Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Wednesday 8th January 2014

How to Live Outside the Box in 2014

I’ve heard it said before: “We are human beings, not human doings.” In fact, I’ve pledged to live by that simple mantra a time or twenty.

But sometimes, my heart forgets to inform my brain of my good intentions.

That’s what had happened that morning, just after the mellow morning sun spilled into the kitchen.


The phone rang, and it was Sandy. She’s one of those rare souls in my life whose whole being seems fully directed toward the spontaneous act, the random lunch, the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants whim.


I let the phone ring four times before answering, because you never know what you might agree to when Sandy calls. But I answered, and sure enough, she had another idea. Could we go to the nursing home to play Bingo?

I exhaled in one long stream of air. I scrunched my noise and closed my eyes tight, like if I tightened up my face enough, I might be able to wring my brain like a dishrag. Like some good excuse would drip out of my head.

I mean, really — How could I cram another thing into the little calendar box assigned for the day? That box was already pencil-scratched clear full with all of my “to-do.”

Sandy interrupted the uncomfortable quiet space between us. “Jennifer, It’s OK, truly. You don’t have to …”

“I’m so sorry …” I muttered, and the phone went back on the cradle.


I threw my head back, staring at the ceiling for a while. Then stared back down at the calendar box, then at the ceiling, then at the little calendar box, always filling, always filling — page after calendar page, and box after box. Each box neatly framing all of my duties.

As if life can be boxed in like that.

I drummed at the square with the eraser end of my pencil.


Look, how I treat life like a list of things “to-do,” instead of a “to-be” list — like this dull drumming under my super-important pencil. I am so dreadfully at risk — at risk of being a human doing, instead of human being. It’s not all bad. I mean, you can count on me to get things done. I am a planner. I meet deadlines. If I say I’m going to do something, I will.

But I also live life avoiding the spontaneous act that might derail my well-laid plans. I screen calls. I miss fun lunches with girlfriends. I wonder: how many miracles have I missed between the thin lines of all those neatly penciled boxes?

I stared up at the ceiling again. And I swear to you: It was like God was looking down at me, with His arms crossed over His burly chest, with his holy head tilted, and one eyebrow raised.  I can’t say for sure, but He might have been smirking.

“Fine.” I said it out loud.

I lifted the phone off the cradle. Maybe I could go after all,  I told her.

“Be there at 2 p.m.,” she said.


The room was dappled in sunlight, reflecting off wheelchair chrome and a mylar “Happy Birthday” balloon. One of the women was celebrating her 96th year on Earth. Tables were set with fake daffodils in slender white vases. I grabbed a Bingo card and found a seat by a sweet lady named Katherine.

Sandy was already there, calling Bingo numbers into the microphone.


“B-16. Does anyone have B-16?” Sandy asked.

A wide grin spread across the face of an old woman who bellowed: “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed!” Her shoulders shook as she laughed.

“B-18,” Sandy called out. “B-18. Anybody remember when you were 18?”

Katherine’s age-spotted hand shot into the air. “I do!” she shouted from her wheelchair: “I remember!”

Sandy asked into the microphone: “What would you do if you were 18 again, Katherine?”

Katherine’s eyes widened. She didn’t hesitate: “I’d pick more daisies,” she said. “And I’d dance barefoot in the rain, and I’d fish with a worm.”

Katherine tossed her head back with laughter, looking up at the ceiling. Just at the ceiling, like she could see God up there. Like He was laughing with her.

And there were no calendar boxes anymore, not for Katherine.

I watched her, with my chin resting in my hands.

I want to be a dancer. I want to be a daisy picker. I want to laugh more, laugh fuller. I want to put a worm on the hook of life, and FISH, for heaven’s sake.

What if this was the year when things changed? What if — for the rest of my life – I awoke each morning with less on my to-do, and more on on my to-be?  How do I do that? 

What if I awoke to wonder, and remembered that days are mere blips, and that I could live more poetry in my own skin, if I colored outside the lines. That my best work isn’t in a sealed room, but somewhere under a frozen sky, where the wind blows wild through my hair?  What if I took one giant leap outside my safe boxes, risked tripping over my words, made a holy mess of things and then laughed with friends over the fun we had?

I reached across the table and grabbed for Katherine’s hands, and I told her how someday we’d dance together. And she looked at me puzzled: “What are you waiting for?”

And she lifted our hands — just our hands, high to the ceiling — and she waltzed them through the air. And I swear, with just our hands, we danced. And we danced.



So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer or a grammarian to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here.


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  • Your words really resonated with me. I too just want to enjoy the wonder of each day without focusing too much on to-dos or want to-dos.

  • Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    This is great writing, Jennifer. I’ve been thinking about dancing this week, how maybe the hubby and I need a ballroom dancing class to get us through the winter and a wait for the house. Sometimes the things we need aren’t found in our doing and sometimes just moving a little to a beat helps me break outside of that box. Congratulations on your book!

  • Holly Solomon Barrett

    I’ve always been an outta the box kinda gal…except maybe when it comes to my schedule. I find once it’s set I don’t like it to change so much. Appreciate the reminder that sometimes the blessing comes in the middle of the change…if we just go with it!

  • It’s one of the “gifts” of chronic illness AND having grandlittles – this letting go of my “to-do” list. Somewhere there is a balance between planning ahead so that I don’t waste time and being available for serendipitous opportunities – and I think that balance is in how I respond to those opportunities. Don’t you? I can either be frustrated that “my” plans and “to-do” list aren’t unfolding as I envisioned, or I can be delighted and welcoming when those opportunities present themselves. I pray for more delight…and the discernment to know when to say “yes.”

  • JViola79

    Oh my gosh, this has been such a week of posts causing me to cry. This one is no different. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Life can so pass us by if we are not careful “to do”that which He puts before us. May we have wisdom to discern when we are to interrupt our day & go in a different direction. Love this post so much!

    • I’m so glad, friend. Thank you for stopping in.

  • Kim @ Kim’s County Line

    Exchanging “to do” for “to be?” This is something I needed to hear. As always, thank you, Jennifer.

    • You are very welcome, Kim. Thanks for being here.

  • Yes, count me in! I want eyes more open to wonder than my to-do list. That’s a New Year’s goal I can embrace.

    • Me, too, friend. Thanks for your words.

  • Monica Sharman

    LOVE this. You know I love to dance? But only if it’s choreographed. Maybe I should get a little braver and try this kind of dancing.

    Two days ago I stopped by a nearby retirement/nursing home to ask if our family could come and visit people. We’ll be signing the volunteer papers soon.

    • Love it! Love it! Happy volunteering. You will be a tremendous blessing, no doubt about it.

  • Whoa, Jennifer. This is powerful. I am so NOT spontaneous. Not one bit ever. But this morning, right this minute? I want to be like Sandy and Katharine.

    • Come to Inwood. I will introduce you to Sandy. She already loves your writing. May as well swing by and meet her in person.

  • I’m with you Jennifer, living more spontaneously and less like my life depends on accomplishment. Lovely story told in your usual heartwarming fashion..

    • “… less like my life depends on accomplishment.” Yep. That’s it right there, Shelly Miller.

  • yes…yes…through some hard circumstances and God’s gentle love…I have learned to let go more and more…not to live by the list…most days I find myself waking up and saying…Abba…what do we have in store today…my lists of things to get done…no longer have rigid lines…the lines are more fluid now…more easily moved…the duties…more easily erased…thanks for the encouragement to continue to get out of the safe boxes.

    • You’ve always struck me as someone who wasn’t afraid to live out of the box, Ro. You inspire.

  • I love Sandy’s smile. Her face in that picture makes me smile :). I’m asking myself this today, Jennifer: What would I do if I was 18 again? Oh, my. Lovely story, friend. How you always encourage.

    • Sandy rocks. You would LOVE her, Laura. She lights up a room, as you can see.

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  • Great post. I’m not usually given to a ‘word for the year’, but I’ve had one a couple times. This year, over the Christmas break, I was given ‘out-of-the-box’ (which you have to hyphenate to make it one word). Two elements – living in ways I have not before and not being boxed in by my comfortable self. Thanks for the post.

    • Well, that is just perfect, Scott! I think a hyphenated out-of-the-box word of the year is just right for 2014. I’m with you, friend.

  • DeanneMoore

    “I want to be a dancer and a daisy picker”…and fish with a worm. I also want to make bracelets and necklaces out of clover. Thank you, this touched me in the depths. Putting my “boxes” away.

    • You know what? I’ve never made a clover necklace. Not even as a kid. A summertime must-do.

  • MsLorretty

    I’ve been shredding my boxes one by one and trying to get to the point where I can live life traveling with only what I can carry on my back–which is typically only my cross. Love this!

    • #boxshreddersunite

      Love ya, Lorretta.

  • I’m thankful for the Sandy’s in my life because I am NOT one myself. Sigh. But I am slowly learning to let go of my to-do lists and embrace life and the people the Lord brings to it. Off to lunch now on just a spontaneous occasion. {smile}

    • I’m learning, too.

      And see you there? How you did that? The lunch thing? What did you do? What did you eat? Details, friend! Are you home yet? 🙂

  • I think there is so much value in white space — on a canvas, on a calendar. White space means expectancy, freedom, less tension, more room for Him to move. I love your challenge to be more instead of do more.

    • Mmmmm. Yes. More white space; more margin. Thanks Jen.

  • Karrilee Aggett

    Oh My Stars… I just can’t even.

    I love you. That is all.

    • Love you back, Karrilee. Come to Iowa. Let’s play Bingo, m’kay? xo

  • soulstops

    love that picture of you and Katharine dancing 🙂

  • This is such a good reminder. Yes! A human BEing. Thank you.

    • So glad I have some Sandy’s in my life to keep me in a state of BEing, rather than DOing. And? I hope to be a Sandy in someone else’s life. (Back AWAY from the calendar…) 🙂

  • Jennifer, your words have left me breathless. Yes, yes to all of it. Thank you.

    • You are so welcome, Jennifer. Always a joy to see your smile here in comment thread.

  • Rachael

    Something happened over the holidays and I got stuck inside me. I appreciate your words helping me to come out again, experience the wonder of the moments happening all around me and begin again to enter in to living life out loud. I am going to try and be intentional with this TODAY! Blessings to you, Jennifer! Love, Rachael

    • Rachael, Were you able to identify what got you stuck inside of you? It happens to all of us, for all kinds of reasons. I am praying now that God will completely “unstick” you. Much love.

      • Rachael

        Yes, Jennifer. I know the trigger. Just old stuff I still need to work through that flares up once in a while. Thank you for praying.

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  • this leaves me in a blur of gratefulness.

    • Reliving it did the same thing for me, Lisa. Thanks for sharing in the experience today.

  • GrammaT

    You flatter me for being plain “old” me friend. And I am wondering would you and your favorite farmer be interested in dance lessons with RT and me? We could use our feet and our arms both. Learning together would be a memory making event of its own, I promise you;) you blessed me today sweet lady. May you also be blessed I return.

    • Oh my word. Sandy. Wouldn’t we have fun? Are you and RT teaching? Or, are we all going to take lessons together? Missin’ you, friend. I need me some Sandy Time.

    • I wanna come! D and I took some ballroom lessons, and we failed miserably. We’d try again if we had someone fun like ya’ll to fail forward with us!

  • Yeah! I want to live this way–to retire the “doing” in favor of BEING. Yeeeeeesssss! Can you hear me hollering from Ohio? thank you for this, Jennifer. For real.

  • After reading this, you know what? I feel kinda human. Again. And so I’ve been sitting here a while, smiling. Quietly enjoying how the sun can pour through the window and press down against my back, like a warm hug, how the corner of my eyes turned “moist” while reading, and how your words keep dancing.

    • Thank you, my friend, for coming by for a word-dance. Always a delight to see you in the comment box.

  • Oh! I love this, and I love, love, love Katherine’s response! You know, I’ve had a few experiences like that myself, perhaps not with the same vision of God’s arms crossed against His chest, but His Spirit whispered the same challenge to mine.

    This was beautiful, Jennifer. And I’m glad you blessed in your response.

  • Beautiful releasing words that free the dancer in us all. Yes, oh yes…let’s live to Be rather than to Do! I so needed to read this. My life is constrained a lot physically and I have fallen into a bad pattern of measuring my days by whatever succeeds in getting ticked off the mile long (always behind) ‘To Do’ list. As one who is crawling nearer to the retirement home end of the spectrum (or feels like it) rather than the youthfully exuberant 18 year old, I feel a craving within to dance free again ~ even if that’s only in my spirit. Thank you for giving us permission to savour the moment and enjoy the taste of today. Bless you, Jennifer. May you have more bingo days and crazy ways as you live outside the box of your own making. 🙂 x

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    I absolutely LOVE this Jennifer–because I love you and your willingness to rethink and pick that phone back up, for spending time with the elderly (how I adore them and how often people ignore them), and for being willing to let go and dance with your hands. And you know what? I’ll even bet this year, like Fred Astair in one of his great movies, you will dance on the ceiling. I think perhaps you read that little guest post I wrote for Kel Rohlf’s blog, where I mention dancing in the apple orchard, when my Michael wouldn’t. Sometimes, you just gotta go ahead and take the time to dance. And I love this post, too, because you realize that God doesn’t frown upon our dancing….in fact, He invites us to be His partner, take His hand, and dance the dance of life with Him. And oh gosh, I also love that you are one incredible writer–just stellar! Whew! I’m winded from all this loving….maybe a bit more energetic than being, but close–really close.

  • GrammaT!!!

    I’m telling you, Jennifer, I can see you looking up, looking down, looking up, looking down. I see God with His raised eyebrow. I see Katherine. And I want to pick more daisies. Or for now, throw more snowballs.

  • lindalouise

    Oh Jennifer. Why does this make me get all teary. This is what I long for. All for Him – moment by moment.

  • Alia_Joy

    Oh my goodness, friend! So much YES and AMEN to this. I’ve been feeling it too. Sometimes those boxes just box you in and you forget what glory looks like in the unexpected graces that fall between the lines.

  • Beth

    I have a similar to response to Karrilee… Oh my goodness! So much goodness in this post. Oh I just love you! Beautiful.

  • Having spent so many years caring for my Mama in three different senior residence/assisted living/nursing home, I know ever-so-well what you were saying. The now is never to return and there may not be a tomorrow. My mother lived to 98, almost 99. Mama did what she wanted to do as best she could and loved so much of life, even when life took her precious husband at a young age, when life meant raising three girls by herself, when life moved her many times, and on and on. Mama lived with joy and laughter in her heart and on her face. Right now, I am not “living” anywhere close to the way she did. But I am looking at that through new glasses tonight. Praise be to God. Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  • Oh, this is so beautiful, Jennifer! I’m with you – do less and BE more. And spontaneously dance and enjoy the gifts God gives us generously. May He keep giving eyes to see His beauty and hearts to receive the Love He longs to fill us with each day.

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  • This is “so me”, Jennifer! I fight against interruptions and I’m sure I miss so many blessings. Let’s dance, shall we?

  • Annetta

    Sandy is my inspiration! Oh to feel free to laugh and be spontaneous as she is. What a blessing her smile is!

  • Carole

    Gorgeously written…what more can I say? Thank you for reminding us all to be human beings.

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  • Oh my. Something beautiful to think on. I want to be somebody’s Sandy!

  • B Baird

    Such a beautiful story and one to inspire us to be spontaneous and just “be”. Thank you.

  • Wow. That was beautiful. I’m so happy you and God had the stare down and you caved.

  • bluecottonmemory

    I want a Sandy in my life:) We all need someone to pull us out of our boxes! Smiling over here at how beautifully she pulled you out of yours!

  • Hannah Young

    Wonderful article! Far to easy to get sucked into the “do’s” and miss life in the process 🙂 Happy to find your page, especially being an Iowa girl, myself, surrounded by the beauty of the cornfields on our century family farm.

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@jenfulwiler You model this well, Jennifer. Loving Jesus and serving him boldly with your gifts.