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)

#donotbeafraid #fearnot #hope #faithoverfear #noroomforfear #checkforfries 

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.

#ThankAVeteran #ForTimmy #checkforfries

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.

#checkforfries #giveityoursome #averagecupofjoe #mugsandmayhem

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.”

Sarah Nguyen @checkforfries

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.

#LoveOneAnother

Control Is An Illusion

Control Is An Illusion

I have a guru…and his name is Marc. To be fair, Marc didn’t asked to be my guru. I simply took the liberty of labeling him that after he wrapped up one of the most amazing 90-minute massages I’ve had to date.

Somewhere between the foot reflexology and working out the knots in my right calf, Marc hit me with an eerily on-point truth about myself. Continue reading “Control Is An Illusion”

Recipe For Success

Recipe For Success

Ever heard of liquid aminos?

I was trying out a new recipe the other day that called for this ingredient—something so foreign to me that I had to Google what is was and where to find it in a grocery store.

Turns out it’s just a fancy way of saying: soy sauce alternative.

When I texted my husband that it was going to be in his beef and broccoli dinner that evening I received a lovely “vomiting” emoticon back as a response. (For the record, my husband is Asian, so he is somewhat of an authority on all things soy, rice, and sriracha). But even he hadn’t tried this before, so I kindly texted back not to knock it before he tried it.

Truth be told though, I was nervous too. Last time I used a seasoning alternative it did not go well. But we were in for a pleasant surprise, because this time it did go well.

That got me thinking though about the nature of recipes. They never start out perfect, do they? By the time they get to the consumers, they have been tested umpteen times because there have been umpteen failures. It is only through the mistakes, trials, and errors that a recipe finally emerges as perfected and good.

What a great metaphor for our lives. We never hit perfect on the first try. We make mistakes, we fail, and we figure out how to do things better. It’s easy to forget that when all we see is a “perfect recipe” in front of us. We don’t always see the blood, sweat, and tears that went in to creating it.

Maybe you are in that place right now. The place of blood, sweat and tears. The place of mistake after mistake after mistake. Don’t be discouraged if you’re failing right now at something. Just remember that it’s all part of the process of creating something beautiful. Something you can be proud of.

Keep pushing, keep trying, keep reaching toward your hopes and dreams. Your recipe for success WILL come.

Liquid aminos and all.

Want To Accomplish More? Stop Multitasking

Want To Accomplish More? Stop Multitasking

For over a year now, I’ve kept a daily planner on my desk. There it sat, in all its beautiful unopened glory. Blank pages staring back at me. Waiting for me to get my act together.

Ironically, my ongoing excuse—however legitimate it may have been—was that I didn’t have time to open the planner and make my life more efficient. I was too busy running around like a headless chicken to stop and make sense of it all. Continue reading “Want To Accomplish More? Stop Multitasking”