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.

 

Learning to Skip

“How was school today?” I asked.

“It was good. But did you know I can’t skip, mommy? We did skipping in motor skills and I can’t do it.”

“Well, that’s okay, baby. You’ll learn. We can work on it … Do other people in your class know how to skip yet?”

“Yes mommy. Everybody can skip. But me. I can’t do it.”

“Everyone?”

“Um hmm. All the other kids.”

My heart dropped. How could every other kid in Pre-K skip but Mary? Did their moms get a secret memo to teach skipping lessons? The child walked at ten months and is an animal on the soccer field – why in the world can’t she skip? My mommy worries started to spiral out of control. I was sad for her.

None of these thoughts seemed to enter Mary’s mind.

The teacher said she was just overthinking it. Mary is definitely a thinker! About a week later, the teacher was very touched to tell me that all of the children were taking turns helping Mary learn to skip. She would talk about it every day at pick up. “I practiced my skipping with Daisy! I had fun skipping with Valen! Lane is teaching me how to skip!”

And then one day – she got it! She now skips alongside her classmates on the lawn after school in complete joy. They love showing off together. She skips around our yard in glee. She introduces herself to perfect strangers by saying, “Hi. I’m Mary and I can skip. Wanna see?”

This was a heartwarming experience that made me realize I can learn from Mary. Because when I can’t do things others can, my tendency is to retreat. I hide out in shame. I avoid that thing, or write it off as dumb and elevate myself above it. I seldom ask for help when I’m the last to learn something. I pretend. And despite my outward strength or nonchalance, I inwardly care deeply and feel inadequate.

Next time I can’t do something, I simply want to ask for help. I don’t know how to curl hair, properly install a carseat, iron a wrinkle, tie pretty a bow or sew a button. These are things I feel like I should be able to do, so I don’t ask for help. I have never played the piano and wonder if I’m too old to learn. A few years ago someone asked me to pray out loud and I couldn’t do it. I felt inadequate. Others graciously helped me overcome that, and God did too. It was an awesome breakthrough!

As as adult, I often feel the need to have it all figured out, but now I see that as a trap to keep me from a being life-long learner. I pray for the humility to step into that blessing and off the sidelines!

Mary’s classmates didn’t like her any less because she couldn’t skip. She invited them into her challenge and they became cheerleaders and encouragers who were proud to see their friend learn. It bonded them closer. When we admit our needs and help one another, it ties us together, not apart. Love unites, shame divides.

God says His power is made perfect in our weakness. In this world of hiding weaknesses and pretending, it can be so hard to embrace them and ask for help, from each other and from our Father.

I think Mary knew deep down her inability to skip did not define her in any way. She reminded me we are loved unconditionally regardless of the things we can’t do or have done. And never for a minute did she think she wouldn’t get it. There’s no time for shame when we are becoming! Like Mary, I want have the courage and humility to reach out for help. Because when we do, it’s as joyful as this:

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