Present Over Perfect

Shauna Niequist is my favorite Christian author for her raw vulnerability, her transparency, expert story-telling skills and her love for good food. I cook recipes from her book, Bread and Wine, weekly.

I knew her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, would rock my busy little world, so I put off reading it for several months. It would slow me down, settle my heart and convict my soul, and I wasn’t ready to be reigned in. The title speaks for itself–stop trying to be and just be.

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All my life I’ve been an achiever, a doer. I value efficiency, honesty and follow-through. In job interviews, I take pride in the fact that I’m responsible–I do what I say I’m going to do–and I’m efficient–I can do more work in less time than most people. I am goal-driven and feel incomplete until my goals are met. Even then I feel like I could have probably done more, been better.

These things, of course, matter very little in the Kingdom of God. At the end of my life, Jesus is not going to ask me about my work ethic. He’ll ask me how I treated people. He’ll lift my chin with His calloused hand and ask, “Ashley Dawn, were you kind? Did you obey me? Did you love the least of these? Did you give generously? Were you loving and slow to anger with your family behind closed doors? Did you share My love with my children who were hurting?”

Although the pace of my life hasn’t changed since I read this book over Christmas break, my mindset has. I’m consciously asking my mind to rest, to be fully present with the people I love, and to give myself grace.

Some of Shauna’s truths from this book that…changed me, quite frankly:

“I believed it was better to measure my life by metrics out there, instead of values deeply held in my own soul and spirit.”

Production values. Promotions. Credentials. Grade point average. Body fat percentage.

“The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great…is also the very thing that, unchecked, will ruin you.”

For me this is efficiency, commitment and drive.

Women often do what Niequist calls, “fake-resting. I’m wearing pajamas…It looks like I’m resting, too. But I’m not. I’m ticking down an endless list, sometimes written, always mental, getting things back into their right spots, changing laundry, wiping down countertops. Some might say this is being a mother, a homemaker, or this is what women have been doing for generations.”

For me, this behavior is handed down from a long line of strong, independent, capable, and restless women. My grandma Mary, at 80-something, has a hard time sitting still. My mom never does. If I am, my mind is somewhere else…I’m distracted by everything left undone.

Saturday morning, though, I was so proud of myself: Paisley snuggled up to me on the couch in her jammies and I held her tight, smelling the sweetness of her neck. I couldn’t put my feet on the coffee table because it was stacked high with laundry.  Dirty dishes lined the countertop, and my laptop was open with a business production number that was far from my lofty goal for February. I held my cold mug of coffee in one hand, and my tiny baby girl in the other. I closed my eyes and soaked up the long minutes she let me snuggle, truly resting.

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Paisley Dawn loves to do dishes!

“Busyness is an illness of the spirit.” -Eugene Peterson

“Loving one’s work is a gift. And loving one’s work makes it really easy to neglect other parts of life…Being good at something feels great. Playing ninja turtles with two little boys for hours is sometimes less great.”

I love my job. I get to coach people (mostly women) toward their best self through fitness and healthy living. I’m good at it.

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I oftentimes feel less good, however, at being a mom–and sometimes a wife. I can get more easily frustrated with my kids than my clients. I have better customer service with strangers (WHO COULD CARE LESS ABOUT ME) than I do with Joey, the love of my life. Ugh. Holy conviction.

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations…These are basically sharp blades into the hearts of people like me, who depend very heavily on meeting people’s expectations.”

Disappointing people terrifies me. My greatest fears are to let someone down and to be misunderstood. I’ve lost sleep this past year over feeling misunderstood by people I cared about and for feeling like I’ve let people down.

“But here’s the good news: you get to decide who you’re going to disappoint, who you’re going to say no to…What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love and strong sense of your own purpose…Aim to disappoint the people at the center of your circle [family] as rarely as possible.”

Ah, my purpose. I know my purpose, my “chazown”: helping people live life to the fullest through healthy living. Inspiring people to reach their God-given potential.

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Our relationships are like concentric circles, with those closest to us at the very center. Then our most trusted friends and extended family. Then more friends. Acquaintances and co-workers. Strangers. I chose “servant” as my word for 2017 because I want to be a servant FIRST to those people God has entrusted to me at the center of my circle: Joey. Finn. Paisley. If I can’t be really really good to them, nothing else matters.

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Here’s where I’ll leave you (and I’m only on page 55 of 234 of incredible wisdom, but I’m going to play Nertz with Joey):

“We disappoint people because we are limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I only have this much time. This much energy. This much relational capacity.”

I don’t like to feel limited. Do you? I like to feel powerful and unbridled. But it’s so incredibly freeing to me to accept the fact that I can’t do it all.

I need Joey’s help around the house. I can’t remember everyone’s birthday. I’ll forget some clients’ squat weight. I can’t remember to pray for everyone I want to pray for. I need my mom’s tenderness. I need my dad’s wisdom. I need grace from my kids. I need a committed team to help me reach my goals in Arbonne. I need my training clients to show up to get paid. I need my long-distance girl-friends to check up on me. I need people, and I deeply need God.

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I will disappoint people. I may have disappointed you. And that’s okay, because I am imperfect; an intrinsically flawed, yet redeemed daughter of God, doing my very best. And it’s enough. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.

The Last Slice

As a child, pizza made me a crazy person. Ask my brother, Chad. I would split the pizza down the middle (my slices were larger, of course) and if he so much as stole a half of pepperoni, I’d flip out. I would have lost a friendship over pizza. It’s embarrassing.

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One of Craig’s sermons last year changed my outlook on life. I didn’t realize it had affected me so much until one evening I didn’t care if someone else took the last slice of pizza. Honestly.

The thought is this:

I live in a place of abundance, not scarcity.

Instead of mourning the last slice of pizza or punching Chad in the arm for taking it, I think, “Take it. We’ll just make/order another.” There’s always more pizza.

Or think of it this way: you either see a half-eaten pie as plenty or not enough. Glass half-full or empty. Bank account never enough or provision for our needs.

This mindset changes everything.

My relationships improve with this worldview. I’m more generous because I’m not worried about “getting mine.” I see people as more important than things (or food). I give of my time and my love and my resources, trusting my friends will also give back to me. And if they don’t, that’s okay too. I celebrate their promotion, their new car and their children’s accomplishments because their gains aren’t my losses.

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Psalm 84:11 “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk upright.”

My career improves. I used to worry that the other trainers or the other consultants would take all the business, leaving no one left  for me. The reality is that whether it’s training or promoting Arbonne, my goal is to help people; and there’s always someone who needs help because we’re all unhealthy in some way or another. As long as processed food, artificial ingredients, obesity and low self-esteem exist, I will always have a job. There are certainly enough clients to go around.

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My marriage improves. We haven’t run out of things to talk about; there are more dinner conversations yet to unfold. There are new, creative ways to show love. More arguments and more reconciliation. We have collected more love and respect for each other as the years progress, not less.

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My relationship with God improves. When I see God as a loving Father and King, I realize that as His child, I inherit those riches. His creation is full of beauty and wonder, waiting to be discovered. He doesn’t manipulate me by withholding good things. He is an extravagant God who lavishes His love on me if I’m willing to receive it. He’s got enough blessings to go around and around and around…but I think I must have eyes to see them.

2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”

Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.”

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Jesus, continue to teach me how to be more generous and live life with a mindset of abundance. Thank you for blessing us richly…more than we need.

Fitness Tips from a Trainer: 2017

Gosh, I’ve grown a lot as a trainer and a leader this year. Here’s why:

  • I’m connected weekly to a mentor, a friend I respect and trust. She asks hard questions, encourages me, and leads by example.
  • I’ve developed measurable goals, and I’ve written them down. (We’ll come back to that.)
  • I’m reading again…voraciously. Books on entrepreneurship, the pursuit of Christ, parenting, rest, personal development, habit-formation, leadership skills, and nutrition.

Maybe you’re struggling with your weight (again), or monotony or motivation, or maybe you’re just tired of feeling terrible. Hopefully some of these tips can give you the swift kick in the glutes you need to make 2017 the start of your BEST YOU. Just because you didn’t achieve last year’s goals doesn’t mean you can’t achieve them this year. 😉

1. Develop Measurable Goals.

-What do you want? Really? Now write that down. Like on paper…don’t type it. Use your hand and a pen and paper and write it down, then stick the paper somewhere visible. Writing them down makes them more real; established.

“It’s only a dream until you write it down, then it becomes a goal.” Thanks, Emmitt Smith!

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2. If you are clinically obese, overweight, have Type II Diabetes, COPD, high cholesterol, hypertension, or heart disease, did you know these are preventable diseases?

-To reverse the process of disease, you must change your habits…habits that are just as easy to do as they are not to do. Walk daily. Lift heavy things (with proper form). Order a salad and soup instead of a burger and fries. Drink more water. Restrict alcohol and sugar. Sleep. For more help on habits, read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.

DID YOU KNOW: If you eat a bowl of conventional cereal and a glass of orange juice for breakfast, you’ve maxed out your sugar intake for the DAY?! Can you imagine if you had several donuts and a Dr. Pepper? So start with breakfast…less sugar, more protein.

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Take care of the ONE BODY you were given, and don’t complain too much when it rebels against you for treating it poorly.

3. Decide. 

-I’ve been hearing this phrase a lot lately: “Because I decided to.” Sometimes our mind has to decide what our body, heart and soul needs. This is true of monumental decisions like the covenant of marriage or committing our lives to Jesus Christ. It’s also true of lesser decisions like paying the registration fee for a half-marathon, hiring a trainer, calling the friend, cleaning up our diet, quitting a job, joining a gym, saving money, attending church, etc. We may not fully know what we’re doing, but we know we need to do it. So we decide to.

I’m mature enough (finally) to slow down and take notice when God sends the same stories, same phrases, same testimonies like paper airplanes floating across my busy life.  I’ve heard, “I just decided to…” at least a dozen times in the past couple of months. This definitive decision just may lead you forward toward achieving your goals.

10 Whatever your hand decides to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10

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4. Do cardio at the end of your workout; about 5-20 minutes worth.

-Save your mental and physical prowess for the tough part: the strength or functional training. If you’re eating properly, strength training will do more for body transformation than cardio ever will. I strength train 5x/week with cardio bursts on two of those days. I don’t even teach cycling anymore…and though I miss the sweat, my body hasn’t suffered.

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A frigid Bentonville 5K last year…about the only time Joey and I run anymore is for a 5K.

5. Develop Your Why

-This is so cliche, but I can’t convey to you how important it is. First figure out why you are pursuing better health, then determine how. Your “why,” they say, should make you cry. It should get you out of bed in the morning. If it doesn’t, there’s a good chance you won’t follow through, especially if you’re someone who hasn’t developed healthy habits. Spend time on this. Come up with “21 Reasons Why,” so when it gets hard (and it will), you have 21 reminders not to quit.

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I don’t know what it is for you, but for me, I cannot–simply cannot–make excuses not to move my body when Finn, my little man curled up warm in his toddler bed as I type, does not even have the choice to jump, run, climb, cycle, walk. What he wouldn’t give for the opportunity to run until his knee hurt or hike a mountain with his Daddy, legs bloodied and bruised! I’ll use the body God gave me to inspire others and honor Finn.

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Okay, confession: I have this terrible habit of seeing potential in people.

You name it, I think it has potential to be redeemed. Marriages. Sinners. Children with disabilities. Foster children. Churches. Insecure women. Ugly homes. Struggling businesses. Boring recipes.

And when I see an overweight person, my mind can whittle them down to the way I believe God created them to be: strong and firm, capable and alive. I’ve seen so many body/mind transformations over my 13 years of personal training that I know it’s possible. I see the clean whites of their eyes, the blood pumping confidently through their veins, and they stand taller.

This “vision for potential” gets me in trouble because I dream big for myself or for you, but oftentimes I’m let down when that vision may not become reality. God sees potential in us too because we are His craftsmanship, made in His image. Your first “why” can be to give God your best effort because He created you to live abundantly.

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

If you’re feeling bold, share your “why” in the COMMENTS below! I’d love to pray over them for you. 

For more fitness tips:

2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

One Word: Servant

2015, my one word for the year was Peace.

For 2016, my word was Rooted. I don’t feel I fully embodied this word. It will be a lifelong goal of mine–to be firmly rooted in Christ, unshaken by what others think of me. However, I was challenged to dig down deeper into Him this year. I had many opportunities to be alone, rejected, ignored, heartbroken, disappointed, and worse: misunderstood. But like an oak in a summer storm, my branches sway, but my roots go down deep and I am unmoved. If His love for me doesn’t change, then it grounds everything.

For 2017, I’m focusing on who I want to become: a Servant.

Luke 22:24-30 “And there arose also a dispute among [the disciples] as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “…but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. “

Leading is natural for me; I’m confident in that role. Following, going unnoticed, and being a servant is not so natural. Jesus says the leader must be like the servant. He was a servant to his disciples on earth, going so far as to wash their nasty feet with his calloused hands.

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Paisley is impatient like me…she pushes me to listen to her FIRST.

 

I’m reading Present Over Perfect by my favorite Christian author, Shauna Niequist, and though I’ll write a lengthier blog post about what I’m learning from her wisdom another time, I want to share something that resonated with me.

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She said to think of our relationships as concentric circles, and the people closest to us (Joey, Finn, Paisley) are in the inner circle. Jesus, of course, is at the very epicenter. Then the relationships extend outward in more and more circles.

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My “center circle.” Our little family at Life.Church for one of our Christmas services.

 

My aim for 2017 is to be a servant to the people who matter most, those Loves in my inner circle. Sometimes I’m best at serving strangers…people who will forget me tomorrow.

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We had the BEST time at Nana and Papa Armstrong’s log cabin for Christmas! We are richly blessed.

“We disappoint people because we are limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I have this much time. This much energy. I have this much relational capacity.” -Niequist

I hate disappointing people, and I hate admitting that I can’t do it all. I’m not Supermom. I can’t train every warm-blooded human being in Tulsa. I can’t become an Arbonne RVP without a team. My energy and time and patience are limited. If Jesus needed to get away on a mountainside to re-energize, pray and rest, I will need that even more so.

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Joey read the Nativity story to us on Christmas Eve-Eve morning.

 

Servanthood is not allowing people to abuse me and my kindness. It’s not passive. Instead, I believe it’s an active choice to put others’ needs ahead of my own–again, unnatural for me. I think first about how to serve Joey and the kids–how can I make their lives richer? Then I think of myself. I think first about my clients’ health needs and then about my paycheck.

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I’ve gotta get it right with Joey, my Love, my Best Friend.

1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.

Jesus, help me become a more humble, willing servant this year, starting with the people in my home. Ultimately, I’m pointing others toward you, who “existed in the form of God, [and] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” (Phil 2:6)

Happy New Year, dear friends!

How to Roast Vegetables

(Many of you have requested this post, so here it is, but please don’t judge. I’m FAR from a foodie blogger or photographer…but I have some friends who are great at that if you’re interested!)

As a kid, I hid my green peas under my mashed potatoes like the rest of you. But early in our marriage, Joey and I found a way to LOVE vegetables…roasted. Here’s how we do them:

  1. Preheat a smokin’ hot oven…like 450-500 degrees.
  2. Wash (duh) your veggies and cut them all about the same size so they cook evenly. This is important, people. You can’t have a long stem of asparagus with diced zucchini or some large potatoes with some cubed.

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    SHARP knives are safer!

  3. Create a “medley” of veggies of about the same texture. Some examples:
    1. Sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, carrots
    2. Zucchini, onions, zucchini squash, peppers
    3. Asparagus, artichokes, French green beans
    4. Broccoli, cauliflower
    5. Brussels sprouts and green onions…or add sliced red grapes for sweetness

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      This is honestly not the best example because they aren’t all the same size…but it was what was left in our fridge before Christmas. 🙂

  4. Chopped onions and minced garlic go well with all veggies. We love red onions, sweet yellow and green onions the best. White are gross. Ew.
  5. Drizzle the veggies with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). My mom actually pronounces this “ee-voo.” 😉 You could also use coconut oil. img_6008
  6. Sprinkle with sea salt or Pink Himalayan salt if you want to be fancy. We don’t do black pepper but you could.
  7. Roast on the top rack for as long as it takes for them to get soft, caramelized and golden brown. Usually this is 15-25 minutes…potatoes take the longest. img_6009
  8. DIVE IN! In our house, veggies take up at least half our plate at dinner. img_6010
  9. If your kids are picky, call them “chips.” We eat “green bean chips” and “kale chips” and “edamame chips.” Make them crispy.
  10. The prettier (more colorful) the vegetables, the richer they are in nutrient content and the more fun your kids will have with them. fullsizerender-67

Why Do You Keep Coming?

I was at a women’s church event once and the leader was demonstrating how to make this adorable craft. I remember thinking, “Who has time for this?! I don’t have time for this.” But then I realized many people probably feel that way about working out.

We make time for what is important to us.

Monday morning, my clients and I were discussing why we work out–regularly; okay, even religiously. Here are some of our responses:

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“I figure if we have hamstrings, they should probably be used for something. If we want things to function properly, they must be used.”

“I’m in a better mood after a good workout.”

“My kids are proud of me. They think I’m strong and it makes me feel good that they know I’m stronger and fitter than other moms.”

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“It keeps me sane and allows me to release frustration or anxiety.”

“I no longer struggle with depression.”

“I want to look and feel my best.”

“I realize not everyone has the ability to move the way I can, so I shouldn’t waste it.”

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“I hurt less–in my body.”

“I like the way it feels to fit into my clothes.”

“Everything is easier now. Lifting groceries or kids, doing household chores.”

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“My kids do the weekend workouts with us and they have fun. I like that we’re setting a good example of being active.”

“I like a challenge, especially when I’m challenged by the other girls in the group.”

“It’s cheaper and more effective than therapy.”

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“I’m a better mother, wife and friend when I’ve worked out consistently.”

“It makes me feel confident.”

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Why do YOU workout?

Or maybe, WHY DON’T you?! If you’re struggling, I’d love to help. Click on my Online Training tab if you live 30 minutes from Tulsa, or come see me at Sky Fitness & Wellbeing, south location.

What Are You Waiting For?

I struggle with impatience; always have.

When I was five, I wished I were 25. As a teenager, my mom gave me this little Willow Tree figurine of a girl with her arms folded across her knees, waiting. I set it on my nightstand, asking God for patience until we had Paisley and now it sits on hers.

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Thankful for cozy winter nights with Joey

I’m a doer. I like action, movement, change. Procrastination is silliness to me. In my arrogance, I think my timing is best, and God is usually a little late. He is never in a hurry like I am.

I hate waiting because it feels like time is wasted, and time is something I value highly. But if I believe each breath is a gift, each day an expression of God’s mercy, then it holds true that with God, time spent waiting is never wasted.

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College Roomie Christmas brunch…our 8 little loves, minus one!

In fact, I believe the waiting period is perhaps what it’s all about. I teach my clients to focus on the process, not the end (“I will exercise 5x this week.” Not, “I will lose 5 pounds.”). The interim is where we find out what we’re made of, and our attitude matters. When we are waiting–on a person, a prayer, our big break, the light in the darkness, forgiveness, love, healing, a job, whatever–our character is being forged and time is not wasted.

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Christmas Train at Dry Gulch!

When I was pregnant with Finn, we knew he would be born different, but we didn’t know exactly how or to what extent. Some days I was terrified of what could be. Some days I was hopeful. There were months that Joey and I both cried ourselves to sleep. There were moments of clarity and intimacy with God like I’d never experienced before. Although those several months were some of the darkest of my life, I know without a doubt, that time was not wasted.

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Finn and Pais helped me decorate the bottom 1/3 of the tree

I like to imagine Mary, Mother of Jesus, felt something similar as she waited for her son to arrive. She was told He would be no ordinary boy. He was the long-awaited Messiah. How overwhelming for a young mother!

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage.” Ps. 27:14

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

“It is good to wait quietly on the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26

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Nana and Papa Rosell visited!

If you’re waiting, settle down. Take a deep breath. The big moments are the daily, tiny moments. In this season of Advent, I await the arrival of Jesus, the Savior of my soul, and I don’t want to waste it.