February 2017

All In

I think we’ve all had that moment: we look at the life before us and think, “This isn’t what I signed up for… this isn’t what I wanted… or this isn’t how I expected it to be….”

Those moments give me pause.  Then my raw, unfiltered emotions find outlet in questions like, “what did I do wrong?” or “what if I made a mistake?”  And if I’m honest, those questions pave a slippery slope to self-condemnation, doubt, or discouragement.

More and more, I’m learning to respond with a new set of questions: “what do I believe? right here, in this mess, in this detour, in this heartbreak, in this tragedy… what do I believe right here?  am I living what I believe? or am I believing what I live?” 

I believe asking better questions elicits better answers.  And when it comes to heartbreak… to the unexpected detours… to the unwanted curveballs… how we respond determines how we live. Because we have a choice: We go all in, or we hedge our bets.

I hedge my bets when I avoid situations where I don’t know the outcome, or the most likely outcome is disappointment. I’d rather not try and then just be disappointed. Yes, I might miss out on something amazing, but since I don’t know what that amazing is now, am I really missing it? And wouldn’t it be worse to be disappointed again?

I hedge my bets when I’m half-heartedly trying again. Okay, I’m here, I’m giving it a go, but no, I’m not really investing my heart in this. No, I’m not going to tell anyone I’m doing this. No, I don’t want to get my expectations up.

I hedge my bets whenever I try to control the situation, the relationship, or the circumstances to avoid heartbreak. I’m pretending to be the master of the universe.    Because I’m not interested in a universe that dishes out more awful heartbreak.  That’s why I love fairy tales (and Disney movies).  Nearly every single one ends with three beautiful words: happily. ever. after. I want the happily ever after, but I’d rather settle for happy today than risk getting my heart broken tomorrow.

What if, in those moments where I saw the possibility of heartbreak, I determined to see the probability of joy?

What if, instead of resigning myself to what is, I sought to explore what could be?

What if, in those moments of doubt, I stepped out in faith?

What if, instead of hedging my bets, I decided to go “all in?”

Here’s what I know: when I choose to go “all in,” I begin to taste the fullness of what could be, and I can’t ever settle for less.

That’s a truth I understand. I’ve lived it. I know awful heartbreak. I was planning a wedding and all the days after “I do,” and then… I wasn’t. I became well acquainted with awful heartbreak, and then did my fair share of pondering whether anything was worth that kind of pain.

Ultimately, the answer was, and is, yes. I had tasted real love, and I knew that I would rather have the pain I found than to never have had the love I lost.

So it was surprising and not surprising when a blind date turned into a relationship, and that relationship quickly became “I love you,” and then “I do.” It was surprising because my now husband was the first real date after that awful heartbreak.  But it wasn’t surprising because I knew the risk was worth the reward, and once you’ve lived through awful heartbreak, you know you can live through awful heartbreak.  The question is whether you’re interested in the fullness of what could be.

Ten years later, this is still a truth I need to remind myself whenever I find myself hedging my bets.

Because if I accept good enough long enough, I begin believing what I live, rather than what I believe.  But I’ve come to realize that believing what I live erodes my faith, breeds discontent, feeds my inner critic, and limits my horizons.

When I choose to live what I believe, what I believe speaks truth over my circumstances, strengthening my faith.  Living what I believe gives me vision for what can be, unhindered by what is. Living what I believe inspires me to go “all in” and chase my dreams with confidence.

Friends, last summer I took a huge step of faith.  I chose to go “all in” pursuing my own writing projects… launching my own website, freelancing, and pitching a book proposal to a well-known publisher.  Six months later it would be so. much. easier. to hedge my bets and take my foot off the gas.  But for me, there’s joy in the writing, no matter who reads it, and I’ve mustered enough faith to go this far, why not keep going and explore what could be?

And I wonder, what about you?  Where are you hedging your bets? Have you resigned yourself to what is, or are you willing to explore what could be?  Where might you step out in faith and go “all in?”

Live Love

I love Valentine’s Day.  One entire day dedicated to love.  A day full of beautiful words. I’ve met more than one person who disdains Valentine’s Day, and every single scoffer has their own shtick as to why. That’s their prerogative.   I’m not writing to argue with them (or you.)

My hope today is simply to remind you that on this pink and red holiday, look for the words.

Look for the words that roll back gray clouds.  Watch little eyes light up as you read messages that celebrate what makes her unique, special, perfect.  Laugh as tiny conversation hearts elicit preschool stories about the perils of kissing.  Marvel how messages of love and affirmation edge out exhaustion.

The words we offer today have power to transform our lives. And it’s a transformation we need more than just one day a year.

I think most of us intellectually comprehend the importance of love, we recognize its value and we laud its benefits. We believe in love. We believe love is patient, love is kind, love is not proud or self-seeking. Love is not easily angered, love rejoices in truth, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Yes, we believe all that. But do we live it?

I’d like to gently suggest that we don’t. We dress up love for special occasions, but when it comes to the every-day life we’re living, we accept an incomplete picture of love. Over time, we begin to believe the love we’re living, rather than the love we say we believe.

Not too many years ago I discovered I was believing what I lived, rather than what I said I believed. I reached a turning point and found myself taking an honest look at the gap between what I claimed to believe and what I lived.

One of my first perspective shifts came as I read this post, the first I’d ever read by one of my now favorite writers. Tears streamed down my face and I released a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding – and I’d been holding it for years. Her words resonated deeply because until that moment, I thought it was just me, and now I had words to express one of my deepest battles: the bully in my head. But the greatest gift were the words she chose to use to fight back.

Only Love Today.

Three words to silence the bully, shift perspective, and live differently.

Love needed to be realigned in my life. I believed in love but I didn’t live love. I lived a pale version of love. Here’s how I know: I didn’t extend love to myself, I didn’t embrace love for myself. I held myself to an impossible standard that I would never apply to anyone else. I criticized myself in a way I would never criticize a friend.

I didn’t believe, for me, what I believed for everyone else.

After introducing ‘only love today’ into my vocabulary, I began to identify the situations where my bully was trumping what I claimed to believe. It was my first step on my journey to Live What I Believe, and it began with Love.

Love is central to everything I believe and desire to live. The basic truths that guide my faith are these:

I am loved by God, the Creator, an Everlasting Love.

I am created to love God.

I am created to love people.

All is mine through grace – not by works – a gift given to me forever and always, exactly when I least deserve it, in spite of the fact I can never earn it.

There’s no room for a bully in this simplicity.

Love silences the bully. Love quiets the “I should…”  Love says, “I can….”  Love believes.  Love is either true for you and me, or for neither of us.

Friends, my journey to what I believe began when I had the sad realization that when I don’t consciously choose to live what I believe, I subconsciously begin believing what I live. In every situation, every relationship, every challenge, I pause to ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  By taking the time to define what I believe, what I believe becomes prescriptive for how I live.

It’s a daily choice, sometimes hourly, to live what I believe.

Along this journey, I’ve plastered post-it notes and redecorated my walls with words that remind me what I believe.   It’s easier when I’m surrounded by words that inspire me. To that end, this new book is my latest treasure.  It’s arranged in such a way that you can pick it up and read one passage daily but the non-date format organizes the book by seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter – which means this book extends grace before I ever begin. It’s a book to pick up whenever, wherever. So far it’s been my companion for my morning coffee, the carpool line, and while cooking dinner. And the more I read, the more I want. It’s a firehose of gentle reminders to breathe more, stress less, and choose love.

Consider extending Valentine’s Day in 2017. Look for the words that inspire. Chase smiles and collect hugs. Discover dreams. Find the Love that transforms. Live what you believe.

{You can pre-order Only Love Today here.  Order it today, claim some amazing free gifts, start reading online, and receive your copy in your mailbox March 7.}

Where I Want To Be

I want to be at the beach. Winter and I have a love hate relationship. I love to hate winter. I appreciate winter, but at the end of this gypsy Air Force life we’re living, rest assured that you will find me where winters are moderate, snow is rare, and flip flops can be comfortably worn from Valentine’s Day until Thanksgiving.

I shared these sentiments with a friend on the phone yesterday and she laughed out loud. Politely I reminded her that where she lives, “cold” is in the 40s, and my high temperature is in the teens lately. Where I want to live is no laughing matter – it’s a calculated conclusion based on simple logic: I don’t like cold weather, so I want to be where it’s warm.

It’s a natural habit, I think, to think about where we want to be – literally or figuratively. Those of us living a gypsy life daydream about we’d go if the military let us decide our next assignment. Every New Year many Americans set goals or determine to live in a new way, in hopes of being in a different place by the end of the year. We want to be lighter, well rested, more efficient, faster runners, better eaters, accomplished.

The problem isn’t where I want to be. It’s what I do where I am.

Cataloging what I don’t like about where I am doesn’t change my circumstances, it simply makes me more aware of them. Whether I’m dwelling on it in my thought life, or complaining to anyone who will listen, the result is the same: The more I rehearse the negative, the more life I give it, and the more power I afford it in my life.

Over the last couple years, whenever I find myself focusing on where I want to be, I’ve paused to ask myself some questions. Why do I want to be there? How do I get there? Is that something I can do? Can I be THERE, right where I am?

Practically, here’s an what that looks like when I want to be somewhere else: I want to be at the beach. I want to be there because it’s warm and because I relax at the beach. Because life is simpler at the beach. How do I get there? Pay an astronomical sum for an airline ticket. No, that’s not something I can do right now. How can I be at the beach right here, where I am? I want to be where I relax, where life is simpler. What can I do in my life here to relax? Carve out some time for me. Find the margin in my day to rest, to do things that renew me: read a book, take a nap, go for a run, take a long shower, wash my hair and style it. What can I do to make my life simpler? What is on my to-do list that is a MUST do? What have I allowed to be on my list that is not required?

Friends, I love my lists, and I’ve been known to add to my list tasks I have already accomplished just so I can check them off. Further, I’ve always prided myself on being someone who is dependable, helpful, and available. So please hear me when I say shrinking my list is not an easy feat.

Here are a few guidelines that have helped me take a red pen to my to-do list and simplify my life:

Does this fall into one of my top three priorities – wife, mother, writer? Take some time to think about the roles you play and how you prioritize. These are the three roles to which I am called, and there is no one else called to do this work. No one else is called to be Mark’s wife. I said, “I do.” No one else is called to be my girls’ mother. Just me. I believe I am a writer. I believe with every fiber of my being that when I write, God smiles, even when no one else reads it. To be faithful to this work, I tell my stories because no one else can tell them. And by writing, I become a better version of who I was created to be. Who are you called to be? What are your non-negotiable roles?

Is this a must-do or a nice-to-do? Is it urgent or can it wait for a better time? Even if it’s on my list because it stems from one of my top priorities, there’s margin to find. Underwear must be washed if they have none clean. The dishwasher always needs to be unloaded, but more often than not, I can simplify my life by ensuring that the tyranny of the mundane hasn’t edged out what has lasting value: quality time reading books, playing marbleworks or listening to someone talk about their day. That dinner for his job is nice-to-do, but making time to invest in our marriage with a date night is a must-do.

Is this on my list because I want to do it or because I think it’s expected of me? Folks there’s a place for expectations when they hold us accountable to what we believe, but living a life defined by what we think is expected of us is an exhausting hamster wheel. Get off.

Last month when one of my girlfriends declared #justsaynojanuary, I cheered loudly and jumped on board. For 31 days in January, every request, invitation, event, outing passed through a simple filter: does that fall into one of my top priorities? Do I want to do that? If the answers were yes, it made it to the list or calendar. Otherwise, #justsaynojanuary. (I’m currently advocating we extend this for all of 2017.) Friends, if you say “yes” because you “should” or because it’s “expected,” extend yourself some grace. Accept a season of #justsaynojanuary and find out what you want to do, who you want to be, and what you want your life to look like right where you are. (Hate disappointing people? Check out this article.)

One of my favorite quotes is by a wise man named Jim Elliot who wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” It’s hard to be ALL there when we want to be somewhere else.

When I’m focused on where I want to be rather than where I am, I’m on a slippery slope to believing that what I live is all there is. I don’t believe that. I believe there’s more.

I believe there’s goodness in every day and every season. I believe when I find the goodness and celebrate it, the goodness edges out the gray skies.

I believe the abundant life I am promised is not someday, I believe it’s today. I believe when I strive to live abundantly today, the harvest is multiplied tomorrow.

I believe we are given wisdom and grace to find what we’re looking for over there, right where we are. I believe when I seek to be all here, I find what I’m looking for over there.