When Rebecca Smith gifted me my first Better Life Bag many years ago, I carried it with gratefulness because I knew the face, the story, of the woman who sewed it. Rebecca started Better Life Bags almost accidentally and continued with it steadfastly and obediently. It grew, as most things do, one small step at a time. Watch and read, as Rebecca encourages us to “be the turtle”, slow down, and realize that the days we are living – yes even now in the middle of a pandemic – might be the ones we long for someday down the road. It’s a grace to welcome Rebecca to the farm’s front porch today…
I went into my daughter’s room the other night and leaned over her bed to kiss her goodnight.
She put her hands up and grunted while scrunching up her face and turning it from me. It was clear that she didn’t want a goodnight kiss from me.
I stood back up and gently rebuked her. “No. We don’t do this. We don’t know when this might be the last night we will see each other. We have to take all the opportunities to say ‘I love you’ and give out hugs and kisses to people we love. It’s not worth the risk to play these games.”
Her face turned toward me as she realized for the first time that this life is temporary.
“You mean, you’re going to die tonight?” she asked with tears pooling in her eyes.
“We don’t know, little love. We don’t know when our last moments together will be, so we have to really live out the ones we know we have—the ones right now.”
I lay down in her bed and held her until she fell asleep, inhaling the smell of her hair and watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. I counted the freckles on her cheek and noticed the way her eyelashes curl up when her eyes are closed.
This was my moment with her—I was guaranteed this one but not the next.
We are not guaranteed tomorrow. No one has modeled this more than my friend, Ashley.
We lived in the same apartment complex as she and her husband, Josh, when we lived in Savannah. Wanting to join our mission to invest in the people of Hamtramck, they moved up to Michigan a year after we did.
She was there with Better Life Bags in the corners of my house since the beginning. Our kids would play together in Jonah’s bedroom while Ashley and I finished packaging orders.
One day Ashley and her husband, Josh, sat Neil and me down on our couch and told us they were moving back to Georgia. Things weren’t working out for them here, and they needed to go back. They were so far from family. The winters were so cold. The jobs for Josh were lacking.
But mostly, they felt a pressing need from God to move home. We would soon find out why.
A few months after Ashley and her family settled back in humid—but beautiful—Savannah, Georgia, I got an email from her with the subject line “Cancer.”
Her John. Her five-year-old John had just been diagnosed with cancer. And not the good kind—as if any kind can be good.
It became a matter of prolonging his life until a cure could be found—which was hopefully soon. The cure wasn’t found in time, and we said goodbye to John in October 2018, one week before I gave birth to Gavin.
Death and birth all within seven short days. It was a lot for me to process, and I couldn’t imagine how Ashley was reeling.
As we’ve talked together in these recent months after losing John, remembering his life and visiting the places in Michigan that he loved when they come back to visit, I’ve been reminded again that this life is temporary.
Half of Ashley’s heart now lives in heaven, while she continues to put one foot in front of the other here on earth. But she calls herself “one of the lucky ones.”
She wrote this in a Facebook post:
“When John was diagnosed in June 2016, something in me broke. It was a very good and necessary breaking. My ultimate worst fear had come true. My son was nowhere near perfect. He was so sick, and God used his disease to surely plant my hope elsewhere. My hope is not in my kids, their abilities, or their futures. The dreams that I used to dream for our kids and our family now seem so futile.
This world and all its desires are passing away, and I’m so grateful for God—the dream crusher—who uses these hard life circumstances to train us. Those of us with sick kids just might be the lucky ones in light of eternity.”
I often think about those days in Hamtramck together and remember the crazy, the fun, the hard.
The days before cancer.
The days before heartbreak.
The days when all we had to worry about was getting orders to the post office before customers started emailing and wondering when they would ship.
Those were the days. But did we know it at the time?
Did we treasure those moments and try to spend every millisecond we could in them?
Do we know that today—the day you are reading these words on this page—is the day we will long for in the future?
Do we realize that these are the days? The ones happening right now.
These are our actual days that we will look back on in five or ten years and long for. The days of small beginnings when everything is scrappy and we are working in the margins of life to bring some dream to the surface.
The days of wiping butts and wiping mouths and going through so many wipes we’re sure we’ve killed an entire forest single-handedly.
Everything has a season.
None of our moments will last.
Our children will not remain small forever. The days of puzzle-making, crayon art, and popsicles on the front porch in the heat of summer are fading fast.
We never know when our time will be up.
So we should live every day as if it’s our last. Not necessarily by going skydiving and climbing Mount Everest, but by living well and small and deep—walking confidently on the path laid out before us, knowing it has been planned and prepared for us. And that it is good.
I’m especially grateful for my Better Life Bags journey and this path God has led me on.
I don’t know how the story ends. I don’t know when this chapter of my life will be over or where the business will go next or how long our season will last or how many lives we will impact—both locally and nationally, as people hear our story and are encouraged to start missional businesses of their own.
I don’t know whether I’ll sell the company someday or still be working there alongside my kids in thirty years. Maybe I’ll never know the legacy we left behind as we kept our head down on our own path and walked deliberately, one foot in front of the other.
Maybe that’s why writing now—before the story is over—is when God wanted me to write, so that we could all be reminded that the middle is the good stuff.
These are the actual days. The days for a quiet life. A deep life. A meaningful life.
Look up and look around.
This, right here, is our better life.
Rebecca Smith is the founder of Better Life Bags, a custom handbag company whose workforce is made up of local women with barriers to employment. Rebecca loves to encourage and coach young entrepreneurs who desire to use their businesses for good. She is passionate about reminding women that when it comes to pursuing dreams, waiting on God’s nudges always beats hustling hard. It’s okay being the turtle; life is better when it’s slow.
A Better Life: Slowing Down to Get Ahead is her debut book. It is a memoir threaded with life lessons about slowing down, making U-turns, managing the hustle, and looking for the gifts God leaves for each of us along the way. It’s an anthem to see your life – the one you have right now – as good. By doing so, you might just end up way ahead.
As you read this inspiring story, you will discover how to hear and follow God’s voice for yourself as you slow down, take one small step at a time, and make a difference in the world right where you are.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]