Last weekend I:
Which shouldn’t seem related at all, except they both dealt with the things we look to in life to find satisfaction and gratification, and how rarely that works out for us.
If you need a quick refresher, in Aladdin, a poor boy named, Aladdin comes across a magic lamp housing a genie. The genie pops out and tells Aladdin he can make three wishes. Hmmm…what would you do with three wishes? Have you ever considered what you would wish for? A new house? A new job? More hours in the day? The genie warns Aladdin, “Here’s the thing about wishes…the more you have, the more you want.” Dang. Rings a little too true, doesn’t it?
When we turn sixteen it seems like our biggest wish is to be able to drive. When we get our license, we want to borrow our parents’ car. Then we wish we had our own car—any car that moves. Then we want a car with a few bells and whistles. As we get older we might wish for fancier cars—with leather interiors and fabulous sound systems and heated seats (I’m not that into cars, but I do enjoyheated seats). Most writing friends I know have at one time or another “wished” to be published. If they achieve that goal, their next wish is to get another book published, with a bigger publisher, or to sell more copies, or perhaps a multi-book deal, or the ultimate—to be a New York Times Bestseller. All of these are great goals. But at the beginning “being published” felt like the end all. The problem is, there is no end all. The wishes never end.
Renters dream of one day owning a home. Once we buy that “fixer upper” we long for a new kitchen counter, then a kitchen remodel. And while we’re getting a new sink for the kitchen wouldn’t it be gorgeous if we replaced the sinks in the bathrooms, too? Before we know it we’re drooling over Pinterest homes and wishing for more and different than what we have. For athletes it could be an initial goal of making the team, then moving up to the “A” team, hoping for playing time, being in the starting lineup, scoring the points, winning the games, being the MVP. The more you have…the more you want. Most of us are guilty of it in some form or another.
The old man in Hemingway’s classic wasn’t materialistic. He lived in a hut and owned one pair of pants. But he wanted to catch the biggest fish and would stop at nothing to get him. For three days the fisherman held onto his line, so this big fish would not be the one who got away. Meanwhile the old man’s hands were ripped raw from the tugging and pulling of the fishing line. All the man had to eat were a couple of raw fish, all the while being towed by a giant marlin through the depths of the sea. On the brink of dehydration, the man rationed one bottle of fresh water over the course of sunsets and rises and barely slept a wink, putting his body and mind in extreme danger. For over eighty days the man had wished for one great fish. Now it was hooked on his line. Be careful what you wish for old man.
And I feel the warning being screamed at me, too. Be careful what you wish for, Laura. What am I wishing for? What are you wishing for? What do we think we need to feel complete? Like we’ve arrived? If we only had/did/achieved/looked like ______ we would be happy.
Really? Because as soon as we get/earn/appear like that, we usually wish for more.
Except when we have Jesus. He is the one thing that satisfies us once and for all. He is the bread of life, the living water. He told the people who encountered Him they would never need anything else. All they had to do was believe in Him.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (water from a well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4:13
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” —John 6:35
Completely, 100% satisfied. Never needing again. When we walk in the peaceful, grace-filled life Jesus offers this is what we receive. Sure, we still could use some money to pay our bills. We still pray for healthy relationships, for joy to fill the hearts of those we love. But we find all of our actual needs are provided for—that our longings are fulfilled. That desire for more and then a little more is squelched, because with Jesus we finally feel whole.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of things I want. A python pair of boots or that pink fuzzy jacket would be fun for fall. A serving of warm apple cobbler topped with creamy ice cream would be delicious. An extra hour of sleep would be divine. Heck, I’d take the half hour. But if I don’t get those things, I’m still fine, thoroughly content. Because all those little twinge-y incomplete parts of my heart have been filled in by a Savior who loves me no matter what I’m wearing, who’s sweeter than any decadent desert, and who provides rest for my tangled up soul.
If you had a magic lamp what would you wish for? If you could go out to proverbial sea one more time what would you hope to catch? It’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. Jesus calls us to be brave, live large, and go out there and use the gifts He’s given us to live bold, radical, fruitful lives. But at the end of the day whether we achieved or did not, won or lost, were noticed or ignored, we are fully seen and fully loved by our Perfect Savior. That itch? That something missing? That void we’re striving to fill? Jesus satisfies and fills it. He is everything we need. And His love and grace never ever run out.
My wish? Is that you feel Jesus’ love today, how it completes you, and satisfies like nothing you could ever set out to catch.
I’m snuggled on the couch with my youngest on a rainy Saturday morning watching Prince Caspian with tears dripping down my cheeks.
Yes, I’m a total Narnia fangirl. Can’t even count how many times I’ve read all of the books by C.S. Lewis or watched the movies, but I am so enamored with these tales because they resonate so strongly with me and my faith journey. And just as Aslan tells Lucy in the story, “Things never happen the same way twice,” I am never hit by these stories of a magical land, and their perfect, untamed ruler, Aslan, the same way twice. This viewing I was deeply challenged about the motivations behind all I do.
In Prince Caspian, High King Peter and his royal siblings have been magically called back to the land of Narnia to help this nation and its people (um, well, citizens) in a dire, dark time. Peter is not only excited to be back in his realm, but also thrilled to be High King once more—to be respected, honored, to have people seek his opinion and listen to his ideas. And we all seek that, respect, honor, self-worth. But Peter gets it wrong. I get it wrong too, day after day.
Peter starts making plans—which way to go, how to attack the enemy, and other kingly type decisions—but he makes them without seeking guidance or direction from Aslan (who represents Jesus in this allegory). And not surprisingly, he and his companions get lost, lose time, resources, troops, and are forced to retreat. Just like when I start making plans—deciding what to do and how to do it, how to strategize my days, my goals, fight my personal battles without consulting Jesus. Guess what happens? Duh. I get lost along the way, distracted, waste time and resources, and end up feeling like a failure.
There is a pivotal point in the movie when Peter’s sister, Susan, asks Peter, “Just who are you doing this for anyway?” Ouch. Clearly this is not Peter at his best. And I had to ask myself, who am I doing life for? Who are you doing your thing for today?
Convicted, Peter changes his tune, slightly. He raises his sword and calls one of my favorite battle cries, “For Narnia!” And he almost gets it, but not quite. Just like when I make a special meal for my family and think, “This is to make my family feel loved and special.” Or when I write an article about true beauty, and think to myself, “this is to help show people how beautiful they are.” I’ve almost got it, but not quite. My family is awesome, and I want them to know it. I do write to spread the word that we are all unique beautiful individuals. You may be folding someone’s laundry so they have clean clothes, or working someone’s shift as a favor to give them some relief, or working late to help a client solve a problem, or maybe you gave up something for Lent, because it helped you with self-control. There are plenty of good causes, good reasons to do what we do, but ultimately there is one that matters more than any of the others.
May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others
Than all the others
“Full Attention” by Jeremy Riddle
There is a turning point in the movie where the final battle is all but lost by Peter and his troops. The enemy is overtaking them in droves. Left with no choice but to attempt to save the lives of the remaining good guys, the Narnians are retreating once more, this time to their fort. But the enemy implodes their fort, their one safe place. There is nowhere left to run. Nowhere left to hide. It is only at this desperate, hopeless place that Peter looks at his companions, nods, and knows exactly what to do. Peter turns around to face the enemy he’d been running from head on, pulls out his sword and changes one word in his call “For Aslan!” He screams and rushes towards the oncoming opponent. This is Peter at his absolute best, bravest, humblest, wisest, kindest—the most brilliant version of himself. Yes, this is the part where tears stream down my face.
And in this exact moment Aslan’s reinforcements, an army of trees, appears, and overtakes the enemy. Doing it for Aslan instead of for himself, or even for the noble cause of his nation is a gamechanger for Peter. Who am I fighting my battles for? For me? For a good cause? Or for Jesus? Why am I so stupidly trying to do things my way, when time and time again God shows up and turns the tables, and knocks down my walls, and clears the way for victory?
When I call out, “For Jesus!” I’m no longer struggling, no longer feeling like not enough. My eyes are opened to unexpected opportunities. I can see myself better for who I am, and what I am called to do. I am more able to see a better version of myself, my true reflection. You can too. It only takes changing one word in our battle cries.
How about you? Who are you working, playing, studying, parenting, living for today?
There’s been a lot of chatter about the article in Time, Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?
I have a lot of friends who cringe at the word “princess”, who smirk at the mention of “Prince Charming”, but me, I grew up wishing I was Cinderella. It’s not that I had a wicked stepmother. My mom is the most generous, loving, giving woman I’ve ever met. But the idea of scrawny, nerdy me with ribs poking out, giant glasses and a propensity to bump into and trip over everything in sight possibly having someone fall in love with me? Well that sounded too good to be true, but awfully nice to dream about.
Disney princesses are not evil. They’re fantasy. And, I find them quite inspiring. Some of the princesses in question were originally published in a book in 1812 by the brothers Grimm. Disney’s Snow White released back in 1937. If you’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these classic tales, take a moment to consider other media put out in those years and how women were depicted; consider the culture they were released in. But if there is anything in a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, that goes against your beliefs or values, you have a choice. You get to choose if you or your family watches. And once you make that choice, you have a responsibility to act upon that choice. Parents, you can’t just pop in the DVD and disappear. You need to watch these movies with your kids and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, the lessons learned. There are some kick butt princesses out there—Merida from Brave, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Rapunzel from Tangled with her frying pan as a weapon and her decision to chop her locks and go brunette. These girls are way more recent than 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and much stronger and independent, as well. You might be sick of hearing “Let it Go,” but Elsa wanted nothing to do with a prince. She was fighting the battle of trying to please others, of her own self-doubts and insecurities. And her sister, Anna, learned that the real man of her dreams was not the apparently charming royalty, but the somewhat clumsy, singing-to-reindeer, ice merchant guy who loves her for who she is. Not bad lessons, these. Even older classics like Cinderella impress the value of good friends (Jacques and Gus), the idea we should never give up, and the concept of an amazing man rescuing us, which sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And that is someone to put my hope in.
The truth is, parents are responsible for guiding their children through all of their media choices, not just Belle and Ariel. And as we grow older, we are also responsible for our own media consumption. Fifteen minutes into The Wolf of Wallstreet as an adult and I had to turn it off. Maybe you loved it. Leo is an amazing actor and Scorsese one of the best filmmakers. But I couldn’t stomach the demoralization and objectification of women in the opening scenes. To me those fifteen minutes were capable of way more damage to a girl’s perception of what she’s supposed to look like and how she’s supposed to be treated than a lifetime of watching Beauty and the Beast. Ask yourself if you were more affected by reading a Disney picture book about Pocahontas every day after Kindergarten or 50 Shades of Gray as an adult? As a writer, I am a proponent of freedom of speech and of artistic expression. Artists should use their God-given gift of creativity to express themselves, to entertain, to make a statement. It is up to us to decide what media we feel is safe for our families and ourselves to consume. And that decision is personal and individual.
If Cinderella’s not your girl, you might like Mulan, the story of a young Chinese woman who becomes one of the greatest warriors in the Asian empire. Just like we have the right to freedom of speech in America, we also have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely for yourself and your family. If the media you’re consuming hardens your heart, goes against your core values, is something you turn off or shut down when someone else enters the room, reconsider. Choose music that inspires you and makes you dance. Choose shows that make you laugh, give you goosebumps, or teach you something new. Choose books that make you think and cry and hope and dream. Choose movies that do the same. And whether you’re selecting media for your children or for yourself be intentional about your choices.
I grew up longing for a Prince Charming, hoping one day The Perfect Guy would sweep me off my feet and change everything. After countless unhealthy relationships I was blessed to marry the man of my dreams, but my awesome husband can’t be perfect. He’s human after all. But there is a Perfect Guy for me, and for you, but that guy, is Jesus. That idea imprinted on me as a girl dreaming of being Cinderella, that someday, somehow, someone would rescue me, was real. Someone would. Someone did. I just didn’t understand my Prince was the Prince of Peace. I certainly don’t blame Disney for my misunderstanding. If anything it cemented my desire to be rescued, so when Jesus did rescue me, I craved it, I grabbed His hand and let Him take me away from my old life and into my new.
What are your thoughts on princesses old and new and how they shape our views? Do you have a favorite princess?
I’ve been praying a lot about it, and instead of goals for this year, God has given me a word – TRUST.
What? I called back to my Maker. A word. One? How can I possibly plan a year with one word? I am an organizer, a planner, a write-it-in-ink in my date book (preferably in colored ink to code the activity) kind of girl. I write out goals, lists of them with separate categories amidst the lists. What should I do with that broken relationship? Should I forgive? Should I reach out? Should I sever it? What about my writing? Should I continue my existing series? Branch out into something new? Focus more time on speaking? To every question I ask, God repeats the same answer again and again, “Trust me. Completely. One step at a time. Trust.”
I can’t help but think of the scene in Frozen where Elsa flees Arendelle. She takes one step on the lake and it freezes solid beneath her foot. She takes another step and the water beneath her second foot also freezes. Knowing the only path for her is forward she decides to run, trusting completely that the lake will freeze beneath her feet, holding her up, every step of the way.
That’s what God is calling me to do. To take one step while He holds me up. Then another, while He freezes untamed waters yet again. I long to see the path, the road, the route highlighted on Google Maps. But that’s not for me to see right now.
How much this scenario reminds me of Peter that night in the boat. Jesus held out His hand to Peter, coaxing Peter to walk on water towards Him, towards safety and light and excitement and joy. And as long as Peter was willing to trust that his next step across the sea would be held up, he walked. As soon as Peter looked down, away from Christ, as soon as he stopped trusting, he sank.
So, my goal for 2014 is to keep my eyes on Christ—to trust Him. And every time I catch myself looking elsewhere, listening to the wrong voices, believing things other than His truth, my goal is to turn my eyes back to Him. If I feel my ankles getting wet, or my calves damp or the hem of my skirt getting splashed, because I’m sinking, my intention is to return my focus to trusting Him, completely, before I go down.
When Elsa truly trusts the power she’s been given, she is able to build staircases in mid air faster than she can climb them. She can create spectacular castles and crystals when she lets go of her fears. I can’t wait to see what God enables me to do when I trust Him.
It’s not going to be easy. I’ll know that if I falter, the icy waters wait just inches below me. They will swirl and whirl and pull me down. But if I trust, fully trust, then I also know it doesn’t matter what’s below me or behind me or before me. It only matters that I do it with Christ. And if I do that, my footing will be secure and my path amazing. Yup, all I need is one word.
What about you? Do you have a word for 2014?
1. Happiness is contagious.
When I walked in the park and everyone was waving giant Mickey Mouse hands and blowing bubbles and grinning for photos, it made me skip and smile and wave and say “please” and “thank you” and want to stay in that happy spot forever. I overheard a little girl say, “Mommy, the thing about Disney is, everyone is smiling and that makes everyone else want to smile.”
As I walk through life, I will strive to carry some of those Disney smiles over into every day – to pass on some waves and skips and watch the wave of happiness flow.
2. A little bit of magic goes a long long way.
Rushing past Cinderella’s castle on the way to a certain ride I saw an extravaganza. Mickey and Minnie laughed. Princesses waltzed. Captain Hook swooshed his sword, all with music and fireworks. It felt like a surprise party being thrown for me. No matter how many times I looked at park hours, reviewed rides and attractions, no show could have delighted me more than this. Later I bumped into Peter Pan, literally. There he was sitting crisscross applesauce on the ground, playing with a leaf. He asked my son if he knew how to crow. They stood up together and “caw caw cawed” at the top of their lungs. Despite all of my scheduling and planning and reserving and double-checking for our trip, I could never have arranged a better meeting of my five-year old's hero.
How can I surprise someone today? Something little? Something big? An email, a note, a treat? I’m thinking already, but can’t tell. It would ruin the surprise, but I can’t wait to delight someone when they least expect it.
3. Even when we’re doing exactly what we want with our lives, we need to take breaks.
Do you love your school? Your job? Your boyfriend? Your best friend? Your family? If you are blessed enough to say “yes” to even one of these questions, you still need to take breaks from that thing, to appreciate that job/school/relationship/etc..
Eighty-degree sunshine tickling my shoulders on a January afternoon, music in the air, rides swirling around me, I could think of nowhere I’d rather be. But after walking from Frontierland to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back to Tomorrowland in time to use my FastPass, and after winding my way through stanchions, shooting lasers at aliens and spinning in tea cups, I realized it was 2:00 p.m. and we hadn't eaten since 7:30 a.m. (because we wanted to be at the park when it opened). WE NEEDED A REST -- to sit and sip something cold and snack on something salty and reenergize and take deep breaths. It’s the same with life. I need to inhale and exhale and savor where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished. I need to spread out my map and figure out where I'm going next.
4. Even when something is fantastic, there is always room for improvement.
As a child I went to Disney. It was an incredible vacation I remember the details vividly. The monorail seemed like the coolest possible mode of transportation. I actually got to work the controls on the Dumbo ride. The Haunted Mansion made me almost pee my pants. Pinocchio hugged me during the parade. Today the monorail, Dumbo ride, Haunted Mansion and Pinocchio are all still there, but Disney didn’t decide to stop at magically memorable. Now you can meet Rapunzel from Tangled. Now a Jack Sparrow so realistic, it's eerie, peeks out of a barrel on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride . There are fast passes to move lines faster and Epcot and Animal Kingdom and and... Disney didn’t stop at good or great or even spectacular. They continue changing, improving and growing. I need to keep going to – to never settle for good enough.
5. Savor the moment.
I started planning our trip to Orlando in September. I spent hours on Expedia. I ordered tickets and booked hotels and reserved plane tickets. I counted down to the right month, week, day, hour till take off. And then, like the bang of fireworks at the closing ceremonies each night at the park, the trip flashed brilliantly, and was over. I vowed not to let it get away from me. I walked leisurely through the park, stopping and enjoying the miracles around each corner, read the giant pages of the Pooh bear book on the honey pot ride, bought ice cream bars shaped like mouse ears and let the cool vanilla ice cream drip onto my tongue. The trip is over, but not the memories. Just as I still remember the details of my visit to the Magic Kingdom as a kid, my kids will remember theirs.
What am I doing today that I can savor? A snuggle with one of my children, a rich, hot coffee in the morning, a sunset pink and orange clashing with the gray winter sky. What will you savor today?
Laura L. Smith