10 Ways to Receive Your Summer Life with Less Envy and More Gratitude

10 ways to receive summer life

Last summer I wrote a post called “How to Receive Your Own Summer Life.” I bared my struggling summer soul, which has a way of overflowing with envy and discontentment during the season that’s supposed to be the happiest, most easygoing time of the year.

I’d love to report that I have matured a year later. Alas, I’m fighting for acceptance and gratitude all over again.

In the midst of this struggle, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like at street level to receive my own summer life instead of pining for opportunities and experiences that aren’t mine to have. This post could be an instructive piece about the evils of envy and how we should instead be grateful and realize how #blessed we are.

And this is true. Envy is bad. Gratitude is where it’s at.

But if the truth doesn’t travel to my heart and make a home there, it’s all just knowledge. I need truth to link arms with me in everyday ways so that what’s in my head can sync with my heart and overflow with love into my real life.

Thus these 10 tactics or suggestions or considerations or whatever you want to call them. They’re helping me in my quest to receive a summer life that does not include an Airstream, a fancy vacation, super lazy days, or even our annual July trip to Michigan.

If your summer feels ordinary or less-than, if you’re fighting to receive your summer life too, I hope these truths set you free to embrace the summer you have, even if it’s not the summer you want to have.

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1. Don’t compare your sink full of dirty dishes with someone else’s summer highlight reel.

Imagine this moment: The day has just begun. You wake up to a headache, last night’s dishes, and children fighting over the iPod charger. You pour a cup of coffee and open Instagram or Facebook, only to see friends on an anniversary trip, skipping through the blue waters of Tahiti. They are so #blessed.

Suddenly your life is the worst.

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You do not appreciate your home, your night of sleep, the food in your pantry, or the fighting children. Because Tahiti.

But real life is not lived in highlight reel moments. When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.

 

2. Disconnect if it helps you stay present.

I know, I know. Being “present” is such a buzz word right now. But guess what? We’re still not doing it.

From time to time I simply have to go off social media and the internet. My emotional responses while scrolling through Instagram are almost always a barometer for the state of my soul. Judgmentalism? Envy? Eye-rolling? Anxiety? When those familiar companions show up, it’s time for me to walk away for a while.

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Whether it’s the envied experiences of others or an attention-grabbing post we just have to read, the truth is — we don’t have the capacity to handle all the input that’s catapulted at us day in and day out.

Last Saturday I left my phone on the kitchen counter and went for a walk in the hottest part of the day. I didn’t care; I just knew I needed the space to disconnect. As I walked and sweated and prayed, my head cleared and my soul breathed. An hour later I returned with peace and perspective, feeling more at home in my own life.

We’re the only ones who can put up boundaries and choose what we let in. Each one of us has different thresholds, but here are some things I’ve noticed about myself:

  • When I walk away from the online world, I’m more attentive to the little world that’s right in front of me.
  • I notice the gifts of my own life and feel content to tuck them away in my heart, just for me. 
  • I pay attention to the people who matter most. 
  • I’m more engaged and focused.
  • My mind feels less cluttered. 

I’m not hating on the internet or on social media. I became a writer because I started a blog ten years ago. I earn a living creating online content. I love Instagram. Some of my dearest friends are those I met through the blogosphere. But I’m learning when and how to draw boundaries that help me receive my own summer life instead of feeling like it doesn’t quite measure up.

 

3. Fight back with gratitude.

Apparently Ann Voskamp was on to something when she started that one thousand gifts thing. Here’s a little story from a few weeks ago:

I was in a beautiful place with people I love. But for two days, all of it was shrouded in gloom because I wasn’t getting my way about a few things. There were experiences I wanted to have and none of them were working out. For a while I clung to my resentment, miserable though I was, because there’s a sick sort of satisfaction we get from entitlement. Thankfully I got fed up with myself.

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“Fine!” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll start counting the gifts.”

By the time I’d named even a few things I was grateful for, the entitlement began to melt away and thankfulness took up residence in its place. Self-pity and  resentment are powerful emotions. But here’s the good news: gratitude is a powerful emotion too. It’s like Ann says, “Fight emotion with emotion.”

It works.

 

4. Remember that selfishness never takes a vacation.

It’s why families still fight at Disneyworld, the happiest place on earth.

This ever-present brokenness is something it’s taken us years to remember and to plan for. But summer, with its more relaxed schedule, special travel plans, and happy expectations, is one of those seasons when I subconsciusly expect all sunshine and no rain. Ironically, some of our worst marital conflicts have actually been on vacation. And some of our kids’ ugliest moments have also been on vacation.

Also, these lazy days of summer seem to bring out the worst sibling squabbles. IMG_4531

Knowing that brokenness travels with us wherever we go and accompanies our families in each and every season — it’s strangely helpful. When family togetherness goes off the rails, we don’t fall into a shock-induced despair. We know that we’re messy people living in a messy world. We look to God to fill us up with grace for ourselves and for our people.

Which is the perfect segue to my next point.

 

5. Lower your expectations.

I have an honorary doctorate in high expectations. This applies to myself and to those around me. Bless us all.

But when I allow for my life and my people to be messy, for things to not go as planned, we’re a much happier lot. I call it “expectational margin.” This point about low expectations may sound dismal and lazy, but I like to think of it as grace.

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I will forever love this photo of my niece. Is she depressed that she’s swimming in a rubbermaid container on Aunt Marian’s driveway and not at a beach resort? She is not. Tiny Tabitha has delightfully low expectations and is just happy to be here. #blessed

 

6. Know that every day doesn’t have to be a memory maker.

Raise your hand if it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make all the summer days special-ish. We live in a Pinteresty, Instragrammy culture of bucket lists, of moments we can hashtag, of documenting every adorable experience. And while that can be fun, the cumulative effect is that it makes our everyday moments feel like they’re not measuring up.

My kids tend to remember summer not for all the special things we’ve done but for the break from school, the later bedtimes, the relaxed schedule, and watching TV together as a family. That’s how I remember the summers of my childhood too.

Summer is its own stand-alone kind of special. This reminds me that the pressure’s off.

 

7. Remember that the free stuff is often what we remember most and best.

My boys found a bunch of wiffle balls at the park and it was like Christmas.

My youngest son is watching dog training videos on YouTube.

My daughter and I are partaking in the glorious Ministry of Netflix again this summer.

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I was reflecting this week on what I loved most about summer as a kid:

  • Playing with kids at the church softball field and how the water fountain leaked enough for us to make mud pies in the red Carolina dirt
  • Riding my bike down to the creek and the freedom I felt
  • Watching the Sunday night ABC family movie
  • Having picnics in the living room
  • Catching fireflies

 

Childhood is its own sort of vacation.

 

8. Celebrate summertime with story time.

Novels, audiobooks, read-alouds, movies. Summer begs us to slow down and get lost in good stories.

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Even if I’m staying at home all summer, a good book or evening movie feel like ridiculous luxuries. Especially if there’s ice cream in the house.

 

9. Consider each summer season’s pros and cons.

Every season of parenthood has its summertime pros and cons. When my kids were little, taking them to the pool felt like an Olympic sport. {Guess what I don’t miss? Swim diapers.} But then those exhausting cherubs came home exhausted. They took naps and I had time to also take a nap or read a book or paint furniture or write. Bonus: They went to bed earlier and we enjoyed kid-free evenings.

These days they can get dressed and take showers and fix food ALL BY THEMSELVES. It’s glorious. But I’ve been crazy stressed because summer hasn’t felt relaxed. I’ve been driving people to and from places. A lot. And it’s a challenge to find long stretches of time during the day to get my work done.

It’s a busier summer because the people who live here are older and have more scheduled lives.

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They no longer go to bed early. (Boo!)  But we can all stay up late watching movies together that aren’t animated. (Yay!)

Each season has its own gifts and its own burdens. Being mindful of this reality helps me receive this current summer season with more grace and optimism.

 

10. Take time to nourish yourself.

I did an Instagram post a couple of weeks ago about how fixing myself a proper breakfast mid-morning changed the emotional trajectory of my day. I had been up half the night for no particular reason. Which meant I slept through my alarm. By the time I woke up, the kids were fighting and resistant to responsibility. I’d lost precious early-morning work hours, and I commenced to stressing and hollering.

My default is to grab coffee and race downstairs to crank out some work. But I went against my instinct. I slowed down. I cooked an actual meal for myself. I read for a few minutes. This 30 minute time-out nourished my body and my soul. It’s hard to be kind to others when you haven’t been kind to yourself.

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I really do love summer, but each year it’s an adjustment. This introvert mom has frayed nerves by the end of the day. Because I work from home but my kids are also at home, it gets a little cuckoo around here. Nourishing myself in small ways, like a real breakfast {or that ombre pink drink from Starbucks}, feels like kindness.

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I’d love to know how you receive your summer life. You can share in the comments, shoot me an e-mail, or leave your thoughts on social media.

Happy ordinary summering, everyone!


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For All the Defeated Moms {You’re Actually in a Good Place}

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It’s Mother’s Day weekend and that conjures up a million different feels depending on your relationship with your mother, your kids, or motherhood in general. Despite Consumerism’s conspiracy to convince us it’s all flowers and diamond heart necklaces designed by celebrities and fancy chocolates, we all know the truth. Mothers and kids and and mothering — it’s all downright complicated.

I have such mixed feelings about Mother’s Day {even though I love celebrating my own mom who is a saint for surviving the moodiest teenager in the history of the world.}

For me, my Mother’s Day ambivalence boils down to two things: 1.) I don’t deserve the hoopla, what with the yelling at kids and falling so short of my own standards. And 2.) I absolutely deserve ALL THE HOOPLA because motherhood is hard for this introvert mom who doesn’t love being needed and I am doing all the things for all the people and want some freaking credit. And also cake. {Which is a problem because I’m one week into Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. Give me all the sugar.}

So now even Mother’s Day lunch has become a metaphor for my ironic angst about all things motherhood.

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Anyway, you may or may not have noticed that the blog has been quiet. There’s no drama or scandal. This season of life simply isn’t accommodating to the writing life. I will weep if I write any more words about that so let’s move on.

Because I desperately miss this place and I miss all of you and I don’t want my blog to die from neglect, here’s an edited repost from the archives, just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s one of my favorites and, no surprise, I needed these words all over again. It’s as if I never wrote them. But I’m so glad I did and I think you need them too.

May you get all the hoopla and an extra-large piece of cake this Mother’s Day! You’ve earned it, despite what your ambivalent mom-self tells you. : )

Love, Marian

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Lately, I’ve been dropping my kids off at school in the morning, breathing a deep sigh of relief, and audibly saying “thank you” as I drive away in my dusty minivan. Is public school a means of grace? For me, right now, yes.

It’s safe to say that these are trying days in the parenting department. Not in an extreme, “I just bailed this one out of jail” sort of way but more of an “I’m absolutely clueless / I have no business being a mom / Everyone go away / Let me lie down” sort of way.

I never said I wore I supermom cape.

Last week I absolutely came to the end of myself with this whole mothering gig and it was really the most needful thing.

I sat at my desk, weary and overwhelmed. I prayed and cried and asked Jesus Himself to please show up with a miracle, to help me love in a way that transcends reason and rebellion and my own severe limitations.

And He did, gifting me to love in a way I’d never experienced. I had glimpses of wisdom that came out of nowhere. Compassion and real empathy sprung from a supernatural well. By Saturday I was like, “Yes! I can do this! We. Are. WINNING.”

Then Sunday showed up with more battles and stress and willfulness than I knew what to do with — theirs and mine. Just like that, I relapsed into the familiar comforts of preachiness and anger and entitlement and why is this sooooo hard?

Dealing with behavior is one thing. Caring for sick souls is quite another.

While I don’t feel I know much as a mother, I am 100% convinced that moralism and charts and systems may get the desired results on the outside, but they won’t begin to touch the inside. In fact, good behavior may be so convincing to both kids and parents that everyone ignores the heart altogether. But a sick heart will kill a person, even one that looks perfectly healthy on the outside. Ask me how I know.

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And so our home lately has felt like a triage unit with gurneys of wounded people and splayed-open hearts — theirs and mine.

On days of victory and progress, I feel like I’ll never taste defeat again. But then I do and such defeat makes me want to throw in the towel and tell everyone to please raise themselves from now on. I’ll provide groceries and find them a good therapist. I’ll even keep driving them around. But I cannot maintain a surgery ward.

Winning is a distant memory.

It’s in these valleys of defeat that I remember what carried me to the mountaintop of short-lived victory to begin with: being in a prior valley of defeat.

I face the uncomfortable truth that the Christian life is not about sustained winning. It is about sustained dependance.

When will I learn?

So I once again sink into the ground of humility and throw myself at the feet of mercy. I ask for power that I don’t have and am too tired to muster anyway. I ask for grace that is laughable. {Because true grace always is.}

I ask for the courage, companionship, and example that is Christ Himself — a gloriously scandalous God who knows that undeserved love, not lists and lectures, motivates a person to love — be it parent, child, or spouse. We love because we were first loved in such a way that it still makes us our heads spin. {Please God, let it make our heads spin.}

Always, we can shake off defeat and begin again because of the love-drenched grace and compassion we ourselves have been shown.

Dear defeated mom, motivate with love as you are motivated by love. Because love begets love. And isn’t real obedience simply an expression of real love?

At the end of a long week that followed an even longer week, I realize that being a mother is simply being a wounded healer, ministering to and interceding for sick souls with the presence and power of a loving Jesus.

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You may also enjoy these favorite posts

How a 92-year-old woman taught me the value of my right-now work

For the Overwhelmed Mom of Little Kids: 8 Things I Wish I’d Known

The Ministry of Netflix

For the Mom Who Needs a Simpler Way

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How to Waste Your Life and Call it Beautiful

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There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

 

When the baby of our family was born over nine years ago, I had a seven-year-old and a four-year-old.

With seven plus years of motherhood under my belt, I’d learned a few lessons about letting go, chilling out, and realizing that it’s all going to be okay. In light of this hard-won Zen version of myself, I decided to enjoy my third baby like nobody’s business.

I would not fret. I would not pursue unnecessary work or projects. I would bask in this last brief season of babyhood and love on my darling boy whose very name means “mercy.”

Mercy. That’s what he meant to my husband and me.

For a very long season, I assumed that I wouldn’t have another baby. My marriage had almost ended. I was working full-time. Life was terribly messy.

And then, it wasn’t.

God breathed compassion into our story. Our third child represented the underserved gift of new life for our family and I resolved to enjoy his babyhood in a way that my angsty, younger-mom self wasn’t able to do with my other children.

Today he is a curly-headed, third-grade boy with a perfect sprinkle of freckles across his nose. He’s much too big for me to carry and he talks like a teenager, compliments of his older brother and sister.

curly head

I’m sure his babyhood seemed like a long stretch of time when we were in it — short nights, ear infections, teething, smeared pureed food in his hair. I can barely remember those episodes now. What I do remember is that I received that short season of my life as a gift.

I devoted myself to adoring him.

Much of my life’s work up to that point seemed irrelevant. My education, my career, all the books I’d read, the ambition I’d cultivated — I didn’t technically need any of those things to be an adoring mother.

Sometimes I wondered if I’d wasted the gifts I’d so earnestly stored up.

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I’ve been many different moms over the last sixteen years. Grad school mom, part-time working mom, full-time working mom, homeschool mom, stay-at-home mom, work-from-home mom, single mom.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten it quite right.

As I look back across my story as a mother, the one chapter that feels most “right” to me is the one I just told you about — that one to two year season when I cherished my last baby with lavish intention. I did not call it wasteful. I called it beautiful.

Lest you think I’m someone who believes motherhood is my highest calling and the one thing I was put on this earth to do — I assure you, I am not that person. Though I’ve always longed to be a mother and I was over the moon about each one of my babies, reconciling family with personal ambition has been one of the greatest struggles and missions of my life.

Since I was ten years old, I wanted to attend law school right after college. I majored in the right things. I took the LSAT. But at the age of 22, I arrived at a painful conclusion — a career in law didn’t seem very compatible with raising a family. Not for me, anyway. And just like that, I veered from what I’d always wanted to do. It’s hardly a tragic story. Instead of law, I pursued and enjoyed college teaching.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I’m still sad I didn’t go to law school. That doesn’t mean I regret not going. It simply means that my heart continues to beat strongly for the kind of work I would have loved.

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Over the holidays I was at a retirement party for one of my husband’s colleagues. I had the loveliest time chatting with an acquaintance of ours who’s been a happily-practicing attorney for many years. I asked question after question about his work — why he loves it, if he’s glad he went into law, etc. I told him that I’d always dreamed of being a trial lawyer. He told me I should still think about it, that it’s not too late.

The whole way home and for weeks afterward, I did think about it. I’m still surprised at the way that longing can show up unannounced and just linger for a while.

But the reality is this — I have chosen other things.

Though I have worked and still currently work, I have chosen family over full-time work and my own aspirations — even though family life hasn’t {and still doesn’t} come naturally, even though motherhood doesn’t pay well, even though it sometimes feels like a waste of intellect and resources, even though others may say it’s the less than sensible choice.

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Recently I came across a story about another woman who made a less than sensible choice, a woman who “wasted” the resources she’d earnestly stored up, a woman who devoted herself to adoring someone in a way that confounded the more knowledgeable people around her.

The setting is a dinner party. And after the dinner was over, this woman took a pound of perfumed oil and anointed the honored guest, going so far as to let down her hair and wipe the man’s feet with it.

That honored guest was Jesus. The woman’s name was Mary. The imported oil in an alabaster jar was worth a year’s wages.

Can you imagine the awkwardness? An awkwardness that was quickly followed by scoff, scorn, and even contempt. Sure, it was an expression of love and honor but did it have to be so wasteful?

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Other guests made the point that the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor.

My own knee jerk reaction was that it could have been rationed out more sensibly. Surely Mary could have saved it in order to provide for herself and for others.

But Jesus didn’t say any of these things. Instead he asked the others to leave her alone and he called her offering “beautiful.”

Whether Mary realized it then or not, Jesus would die in a matter of days and this was her one opportunity to honor him with scandalous devotion.

As she was pouring out the perfume and wiping his feet with her hair, she was actually anointing her beloved Jesus for his burial.

My throat caught as I read this commentary on the story:

God’s people are expected to remember the poor … But Jesus came only once in history to die for his people. Only on this occasion would there be this opportunity to honor Him as He should be honored. 

This moment was not about the poor, it was not about Mary’s rights, and it was not about human sensibility. It was bigger than what anyone could see. Mary’s sacrifice and devotion was part of God’s purpose for her life, for Jesus’ life, and for the redemption and renewal of the world.

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receive my life bracelet

Though I’ve given up on law school, I still long to pursue full-time work that overflows from the core of who I am. And maybe one day I will.

But my real life in this season of teenagers and sports and three different schools and community and work — well, it looks like delivering left-behind lunches, supervising math homework, avoiding the laundry, lamenting the dailyness of dinner, refereeing, running a taxi service, cheering from the sidelines, teaching life lessons while driving my minivan, and giving up on any semblance of work-life balance.

At my worst or even at my average, I can begrudge all of this because a.) it’s mundane and repetitive, and b.) it can feel like a misspent life.

I really did not want to write that last sentence because it sounds awful. But it’s where my human heart can land on any given day.

And that’s why, when I read the story of Mary and Jesus and the perfume, I came a little undone on the inside. Truth and beauty lodged themselves within my spirit and I’ve walked a little askew ever since.

While I may not have Jesus in the flesh at my dinner table tonight, He is always my companion. And He tells us that when we provide for the physical needs of those who depend on our care, we’re also demonstrating love and devotion to him.

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This isn’t a post about career vs. family. It’s not even a post about motherhood. Not really. It’s about receiving our right-now lives as a gift. And that looks different for each of us.

I’m learning that in each season, I have to prioritize the roles that only I can fill. Only I can be my husband’s wife and my kids’ mom. There are other things God also calls me to do right now but I always return to this question:

Who needs me more right now? {For someone who doesn’t love to be needed, answering this question is more discipline than it is default.}

Sometimes only you can be the one to earn a paycheck or contribute to your family’s livelihood. Only you can be the one to take care of an aging parent or an adult sibling. Only you can be the one to help your grown child through a long season of crisis. Only you can be the one to love a difficult student in your classroom or a neighbor who has no one else.

I write from the intersection of my own season and circumstances but this story could be told a million different ways.

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What sacred devotion have you been given for this season? Who needs to receive what’s in your alabaster jar?

Only you and your people can answer this question.

It’s easy to worship at the altar of public opinion or even at the altar of sensibility without realizing that you’ve been taken captive. Modern narratives can be sneaky like that. I’m absolutely guilty of imbibing what sounds good instead of drinking from Truth.

I’m also guilty of looking at what others are doing and then feeling like a failure by comparison. In feeling left behind, I sprint to catch up — only to find that I’ve left my own people behind in the process.

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Straying from devotion probably comes naturally for most of us. For me, the key is coming back to the presence of Jesus and surrendering to the call of right now.

Today. These people. This season. This work. This devotion.

When we’re running hard toward our hoped-for life, we miss the sacred gifts of the right-now life.

Mary only had Jesus for a brief moment and she did the scandalous instead of the sensible. By everyone’s standards, she “wasted her gift’s purpose.”

Do you know what Jesus said in that moment?

Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired.  – Matthew 26:10-13 {The Message}

I don’t know what your life looks like today but I can tell you this. Jesus says your daily offerings are important even though they might seem wasteful by others’ standards.

I’ve lost many years’ wages. I’ve “wasted” years of education. But I only have this one window of opportunity to love my people well right now {while maintaining a semblance of my own sanity.} I’m learning that the teenage years require an availability and energy level that surpass the little years. I’m sorry if you don’t have teenagers yet and that sentence just ruined your day.

Like Mary, we have a brief window to overflow with the specific kind of devotion that each season requires. It probably doesn’t look like anointing someone with expensive perfume and suffering public humiliation in the process. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t costly. Service is costly. Forgoing your own desires in order to equip and love another person is always costly.

Maybe other people won’t get it. There will be days when even you don’t get it. Will you believe Jesus over public opinion and even over your own opinion? He says your right-now devotion is beautiful, that it’s a proclamation of the Gospel, that it’s a unique and sacred part of God’s purpose for you, for those you love, and for the world.

{And then will you turn around and repeat this truth back to me? Every day, I seem to forget all over again.}

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Earlier this week I was hustling out of the grocery store with bags of food that have since been devoured. The strangest awareness washed over me right there in the parking lot.

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I get to do this. I get to do all of this. And it’s bringing me joy — not all the time, but at least for today. Dear God, only you could work this sort of miracle within my stubborn heart. Thank you. And keep doing it. 

One day I won’t be needed in this way but now is not that time.

I want to receive this fleeting season as a gift in the same way that I received the long ago baby season as a gift.

I want to look back on this one, merciful opportunity and call it beautiful.

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You may also enjoy:

How a 92-year-old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of my Right-Now Work

How to Pursue Your Hoped-for in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life: A Series


 

New here?

I’m all about and helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a free gift for subscribers. : )

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If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!


 

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