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Bulletproof sweaters
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I’ve been praying and reviewing journals from 2018, and also thinking about 2019. The words fear, faith and brave seem to show up a lot. Which naturally leads me to the topics of God’s faithfulness and little black dresses. Yep, that’s where it led me.

Some women have that perfect, little black dress that makes them feel invincible. It works for a day at the office, a day of shopping, a night out. With just a few small accessory changes, it makes them feel like they can conquer the world.

My mom had three skirts that served as her little black dresses for about a decade. I still remember them vividly. Full of color, they tied at the waist and had rows of patterns like an 18-tiered cake. She would wear them with suit jackets, islet summer tops and T-shirts. They were inseparable, my mom and those magical, twirling skirts.

I tend to feel most at home in black sweaters. I feel invincible in my current, threaded armor of choice. It’s ribbed, has three-quarter-length sleeves with three silver buttons just past the elbows and is slightly gathered at the waist. I bought three of these sweaters, all identical.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I put on this sweater and, whoosh! I feel 20 pounds lighter, a few books smarter, much wittier and my teeth are suddenly straighter. I am confident, fearless and ready to talk to the world.

Picture Linda Carter in Wonder Woman from the 70s as she takes off her giant glasses and spins in circles until she transforms into the bikini-clad super hero with perfectly toned muscles, shiny hair, a magical lasso and bulletproof bracelets. My sweaters make me think I’m bulletproof.

When I don’t wear my black sweater, I feel like I’m being forced to star in the reality show, “Naked and Afraid.” (that’s a real show, by the way) Only it’s a special, extended episode, and it’s called “Very, Very, Very Naked and Terrified to My Bones, Turn the Channel NOW!”

As I think about being brave in careers and relationships, in faith and doing good for others, and in using our abilities and chasing our dreams, I find myself thinking, yes, let's do that! But, at the end of the day we all still need something in which we can hide, because we are not bulletproof.

What I'm learning is that bravery does not equal breaking the habit of hiding. It means breaking the habit of hiding in anything other than God, even in the good things. It means learning to hide with everything we’ve got in God, and God alone. And from that secure and loving relationship with Him, and thankful state of mind and heart, living BRAVE. As we interact with the people, go to the places and do the things.

When we are hidden in God, we can be brave. Because even though we still care what others think of us, we are DEFINED by what God thinks of us. Because even though it still hurts to fail, or to be rejected or overlooked, we are not without hope as He provides the sweetest comfort. When we are hidden in God, that's when the brave in us starts to show up.

So, to sum up, here’s to hiding, and to living brave in 2019! And, maybe to branching out with a gray or faded black sweater.

Isaiah 41:13

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This book by Annie F. Downs is incredibly helpful. I recommend it! It’s full of insightful thought starters and daily doses of wisdom about being brave and trusting God. #100daystobrave

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A walk down birthday memory lane
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Birthdays. The day we celebrate our messy, claustrophobic journey toward post-uterine light and oxygen and make an entrance into the world. The day we are smacked on the backside and utter our first cry bringing overwhelming joy, and perhaps fear, to our parents.

Birthdays are on my mind because I recently had one. Birthdays can be fun. Cake, presents, games, friends, family, homemade animal costumes, surprises that underwhelm and awkward suggestions.

You are no doubt wondering about those last three. Let’s start with the homemade animal costume. Memorable birthdays for my family include me dressing up under duress as a skunk for my younger sister’s birthday party when I was about seven or eight. The year before my debut as the love interest of Pepe le Pew, my parents paid to have a children’s entertainer show up as Smurfette in blue body paint and the white hat, dress and heels. It was an absolute thrill for my sister and her friends and set high expectations for future parties.

The next year the budget must have been tighter or we fell prey to procrastination because Smurfette was no longer an option. Instead, my poor, little sister’s guest of honor was her poor big sister in a black leotard and tights with cotton balls taped to her tuchus. I’m told my attitude by the end of the party lived up to odor associated with the furry, smelly rodent whose likeness I bore, and that my sister was mostly unimpressed. Bless both of our hearts.

Now, on to your other obvious question, the underwhelming surprise. For one of my dad’s thirty-something birthdays, my mom got him a new bamboo rocking chair that swiveled. The cushions were that rusty shade of burnt orange that was all the rage in the 80’s. She sweetly wanted it to be a surprise and tried to make him think the gift was something entirely unrelated. Good idea, but it all went sadly wrong.

Mom kept hinting that we got him a four wheeler. The thing is, dad is an outdoorsman, a hunter who wears camo for fun, hangs antlers anywhere she lets him and had dreamed of owning a four wheeler for years. When he opened that giant, cardboard box, I’d never seen a person’s face go from smiling to not, so quickly. The mark was well-missed on under-promise and over-deliver. Dad’s such a fantastic, easy-going, contented sport. He was quick to rally, and he happily rocked in that orange thing until it creaked its last breath years later.

Finally, on to the third thing you must be curious about, the awkward suggestion. A week or so before my dad’s birthday a few years ago, I told him and my mom they should get a large sleeping bag, grease it with cooking oil and zip it up. Then, naturally, my dad should make a running start, dive on his belly and go barreling through it, bursting through the zippered end to re-enact his birth. My head flew back as I belly-laughed. I found this idea highly worthy of calorie-burning merriment. My parents, on the other hand wore shocked expressions that said the imagery was just too much. Needless to say, they went another direction for the celebration.

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Flashback

This was on a 5x7 banner for my 40th birthday!

Like I mentioned at the start, birthdays are on my mind because I recently had one, a big one. The one that rhymes with shorty. I said goodbye to 30, flirty and thriving and bid those humbling, confidence-building, self-finding years adieu. I said come hither and “Helllllooooo, beautiful!” to the next decade, looking forward to finding everything there is to be found in my forties.

As I reflected on the first four decades of life, I thought of happy memories. Many of them involve family and friends I’ve been blessed to make across states and an ocean. Many include humor, and others center on meaningful work that has made a positive impact in some small way. Sad memories also crossed my mind. Unmet expectations, loneliness, physical and emotional pain, loved ones who are no longer here.

Throughout the rolling waves of these memories, one sense floated to the top – a sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness. He’s been there for every moment good and bad.

One heartbreaking experience in my thirties proved to me yet again that He was near. When a friend died suddenly and tears were my constant companion, He was with me. When I asked why and wondered if I could have done something, He was with me. When I sat numb in church and cried my way through worship every Sunday for the next year, He was with me. When I think about her on the anniversary of her passing each November, He is with me, and He softly reminds me He is with her too.

The older we get, the more life we live, the more we see that life is the gift. God is the gift. It is with sincere thanks that I look back on my life so far, and it is with anticipation that I cast my gaze forward even with the unavoidable loses.  

I’m glad I was born. I’m glad my mom ate her Wheaties and said “Heeee, heeeeee, hoooo!” over and over again one August morning in 1978. I’m glad my dad stood next to her in his polyester, mid-thigh athletic shorts with a stop watch around his neck timing her contractions. I’m glad for another birthday in the blessed books even if there was no skunk costume. I will continue to look fondly on the memory of the underwhelming surprise, and, don’t worry, I’ll continue to provide awkward suggestions to the chagrin of some and the comedic pleasure of others.

What about you? Why are you grateful for your most recent or upcoming birthday? How have you experienced God’s nearness in the ups and downs of life?

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Gratitude handed me a shovel

I walked the store aisles in January looking for a new journal and a calendar. The bulletin boards, decorative pictures and notebooks seemed to shout at me, “Dream it, plan it, live it! Crawl, walk, run! Make it happen!”

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The jury is still out on whether I attended my own personal pep rally or was mocked by the home and office decor. Based on the facial expressions of others nearby, they too were trying to determine if we were surrounded by friends or foes. Except for one woman wearing red glasses and denim capris. She was definitely feeling the love from the peppy action verbs and happy fonts. It was like the items were waving pompoms, jumping up and down excitedly and calling her name. She may have even fist bumped a sequined file organizer that said “Ready, Set, GO-AL!” as she plucked it off the shelf and put it in her shopping cart.

At the start of each year emotions and mindsets range from enthusiastic and hopeful to defeated and discouraged. And then there’s the realistic optimist who shoots for the stars nearest the earth’s orbit with one foot firmly on the ground. This person seems to effectively split their gaze between the sky, which we all know is the limit, and the ground-level challenges that exist.

A close friend of mine has a very practical outlook on self-reflection and yearly goal setting. She reasons that even if she’s waving a white flag of surrender by the end of April, she’s still had four months of moving forward instead of backward. She doesn’t let the uncertainty of whether the course can be perfectly stayed through all four seasons keep her from going after good things. This approach invites progress, even if intermittent, and appears to keep the all-or-nothing paralysis at bay.

The all-or-nothing approach can be the carrot that pushes us to surpass all expectations or the stick that tempts us to create our own Pit of Despair, as endured by Buttercup’s sweet Wesley.

All-or-nothing goal setting (and keeping) doesn’t work for me. It seems to cause anguish during the goal setting process and require sackcloth and ashes when progress is not made as planned. Plateaus serve as goal obituaries and determined, all-or-nothing types gladly play the role of funeral director, mortician and all eight pallbearers. And we can do this all by ourselves, thank you very much. We’ll wear black for the rest of the year, even if the sounds of Auld Lang Syne have barely faded.

When setting personal goals for 2018, I wondered if it was acceptable to resurrect ones from past years and simply change the date. Because I have a graveyard of goals to choose from, a new notebook with a shiny cover that says “I’ve got this,” and, most importantly, Gloria Estefan’s Get on Your Feet is on my new playlist.

What is it that keeps us from try, try, trying again if at first we don’t succeed? A paragraph in a goal planning workbook caught me by surprise this year because it described a beast I thought had been tamed. A wild thing that often keeps me from trying again.

“Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s the thief of everything. Keep your eyes on your purposeful path. Celebrate others. Celebrate progress, not perfection. Cultivate gratitude over comparison.” Lara Casey, Cultivate What Matters

Comparison growls softly at first and often goes unnoticed when we scroll through social media feeds, talk to neighbors, coworkers or fellow church goers. It bares its teeth a little and arches its spine when news spreads of promotions, houses, raises, book deals, relationships, weddings, baby bumps or whatever it is that isn’t ours. It circles and waits to see if we’re what’s for dinner. Will we put aside the sting of what we lack and choose to celebrate progress even if it’s not ours? Will we choose gratitude?

As I tried to set goals for the year, it was clear I was putting myself on the dinner menu. There were tears of self-pity, jealousy and defeat. I may as well have poured Emeril’s homemade steak sauce all over my head and curled up on a large white plate. After the tears eventually subsided there was another decision to be made.

Gratitude was still an option. It’s always an option because we can rest in the love of God which David tells us endures forever (Psalm 136). And that love is available even on the days when we’ve chosen comparison over gratitude. That love is unconditional and soothes the wounds of comparison. In fact, when we step into God’s love, it is sure to produce gratitude in us.

Gratitude is a secure place from which to dream and set goals. Gratitude brings freedom from keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths or whoever it is that seems to have it all or be able to do it all. Gratitude slays the beast of comparison and hands me a shovel to raise long buried pursuits from the dead and try again.

Gratitude tempers all-or-nothing and finds joy and purpose in the midst of plateaus. Gratitude celebrates progress and lets go of perfection. Gratitude celebrates others and builds camaraderie where there might have been rivalry.

Thank God for gratitude.

The perfect choice for home office décor this year might be a wall of bulletin boards dedicated to gratitude, a shovel hanging above my desk, and an empty bottle of Emeril’s homemade steak sauce. Because dinner is no longer being served.


This content originally appeared as a guest post I wrote for Leslie Farthing’s website. She is a talented writer and a great friend. Check out her site! I enjoy guest authoring posts for other sites and publications. You can request me as a guest author here.

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