed by thousands of voices just steps away from that baby boy’s first cry. After the show we got to meet our baby nephew and rejoice in that oh so beautiful day!

It is one I will never forget!

Will and I had tickets to see U2 in Nashville again last night. I woke up thinking about that memory and song. I envisioned a picture of us there steps away from the band with a hashtag #beautifulday. We were ecstatic! Before leaving town, we swung by the pool for a quick dip with our kids. Long story short, Anna (our two-year-old) stepped into a pile of fire ants, and moments later her face was swollen and her throat was closing. We gathered our wet kids and bits and pieces of our stuff and found ourselves speeding to the ER, our whole world spinning, shaking out of control. We held our little girl and prayed to God to keep her alive as she lost her ability to speak.

In just a moment, our universe turned upside-down. The previous script of our day was thrown out the window as we held tightly to our baby girl wanting nothing more than moments with one another. There was something beautiful in that crazy moment of knowing that nothing else mattered. The cares that had previously consumed our morning were gone. We were fully present with each other and with God in the eye of that storm.

As Will rushed Anna into the ER, I parked the car with Mary and John, and a crocodile tear rolled down John’s cheek. “I was really hoping Anna was gonna get to turn 3 and get bigger.” It was, as Will’s cousin had said those seven years ago in front of another set of sliding doors, “not good.” Anna received excellent care and breathing treatments as the adventure continued in an ambulance ride to another hospital where we spent the night in the ICU.

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It was a nightmare in the middle of a summer day and all we knew to do was hold tightly to each other and claim God’s promises for our girl. We are so thankful for the love from our family and sweet friends who happened to be there in the moment to help and pray.

As it turns out, my childhood friend who lives in Nashville was able to go to U2 in our place. She texted me this video of that all too familiar song.

The words reminded me of the picture we had seen just hours earlier over the Emergency Room reminding us that God was with our little girl:

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“After the flood, all the colors came out…it was a beautiful day!!!”

As I held Anna in that hospital bed, I was overcome with the same feeling Will’s cousin had 7 years before.

Indeed it was.

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Anna is doing great and got to eat Skittles for breakfast this morning. She was discharged in hot pink style with an epipen and charge to always wear shoes outside. We have a cautious road ahead, but she’s a happy girl with an even happier momma!

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God, thank You for Your mercy. Thanks for waking us up and reminding us of the miracle of life. May we love well, live with purpose, keep perspective, and hug our family. Thanks for the joy in those anticipated moments on our highlight reel that are extraordinary. Thanks also for those unexpected moments we would never write into our script that send us to our knees and reframe the ordinary as beautiful days. In Jesus’ Name we thank You. Amen.

Receiving!

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Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

Christmas in June

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We hear a lot about baby Jesus in December, but not much this time of year, so I wanted to share this little heartwarming moment today. We love to read children’s Bibles with our kids, and it is neat see each child identify with the stories. John’s favorite is David and Goliath and every time Goliath dies, John slaps the book as hard as he can and roars. It usually scares his sisters, but he is a precious little warrior. Mary’s favorite stories include the Marys; Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Jesus’s momma all captivate her because she shares their name.

But Anna, at age (almost) 2, usually just wiggles around and tries to eat the books. She has just started talking more and wanting to read books by herself, so I handed her the Jesus Storybook Bible the other night. There was one (and only one) person she wanted to find:

“Oh baabeee Jeeee-Zus….Where are euuu?

She flipped and flipped and flipped the pages until she found Him lying in a manger, and then her face lit up with joy.

“Der’s baby Jeeee-Zus!” she squealed with joy when she found him.

It blows my mind that the One who made the gigantic sun became as tiny as a baby. The One with all Heavenly power arrived powerless. The One who can hold all creation in His hands needed His mother to hold Him.

The Living Word had to learn how to talk just like Anna. And so she, one of the the least of these, can relate to Him! I find it incredible that we don’t have to change and grow to get close to God, but that He changed and became small to grow close to us. What a beautiful upside-down Kingdom; what an amazing love!

As Anna was pointing to baby Jesus in glee, I asked her if she remembered his momma’s name.

“Mar-wee!” she said with excitement.

“That’s right! And what about his daddy?” I asked.

“Moses!” she said confidently.

I chuckled. Anna may not know Jesus’s earthly father’s name yet, and she may not know His Heavenly Father either. But…He knows little Anna. And He loves her so much that He made Himself small so that she could know Him too. She may be little, but she matters in a big way to that baby Jesus.

And that is worth a joyful squeal!

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As a mom at Christmas, I write a script in my mind for how the magical moments of this season should unfold. I have these special memories of Christmas as a child; they were probably messy and chaotic, but when looking at frozen pictures of the past, they appear to be Norman Rockwell esque. So as I prepare meals, shop for gifts and make plans, I envision these magical moments with my family. The script in my mind is perfection.

But…for some reason, it doesn’t usually play out that way. This happened last week. Mary asked for an experience for Christmas this year…an ice skating date with mommy. Then dinner at her favorite pizza place right next to the rink, a cozy restaurant below the art museum that looks at the tinsel trail of trees. You can imagine the visions I had of gliding on the ice together while Christmas music played and then nestling in at that special restaurant in the middle of the park.

And, as we walked up to the rink in our three pairs of socks, two coats, and two pairs of pants in the surprise record low temperatures that hit on the date we chose, we saw the hip hop radio station’s van. Rather than Christmas music, we heard the bop of the nnst, nnst, nnst. As we walked up, they were blasting a song about “dropping your a..” at full blast, and we could hardly hear each other. Perhaps fitting for what was happening on the ice, but not fitting for the precious Christmas experience I envisioned with my five year old. Oh dear. Maybe we should come back another night. But then I remembered the efforts of stuffing our three-socked feet into our boots and zipping up all our zippers. There was no turning back!

At check in, Mary proudly told the woman how this was her Christmas gift. We stuffed our feet into the heavy skates and bravely made our way onto the ice. It was quite hard. As soon as our skates hit that awaited ice, the dj in charge told everyone to clear off for their game of turkey bowling. Clear the ice. We just got on. The woman in charge saw the looks on our faces and quietly told us that we could stay.  So, we had the entire ice rink to ourselves which, for safety reasons, was very helpful. While the dj manned the turkey bowling game, the Christmas music resumed. It was fabulous! But not exactly the gliding together I had envisioned because Mary was determined to skate without a helping hand from me. We laughed as she fell about forty times, and thankfully didn’t hit her hard little head. It was wet ice mixed with crashes and cold wind. But she loved it. She would not quit until she did a whole loop by herself. It looked like a painful disaster to me, but Mary was thrilled. And she finally did it!

Then we walked to the pizza restaurant, starving. It was full of people and the hostess greeted us with the news it was closed for a private party. What in the world?! On our night?! This was absolutely not part of the plan. Rather than head home, where my numb feet wanted to go, I drove Mary to a little place down the road that I hoped would still be open. It was empty and they told us we could sit anywhere. Mary chose the bar, the high seats, of course. She ordered sweet potato fries that came with a chocolate dipping sauce – something, Mary told me, is only at fancy restaurants. This was way better than pizza.

As the wait staff gathered around us and rolled silverware, Mary told them all about her ice skating adventure. They were thoroughly entertained by their small visitor. She told them all about her excitement for Christmas and her love for baby Jesus, a topic that was warmly welcomed out of the mouth of Mary. Wine was poured, Christmas was celebrated, more stories were told, and laughs lingered as we all embraced our unexpected, warm moment before braving the cold again. Mary did about eighty percent of the talking and beamed with glee as the center of attention. As the ice melted off my legs, I looked around at our new friends and at her windburned, laughing face with chocolate all over it…somehow the magic I was hoping for found its way to us.

I made this picture into an ornament as a gift to Mary to remember the gift of her experience.

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But really, it is a gift to me. It’s a reminder that in our failed quest for perfection, sometimes we find ourselves enveloped by a better storyline…that in the midst of unexpected cold, hard falls, closed doors, and moments we’d never put on the script, perfection makes its way to us. And that is the great joy of Christmas.

When You Miss Someone At Christmas

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Each year at Christmas, new memories are made and old ones are relived. As I opened the box of our tree ornaments, memories from over the years spilled out into the room. Remember that trip? Here’s that one from my childhood! Awe look, the year we got married? And look, our first Christmas with a baby! Years and years of memories all hung in one place. And then I pulled out the little wooden sleigh from her…my aunt Kitty.  

Kitty was my mom’s older sister who lived a few doors down. My childhood memories are flooded with Aunt Kitty. Our grandparents lived far away and she was a grandmother and an aunt all wrapped into one. She was so jolly and had a belly laugh that made you feel so good and special when you were with her. She gave out king-sized candy bars to hundreds of neighbors on Halloween; she was recklessly generous. And when I say she did Christmas, I mean she DID Christmas!

That’s why I will never forget twelve years ago on Christmas Eve when we got a call from a neighbor saying there was an ambulance at her house. We hung up the landline and my sister and I sped over. The stockings were hung, the gifts were wrapped, the food was made, she had worked so hard preparing a magical Christmas that only Kitty could prepare for her eleven grandchildren. She went to sleep on the couch after a long day of finishing touches, and she never woke up. As soon as we pulled up to her home, we knew. We just knew.

As I sat in Kitty’s funeral next to my younger sister and saw her fingers shake as she held the program…those fingers that had dialed the numbers to Kitty’s landline at least once a week since she was old enough to talk…I looked around at those Christmas trees in the front of the church and just sobbed. Christmas Eve. She was taken from us on Christmas Eve. It just didn’t seem right.

Twelve years have passed, I have gotten married and now have three precious children to soak in the magic of Christmas. They are absolutely adorable and hilarious this time of year. But even as new memories are made, I can’t get through this season without thinking of Kitty and having at least one good cry.

Because I miss her.

Maybe there is someone you miss this time of year too. It’s the happiest time of the year, and I dearly love it, but Christmas also brings us memories of people who are no longer here to share in the season; the family member who isn’t at the dinner table any more, the address in the Christmas card list you have to delete. Death is real. And it hurts. It’s not how it is supposed to be.

And this year as I got out that wooden sleigh, I feel like God was right there with me. And He reassured me that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have a good cry. It’s okay to have these emotions and not feel the need to stuff them down. It’s okay not to be okay with death.

Because He isn’t.

At the tomb of His dear friend, Jesus wept. I know He would have wept with us that day in Kitty’s living room. He felt the sting of grief I know so well, and He too cried. And then He did something about it. He commanded his friend Lazarus to come out of that grave. And shortly after that, He did something even more miraculous. He went to the cross.

He came in all humanity and all power to look death straight in the eye and swallow it so we wouldn’t have to. He loves us so much He came to set us free of the shackles of sin and the sting of death. Because we matter.

We miss our loved ones, but we won’t always have to. “He will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.” (Isaiah 25:7-8) That hole in our hearts that yearns for things to be made whole again…He came to fill it, and He’s the only One big enough.

My wish list is long and exciting, but I think what we all desire most deeply this time of year is for the death of the people we love, and the brokenness both inside and around us, to be overcome and gone forever. That’s the cry of my heart and I believe that’s what Christmas promises.

Yes, there is death and darkness. But the birth of Jesus introduces us to the life and light that cuts straight through the heart of it, victorious.

“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

There is something stronger than death; the love that broke into the universe on Christmas Day. The love that is making all things new.

And sometimes new memories shine light on the old. My children asked today if we could get out our birthday sign for Jesus. I told them not yet, and reminded them they needed to wait until the 25th. John, who is three, started jumping up and down. “Are we going to heaven, mama!? Are we going to get to sing to him in heaven?! Can we go and see him on his birthday, mama, please!? Can we go…”

I listened to his joyful request as his precious words began to cut straight through the heart of such a painful memory…it was the moment I lost it this year. I immediately thought of Kitty and how she went home to be with Jesus on the Eve of His birthday. She was with Him that night. John asked about my emotions, and I reminded him about Kitty. He was thrilled to know that she made it to heaven just in time to sing.

As I rejoiced with John, the words of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, my favorite Christmas hymn and one that comforted me greatly in the years after Kitty’s death, played through my mind,

Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing all ye citizens of heaven above…Glory to God…Now in flesh appearing…

Those of us who miss loved ones at Christmas, we are invited to sing along triumphantly with all of the citizens of heaven, and perhaps with more volume than before,

Oh, come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!

 

Fear Not, Little Flock

“Fear Not, Little Flock” is something I wrote for a community blog last month, but wanted to share here as well. I hope it encourages you!

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My three-year-old stood at our back door in his ninja turtle cape and plastic sword in hand. Nose pressed to the glass, he longingly looked out.

“Come with me, mommy!” he begged.

I was cleaning up dishes and told John to go out by himself for a minute.

“I don’t want to, mommy. I’m scared.”

I explained that the fenced in back yard was perfectly safe.

He looked down and muttered, “but what about the cat?”

A fat, orange cat had come to visit the other day. We had never seen it before and didn’t know which neighbor it belonged to. As soon as we opened the door to go say hello, it leapt back over the fence and fled.

But it’s fluffy size terrified John.

Until that orange surprise visitor came, John was fine going outside alone. But I understand his fear. When we are surprised, we want to arm ourselves against those kind of surprises again. That phone call, that diagnosis, that accident, that heartbreak caught us off guard. We want to move forward prepared for it. If it comes, darn it, we’ll have predicted it. We are on the inside looking out for it.

The tender words of Jesus came to mind, “Fear not, little flock.” (Luke 12:32) I knelt down and looked John in the eyes. I told him he was twice the size of that orange cat. I also pointed out the plastic sword in his hand.

“If you see him coming, run after him with your sword and he will be so scared, he will run away. He’ll jump that fence so fast, it will be funny. Remember last time?”

His little eyes lit up with visions of being a superhero in action.

“Why don’t you go out there and look for him and scare him away?” I suggested.

He plunged out the door, sword in hand. After a few minutes of no cat, he was running in circles, playing on the new swing set, pushing his plastic mower and digging in the dirt. It was a great, sunny morning that John got to experience instead of watch from inside.

And that cat….would you believe it….never showed up.

….

This conversation reminded me of a talk with my husband recently. Only this time, I was the fearful one. He asked me to tell him what I was afraid of, and while some of my fears seem so silly and selfish, I was honest. It helped to say them out loud and bring them to light. It helped me see where I wasn’t believing God. And that if these worst case scenarios were to happen, even death, I would be okay in Christ. God doesn’t promise we won’t have trouble, but that He will be with us and has given us power to overcome it. He never says that cat won’t come, but that in the name of Jesus, it will flee.

Then Will helped me look back at the last time something scary happened. While painful, I am okay. In fact, each surprise, hard situation in life has served to mold me more into the image of Christ. I am more than okay. Then he pointed out my sword, my Ephesians 6 armor already in hand “the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” It says,

“The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

“I (Jesus) have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10:19)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

I thanked my husband for the reminder. In Christ, I am twice the size of what I fear. It helped give me the courage to step back out of my comfort zone, victorious sword in hand, and ready for what comes. I’ve seen a lot of neat things since…but not the cat.

When it comes to things we worry about, did you know that:

40% never happen
30% are in regard to unchangeable deeds of the past
12% focus on opinions of others that cannot be controlled
10% center of personal health which only worsens when we worry about it
8% concern real problems we can influence
(Max Lucado, Come Thirsty, p.101.)

And I’ll add…0% outside of the redemptive power of God and victory in Jesus Christ.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32 ESV)

The Wonder of New

This summer, our family of five embarked on a great adventure! I like to call it “camping without the tent.” It was Will’s idea to take us to the Marriott in Muscle Shoals, and we were thrilled for the kids to experience their first night in a hotel.

As we packed, I said to them, “Now, this is something very special, so I want you guys to be nice to each other and do what mommy and daddy say, okay?!”

They nodded with wide eyes.

John kept asking if they had an indoor pool in the car. We told him we would see. As our minivan pulled around the circle at the grand entrance to the Marriott, John said, “Ohhhh noooooo, mommy.”

“What baby?” I asked.

“There’s other kids here!”

When I described the hotel and showed him pictures online, he thought we’d be the only people in the whole place. Bless him!

His sadness melted away when we walked into the lobby. One look at the grand fountain in the entryway and he was squealing.

“They do have an indoor pool, mommy! They do! Put my bathing suit on!”

I had to pull his little arms out of the fountain and steer him to the elevator. He and Mary were completely enthralled with the elevator and gold luggage rack and bellman. When we opened the door to our room, Will and I were a bit surprised. We had gotten the last room in the place which, it turns out, had just one queen bed. We remarked about this to each other and Mary, who had never heard beds described in sizes, picked up on one word; “queen”.

“We get to sleep in a queen’s bed! John, we get to sleep in a queen’s bed with mommy and daddy!”

Poor baby Anna was irate not to be included in the queen’s bed. We woke up to her greeting us from her adjoining pack n play letting us know she wanted in. It was 6am. Will called down to the desk to ask what time the pool opened and the woman told us 7. Lucky for us! The pool actually opened at 8 and we were thrilled and shocked to be the only ones there. It is a huge pool with no entry, a real waterslide, bridges and fountains. We had the entire thing to ourselves, much to the surprise of everyone who got the memo it opened at 8. This was totally in line with John’s grand vision!

And then we discovered the hot tub. Mary and John had never seen one and thought it was amazing. When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Mary said “the hot pool.”

The kids had never seen a breakfast buffet either and could not believe all of the options under those golden covers. They piled a massive amount of sugary cereals, pancakes and syrup onto their plates, and tried a few new foods too. It was like a royal feast for those of us who slept in the queen’s bed.

We have been blessed to travel to some neat places this summer, but Mary and John agreed going to the Marriott was their favorite thing. Will and I cherish the memory and hold it dear. There is nothing more precious than seeing a familiar experience made new through the eyes of child!

Lord, open our eyes to see the wonders of your world every day. Awaken us to see the blessings You give us with child-like appreciation. Captivate us with how You transform the ordinary into brand new. May we learn from our children to appreciate this amazing life, and appreciate You, our Amazing Daddy. Thanks for making us royal. Amen.

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“For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:2-5‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Are the Wild Things Scary?

I was reading one of my all-time favorite children’s stories with John this week, and he dressed up in costume to fully experience “Where the Wild Things Are”.

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“Are the wild things scary, mommy?” he asked.

“No, they are not.”

“Why not, mommy?”

I thought about it. They looked scary. They had big, yellow eyes, sharp teeth, crazy claws and were three times the size of Max, plus they outnumbered him. I thought about it more and then replied to John, “They are not scary because Max isn’t afraid of them.” As the words came out of mouth, I realized they were profound!

Scary is not defined by claws, teeth and size, but by what we are afraid of. If we don’t have fear toward things; they are not scary. Our thoughts toward fears define them. While they try to size us up, really it is us who gets to size them up. And we decide.

Does this mean we should be unwise and careless? No! But it means we can be strong in the Lord and trust Him when He says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

And what happens when we are not afraid? Those monsters in our lives:

-Having that hard conversation

-Telling that secret that has been locked in the dark

-Stepping out in faith when it’s scary

-Giving more than is comfortable

-Taking a chance on someone

-Forgiving when it means letting go

-Saying you are sorry

-Pursuing that God-given dream

-Trusting when it doesn’t make sense

Once these are looked straight in the eye with courage, they aren’t that scary any more. Our very fears can transform into things that bow down to us; they recognize us as royalty.

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As believers, we can celebrate this!

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What’s more, they become great adventures!

And then, in the end, like Max…we go home. We go back to our Daddy’s house. We’ll be safe in the end, and thankful for the times we didn’t stay in the boat afraid of those monsters, never knowing the great adventure in store. Never knowing they really…weren’t scary at all.

The Treasure in the Small Towns

There is something special about small towns; something wholesome about them that makes me nostalgic. Our family spent the 4th of July in White Pine, Tennessee, the small town where Will’s mom grew up just west of the Smoky Mountains. Her dad was the town doctor who delivered hundreds of babies. If people couldn’t pay him with money, they paid him in chickens. Everybody knew him. He recently passed away, but we got to ride in his old, red truck in the town parade. We threw candy to the onlookers as we made our way up Main Street behind fire trucks and horses. It seemed like the whole town came out no matter what their age. There was nowhere else anyone wanted to be.

I did not grow up in a small town, but there is something about them that feels like home. My mom grew up in Lumberton, North Carolina and her dad had a farm. When I was a little girl, he would bring me baby chicks to play with. Holidays visiting our relatives in Eastern, NC included lots of simple fun, delicious food and big hugs from people who had all the time in the world to hear how we were doing.

Interestingly, my mom and Will’s mom were born eight days apart the same year and both grew up on Walnut Street. Neither of them still live in their small towns, but they have both passed their roots down to us in values and invaluable childhood memories.

And now, when we pass through small towns in rural Alabama on the way down to the gulf coast, we are refreshed to see old homes with flags hanging proudly from big porches, neighbors talking together outside, country churches with humble exteriors, locally owned restaurants that close on Sundays, and the feeling that people really know and depend on each other. If these people were to get into trouble, somebody is gonna know and somebody is gonna care. The world’s trendsetters will pass right by these little towns, but they don’t seem to mind. The things that time changes don’t change here.

Time slows down and you can breathe in the deep smells of summer grass and home cooking. There’s not much fancy, but nobody seems to miss it. The crazy of the fast-paced world hasn’t gotten here yet. People matter. God matters. Sitting face-to-face and talking to each other matters. And, I am reminded as I pass through small towns, that I matter too. And away from the hustle and bustle, there is a desire in me to play outside, eat home-cooked soul food, have people know my name, enjoy long conversations in person and feel the bigness of God under a starlit sky away from city lights.

We spent the afternoon of the 4th at the family farm house. The kids looked at horses, caught butterflies in plastic cups, ran through wide open grassy space with no fear of nearby cars, and never thought for a minute about watching tv. They marveled at tractors and four wheelers and entertained the adults on the wrap-around porch.

As I reflected on my appreciation for small towns, wondering what it is about them that is sad to leave at the end of the day, my mind went to Jesus. Jesus, the King of all Kings, the One who will be the center of the new city in all its splendor, the One who made the entire universe…was born in a small town. He wasn’t born in the center of commerce or where the royalty carried on, or a place that was noteworthy on the map at the time, but in the small town of Bethlehem. As a young boy, he lived in Nazareth, a place so insignificant that it made people question his claim as the Messiah. It was a small town…and knowing that makes me wonder if his childhood memories were like the ones my kids made this week. He may have felt the same nostalgic feeling traveling through small towns once he was older. Maybe they reminded him of home and his family.

There is just something about small towns, something special that happens in these places off the beaten trail, something I deeply appreciate that maybe…isn’t so small.