"I've learned that the best way to live is to look for God in the church of the small things. The church of the small things is where God does his best work.
The church of the small things is where the majority of us live every single day."
It was the fluttery way the early morning light played off of the hot pink roses along the fence line and onto my studio window that made me stop work and take notice.
That morning light led me to noticing other small, ordinary things all throughout the day.
*A contented sigh at that first sip of home-brewed coffee when my sleepy house sleeps and I tiptoe to my studio to write.
*The garden bunny nibbles our grass in our backyard while the wind sways the trees and birds swoop low over the patio.
*The way the Blueberry says his i's like y's as in "yeyo", "yuv" and "baby beyuga". Raffi is back y'all.
*The determined way Sweet Pea runs fast with her head down and her whole body pitched forward.
*How I get to share my morning coffee pot with my Ryan for just a few more months before she gets married and flies the nest. Soon, I will have the whole pot to myself and another bedroom will be empty in the house.
I recently made a freckle list for just these sorts of things, ordinary things that make me smile, make me thankful, and bring out the freckles on my nose. These are also the things in life that might be easy to miss when we are always looking ahead rather than right under our freckled noses.
I was thinking about such tiny things when I saw the title of a new book roll across my Instagram feed, Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle.
I LOVED the title immediately. It only took a total of about three seconds to see that I would love Melanie's writing, and her heart, too.
To start with, Melanie asked the very question I asked while in the sticky-fingered mess of raising my own four Whippersnappers. There were so many days I felt life had just gone off and left me behind.
"Is my ordinary, everyday life actually significant? Is it ok to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office and cooking chicken for dinner?"
I tell my daughters so, but Church of the Small Things helped me connect with my own million little pieces of life, the bitter and the sweet, and say exactly why.
Melanie is a New York Times bestselling author of three other books, but I must live under a rock, because I have only just discovered her writing.
And how exactly is that for a faith-filled Texas girl who loves the Pioneer Woman, the Sweet Potato Queen and all things Fanny Flagg?
By some miracle, I landed on Melanie's book launch team. I say miracle because, not only had I never in my life read one of her books, but I am also Not-an-Aggie. I am a tea-sipper. For those of you unaware, that means I went to The University of Texas at Austin, which is many things, but mostly not A & M. If you have ever wondered about God working in mysterious ways, now you know.
Church of the Small Things reminded me of things I had not thought about in a long time, like the power of a Casual Corner suit, the taste of a Frito Pie right out the bag, the smell of Bonne Bell Lipsmakers (Dr. Pepper anyone?), the fools gold of a Trans Am and the blessings of a good Daddy. Her writing made me laugh out loud and call my Daddy and my Gulley.
A Gulley is a best friend in for the long haul of life who does real life right alongside you, sharing storms and road trips with all the kids, their arguments and their vomit, while raising you up like the best rising tide.
I have more than one Gulley in my life but one thing I know, there is constancy, buoyancy and so many children between us that we cannot go anywhere in a single vehicle. I can call her up no matter how long it's been and we just pick right up wherever we left off, "so like I was saying a year ago".
You'll want to read about Gulley yourself.
Church of the Small Things is all about the tiny, charming, funny and profound but often overlooked parts of life. Those things that can pass right in front of us unappreciated for how slow and steady they move, like the hour hand of a clock. These really are the million little pieces that make up a life. Some are bitter, some are sweet. Lately, more and more are bittersweet.
Life is what is happening all around us while we're waiting for the thing we hope will give us some sort of inner peace. The problem is that when we and if that thing happens, we usually enjoy it for all of three-and-a-half minutes before realizing nothing in us has fundamentally changed.
Our hair still doesn't look like Connie Britton's and were still not as funny as Tina Fey, and so we decide it's the next big thing that will finally make us truly happy.
Meanwhile, we're ignoring the fact that we woke up that morning with air in our lungs, had a cup of hot coffee, and laughed on the phone with a friend.
See why I needed to started my own freckle list?
The absolute best stuff is right under our noses.
For me, that includes people like my own little sister, Lori and even little-er brother, Patrick. My Mama always told us our best gifts were each other. Sometimes, it took us a while to believe that.
"I know I'm not the only child of the 70's who spent countless hours trying to sleep on the floorboards or in the back window of a Buick Le Sabre."
Change that to sleeping on the floorboards of the Ford Country Squire station wagon, the blue one with wood-grain contact paper, and you've got my childhood.
But then, my little sister and I made my little brother curl up in the wheel-well so we girls could stretch out feet-to-waist in the back seat, playing Skipper and Barbie. Before that, Patrick got to sleep in the back window of the sky blue VW bug, be the family dog and resident bad student when we played school.
Why do bossy girls love a red pen so?
No wonder he hit me full force with a wet rag mop when he was about ten and I was fifteen.
We had things to work out, me being a bossy-butt for one. And Mama was right. We really did need each other. She did not give up teaching us to be at least as kind and caring to each other as we were to our neighbors down the street or our friends at school.
Like it or not, our siblings will be part of our story for much longer than just about anyone else.
When my Kate was about 9-years-old, she went on the thrilling adventure of spending the night with my brother and his wife, Missy. When Kate started throwing up at two in the morning (of course) and wanted her own mama, they met me in the Walmart parking lot. They handed her to me in clean clothes, wrapped in a fresh blanket and complete with Sprite they bought at the Stop-n-Rob along the way. Then they went home to do loads of laundry, all bossy-butts and rag mops forgotten.
Even though we were closer growing up, Lori and I had our own sister rivalry going. When we were maybe eight and six, we shared an attic room. Now I am no neat-nik, but my sister liked to change her clothes about a million times a day. The problem for me was she just left her discarded clothes wherever the mood for a fresh totally-matching-outfit-right-down-to-the-undies struck, which was usually on my bed, in my closet or sitting at my desk.
How else can she keep her side of the room tidy?
She drove me so crazy, that I actually drew a chalk line down the exact center of the room under the roof peak and announced she stay on her side. This would be difficult when her habit was to fall asleep in her bed and wake up in mine. I'm pretty sure she just slowly smudged that mean ol' line, crossing it every night until it disappeared. Thank goodness.
I finally got over myself one day by sneaking up on her in the middle of outfit change #425 and yelling, "Boo!". I had carefully missed the one creaky step up to the attic, making the shock so perfect that she ripped her eyelet-trimmed panties with the one leg poised to enter the leg hole and fell down on my side of the room where she happened to be standing at the time. To this very day, she still has a thing about outfits matching just so, and we still laugh about the whole thing.
Fast forward to just the other day, when Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas. My darling sister in what I suspect was an adorable matching outfit invited my oldest daughter, her husband, 2 year-old toddler AND 95 pound dog to stay at her house until it was safe to return to theirs. She fed them good food and played on the floor with Sweet Pea all while getting her own Game Warden husband ready to head right into the aftermath of Harvey for emergency rescue and clean up.
So from this end of raising four little wolves, let me encourage you. Do not give up trying to teach your children and yourself, the enduring value and eventual blessings of kin. It takes some years and some getting over our own selves, but in the end they really can be some of our dearest friends, and certainly over the 18-wheeler that is this life.
These sorts of small, everyday things that Melanie brings out in her writing, things about true friendship, everyday marriage, road trips with the kids, beloved family dogs, being a mama and ordinary childhood, bring us together as humans. And always there is Jesus holding all the pieces of life in his hand. Melanie writes with heart and grit, grace and a good belly laugh.
If I ever meet Melanie in my everyday life, I will hug her neck and tell her she helped me taste the small hidden sweetnesses poured into my life like honey from the sky, but which was right on my own pantry shelf next to the baking soda.
Melanie made me want to be a better Gulley myself, call home, and both my little brother and sister just to hear their voices and say, "Remember when . . .?" and "Thank you!".
She made me dig out these photos and say, "Poor Santa!".
Or even better, visit Church of the Small Things and grab a copy for you and your Gulley. Do it before October 3, 2017 and get all of the pluses for free. The animal posters alone will make you smile, but there are recipes too.
If you preorder, you can start reading a few chapters immediately. If you fly through that, then grab a copy of any other book by Melanie Shankle and let the sweet laughter begin.
And while you wait on those to arrive, begin noticing the small things in your own life and say thanks to God above.
You might even start your own freckle list.
Afterwards, no matter what your day brings, your eye will be more keen, and your steps plus your heart just a little lighter.
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