There is something magical about opening the pages of a book. The way my fingers slide under the cover, the slight crinkle as the spine feels tension for the first time. The scent of ink escaping from the crisp pages. The friction as the grooves of my fingerprint slide down the title page and table of contents. Don't' get me wrong, I LOVE my Kindle. I mean, it's light, slim, fits in my purse and holds hundreds of books within its small frame. What could be a better travel companion? A better way to have instant access to stories and worlds and characters? Yet, still there is romance for me, in a physical book. That's why I am elated to share that my titles, It's Complicated and It's Over, which were previously only available in e-book format, are now available in print, just in time for Christmas. If you haven't read them yet, because you prefer an old fashioned book, here's your chance. If you've already read them, but wanted to gift them to a friend, teacher, sister or roommate, here's an easy way to do it. IT'S COMPLICATED There's a reason Facebook has the Status Update, It's Complicated. Follow four college roommates, Claire, Palmer, Hannah and Kat as they maneuver crushes, confusion, and the crisis when pushy boys go too far. Complicated as it is, these four friends will pull through, guided by the strength of their friendship and the power of God’s love. BOOK ONE IN THE STATUS UPDATES SERIESORDER
IT'S OVER How do you move on when It's Over? When four college roommates lose pieces of their lives, the pain isolates and the tension rises. Emotions are hard to hide and even harder to tackle. How can the girls move forward, when there is so much pain in letting go? Together, Claire, Kat, Palmer and Hannah learn to lean on God and each other, and through it all they learn loss is a part of life. BOOK TWO IN THE STATUS UPDATES SERIESORDER
Today's guest post is by Jennifer Maggio, author of the new book Peace and the Single Mom. Her story blows me away and is a beautiful testament, that no matter where you are, no matter how much you wish you were somewhere else or someone else, there is hope. God has a beautiful plan for you. He's not finished with you yet.
And as a bonus of having Jennifer guest post here, we'll give away a copy of her new book. Just leave a comment on a way God has shown you He's not finished with you yet below for a chance to enter the drawing. And now, here's Jennifer's story.
I would love to tell you I had a “normal” childhood – whatever that is – but I didn’t. I didn’t frolic in the snow, drink hot cocoa, and enjoy snuggles with my parents on the sofa as we watched our favorite television program. Truth is, most of my childhood and teen years were spent in utter chaos. My mother was killed when I was just a baby. Consequently, I was raised by my dad who used alcohol and women to mask the pain of losing my mother so unexpectedly. My dad married a total of six times, not including girlfriends in between the marriages. (Yep, you read that right!) I spent years suffering through sexual and physical abuse at the hands of many. My dad was not one of those abusers. He lived in a cloud for years, devastated by the pain he had endured.
Although I graduated high school valedictorian and class president (and was probably considered an overachiever by most), I became pregnant at only seventeen years old. I was desperate for someone to love me. I was desperate to have this hole in my heart filled. Maybe this new baby would create a bond between his father and me that would give me my “happily ever after.” As you may have guessed, it didn’t. I was a teen mom who had two children by the time I was nineteen. I was severely abused, chasing after a dead-end relationship that would have never worked. I lived in government housing using food stamps and welfare to help make ends meet with my low-paying job. I felt hopeless.
It was in my darkest hour that I found God. I hadn’t attended church in years, but my life was so dark, so lonely…maybe the church could help me. I made a decision to give the church thing a try again. I started attending regularly with my two small children. God slowly began to transform my heart. He healed the old wounds that had left me broken and bitter. He mended a heart that no longer chased after the temporary happiness this world offers. I finally had the strength to leave my old life behind. My Heavenly Father transformed my life, inside and out.
(as I read Jennifer's guest blog here, I can't help but sing Brandon Heath's song, "Wait and See" in my head. In case you are too, here you go ~Laura L. Smith)
Okay, sorry for the interruption. Now back to Jennifer --Today, I spend my days encouraging single moms that they can make it. They can overcome. They can press through and press on. I work with youth to encourage sexual purity. I encourage hurting women with the love that only Jesus brings. I never thought I could be used by God for anything. When I was a kid, I just wanted to be normal. But God has shown me that none of us were called to be normal. We were called to be an extraordinary light for His glory.
Jennifer Maggio is the award-winning author of four books, including her latest release Peace and the Single Mom: 50 Moments of Calm in the Chaos. Her story has been featured in countless media venues. She is the founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a global nonprofit committed to empowering single mothers. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com.
Don't forget to leave a comment below about how God has given you hope for a chance to win an autographed copy of Peace & The Single Mom.
The Nederlander Theatre in New York City housing the musical RENT
525, 600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?
“Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT by Jonathon Larson
I first saw RENT in New York City in 2005. I honestly didn’t know anything more about the plot than it was about artists squatting in an empty New York warehouse, and that it was a modern version of the opera, La Boheme, set in Paris. Hello. You had me at Paris. I wasn’t prepared for it to pierce my heart and affect my soul.
I bought the CD and played it nonstop for months. The following year the movie came out. Watched it. Even learned how to play “Seasons of Love” on the piano.
Scary Spice as Mimi in RENT
I saw RENT again over the weekend. This time instead of at the Nederlander Theatre seating 1200 people on Broadway, I was on Miami University’s campus at a theatre seating less than 100. Instead of Drew Lachey and Scary Spice (Melanie Brown) in the leads, college students performed the roles of Mark, Mimi, Roger, Maureen, Joanne, Tom Collins and Angel.
And these students with their raw talent and intense passion pierced my heart and affected my soul all over again, probably even more so than when I saw it on Broadway. (If you count crying four times during the performance “affecting”.)
For those of you who haven’t seen RENT. Go do so. Now, preferably. But if that’s not an option, know it is the story of one year in the lives of a group of friends. They face poverty, rejection, love, glory, success, denial, death, joy, fear, comfort and loss. But mainly, they learn how to appreciate the moments.
It’s impossible for me to see RENT and not reflect on the past year of my life. This is something I usually reserve for New Year’s or birthdays, but today it is fresh on my mind, tugging at my heart. In my last 525,600 minutes I lost a father in law, visited the beach, had my oldest child start high school, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, joined a Bible study, published a new series with a new publisher, looked at the sun through a giant telescope, rode a tiny rollercoaster. But my favorite parts of my year haven’t been the big events, they’ve been the moments, the snapshots in time where I’ve discovered something new, felt loved, was inspired. When listing highlights of my year I wouldn’t write ‘going to Paris’, but instead I’d say, my husband recorded the bells ringing from the infamous bell tower of Notre Dame on a sunny afternoon on his phone for me, so I could listen to them over and over. I don’t measure my year in the 500 soccer games I’ve attended. I might be exaggerating. A little. But the magnificent save my son made as goalie on a Penalty Kick against his team is a moment of pure joy I’ll cherish as I reflect on the year.
And in each moment, I know God was with me. Is with me. Is with you. As the song “Seasons of Love,” says “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” He is there. Every hour of every day. Every step of the way. Every conversation. Every breeze, every flavor (I think especially the salty caramel mocha flavors) and handshake and hug.
What are the highlights of your last 525,600 minutes?
Three foxes surprised me on my morning run.
Be still. The words had not been shouted to the furious wind or issued to the sky, but spoken as though directly to my heart.
This line from the book Iscariot by Tosca Lee keeps repeating in my heart like a track on a scratched CD.
Have you ever been caught in a storm? Maybe not with actual raindrops falling from the sky, but with life blowing past you so fast you can feel it? With concerns and worries like thunder pounding through your heart and flashes of fear or sorrow like lightening sparking when you least expect or want them?
When the disciples were caught in a squall they felt helpless, hopeless. Jesus lay asleep while their boat pitched and flooded in the dark, turbulent sea.
But Jesus awoke and with composure said, “Be still.” The waves calmed and the clouds parted. What if He wasn’t just telling the waters and the heavens to chill? What if Jesus was telling the disciples, and in turn, us, to relax and find peace in Him?
The fragrant lilies our church sent in sympathy of our loss.
I just went through a personal stormy season. Someone I loved died. And although I know he is now at peace and in heaven, it was an exhausting, disorienting and sorrowful journey. I had sleepless nights and anxious moments and heartbreaking sobs. Yet, as my family and I returned home from a week of ICU and Hospice and Visitation and Funeral, Jesus kept telling me, “Be still.”
I went on an early morning run hoping to clear some of the cobwebs crowding my brain. But as I turned a corner, I saw I wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood up before dawn. A mama fox with her two babies sat in the grass, enjoying daybreak and each other’s company. I stopped mid-step, pausing my run, surprised by their presence, their grace. We watched each other as the grayness of morning accepted the golden mist of an awakening sun. Be still.
Rushing out the house to get one of my four kiddos to their soccer practice, clicking off a checklist out loud, “Do you have your cleats? Water bottle? Shin guards?” a perfume halted my mouth and my feet. Sweet and ethereal I stopped and inhaled. The vase of lilies on the counter was sending off its fragrance as a reminder of all that is pure and honest and pretty. It was the opposite of hurrying, the antithesis of juggling and remembering. It was God’s creation—perfect exactly how it was made. Be still.
Raindrops on leaves illuminated by sun.
Clearing dishes off our porch on a steamy summer evening, the wind rattled through the branches in the woods behind our house. The predicted downpour crashed against the roof and leaked through the screens, and yet, at the same time sun gleamed on the wet leaves. How was this possible? I put down my stack of plates and forks and dashed out the front door, letting the rain pelt against my bare arms while the sun shone on my face. I searched the sky for a rainbow, turning in circles in our front yard. I never caught glimpse of the arch of colors I knew must be somewhere close, but the miracle of simultaneous rain and sun was enough to get me to cease my business and indulge my senses. Be still.
There is awe in tranquility, and yet we so often flounder, letting life’s concerns and to do’s swirl around us, sometimes developing into uncontrollable storms. Sometimes we hide from the thunder, cover our eyes from the lightening, or just put our wipers on full blast and try to plow through the rain. How beautiful that Jesus is always there, no matter what, no matter where, no matter how, reminding us to, “Be still.”
How about you? How is God telling you to be still?
Summer clothes are so easy. Even something as simple as a black tank and jean shorts looks fabulous.
It’s that time of year. I’m switching out everything.
First stop, my closet. I’ve packed up my boots and thick sweaters and swapped their spots on my shelves with shorts, sandals and swimsuits. It’s amazing how much less crowded my closet appears—how much lighter and less burdensome my summer clothes look all laid out and feel when they’re on my body. There’s an effortlessness of tossing on a cotton sundress and flip-flops and being ready for the day. There’s a comfort that army shorts and a black tank always look and feel great. If it were warmer in Ohio, I’d dress like this all the time.
Iced coffee with mocha and a little milk is my morning milkshake.
I’ve also given up my morning cup of steaming coffee. Don’t’ worry, it’s not what you think. But in the summer I drink iced coffee with mocha, a little milk, and preferably a green straw. Straws are fun, like a giant sippy cup. And my morning caffeine fix tastes almost like a milkshake for me to savor each morning.
I’ve also traded eating in the kitchen to dining al fresco. Even what I eat transitions in the summer from soups and pastas to salads and grilled shrimp. I am more relaxed on my screened in porch. Woodpeckers lightly tap our trees, searching for their dinner. The warmth of summer seeps into my skin. Last night we got a typical summer evening thunderstorm. The cadence of raindrops on the porch roof lulled my soul. And with a table laden with tomatoes and corn on the cob, alongside wedges of watermelon all from the farmer’s market down the road, my taste buds wake up from their winter slumber.
Fresh watermelon from the farmer's market wakes up my taste buds in the summer.
As I look around my house, my life, and make modifications for summer, I wonder what else I need to trade out. What’s weighing me down? What’s slowing me, crowding me, stifling me? What do I need to say “no” to or get going on? Is there anything I need to change, maybe just for a season? Do I need to wake up earlier or sleep in more often? Is there something in my work out routine that could use a boost – a new playlist? A different trail to run? How about in my family life? Is there someone I need to spend more time with? More quality time?
And in my faith walk? Where does God want me to go this summer? How does He want me to allocate my time, set my priorities? What does He want me to learn? I’ll need to spend some time chatting with Him about that, and then I’ll get back to you.
In the meantime, what changes do you make when the temperatures rise?
Tingling all over with the announcement of the second book in my Status Updates series, It's Over, releasing April 19!
Book cover for the sequel to It's Complicated, It's Over. Photograph by Kelci Alane Photography. Cover Design by Angela Llammas.
HOW CAN YOU MOVE ON WHEN IT'S OVER?
When four college roommates lose pieces of their lives, the pain isolates and the tension rises. Emotions are hard to hide and even harder to tackle. How can the girls move forward, when there is so much pain in letting go? Together, Claire, Kat, Palmer and Hannah learn to lean on God and each other, and through it all they learn loss is a part of life."In It's Over, Laura L. Smith confirms the truth we've been told that we are never alone in the midst of heartache and struggle. In fact, she takes us to a place where we not only get to see, but feel deeply the truth of the fact that every single one of us has a story. Every single one of has experienced pain. But more importantly, that every single one of us has great hope. Laura L. Smith's writing strikes a deep chord in my heart. It makes sense. It's real--and in my opinion, that transparency makes all the difference." ~Holly Starr, Christian recording artist
"Laura Smith speaks for the broken. With a voice that’s warm and true, Laura gives words to those rendered speechless by issues that high school and college girls should never have to deal with—but so many of them do. In writing that’s raw, relevant, and real, Smith goes where few authors dare to go: straight into the heart of today’s young woman." ~Amy Parker, bestselling author of Courageous Teens
"YA author, Laura L. Smith crafts another story that will appeal to all girls, because no one is untouched by heartache in all its forms. The grace Smith extends the four girls in It's Over will touch readers in deep ways, as they follow these characters through some of the worst parts of life. Best of all, they'll cheer when the girls lean on one another and find ways to be thankful in everything. This is a fantastic read, one that will resonate with teens, college girls and their mothers." ~Laura Kurk, author of Glass Girl
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!
A rainbow streaking through the Smoky Mountains helps me slow down and be thankful.
There’s a scene in the movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, where the English teacher at an all boys’ high school asks his students to stand on top of their desks. Some boys pounce toR the flat surface, eager to do something quasi against the rules. Others hesitate. Why? Because they aren’t used to standing on their desks.
Have you ever stood on the top of your desk?
The purpose of the exercise is to get his students to look at things in a new way, to gain a different perspective.
This week of Thanksgiving, I’m doing just that, gaining a different perspective.
I’m on top of Rumbling Bald Mountain in North Carolina. My Internet service is spotty, there isn’t a Starbucks within an hours drive and I have a cold. Nothing serious, but the kind where it feels like my head is stuffed with cotton balls. Everything sounds muffled, tastes a bit bland, smells slightly metallic and my energy is low. But, I’m thankful, well except for the Starbucks part.
I’m out of my routine – off track – on top of my desk.
So, I’m sitting more. Gazing at the sky, listening to the laugher of my family and drinking home brewed coffee.
Since I’ve been on my trip I’ve stared at a rainbow, bright and daring, as if God grabbed a handful of Crayola markers and sliced right through the sky with a burst of color. I’ve gazed at zillions of stars, dazzling bright and white through the vast blackness of night. I’ve watched the sunset, which is more like a swirl of colorful clouds dancing around the mountain peeks. As I write this as 2:33 in the afternoon, I see the moon peeking out early. I’m up so high; I feel like if I stretched just a little further, I could grab it.
“If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area and stop.” Michael Yaconelli
In my typical day, my busy schedule I am productive and healthy and happy, but if I do the same thing everyday, all the time, I miss out on some of God’s beauty, His gifts. And in the midst of missing His creation, I also miss the chance to say, ‘thanks’.
This year I am thankful for a cold, and a view not from the top of the desk, but from the top of a mountain. Because I have no emails or tweets or Facebook to distract me, because my cold forces me to take things slowly, because I’m up where things look different, I’m gaining a different, deeper perspective. And I am thankful.
How about you? What are you thankful for this year?
Glasses on an eye exam chart, showing in and out of focus letters of the alphabet.
75% of the United States wears either contacts or glasses, including me.
Most of us struggle to see the world we live in more clearly, sharper, brighter.
I had an eye check up last week, you know the kind where they dilate your pupils with drops and everything is blurry for hours and hours afterwards? It was that kind.
Due to the dilation drops, I spent the rest of the day wishing I could see more clearly. I wished my computer screen wasn’t so bright, so I could write the chapter I’d been plotting for my new manuscript. I wished the words in the book I’m reading weren’t so blurry. I wished I could respond to an email, flip through my latest copy of In Style or even get some early Christmas shopping done online. But nothing smaller than a chocolate chip cookie would come into focus.
How often do I wish I could see God’s plan for me, His vision of me, the way He sees the world -- better, sharper, brighter, more in focus? But sometimes His ways are too bright for me to stare into. Sometimes His plans for me are too far away for me to see clearly. Sometimes, I let the lens of the world distort and twist God’s vision, His plans. So, I beg for clarity like the blind men outside of Jericho:
“Master, we want our eyes opened. We want to see!” Deeply moved, Jesus touched their eyes. They had their sight back that very instant, and joined the procession. Matthew 20: 33-34
When I pray, when I actually lean on Him to see how things truly are, I get my sight back. Not always the way I want things to look, like no writing after my eye doctor appointment, even though that’s what I’d planned. But always something amazing, like the wonderful phone call I had with my mom instead.
Lord, I really need to stop right now
Stop now and focus on you
Even with the chaos all around
Stop now and focus on you.
“Focus” by Holly Starr
When friends, magazines, TV shows, work, and other worldly voices try to fill our eyes with drops of advice and expectations and pressures to dilute His view of us, all we have to do is call out, “I want to see!” and everything comes back into focus.
How has God helped you see something more clearly this week?
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?