Put out your hands. Imagine something you adore is in those hands—beautiful, delicate shells you’ve gathered on the beach or maybe sweet, colorful M&M’s. Now close one hand into a fist. And leave the other one palm up and open.
With your closed hand, you’ll ensure you get to keep your treasure. No one can take it. It can’t get knocked out. But you know what? If someone spots a perfect purple scallop or finds twelve more candies in the bottom of the bag, they can’t give them to you. They can’t permeate your clinched fingers. Now imagine not shells or M&M’s but God’s blessings in your palms. Do you want to keep your hands open to what He puts in or takes out. Or do you want to hold tight to what you know and to what you want to keep?*
Because this is life, isn’t it? We want to hold on tightly to the things that are important to us—our jobs, our money, our time, our homes, our space, our family. We want to be able to control it and keep it and have it available for when we need it. We’re fearful the things we hold dear will get knocked out of our grip. But when we clutch too tightly, we risk never seeing what it would be like if something was added. We also have it backwards. Because all those things that are “ours” are actually His. We wouldn’t have any of them without God. God is the giver of all. If we have a roof over our heads, someone to hug, air in our lungs, a meal in front of us, it is because God is good, and He has showered us with gifts.
We love these gifts God gives us. And then we beg God to let us keep what we love. But do we ask Jesus what He thinks would be best now, in this stage of life, in this time and place? If we could be doing more for His kingdom if we let go a little bit of that and maybe added a pinch of that?
I’m learning that the letting go is when we actually fly. When you get the nerve to walk to the edge of the diving board, and not clutch it with your toes, but release yourself into the air, you feel the freedom of flying and then the thrill of plunging into cool water. Could you do a belly smack? Sure. Is it possible you’ll get water up your nose. Very. But are those things worth the exhilaration of the moment you’re in the air, and the one after that when you’re under water? Absolutely.
The day this blog goes live is the day I take my oldest daughter to college. Talk about having to learn to let go. Yikes! But there is such beauty in an open handed approach. For 18 years I’ve held my daughter in my hand. I’ve loosened my grip a little bit with each passing year—from sending her off to preschool, to letting her go on her first sleepover away from home, to later handing her a phone and then car keys, and now this…
And with each letting go there is uneasiness, uncertainty. How will it go? Will she have fun? Will she be safe? Will she be nervous? All legit questions. But the better ones are these: Who will she meet? What will she learn? How will she grow? What will she discover? Because it is in the opening of our hands, that God can clean out the things inhibiting us, stifling us, keeping us back, or maybe even hurting us to make room for Him to pour in His blessings.
Right now as I type this I hear the squeaky peep cheep of baby birds. One of our screens is ripped at the corner. It looks like a little flap. A mama bird has snuck under that flap and built the safest nest possible for her babies. Their nest rests in the corner of a windowsill with its very own door. Can you believe God? He had those babies hatch right as I’m packing up my baby girl. And today? They're learning how to fly! I get to observe first hand the beauty and glory of those fledglings learning how to flap their tiny wings and leave their nest. How sweet and personal is our God? Why would I ever question the way He does anything?
It is in the letting go that we learn to experience the thrill and pure joy of flying—whether that’s our own flight, or the soaring of something we’ve created, something we’ve built, or someone we love. It is in the letting go, that God can fill up our hands, hearts and lives with unexpected blessings. And then, with His help, we can soar.
*thanks to my friend, Diane, who shared with me a sermon she heard on living open handed for God that helped inspire this post
There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
“So apparently when you all signed up for your fitness passes, you signed a waiver agreeing you could be photographed or filmed to promote the Rec Center,” my instructor pauses. “Do any of you have a problem with that? Because I totally understand if you do.” Her blue eyes glance around the room, because she knows most of us, because she cares about our wellness and about our privacy. “They’re filming today, and we can always move you or organize you, so you don’t show up on film.”
Someone commented they would have worn nicer workout gear if they’d known. What was I even wearing?
Someone else suggested they weren’t on their best game today and asked to move to the corner. Not a horrible idea.
If we’re being filmed, let’s face it; we’d want our best to show.
It got me thinking about what it would be like if my entire day was filmed. Would it change what I wore? What I said? How I reacted? Would there be things I would beg the cameraperson to delete? Yes. Other things I’d ask if they could retake? Definitely. Would I want a handful of do-overs? Absolutely, plus a few more, please. What if someone was filming my entire week or month or year of life? Gheesh!
What if they were filming yours?
There are some frivolous things that come to mind, like I’d need to clean my house, and then my car. I probably wouldn’t wear my worn-out slippers as often as I do, and maybe I’d be motivated to cook something a bit more elaborate than tacos for dinner. I might question if it’s necessary for me to nibble on all of those chocolate chips at 11:00 AM? I might answer, yes, yes it is necessary, but still I might question it.
But there are way more important things I’d want to focus on, like every word that comes out of my mouth—is it affirming? Is it hopeful, encouraging, pointing people back to Jesus? Or is it whiny, prideful or sarcastic? Am I fritzing too much time on social media and Googling random questions that clutter my head, or am I using my time wisely? Would I be less judgmental? Would I be more attentive to my kids, more adoring to my husband?
The thing is, someone can see everything we do, and it’s not Siri, Echo, Google Home, or Big Brother. It’s God. He sees us waking up and knows the first thought that pops into our heads—good or bad. He sees how we act when we’re stuck in traffic, when our team beats our rival, when we’re scrambling to meet a deadline, when that certain person texts, and when we’re faced with a difficult decision. He sees all of it, and no matter how badly (or well) we act, no matter how many times we mess up (or get it right), He loves us.
I type that and it still blows me away.
Jesus sees everything I do, knows everything I think, and loves me anyway. Loves you anyway.
If the cameras were rolling would you act differently today?
There are so many things I could do better. So many things I’m working on in my life. Quite frankly, knowing Jesus loves me that much inspires me to continuously try to fine-tune my attitude and heart. Not because He demands it, but because I am so honored and overwhelmed that He cares that much about me (about you, too!). Some days I do all right. Others, not so much. But I am grateful that every day, the God who created heaven and earth is by my side. He offers love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control when I don’t have it on my own. And when I’m too stubborn or weak to accept the beautiful fruit He offers, He still loves me. Despite it all.
And that? God loving us no matter how many scenes of our lives we mess up? That sounds like the best love story of all time.
Would you do anything differently, if you were being filmed?
My favorite day of the year is Christmas Tree Day, which falls annually on whichever day my family gets our tree. To me, it represents hope.
Merriam Webster defines hope as: to cherish a desire with anticipation. Yup, that’s me about Christmas. But the word ‘hope’ seems to get watered down. I hope I get there on time. I hope the line’s not too long. I hope they still have it in my size. That’s not really cherishing a desire, is it? Then what is hope? Hope is a college in Michigan. It is a charitable wine company. It’s even one heck of a goalie for the women’s National Team. But it is so much richer than that.
We all love picking out a prickly evergreen from the local farmer’s market, taking turns standing next to this one thick with fragrance, then that one with just the right point on top, so we can all compare and choose which tree is the perfect pine to grace our family room. Our family enjoys unboxing treasured ornaments from years past, the golden twinkle of lights, and singing Christmas tunes out loud, whether we know the words or not. But I get especially emotional.
Sure, it’s because of all the reasons I’ve listed above—spending time with my favorite people on the planet, reliving old memories, creating new ones, but I believe Christmas Tree Day is so powerful to me, because of all of the hope it signifies—the hope of the entire Christmas season.
My heart fills as it anticipates carols, cookie baking, and candle light services. I flash-forward to the joy of watching my kids scramble to locate our Elf on the Shelf (his name is Frosty) each morning. My taste buds eagerly look forward to the creamy richness of a peppermint mocha, sigh, and thick dark fudge. I’m excited to hug, laugh and catch up with loved ones. I look forward to priceless moments ranging from pausing to contemplate the nativity scene to prancing through the yard at the first sign of snowflakes—the kind of memories that seem to fold one on top of another at Christmas like no other time of year. I can barely wait for it all.
Christmas Tree Day brings me all of the hope of the Christmas season. But the Christmas season brings me all of the hope wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was willing to come down to earth, among the trials, the mistakes, and flaws of mankind (that’s me and you) to save us. Some days we feel hopeless. But Christmas is the beautiful promise that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, Jesus loves us anyway, and calls out to us from the manger and from the cross, and right to where we are today, saying He wants to offer us love, the perfect kind. That’s what hope is. Hope is the desire, the anticipation, for His selfless love. But unlike Christmas morning, we don’t have to wait to unwrap it. God’s love is His gift to us today, right here and now.
No wonder the start of the season, the day that commences this month packed with hope, stirs me up inside. I cherish each moment setting up and decorating the tree, but I am also overwhelmed with the promises and potential of Christmas. No matter what you’re hoping for this Christmas, know that Jesus offers you all that and more.
May your days be merry and bright
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
Envision a push up. Get down on the floor if you need to. Do one fast.
Down. Up. Done.
Now do one s-l-o-w-l-y. Dddooowwnn and then back uuupppp. Harder right?
My yoga instructor was talking about how when we hold a pose we actually work our muscles more intensely than if we go in and out of a pose quickly. She asked if we knew why that was. “Because otherwise we cheat ourselves,” I answered. And I didn’t want her to think I was cutting corners throughout class, so I followed up with, “we don’t mean to, but we do.”
And it got me thinking about so many aspects of my life where I don’t mean to cheat myself, but I do.
I grab a handful of chocolate chips, because I love them, but I shove them in my mouth as I’m on my way out the door, and don’t really allow myself to savor the richness of them, the way the dark cacao sets off the slightly sweet from the cane sugar. What if I ate one, and then another, and then a few minutes later one more?
There are hugs I pull back from too quickly from my kids, because we’re in a rush to get to school, to practice, to bed. What if I held on tighter? Longer?
As soon as my coffee is in hand, I chug the first sip, eager for my morning caffeine. What if I took a deep breath first, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of roasted beans?
There are days I rush into Bible study, sliding into my seat as our discussion begins, and slip back out as quickly as possible after the final “amen” without pausing to absorb something I’ve learned or to consider a question someone asked. What if I got there early? Intentionally stayed put for a full five minutes after everyone else stands up and let it all soak in?
What if I held the poses of life longer?
How about you? Are you texting during a movie and missing beautiful lines that would make you weep? Typing an email while on the phone with someone else so you can get more done, but missing an idea the person you’re talking to is trying to share? Skimming through the book for book club just to get to the end without savoring the depth of the characters or a description of a breathtaking blue jay? Are we going through the motions so quickly that we’re cheating ourselves of the moments that nourish our bodies, stir our hearts, inspire our souls, and challenge our minds?
Are our mouths open? Are our eyes open? Are we allowing ourselves to be wowed and changed and loved by God?
I don’t want to cheat myself of any of those things. No. I want to taste every morsel of chocolate, breathe in every snuggle, smell every cup of coffee, learn as much as I can, understand better, grow stronger and more aware, be more in tune, and less tuned out. This week is the perfect week to challenge myself to this. There are apples to be tasted, leaves to crunch underfoot, a visit with my mom to enjoy, soccer games to cheer at, a date with my husband to flirt with him, a pot of pumpkin chili to prepare, and the music of my son playing in the worship band to listen to. I don’t want to miss a single beat or bite or breath. Will you join me? In tasting and seeing the goodness God has prepared for us?
What do you have in store this week and how can you savor it?
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang to me when I listened to them non-stop in junior high.
“The greatest of these is love,” the Bible reminded me in 1 Corinthians 13 as I searched for answers and understanding of this life.
And they were both right. Only I didn’t know where to find love. So I looked in all of the wrong places. I searched for love in the form of approval – maybe if I got good grades I would be loved, if I got great grades I’d have an even better chance. I searched for love in the eyes of guys I dated—maybe if they thought I was pretty, or funny, or fun they’d love me, I’d be loved. I looked for love in my job—if I succeeded, did another deal, got another promotion my co-workers would respect me, my boss would be proud of me, and those things are kind of like love, aren’t they?
Kind of. But not really. Because all of those types of love slip through our fingers. They’re temporary. There will always be another test to take, another dance to find a date to, and another deal to land. Once the quick fix of approval is over, the buzz of being sought or appreciated dies down, so does the love. Where are you looking for love today?
There is one true love. A love so real, so true, and so fulfilling I can’t get my mind or arms around it. It is the love of Jesus. His love letter to us is the Bible. It starts with Him creating the world, a beautiful place for us to live, because He loves us. He created each of us, exactly how we are, no matter what are grades are, no matter what are relationship status is, no matter what size or shape we are, no matter how successful by worldly standards we are. God’s love letter goes on to explain what He’s done, what He will do for us. He’ll part seas for us. He’ll knock down walls for us. He’ll pull us out of fiery furnaces. He’ll slay our giants. And then, as if that weren’t enough to show us how deeply and completely He loves us—Jesus will take all of our imperfections and mistakes and wash them clean. I mean, who does that? Only someone who loves us utterly and unconditionally.
All the years that I searched for love on Valentine’s Day, that I longed for an extra special heart to be stuffed in my decorated box, or for flowers to be delivered at my door, or for Prince Charming to arrive on his white steed, I already had love all along, and so do you. Jesus loves you. He made you. He died for you. And He wants to be your Valentine.
And once we truly let that sink in, allow His love to flow over us, stop trying so hard and comparing ourselves to all the people and things we are not—that we were never intended to be—once we realize we were created to be exactly who we are, and that we are loved for our individual priceless unique selves, then we can feel the real love of God that completes us. And when we accept that true love, we can also begin to love ourselves, to see ourselves for our true lovely selves, see our true reflections. And once we know where to find true love, then we can realize love IS all we need and the greatest of these IS love.
I’d to hear your favorite Valentine’s recipes or traditions or your favorite parts of God’s love letter. Share in the comments section below.
I act entitled. All. Of. The. Time.
I am so not proud of this fact, but it is true.
For example, I “need” Starbucks daily or I get cranky. I literally plan out my morning on how and when I’m going to get it. Even if it makes me late. Even if it’s inconvenient. I also “need” a handful of chocolate chips after lunch and dinner. Only dark chocolate will do. Preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Of course, other chocolate makes a great substitute—brownies, chocolate cake, etc. And if they’re not available, I feel a little off kilter, a little growly. Do I sound like a crack addict? Yikes! I also feel completely entitled to buy that funky bracelet and that adorable dress, I mean they’re on sale, and did I mention how cute they are?
What do you "need"? That bottle of nail polish? A bottle of wine? To run another lap? Watch just one more episode of Friends? Read another chapter? Check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram real quick? A certain brand of athletic shorts or yoga pants?
I’ve been semi-aware of this behavior, but not really concerned, because lots of other people like Starbucks and chocolate and shopping, too. Right? But recently, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I was truly convicted. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chocolate or Starbucks or great fashion finds, thank goodness. These are all gifts from God to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there is something wrong when I feel I deserve those things—that I need them.
So, to get myself back in line, I went on a strange sort of fast for the month of January. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, given up something for Lent, or fasted in any other kind of way, we’re kindred spirits. This wasn’t about eating less; this was about being less entitled, more appreciative, more aware of how God has already taken care of all my needs. I decided I would take on three areas.
First, I ate only the following foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and seafood. Which I really didn’t think would be a big deal considering I eat oatmeal almost every morning, followed by lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, and I don’t eat red meat. But do you see the glaring omission of chocolate? Still. I thought this would be easy peasy. Until Day Two of the fast when after a Saturday jam-packed with kids’ basketball games and birthday parties all over Southwest Ohio, we tumbled back home around 6:00 PM and my husband, Brett, suggested we order pizza. It sounded heavenly. All I wanted to do was put on my jams, eat pizza, and curl up with the kids and watch a movie.
But that whole grain thing reared its head. I Googled our local pizza chain, and lo and behold they had a whole-wheat crust. Who knew? I’d never been so happy to see a whole grain. So I ordered my own little personal whole-wheat pie with spinach and tomatoes. And I was extremely grateful for it. Surprisingly, even when my daughter ate our favorite deep dish in front of me, I wasn’t envious. I was just so thankful I had the option to eat pizza.
Second, I gave up Starbucks. Yep. Cold turkey. And me, and my Keurig and my Nespresso (I told you I was entitled) spent a lot of time together in January. I successfully used up a multitude of various brands and flavors of coffee pods I’d stashed in the house without having to purchase a single one. My son, Max, is an amazing barista, and made me some delicious mochas and lattes with the Nespresso. On the two coffee dates I'd scheduled, I suggested the local coffee shop, Kofenya, which is amazing, and savored every drop of the java they brewed me. Note to self, I can get better about buying local. Yes, there were Monday mornings when I missed Starbucks like crazy. But every morning, honestly, I was so grateful for coffee—for it’s warmth, and aroma, and flavor, and yeah, the caffeine. And as I sipped my home brew, I thanked Jesus for being the ultimate waker-upper, my perfect source of energy.
Third, I gave up shopping. I only allowed myself to buy food, beverages and household basics (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, shampoo--the boring stuff). We went on our annual family field trip to the mall to exchange ill-fitting Christmas gifts, and I exchanged both my yoga pants and jeans for better sizes. But contrary to tradition, I did not buy a single amazing, spectacular January clearance item. Not the Gap t-shirts for only $4, because I always need another black t-shirt, and another white one. Not that really cute top in the window of Francesca’s that was 70% off. Not even the socks at American Eagle, which they were virtually giving away. And although it took great restraint to not take any of those steals to the register, I came home feeling lighter. My closet is already packed. I didn’t need any of those items. I actually saved myself from having to root through more clothes to find “the right” items later. It felt oddly good. For the rest of the month I deleted every single email from a retailer wooing me with their “biggest ever” clearance events and steered clear of Target, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, because why tempt myself like that? And each time I had the urge to just click on that message, browse that website, pop into that boutique, I tried to remember to thank Jesus for His ultimate coverage, for being more fulfilling than a shopping buzz.
Was I perfect on my fast? No way. You want the dirt? Here’s just a sample.
There was the time Brett brought me home a gorgeous single serving carrot cake from Panera. “It’s whole grain,” he told me.
I looked at him.
“It is,” he said. “I asked them.”
He was clearly lying. But he also went out of his way to go inside a Panera, order me a treat mid-way through my fast, even one that contained a vegetable, and looked brown, like whole grains tend to. I savored every morsel, appreciating his gesture of love and that miracle of a cake. I enjoyed half of it that day, and saved the other half for the next day, instead of gorging it down in one swallow, or thinking, “gee, I wish this was a brownie.” It was so phenomenally delicious. I was learning from this fast—when I don’t expect a dessert or feel like I’m entitled to one, I can appreciate the ones I get so much more fully.
A similar thing happened while in Texas. My sweetheart of a host took me out to lunch at an adorable spot called Nostalgia. “The best part of this place,” she smiled, “are the desserts. They come with your lunch.” I inwardly panicked. I didn’t want to break my fast. I’d been so good. But the thing I was learning most from fasting was being grateful for what I had. Being grateful for a store brand dark roast pod in my Keurig, because it was coffee, and I had the pleasure of drinking it. Being grateful for fresh fruits and organic Greek yogurt, because they are delicious and sweet and good for me, and because I always have food on my table and in my stomach. And, so, I made the game time decision to be grateful here too. The Hummingbird Cake contained pineapple and bananas, leaning itself towards the fruit category. Each and every bite of this cake I’d never even heard of before was delicious. And don’t get me started on the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. On this day, I was so grateful (after over 20 days of no desserts, well except the carrot cake) for a dessert. And yes, I ate peach cobbler with my same lovely friend that night, because, well, when in Texas.
There was the time when my mom made stuffed peppers with white rice. Agh! White rice isn’t a whole grain. Some of you are thinking I’m totally nuts here, but I am such a rule follower (too much of a rule keeper, too stringent, too much of the time). Add that with entitlement to my list of many flaws. Only brown rice counted on my self-induced fast. But this fast was all about being more appreciative. And not valuing a home-cooked meal from Mom, well that’s plain ridiculous. So, I counted every delicious bite, every grain of rice as sheer gift.
There was also the time, when I bought myself a sweatshirt. I wrestled with the idea. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to buy myself anything. I hadn’t even bought my kiddos anything this month. Not one cute notepad or t-shirt. But this sweatshirt helped fund the amazing event I was speaking at, Project Beautiful, bringing hundreds of girls together to remind them of their true beauty. And it reads, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made across it’s soft, cozy self. These words are what I long to share with everyone I meet—that they were created by God to inspire awe, that He created them wonderfully. And so, the decision to purchase was intentional, not entitled, and felt very right.
By the third time we’d ordered pizza in January, Brett finally ventured to try a bite of mine. Our whole family was gathered around the dinner table swapping stories and laughing when Brett exclaimed, “This..really is…very bad!” and spit out his bite. Which of course led to hysterics. My girls were curious, so they tried it too, only to prod, “How can you eat that, Mom?” “It is really gross! You don’t like it do you?”
And it was strange. I was so grateful each time we ordered pizza that I didn’t have to make another run to the grocery in the bitter January air, think about “what was for dinner,” cook, or clean, that I’d never considered the subpar flavor. All I had to do was hang out with my family and eat pizza. And that tasted pretty good to me.
My fast is officially over. I’m interested to see how it will change me. If I will be less entitled, more grateful, more giving. I pray I will be. I also pray I'll turn to Jesus more--for me to turn to my worldly fixes to fill my voids less. Because Jesus is sweeter than chocolate, more revitalizing than caffeine, and quite frankly, as my friend Holly Starr sings, He's "Everything I Need". Because when I decide that I “need” this and I “need” that, I’m truly not the best version of myself. But when I am grateful for the food I have, the roof over my head, the clothes in my closet, my loving family, well then, I can see my true reflection much more clearly.
How about you? Anything you “need” on a daily basis? Have you ever fasted before? How did it work for you? Let me know in the Comments below.
I have coffee splatters on the console of my car and a smear of toothpaste on my bathroom counter. A drop of shimmery lavender nail polish marks the top of my planner. There’s a spot on my jeans that’s been there so long, I’m not sure how it got there, but my suspicions are it’s chocolate in one form or another. And then last night, somebody (no one will be named) dropped a piece of pizza on the living room carpet. Which happens to be white. With six of us running at full speed, our house is lived in, to say the least. The dropped pizza was no big deal. But I couldn’t let the red splash of tomato sauce just sit in the middle of the floor, so I dug under the sink for that carpet spray stuff. I read the back and sprayed and scrubbed and scrubbed a little more. And then I turned it around—reading the label, Spot Remover.
Which made me laugh, because yesterday morning when I’d washed my face and noticed the twin zits on the end of my chin, I’d gotten out a product called Super Spot Remover—the cleverly named zit gel I keep handy for just such occasions.
I am covered in spots!
But my spots aren’t just literal spots. I am also covered in spots you can’t see. Splatters when I yell at one of my kids instead of talking through a rough moment. Dribbles when I forget to bring the dessert or sign the form or write the check or text back. Giant globs when I recall how I tucked God under my pillow in college and did things my way instead of leaning on Him. Shameful spots for things I’ve done in my past. Stains as I struggle with a broken relationship. Big blobs whenever I doubt God’s perfect plans in the every day (how will I ever get everything done on my to-do list?) or in the big decisions of life (where should my daughter go to college?). I could go on. I am covered in so many spots inside and out that I resemble a leopard.
And although I use stain stick on my clothes, spot remover on my carpet and face, spray on my counters, there is no cool new product that can clean my inside spots. It’s like the animal in the children’s book, Put Me in the Zoo. He can change the color and size of his spots. He can put them on the wall or on a tree, “But then,” the animal says, “All my spots are back on me.” And I can smile and laugh and apologize. I can move forward and try to bury my past and doubts and insecurities and shame and guilt under the busyness of the week or the façade of having it all together. I can try harder, work more, do better, but in the end all my spots are back on me.
Or at least I used to think so. But I’ve discovered the ultimate spot remover. And it doesn’t come in a bottle, it never expires and it’s absolutely free. It’s having a relationship with Jesus. See, He scrubbed all of my spots clean. So clean, He who knows everything about me—all my breakdowns and blunders—completely forgives me and loves me and doesn’t notice those old spots at all.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried--
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him--our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed. Is 53:5
No more spots to stick in a box or on a tree. No more spots can come back on me. Or on you. Whatever our spots may be, whatever color or size they are, no matter where we’ve tried to stick them or how we’ve tried to change them, Jesus died so that all of my sins and yours, all of our mistakes and failures past, present, and future were nailed to the cross and washed completely clean. And with all of those spots removed once and for all, we can clearly see our beautiful true reflections.
Do you have any spots you're working on removing? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment on the Read More or Comments tab below.
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