I first noticed the direction of the windows in San Diego, and then I saw the same thing when we wandered around the edges of Lake Ontario closer to home.
The windows – the big, beautiful, statement windows – all point in the direction of the water, of the view they value so much. Even the homes that aren’t touching the sand seem to crane their necks and point their windows toward the shore.
Garages and roads are tucked away so as to not interfere, to not interrupt.
It makes perfect sense. Land along the water comes at a steep price, and builders know – even before they lay the foundation – where the focus will be.
I suspect my foundation was designed that way, too. That I was made to see joy and grace. That my soul was created to point toward love.
But often I drag the dirty laundry and the dishes and disheveled baggage and put it right in my line of vision. Troubled relationships and misunderstandings act like dark curtains, and the critics – both imagined and real – seem to pull up lawn chairs and build bonfires on the beach that are hard to miss.
My stunning view begins to get cluttered with self-doubt, with comparison and stress. I’m close enough to see the light sparkle off the water and to hear the crashing waves. Close enough to feel God’s peace and grace and joy. I just need to rearrange the focus.
Critics can go on the street or, if helpful, in the garage for containment and safe storage. Misunderstandings are cleared up and pushed aside to allow light and forgiveness in to do their important work. And baggage can be sorted and put away in its proper place.
Then, nothing stands between me and where my soul was created to point. And I can enjoy the view.
Sometimes it almost doesn’t feel like work when I’m interviewing people. This is one of those times. I pulled together a story for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle on SewGreen, a non-profit that offers low-cost classes — along with a store full of donated fabric, thread, yarn and patterns — and it was an honor to be surrounded by such talented people.
I hope you’re as inspired as I was and that you’ll consider taking a class, shopping or donating. And, just as important, I hope you consider sharing what you are passionate about with others.
Here’s the story.
You can also learn more about SewGreen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Often a writer’s job is to tell the uncomfortable truth, and my uncomfortable truth is that our oldest son ran away to live with his biological family. He has been gone since October.
I had always known I wanted to adopt, to welcome an older child into our family and make room on the couch and in our hearts. I had also always known that it wouldn’t be easy to win that child’s trust or to help him feel secure.
But what I didn’t know was the toll a relationship like that could take on my confidence.
How it could make me question my mothering.
How I could doubt my worth.
How I could cringe at the thought of the Proverbs 31 woman, the spiritual ideal.
Her children arise and call her blessed, the passage says. Her husband also, and he praises her.
Mine didn’t call me blessed. Mine didn’t even want to live with me. That’s an uncomfortable truth.
It was slightly irreverent but I snapped the picture of bird poop on the labyrinth sign anyway because it fit my mood — because it seemed to symbolize my own path, my own crooked maze through life.
Oh, there wasn’t a big catastrophe going on, just my own smelly thinking that needed to be cleaned away that day. I had hoped time in the beauty of Tinker Nature Park would settle my soul a bit, so I walked by summer’s blooms, stopped to say thanks to the buzzing bee hives and meandered over to the labyrinth, still thinking pretty poorly of myself and my accomplishments when I saw the pooped-on sign.
Listen, I am all in favor of cute baby pictures, and I don’t even mind the occasional snapshot of a meal. But if given the choice, I prefer a steady diet of story and substance – in real life and on social media.
If you’re looking for that, too, then let’s compile a list of people who offer practical tips for living out our faith. Let’s find people who are authentic and encouraging because their stories will strengthen all of us.
I’ll get us started. Here’s who I’ve been following and learning about on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat:
- It’s no secret that I have a writing crush on Ann Voskamp. I love her focus on gratitude and how she uses her words with the precision of a poet, and it was one of her social media posts that introduced me to Meredith Toering – a must-follow on Instagram. Meredith, an Oklahoma native, lives in China and runs Morning Star, a foster home for babies and infants who have complex congenital heart defects. Her Instagram feed could easily dwell on the challenges she faces. Instead, you’ll find post after post that highlights courage and hope. (Even if you aren’t into that, you should follow her just to get to know a little boy named Ben. He and his chubbiness are the reason I check Instagram every day. He has his own hashtag: #benstagram.)
- Interested in a more beautiful life? Follow Thoughts from Alice on social media. She’s a blogger who shares gorgeous pictures of her not-any-bigger-than-yours house, and she writes posts that talk about embracing the imperfections of her 1930s home and searching for hope while living with depression. If you follow Alice’s blog or her Instagram feed, you’ll quickly see the beauty in her life and in your life, too.
- Eric Maddox’s life story reads like a suspense novel – and that’s why the former Army interrogator who tracked down Saddam Hussein has a bestselling book and a movie in the works. In fact, he’ll be featured this Sunday, June 26, on CNN’s “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies.” It starts at 10 p.m. EST. Hopefully he’ll get the chance to tell how his faith influenced his decision to join the Army and his ability to gather information without using violence. Eric is easiest to find at his website, but he’s also active on Facebook and Twitter as @ericbmaddox. I am slightly biased since we grew up together, but Eric has a lot to teach us all.
- I find The Blessing Counter hard to resist. Carol Shrader, a mama to four – including triplets born prematurely – writes about her challenges and, of course, her blessings. She shares raw emotion and gives us a glimpse into parenting not just multiples but parenting children with Cerebral Palsy. So. Much. Wisdom. Besides her website, you can follow her on Twitter at @carolsblessings.
- For those who want to learn more about social media marketing and about podcasting, try Michael Stelzner and Cliff Ravenscraft. They are easy to find on Facebook and Twitter, but their usernames on Snapchat are @mikestelzner and @cliffeotc. They are both experts in their field – Michael is the founder of Social Media Examiner and Cliff is known as the Podcast Answer Man – and while their content isn’t about faith, it shows in the respectful way they treat people.
- While Cliff Ravenscraft rides long distances on his bike, Kelly Nash has been known to run more than four marathons in 24 hours. Find her on Facebook at Running with Kelly and be inspired to run the good race both physically and spiritually.
- Mike Gastin owns a design firm that handles everything from branding to video production, and he shares his advice for business owners and those interested in leadership and entrepreneurship through his blog, Twitter and podcast. For a glimpse into his life outside of work – including his wife’s beehives – follow him on Snapchat, where his username is @mikegastin. Two other people who are known for inspiring people in business are Lewis Howes, a former professional football player, and John Lee Dumas, an Army veteran. Both offer podcasts, webinars and plenty of interaction on Twitter and other social media platforms. Find them on Snapchat as @lewis_howes and @johnleedumas.
- Tara Howisey, A.K.A. The Radiant Goddess, is one of the first strangers I followed on Snapchat, and I’m glad I did. She describes herself as a bohemian-mystic, a fusion of Christianity and Taoism with a dash of Buddhism and Law of Attraction. Because she has a different faith background than I do, she explains spiritual principles in ways that are new to me. I always walk away with new vocabulary and imagery – and that’s helpful when I put it through the lens of my own faith. You can find her on Snapchat as @tarahowisey. She also recommends following @enthusiasticlay, who really promotes meditation and stillness on Snapchat, and @nikinpos, a makeup artist who shares the beauty of Positano in southern Italy every single day.
- Marshall Norgaard, a sociology student who plans to go to seminary, writes encouraging scriptures on sticky notes and posts them in public places. It’s fun to watch on Snapchat. Find him at @marshallscott.
- And while Marshall Norgaard leaves a scripture or two at a time, Blake Croft helps people pick out a new Bible, is active on Twitter and offers brief devotions on Snapchat – all with what feels like authentic friendship and admiration for those who follow him at @blakec432.
- You’ll like Tyler Speegle, too. He’s on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He writes about things like spiritual conviction and finding peace when you are uncomfortable. Good stuff. Important stuff.
- I’ve just started following Adam Powell this week mainly because he loves tacos, and I respect anyone who points that out in his profile. Turns out he’s also in ministry and a photographer, and I’m really enjoying what he says: The world is desperate right now for the person God has called you to be and We always want God to fix our circumstances. Sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes He wants to fix our focus within our circumstances. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @RealAdamPowell. Look for the taco emoji.
Who else are we missing? Who should we add to the list?
You can find me on the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and as @markettagregory on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
Simply Faithful column now available to churches
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I knew when I went to a work conference in California that I’d come back with a notebook full of ideas. What i didn’t know is what a difference it would make in my husband’s life.
Brian is a stay-at-home dad, and he home schools our boys. He has every Wednesday night off — and he has about 30 minutes to himself each night when he slips away to get something he “forgot we needed” at the grocery store. But I think we figured out that he had slept away from the boys for three or four nights in the last eight years… until he tagged along on my business trip.
That first day, I started to see a difference. By the second day, I could almost see his shoulders relaxing. And by the third day, he rattled off all the places he had visited while I was in class, and then he paused and said how glad he was to have the chance to explore and to have an adventure.
I had forgotten how fun adventure is, he said, and I think I can have more adventures at home, too.
She has always known me best, this best friend of mine. For years she has picked out my music, recommended some of my favorite authors and sent me gifts I cherish. The retro journal. The cigar box purse. The necklace with the chieftain, the turquoise cross and the words create and inspire – all a nod to my home and my heart.
So, when I opened her latest box and saw the book of Puritan prayers, I knew.
I knew if Ang had mailed it to me, I needed to read it.
And so I began.
Sometimes it isn’t the bad weeks that make my heart race – it’s the busy ones.
The late-night work events. The meeting with the higher-ups. The talk at church. The paperwork piling up at home and pushing against a deadline.
All good things. All things I wanted to do.
Still, I woke up last week feeling nervous and rushed. My drive to work came to almost a complete halt about the time I reached Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and its neighboring road construction. I drummed my fingers and tapped my foot, urging the cars ahead of me to move. I wanted to be really early for work so I could move a few things off my to-do list before my meetings even started for the day. Maybe then I could relax my shoulders a little. Maybe then I could settle in to a comfortable pace.
It happens to all of us, this in between. We aren’t quite settled where we are, but we aren’t sure what the next step is. So, we’re in between.
You know that tired, old phrase about how when God closes a door He opens a window? Well, that’s fine unless you’re in the hallway, the in between.
It’s not so bad if it’s over quickly – if the hallway from the living room to the kitchen is short. But when it starts to feel like you might as well pitch a tent in the in between? Well, that’s when I start to wring my hands and question. That’s when I start to whine and complain.