With the end of summer and the start of fall, there seem to be an overwhelming number of picnics and cookouts. Celebrating everything from team victories, to pool closings, Labor Day and new school years. All of them have one thing in common. Food.
Food is something my family loves.
But we have issues.
You see, both of my sons are gluten free, one of my daughters and my youngest son both have nut allergies and my oldest daughter and I don’t eat red meat. Talk about high maintenance! We’re picky and hard to feed, for various reasons, but mainly, so we can all stay healthy and safe.
We recently attended a cookout that was lovely. Our entire family had fun playing corn hole and chatting with friends, but we came home HUNGRY. How could that be? Because of our dietary needs, there wasn’t much for any of us to eat that was “safe”. When we got home, and I scoured the fridge for something to serve, I couldn’t help laughing and thinking this is exactly how it is living life in this world as a Christian.
Christian rocker and rapper, Toby Mac
We go about enjoying this life, attending school, work, sporting events, concerts, and yes, even cookouts, with everybody else. But we’re pickier, and sometimes can’t take part in what everyone else is consuming. I mean we could, but we’d end up not feeling well, off balanced, nauseous, or out of sorts. The cafeteria line of life is full of tempting choices; music and movies, magazines and word choice, what we say about others, how we treat others, how we treat and talk about ourselves. Some of these dishes are tasty – like gossip, but leave a bad aftertaste. Some of them, like listening to Toby Mac (instead of Drake) are like dark chocolate – hard to believe it’s good for you, so delish. And others are more like carrots, not the most popular choice, but crunchy and good for the way we see things. What if we all filled our plates with these choices everyday?
Don’t get me wrong. Christians don’t need to fast through life, but we do need to be picky as we go through the buffet line, for our own safety.
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 1 Peter 1:13-16 MSG
Sometimes this is awkward. Sometimes it’s downright difficult. It's usually uncomfortable. “How would you like your burger cooked?” is a difficult question to answer if you’re vegetarian. You don’t want to offend the host. Yet, you know the hamburger goes against your values.
How about this one…
“You have got to try the brownies, they are the best thing ever!”
You want the brownie. It’s gooey and chocolatey. You’re sick of having to pass up on all the “good stuff” because you’re gluten free, and even sicker of having to tell everyone you’re gluten free. But you know if you eat it you’ll have stomach cramps for days.
Gooey chocolatey brownies. My gluten-free recipe is here http://www.laurasmithauthor.com/4/post/2012/02/the-greatest-of-these-is-love.html
When we’re at the picnic of life, what should we do when someone says, “You have got to see Hangover 7, here I burned a copy for you.”? How do we react when a friend suggests to eat at the back table in the dining hall, so Katelyn, the clingy girl can’t find you?
As Christians we are encouraged to take the things that are good for us, and leave the things that aren’t in their serving dishes and crock pots. If that means leaving the party a little hungry, that’s okay. We can always go home and find something that satisfies our cravings. Christ will fill us up with love, strength and courage--all of the things that make us truly fulfilled.
What’s your favorite cookout food?
When I was on my high school’s dance team, our motto was “Teamwork Makes It Happen”. Not very catchy, but there’s a lot of truth in that phrase. On dance team it wasn’t about an individual’s abilities, it was about dancing in sync, together. The perfect example was the kick line. Everyone’s kicks had to be the exact same height, so it appeared as if one giant leg was going up then down, while the other giant leg followed suit. Shorter girls had to stand on tiptoes to make their legs reach. Uber flexible girls actually had to lower their kicks to line up with the team.
Have you ever been part of a softball team? A play? A fundraiser? If so, you know the risks of putting yourself out there. You’ve had to rely on others. You understand the challenges of working collectively for a common good.
I haven’t been in a kick line for a looooonnnnggg time, but this past fall I was invited to be on a team to launch a new line of young adult fiction books. By now, you’ve probably heard me chat about Playlist Fiction. Ever wonder what authors talk about when they get together? Everything, really. But recently, one of the other Playlist authors, Laura Kurk, and I were chatting about the excitement and uncertainty of banding together to create something new. Here’s an inside peek at our conversation.
LS: I remember when our agent suggested forming a team of authors to launch a new line, to include your novels, my novels, Jennifer Murgia’s latest title, Stephanie Morrill’s newest book and debut author Rajdeep Paulus. I know what was going through my mind. What was on yours?
LK: Writing is a lonely profession. It takes physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to maintain the integrity of our thoughts and ideas while we work.
I’m usually okay with this, being an introverted soul. But sometimes I feel too alone. I’ve dreamed of having a team of like-minded people who would offer support, guidance, and friendship. I said yes, without hesitation.
LS: Me too. It was an incredible idea to have a support network within the solitude, to not have to go these books alone. But there was still a major unknown. None of us had worked together. All of our writing styles were a little different. What were your concerns?
LK: The same all students have when they hear the dreaded words, “Group Project.” I was always the kid who took on the biggest part—because I wanted the project done right. But, it turns out, I think we were all the kids who took on the majority of the work for group projects.
LS: So, was that because we were overachievers, or because we enjoyed writing essays?
LK: Ha! Both. But the great thing about our team is we overachieve for each other. I’ve never really been on a team, so this is my first experience with seeing other people sacrifice their time and talent for each other. It’s overwhelming. Makes me wish I had played t-ball or something.
LS: T-ball was not my best experience. Let’s just say I sat the bench. A writing team uniform fits me way better. I think the two major factors that have led to the success of our team are communication and a common desire to succeed as a whole. LK: We’ve avoided any of us carrying all the weight. L S: Right. We share it. Our communication from the get-go was key. Remember the dozens of emails about expectations and content for the line? LK: Back and forth, plus the conference calls. We agreed on a mission and a feel. We agreed our books would be unique, real, and match the rhythm of our readers’ lives. We incorporated that into everything from our plot lines to the Playlist Fiction website. LS: And once we identified ourselves, we all took responsibilities based on our strengths. You developed our Twitter account. Jennifer worked with the designer. Rajdeep created the count down graphics and manages our Playlist fan mail. And what would we do without Stephanie who writes the newsletter and runs all the spreadsheets? It was remarkable to watch everyone play to her areas of expertise. We had all poured ourselves into our novels. We longed for them to reach readers who would identify with our characters and gravitate to our plots. The more readers engaged with the Playlist Fiction brand overall, the more opportunities we had to touch those readers. LK: We were all invested. LS: All for one and one for all. What hopes did you have for the team? LK: I hoped I would develop relationships with people who shared my faith and my goals. I hoped for friends who would understand why writing is spiritually fulfilling for me, and who would hold me accountable with the words I choose. We’re not just a team. We’ve found friendship, validation, accountability, a louder voice, a bigger splash. We’re even prayer warriors. LS: It’s awesome isn’t it? It’s powerful for me to see how much stronger we are together than alone. But when you gain something, you tend to give something up. What did you sacrifice to be part of a team verses publishing your novels under a solo contract?
LK: I think there’s a misconception that publishing solo with an existing publisher means you can sit back. Authors have to market themselves constantly, so the team has been a blessing. The sacrifices I’ve made have been easy. The amount of work we’ve done to build recognition for this debut line of fiction has been mind-blowing. We’ve worked a lot of late nights.
LS: Which resulted in a lot of late night e-mails. Some of them made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Others brought tears to my eyes. We swapped lyrics from everything from the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song to old Depeche Mode tunes. We shared stories about our siblings and children, admitted indulgences and weaknesses. We became good friends.
LK: I love how we support one another. Often you see writers who grab attention, because attention translates into sales. Our team members are more concerned with making sure we all find success. We work like this because we believe in the message of hope and healing we each have for our audience. We write for young adults. We found each other because we all felt there was a lack of hopeful fiction for teens.
LS: I’m praying we’ll provide some of that much needed hope.
LK: I believe we are. But despite the encouragement from one another, it does take maturity to keep this team in tact.
LS: Definitely. All teams do. None of us can be scorekeepers. We can’t say, “she did this and she didn’t do that while I did this.” Just like soccer player can’t say, “I scored and she missed my pass and she should have stolen that ball.” Each author has the integrity to give our team her personal best. As a team, we respect and honor the time and way we each achieve this. On any given day one author could be promoting the line, while another is dealing with family issues and yet another is frantically editing her next novel. The following week those roles can and do switch. What’s beautiful is how much we lean on one another, draw from one another, learn from one another. Like you said at the beginning, writing can be a lonely endeavor. But our team offers a community to share the writing journey.
Jesus didn’t leave one disciple high and dry to share the gospel. He introduced them to one another, had them dine together, travel together, so when it was time for Him to ascend, the disciples were prepared to work as a team. I believe God brought our Playlist Fiction team together to share the stories He’s put in our hearts. Are you part of a team? How do you think God’s equipped you to be an important team member?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I recently had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon with a six-year old. Granted I knew who the turtles were, some kind of super heroes who ate pizza and shouted, “Cowabunga!” But, I’d never actually watched an episode.
The thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is—they mutate.
TGRI, the chemical OOZE that causes the mutations.
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo began as four ordinary turtles in the sewer system of New York City, but after coming in contact with OOZE they mutated into these cool ninja-like heroes and were named after Italian painters. But the problem with OOZE is it doesn’t always have positive effects.
There is an episode (trust me, I watched eight in a row) where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mutate into creepish, monster-like versions of themselves. Instead of bringing peace they bring destruction. Instead of working together (“turtle power”) they attack one another.
I find myself mutating sometimes too. I don’t have to come in contact with TGRI (the chemical nickname for the OOZE) to turn into a monstrous version of myself. All it takes is something small and quirky. It might be the train gates clanging shut just as I approach, followed by the longest cargo train ever crossing the tracks to mutate me from my smiley self to an impatient grouch. Or if I spill my dark roast with mocha down the front of my white shirt, I mutate from feeling stylin’ to feeling like an ugly beast and growling a bit for good measure. If I hear a friend has been talking behind my back, I mutate into someone with a hole in my gut, who snaps and says unkind things in return.
Leonardo when he mutates into the worst version of himself.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed fragments of Vortex Crystal to stabilize their mutations. I need The Word.
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth 1 Peter 3: 11
I read that, and I’m a bit less monstrous. I feel more comfortable in my own shell and don’t’ feel the need to bad-talk those who have bad-talked me.
OR Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be
2 Thessalonians 1:2
And then I’m less grouchy, less negative and less worried if I’m late for a meeting or have dark brown spots down my blouse.
God’s Word reminds me I am not alone, I am loved, I am capable, God will give me strength and stand by my side. I can breathe deeply, shake it off, cross the tracks, take a sip and walk proud, knowing I am stabilized.
Only the Vortex Crystal can save the turtles? What stabilizes you?
Melissa is the main character from my novel addressing eating disorders, Skinny. Click here to order.
I decided to start this blog as a way for me to work out some of the things going on in my head. Like my eating disorder. Somehow it seems less harmful if I say “eating disorder” like my doctor does, instead of ANOREXIA or BULIMIA which sound so vulgar and catastrophic. But the words “eating disorder” also make what’s going on with me sound so sterile and almost insignificant. Which it’s not! Because even though I’m “on the path of recovery”, I’m guessing I’ll never be normal about food again. I can’t look at a cheeseburger or a Cadbury egg without calculating fat grams and calories. I’m not allowed to diet, because it could spin into something ugly. So, even though I look normal, or at least normalish, I’m still eating, but trying to make that not be way too much food or way not enough food. It’s complicated!
Food, dance team, homework, and did I mention my boyfriend? These are some of the things I struggle with.
Then there’s my boyfriend, Beau, who’s not actually my boyfriend because even though he says he likes me and I’m nutso over him, his parents say we can’t date. Well, we couldn’t date during basketball season. You guessed it, he’s a basketball player. As of last weekend, the season is officially over. So, we’re allowed to date again, only we’ve been on this break the last few months, so we don’t know what to do, how to do this dating thing. Sometimes I don’t know how to act around him – like how much of myself to reveal or how cool to try and act. But I’m completely mesmerized by him, and well, it’s a mess.
Melissa holding her Bible for encouragement.
I also need to talk about God, because even though I know He’s always been there for me, I was ignoring Him, and that turned out to be a major mistake. I almost lost my friends, my slot on dance team (which is where I truly feel alive), Beau, everything, because I thought I could do it all by myself. I figured out the hard way, the ultra hard way that I can’t do everything by myself. I’m not even supposed to. God wants me to depend on Him. And, as long as I do my part, which means trying my hardest to be the best Melissa Rollins I can be, and talk to Him about it, He’ll take care of the rest. It sounds easy, and I’m really trying, but some days are harder than others.
So, I have to trust. Trust that I’ll figure out all this stuff about food and boys and God and somehow maintain good grades and keep my dance coach happy. Like I said before, it’s impossible to do it alone. But, I do believe, with God all things are possible.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!
Skinny a novel about self image, eating disorders and a relationship with Christ is FREE on Kindle this week
Melissa Rollins is juggling all the balls in the air; dance team, freshman year of high school, new girl friends, a new boyfriend, grades. And it's all going quite well, it always has, until there are too many balls in the air to juggle anymore. She feels like her life is spinning out of control. How can Melissa be accepted and appreciated when there are so many pressures to be perfect? How can she gain back a little bit of that control?
Download your FREE copy this week only on Kindle:
Everything, Mary De Muth's latest book on faith, releases this week.
Thump. Bump. Thump.
The familiar sound of Howard, my daughter’s pet tortoise, trying to escape his terrarium interrupted my writing. Deciding we both needed a breath of fresh air, I gathered him from his glass home and took him out into the yard. Howard marched over to the mulch to explore. As he rested under my rose bush, my phone rang. “Hi Mom,” I answered.
Mom chatted. I answered, then I scanned for Howard. Where was he? “Me too.” I responded, but my eyes were glued to the ground. Howard is various shades of brown with a tinge of green, perfect camouflage to keep him safe from predators and apparently to keep him hidden from me.
“Sorry, Mom, I have Howard outside and I can’t find him,” I confessed, since I wasn’t engaged in our conversation. We exchanged goodbyes, as I robotically lowered my phone. I really didn’t see him. I’ve lost sight of Howard before, but only for a few seconds, then his bumpy shell always comes back into view. But this time I didn’t see him -- anywhere.
I dropped to my knees and crawled around the flowerbed. “Howard” I called, knowing he couldn’t answer. Why couldn’t he be like a dog or cat who could make a sound, or who might even come to me when I call? Howard could be right next to me and I might not know, or he could be traversing into the woods. I searched the stem of every plant, rummaged through piles of leaves and ran my fingers along the base of the house. Nothing.
What if the whole time I’d been searching the landscaping, Howard was lumbering across the white gravel driveway into the woods? How would I ever find an eight-inch tortoise in the woods? How far could he have gone? That was the question. At full speed, Howard could cover quite a distance, and it had been half an hour. In the woods he could be anywhere. Or what if he’d curled up in his shell to take a snooze? How would I find him if he lay perfectly still?
I know. I know. It’s a tortoise I’m talking about here. But it’s not just a tortoise. Howard is my daughter’s pet, her first true love. She holds him and pets him and feeds him and nurtures him like a mama cares for a baby. My heart raced. Blood pumped to my brain, pulsing, drumming. My adrenaline surged with anxiety. If anything happened to Howard it would crush my daughter. Think of someone you love and the one thing most important to him or her. What if you lost it? That’s how I felt. I didn’t want to be the cause of her pain.
For an hour and a half I did my Katniss Everdeen impersonation. I scanned the driveway for contrast of brown against white. I scoured the yard for bumps or movement. I strained my eyes for signs of Howard. And then I dashed into the woods. Down on all fours I crawled and dug and brushed away tree branches. I’m sure I looked crazy in my running clothes scaling rocky hills and digging through dirt and deteriorating leaves, but I didn’t care. I needed to find Howard for my daughter, for her heart. I pulled out clumps of weeds, hiked down to the creek and back. I strained my ears for the slightest rustle of a leaf, the smallest crunch of a twig and I prayed.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. Matthew 5:4
I begged God to help me find Howard, knowing God knew precisely the spot where Howard was. “Please show me, God!” I pleaded out loud. And as I heard my words, I knew there was more to them than the missing reptile.
“Please show me God!” I implored again. “Please show me what you need me to do. Please show me what I can give up for you.”
And as I begged God to help, He answered, “I don’t’ want you to give up something, one thing. I want you to give me EVERYTHING.”
I’ve been reading Mary De Muth’s new book, Everything, which focuses on dedicating 100% of ourselves to Jesus, but I’ve been in a place for quite a while where I’ve given Him about 80%. I love Jesus. I worship Him. I pray to Him. I trust Him. I read His word, and then I try to take control of things myself.
In the dirt, desperate to find a Russian tortoise, God reminded me, what He really wanted from me, was for me to give it all to Him. Not some, but all.
I crouched, strained, crawled like a cat. I swished another clump of leaves with my fingers. And then I saw it – two brownish, blackish, greenish bumps poked out from a pile of leaves.
“I found him!” I cried, easing Howard out of the earthen hole he’d dug for himself. Covered in dirt Howard was safe. He stretched out his neck and nodded, as if to say, “hello.” I held him up to the heavens, shouting, “Thank you God.”
“Thank you God!” I announced again breaking into sobs. I thanked God for His grace to help me find two brownish bumps in the woods, but even more so, for helping me find myself wrapped in Him and Him living in me 100%, for reminding me that He is my everything.
“God’s heart for us is that we would need Him; we’d lay our heads on His chest like a child needing a daddy after skinning a knee. We cannot experience this kind of relationship with Him if we are proud. We cannot grow to be more like Jesus without brokenness. Ironic, isn’t it? To grow, we give up. We rest. We give God control.” Mary DeMuth Everything
Is Jesus your EVERYTHING? Are you ready for Him to be?
The iPhoto screen on my Mac gave me more insight on God and His plans then on mastering my computer.
“Hello, I’m Paul. Fancy we get out of this rubble and find someplace quieter?” I was greeted at the Apple store by the usual friendly smile in a royal blue t-shirt, this time with a British accent.
“Sounds great,” I nodded, eager to escape the din of crazed shoppers clamoring for iPhone 5s.
Paul led me out of the store, down the escalators and to a small café table on the fringe of the food court. “We seem to get a decent signal here.” He pulled out a chair. “What did you have in mind to work on today?”
“PowerPoint.” I opened my Mac with a soft thud. “ I mean, I know how to use PowerPoint, but I want to learn the cool stuff; the animations, inserting my music into just the right places, you know, to make my presentations more impactful.”
Paul slid his Buddy Holly glasses up his nose and frowned. “Don’t do PowerPoint. That’s a Microsoft product.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, “Even if I knew how I wouldn’t be allowed to train you on it. Apple has a similar product you could purchase, but to be honest, if you’re already utilizing PowerPoint I’d stick with that.”
Speechless, I looked at my computer screen for answers. It felt like an apple had dropped into the pit of my stomach. The smells of French fry grease and teriyaki chicken wafted my way. I drove an hour to get to the Apple store. I’m sitting here, just sitting here now. It will take me another hour to get home. I forfeited my time intentionally to learn a specific skill. Three hours of my time.
I looked up to Paul, pleading, as if my needs could overrule store policy, “When I made the appointment on line, I wrote in the notes section I wanted to train on PowerPoint, that’s why I came.”
Paul launched into a crisp explanation of regulations and compatibility and offered to help me with something else. But I didn’t want help with something else. Maybe because I so desperately wanted my excursion to have some value, or maybe because Paul was from Liverpool, and I have always and always will love the Beatles, or maybe it was a dare, but I challenged, “Okay, Paul. Since I’m here. Show me something spectacular I can do with my Mac.”
“Do you have pictures?” He asked in his brisk accent. “Because I’m a photographer, and you can do some truly brilliant things. Let’s take a look.” Paul clicked on my iPhoto pulling up shots of scenery I’m using as the setting for my new book. As he propelled into a tutorial on adjusting saturation and shadows, goose bumps climbed up my arms. Now, I knew why I was here, why God brought me to this place.
“You’re a photographer?” I sat up in my hard metal chair. “Do you ever shoot in film? Or only digital? Because, I’m an author.” I confessed, something I rarely share with strangers. “And the character in the book I’m writing is a photographer. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
And just like that my failed appointment turned into a golden opportunity. Paul and I spent our hour not on PowerPoint, but chatting about filters and tripods and dark rooms. It was the perfect interview I could have never planned. I went to the mall searching for help with my computer skills. Instead, God gave me phrases, and terms and tidbits that only a true photographer would know, adding authenticity and depth to my newest novel.
You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need Philippians 4:19 MSG
And I could tell, oddly, it made Paul’s day too. He glowed as he discussed his passion for photography with me.
God always knows exactly what I need. He always provides, even when I get frustrated and bothered and annoyed, and can’t see what He’s up to. I left the mall warm, content and excited with the sensation of absorbing the sun’s rays on the beach. I was bursting with gratitude and awe for the plans God has for me, and how He brings them to fruition.
What hiccup did you run into today? How do you think God will use it as part of His amazing plan?
Roses my six-year old picked for me, giving me the best driving lesson of all.
The trickiest moment for me each day is pulling into my garage. Due to some optic issues (three eye surgeries as a child) I have no depth perception. Both sides of the garage seem to be closing in on me, or maybe they’re really far away – impossible to say. After nine years of driving my old car, I’d figured out the angle to head in, the timing of turning my wheel, the exact second to rotate the steering wheel counterclockwise to straighten out. But my trusty Mazda finally gave up, and I got a new one.
After enjoying all the fun new gadgets of a new car for four weeks (like heated seats on a chilly morning and being able to stream all my favorite tunes from my iPod through my speakers) I heard the noise - the sickening, shrill scraping, sound of metal on wood. I felt the pressure of the car against the frame of the garage as if it were pushing directly into my chest. And in this instant I was frozen, but I couldn’t stay there. I could not leave the car half in and half out.
How often in life do I get stuck – halfway between happy and sad, between starting and finishing, between resentment and forgiveness, between selfishness and selflessness, between letting go and holding on, between doing it for my good or for the good of God’s kingdom? Frozen in place, afraid to move forward or back.
If I pulled out, my car would scratch and smash its way out of its predicament. If I pulled forward I would scrape and bang my way in. Either way was guaranteed to cause even more damage. Yet I was forced to move.
Sometimes moving can be more intimidating than getting stuck.
I pulled the car the rest of the way into the garage, cringing as the wood continued to gouge my car’s side. Once in park, my kiddos jumped out to play in the yard, and I disembarked to assess the damage. Thick white streaks of garage paint scarred the black shiny veneer of my new vehicle. But I was safe. My kids were safe. The car still ran. And, I was no longer stuck.
While I was examining the scratches, my six-year old son came running to my side. He held three spectacular ruby red roses, sweet and fragrant. “These are for you, Mama.” He smiled.
Most of my life I’m driving along, happy, busy, content. But, when I’m wedged halfway between where I was and where I’m supposed to go, do I put 100% of my faith in Him? Am I willing to grind a little more, scrape my sides, take another gouge or two, sacrifice some time or comfort or success to get out of life’s traps?
If I come out of a mess with a few scars, isn’t that okay? Isn’t the important thing that I come out holding God’s hand?
Pulling my son close and feeling his warm little body in mine, I remembered what truly matters. Not cars. Not my ability to park or drive, not my determination to do things my way, to stay where I’m comfortable or to cave into the in-between.
When the going gets tough, sometimes it takes a few more scratches to come out of that tight spot. But once out, there is safety and peace and beauty and love. These lyrics from Holly Starr’s song, “My Cry” are the perfect prayer in these moments. “I will not stay here anymore. I’m not the way I was before. I need your strength. I need your help, Oh Lord.”
What do you need to grind out today to pull through the place where you’re stuck?
Two boys playing violin outside San Luca in Bologna, Italy
I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Control. We all want it. We all strive for it. Whether it is
control over what grade we get in a class, what we eat for dinner, what
projects we’ll be assigned at work, how a relationship will work, what channel
we’re watching – we want to be able to call the shots, make the decisions, have
a say in how and why and when.
Today was the first snowfall of the year. I woke up to a majestic
world frosted in pure white icing. With the beauty came the crisp, cold air,
fresh and pure, seemingly cleansing my lungs as I stepped out of the garage and
The drive uptown to fetch my morning coffee usually takes me five
minutes, only three when the college students are gone for Christmas break. But
this morning the roads were slick. Cars inched along the roads, even though the
dusting of snow was barely an inch deep. I drove cautiously, in no hurry,
nothing I had to rush to get to, taking in the spectacular
A few minutes later, venti Italian roast with a shot of chocolate
in hand, I got back in my car. I took a sip of the dark, rich warmth and turned
the key. At the first stop sign my antilock brakes ground and squealed and
crunched under my foot, but my car did not stop. I kept going right through the
stop sign, even though I’d only been cruising at about seven miles an hour.
Thankfully, our college town is all but deserted while the students are away,
and no other cars were in sight.
But, I didn’t stop.
I wanted to stop. I tried to stop. I did all of the things I
normally do to stop. And yet, my car didn’t stop. I was not in control. I
whispered a prayer of thanks that there were no other cars around, that despite
me driving through a stop sign no one was hurt. I then turned off the side
road, back towards the main road, hoping for smoother sailing. But, as I
turned, my car fishtailed, zigging and zagging across both lanes of the small
street. Again, there were no cars in my way. No one was hurt. But, this was
another strong reminder that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.
As a new year begins, I always make a list of goals for the year
– things I plan on working to accomplish in the upcoming 365 days. I know this
is an important exercise. It is critical to be intentional on how I spend my
time or else my time gets spent for me. It is helpful for me to look out twelve
months to see the potential the year has, to think of ways I can stretch my
faith, my mind, my body, my relationships, my writing in the coming year. Just
like I need to have a full tank of gas, air in my tires, directions to where
I’m going and the key to my car to make it go, I need a plan for my life and my
time. I need to drive the speed limit, stay on the right side of the road, and
step on the brake when there is a stop sign, or else there would be accidents.
People would get hurt. There would be danger and chaos.
God wants me to plan and work and strive as if it all depends on
But, sometimes I step on the brake and I don’t stop. Sometimes,
despite my lists and goals and plans, He has something else in mind. He needs me
to remember, that in the end, it all depends on Him.