Last week the heavens cracked open and poured rain all over the blue-tinged mountains we call Appalachia. So much that when I returned home from my writers conference in Asheville, the local paper’s headline bemoaned how we’d gone from not enough rain to way too much.
Trees down. Roads flooded. A general soggy mess. And a couple days of sunshine not near enough to dry things out.
By the time I came home from BRMCWC, that’s pretty much how I felt too. A little soggy and a lot poured out–not quite like that Luke verse I love that promises a good measure. More like when my kids spill a glass of sweet tea and there’s a sticky mess.
All my new writer friends (and wow, are these people talented and creative and fresh voiced) came home and got to work. More Facebook pages and new blogs and book proposals have been created in the last three days then I can even begin to follow.
I came home and crashed.
Then that little ugly green streak quivered its way up my arm, heading straight for my heart. What if she gets an agent and I don’t? What if her book’s a bestseller and mine’s not? What if her blog goes viral and mine stays sleepy?
Yeah, even those of us who have “made it” get those niggling pains of fear disguised as jealousy.
Because that’s really what it is. Fear. Fear of never being good enough. Fear of never giving back enough. Fear of God not taking my offering and finding it as worthy as hers or his.
In my last few days, I finally swiped open my friend Matthew’s new book. He’s a Blue Ridge friend, of course. Last year, gala awards, same table. A Presbyterian pastor from Canada and a Southern Baptist girl from Georgia and we connected over the one thing that matters most–awe at what God is doing.
In Let God Be Present, Matthew writes, “Moses needed more than the promise of God’s presence. He needed to see it, and see it now. He was at the point of really wanting it. He wanted it because he was the one who had to lead the people. He wanted it for his people because he knew they would be the ones who would have to try and live out the holy life of work and rest in God’s name, for others to see and be drawn to the most beautiful, wonderful, awe-filled relastionship there is. They would need to live this God-filled life.”
Matthew goes on to ask in challenge, “He wants the presence of God. Do we?”
Because if I am truly surrendered to the Adonai of all, then my desire–before I ever open this laptop to tap out words or bend the spine of my journal to scratch them–will be for God’s presence.
Dear friends, if what you’re doing right now doesn’t invite God’s presence, may I encourage you to take some time and rest? Slow the busyness and invite God into your everyday ordinary. You might be surprised how He calls you out from there.
Did you know my debut novel, Still Waters, is available for pre-order on Amazon? I know, I still get all the grins. It’s in the cover design process with my publisher, but don’t judge a book by that–right? And if you want more info on how you can spread the word follow me on Facebook as Lindsey P. Brackett, Author.
Had one of those pinnacle moments of motherhood this weekend. One of those times where I thought–this moment is it. The choice I make, the choice she makes, in THIS moment will define how I parent her for the rest of her life.
Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve had more than one moment like this with this particular child this past month.
And I’m not so certain she’s the one who’s learning. I pray she is. I hope she is. I think she is. But really? I’m learning the hard and fast truth about motherhood, writing, life–you have to keep going even when you don’t think you can.
She fell Saturday morning barely 25 meters into the 3200 meter race at the state track meet for youth. That red-hued track ate up her knee and elbow and pride. The whistle blew for a restart because the rules allow it that early into a race.
(You know, quite often we aren’t as far along as we think, and the opportunity to begin again is right there if we take a few steps back.)
The gatekeepers let me out there as soon as I said she was mine, and I wiped the bloody trickle and slapped on a bandaid and told her to line back up. That’s the worst part of motherhood, you know. When your baby is crying and hurting and you know you have to make them finish. When you know it would be easier to say, good try, there’s always next year, you’re hurting so let’s quit.
But truth is I called up reality–we drove three hours so she could run in one race. This is her event. She’s had a tough season, but we’re finishing. It’s two miles, I told her, and you’ll be done in fifteen minutes. Line up.
I practically pushed her back to that starting line believing she might make it one round and then beg to come out. I would’ve let her. Because she got back up and tried again.
She finished the race.
We run with endurance the race that is set before us…
The preacher called up those words Sunday morning amidst a congregation that featured a woman who left her Georgia home in 1954 and served 38 years in Nigeria as a missionary. The pews were filled with her girls, come visiting for her 90th birthday. What a race she’s almost finished.
…run with ENDURANCE…
My girl might carry that scar on her knee for awhile. She has a wall full of medals and ribbons from other races she’s won, but this one–this race she lost by all the standards which measure speed–this is the race where she truly gets the prize.
This is the race I will remember in this long marathon of motherhood and grace. The one that cost the most. The one that made me set aside the instinct to coddle and press forward with the commandment to endure.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 12: 1-2
I’ve always had a smidge of sympathy for Lot’s wife. I know, I know. If God tells you to go, you go and don’t wonder at what you’re leaving behind.
That’s a whole lot easier said than done.
Besides, I don’t think the point of the story is “never look behind you.” I think the point is radical obedience–which looks not the same for each of us.
We took our whole family on a jet plane a couple weeks ago and touched down in Nevada with no sights set on winnings bigger than the snuggles of missed cousins. We rented a minivan the kids liked better than ours and drove into southeastern Utah, where you can try, but you won’t be able to take a picture without an amazing background view.
We stayed in this great house and everyone had plenty of space though they preferred to be together all of the time.
We hiked and walked and trudged through the sand of Snow Canyon and the most family-friendly trails of Zion National Park. Except for when my fearless one and her daddy ascended legendary Angels Landing–and she told me later about hiking the last half-mile holding a chain and that she didn’t believe I’d be able to do it. You’re not supposed to look down, Mommy. If you do, you’ll get scared.
I suppose that’s a lot like, you’re not supposed to look behind. If you do, you’ll regret leaving.
Maybe Lot’s wife regretted leaving. Or maybe she was just nostalgic. We don’t really know. All we do know is God told them to get out of town and don’t look back–and she did.
I’m a master of hindsight. Oh, if I’d known then what I know now. I’ve got a long list of how our life could be better.
Better than what, though? Because, truthfully, right now, we’re pretty darn blessed. And I’d say it’s mere grace the Lord hasn’t turned me to salt.
Instead He’s teaching me something with my tendency to look back and what if and wonder why. Showing me in great strokes of glory that what lies behind me is the best kind of broken beautiful.
Looking a lot like this sunrise I almost missed the morning I drove my sister into work so early the sun rose behind me while I drove back down the valley.
Sometimes that glance back reminds us Who’s got our back–shining like the sun and sweeping us away into the greatest kind of love story. The kind where, when we glance backward we see all the little pieces falling together to make the story we have today.
Abraham’s family had to survive–no time for looking back. Praise Jesus, we get to live and learn and stare over our shoulders at the wondrous majesty that has protected us all along.
Ten miles. That’s about how far we went. Far enough to jump the county line and need a new school situation. Far enough to make me choose between my familiar Ingles with the bag boys who learned how to write complex sentences under my tutelage. Far enough to make me understand why this stretch of rural highway annoyed my husband every afternoon for five years.
Somehow we moved into a bigger house with less dedicated space. One less bedroom, a basement in need of a true finish, and a family room big enough for our family of six and all of our friends who are just as outnumbered in this parenting gig as we are.
That’s why we bought this house. So everyone can come over and drink sweet tea on the back porch and the kids can run wild on our almost-four-acre subdivision lot without us having any real worries.
But this different space means everything is different. I can’t put the same furniture in the same places. My Ikea tables are woefully out of place. There’s nowhere to plug in a lamp next to my couch. Our master bedroom is ginormous which is good because my kids like to play hide and seek in there. For the first time ever, there’s room under the bed because, hello? Basement = lotsa storage.
It’s a little like living the dream. Really. Even though it’s not my dream farmhouse with a wrap around porch.
(Joshua says he’ll build me one. He’s a much better person than I am in case you’re wondering.)
Yet we’re still wandering around. A little uncertain about things like end tables and dining room chairs and pictures to hang. My friend Brooke said I’m not allowed to hang my beautiful wall art from 163 Design until it truly is Well With My Soul.
So I’m sipping coffee and the Word on the back porch. Soaking up the sounds of birds and cicadas and squalling kittens who won’t leave the dog alone.
Because you should always get new kittens when you move.
Here’s another life lesson about moving. Somehow ALL the kids stuff–including scraps of paper and toys you intended to throw away–will make it to the new house and get unpacked. However, their daddy and I still can’t find:
the alarm clock
the Wii console
So this is where we are right now. Big changes. Little changes. And a whole lotta Jesus being spoke over me by blessed friends who love me through my crazy.
And a husband who is willing to put up with me for another fourteen years and beyond. Here’s to a new house and a new life.
Step on up to the front porch and welcome Kirsten from Sweet Tea & Saving Grace. We’re blog friends and heart sisters because y’all know you’ve heard me say this before — no is a word I need to use more often. Check out Kirsten’s site sometime this week. Her content and heart are sweeter than McDonald’s tea. I promise.
The alarm next to my head began to buzz at the usual 5:00 am, alerting my body and mind that it was time to begin yet another day – a day of a 3-hour round-trip commute to a job I hated, a quick dinner with the family, and working on my blog until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But this particular morning when that alarm began ringing, something felt different. Something felt off.
Rewind to about six months prior when a book found me. I didn’t go seeking this book, mind you. I was in a local bookstore looking for a new Bible study when I stumbled across “Anything” by Jennie Allen. I had recently read a blog post about her and suddenly she was showing up everywhere, including on this book shelf in this bookstore. Something compelled me to pick it up and read…and as I read, I was immediately convicted, and wanted more.
That afternoon, I read the book cover to cover, then re-read it several times over the following months.
Jennie tells the story of she and her husband and their willingness, albeit with noted apprehension, to give God “anything”…and to mean it. She talks about how reluctant we are to give God the big things, the really important things, the things that are already His but we refuse to relinquish complete control. And she tells of a prayer she & her husband prayed finally letting go and telling God, “Anything. Anything you want, it’s Yours.”
So I prayed. More times than I can count over those months that passed, I prayed, and repeatedly gave God my “Anything”.
Now, I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and yet here I was expecting the clouds to part and angels to sing every time I prayed that prayer. I knew better. I knew that God would take my “anything” whenever He wanted, not when I was ready to give it to Him.
Six months pass. I had all but stopped praying that prayer. I was 3 ½ years into building a blog that I hoped would turn into a business. I spent countless hours throwing every ounce of time, energy, and money into it and was oddly pleased when my only return was an increase in pageviews and Facebook fans. But I somehow felt I was finally at my peak.
I woke up on this ordinary morning with a heaviness on my chest. And I knew.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew God had come to collect my “anything”, and I knew what it was. Yet, I resisted. I argued. I went through the motions of my morning – shower, makeup, hair, outfit – all the while, arguing with God that I wasn’t ready to give up my blog, that I was finally seeing success, that if He would give me just six months, I’d walk away.
Suddenly, I was hit with such a force in my chest it felt as if I’d been punched hard, and it brought me to my knees. I couldn’t see my own reflection in the bathroom mirror anymore. Instead, my head was filled with visions. I saw my daughter, almost 12 years old, dealing with hormones she’d never experienced before, questioning everything, needing answers. And I was in my office working on my blog.
I saw my husband, alone on the couch, watching TV and eating dinner without me. I was in my office working on my blog.
I saw missed opportunities for quality time spent with friends, family… I saw my own health deteriorating because I didn’t make time to care for myself.
Finally, with tears streaming down my face and me in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor, I surrendered.
Immediately, I felt relief. The weight in my chest vanished and I felt peace. My vision cleared, yet I continued to cry. I told God that yes, He could have “anything”. And I meant it.
After a while, I cleaned up my face and headed to work. As soon as I sat down in front of my computer, I typed out a blog post – what would be my last for more than six months. I told this entire story to my readers. I emailed people with whom I had made commitments and apologized, but told them I could no longer honor those commitments.
And I quit. Just like that.
Now for those of you who don’t blog, you might not see this as such a big sacrifice. But my blog had become my passion, my identity. And walking away was like tearing off a piece of me and abandoning it. I had spent 3 ½ years of my life nurturing this thing, building this thing… It was mine. It was me!
But it never was. It was His. And He took it back.
Over the six months that followed, I began to realize what I had been missing. My relationships with my husband and daughter improved dramatically, and I began to realize what it was about blogging that I was so passionate about to begin with.
It wasn’t the pageviews, the Facebook followers, the “status”. It was the stories and the community. After a while, I began to ask God if I could start over with my blog, but do it His way. And in May of 2014, He said “yes”.
I rebranded to Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, but the name wasn’t the only thing that changed. My entire mindset has changed since then. I no longer chase numbers, and I will never allow myself to get lost in the to-do’s.
Since my return to blogging in May of 2014, God has blessed me and my family tremendously. I’ve created an entire business that allows me to work from home and teach other bloggers and creatives how to build their own brand of success with their own rules. It’s a dream come true.
I’m often asked how I “do it all” – handle being a wife and mom, run a business, manage two blogs, host events, speak at conferences, work with clients. And the short answer is, I don’t. Nobody does.
The longer answer goes more like this:
Before I ever picked up my proverbial blogging pen again in 2014, I made a list of my priorities. Every decision I have to make for my blog or business gets weighed against those priorities. When an opportunity arises, I ask myself if the opportunity will (a) benefit my business and help me grow, or challenge me professionally, or (b) if it will either benefit or take away from my priorities.
I’ve learned to take things off my plate when life gets too stressful or busy, and I do so without the guilt I used to feel. I always have dinner with my family at the dinner table. I go fishing with my husband on random Tuesday afternoons. I step away from work to go for a walk with my now 14-year old daughter who, remarkably, actually wants to spend time with me, so I soak it up.
I work because we have to have an income, and I’m fortunate enough to have work that brings me joy. But at the end of my life, I won’t be thinking about all those blog posts I wrote, or the clients I helped. I’ll be reminiscing of all the experiences I had with the people I love most.
I’ve learned that saying “no” often means saying “yes”. We say “no” to things that don’t honor our priorities in order to say “yes” to the things that matter. We can’t do it all. Nobody can. Well, God can. He can do “anything”.
Kirsten is the owner of Sweet Tea, LLC, which is home to all of her educational content, including blog posts, tutorials, webinars, ebooks, courses, 1:1 coaching, email services and a future membership site. She also blogs at Sweet Tea & Saving Grace, a Southern Christian lifestyle blog, where she shares her home, life and faith with anyone who wants to mingle on her front porch.
Kirsten lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Mark, teenage daughter Marley, and their three dogs, Savannah, Dakota, and Daisy Mae. She thrives on sweet tea & sunshine, has finally learned to embrace her natural curl, and says “y’all” entirely too often.
Today it’s my pleasure to welcome the lovely and talented Andy Lee to my space. I met Andy at my very first writer’s conference and remember being in awe of this tall, beautiful lady with the wide smile and absolute persistence in the belief that someday her book was going to find a home. Well now, it’s sitting in my morning pile alongside my Bible, a thrift store concordance, My Utmost for His Highest, and a journal that needs some extra attention during my busy season.
My cup of blessings overflowed, but I couldn’t shake the sadness. I’m sure sleep deprivation played a major role in my mommy depression, but that day as I listened to one of my favorite Christian artists, her words about dreaming streamed through my earphones straight to the pit of my heart.
As the tears poured down my face, I realized this was the key to my sadness. As a child, I loved to dream, but try as I might, I couldn’t recall one of them.
Before this revelation of lost dreams, my sorrow was a betrayal to my blessings. I didn’t want to hold onto my sadness and nurture it, but I couldn’t escape from the shadows. So, I had petitioned and wrestled with God, asking for forgiveness and questioning why this had such a hold on me. Why was I so miserable?
God always answers these kinds of petitions—the kind of prayers that beg Him to bring you closer to His will. His joy. His goodness.
Knowing the root of our depression is the first step to freedom.
In my tidal-pools of self-pity that life-changing day, my friend sitting next to me grabbed my hand and told me to sing. She reminded me to worship the One who made the waves rolling toward our feet and gave those waters their boundaries.
The sorrow didn’t immediately fade nor did the dreams appear at once, but day by day, as I worshiped and prayed asking God to help me love my blessings, I began to remember my dreams.
One summer a need arose for an aerobic instructor for my Bible study group. I had never actually led a class, but I memorized one Kathy Ireland routine; my nine year old daughter made a music tape, and I taught that same routine to the same music every week. We had a blast. About halfway through the summer session, God reminded me that this was once a dream of mine.
And that’s when I knew that God would be faithful to remind me of my dreams and open the doors in His timing and creativity.
One of my life verses became: Delight yourself in the Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
As the years rolled on, the Lord let me experience many small and big dreams. One of those dreams was to write a book—this story is part of it. It’s written to encourage women to follow their God dreams and calls.
Empty can be a good thing. God wants to fill us first with Himself.
If shadows of depression threaten, ask God to reveal the root.
My dreams chased away the depression. What helps you when depression settles on you? Leave a comment to enter the drawing for a giveaway of a signed copy of A Mary Like Me: Flawed Yet Called.
Finding Purpose in our Dreams,
Andy Lee is a wife, mom, recovering people pleaser, speaker, and author of two books, A Mary Like Me: Flawed Yet Called(Leafwood) and The Book of Ruth: A 31-Day Journey to Hope and Promise (AMG). Her blog, Finding Purpose Beyond Today (wordsbyandylee.com), encourages thousands of viewers each month, and her morning Periscope broadcast, Bite of Bread, inspires those who join her as she digs into a Bible verse for the day. To invite Andy to speak at an event, or to find out more about her ministry visit wordsbyandylee.com.
Robert will tell you he is a little man but God is great. He’ll also tell you the Yankees are the only baseball team worth watching and if you dress like an artist people will believe you actually are one. Because of my proximity to the staff at conference, I got to spend a little extra time with him, and because I have a habit of putting my foot in my mouth, we had a good laugh together. We wound up in the same shuttle on the way back to the airport–over an hour of him and Eddie Jones (who is my publisher) talking church and baseball and publishing’s state of affairs.
One of those divine moments you have to watch out for at conferences where everyone believes God will place you where He wants you. God placed me where I could listen.
Robert has written a lot of books about life and Christianity but not about Christian living in the self-help sense of the genre. Don’t expect a how-to list and questions to work through and a Facebook chat group.
I purchased Living Prayer because I’ve been in a season of life in which I wrestle with prayer. Not just the action of it–what it means to pray ceaselessly or in communion–but what it means to pray and ask and receive.
Or to not.
I wonder over and over when we pray for healing and restoration and then say God is good when we receive those things if we could have received them without the prayer? And when we don’t, we say that is His will, so if His plan is unchanging, what is our purpose in prayer? What is the point?
Prayer, for me, has not been a rhythm, a stepping to a cadence my soul already knows. Rather it has been a beating and a brush-off. A way people had of offering comfort when what I really wanted was someone to rail with me, to hold me while I wept, to tell me that I am out of tune with God’s rhythm because prayer is not about what I can get but what I can receive.
Prayer is not meant to be the catch-all we so often make it.
People tell me God is so good when I answer their questions about my daughter’s health. I nod. God is good.
But my daughter is not healed.
She may never be, and that is our reality.
She compensates well and we move through our days and maybe I might call her physical therapist because her hip drop is back and her leg is very stiff and she cried the other night because her knee hurt. If her next MRI shows her lesion has receded, I’ll be surprised. If it shows a new spot of deterioration, we’ll still go through our every day and maybe see her neurologist an extra time or two.
And the only prayer I have is that God will show us how to live though our days.
I no longer offer petitions for her body or mine. I offer praise for every day that is better, for every moment that we are broken, for every set of hands that folds with mine. Then i get really quiet because Robert says we cannot hear God’s voice when we are too full of our own.
And “it is our brokenness… that holds the key to whatever we have to share.”
There is a chapter in this book about Walking in the Dark. If you’ve never walked that path, perhaps you cannot yet understand. But if you have…
“Perhaps God needs me to pray so I can be about the business of laying myself and the people and places and things I care about on the altar.”
And that simple act is what I am learning prayer is. A laying down. A lifting up. A coming to the altar.