The Good Shepherd

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,

and they follow me. I give them eternal life,

and they will never perish, and no one will

snatch them out of my hand.

-John 10:27-28-

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One of the hardest things about being a single parent is the endless stream of decisions that must be made solo. Where to live, how to educate, the best ways to spend time and money, which memories are the most formative and important, which relationships to invest in, and the list goes on. There are days when I would give anything to go back in time to Nathan getting a job in Houston. I’d signed on with him, so we packed up everything and went – “following the leader, wherever he will go.” Though a cross-country move was not easy, it was infinitely simpler than the ever-present internal battle raging in my brain, which tends to overthink everything and seek everyone’s advice…a fine trait except it inevitably lands you in the crossfires of twenty different opinions, desperately searching for your own amidst the mental chaos.

This season in particular finds me at a crossroads, where the decisions made in the next few months will likely determine the trajectory of our lives for years to come. The magnitude of these decisions can be paralyzing. I am terrified of making the wrong decisions, missing or misunderstanding God, and landing my daughter in therapy. My gut recourse is to reason everything out, make lists of pros and cons, talk to everyone I know and respect and narrow the decisions down to the most logical ones that the most people agree on. But where am I in all this? What about the whispers of dreams that God has been planting in my heart for my entire life? Why am I so ready to go along with the majority vote, cashing in my own opportunity to know and be led by the Shepherd of my soul? Of course there is great value in the advice of friends and family and we were never meant to go it completely alone – but am I clinging to what’s right there in front of me rather than withdrawing to hear the voice of God speak directly to my heart?

Recently some lovely people at church prayed for me, and their prayers centered around the concept of knowing Christ as my Shepherd. They prayed that both me and Elissa would hear His voice and be filled with a sense of Him leading us. I clung to that word for dear life, realizing that I’ve allowed the voice of my Savior to be crowded and all but stifled by the clamoring voices filling my head. I never mentioned those prayers to Elissa, but that night at dinner she said, with a mouth full of burger, “Guess what Mom! God is our Shepherd, and He leads us!” Wow. Talk about out of the – full – mouths of babes…a direct download of truth to my heart and hers. I didn’t even need to share this with her; her good Shepherd instilled it right in her heart. As Jesus prayed in Matthew 11, “I thank you, Father…that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

Accepting Jesus as my Shepherd, my Leader, my Lord necessitates a radical lifestyle change. Just as He rose early, while it was still dark, to be alone and commune with His Father, I must create the time and the solitude in my life to withdraw and receive my daily briefing. There can be no clear direction in a life abuzz with activity, a brain clouded by a constant stream of social media, an atmosphere of noise and distraction. I must be radical – not just for my own sake, but because I am modeling for my daughter how to be a woman built on the solid rock of God’s truth. Hearing His voice is absolutely vital to our survival! “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4)

Whose voice am I following? My pastor’s? An author’s? The consensus of my small group? Or is my ear finally attuned to the voice of my Creator, who calls me by name and leads me out of my safe, sheltered existence – along a rocky trail, through the valley of the shadow of death, to springs of radical and abundant life? I pray that I won’t settle for anything less.

Raising a Real-Life Princess

"It is love that marks a true daughter of the King."

- Angela Elwell Hunt -

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When I was a girl, princesses and royalty were neither here nor there. I was much more interested in street hockey and lightsaber battles with my brothers than in Cinderella, Jasmine, or Pocahontas. I grew up in a conservative home where most Disney movies were off-limits (I watched them for the first time as a teenager when I was babysitting!), and I had no aspirations to raise my children steeped in fairytale lore. But from the moment I held my own little princess in my arms, everything pink and sparkly and whimsical pulled me in. I suddenly wanted to dress my girl and decorate her room to reflect the royalty I instinctively felt in her. Little did I know that within the first few weeks of Elissa's life, she would encounter a shattering loss much like those that shape many of Walt Disney's famous princesses. When she was less than a month old, Elissa lost her daddy. Like my baby girl, the Disney princesses are no strangers to heartache. Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan grow up without a mother. Aurora and Rapunzel spend their childhoods separated from their parents. Tiana's father dies, leaving her to carry out their dreams alone. Elsa and Anna's parents are lost at sea. And the list goes on. Nearly every princess has suffered a traumatic loss early in childhood that shapes them and makes them a heroine. 

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I took Elissa on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World for her fourth birthday, and she was in princess heaven. She spent hours waiting in lines to meet the princesses and get pictures and autographs. In her four-year-old grasp of reality, she was meeting the actual princesses! She chose to forego rides, treats, and toys in favor of filling her autograph book. We were both enchanted! Watching her, spellbound and starry-eyed in the presence of royalty, my heart swelled with gratefulness that she has such wholesome role models to look up to. As she gets older and learns more of these princess's stories, she will identify with them in the pain of their losses. She will be inspired by Aurora's grace, Belle's beauty, Rapunzel's courage, Ariel's bravery, and Cinderella's kindness. She will see that, rather than pitying themselves and their circumstances, these young women chose to rise above the pain of loss and touch the world around them with extraordinary kindness and grace. And so I unashamedly dress my daughter in beautiful dresses, reenact princess stories with her for hours, and read the same beloved tales until we can both recite every word. I want her to know without a doubt that she IS a princess, a daughter of the one true King, and be inspired to live out her own compelling drama on earth with the life she's been given. 

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Wasted

If the most precious gift we have is time—

Why would we want to kill it?

-Ben Sasse-

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 I vividly remember getting ready for bed late one night years ago in Houston as Nathan pounded steadily away on his laptop, working on a dashboard he was creating in his “off hours” for Literacy Advance, the nonprofit whose board he had joined as a volunteer earlier that year. Finally, at my urging, he reluctantly powered down the laptop and called it a night.

“Why do people have to sleep?” he groaned as he flopped on the bed beside me. “It’s such a waste of time. We could accomplish so much more in life if we just stayed awake!”

I remember being amazed at his tenacity. After a long day of work I was more than ready to snuggle down in my cozy bed and surrender consciousness to blissful hours of sleep. But to Nathan, coming home from work was just the beginning of a long evening of tasks he was passionate about and couldn’t wait to start.

My conviction that Nathan was truly one of a kind in this regard has only grown in the years since he’s been gone. Our generation is increasingly obsessed with all manner of time-killers, particularly in the electronic form. Netflix binging, games, social media, and communication forms of all kinds steal our time in staggering amounts. A personal example is the book list I made at the beginning of 2018. I excitedly chose 12 books of different genres and posted a photo, vowing to read a book a month and write a book review so I didn’t promptly forget what I’d read. To my utter chagrin I finished a total of three books and only wrote reviews on two. To be fair, I listened to other books on Audible and read many chapter books with Elissa – but I am haunted by the nine books on my list that never even got cracked open last year. What stole the time that I should have devoted to reading and digesting those books?

If I am honest, it was the mindless rut that I fell into every evening after Elissa was in bed. Exhausted from a day of parenting struggles, homeschooling, traveling, home projects, and all manner of other things, I’d reason that I owed it to myself to relax, to chill – i.e. to veg on my phone while the evening slipped away from me. The inevitable result was that I never felt rested and invigorated by that time spent on my phone. Instead I was always shocked to realize what time it was. I felt robbed of those minutes that I’d had such high hopes for; they were stolen from me. They were wasted.

Our phones are addicting, and have been ingeniously engineered to meet our specific habits and preferences in such a tailor-made way that they become indispensable to living. The average American checks their phone every 4 minutes, and if you’re like me, “checking my phone” can quickly turn into chasing a rabbit trail that spirals out of control – clicking this link, reading that article, scrolling those photos – and before I know it 20 minutes have been lost forever.

If I’m going to break the hold that media has on me, I need to be smarter than my smartphone. I need to take a careful look at my electronic habits, anticipate the moments when I’m tired or stressed and most susceptible to distraction, and set myself up for success. This might mean keeping my phone in my bedroom, silencing my notifications so that I’m only alerted to phone calls (this was the original purpose of a phone anyhow, and if the need is urgent people can call!), designating 5-10 minutes each day to catch up on social media (because guaranteed, nothing has happened in a day that deserves more than 5-10 minutes of my time), and keeping books strategically around the house where I can pick them up and read a few pages instead of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

As Ben Sasse so insightfully points out in The Vanishing American Adult, time has historically been our most valuable resource, and this generation is obsessed to an unprecedented degree with wasting it. Tellingly, we call the hugely popular pastime of binge drinking "getting wasted” because, not only are you good for nothing when you are blackout drunk, but the hangover the next day is time wasted and never recovered. Drinking isn’t just a waste of time – but of faculties, resources, and good judgment. It can and does result in the waste of lives. My husband – who lived each moment with incredible purpose and insatiable drive – was killed by a young woman almost lethally drunk. Not only did she waste her own life and leave her daughter an orphan, she stole the resources and potential of a new father with a family and unbelievably bright future ahead of him. It is tragic that these losses are commonplace. Our generation is in bondage to wasted lives and the terrible consequences that often result. Losing my husband at 26 has forced me to ask the question: what is more tragic? A short, full life lived to the hilt, or a long, empty life wiled away in meaningless past times?

Given my track record from last year, I’m a bit wary of setting concrete goals for myself this year. Instead, I am dedicated to creating habits that will breed lasting change. I’m sending them out into the cybersphere so that I have no excuse not to live up to them. Firstly, I vow to go to bed on time so that I can get up early in the mornings and write – something that I am deeply passionate about. Second, I vow to beat my smartphone at its own game by relegating it to another room and only engaging when it can be of some use to me. Third, I vow to fill my days with meaningful thought, work, play, and learning so that the downtime doesn’t encroach on my personal goals and development. I vow to be present for my daughter in her formative moments, leaving her a legacy of meaningful relationship – never that she had to compete with a beeping screen for my attention.

What are your goals for this year? Leave a comment below, and let’s be a community that spurs each other on in not wasting our lives.