It’s been a hard kind of summer. The kind of summer where you look back and remember more of the struggle than the sweetness. The kind of summer that makes you look forward with hope to a new beginning come fall, to the crispness of a new school year with new rhythms and new energy.
I’m ready for a fresh start, not just for my schedule, but for my heart.
Part of what made summer so hard this year was that I didn’t expect it to be hard. I looked forward to the time we would spend away from home, including five weeks serving as a family at Young Life Camp. I was excited about the change of pace and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Sometimes the hardest parts about making an eternal impact are the everyday sacrifices required along the way. It’s in the unseen, ordinary moments of surrender that the true contents of our hearts are exposed. And often when my comfort is on the line, what I see in my own heart looks more like selfishness than anything else.
I started this summer’s camp assignment with energy and excitement about what was to come. I was hopeful and prayerful and optimistic about all the ways we would all grow from serving while at camp for the month.
But as the exciting first hours turned into days that turned into weeks, reality set in. I missed my husband as he worked long days to run camp for hundreds of middle school kids each week. My own kids were over-stimulated and over-sugared and I was over-tired from living somewhere that wasn’t my home. After full days of rallying my kiddos to transition from our room to a meal then back again over and over, I had no relational margin to connect with the other women who seemed to be so gracefully navigating the parenting waters at camp. Oh, the familiar deathtrap of comparison—it never ceases to shame me into a sense of utter and complete failure.
I wasn’t the encourager I had envisioned—I felt discouraged. I wasn’t the laid-back mom I imagined—I was frazzled and tired of saying no to all the fun things constantly beckoning my children. I wasn’t the confident wife joyfully supporting my husband—I was emotional and needy and missed him like crazy.
My expectations had created a familiar prison of performance that I couldn’t escape. The gap between who I wanted to be and who I had the capacity to be during those weeks felt like failure, and I was trapped inside.
“I don’t like who I am here,” I told a group of women one morning as we gathered together. The female spouses on our team made it a priority to find time each week to connect and pray. Those two hours became my lifeline at camp, grounding me in the reality that I was not alone. One woman looked at me with understanding. She nodded and affirmed that it wasn’t just me. That’s all it took.
As I explained how I felt stuck in my own struggle, wallowing in the difficulty of my days instead of looking for the beauty in them, something shifted. Admitting I actually wasn’t okay gave me permission to stop pressuring myself to be who I thought I should be. Sharing my struggles out loud released me from the snare of shame, which feeds on isolation and hiding.
I was able to just rest in my reality.
Stop fighting against myself and accept that my capacity this summer was less than in summers past.
Quit putting pressure on myself to perform to a standard that no one else knew existed.
Believe that people could love me even when I wasn’t at my best.
Let myself be known as someone with nothing to offer but my honesty. And let it be enough.
As they prayed for me that morning, and as others prayed from home, something in my heart lightened. I felt more like myself again—loved not because I was functioning at my highest level, but loved just because I’m me. It’s a reminder I need every week, every day, every hour: I am loved, just as I am.
This summer proved that I have nothing to prove. My hope is not in my ability to avoid struggle, but in being loved whether I’m struggling or not.
I learned the hard way that I can choose in every moment to give thanks or to grumble. And my choice affects my ability to see life as a gift to be enjoyed or as a burden to be endured.
Sometimes the miracle doesn’t come in changed circumstances but in a changed heart. As I focused less on myself and more on the grace all around me, my perspective widened. I whispered more prayers of thanksgiving for the small gifts of time with my kids, for unexpected rest, for the chance to sit in the pool on a hot summer day, for community, adventure, and opportunities to grow through discomfort.
I tend to think that if things are hard, I must be doing something wrong. The truth is, life is just hard. But not a moment is wasted for those who are willing to look for its gifts. Thankfulness draws my eyes and heart heavenward, rescuing me from the bottomless pit of self-pity. I need to be rescued regularly. Hourly even. Sometimes more.
As I enter a new season with a new schedule and new weather and new commitments, I’m choosing a new way of thinking about my moments. I’m going on a treasure hunt each day for the gifts of God’s love all around me. No matter the gift, no matter how big or small, I’m writing them down—keeping track in a “joy journal” of sorts to train myself to see with new eyes.
A two-year-old who loves to cuddle, even at 3 am.
Coffee delivered unexpectedly.
Sun breaks on a dreary day.
Multiple errand stops in a row with no tantrums.
A candle burning in the middle of the afternoon.
A five-year-old who loves to dance when no one’s watching.
Silence. Sweet silence.
Will you join me? Grab a pen. Put your list to paper. Don’t make it easy—stretch your current capacity for thankfulness. Can you find five gifts each day to write down? Ten? Let’s do this together and test for ourselves what all those experts are saying about gratitude being good for our health and happiness. It might just be good for our souls, too.
Eyes on the lookout for bits of grace in everyday moments create hearts overflowing with beautiful gratitude. And that’s who I want to be.