Once in awhile I feel like I am back to being the 6th grade girl sitting alone on the bus with sticky, wet candy in her hair. Trying not cry. Wishing I had people I belonged to or were at ease with. Longing to be anyone but the new girl at my fourth California school who couldn’t summon up enough courage to speak even a “hello” to any of the other kids.

Chubby, shy by nature, and with a unique face kids often stared at, I’d already been through a lot by then. In kindergarten, the kids wondered aloud if I was from another country because of the shape of my eyes. In first grade, they commented on my little nose. By second grade, they would yell “Cabbage Patch Kid!” as they raced past me on the playground.

My one blessing, and the greatest of them all in my seven-year-old eyes, was my best friend Marci. She was a cool kid. She had confidence. She proudly hailed from New York. Most important of all, she was nice and she stood up for me. Hands on her hips she would yell back at the mean kids. Her envied freckles flaming, she would scrunch up her nose and give them a what-for. I always guessed it was because of her that I even got invited to parties. Kids like me usually were left out.

Then one early fall at the beginning of third grade, my mom and I moved to a new town. I found myself far away from the school I knew, away from Marci my Defender, and was plucked into a sequence of several years filled with new towns and new apartments. Which also meant new schools.

I was able to be inconspicuous at the first two new schools, mostly by reading alone by the classroom door at recess. Then I discovered band. I praise God for that. Learning how to play an instrument took my mind off the friends I still hadn’t made, opened a new place of wonder in my soul, and it also started to give me a little bit of a community I hadn’t been able to find as a shy kid. It wasn’t long until I did make a few good friends.

Then we moved in the middle of sixth grade. Twice. The first school that year was a monster of a junior high in a big town. It was navigating through asteroids in outer space. It was the rookie horrors of the P.E. locker room. My goal was to be invisible. I still hadn’t been able to get my “hello” out. I also didn’t feel like I mattered, compared with all the cliques and kids who already knew each other.

The second school was a K-6 elementary school. The hair candy bus school. I sat in the front near the bus driver while a small group of pretty, popular girls sat way in the back. The bus was mostly empty, and there was no one in between us. I heard a bunch of laughing. Then it got louder. I turned around and they all ducked, blond curls giving them away as the wind from the open windows whipped the tops of their hair around. Checking my own thick, permed hair to make sure it was in control, I felt the first Jolly Rancher. Then the second. I froze.

I lacked social skills, but I was a nice girl. I barely spoke to anyone. I was quiet, but full of love. I didn’t understand. Why me?

The school secretary found the third piece of wet, sucked on candy as they cut out the pieces for me. I couldn’t get them out myself. I’m not sure if I ever told my mom. I was humiliated. Thankfully, we moved again not long after that. Things got much better when I was able to stay in the same school district for the next five years. I came out of my shell a little more, although still shy enough that while I could talk to my band friends I could barely say “hello” to the students in my regular classes.

Thirty years later, I still think on that incident now and then. It comes to me in the moments when I notice others briefly glance at me, but make more of an eager effort to converse with the beautiful or fun people across the table. It makes me pause when I feel uninvited or left out. It haunts me when I feel not good enough.

I am much more outgoing these days. I’m better at conversations now. It may or may not be hard to tell, but there are still times when I’m secretly shaking in my boots when I talk to people. My confidence-in-training ebbs and flows like the oceans’s tide, but it strengthens with each small step of courage.

Despite all that, I am not sorry for my social hardships as a kid. Yes, the memories sometimes pain me in the moments when I feel lonely, but I know I still have growing to do. I could also make more of an effort on my part. Maybe accept more invitations. Or look for how people may need someone to talk to and listen to them, rather than hide in my own insecurities. It gives me opportunity to pray not only for myself, but for others like myself. And those times always draw me back to Jesus, who is now my most reliable and greatest best friend of all. He tells us He is with us always.

These days, I am not afraid to say “hello”. I make it my mission to smile and say hello to try to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I’m not Miss Sunshine 24/7…believe me, I have some cranky days! And I get in a sullen mood during some seasons. But within each child I meet, I can’t help but wonder if they have ever felt like I had when I was young. Within each adult, I imagine they may have had a painful, bullying experience, too…no matter what they look like. Or maybe they are having a rough day and need some friendliness.

I chose not to let exclusion break me into pieces. I found other things to hold unto while I grew my courage. Music, books, Jesus…journal writing. Eventually, I realized that even one person like me can make a difference in someone’s day who might be feeling alone. If just one word….”Hello”…can make things a little better for someone, then I’m going to summon up my courage and get it done.

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If you ever want to see a visual of how Christ can strengthen your life, just go tackle a vine. Until one summer two years ago, I’d only examined a vine once in my life, and at that time it was a baby vine. I saw the potential of its strength, but I had no idea how tenacious, resilient, and intricate a fully grown vine could be. My husband and I had let some things go because of the drought, and one morning I decided to try to remove a big ol’ vine bush from our backyard. Well…I sweat. My muscles ached. My back became sore, and even my breathing became labored! Not really having done ANY sort of yard work in my life, I had no idea such an innocent looking bush could be such a challenge!

But as I worked these words kept floating around in my head:

“I am the vine…I am the vine.”

“You are the branches.”

“Abide in me.”

The more I dug in with my trimmers, the more I discovered how this plant was so intricate, so strong…so amazingly beautifully ugly. It was imperfect and unkempt, like how I feel on a daily basis. Yet even in a drought it persevered, grew, and formed a weave of sturdy branches…some wider than my thumb! The vines were tangled, yet glowed a vibrant green…what I thought was ugly slowly became beautiful strength in my eyes.

“I am the vine…you are the branches…abide in me.”

When we abide in Christ, we do that by reading the bible to know Him and how He would handle situations…we pray and do not lose hope, even when things seem hopeless or we don’t understand why He didn’t answer the way we begged Him to…we trust Him…we are conscious that He is ever beside us. And if we abide in Him, the result? We are the branches!!!! Those strong, tougher than nails branches which make the bad things more difficult to penetrate and affect us. Yes, I was able to cut those thick branches, but not without grunting, Herculean effort (for me, at least!)…if we have that strength in us, how much harder will it be for others to try to attack us, hurt us, or to allow ourselves to give in to despair, jealousy, and fear??? Many days pass when I do not read the bible as much as I’d like to in order to gain and be reminded of this strength that comes from Jesus…I’ve felt the disconnect when trying to pray…but after seeing this real-life example, I can’t help but want to run to my bible and dig in!!!

“I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” -John 15:5

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There is nothing wrong with my brain, but I often forget what day it is…because of busyness or sometimes lack of planning…and usually it’s not a problem until I am running out the door with my dinner plate literally in my hands and eating as I’m scurrying off to somewhere I forgot to go to.

Mostly, if it’s summertime, I just want to put on the brakes and stay home and listen to the hummingbirds in the backyard—the half dozen that beckon me…their zerps and meeps creating a swashbuckling musical that carries from the northwest corner of our yard all the way through to the southeast corner of our kitchen. Hopefully, they’ll be back this year even though their beloved tree had to be cut way back and is currently a bare, gnarly and angry thing stoically withstanding the rain.

I love when the hummingbirds swoosh past my ears and I don’t know if they are playing or fighting. Sometimes they sword fight each other with their long beaks when they flit this way and that as they zig zag their way down the length of the tree, in a pattern much like (yet infinitely nicer than) a pinball machine. I wonder sometimes why I like humming birds so much.

Is it because I also cannot sit still? That my heart and mind are constantly thrumming a rhythm of “whatcanwedonow? ohwhatcanwedo?”?

Kindred spirits we are, the hummingbirds and I. That’s a little bit of summertime happiness I hang onto when the leaves begin to fall and the tree berries begin to drop and there is no more happy juice on the hummingbird tree… The visits become less and less until its just another summer to look forward to, another winter past. This time, if they return I will sit and listen to them, and once again memorize their presence.

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I doubt I could ever articulate just how important every person I cross paths with is to me…some more than others, of course…but each person has their own unique piece of the puzzle in my life. Even the rude person who cuts in line. 

I have my favorites and my not-so-favorites, but I find that with each soul I meet (or even those I see across the way and never meet) more often than not I find myself wondering “What is their story?” “How are they so remarkable/unique?” “Are they happy?” “Do they twirl under the stars?

And in turn, it forces me to ask the same questions of myself…which is good, because the other night I looked up at the stars for the first time in a long time, and I’m just now remembering that even though I’ve been around for decades now it’s okay to take a break and twirl. 

So thank you, people of the world.

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In the middle of a hectic, stressful morning that had barely begun, I dropped my Bible and my grandpa’s bookmark fluttered to the ground face up with his name boldly printed across the front. I hadn’t seen it in awhile…it’s like he was there to say once again “Hang in there, kid”…and just like that, everything was alright.

Twelve years ago, he passed away suddenly. It was just ten days before my wedding. We were so close. Memories upon memories. He taught me so much. He would read three major newspapers each morning before going off to work.  When I was really young and learning all the words in the world, he would pass each section of the newspaper to me and tell me to circle all the words I didn’t know. Next I was to look them all up in the dictionary. I delighted in that task. He did so much for me, he made so many things possible.

Most of all, he taught me how to be tolerant, compassionate, and kind. To tolerate noisy people and mean customers and broken-down cars. Taking it one step further, he made me realize that noisy people and mean customers and broken-down cars all have a story that some choose to tell loudly and some choose to grumpily not tell. And not only should I give them grace and be understanding, but that I should extend a hand or a smile to show them kindness even if they didn’t show it to me or give it back in turn. Also, that I may be the one who will need to be given grace when I am grumpy, too.

It took me a long time to be able to say his name or talk about him without crying. He was well loved. I am thankful that he believed in Jesus, that we had a relationship with Christ in common. He had a lot of hardships, but he was never without a smile or a funny voice for us grandkids. I got to spend my youth with him and most of my 20s. But nobody told me how cool my 30’s (and now my 40’s) were going to be. I would’ve liked to share those with him, too.

For now, I look forward to someday reuniting with him and all the others I have loved with all my heart. Family members and friends gone so soon. I am thankful for the comfort of God’s love. That he numbs our pain when we first lose someone, and then we intensely feel the loss that ebbs and flows for awhile…and then finally that point we reach when we can smile when we talk about them and chuckle when their bookmarks fall out of our bibles on a hairy day…when our heart glows with warm memories and we know that all is well.

Thank you, Lord, for my Papa.

“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.'”

– Matthew 5:4

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When life is not quite sailing along the way we think it should be, we cannot allow our spinning wheels to cause us to forget the miracles, gifts, and answered prayers that God has blessed us with. Remembering those good things alone can turn a scary or frustrated thought into a much needed smile. 

Take a quiet moment and be still today. God is in control…we need not worry so much. We can rest in Him and give Him our burdens. Praise Him for the good things in your life because, if we take the time to look around us, there is much to be thankful for. The list of what’s going wrong may be piling up, but give some extra attention to what is going well. Doing that, you may find that you will be able to move forward much easier than if you dwell on the negatives.

In your still, silent moment, listen for His voice of compassion and grace. Take a moment to breathe in His goodness and sovereignty. Ask Him for wisdom, and receive His love. He is waiting for you.

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” -Psalm 46:10-11 (NIV)

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It was one of those mornings when I woke up wondering what day it was. After being completely exhausted all week long, I finally slept THAT well. Too well, because all I wanted to do was snuggle deeper into the covers and go back to dreaming. Work beckoned, however, and couldn’t be avoided. I thought to myself, “I’m going to throw on some jeans and wear yellow”.

Yellow is possibly the friendliest and most uplifting color in the world. It says hello to us through the daffodils and sunflowers. It greets us in the morning as the sun begins to rise. For me, it is a beautiful reminder of hope and perseverance.

Well, I didn’t have any yellow to wear that day, but then the sun began to shine…and I guess once in awhile that’s all it takes to feel that little zing of happiness begin to awaken. Sometimes just recalling the love Jesus has for us via little gifts like sunshine, flowers, and vivid colors of life is all we need to rise to meet the day. Each morning begins with hope. Hope and love. Know that you are loved, and then go have a terrific day.

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  -Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV)

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