Back to school.

Those words haven’t meant much to me, since it’s only just this year that my oldest has gone off to Kindergarten. It actually feels a lot like last year, since she did Pre-K. But last year, my friends, was nothing like this year.

I know back to school is about, well, kids going back to school. But it’s also about the teachers and parents too! Mine is fairly independent she hardly turned back around to kiss me goodbye. So since it didn’t seem traumatizing for her, I am left thinking about how it feels for the mamas. Because when you are a new mom, to a new school, with it’s rules (both written and unwritten) it’s overwhelming.  I am usually not a very anxious person, but that first week last year just about did me in. I didn’t know where to park, (rather what to do when there were not spots left even though I showed up 15 minutes), I somehow couldn’t keep track of which day was regular uniform and which was PE (and a free color day mixed in there) so my daughter came to school wearing the wrong thing the first four days of class. She of course didn’t even notice, but I actually cried hot and angry tears that fourth day. I also didn’t know if I was allowed to let my other two littler children play on the school playground before school started, because some siblings were and others were not. And regarding packing a lunch, I somehow managed to botch that one too. I didn’t know that recess was actually pretty short, and here I was packing her a 3 course lunch for the day. I finally figured it out when my daughter begged me to not pack so much food because she didn’t have time to eat and play. Yes, she had been missing both recesses every day because she thought she had to eat everything in her lunch. Fail!

But this year was different. And because my head wasn’t stuck up my butt worrying about myself, my daughter, and what on earth was going on, I could actually look up and see what was going on around me.

And it was beautiful.

It was sort of like people watching at the airport, with the long hugs, teary faces, and a little bit of confusion all mixed in. Note: I am in the Pre-K and K section, hence the more abundance of tears. I saw one couple run and take cover behind a tree when they dropped of their little one, close enough to hear if their kid was okay, but most certainly to hide. Another mom I know was putting her 3rd child in Kindergarten, the last one to leave the house, and what a sweet and emotional time for them both. One little girl was crying, just crying and crying and everyone passed her parents with sincere looks of understanding. And of course lots of chatting (both awkward and not as much) catching up with familiar faces you didn’t see over the summer.

And slowly, every single parent got back into their car and left. Some to continue with the regular rhythm of work, others to return to an empty house which hasn’t been empty of little people in the morning time in years and years. Others loitered, probably unsure what to do with this new found freedom. Freedom that as parents we find ourselves feeling simultaneously giddy, sad, apprehensive, and overwhelmed. We don’t know if we want to do a jig all the way back to the car, or cry our eyeballs out. Such a strange feelings this first week of school brings.

So I took some advice of a dear friend, and whispered in my daughter’s ear. I encouraged her to be brave and kind. And to look for someone who might be having a rough day, someone new, someone perhaps a little scared. I remind her to be a sweet friend. And as I told her those things, and kissed her sweet face and sent her into Kindergarten, I couldn’t help but about myself. How I should do the same, walk into my day looking at the moms around me dealing with the same back to school drop off cocktail of emotions, and be kind to them. And tell myself to brave as well. Because going back to school is hard- and amazing- for every student, parent, (and teacher!!) the world over.

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One is silver and the other is gold.

Does anyone wanna talk about the day after the fun? The days following a super awesome vacation? Or the non-stop family togetherness and spoiling? Because those days, those are the days that feel, so, ordinary. Usually it’s a welcomed feeling, a deep satisfaction that comes from sleeping in your own bed, on your own pillow. There is something delicious about being in your own space after traveling.

The mounds of laundry are done, the house is cleaned and aired out from being cooped up, and the pantry is re-stocked. We’ve been back to normal in our own home  for a few weeks now, and it’s feels delightfully calm. Quiet. Normal.

But maybe a little too quiet.

We miss our cousins. Our Grandma’s. Our Aunts and Uncles. Our dear friends. Going back for a visit is good for our relationships, our hearts, in order to stay connected across the miles. But it’s also hard because we see a glimpse of the life we’re not living next to them. Sure, it’s a life that we chose, but that doesn’t mean we enjoy every aspect of it. People who have moved away from everything familiar understand this tension. Some have moved for a job, others are chasing a dream, or pursuing career goals, or simply trying out a new adventure.

But the feelings are usually the same. It’s complicated, multi-layered. Some weeks and months, if I’m being completely honest,  it’s kinda nice to live without any family obligations, birthday parties every weekend, get togethers that fill up the calendar. But it’s also those same gatherings, being held without us, that sometimes make my heart ache. It’s probably because we actually like our family, and being with them usually reminds us how incredible that fact is. You put a lot of people together that you didn’t particularly choose, and add in their spouses and children and that creates a gaggle of people you’re kinda of stuck with for life.

I’m pretty thankful for the people I’m stuck with. They are really great.

And the people that aren’t our family, well gosh they are kinda stellar too. Life has scattered us and them, and we find ourselves far from many of those gems. But they are still gems, and they still radiate and sparkle, and attract others to themselves. And even though we move away from the special people in our lives, or they move away from us, two amazing things can happen. We can stay in touch. And we can meet new people, who can become our people. Not to replace our old people, obviously they are never replaceable, but more so because having face to face relationships is really important.

But all of that isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work. It requires effort, and time, and energy. And sometimes, we don’t have any of those things. Sometimes life is just so, full, that mustering up what is needed to keep old relationships alive and start new ones is just too daunting.

But today, on this day, I’d like to encourage you (and myself!) to keep at it. Relationships are always worth it. People are always worth it. Making new friends, and keeping the old? Always worth it. For “one is silver and the other is gold” said a kind and wise woman, who taught me that song in Kindergarten. And man, she was right.

You just might fall in love.

Obedience to Jesus is a daily thing. It’s unpredictable, and it’s fluid. It can change and morph because people change and morph. Because He chooses to use people FOR people, and that is a complex and fluid thing. We can’t say we’ll love on our neighbors but only for this amount of time and in only in ways that are possible with my schedule and the limited time I have. It doesn’t work that way. We are either in or we’re out. We either obey, or we don’t. We don’t get to pick and choose. It’s the whole package, it’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus and to following Him.

It might be like signing up for a half marathon. This example comes to mind since I’ve been running a lot more these days. (I think I’m trying to run all the stress and anxiety right out of my body!) Two years ago I signed up for one.You sign up thinking it will be fun and great motivator to get in shape. Because some of your friends have fed you that lie, you know, your runner friends. But you do enjoy the first few weeks of training, smiling to yourself as you go on your one mile runs, every other day, thinking this half marathon stuff isn’t so bad. And then you have your first real run. You know, the longest distance you’ve ever ran in your entire life. Which has been like 4 miles up until this point. Running seven miles feels like you are dying. You start to get chaffing in areas you didn’t know could chafe. Your feet feel funny, your knee hurts. Your hips  are aching, why are they aching? What is going on? You have run out of good music, because who knew, when you run for 7 miles, that’s like running for a loooooooong time. If you are super slow, like me, it is about an hour and a half.  And this goes on for months. Apparently some people can just show up and run 13.2 miles, but the rest of us normal, non-runner type people, we have to train months and months to be able to run that far, and that long. And then race day comes. It finally comes, which is terrifying and exciting at the same time. You haven’t actually ran 13 miles yet, you’ve only made it to 10. But the trainers, the people who know what they are doing, say that isn’t necessary. They believe all that training will carry you through, and the race day adrenaline will push you right through those 3 miles you’ve never run before.

Two years ago for me, race day came. I didn’t sleep very well the night before, not just because I was anxious about the big race, but also because I was in a hotel with my husband and 2 small children, who of course woke up every two hours confused where they were and wanting to snuggle with mommy.  I took the bus to the start of the race. There was something sort of magical in the air, this strange feeling of comrodery as everyone else was getting ready to run.  Some people were excited and chatty (those annoying morning people), some were quiet and pensive and others looked like me, slightly nauseous and unsure what to think of all this. Thankfully, thank the Lord Almighty, I was with a friend. Three of us from Houston signed up together, and ran a few times together over the course of our training. This morning, we decided to start together and stick together as long as we wanted/were able. I had never enjoyed running with anyone up until this point. It always felt strained and awkward, what if I am faster than her? More plausible, what if she is faster than me and I am slowing her down? And for goodness sakes, what about the talking.  It gives me such anxiety. I can’t talk when I run. I can hardly breath. So then we’re just supposed to run by each other silently? With headphones in, without? I don’t know what to do! But race day feels different, all bets are off, and we are all there just to finish. To run it, do our best, and try not to fall on our face.

So we start out together. The first mile goes by fast, as we navigate through the crowd. We can’t run very fast, the herd is too thick. I smile as we pass the Alamo, that’s right, the Alamo. My first half marathon is running through San Antonio, past a historic site I’ve always wanted to visit and just never have. I grab my phone, try to take a photo, and laugh at how fun this is. What was I so afraid of?

Cue mile 7. It’ s a hill. I tell my friend, through my gasps, to just go on ahead, I have to walk this baby. Houston, where we lived at the time and where I trained, has zero hills. Not even a gentle incline anywhere. Thankfully, she too wants to walk, having also trained in the land of no hills. We reach mile 9. I’m done. I hate my life. With every single step I cannot stop thinking how much I hate my life. Why did I sign up for this? Why did I pay money to do this?! I tell her go. I have to walk. I’m done. She begs me to continue, pleads at me with some words, and mostly her eyes. I cant. I stop. She gets ahead of me, one step at a time as I walk with my hands on my hips. And then, right before she disappears from my site, I think “oh my gosh, If I don’t stay with her, I will walk the rest of the way. I won’t make it alone.” And with all my remaining energy I run towards her. Fast, quick, with numb legs. I am yelling but she can’t hear me. I look insane I’m well aware. I catch up to her, gasping for air. When I touch her arm she jumps, for she is back in the zone with her headphones on. She laughs and hugs me. And we slow down a bit so I can catch my breath. I’m so thankful for her. The next mile I see my family. We turn the corner and there they are. My husband is frantically waving so I don’t miss them. The kids are strapped into the double jogger with a sign that says, “Hurry home mama, we need a snack” I laugh out loud, and run to them and hug them. There are tears in my eyes! What in the world? Why am I crying? They are encouragement just when I needed it, oh how it does my soul so good to see them. The next two miles feel tortuous. I have to tell myself, again and again, you can do this. You birthed a child. You are amazing. You pushed a human being out of you, this is nothing. Man, we women are amazing huh?! Anyway, it worked. That thought carried me to the end, where I stumbled over the finish line. I grabbed my free juice, water, oranges, and high fives from strangers. I was laughing, wincing, the feeling of relief and accomplishment sweeping over me in waves.

Wow, that took a really long time to get to my point. My point is this, obeying God can be like a non runner trying to run a half marathon. We sign up to run the race, to obey God, and somehow we’ve disillusioned ourselves into believing it won’t be hard. Or we won’t have aches, pains, problems, times we question our sanity. That somehow we can run the race, heck even finish it, without training. Practicing. Failing. Trying again and again. Not to mention, we run it better when we are running it with others. Something I honestly, 100% didn’t see coming. I never like running with anyone until that day. Without Stephanie by my side, I most certainly wouldn’t have ran the whole thing. I might have finished, much later and having walked a large majority of it. But I did better, my best, with someone by my side.

We need to train.  We need to practice listening to our coach, trusting the training schedule. Putting our trust in the one who has run a race before, and knows from experience what we need. If we desire to obey God, then we have to practice it. We have to push through the awkward. We need to strengthen our obedience muscles, the ones that will obey when everything else inside of us or around us screams we are done. The muscles are what keep us going, the parts of us we have trained to say “I don’t care how you feel, this is what we signed up for.”  Keep going, just until that next tree. Just until that light. Around the next corner. Because, until I actually ran a hard race, I didn’t know how hard running can be. But I also didn’t know how amazing it was either. I didn’t know my body could be pushed like that, I didn’t know what I was capable of. And somewhere, in the midst of the pain and the aches and the pavement and the sky, and the sound of my own heart beating, I fell in love.  I fell in love with running. It made me better, made me work hard, made me do something I honestly thought I could not do.  Because sometimes the really tough things are the most beautiful things. And if I would have quit that race, I never would have experienced that. And I can’t help but think, the same goes for the race we are running with Jesus. If we just want the finish line, the glory and accomplishment at the end, but don’t want to run through the blisters, sore muscles, and awkward parts, then we miss it. We don’t get to see, feel, breathe, ache, enjoy, struggle as we run the race if we quit when it gets hard. And, obeying Jesus is hard. But just like running, if we can push through the hard things in life and obey Him through the little and big ways, then we might just come out on the other side. And when that happens, I’m convinced we’ll come out even more in love with Him.