They gather in a darkened gym in the early morning before the heat has baked the parking lot into a reflective oven. Some are heads taller and light years older and wiser than the littlest ones with their childlike faith in absolutions and fairness. They have scabbed knees and restless hearts; feet that dance because they can’t stand still; fingers that look for keys or strings or brushes to strum into submission.
For five days, I pack lunches to be eaten on a playground and dust off my teacher hat and two dozen sets of warped dowel rods. I may be the queen of over commitment—but this isn’t bondage. This is service and creation and cosmos out of chaos. This is a chance to share Jesus in what I believe is the best way—by celebrating the gifts and talents of those who are compelled to create.
God the Father created first, you know.
In the early mornings right now, I curl on our couch with my laptop and the rewrites of a novel that has potential—but first, I break open the words of Madeline L’Engle in Walking on Water alongside my Scripture. “We are human and humble and of the earth, and we cannot create until we acknowledge our createdness.”
L’Engle maintains unless we let ourselves be mentored by Christ, we cannot separate cosmos—beautiful, boundless art—from the chaos that surrounds this world. Chaos like gunmen in houses of worship, and prison workers who side with convicted killers.
For five days every summer since 2008, First Baptist Cornelia has hosted those who seek the divine through art—art that is both ethereal and everyday. Amidst the usual repertoire of classes for dancers, musicians, and sketch artists, there are offerings for aspiring quilters, potters, and puppeteers. I put sticks in the hands of children who are afraid to speak and teach them to praise the Lord with interpretive movement. We call the class God Rods, and I’m always amazed by the kids who take it over and over each year. Usually, they are not the ones with a natural aptitude for drama, but rather ones who timidly return, believing their small part of the whole is great and worthy.
I tell them we’re storytellers—putting images to the lyrics of songs they can sing, but do not understand. We chose Casting Crown’s “Voice of Truth” this year. A song about hearing cosmos among chaos, the voice of truth among the cries of failure and defeat. A song about how faith can evoke powerful actions: walking on water, slaying a giant, even painting a picture.
We call our camp MOSAIC: Mentoring Our Students Artistically in Christ. I wasn’t around when the original band of artists and dancers and musicians saw a need in our community. A need for our children to not only have the opportunity to experience the fine arts, but the opportunity to experience the fine Creator of all art.
I am grateful every year, that now, these are my people. Together, we see the world, in its chaos of blood and fear, and we find the cosmos. The kaleidoscope of color and beauty that God created, and then placed in our hands to return as a song of praise.
Originally published by The Northeast Georgian, June 2015.
Let me tell you one of my absolute favorite reasons for attending writers conferences. Not only do I get to hang with my awesome friends whose minds work a good bit like mine, not only do I get to take classes from really smart people who become awesome friends, and not only do I get to network with awesome industry professionals who encourage and give me guidance,
I get respect.
I’ve got a few bylines, great connections, and a job in publishing which means people approach me as a professional. Newbies ask me for advice and they want to talk this motherhood-writing-publishing-loving Jesus gig with me as if I know some secret they don’t.
Here’s what I know. I’m not all that and a bag of chips.
I’m a harried mom who has never really learned the art of simply playing with my kids.
I’m a stretched writer because I want to fulfill my creative endeavors and pay my bills.
I’m a published author because of grace and maybe a little raw talent, but mostly a whole lot of right place at the right time.
Yeah, definitely not as together as I’d like to appear.
Two Saturdays ago I taught an online class about finding time to write. I had tried and true tips, funny anecdotes, and good connections to pass on to these writers.
But this past Saturday afternoon I cried hot streaming tears so hard and so fast, my daughters rubbed my shoulders and told me to just take my computer into the bedroom and close the door and work.
Because I had run out of time to finish edits to my never-existing satisfaction and my morning had not gone as planned and it’s the first week of summer and I’d gotten up early every day to work and I was so, so tired.
When I spoke with my editor she gave me some beautiful advice. “God doesn’t want your perfection, Lindsey. He wants your excellence.”
There’s a difference.
Perfection doesn’t exist for flawed, broken people. We can’t be perfect because that unattainable quality is reserved for the great Creator God. What we can be is givers of excellence, strivers of offering only our best, lovers of good works that resonate with souls.
And perfection actually doesn’t resonate with mine.
So I quit fiddling for now and sent in my manuscript. And I got a lot honest with myself. I’m terrified of the expectations I’ve heaped upon this book. But all I can do is the best I have right now, at this moment.
And that might not be good enough for some people. Everyone’s not going to love this novel that’s getting birthed from a small publishing house with a lot of wise people helping me along this journey.
Sort of like, everyone doesn’t read this blog. Everyone doesn’t think I’m all that. Everyone doesn’t believe I really have it all together.
And those might be the people I’m most grateful for. Because they push me to strive beyond my “good enough” and find that place where I can be excellent. And then they challenge me to find it over and over, again and again.
But never expect perfection. That’s a death trap of comparison and joy-stealing and self-hatred.
Perfection belongs to Christ. And we belong to Him.
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.
This week alone my three-year-old dressed himself three times.
Each time we had to negotiate a change of shirt or shorts or underwear because he was dressing himself from the dirty laundry pile on the floor.
We ran out of milk, lunch meat, bread, peanut butter, and fruit all on the same day. I packed my kids cheese and crackers for lunch, fixed grits for breakfast, and promised them I’d try to go to the store. They’d been telling me for two days we were running out of food. (We have plenty of food. It’s just all in the freezer or requires prep more advanced than my six-year-old’s skills.)
I should also mention that the freezer is hidden behind the piles of clean clothes that haven’t migrated out of the laundry room yet.
I used all my brain power writing and editing yesterday morning so I gave up the idea of price matching and instead came home with the biggest jar of peanut butter I could find.
I should also mention that at this moment Gus is eating powdered donuts for lunch.
People love to remind me I can’t do it all. Nope, I can’t.
People also ask me how the book is coming. Well, I’ll tell you. Pretty much everyday I hold my head in my hands and wonder how bad the reviews will be and why I can’t think of a phrase other than “tilted his head” to use in conversation.
I get a little sick to my stomach thinking about how I can never write as well as ________________ (insert name of whatever author I’m currently reading).
I wonder if the story is too idealistic, too flawed, too close to my home and heart. I wonder if my grandmother would be proud.
Remembering that this the story God gave me–word by word, moment by moment, through the eyes of editors and friends and in the windows of my own heart–that definitely helps. My novel is about letting go, embracing grace, appreciating how every flaw in your past can make you who you are today.
Mine has certainly made me. And my present re-makes me every day.
So some things have to go. Like clean floors and big savings and making sure Gus matches. For now, it’s just enough that his clothes are clean.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always love–or am even grateful–for my little house. We’re cramped and it’s rare we host a large gathering (though it does happen!). We’ve got a For Sale By Owner sign in the yard right now and a list started because this time we’re really going to do it–the staging, the packing, the make-it-cute-for-others deal that comes with putting your house on the market.
But even so, every now and then I look around and catch my breath and wonder how much I’ll miss this little house when the day finally comes that we load a UHaul with ten years and too many books.
I always love my house more post-Christmas. Once I get that tree down and pack away decorations, my space feels reclaimed. And sometimes I leave in storage some of those knickknacks that got bumped for my snowman collection and I don’t miss them.
Because there’s margin, white space, an empty spot I can either fill with something new or old or just leave open, inviting, reminding me that a new year is a new start and I don’t have to fill each blank just yet.
3 Ways to Love Your January House
Let something be empty.
A table, the buffet top, a shelf. Leave space for the gifts, both tangible and not, that will come your way this year. My goal is always the kitchen table. It’s our hardest working surface and if I don’t keep it empty, there’s no where for me to work, dinner to be eaten, or a cup of tea to be poured while someone sits with me and pours out heart words.
Put up something new.
We (and by that I mean Joshua) actually put up these shelves right before Christmas and then we loaded them down with Christmas, so now we’re figuring out their purpose. Too much is there right now, and I’ll be simplifying this weekend, but just having a new look for our living room has lifted my heart. And this was a cheap DIY. We bought a board and brackets at Lowe’s, stained the board, cut the lengths we wanted, and ta-da! Instant room makeover. (Again we is really just my husband. I contributed by handing him the picture I had torn out of Better Homes and Gardens at least two years ago.)
Make cleaning fun.
Don’t know about you, but my house always feels a bit grimy once I put away all the decorations. (I think it’s because I’m allergic to dusting. Not dust. The actual act of having to put down my book and clean.) So last fall I began ordering all-natural cleaning products from ePantry. My favorites are Mrs. Meyers because everything always smells so good and fresh. I don’t know about you, but while bleach may work, the smell stings my nose and doesn’t make me feel very welcomed in my own home. Celebrate that you’ve finally put the last box of ornaments away and order this special January cleaning kit from Mrs. Meyers and ePantry.