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This is the story of the ring I didn't want.

Almost a year ago, we went on a trip to Savannah, GA with friends. It's simply stunning. The architecture. The moss on the trees. The southern food. We loved it.

We explored the historic parts of the city and learned about the role of the Savannah College of Art and Design in the area's economy. We visited the ShopSCAD store, featuring works for sale by students, faculty, and alumni.

I found a tiny brass ring with a bee on it followed by the stamped word STRONG. It spoke to me - I had been realizing how fearful I'd been in so many aspects of my life, and I'd been confronted with the verses that urge "be strong and courageous" over and over again. So I purchased the ring (supporting local art! hooray!) and happily continued with our adventure.

Later that day, we visited the Wormsloe Historic Site plantation. Many movies have been filmed using its treelined mile-long entrance drive.

It was December, but it was Georgia, so our trek alternated between warm in the sunshine and brisk in the shade. We walked the grounds and experienced colonial Christmas traditions and took lots of pictures. When we returned to the car and I reached for my gloves to warm my cold hands, I suddenly realized that the ring was gone. Somewhere between these two photos, my chilly shrinking fingers no longer filled the size of the circle, and it must have fallen off without my notice.

We'd walked miles of leafy forest floor. There was no chance and no time to recover it. I tried to muffle my reaction to the loss in the presence of our friends, and then in the privacy of our car I let myself have it. What a waste of money. How stupid to buy a ring of that size. How dumb to wear it on our walk. I could have tucked it away safely; I know my fingers get cold and small easily. I didn't even own it for 12 hours. I'd thrown away more than $25 of our vacation budget on irresponsibility. I hate that I lose things. This is why I can't have nice things.

...I honestly don't remember what all I said out loud or inside my head. This is probably some of it, and it's probably phrased more gently than whatever I actually said. Chris was there to witness it and listen to it, though - ask him. I was sad and subdued the rest of the day.

Fast forward to this summer. We made a leap of faith to take time off from our jobs to make our next record. I jumped out of teaching after eleven years, despite my fears and my practical mind. I teased Chris that I should get a present for finally taking that chance. (you know, something we have tons of money for now that we're primarily independent musicians...) Or maybe he first brought it up. I don't fully recall.

The transition to self-employment has been tough for me, and I've been facing a lot of doubt-bellowing voices each day. Some days I've done an okay job; some days I've laid in bed far too long, afraid of impending failure and uncertainty. Throughout this change, I have periodically hopped on Etsy and other sites in search of another piece of jewelry that could remind me to Be Strong and Courageous. To be Brave. To recall that God was clear when the decision was being made, and I now need to follow through in the small daily fearful moments. (I said one day in the summer that this was the first moment in my life I've ever felt warranted a tattoo. I'm probably too scared and pain-sensitive to act on that. So jewelry seemed like a decent substitute.) I'm the kind of girl who looks at too many options and gets overwhelmed, though, and when I factor money in, I don't always get around to finally pulling the trigger on things like this. So I hadn't bought anything.

In October, Chris said, "By the way, I haven't forgotten about getting you a present. I know it's been a few months, but I'm working on it." I chuckled and said he was sweet. I wasn't holding him to any kind of expectation on that. Food is generally enough of a treat for me, anyway.

At the end of the month, he presented me with a small package. I opened it. And there inside was a small ring with a gold bee on it. The word after the bee was...

not Strong.

I looked at it and verbally exclaimed how pretty it was while internally managing my surprise. "Be Kind" might be something I picture some people wearing on a shirt or jewelry, but I've never really put myself in that camp. It almost sends the message that i'm usually unkind to people, which is a little weird to receive from your husband.

He said, "It's made by the same artist who made the ring you lost. I didn't get you the same one. Because you're already brave and strong. You need to remember to be kind to yourself."

Huh. Not what I had in mind. But... he's rarely gotten me jewelry. This was a big deal. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and moved forward.

The next day, I put the ring on when I woke up. The ring that I'd imagined (and honestly wanted) would read "Be Strong." Go Do the Thing. Pull Up Your Bootstraps. Suck It Up, Girl. That instead said "Be Kind." Which felt soft and wishy washy and cutesy. I wore it for the next few days without feeling or thinking much. I still hadn't really reconciled myself to what it said.

At our church small group, it somehow came up in our discussion. When I told them that Chris got me a ring that says "Be Kind," they all laughed. Probably at the same conclusion I jumped to - that it sounds a bit like an admonishment to a kid being mean to other kids. Then I spoke of the first lost ring, and then why he'd told me he'd chosen that phrase. And mid-sentence, I choked up. (As I'm typing this, I'm tearing up again.) What I hadn't wanted to hear was starting to dawn on me. He chimed in, saying, "The day you lost that ring was the meanest I've ever seen you be. And it was to yourself. You need to not do that."

These past few months, he's seen me beat myself up something fierce for each day that I haven't met my own expectations. Every day I've slept in too late, spent too long on a task, missed half the things on my to-do list, made a mistake, wasted time on the internet... I've disappointed myself and wallowed in labels of Undisciplined and Failure and Not Good Enough. Which doesn't exactly make me want to change course and start trying harder or working better; it just leads to a spiral of depression and defeat.

I've wanted continued reminders to be brave in the face of self-doubt and fear. I do in fact need them. But God has been trying to whisper a different word to me that I've been too stubborn/sad/conflicted to hear. That I do need to be strong and show up and do the work... But when I fail, I need to give myself Grace. Just as God is the giver of Strength, He is the giver of grace; what right have I to withhold it from myself? What good is it doing me to punish and guilt trip and lash myself for the ways I fall short? If it resulted in lasting change, maybe that would be something... but it hasn't so far. It's just a jail sentence. Grace, however, is an invitation. It wipes the slate, forgives the wrong, gives an immediate fresh start. It says "oh well, what now?" and moves forward. It finds the good moments worth salvaging and builds upon them. It uses Kindness to reclaim the journey.

I look at my ring now and each time I am humbled and want to cry all over again. I didn't get it at first. Now I'm starting to. It was given to me by a spouse who loves me even if I have a bad work day. It was illuminated for me by a God who loves me even if I have a bad work month. A God who loves me because of who He is, not what I've accomplished. Who is Kind in the Grace He lavishes.

It's time for me to be Kind.

If anything above sounded familiar, maybe it's time for you to be Kind to yourself, too. Sometimes the hardest person to show kindness to is the one in the mirror. It's needed, though. You're worth being kind to.

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

(...I don't think the author meant "be this way to each other, but it's fine to be really mean to yourself." Try putting "yourself" in place of "one another" here if, like me, you've been practicing kindness and tenderness and forgiveness on everyone but you.)

*Let's just give one more standing ovation to Chris for knowing nothing about jewelry and going to great lengths to track down an artist who is one of hundreds on a store website, which no longer sold the item he wanted, who then had to scour Etsy, who then had to be sneaky and call in my best friends for help because rings come in sizes, and had to guess when the exact thing isn't something she made anymore, and had to actually talk with a stranger about such things, and even remembered that the original brass had started to turn my finger green and figured silver was better anyway. And probably other things I don't know about. Like, REALLY.

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