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True Wisdom

I watched a really good movie one time.  Okay, I've seen it more like a dozen or two times.  And the description "really good" is probably generous from the perspective of a movie critic.  I've never agreed with them, though, so my assessment holds true.  For me.  I'll fess up now.  It's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  The one liners in the movie are relentless - one right after another. 

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

So what you're telling me, essentially, is that Napoleon was a short, dead dude?

Teacher: Now, who was Joan of Arc?
Bill: Noah's wife?

Most of them are ridiculous, but there's one.  One that resonates in more than the typical stupid comedy way. 
The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.
They attribute that quote to Socrates in the movie.  A slight bit of internet investigation suggests that Socrates never actually said this, and it's most likely attributable to Plato's summaries of Socrates' teachings.  The important thing is that when I first heard this quote, I was a very young girl, maybe 6 or 7.  It meant nothing to me. 

For my tenure in middle school and high school, I knew I knew more than everyone else around me.  It's a pompous thing to say, yes.  I didn't actually know more, but I definitely felt that way.

When I got to college, I started realizing just how "smart" I was not, when I was surrounded by some brilliant people.  The majority of the people there were smarter than I could ever dream to be. 

I got married at 19, had a child at 20, and quickly learned that I knew absolutely nothing about being a wife or a mother. 

Fast forward to now.  I'm not exactly a seasoned old woman.  I'm 31 years old.  But, I can tell you, I whole-heartedly know that I don't know much of anything.  I'm not dumb.  But I am aware that life is about much more than book smarts, or beefed-up resumes, or accomplishments.  Every single human on this planet has a complicated story full of successes and failures, relationships, struggles and triumphs that weave together to create a uniquely individual personality and outlook on life.

I do believe in absolutes.  I believe there is a right and wrong.  But I also believe that for when the right and wrong isn't clear...there is grace.  I know that I have made mistakes.  I know that my words have hurt others.  I know that I don't always know the right thing to do, even when I believe there surely is a right thing to do.

So, this post.  It's about this:

I sincerely apologize, from the bottom of my heart, to those whom I have hurt with my words, whether recently or in the past.  What the world needs is not more opinions from a faceless blogger.  What the world needs is a face to meet another person in their mess and give them grace. 

I had the blessing/luxury/handicap of growing up in a Christian home.  My world was safe and comfortable.  Everyone should experience safety and comfort in their lifetime.  But I say this was a handicap because it clouded my perspective as one of privilege.  I'm learning that there's a world of hurt on the other side of safety and comfort that I know nothing about.  And this world is the one that needs to see love and grace from the likes of me.

I spent my day today reading the beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir of one Kara Tippetts, a mother of four, dying of terminal cancer.  Describing how she came to grow in the faith, I was inspired -
I appreciate the women who had grown up in faith and didn't face the struggles I had endured.  Coming back I realized I had something to share with them  I could share the heart of the brokenhearted and challenge those women to return to their campuses and share the love they knew with someone who looked like me.  I was no longer intimidated by the differences because I knew I was uniquely made.  My story mattered.  I had grown in freedom and grace, and I returned not embarrassed that I wasn't a spiritual giant.  I simply had more growing to do.
I want to remember that each person carries their own baggage.  And some of it so very heavy.  Some of it is so fragile.  We need to handle our human interactions with care.  With tact.  With grace. 

I keep coming back to that word.  It was my defacto theme for 2014, and I'm keeping it for 2015 even if that breaks rules.  Shoot, I'll keep it for life, until the day I die.

You see, Grace said, "You are worth it."  You.  When Jesus died in my place, in your place, he did it because he deemed us worth it.  Every single last one of us.  Even if we were the only one to do it for.  That means more than words can ever say.  If by showing someone else grace, they catch even a glimpse of what Jesus did for you and for me, my time here will have been worth it. 

But mostly, I'm sorry.  For the chances I missed because I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did.  For the words I spoke when I shouldn't have because my brain didn't listen to my heart.  For the times I said things that hurt.   For the relationships I squandered or severed because I was self-righteous.  For the judgments I cast on people who have a very different moral compass than me.  For all of the splinters I have pointed out in spite of the plank in my own eye.  For all of that. 

I know now, I know very little. 

But thank you, God, for grace.

Anonymous

I grew up in the Baltimore metro area.  Despite the fact that I was a 20 minute drive from the inner city, I classified myself as a small-town girl, most unquestionably a suburbanite.  Growing up in a small town has its charms.  You would usually see someone you knew every time you stepped foot inside the gas station, snowball stand, sporting event, or Kmart (hey, we weren't fancy in Joppatowne).  The community rallied together in good times and in bad, whether unprecedented athletic victory or tragic death.  The schools were good because the parents were involved.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And yet...I always found myself wanting a little bit of anonymity.  I didn't necessarily want to see someone I knew every time I went to Kmart for shampoo or a Coca-Cola.  It came time to apply to colleges.  Despite the fact that I desired anonymity, I did not want to go to a giant campus like University of Maryland, College Park.  I convinced myself I could be anonymous by doing something totally out of character for me - moving to a different state to a school where I would know not one single soul.  Yes.  That was my solution.

Mercer was a small school, so no one stayed anonymous for long.  Even people who don't know another soul.  It was just another small town. 

Over the past 31 years, it seems I have perpetuated the same cycle of wanting to be anonymous, finding a small, comfortable niche, rendering myself no longer anonymous.  What happens next is not always the same.

We've lived in our current home for nearly nine years.  Sam and I stayed pretty anonymous for the first few years.  Then, we plugged in.  We put down roots.  We made friends.  We joined a church family.  I regularly see people that I know in Target or the grocery store or Dollar Tree or the handful of other places I actually go anymore.  The difference between my 18 year old self and my 31 year old self is that I don't hide anymore.  I say "Hey!"  I engage.  I notice.  (Okay, not always.  Old habits die hard.  But I have shown marked improvement.)  Maybe the real difference is that I'm okay not blending in anymore. 

The fact of the matter is, with five kids, you can't.  No matter where you go, people notice. 

I dropped Ben off this morning for his hour and a half long Bible Quizzing practice and the four younger kids and I set off to take care of some business.  We landed at Big Lots, and despite the fact that we got the closest spot to the door, it was not easy getting everyone safely across the street and into the store.  It was a slow morning, so the employees had nothing else to do but watch us coming.  One woman met me at the door with a cart and said, "We were watching you.  We thought you might need some assistance."  Bless her. 

When I stopped at the tire place to get our wheels balanced, the employee met me in the parking lot so that I didn't have to unload everyone.  Bless him.  When I told him I'd be back at 11:30 after I picked up my oldest, he replied, "Oh?  You have another one?"  Indeed.  "You've got your hands full."  Yup.  Full of good stuff.

And since the tire balance took longer than anticipated, we found ourselves next door at Hardees for lunch.  We made ourselves at home and the sweet employees catered to our every whim, bringing extra ranch sauce to the table for my saucy kids and doing it with a smile. 

I can't exactly slink in and out of...anywhere...anymore, but I think this is another one of God's mysterious workings - how he always knows better than me.  All of my life I've wanted to remain anonymous.  With five constant tagalongs, that simply impossible.  And it turns out, connecting with people who notice you, is almost always a blessing.  I hope that whether because of Noah's big blue eyes and goofy teeth, Leah's two-ness, Sarah's gregariousness, Abby's shy smile, or Ben's professorial presence people who take notice of us are blessed in return.

We weren't meant to blend in.  We are meant to connect. 

(Just maybe not all the time.  I am still an introvert after all.)

What's your style?  Do you prefer anonymity or community? 

From Noah with a Way-Too-Long Preface from Jennie

My Christmas cards were late this year.  I cried about it.  If you asked my level-headed husband, he would contend that the latest cards would arrive no later than two days after Christmas.  I would contend that means they might as well not have gone out at all.  To further complicate things, in the postpartum chaos that was Christmas 2013, I failed to save my Christmas card ledger with updated card recipients and corrected addresses.  I had to revert back to 2012, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's amazing how much can change in two short years. 

This is the point where everyone is saying, "Man, I wish I had her 'problems.'"  Because, you know, they aren't really problems. 

This Christmas was wrought with lots of little things that compounded together made it feel a little less "Christmasy" than usual, all punctuated by an actual problem on December 17th, a geocaching hunt - turned terrible eye injury for my dearest Sam.

So, on Monday, four days before Christmas, two days after I mailed our cards out, Sam had surgery on his eye.  To understand fully, his eyesight is like another child.  In January of 2013, he went from being legally blind to having better than perfect vision when he gave himself Lasik surgery for Christmas.  [Edited to say:  HAHAHAHA.  He is amazing, but pretty sure this did not come out the way I meant for it to.  He gifted the surgery to himself.  An actual doctor performed it.  Phew.]  And now, because of a literal thorn in his eye, his eyesight is potentially tarnished.  His ophthalmologist is optimistic (say that 5x fast).  For him, the hardest part is waiting and seeing.  It's a good life lesson.  I just wish I'd been the one with the thorn in my eye.  Goodness knows I have enough weird health issues this year.  What's one more? 

So, because of my own [lack of] organizational skills, Sam's eye injury (for which, by the way, if you have prayed him through, we are so very grateful), and my general winter blues that seemed to come a little earlier this year, we delegated the writing of our annual Christmas letter to one of the kids this year.  And if you didn't receive one in the physical mail, I apologize for the oversight and ask that you accept this electronic version as a substitute.  I'm asking for grace this year.  Lots and lots of it.  Wish I was as good as giving it to myself. 

Merry Christmas, my friends.  May your 2015 be the best year yet!

Dear Friends and Family,
It seems that Mommy and Daddy are pressed for something called “spare time” these days, so they have gotten very good at delegating tasks in order to get things done around here.  That means, this year our annual Christmas letter is coming to you from me, Noah, since 2014 was my first year of life.  (And I’m the cutest.  That’s not relevant, but it’s true.)
In January, I watched Mommy entertain all of us in the waiting room of her OB’s office at naptime with loose items from her purse while waiting for Daddy to come and rescue us from certain boredom and mischief.  It was the best when she found those loose Smarties she’d been meaning to clean out for weeks.  I took careful notes from my big sister, Leah, as I watched her lick the kitchen sponge, eat two-day-old mac-n-cheese off the floor, and paint real nail polish on her face like lipstick.  Then, we took our first of many homeschool “field trips” of the year – this time to the urologist’s office to check out Mommy’s kidney stones.  (This was not one of our most favorites.)
In February, we went to Disney World for ten days.  Sarah was devastated that she wasn’t tall enough for Expedition Everest, Leah slept in a pack-n-play in the bathroom, and Daddy and Mommy made me my very own nest inside of a suitcase for a bed.  It’s okay, they left the lid open.
In March, Leah turned two, but it didn’t mean much to me since I wasn’t even allowed to try the cake.
In April, I perfected my pterodactyl impression.  Sometimes it’s hard to get your point across as the fifth child.  When you screech like a baby pterodactyl, you get results.  We took a quick work trip for Daddy to Maryland, during which I sang (or squawked like a large birdlike dinosaur for the duration of the drive depending on who you ask).  April was also the month Mommy took all of us kids to Target and made it to the cafĂ© for popcorn before she realized she left me and my stroller at the customer service desk.  I forgave her.  Actually, I slept through this, but I heard the stories.
In May, I watched Mommy cry tears of joy over Ben finishing his yearly math work.  She’s a bit obsessed with completing what she starts.  Ben celebrated with a cup of hot tea and a book.  Sarah turned five.  I still didn’t get any cake.
In June, I grew some horns on my head.  It’s okay, they went away as quickly as they appeared.  I helped Mommy and Daddy decorate their 2nd grade classroom for VBS, and by “help,” I mean I laid on the floor and took a nap while they did all of the work.  Abby was elated they were her teachers this year.  Ben, Abby, and Sarah all stole the show in the VBS musical.
In July, we took another whirlwind trip to Maryland to hang out with Grandmom and Grandpop.  I got my first taste of a good, old-fashioned Maryland snowball.  Then we all shivered because it was only 74 degrees that beautiful July evening.  (You know, because we’re from Georgia.) We also began our newest family hobby – geocaching.  This would take us on many, many adventures this year.
In August, we took a trip to the Emerald Coast for Mommy’s birthday.  You guessed it, still no cake for me.  But, I did eat a lot of sand.  I really started bonding with Leah.  She teaches me the coolest stuff, like how to cover every square inch of one’s body with diaper cream.
In September, Mommy frantically tried to cram as much “official” school in with Ben, Abby, and Sarah (the now kindergartner!) before leaving for our Most Epic Adventure yet, meticulously planned by Daddy.  Ben started Bible Quizzing, which is great because that means I’m the man of the house for 1.5 hours a week on Tuesday mornings.  On September 30th, we set off on our full-fledged cross country trip.  It was the beginning of a long partnership between me, my carseat, and the baby carrier.
In October, we covered 7,105 miles, found 190 geocaches, stayed at 18 different hotels across 27 days in 17 states, left 2 blankies behind, visited 1 zoo (unless you count Vegas), lost 1 tooth, and landed safely at home with 7 happy, tired Sheppards.

In November, I finally got to eat birthday cake.  Hooray!  But since my birthday is all the way at the end of the month, I kept my belly full of raw onion in the meantime.  (It’s the only thing I can reach in the pantry.  Leah taught me this too.)  My personality really started to shine at age One.  I love being mommied by my big sister, Abby (she even changes my diapers), and Sarah and Leah really know how to make me giggle.  I just tackle Ben.  He’s a good sport and lets me win.  Also, got my first set of black eyes.  The fireplace won that contest.

Finally, December.  I hope this month finds you well.  I have had to sit still for far too long typing this up, so I’m going to step away from the computer and run around the house, flashing my dimple, and stirring up mischief.  That’s what little boys do. 

Mommy and Daddy said it would be polite to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2015.  If you ever find yourselves in central Georgia, please come play with us! 
Love all year long,
Noah (and Sam, Jennie, Ben, Abby, Sarah, and Leah too!)

Be a Noticer (It's my blog - I'll make up words if I want to)

I missed the month of November.  No, really, what happened to it?  By the time I realized I wasn't listing out my daily gratitude for all of social media to read, the month was half gone.  And I can't start something halfway.  That's not my style.

Anyway, gratitude isn't something that should be confined to November anymore than celebrating [the birth of] Jesus should be confined to the month of December.  This is exactly the reason I made the executive decision as the self-dubbed Christmas Party coordinator for our Sunday School class to postpone our Christmas party until January.  Because what better to wipe away some Winter Blues with a party celebrating the reason for our hope?  There isn't one.  Thank you.  Gratitude is a choice.  A lifestyle.  And to balance out my last post which, to be honest, started out a little drearily, I'm tipping the scales toward the positive.  You know, like a yin for a yan, except not, because the whole Baptist thing. 

I've called out some folks in posts before - the ones who work hard Whatever They Do - the ones who show kindness to strangers whether its convenient or 100 degrees outside (and I know about these people because the stranger was me).  These are my favorite kind of people.  The ones who do it without glory or accolades.  The ones who are simply serving others because it's who they are or maybe who they have inside of them.  The ones who do the thankless tasks. 

"Thankless tasks" was a term my high school journalism teacher used on a regular basis.  I'm so glad he did because it really stuck with me.  He always noticed when someone would tidy up the newspapers or clean out the supply cabinet or wipe down the tables and sweep up the x-acto knifed shreds of paper on the floor.  Now, I intend to notice when others do the thankless tasks.  They aren't "thankless" at all.  It's like laundry.  It really piles up quickly when no one does it.  But no one really notices until everyone's out of clean underwear.

I'm an observer by nature.  I think most introverts are.  I watch people.  (Whoa, creepy.)  But I like to think I am an notice of the people who do the thankless things.  I always want to make them brownies or write them a card.  If I were endlessly wealthy, I'd give them all a gift card for some pampering or fine cuisine (everyone likes Sonic, right?). 

The welcome team at church that gets there 45 minutes before everyone else to man the doors and make guests and members feel at home.

The sanitation workers who faithfully remove the trash from my curbside week after week so that I don't have to carry it off to a dumpster.

The young man who bags my groceries at Publix and insists on helping me out to the car with them (without promise or hope of a tip) just because its their store policy to do so.

Every Chick-Fil-A employee who responds to my thank you with "My pleasure" like they sincerely mean it.

The young men walking in front of me who look behind them before running off and hold the door like gentlemen.

The janitorial staff.  Everywhere.

The receptionist that takes the most flack in the office, but always wears a smile.

The hospice nurse whose job it is to help people die comfortably.

The labor and delivery nurse whose profession is usually so joy-filled, but who sometimes also has to walk through the very darkest of hours with their patients.

The behind-the-scenes decorators who make seasons come alive and patrons feel warm and welcome.

The UPS man who works relentlessly during the holidays.

The volunteer soccer and basketball coaches who give up at least three hours a week to devote to each of my kids.

The volunteer firefighters who sacrifice family time, holidays, and sleep in their own beds to keep my family safe if the need arises.

The librarians who greet my kids like they are genuinely happy to see them walk through the doors and provide programs above and beyond the duty of a library.

The bathroom attendants at Target who make it a not-so-icky public bathroom into which I can take my brood to relieve themselves.

The cashier who works retail during the holidays but does not once, ever, grumble about working retail during the holidays. 

The Sunday School teachers and nursery workers who faithfully show up every Sunday to pour into my kids and the other kids at our church.

The spouses who stay on the homefront and singlehandedly care for their families day after day after day because their other half is somewhere far away, safe or not, protecting all of our families.

Do you see what I'm getting at here?  Maybe I'll get them all a hug this Christmas.

This season, I challenge you to be a noticer.  Not because I told you to.  But because it's a life-changer to pour into someone who is tired or lonely or downcast or weary or none of those things at all.  It's nice to be thanked.  It's just right to notice the people who do the thankless things.  Who give of themselves and expect nothing in return.  Let's give them something.  Let's give them our gratitude. It's as simple as a few life-giving words. 

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Others. All of them.

I hugged a homeless man the other day.  This isn't breaking news.  People do this all the time.  I'm just not usually one of them.  He and his sign caught my eye in the parking lot, and I did a full-on U-turn to get back to him.  I don't know what came over me - I'm guessing he really tugged at my heart that day because I had just finished reading the weather, and we were in the middle of a record-breaking cold snap here in Georgia.  He was an older gentleman with a sign that read "Family in Need" scrawled on a tiny piece of cardboard. 

I will be the first to admit that if they handed out scores for "social awkwardness" I'd score an A+ every time.  I fumbled over my words as I spoke with this man and offered him whatever I could find in my car at the time.  I said, "I'm so sorry.  It's so cold."  Then I said something which, in retrospect seems really stupid.  "Are you okay?"  He kept looking down at the ground and said, "I'll be okay."  I said to him, "I'm going to give you a hug."  And I hugged him and his jacket that was far too thin for the windy, cold conditions and said, "What else do you need?" 

He looked up for the first time and said, "That was it."

And right there, next to that homeless man, I cried.  We parted ways and his salutation was, "God bless you."  For all the things he lacked, what this man said he needed was a hug.  That was the simplest gift I have given in a very long time.

I wasn't going to tell this story.  I didn't even tell Sam that it happened.  I can't get this man off my mind.  And not just him, but all of the people who are in need and hurting.  Not just because it's Christmastime or cold, but because this world.  It's so broken. 

Right now without even straining I can think of people I know personally who have very recently lost a parent, who continue to endure unemployment, who have received devastating health news, who find themselves alone this holiday season because their cowardly husband opted to abandon his wife and children.

Can I tell you the one thing these people have in common that make their stories not-so-grim? 

They have Jesus. 

Every one of the people I cited above has every right to be hopeless and depressed by the world's standards.  But, each of them exemplifies a light in the dark that simply isn't possible without Him.  We aren't promised a life free from sorrow or pain or suffering, in fact, quite the opposite.  We are promised trials.  The good news is that whatever we are facing, no matter how painful, Jesus has been there first.  We aren't in this alone.  And that sheds a whole new light on dark times.

As a child of God, I endure this broken world and it rocks me to the core to see the hurt and the pain brought on by sin.  It's hard.  I cannot even imagine what it must look like without viewing it through the lens of the hope of Jesus.  But this world is not my home.  I have a hope that springs eternal. 

In the meantime, I plan to show a little of that hope to the people I encounter.  This Advent season, the herd of Sheps is taking it to the community - with a whole lot of random (and/or secret) acts of kindness.  We started a little early, in fact, because we were so excited.  We have been given much, and because we are entrusted with much, more is required of us.  We understand and we feel compelled to "pay it forward" of sorts.  But, it's not us.  It's all Jesus. 

We are stealing ideas from the following amazing resources:

Light 'Em Up! ~ from courtneydefeo.com
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness ~ from Coffee Cups and Crayons blog
100 Ways for Your Family to Make a Difference ~ from We Are THAT Family

I can already tell this is making a difference in our lives.

Others, Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be,
Help me to live for others,
That I may live like Thee.
~from Others, by Charles D. Meigs

Wishing you and yours the very best this Christmas season. 

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