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Being Seen

Jill1Hi. I’m Jill, a writer, speaker, editor, pastor, and all-around person in need of grace. Particularly now, since currently, I’m working on moving my blog and website information over to this lovely and venerable site. But for now, if you’d like to read current or past blogs, please visit me here.

I talk about a lot of things on my blog and in my books and articles. But usually, they focus on a few main topics. Fear, faith, empowerment (particularly of women and the next generation), caring for those less powerful, and trying to live freely the abundant life God has given us.

To let you know I know what I’m talking about with this fear and empowerment thing, let me give you some background.

warriors-together4I’m the kids who refused to step too far into the back yard after dark. The woman who slept with a nightlight when I was twenty. The person who would still rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a really close acquaintance of mine. For too long.

Yet there is God, telling me to live “adventurously expectant.” To look at each day and ask, “What’s next?” And that enthusiasm isn’t supposed to lessen when today’s “next” wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Or when we’re terribly certain tomorrow’s will be worse. “Fear not” may be the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. What’s happening here?

I don’t want to live life as a grave-tender, so wrapped in fear of what might be that I lose the time in between. I want to live an adventure for God’s kingdom, and I want to do it with you. I want to know who I am, and I want you to know who you are, because of who He is.

I want us both to know the identity God put in us when he created the imago dei in the garden. He hasn’t rescinded that deal. I want to see you and hear you and know you–and I want you to know He already sees and hears and knows you.

To prove I’m serious, here’s your first story.

I’m terrified of spiders. If you don’t believe this, you’ve never seen me run out of the shower shrieking because there was an eight-legged creation of God on the tile wall. Which is a good thing. No one should see me run out of the shower. Ever.

I hyperventilated if I saw a picture of a spider. But before leading my fist mission trip, I decided, no more. Time to face it. It can’t be as bad in reality as in imagination. Sure it can’t. Totally believed that, except not.

Spider (1)I marched into the pet store (OK, I crept into the fourth pet store, after failing three times) to find a tarantula and–you got it–hold that baby. The very helpful pet shop guy talked me through the traumatic process. He assured me the spider would just sit there. And you know what? It did. You know what else? They’re actually soft. And even cute in a . . . creepy, way-too-many-legs-and-eyes, spidery sort of way.

Seriously, God gave me such a calm that the whole thing was kind of surreal and interesting. Plus, I made sure to get it on video. Because, you, know, this is not going to be repeated on an annual basis or anything.

I’m not saying I’m going to go out and get a bird-eating tarantula for a housemate anytime soon. But–fear only has the power we give it. And I was tired of giving it.

The Lord knows I’d lived through way worse than spiders by that time, anyway.

So, let’s join one another. I can’t wait to see what happens here.

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PS– I’d love it if you want to hit the button to subscribe or shoot me an email to be put on my mailing list!

Best of Intentions

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Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty! (Proverbs 14:23 NLT)

The daffodils are up in my yard, and I’m in full “I love spring” mode. Well aware that snow in April is always a potential dark horse around here, I appreciate every flower, bud, and branch I can smell and carry into the house—especially daffodils.

Every spring I look at the daffodils, decide we need more of them, and intend to plant more in the fall. Then autumn comes, and I might or might not remember that spring promise.

Click on over the The Glorious Table today to read further and find out why I, and so many others of us, have to conclude that “my springs are full of good intentions, and my falls are full of “I meant tos.” What do we do about it?

 

With-ness

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I’m sitting here, hands cupped around a hot mug, savoring a moment I never take the time to savor when I’m at home and all the world hedges in around me.

A hot cup of tea. Sunshine. And the presence of God.

Not the insistent, task-driving presence of God I don’t realize I too often imagine. Just presence. With-ness. Nothing else.

Why is this so elusive?

I realized something this morning that scared me. For the first time, the past few months, I have not loved what I do. I am so blessed to love pastoring, writing, everything God has given me.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance! (Psalm 16.6)

I assumed it would always be like this. The problem is, making that assumption, I naturally assume that more is better. If work is a good thing, why isn’t more work better? Why isn’t adding a dozen more things to my to do list way more fun? Why don’t I want to tackle them with the same excitement?

So I’ve been adding. And adding.

We’ve reached the tipping point. The other side is darkness and burnout, and I am so close to that edge that I can see the jaws of the kraken. It is not a pretty sight.

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I’ve been imagining all the things God will need to take away from me to bring me back from the edge. What has to drop off the list? What must I lose to find joy again, to love the written and spoken word for themselves rather than for what they can do for me and the places they might take me? To love pastoring for the call and not the applause?

To love God for moments like these rather than what he can do for me, too.

We have got this so wrong.

I don’t expect time with my husband or kids to “work” for me in some way. I only want to be in their presence. I don’t plan to leave their presence suddenly energized or enabled to carry out some new task in my day.

But we expect that of God. We don’t simply be with him. Maybe this isn’t a revelation. It is to me.

I neglect prayer because it doesn’t “work.” I don’t feel different. Life doesn’t go better. So why spend those precious minutes I could be working in a pursuit that seems to be staring into space, waiting for lightning that doesn’t strike? Oh, I do pray, because I do believe in it.

But I’ve got it so, so wrong if I’m waiting for time with God to “work.”

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Why does it have to “work”? Why does God have to “work” for me? Why do there have to be results? Why can’t we just be? We’re cultivating a relationship, not a business partnership. Relationships take time. They take stillness together. The best relationships happen when we do nothing together but sit and stare and feel one another’s existence. We know that, if we’re blessed to have those relationships. We never ask those people to do anything more than they do by being.

I don’t have to ask God to be for me. He already is. I don’t have to ask him to be with me. He’s never anywhere else. I just have to stop long enough to stand in the sunbeam rather than run through it, hoping for something to stick.

It is time to scale back. Back to the basics of just sitting with God. Asking him to rule the to do list. Giving him veto power over my hours and days and minutes. Listening. Sitting. Sipping. Tasting and seeing that he is good.

This isn’t the blog post I planned to write. But it’s the blog post I needed.

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I Am the Resurrection

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It’s four days before Easter, and as I write this, I’m hacking up my guts with coughing and suffering through the mother of all sinus headaches. It’s what happens when I catch a cold, because I do not catch common colds. Fortunately, I don’t catch them often, either.

Not terribly conducive to writing Good Friday and Easter sermons, not to mention all the things a mom does to make Easter wonderful.

2018 has been like this. It’s been a two steps forward three steps back kind of year so far, and looking toward Easter, even if it is only four days ahead, seems like a resurrection hope on the other side of an abyss big enough to put Texas in.

I know I’m not the only one.

Working on that sermon, I found a diamond in a story many of us know well. It’s a detail easily overlooked—but the difference it makes to our hopes.

Jesus hears that his dear friend Lazarus is sick. He waits a couple days, then tells his disciples he’s going to “wake him up.” His disciples are concerned.

They politely try to remind Jesus that the last time they went to that part of the country, people tried to kill him. Not really on the tour itinerary anymore, they’re thinking. And, Jesus, the dude’s taking a nap. This is not something that requires you to risk your life. Or ours.

Since euphemisms are clearly lost on the disciples, Jesus has to explain that Lazarus is, in fact, dead. Well that escalated quickly.

They go anyway, because Jesus.

John 11.17-27 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

I am resurrection and life. Do you believe this?

This is Martha’s worst nightmare. They’ve apparently already lost their parents. Lazarus is likely their only source of income. Two women alone in the world at that time? It was a terrifying prospect. She mourned the loss of her brother deeply. She also looked at the future with eyes filled with fear.

But notice this one point—he’s not asking Martha if she believes in something she’s seen. Lazarus is still in the grave. Jesus hasn’t performed his own stunning special effects show of now-he’s-dead-now-he’s-not.

He’s asking Martha is she believes in something that has not happened. Has she known him enough, followed him deeply enough, understood his heart and his identity enough, to believe he is what he says he is, regardless of the evidence in her life?

Lazarus is dead. That hasn’t changed. Martha, do you believe anyway?

Jesus is the Resurrection of all things.

That includes anything in my life or yours that needs resurrection. He can (and did) raise Lazarus from the dead, but he is also the Resurrection of all the small deaths in our lives. There is nothing can’t be raised.

Of course, Martha has to put Lazarus in the ground first.

I wonder if sometimes we don’t receive our resurrection because we’ve never properly buried the thing we need revived. We cling to it, sure we can revive it. Sure it’s not really so bad as to be dying.

We won’t give it up to the grave, and then we don’t understand why it’s not revived. I’m not even sure right now, after the beginning of this year, how much Jesus wants me to let go of and bury. I don’t know if it will be four days or four years or more. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this tomb. I do know that if I want resurrection, I’ll have to bury a few things first.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can_t resurrect_ No, but you might have to bury it first.

But Then, the Dead Body

There are parts of our lives we have to bury if we want them healed. Then, maybe worse, we have to let him deal with the dead carcass of what we’ve created.

When Jesus tells Martha to roll the stone way from her brother’s tomb, she replies that it will stink something awful. The man’s been dead and behind that rock for four days. In an Israeli climate, that body’s going to reek.

This is true of our smelly things, too.

If we hand our things over to him to resurrect, we know they could stink all the way to heaven. We know they could make us smell, too. The stench is often of our own making, but we don’t want to roll that stone away to smell it.

If Jesus is going to resurrect it, it’s probably going to get smelly and messy before it gets good. The cross got that way. It was bloody and grimy and messy—but it led to an empty tomb.

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How much do we really want resurrection? Enough to let Jesus roll that stone away? Enough to allow him to pull away the grave clothes of our pain and sorrow and inabilities? Enough to listen as he calls us out, still wrapped in our mess, believing that he has a resurrection in mind if we simply come out into the open?

Martha, do you believe this? Do you know me and love me enough to trust that, even if it gets smelly and hard, you can trust me with the outcome?

Probably my favorite quote from Jen Hatmaker’s book Of Mess and Moxie is this—”We live because Jesus lives, because he is real and present and moving and working and he will not have us conquered. This is not hoodoo; it is a powerful reality. Flatten your feet, because nothing in your life is too dead for resurrection. It can be worse than you think, and more crushing than you imagined. And even then, we live.”

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Nothing. Not financial issues, parenting issues, job issues, relationship issues, sin issues, nothing —nothing is too dead for resurrection.

Do we believe it enough to let those things die, and then let him raise them the way he has planned?

I am the raising up. The everything rising from the dead. I am the not dead, the opposite of death. I am death you don’t win, and death, where is your sting? I am the rising—no one can stop me from raising myself or you.

Is there anything in your life Jesus can’t resurrect? No, but you might have to bury it first.

Do we believe it?

What Does the Church Need to Bring Back the Younger Generation: Author Interview

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A few weeks ago, my friend Terri asked if she could interview me for her author interview series. Since she is a great interview-question-maker and a great friend, I said of course!

(Also, she is a very talented photographer–she took my headshot this year in San Antonio, and I am pretty certain the shot at the beginning of her post is of Oxford from our time there last spring. I know that hallway!)

Terri asked so many good questions about the church, its future, and the leadership of young people. Since I am known around these parts as an advocate of the latter (I mean, look at the tagline right up there), I loved every one of her questions.

Questions like:

Many young adults have left the church. What has driven young people away?

How does the church and its people need to change to bring young people back?

I especially love the last question–you’ll figure out why when you read it!

Just part of one of my answers–I hope it makes you want to click over to the full interview.

Jesus came to forgive our sins AND to usher in the kingdom of God with redemption of everything, starting right away. He came to set a broken creation right again. They aren’t separable. Young people find this story credible and compelling. They know the world is broken. They want to help fix it. We’re not just saved from sin—we’re saved toward wholeness.

Get yourself over to her full interview here. Thanks!

 

Radio Silent

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When our oldest daughter was little and the adjacent room where she played grew silent, I would call out—“Becca, what are you doing?”

“I’m being very carefully!”

I have no idea why it was always carefully and not careful, but regardless, we knew. Silence meant check—now.

Our middle child was more direct. When we called the same query to her, she responded—“Don’t come in here!”

Silence from small children is bad. Like airplanes, radio silence from kids means something has gone wrong. Terribly wrong.

Silence Means Something Is Wrong

God agrees. The first time his children didn’t answer him, he knew. Silence from his first kids meant something terrible had happened.

Adam and Eve went radio silent on God.

I’ve been preaching through a series called Things God Wants To Know. The first question he ever asked, believe it or not, is one he asks each one of us as well. Every single day. Our answer matters.

God’s first question is seared with pain—for the questioner and the questioned. It leaks with knowledge neither wants and a desire for right that won’t be truly righted for a long, long time.

Where are you?

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” (Genesis 3.8-10)

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It’s not a question God doesn’t know the answer to. He made the trees. He knows every leaf and branch. It’s like our kids hiding behind the living room chair and then hollering out, “You can’t see me!”

So there has to be another reason he asks.

My children—Where are you?

I get it. Only a couple weeks ago I went to get my child off the commuter train, as usual. Only she didn’t get off. At least, I didn’t see her, and she didn’t see me. I went straight into mama panic mode, calling her and yelling God’s very question—“Where are you???”

Parents understand.

The answer from God’s children was not good—it was the equivalent of “Don’t come in here.” We’re hiding. We’re afraid.

Fear

God’ first kids had never experienced fear before, but now they felt its full force. They’re afraid of their father, their maker. The one who created a perfect relationship with them now forever changed by that monster fear.

We’re hiding. Don’t come in here.

Do you have naked dreams? I do. They’re horrible. You’re in a crowd of people, and suddenly, you don’t have any clothes on. In the dream, it’s humiliating and horrifying.

In real life, it’s the same. The first kids feel vulnerable—and they’ve never even known what the meant before now. So they run for cover—in this case, leaves. Leaves are a terrible cover, really, but desperate people do strange things.

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I mean, we do, right?

We run for cover to all kinds of things when we’re afraid.

  • Our bank accounts that promise security.
  • A bad relationship that promises belonging.
  • A new job that promises to fix everything wrong with the old one.
  • A political party that promises to make our country just the way we’ve always thought it should be.
  • Our perfect control of everything that promises we don’t ever have to fear fear itself.

Adam and Eve are not the only ones who know how to hide out in the woods with badly thrown together costumes masking their terror at the future.

Where Are We?

We know the answer to God’s question. We are in mess. We’re stuck in our own selfishness. We’re locked in our own bad choices. We’re crippled by a brokenness of our own making. We’re not living into what we were made to be.

So God calls—where are you? And we let it go to voice mail.

You know it’s true. He calls every one of us every day, every hour.

Where are you?

There are really only two answers.

  1. I’m hiding. Or
  2. I’m right here.

If it’s not the latter, it’s the former. We can’t be in between.

Yet maybe, the want to come out can be greater than the want to stay. Maybe something in our DNA remembers that garden. Knows this isn’t all there is. Wants to open door a crack.

“Remarkably, the phenomenon of self-deception testifies that we human beings, even when we do evil, are incorrigibly sold on goodness. At some level of our being we know that goodness is as plausible and original as God, and that, in the history of the human race, goodness is older than sin.” (John Walton)

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It’s the Deep Magic CS Lewis talks about in Narnia. Sure, what we see every day looks like there is one rule to the universe, and it’s not such a great one, but there is deeper magic. There is a greater, higher, more honestly real way out of hiding and into light. Deep Magic sings our souls the same song — in the history of the human race, goodness is older than sin.

The light isn’t as terrifying as we imagine. After all, it was there, in the beginning, spinning us into being.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,

    and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1.4-5)

If we want healing, wholeness, purpose, relationships, we need to stop hiding, step into light, and say Here I am. This is where I’ve been. With you is where I want to be.

“We are incorrigibly sold on goodness.” I love that.

Where am I? I’m right here, Lord.

Right here, waiting for orders. Right here, wanting to know you. Right here, completely, resolutely, incorrigibly sold on your goodness and its triumph.

What will you say, today, when he ask you where you are?

Alternative Olympic Gold

Continuing in the spirit of the Olympic season. Sort of. A post from a couple years ago.

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This is Zobrist’s jersey from 2016. At the Chicago History Museum. Because they know what’s really important history.

The Olympics are the only time I am interested in sports. (Except when the Cubs are playing like nobody’s business, of course.) In the spirit of transparency, we are not technically watching it on a TV. We don’t have a TV. So we are streaming Olympics in a complicated mix of totally legal maneuvers which involve Canadian announcers, who are Canadian polite and never get excited about anything. Anything.

But I have some suggestions. I feel it is completely unfair that most Olympic events are for the young. And the coordinated. Why can’t we all have a shot at Olympic Gold? So today, I offer to you—

Seven Olympic categories that should exist:

The Summer Vacation Floor Exercise

Contenders must maneuver a grocery store with three kids, each possessing his own mini cart, without losing a child, forgetting one item on the list, or cussing loudly enough to be heard when said mini cart hits her ankles for the fifth time. Then, she must perform five drop offs at different locations at least four miles apart, two of which must be at the same time. Finally, she must cook dinner while simultaneously getting four kids out of wet, sticky swimsuits, wiping all the water off the kitchen floor, making sure some of that “water” did not come from the dog who was not let out earlier, and finding enough money in the couch cushions to go on a decent vacation for one week to somewhere that does not involve a tent.

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These feet are ready. The legs, not so much. But the feet are Olympic set.

The Social Media Marathon

Contestants see who can waste the most time on social media without resorting to videos of the Kardashians or dogs gone wild (which are essentially the same thing). Buzzfeed quizzes are strictly prohibited. Anyone can spend hours there—it’s not a challenge. Bonus if at the end you can tell us six different personality types you fit and which Disney animal you are most like. Extra points for burned meals and missed day camp pickups.

The Multitask Decathlon

Athlete must, in one hour: cook dinner, help interpret long division, let dog outside, answer five emails, deliver twelve text messages regarding car pool schedules, grade the seven essays she didn’t get done during her “free” period because two students needed to discuss their parents’ disapproval of their future careers as Pokemon Go guides, schedule repair for the car that is making a “grrriiiiiieeeek” sound again, let the dog in, wash enough forks for eating dinner, and explain to her six-year-old what “you’re an animal baby, it’s in your nature” means and why, no, that boy in her class should not have said it. Extra points for not hitting her spouse with the dinner pan when he walks in and asks, “What did you do all day?”

The Toddler Snatch and Grab

Competitor is first put on hold with Comcast so that she knows putting down the phone risks getting back in the queue for another 35 minutes. Then, toddler is introduced, who promptly undresses, covers her naked little body in Sharpie marker, and escapes out the front door. The person who can present a clean, clothed child and repaired internet within the same day wins. (No one has yet claimed this gold. But it could happen.)

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The Chicago Winter Moguls

Driver must complete course which includes black ice patches, unplowed stretches randomly placed, SUVs weaving in and out of traffic, and freezing rain. At end of course, driver must park car in space currently half-occupied by a seven-foot drift of plowed snow and enter arena in heels and dress with no traces of salt or water. Running out of gas is an automatic disqualifier.

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Yes, there is a road here. Yes, we were driving on it. We knew by the telephone poles.

The Fast Food Free for All

Competitor approaches drive up window and manages to order six different meals, all yelled to her at the same time from the back seats, each with special instructions, two allergy-free, and have the correct meals given to her at the next window. Fastest driver with no mistakes wins.

Your turn. What is your new Olympic event? What would you like us to petition the committee to add in four years? 

Spetacular Failing

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Since we’re leaving the Olympic season (insert abject crying emoji here) I thought it was time to replay a couple of my favorite Olympic-themed blogs. So—here we go.

I wrote this after Sochi, but it feels pretty relevant for all of us, all the time. Also, since it’s my daughter’s birthday today, I think a post about trying hard things and being brave is appropriate. See this one to know why.

The Olympic Games is pretty much the only time I spend hours watching TV, but for those two weeks, I have meals and mail forwarded to the living room. This gives me plenty of time to muse over deeper meanings of it all, and I found one in the men’s figure skating competition. And no, it has nothing to do with their outfits.

Did you notice something unusual this year? Every single final round athlete in the men’s skating competition this winter fell. Every. One.

Is Falling Failing?

Yet still, three men went home with gold, silver, and bronze, and the world believed they had seen the best skaters alive out there on the ice. Even with all the spills. All the mistakes. All the “could have been betters.”

Which really made me think. None of those men had to do quad jumps. None of them had to push themselves to try impossible tricks and defy whatever had been done before. None of them had to fall.

They could have played it safe and gone home unbruised and satisfied that they had done the best they could. But none of them did.

Every one of them pushed it to the next level, tried, fell, and went home as victors anyway. 

And it occurred to me how absolutely beautiful it is that falling on our faces can be a victorious moment.

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Falling Can Be Victory

It’s beautiful that, in this arena, failing at a hard thing is rewarded more than playing it safe and succeeding at something too easy.

You get more points for having the guts to whip a quad out there and accidentally touch down with two feet than for doing a double-toe-loop that you could do when you were thirteen. You’re recognized for attempting something challenging when you could have stuck with the safe and easy touch down.

I love that. Victory from spectacularly trying and equally spectacularly wiping out. And, of course, getting back up to keep skating anyway.

Fear Makes Us Settle for Less than Spectacular

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Maybe, it’s the fear that keeps us from trying new things, throwing it all out there on the ice and possibly falling hard, that keeps us from real victory. Maybe we never get that golden moment we long for because so often we would rather do what we know we can do. Spinning in the air is dizzying, and we’d prefer to do a quick hop and call it our best effort.

But it isn’t. Because so long as we never push it one more level up, never find a challenge just a little tougher than the last one, never seek that one risk we are not sure is within us but we need to find out, we are not giving it our best. We’re giving it our OK.

Gold medals are never won by OK. (Unless all the other speed skaters wipe out in front of you. Then, well, it happens.)

What do you know you need to stretch to try right now? It’s OK to fall. OK to fail spectacularly. OK to put everything you have out there and mop up the mess. It’s just not OK to never jump at all.