Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

As we near the end of each year, we typically begin to reflect upon the past 365 days and contemplate what we would like to change in the year ahead.

Looking back on 2016, it has been an eventful year to say the least. I’ve seen countless memes and posts with the general theme of “2016 sucked.” And I get it. It’s been turbulent with the Presidential Election, racial tension, police attacks & bathroom wars. We’ve lost countless beloved celebrities from our youth. I mean, these people entertained us in our living rooms and cars like they were part of the family! There has been sickness and death in our families and communities. Jobs lost. Marriages broken. So.much.heartache.

And while it is easy to focus on the bad, there is just as much good…if we look for it. My dad reminded me of this on Christmas Day. He sat beside the Christmas tree, Bible in hand, reading the story of Jesus’ birth just as his father had done before him many years ago. And just like Grandpa, he can never make it through the reading without stopping, tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice. We often tease him about this, the fact that he can’t finish a prayer or a Bible reading without tears; but the fact of the matter is, it’s the most precious thing in the world to us. Because he gets it. He looks past the fact that their car broke down on the way to visit us and sees God’s provision throughout the frustrating ordeal. He looks past the turbulent events of the past year and sees the abundant blessings…and he sat there and reminded us of those blessings.

Yes, 2016 was rough in many ways for many people. But in spite of it all, God is so good. The evidence is all around us. We just have to refocus our mind and heart to look for it.

So what about the new year…? How are we going to make 2017 “better”?

I’ve always loved the start of a new year just as I always looked forward to a new school year both as a student and as a teacher. It’s a fresh slate, a new start. A time to drop old habits, start new ones, and to awaken the dormant motivation within us if only for a short time. It’s an exciting time full of endless possibilities.

I’m not a resolutions girl myself. I feel like resolutions were made to be broken. Nothing makes me want to rebel more than if you tell me I can’t do it…or that I have to do it. Most resolutions are usually toast by Valentine’s Day, and then we all feel like failures because of it. My fragile self-esteem can’t take it. 

So I opt for goals. Goals that are just beyond realistic so that I have something to work towards, but I don’t feel like a loser if I don’t make it. I know, I know...it’s cheating. But it works for me.

I usually try to find a word or verse to carry with me into the new year, something to guide me in the goals that I set for myself. But this year is a little different. This year I chose a quote by a woman I had the pleasure of meeting at a writer’s conference back when I was fresh out of high school. She was hilariously funny and such an encouragement, so I have followed her ever since. And it’s like God just dropped this in my lap. This was it. This was what He wanted me to use.

“Pray continually. Wait expectantly. Trust fearlessly.” – Liz Curtis Higgs

This quote captures my heart and soul during this particular season of my life. I don’t know what 2017 holds. Heck, I don’t even know what tomorrow holds. But there is one thing I know and that is that God has a plan for my life and yours. He knows why He gave me a passion for writing and where it will take me. He knows why He gave you the gifts that you possess and how you will use them. He doesn’t make mistakes, and He doesn’t do anything without a purpose.

My goal for 2017 is to find His purpose.

What is His purpose for your life? It can be big or small. It can be public or private.

But whatever it is, may we all enter 2017 praying continually, waiting expectantly, and trusting in God fearlessly. 

He promises to lead the way.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

The Grace Standard

When we fail at being awesome, we need more grace and less judgment all around.

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.

Take today, for instance.

I was going about my business, living my life, doing the typical Sunday stuff. You know…the stuff we put off all weekend then frantically try to complete by midnight on Sunday. It’s like we’re going to turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12, so we’ve got to cram it all in after church.

And thank goodness, we made time for church, because someone needed to bless the muttering, complaining, and “less than appropriate words” stomping through our heads all afternoon. Heaven help us, if we didn’t start the day with a good dose of Jesus.

When out of nowhere, my husband snaps out of his football trance and says, “Hey…what time was that party today?”

Party?

Suddenly, everything in the room came to a screeching halt. My heart fell straight to my gut…and one of those “words” may or may not have popped out of my mouth.

The neighborhood “Happy Birthday to Jesus Party.”

Crap.

How did I forget the party? It’s a birthday party for Jesus, for crying out loud. What kind of person forgets that?!?!?

Me: A tired person.

Also Me: I bet nobody else forgot the party!

Me: We just moved to this neighborhood….they are going to think I’m a total flake.

Also Me: As they should!!!

So with 15 minutes left in the party, I sucked it up and texted the host, owning the fact that I totally screwed up. I mean…I was supposed to bring the mini cupcakes. Pretty sure I ruined Jesus’ birthday!!! (And I wonder where my kids get their flair for drama…)

Then I spent the next few hours fretting. Out loud.

I must have said, “I can’t believe I did that” 100 times until finally my 8-year-old said, “MOM…give yourself a break!!”

I just knew I was going to be labeled the “flaky mom” in the neighborhood. You know, the one you invite but don’t expect to come so you don’t give her anything “important” to bring. Drinks and chips. That was my fate. I would forever be the drinks and chips mom.

Fantastic.

But do you know what her response was?

Grace.

Complete grace. Not the kind that was sent in “good Christian love” but was as fake as the 17-year-old Christmas tree sitting in our living room…no, this was legit.

She even admitted to doing the same thing just a few months ago, and I don’t even care if she was lying through her teeth to make me feel better. BLESS HER.

Why is it that we have a hard time extending this kind of grace to ourselves and to others?

 Life is hard! Whether you have zero children and a thriving career or have 6 and are a stay-at-home mom…we have so many demands on us! Just being a woman and experiencing the emotional ups and downs we ride on a daily basis is hard enough! (Thanks, Eve!)

The sad truth is that I freaked out because I know the thoughts I’ve had about others who have “flaked” on me. Our first inclination is to think the worst. They didn’t want to come. They just don’t like me. They aren’t responsible. They should really manage their time better. (eye roll)

But where’s the grace? Where’s the empathy?

We’ve all been there and know we can’t be on our A-Game 100% of the time. It’s impossible. So why do we hold ourselves and others to an impossible standard?

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2

I’ve come to the realization that it starts with us. I have to hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection, so that I can then extend that same grace to others. How can I show others grace if I can’t even show it to myself?

I can’t. And you can’t either. So instead of freaking out when we fail or casting judgment when others do the same, let’s purpose in our hearts to give ourselves a break this Christmas season and determine that we will show more grace in the year to come.

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection.”

Merry Christmas, and God Bless!!

How Does Birth Order Affect Me As A Parent?

It never ceases to amaze me that we have three children, all the same gender, with vastly different personalities. I mean, completely different. Not even on the same planet different. We wonder if they were switched at birth different.

It’s baffling.

And while I don’t buy into the whole birth order thing 100%, I do think there is some validity to this theory (originally formed by the Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler ). It makes sense….and somewhat explains why our youngest child thinks the world revolves around him. Because in his mind, it does.

But these very differences are what makes them special and unique…what makes life interesting and fun. Each child plays a part in our family and respecting their differences helps them grown into healthy young men.

For instance, take the first born…

  • reliable
  • conscientious
  • organized
  • cautious
  • controlling
  • achieving
  • high self esteem

In other words, our 15-year-old son.

He was practically born into this world a miniature adult, and that was reinforced by the fact that the early years of his life were spent around grownups. (Most of our friends were still single…and hungry. So they came where they knew there would be food.) Because of this, he has never known a stranger and can talk to adults even more comfortably than he can his own age. Firstborns may seem to mature faster because this.

True to his birth order, he’s smart, a natural born leader, hard worker,  an over-achiever…and I totally expect him to make the big bucks and take care of his parents someday. (it’s the least he could do)

Now…sometimes his leadership skills could use some work. Barking orders at his younger brothers and clothes-lining them when they pass will not take him far in life. However, he wants to be an entrepreneur…so maybe it will work for him.

His cautious nature weighs the consequneces of his actions; and if he says he’s going to do something, you can count on the fact that he will. He’s an all around good kid who is going to go far in life.

“Hey! Did you know you can start a snapchat streak with yourself? It’s awesome. I’m smart…I’m funny…I’m super handsome…and I respond pretty fast!” – Xander

And then we have the second born (middle child)….

  • people pleasing
  • somewhat rebellious
  • good friend
  • peacemaker
  • social
  • lower self esteem

This one gets a little tricky. Our 12-year-old son is not necessarily rebellious…or social. However, he is also an introvert, so personality traits definitely play into this theory. But the rest is spot on. I even worried about him being a middle child when he was born, so we gave him my husband’s first name to make him feel special. (My textbook middle child brother-in-law had me paranoid.) 

Because he is also an introvert, he doesn’t have a large number of friends like his brothers, but the ones he has are treasured. Loyal to a fault, he will stand by his buddies even if he doesn’t see them very often

A peacemaker and people pleaser, he hates conflict and will even allow his brothers to have the object of dispute if it means avoiding a fight. (most of the time) And rest assured he will remind us all of such slights and use it to further confirm that we are all against him.

The middle child often gets a bum rap; but, in my opinion, the most wonderful thing about the middle child is the fact that they are, in every way, the middle child. His sweet disposition and quiet charm are the perfect balance to my ambitious firstborn and the last wild one. And let me tell you, we need the break.

Cade: Everyone drinks my drinks. Nothing is sacred.
Hayes: I didn’t see your name on it.
Cade: (writes name on new bottle)
Hayes: I’m still drinking it.
Cade: You suck. I’m sleeping with this tonight.

Finally…last, but certainly not least, we have the third born or baby…

  • fun-loving
  • manipulative
  • outgoing
  • attention seeking
  • self-centered
  • risk taker

This could not more accurately describe our 8-year-old if I had formulated the list myself. He’s the life of the party, the class clown, the star athlete.

With lofty goals of becoming an NFL wide receiver, he hasn’t even considered the fact that it may not happen. He wants to see his name in lights, all eyes on him as he runs his victory lap in this thing called life.

Quick-witted and funny, he often manipulates his way out of trouble, an art his brothers both detest and admire. It’s everything I can do sometimes to suppress a grin…and it completely derails my stern intentions. And.he.knows.it. 

As frustrating as all this may be at times, I love his passion, his fire. He’s a dreamer and puts feet to those dreams. He makes me believe, and I love that.

When the Pastor is telling a story about Abraham and the “good son” (the chosen one with promise), and Hayes gets a big grin on his face…points to himself…and says in a loud whisper, “The other two were mistakes.” 

So what does this all mean to me as a parent?

For a long time, I tried to steer them all in the same direction…treat them all the same. They were all boys, right? That in itself was a mystery to me. Throw in a variety of personalities, temperaments, and interests…and it’s like interpreting hieroglyphics.

But once I started responding to them in a language they understood, motivated them in a way that spoke to their personalities…they started thriving like never before. And, believe me, I’m still learning.

What works for one child (regardless of gender) may not work for another. We know that. But knowing it and applying it are two different things. It takes constant effort, consistency, and prayer.

May I be more mindful as they grow older not only to respond to them in a language they understand but to stay engaged in their lives so that my language shifts with their ever-changing seasons.

The Pleasing Pit

We don’t become people-pleasers overnight; and at the same time, it isn’t a life sentence. We can overcome the need to please, but it takes work…and Jesus.

Guess what, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you.

Gasp.

What?!?

I know…it’s shocking.

We live in a world where everyone has an opinion about everything and that includes what they think about you. But why do we care?

Hi, I’m Theresa, and I’m a people-pleaser. 

That’s why. At least, for me it is. I’ve spent a majority of my life caring far too much what people think, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

But you know what, the desire for others to like us in itself is not a bad thing. For the most part, that’s human nature and can sometimes drive us to do amazing things. It’s when it seeps into our souls like a cancer, eats away at the good inside, and consumes our every thought that it becomes a problem.

It starts out small…

When I was 4 years old, my biological father decided he didn’t want to be a husband or a dad anymore. It wasn’t a highly emotional thing for me; in fact, I don’t remember him much at all. I think the fact that my mother surrounded us with loving people went a long way to smooth the jagged edges on both of our hearts.

But not all of them. Although I was too young to truly understand what was going on, the people-pleaser in me still felt like maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I wasn’t good enough.

And so it began…

After many years on our own and a move from the beautiful mountains of Tennessee to the blustery state of Ohio, my mom remarried a wonderful man who took me on (at the age of 9) as his own. Poor guy had no idea what he was in for, but I will love him forever for taking the plunge!

In the years that followed, our lives practically revolved around church and the affiliated Christian school that I attended, but it was an environment that constantly left me feeling inadequate. It’s a feeling that is not foreign to many who grow up in church; however, I think it is often magnified in people like me. The people-pleaser in me wanted to cross all of my t’s and dot all of my i’s…but not for the right reasons. I wanted others to like me. I wanted them to think I was a good Christian girl who did all of the right things (on the outside) so they would include me.

But the truth is, I couldn’t live up to the expectations. I didn’t even understand why I was doing some of them. So I just became really good at faking it; and to be honest, I wasn’t even good at that.

“Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Then came the hurt…

I won’t go into great detail, because kids do dumb things. They shouldn’t have to relive them forever, and we are all still friends to this day.

However, during my sophomore year of high school, a friend of mine became upset  with me and started a rumor that I had done something scandalous, especially for a Christian school. It wasn’t true…but people believed it. For weeks, nobody would speak to me, even my closest friends.

Just writing this reminds me of the way I felt and has convicted me of my own guilt. How many times do we believe something that’s not true simply because it’s scandalous?  (food for thought))

Thank goodness we didn’t have social media back then. I can only imagine how this would have spiraled out of control had there been an instagram, facebook, or twitter added to an already toxic situation. It’s no wonder kids are depressed and angry now with the ability to inflict emotional pain for all the world to see at someone else’s finger tips.

The people-pleaser in me was devastated. I could no more control what people believed about me than I could control my biological father not wanting to be part of my life.

“If you live for the approval of others, you will die by their rejection.” – Rick Warren

So I focused on something I could control…

At this point, it was the early 90’s. While the fashion was really quite awful, we still had the same pressure to look a certain way that kids have in 2016. Everyone wanted to be 90210, and it didn’t help I went through a chubby stage while all of my friends were petite and could buy the cute clothes that passed dress inspection. (tall girls with boobs, I get you!!)

To this day, I’m not exactly sure what led me to stop eating, but I honestly don’t think it was any one thing. In fact, I haven’t even told this part of my story to many who didn’t walk through it with me. Partially, because I’m afraid of what people will think….and partially, because I don’t want to put ideas in impressionable minds. The hell I went through called “anorexia” is not a place I would wish on anyone. It’s not a solution, and it has long-lasting effects. Some permanent.

But it happened….and it consumed 5 years of my life.

What started out as a need to fit in and impress people turned into an avalanche of all the pent up emotions throughout the years…and it almost killed me. I thank God every day He brought me out of it, but not once have I wished it didn’t happen. It took me to a place of complete dependence on Him, and it made me identify and face what led me there in the first place. I am who I am because of where I have been.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives..” Genesis 50:20

Maybe you’ve been through traumatic events in your life as well…events that created the people-pleaser that lies inside of you. Maybe you are going through one now. I see you. I understand. It’s hard, but it’s worth the fight against it.

We are all uniquely gifted. Different talents, different shapes, different sizes.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:4

We need to start embracing those things that make us special and stop worrying about what others think about them. As long as we are good with Jesus, then we are good. Claim it. Own it. And don’t forget it. He’s got us.

“The more I fill myself with God’s Truth, the less I need validation from others.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of Year…or is it?

When the most magical time of year doesn’t seem so magical…maybe we should listen to the movies after all.

The holiday season has just begun, and I’m already tired.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? But the mere thought of decking the halls and fighting the crowds makes me want to crawl under the covers and resurface only after the ball drops in Times Square.

Now, maybe you are Cindy Lou Who and radiate the Christmas spirit all year long; and if that’s the case, yay you! Please feel free to come to my house and radiate all day long. I will not stop you…and may even hand you the lights.

But some of us need help. (And by some of us, I still mean me.)

I’m not going to lie. Every year at this time, I get cranky. I’m all Thanksgiving-ed out, the kids are jacked up on caffeine and sugar, and all I can think of is the enormous list of things that need to be done. And don’t get me started on the lights that mysteriously stop working from year to year. I just love that. 

Bah-humbug.

Let’s face it, Moms. Our children’s happiness rests solely in our hands! Whether Christmas is a success or failure depends entirely on us. One wrong move, and our kiddos are going to therapy!

Or not.

But isn’t that how we feel? We put this enormous unattainable pressure on ourselves to make this the biggest and grandest Christmas of them all and completely wear ourselves out doing it. There’s nothing less fun than when we try to force the fun, believe me I know. I usually have this idea in my head of how it’s going to go….and hell hath no fury like a mother who doesn’t get her picture perfect holiday.

“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together.” – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I mean, just how many “traditions” does one family actually need? Talk about pressure! After years of collecting traditions like coffee mugs,  (those sentimental blog posts and creative pins will get you every time) I started asking myself why? Am I creating lifelong memories for my family to pass down to their children…or am I trying to impress other moms who are just as tired as I am.

After giving it some thought, I realized many of the “traditions” we had were merely checking boxes.  They didn’t breathe life into our family or make happy memories. It became more about creating the “perfect Christmas” than about celebrating Jesus and our time together as a family. Bottom line, it was stressing me out; and when mama ain’t happy…nobody’s happy.

“He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

And guess what. I found out that no one even cared about half of the “traditions” anyway! Here I was stressing over fitting it all in so we could “Save Christmas” that I was totally missing what really mattered to my family.

When I took the time to sit down and find out what that was, I realized it was more about “Quality over Quantity.” It’s not how many traditions we have or how many presents we buy….

  • It’s making the traditions we have count. Quality time together doing something we all enjoy. And that’s different for every family! You may enjoy baking Christmas cookies…and we may enjoy going “Light Criticizing.” (don’t judge…it’s a perfectly good holiday tradition) 
  • It’s making the gifts we buy count. The older our children get, the more expensive the toys; so they know they may open fewer gifts…but they also know they will enjoy them longer.
  • It’s making the memories we make count. The more we schedule, the less fun we have. The best holiday memories I have are of the unplanned moments…the people…the love.

“That’s what Christmas memories are made from. They’re not planned, they’re not scheduled, nobody puts them in their Blackberry, they just happen.” – Deck the Halls

I don’t want the only holiday memories my children have to be of their crazy mom trying to force the magic. I want it to be magical because it truly is a magical time of year when we let it.

Quality over Quantity…that’s what I want. Now if I could just get rid of the Elf…..

“Just remember the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” – Santa Claus, The Polar Express

 

 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Because we are all in this together…

I married a baller.

No, not like “the Rock” kind of Baller (although I’m sure my man wouldn’t hate the comparison), but the kind of baller that at one time or another has played, coached, or binge-watched every sport known to man. (Maybe you married one of those too, and we can hang out every Sunday afternoon from now until we die. Call me.)

So when Shane and I embarked on this little journey called “life” together, I knew at some point we would most likely produce a little baller of our own. It seemed inevitable…and became even more of a probability once we realized we could only produce boys. However, while the first two willingly participated in many sports, there never was that burning fire inside that drove them to diligently practice for hours on end or force themselves to do every day tasks with their non-dominant hands. (apparently, that is a thing)

And surprisingly enough, my baller husband was ok with it. I expected him to be all “Crazy Sports Dad,” but he had seen so many of those throughout his years of playing and coaching that he had determined not to become one himself. I was impressed.

Then came Kid #3.

If you look up baller in the dictionary, I’m sure you will see a picture of Hayes, or at least you should. Straight from the womb, this kid was on fire. So of course, we registered him for every sport possible as soon as he was eligible, because he was chomping at the bit and that’s exactly what he wanted. Happy dad.

It was pretty great until we realized we had more to work on than just form and technique.

For instance, take (age 5) when we told him he needed to stop hogging the ball and let others have an opportunity to score. After clearly struggling with the decision, he reluctantly kicked the soccer ball over to a delighted girl in pigtails who then proceeded to kick it straight into the stands. Face red and arms crossed, Hayes immediately looked over at us from across the field and yelled, “THAT’S THE LAST TIME I EVER DO THAT!!!”

Proud parenting moment right there, let me tell you.

Or how about the times his older brother advanced in either stripes or belts before he did in jiu jitsu, and he cried biguglytears…while complaining loudly about the injustice? Fun times.

I’d love to say that we were able to take these teachable moments and imprint upon his little baller brain that it is important to be a team player, cheer your friends and teammates on to success, and win or lose graciously. However, if it were that easy, there would be no Tom Brady’s, Lebron’s, or Cam Newton’s now would there. (no offense, Cam, we still love you)

No, there have been plenty of highs and lows, bad attitudes and ego trips in his 8 short years; and I am sure there will be many more to come.

So when we started off the football season this year, I was nervous…especially after he made the first touchdown and celebrated like he had just won the Super Bowl. I wondered if he would be able to give up the spotlight and cheer for his teammates, put the team first and fight together for the win; but to my surprise and relief, he did!

Somewhere along the way, he began to see that working together and celebrating each other is important. It’s what makes people love being part of a team. It’s what makes someone a true baller. 

“Someone else’s success does not rob you of anything.” – Christine Caine

So why do we grown ups often forget this important truth ourselves?

When something good happens to a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker, our worth does not become less because of it. Yet so many times, we feel like another’s success somehow magnifies our failures.

“We have an enemy, and it’s not each other.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Satan would love nothing more than to use the good things in a person’s life to alienate and damage relationships. By whispering lies, he manipulates our emotions to keep us from working together toward a common goal and building each other up. Don’t you see? If he can divide us, then he can conquer and render us useless in furthering the Kingdom. It’s been his plan all along!

But God has a better plan,

“Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up the other.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” It happens to be a favorite in our home; because as a family of five, nothing gets done unless we work as a team.

But the truth of the matter is we are all on the same team in this life. We are all working towards a common goal. My weakness may be your strength, and your weakness may be my strength. So why not capitalize instead of compete? Can you imagine what we could accomplish together if we started celebrating each other?

The devil certainly doesn’t want us to find out. He will do everything in his power to keep us divided. But thanks to our gracious Heavenly Father, he isn’t on the throne, and we don’t have to listen to his lies. The battle has already been won, our Almighty God is victorious, and we are His team. Let’s act like it.

 

 

 

The Thanksgiving House

When we look past the ordinary and find the extraordinary…

Recently, our family made a long-anticipated move from a house in the city to what we consider a house in the country. It’s literally 5 minutes down the road, but everything changed from stores frequented and schools attended to farm animals and spiders the size of my fist. Not.a.fan. However, as sad as we were to leave behind the comfort of the familiar, we have quickly grown to love many things about our new home.

Whether it be watching the sun rise over the fields as we drive to school in the morning or admiring the horses, pigs, and old houses as we head into town, we’ve found new sights to see and new things to discuss.

For example, it was not long after our move that I broke from my morning pre-caffeinated trance and noticed a little old house on my way to work. Tucked back between an old billboard and a cluster of trees, the tiny shack could have easily been missed had it not been for the middle-aged woman bustling about outside that caught my eye. At first I didn’t think much of it for there are many different kinds of homes scattered along the way. Some big, some small…some mobile, and some abandoned.

This one had clearly seen better days; but for some reason it stuck with me, and I began to look for it.

Every day as I passed, I saw this same woman, coarse dark hair pulled back in a bright scarf and a dirty apron covering her simple clothing, sweeping the porch or the driveway, watering potted plants hanging from splintered beams, or sitting with a glass of tea in a weathered but colorful chair soaking in the sun or the breeze, depending on which the temperamental NC summer decided to give us.

And every day, I admired her.

I don’t know who she is, and I don’t know her story. I often like to watch people and try to imagine what that might be. However, what I do know is that she doesn’t have much as far as material possessions are concerned, but she clearly takes pride in the little she has….and that struck a chord in my heart.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.”  1 Timothy 6:6-7

Why is it that the people who seem to have so little often appreciate what they have so much more? This sweet woman doesn’t hunch her shoulders and drag her broom muttering under her breath about her misfortune. Even from my passing car, I can see she stands tall and sweeps with fervency and pride, making her little house a home where she and her family can find comfort and rest.

It pricked my conscience and made me think. There have been times in my life that I knew what it was like to have very little. When I spent years as a young child living in a small trailer with my single mother eating rice and bologna every way one can fix rice and bologna, then later in the first years of our marriage when we were in ministry and barely making ends meet…I’ll admit my attitude was not nearly as gracious, nor did I take pride in the little we had.

But now, so many years later, I am beginning to realize the error of my ways and the sobering truth of the matter. It’s not the house that makes a home. It’s not the perfectly manicured lawns or the white picket fence. It’s not the elaborate meals or the expensive toys (for both young and old).

It’s the people. It’s the life we live and the love we share. It’s coming together to help one another in times of need. It’s being thankful for the blessings God has given us.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

So as we approach Thanksgiving less than two weeks away and the Christmas season soon to follow, I want to remember what this woman unknowingly taught me with her diligence and sweet spirit in less than desirable circumstances. It isn’t about what we don’t have or what we think we need. It isn’t about perfection or impressing others.

It is all about Jesus, what we DO have, and how He graciously meets our needs in miraculous ways each and every day. 

And in case you were wondering about our sweet friend who has become so dear (in a non-stalkerish kind of way), the onset of colder days has driven her and her pretty little plants inside, but we won’t soon forget her precious example and the lesson she has taught…and we look forward to seeing her once again in the warmer days of spring.