Your Life Has Rules. Know When To Break Them.

Your Life Has Rules. Know When To Break Them.

I knew it was bad.

Standing in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, my normally 24/7, over-the-top, silly and joyful husband just looked at me with his eyes glazed over. The week prior, he’d mentioned that he hadn’t been sleeping well and his overall energy was low. The brain fog was in full effect too, causing him to make a few missteps in both his school and volunteer work that under normal circumstances he could have performed with eyes closed and arms tied behind his back.

“I’m burnt out,” he confessed to me. “I just need to get away…maybe a weekend somewhere to rest and clear my head.”

This was a 9-1-1 call and I had just answered the line. The problem though, was that I could have just as easily placed that same call.

In the six years since having kids, we’ve gone away together…zero times. Zero.

My reasons seemed perfectly legit.

We don’t have family nearby to come stay with our kids. We can’t afford it. There are other things that need our attention right now. Our schedules are too busy. All our friends are equally just as busy—asking them to help would just be a burden.

That same day, I happened to see a Facebook post from a friend in a similar situation. She and her husband had never been away from their brood of four kids. They had similar reasons that she was sharing with her therapist and friend who—after listening and nodding empathetically—responded back with, “Try harder.”

Well that seems like a bit of a gut punch. But like any good gut punch, it got my attention. It was the wake up call I needed to hear. The tough love that tells you it’s time to break a few of your rules (many of which are self-imposed), because following those rules right now aren’t doing you and those you love any favors. In fact, they’re actually hurting the situation instead of helping it.

I was having an Esther moment—and it was time to break some rules.

You see, Esther was born a Jewish exile but eventually married King Xerxes and became Queen of Persia. Around 479 B.C., a plot was devised to kill all of the Jewish people, however Mordecai, who was a cousin to Esther but raised her as a father, caught wind of the plot and shared it with her.

In order to save the Jewish people—including herself—from total annihilation, Esther would have to petition the king. And that meant breaking some rules. Big ones. Anyone who approached the king’s inner court without being invited or summoned by him would be put to death unless the king extended his gold scepter toward them, thus sparing their life.

That’s not exactly a rule you want to break.

Esther reminded Mordecai of this rule, to which he responded, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Allow me to paraphrase:

Esther: I can’t do it. I’ll die.

Mordecai: Try harder.

That’s a gut punch, folks. Her reasons for saying no were legit. The rules were legit. But in this case, the consequences of breaking said rules far outweighed the benefits of upholding them.

And this is my point, friends. While we may not be facing a literal life or death situation or carry the fate of an entire people group on our shoulders like Esther did, nonetheless our decisions hold weight. Both the rules we live by and the ones we break have an impact on ourselves and on others. What we need is the wisdom to know when to choose the breaking over the following.

What we need are more Mordecais in our life. More friends, family members, or therapists who can speak into our lives and wisely encourage us to take a step into that “inner court” we’re hesitant to go into. The court of our rules, our reasons, and our excuses. The court that we fear will bring us death if we disobey or break the rules, when in fact it may stand ready to offer us life, blessings, and rewards.

Esther’s step of faith was rewarded. The king extended his scepter and saved her life, which in turn allowed her to save the lives of her people. She understood the risks and sacrifice involved. She understood the opportunity that lay before her. And she understood that in that moment, it was time to break the rules for the greater good.

And so did I.

Shortly after that Sunday afternoon conversation, I took a step of faith. I booked a weekend getaway for me and my husband, knowing that we desperately needed it even if our bank account didn’t agree. I reached out to a friend for help watching our kids, fully expecting an “I’m sorry, we just can’t,” and instead receiving the most enthusiastic and gracious, “Yes, we would love too!” A golden scepter had been extended to me and I was overwhelmed with tears of gratitude and relief.

I broke a few of my rules that day for the greater good—pursuing what seemed like the impossible for so many reasons to seize an opportunity to restore our souls, nurture our relationship, and exit the weekend as better parents than when we went in.

Maybe the “inner court” you’re up against is not one of self-care and relationships but stepping out in faith to pursue a passion, a career, a ministry, or a purpose. You’re weighing all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it with the one reason why you should.

Wherever you’re at friend, my encouragement to you is this: find your Mordecai, seek out wisdom, and then boldly and prayerfully step into that inner court. It’s time to break some rules for the greater good.

Finding The Good In The Grind

Finding The Good In The Grind

One of my favorite coffee shops back when I was in college was called “The Daily Grind.” Located right in the social center of campus, this coffee shop quickly became for me a near daily ritual where I’d grab a latte, the school newspaper, and a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels before heading out to change the world…by way of my history 101 course, that is.

Sometimes I even went crazy and ditched my usual pretzel order for…wait for it…a slice of zucchini bread. I know, right? Wild times.

I loved that java joint. It fueled me through so much of my collegiate experience, plus I thought the name was genius. Coffee grinds, daily grind…coffee made daily. I don’t think it ever occurred to my naïve and barely cultured 18-year-old mind that it could also be coy reference to the routine and cyclically repetitive nature of life.

Fast-forward to now…where my daily grind is well, not quite as glamorous. No one is handing me coffee and pastries as I head out to start my day. It’s more of a chaotic, frenzied version with me slinging black coffee mixed with collagen peptides into a to-go mug whilst transforming into a pack mule and loading my shoulders with all my kids’ backpacks, jackets, snacks, umbrellas, and whatever else the day demands.

Then, if I’m lucky…and let me assure you that I am…I’ll come home from schlepping more bags from a trip to the grocery store and find myself inexplicably drawn to the kids’ bathroom where an eau-de-toilette is coming from the “ew…the toilet.” I proceed to start cleaning the pungent remains of my precious son’s potty-training but wow-did-you-miss-the-mark-on-that-one session, only to discover several additional pools of water at the base of the toilet. There’s a leak somewhere and it’s beyond my pay grade.

The plumber is called. The budget is adjusted. The laundry begins. The kids are picked up. The dinner prep starts. The lunches are made. And the coffee pot is cleaned and prepped with fresh grounds so we can start all over again tomorrow.

Forget the espresso and the pour overs, guys. This is the real deal, daily grind. And sometimes it’s hard finding the good in the grind. Whether you’re a stay-at-home grinder, a commute-to-corporate grinder, a work-from-home grinder, or a for real barista grinder, life in all its repetitions and surprises can often be exhausting as we cycle through moments of grief and joy, sickness and health, success and failure, love and heartbreak.

Not even King David’s son Solomon—the richest and wisest man of his time who literally had everything he could want or imagine—could escape the grind. He writes in his book of Ecclesiastes, “Everything is futile! What does a man gain from all of his labor? The sun rises and the sun sets; it hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows southward, then turns northward; round and round it swirls…all things are wearisome, more than one can describe” (v.2-8).

That’s right, friends. Folks have been experiencing the grind since at least the 3rd century BC…and dare I say since Adam and Eve got the official boot from the Garden. But here’s the good news. What Solomon also recognized was that there’s a season for everything, and even in the tough grind seasons you can still experience something good. Moments of beauty, blessing, and joy.

“He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time,” (v.11) Solomon writes, “and there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live…all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work” (v.13).

For me personally, I’m grateful for the schlepping of groceries—because it means a full pantry and full bellies for my family. I’m thankful for my son’s “happy accident,” because if not for the noxious smell, I wouldn’t have found the bigger problem of the water leak and potentially hundreds more dollars worth of damages and repairs.

So I celebrated in the spirit of Solomon. Yep. I stroked a check to the plumber, then treated myself to a latte…and wait for it…a slice of pumpkin bread. There’s good in the grind, friends, and I’m right there with you. We got this.

Having An Impact on Others: It’s Easier Than You Think

Having An Impact on Others: It’s Easier Than You Think

Every month I get the opportunity to teach the preschool class at my church. And every month, I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to make sure I’ve followed the lesson plan to a tee.

I know. I can’t believe I just said that. Preschool and pressure.

Usually the only pressure involving preschoolers is the one these sweet kiddos are feeling on their bladders as they finish out their potty training. Yet here I am, sweating it out and asking myself questions like, “Did I hit all the points? Did I teach the right things and ask the right questions? Was anyone listening? Did anything stick?”

It seems almost absurd to fret about such things when your audience of four, five and six-year-olds are more concerned about when they’re going to have their snack, if I can put a Band-Aid on a boo-boo only they can see, and why we have run out of emoji stickers to decorate their craft.

But I do feel pressure. It probably has a little to do with my personality and my desire to do things well (if not perfectly), but I also believe it has something to do with the sense of responsibility we feel when we’re placed in a position of leadership or authority.

There’s a weightiness that comes with teaching. The goal is to propel students forward with truth, knowledge, and the tools they need for success. To do that requires preparation on our part. I don’t want to be the reason someone else fails because I failed to do my part well.

On this particular Sunday, my teaching confidence was at an all-time low. Like a zero on a scale of one to 10. I wrapped up the lesson and all the activities and glanced at my watch. Twenty-five minutes left to go.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “When all else fails, play games and sing silly songs.”

We launched into a rousing rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” We played “Doggy, Doggy, Where’s Your Bone?” and “Mr. Judge.”

And then something amazing happened.

I was looking at their faces and what I saw was pure joy: grins from ear to ear, giggles, and uncontainable delight. It was like watching a movie in slow motion—and as I watched, I heard God whisper to me, “Sarah, you didn’t fail. Do you see their faces? Today, you created a safe place where they experienced joy and love. That…is a GREAT success.” 

Friends, don’t underestimate the impact you are having in someone else’s life. What you might perceive as a failure on your part could be exactly what they need. It may seem silly, illogical, and the complete opposite of what you planned to do. It may be completely perfect in a way you never anticipated or expected. Maybe it’s not the sermon or the lesson that impacts someone’s life, but a hello, a hug, and a simple word of encouragement: I believe in you. You’re doing a great job. You got this.

Having an impact on others is easier than you think—just do your best and let the pressure and expectations go.

**For the record, turns out I was wrong about the full impact of my efforts that Sunday. Three days later at breakfast, my daughter (who was in the class) casually mentioned a key point from the lesson. Cue the shock and awe. It did stick.

Maybe, just maybe, I can do this teaching thing after all. Maybe we all can.

How To Move From Your Breaking Point To Your Breakthrough

How To Move From Your Breaking Point To Your Breakthrough

We all have a breaking point. That place where life and circumstances cause you to hit an emotional, physical, and spiritual wall. For some of us (all arrows pointing to me) that wall can come quickly and is easily aided and abetted by a spilled cup of coffee, a missed night of sleep, or sitting down to an empty toilet paper roll.

Others seem to have a superhuman strength and patience that confounds the rest of us. Wherever you land on the scale however, at some point…we ALL break. We all experience the frustration, angst, and weariness that comes from being human and realizing we’ve officially maxed out on the limits of our personal strength and fortitude.

That moment for me came one evening after having battled a virus running its course in my home. After a week of nursing my daughter back to health, I finally felt we’d rounded a corner. I’d successfully managed to get her to take her medicine through fits and tears, stayed up with her during the night when she hacked and coughed, and personally couriered about 300 or so tissues from her nose to the trash can. Victory…and a full night’s sleep were nearly in my grasp.

And then it hit my son.

I was done. I was frustrated. I was tired. My attitude stunk. My complaining was off the charts—both in my head and the under-my-breath mutterings. I desperately wanted my kids to feel better, yet the finish line seemed to keep moving further and further away. Thankfully, we did eventually cross the finish line, but in retrospect, there were some things I could have done differently to help better manage my emotions and navigate my circumstances more gracefully.

Over a steaming hot latte at one of my favorite java joints, God showed me a picture of what it looks like to successfully navigate a crisis and move from your breaking point to your breakthrough. For the record, it seems these gentle nudgings and communications often come to me through coffee, hot showers, or intimate conversations with friends. It must be a comfort thing. What I do love though, is that God speaks…a lot…and often, in unexpected ways.

The picture He showed me was of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by his immediate arrest, and ending with his crucifixion. Not the prettiest of pictures, to say the least. He prayed until he literally sweated drops of blood, suffered the betrayal of a close and trusted friend, and endured a brutal beating and tortuous death by crucifixion. It was, in effect, the breaking point and culmination of his life and ministry—only he didn’t break down. He broke through.

“How?” I asked. “How did you go through one of the most physically, emotionally and mentally painful times of your life and not once get angry, lose your composure, or throw in the towel?”

That’s a loaded question to unpack, but what did immediately jump out at me were three principles to help move us from our breaking point to our breakthrough when we are walking through a dark time or moment of crisis.

Principle #1: Keep the Conversation Going

Jesus didn’t wait until the eleventh hour to cry out to God. He didn’t wait until his last reserves had dried up or attempt to rely solely on his own strength. He was in constant communion and conversation with the Father. He prayed in the Garden before the chaos of what was to come, and he prayed on the cross at the pinnacle of his suffering. Frankly, prayer was the hallmark of his ministry. He prayed often, many times privately, but also publicly—before and after miracles and healings—and with his disciples. He understood that constant, daily communication and conversations were necessary to sustain him—both in the highs and lows of life. The same is true for you and I. We were not meant to be “islands” and live life in isolation. We were built for relationships—and communication is key for both our sanity and survival. Keep praying, keep talking, keep engaging with others. When you do this consistently, especially when things are in non-crisis mode, you’ll be well equipped to maintain the conversation when a crisis hits and find the peace and help you need to carry you through the storm.

Principle #2: Turn Your Focus Outward

If you’ve ever watched the reality series, “Survivor,” there’s always a challenge that tests the physical limits of the contestants—tests designed to bring them excruciating nerve, muscle and body pain. The ones who endure and ultimately win said test are those who find a way to channel their focus and attention onto something other than their pain and circumstances. They’re focused on their victory. Likewise, Jesus in his ministry never lost sight of his end goal. In the midst of incredible pain, discomfort and betrayal, he kept his focus on others and not himself. In the Garden, he healed the soldier’s ear that had been cut off. On the cross, he extended mercy and salvation to the thief being crucified next to him and forgiveness to those who persecuted and mocked him. Whatever crisis you are facing—be it grief, financial, marital, as a parent, in your career, or your health—stay focused on your end goal…your victory…your breakthrough. If you’re in the quicksand of life right now and so focused on all the sinking muck and mire around you, you just might miss the branch hanging right over your head offering you a way out.

Principle #3: Be Willing To Let Go and Let Others

This may be equally both the hardest and easiest principle to apply, particularly for those of us who like to channel our inner Luisa from “Encanto.” She was the strong one, the one who shouldered all the burdens—literally—for her family. To ask for help or admit that she needed a break would signify weakness and failure on her part. Or so she thought. When we place those expectations on ourselves, we’re essentially doubling our burden and choosing to navigate the crushing weight of a crisis by way of our own strength. At his physically weakest point, when Jesus could no longer carry his own cross toward Golgotha—the place of his crucifixion—Simon of Cyrene stepped in to help carry it for him. It doesn’t really matter that Simon was “volun-told” to do it by the Roman soldiers. The bigger picture here is that we all need Simons in our life. When help is offered, accept it. When you need help, ask for it. Receiving help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of maturity. And it makes crossing that finish line all the sweeter when we can celebrate our breakthrough with those who helped us get there.

“Did Jesus whine?” (And Other Questions We Probably Shouldn’t Ask)

“Did Jesus whine?” (And Other Questions We Probably Shouldn’t Ask)

It started out as a perfectly good and pleasant morning.

I woke up in a good mood, with enough time to get ready and pull myself together before anyone (i.e. the kiddos) came to me with his or her most urgent and pressing needs.

Everyone was cooperative. Everyone was in a good mood. Things were running smoothly—perhaps too smoothly—for a Monday morning. There were no arguments at breakfast, no disgruntled appeals or impossible food requests. Everything was, as my mom liked to say, “copasetic.”

And then….*cue ominous music*…it happened. The whine. It came from out of nowhere, as it usually does for most three-year-olds. 

“I don’t wanna….[fill in the blank]…”


“I don’t wanna….[fill in the blank again]…”

Something hulk-like happens to me when I hear “the whine.” The nostrils start flaring, my fledgling biceps start bulking. The complete transformation to Parental Hulk however only takes full effect after I’ve asked the one question a parent should never ask:

“Why are you whining???”

We don’t ask because it’s not a good or appropriate question. We don’t ask because when said toddler is fully in the “whine state,” you will rarely, if ever, get a rational, coherent answer. 

You might as well tag on a few more for fun, like, “What is the meaning of life? Or, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

You get the picture. It’s a black hole. Just don’t go there.

Eventually, and without rhyme or reason, my son snapped back to his cheerful self and I apologized for going all green on him. As I began my personal debriefing to understand why I’m so easily triggered by whining and how I can respond better next time, a burning question entered my mind.

“Did Jesus whine?” And if so, “How did Mary handle it?”

I mean, if ever a parenting standard there was…Mary certainly sets the bar high as the mother of Jesus. What does it look like to parent the Son of God? Did she face the same challenges that we do? Did she have mom-fail days too? If you’re a dad, perhaps you’re asking, “Did Joseph ever lose his cool with Jesus in the carpentry shop?”

Truth is, we don’t really know if Jesus ever whined or what his childhood behavior was like until we catch a glimpse of him at age 12 having faith-filled discussions with the teachers in the Temple and amazing them with his wisdom and understanding (Luke 2).

And there’s probably a good reason for it. But I don’t have the answer for it and neither does anyone else. And that’s my point. 

It’s not the asking of the question that’s wrong here. But without an answer, the question itself becomes futile. Maybe for you it’s not so much a “why is my toddler whining?” question but more of a “why is this happening to me?” question. 

I’ve come to realize that both in parenting and life in general, there are just some questions that are better left unasked. The ones to which there are no helpful answers…the ones that drain your energy, leave you more frustrated than fulfilled, and keep you from moving on to better and brighter things.

Don’t get me wrong. I love questions. They are the gateway to knowledge and truth. What we need to be careful about is not allowing the answer—or non-answer—to keep us in a black hole of unproductiveness or perpetually stuck between the chicken and the egg, so to speak.

Ask your questions. Pursue the truth. But keep moving forward, friend. Whining and all. 

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Stop Trying

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Stop Trying

My friends, we’ve been hoodwinked.

For well over 160 years, we’ve been taught that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s an adage with the best of intentions, encouraging us to not give up just because we don’t find success in something the first go ‘round. The key is persistency.

I get it. And I believed it. 

This week however, that belief was called into question when I heard a DJ on the radio talking about the word “try” and pitching the question to listeners about whether we should consider removing it from our vocabulary. 

Her reasoning, she stated, was based on commentary that the word “try implies failure, or at the very least, a lack of adequate action.” To say we are going to try and do something leaves room for a cop out. The verbiage alone subconsciously communicates to oneself that you are not fully committed to whatever it is you are trying. 

By contrast, if you say you’ll “do” something that suggests 100 percent effort. No matter what happens, you are fully committed to your actions. It’s that do or die “I’m not throwing away my shot” kind of passion sung about in Hamilton the musical.

It’s what Master Yoda said to Luke Skywalker in his Jedi training: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

It’s what the Apostle Paul said countless times in his letters of encouragement to churches and fellow believers in the Christian faith. To the Corinthian church he said, “let all you do, be done in love.” To people of Philippi, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” [emphasis mine]. 

So it seems, in the battle of trying vs. doing, the odds are in favor of the doers and not the triers. How ironic that the very catch phrase “try, try again”, which is supposed to encourage us to overcome failure, is actually keeping us trapped in its cycle. 

Kind of like when I “tried” recently to not eat desserts or sweets as part of a church-wide fast I was participating in, but then crumbled in defeat one day when I handed out the fudge-stripe cookies to my kiddos for their after-school snack. 

The temptation was fierce and I succumbed. 

“Jesus fasted for forty days with no food, was tempted by the devil himself, and still walked away victorious. And here I just lost to a cookie,” I thought to myself.

Yes, I accept responsibility for my lack of discipline. But I also believe part of my fasting failure was because I kept thinking, “try not to eat that” instead of telling myself, “don’t eat that.”

There’s an empowerment that comes with believing you can do something that you don’t get when you simply “try” to do something. The first goes all in, while the second just dips the toes in the water before fully committing.

So back to the DJ’s question: Should we remove “try” from our vocabulary? Personally, I vote yes. 

I want to stop trying to be a better wife, mom, and friend and just be one.

I want to stop trying to hit snooze on my alarm and actually get up when it tells me.

I want to stop trying to be perfect and rest in the fact that my failures, mistakes and missteps do not define me—but rather refine me and help push me toward becoming the best version of myself.

Time to get off the “try” train, ditch the excuses, and remove the self-imposed limitations I declare over myself when I say I will only try to do something.

I can do better. And you can too, friend. If at first we don’t succeed, we’ll just get up and do it again. 

Fear Not: Finding Peace In A Pandemic

Fear Not: Finding Peace In A Pandemic

Never not be afraid. 

It’s one of my favorite lines from the animated movie, “The Croods,” which happens to be experiencing a revival in our home right now thanks to my three and five-year-old. Translation? We’re watching this epic flick about every five minutes. 

If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of an endearing caveman named Grug and his family who are living in prehistoric times and doing everything they can to survive what seems to be the end of the world. Their goal? Make it to tomorrow.

Wait, are we still talking about the movie or 2020? The ironies here are not lost on me. 

Yet on the 21st viewing of said movie, I realized that Grug and I share the same problem: fear. 

“Never not be afraid” was Grug’s ongoing mantra to his family. Now if we can all get past the double negatives here (he’s a caveman, so we’ll let it slide), Grug’s solution to keeping his family alive was to fear everything. Fear the dark. Fear the beasts. Fear the unknown. Yet for all his good intentions to keep everyone safe and protected, he was essentially also keeping them from truly living. 

“You have to stop worrying for all of us,” protests his daughter Eep.

“It’s my job to worry. It’s my job to follow the rules,” replies Grug. “They kept us alive!”

“That wasn’t living,” says Eep. “That was just not dying! There’s a difference.”

As a parent, I too catch myself more times than not telling my children everything they can’t or shouldn’t do—all with the best intentions. But there’s a fine line between exercising caution and healthy boundary setting and becoming a living, breathing, fear monger. 

Add a global pandemic to the mix, and it seems like the fun police—or perhaps in my case, the fear police—have been working overtime. Like 80 hours a week, less than minimum wage, no coffee breaks, no comp, no time and a half, no benefits, kind of overtime. 

It’s not living…it’s just not dying. Who wants that???

Ultimately Grug had to learn a lesson that…spoiler alert…ultimately saved his family. He learned to look past his fears by taking a leap of faith. He focused on the possibilities in front of him instead of the obstacles. He chose to hope, even when the future seemed uncertain. 

And before you knew it, by the end of the movie he had dropped the double negative, encouraging his family to simply be this: not afraid.

Friend, if I could say one thing to you—and to myself—it’s this: don’t be afraid. Don’t allow fear to steal your joy, to stand in the way of your future, to take away your hope. If you give it permission, it will stay. But if you make room for faith, hope, and love, it cannot survive.

Maybe that’s why there are so many mentions of “fear not” in the Bible. Because if anyone understands humanity and our inclination toward fear, it’s God. He knows how easily fear and discouragement can overwhelm us, and so he reminds us over and over and over again: don’t be afraid. Have courage. Take hope.  

In fact, in this season of advent, I can’t think of a better message we need to hear right now than the one relayed by an angel to a group of shepherds some 2,000 years ago. A message to not be afraid…a message of hope…a message of glad tidings…for you, for me, for all.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:8-11 (NIV)

A Message To Those Who Served

A Message To Those Who Served

It’s amazing what can happen in a Walmart parking lot.

I had just finished loading the back of my van and had already moved the gear shift into reverse when I was startled by a loud rapping on the front passenger window.

A woman who looked to be in her sixties and wearing a white face mask was frantically knocking on my window, her wide eyes looking at me with a sense of urgency.

“This can’t be good,” I thought. “Is my tail light out? Did I drop a bag?”

I rolled down the window, expecting to hear the worst. Nothing though quite prepared me for what came next.

“I just saw your license plate,” she said, “and I noticed the Operation Iraqi Freedom on it. Did you serve?”

“My husband did,” I replied.

“My son also served as part of that operation,” she said, “so I had to stop and thank you. He served two tours in Iraq, but he never made it back.”

I quickly threw the van back into park, put on my mask, and jumped out to embrace her.

We hugged each other tightly. Two strangers. In a Walmart parking lot.

My husband came home. Her son did not.

Yet through her grief, came also a profound pride for her son’s service to his country.

“If I had to lose my Timmy to something, this is how I would have wanted it,” she said.  

We chatted for a few more minutes about her son, my husband, and the silent scars of PTSD that many veterans still battle with long after their service. Then we thanked each other again and parted ways.

I never learned her name, but there’s one name I can’t forget after today: Timmy.

To all our nation’s veterans, thank you. To the spouses and parents of veterans, thank you for your service. And to the Timmys who never came home, thank you for your great sacrifice in the name of freedom. 

We are forever grateful.

Is Your Cup Of Joe Turning You Into An Average Joe?

Is Your Cup Of Joe Turning You Into An Average Joe?

I love a good coffee mug. Not only does it need to be large enough to accommodate my daily intake (which happens several times a day) and have a nice comfy handle for endurance coffee clutching…but it’s also a major “perk” (pun intended) if it makes me smile or laugh.

The darker the better too—which goes for both my coffee and the humor.

The most recent gem I found? An all black mug with the following white text: “Good morning, I see the assassins have failed.” I left it behind on the store shelf, but dang if I didn’t cackle all the way out the door.

There is one mug in my collection, however, that has a semi-permanent place on my desk. It’s somewhat unexpected, unapologetic and, well, uninspiring. 

The message? “Today I’m going to give it my some.”

I laughed when I first saw it. And I loved it, mostly because it was the total opposite of all those annoyingly over-the-top motivational posters hanging up in offices across corporate America. You know, the ones that say “Excellence” with a photo of a bald eagle or “Make It Happen” with a man standing on the summit of a mountain.

Ick. Just the thought of one makes my productivity suffer. 

Not this mug. I sincerely appreciated its snarky nature. When everyone else is shooting for the moon and ready to crush some serious goals, I’m over here with my mug just saying with a chuckle, “Yeah, I’m not gonna give it my all today…maybe just a solid 47 percent.”

Maybe that’s because in part it accurately reflected my season of life—a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom with two kids under five trying to keep everyone fed, clean, laundered, and entertained. Even on my best days, giving it my “all” seemed an impossible feat, so why not just shoot for “some” so I too can have the satisfaction of feeling accomplished? 

It’s pretty much right on par with why I also prefer the medium level of Sudoku. Semi-challenging yet winnable. There’s no time in my life for multi-day expert level gaming—especially when as moms of “littles” we’re already playing Russian Roulette every time we attempt to take an adult bathroom break, knowing full well the odds are stacked against us. 

Crises inevitably and almost always hit while our pants are down. But I digress.

So what does this all mean? Does loving this coffee mug mean that I’m a champion of the under-achiever? That I’ve lowered my standards? That there’s just no more room for excellence in my life when average will do?

No, no it does not. I can assure you (as can my spouse and kids), that my expectations and standards are still well nigh into the rafters.

No, I love it because it makes me laugh. And because humor is almost always based on a bit of truth. And because the truth is sometimes raw—and in those raw moments—we need to give ourselves grace when we simply don’t have it all to give. Or when giving it our all still only gets us to “average.”

It’s in those moments that we need to laugh. Take a breath. Then shoot for better days ahead. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. Babe Ruth didn’t always hit home runs. We give it our all—and if that means we give all the “some” that’s in our tank—then so be it.

Celebrate the wins. Dust off the losses. And drink to the “Average Joe” moments that earned you that coveted participation trophy. 

I’m raising my mug to you, friend. Now get out there and go give ‘em some.

Love Is A Five-Letter Word

Love Is A Five-Letter Word

Dear friends…recently I discovered something amazing about the word: love. It has five letters.

No, that is not a mistake and no, I did not miscount—although I confess mathematics and I have been at odds for most of my life. No, this extraordinary epiphany about love came to me during the most ordinary of tasks. 

I had just finished picking up a few items at the grocery store and was pulling out of the parking lot when I received a text from my mother-in-law who was visiting us.

“The kids want more of these,” she texted along with a picture of some pretzel chips. 

“Ugh,” I muttered to myself. Not only had I already left the store, but this particular brand of pretzel chips was only available at a different store.

“This is so inconvenient,” I thought. “But,” I said, “I love them so I’ll do it. I’ll get the pretzels.” (Side note: the “other” store was literally a 20 second drive across the street, so inconvenience is a rather broad interpretation here).

But then a second, more profound thought hit me. “Sarah, you’ve missed the mark. It’s not really love if you’re considering your feelings in this equation.”

Wait, what? I consider myself to be a kind person. I am a generous person. I live to encourage others. I feel as if I love well. And to a certain degree, I do. But the truth is love is not just about being kind or compassionate. To love in the fullest sense of the word is to do so unconditionally—and that means removing any self-interest from the equation. It’s not about me. At all. It’s 100 percent about the person I am loving.

Love means focusing on the “other.” O-T-H-E-R. Five powerful letters.

That means if I’m complaining while acting in love toward someone—it’s not love. If I’m engaged in self-pity, it’s not love. If I’m thinking about how it’s inconveniencing me, even in the slightest, it’s not love.

“…if I’m complaining while acting in love toward someone—it’s not love. If I’m engaged in self-pity, it’s not love. If I’m thinking about how it’s inconveniencing me, even in the slightest, it’s not love.”

But here’s the kicker. When we do love fully and unconditionally, without regard for self and full regard for the other…something amazing happens. We reap the full benefits of that love.

Last year my sister traveled to Charleston, S.C. to undergo a major surgery and I came to help her for a few days post-recovery. I was in one of the top foodie cities in the nation. The weather was incredible. There was beauty everywhere you looked. But for the majority of my stay, I was either in a hospital room or the house we had rented. My sole focus the entire time was on the care and wellbeing of my sister. 

I don’t say that boastfully. I was just genuinely happy to help her in any way I could. When I returned home though, something changed. For the first time in months—maybe even a year or two—I felt fully alive. I can’t explain it except to say that the funk of self-pity and depression I had been in was no more. My spirit was full of joy, love and contentment. 

I was at a loss for why I felt the way I did. I kept telling myself that maybe it was the change in environment, the amazing food, or just spending quality time with family that helped break me out of my rut. Regardless, I seriously felt like I was Poppy the Troll and glowing from the inside out. Everyone around me, especially my husband, noticed the change.

What I didn’t know then however, I do now. It was love. The demonstration of pure unconditional love. That was the game-changer. 

Love = Other.

Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for this discovery. While it was a new revelation for me, this whole love “other” concept has been in the works for some 2,000 years when Jesus left his crew with these parting words before his death:

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34).

Yeah, I’m one of those late to the party kind of gals. But hey…I showed up and I learned something.

Now, I’d be crazy to think I can remain in a constant state of unconditional love euphoria. I’m human and that comes with the full gamut of emotions. I’m not perfect and I will never love others perfectly. But I can—to the best of my ability—be intentional about how I love others by keeping the focus on them and not myself.

It’s a daily choice, and sometimes even a moment-by-moment one. Loving well is not always convenient. I won’t always “feel” like doing it. But it will always and forever be the best decision when I do choose to do it and do it well.