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Flying home from California my ears filled with pressure. It felt like someone was stuffing thick, fuzzy bath towels in my ears. And believe me, there was no room for them. I feel it on most flights, but this was a doozy. I told my husband if I was a baby I would have been screaming. I turned to all the tricks—chewing gum, drinking water, fake yawning. And I was doing them all a bit too fervently, hoping for even the slightest relief in my ears. Then, probably, because of all the bizarre antics of chomping and swallowing, I got the hiccups. I attempted to contain them, because although my husband sat on my right, a stranger sat on my left, and I didn’t want to weird him out too much. So my body twitched every four seconds and my ears felt like they were going to explode, and I was trying to breathe deeply, in and out, but I felt like a cartoon. The plane could not land quickly enough.
Somewhere in the midst of all the ridiculousness, I realized Jesus also got the hiccups. Jesus’s ears popped. I giggled in my seat—more antics. There was relief in this fact. It’s silly. And trivial. But also pretty cool. God, who designed oak trees to grow 80 feet tall and produce tiny acorns, less than an inch tall, with a point on the end so they could plant themselves insuring oaks won’t become extinct. That same God came down to earth to experience everything about being human. Everything. So Jesus could understand us better.
He didn’t have to. He could have stayed up on His royal throne. But Jesus chose this humbling condition—hiccups and all—out of love for us.
Jesus probably got splinters, experienced headaches. He sweat, got chilly, had to blow his nose. And maybe broke His ankle playing in the hills with His brother, James. Jesus most likely had nosebleeds, and definitely had his share of bad nights of sleep.
Whatever your body is experiencing today—migraine, fatigue, sore muscles—Jesus knows what you’re up against. He doesn’t just sympathize, but empathizes. So talk to Him about it. And take comfort knowing the King of the universe loves you so much, that He experienced all kinds of peculiar bodily pain so He could relate to you.
Take inventory of your body. What’s working well—a healed cut? Cleared sinuses? Praise Jesus for it.
What’s not—cramps? Allergies? Ask Jesus for relief.
Thank Him for taking on a human body, so He could truly understand.
The other night I was totally in the mood to bake. I got my youngest in on the endeavor and after a quick scan of the cupboards we confirmed we had all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. With M&M’s. Because why skimp? Life is short.
I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since high school. How many hundreds of batches over the years? I have no idea. We creamed the butter and the sugars and added eggs. We made sure to take a good whiff of vanilla, because the sweet, thick vapor honestly soothes me. Next came the dry ingredients, and finally the chocolate. Don’t worry we both sampled the chocolate chips AND the M&M’s. I like the dough better than the cookies and cannot resist a spoonful before I plop sticky mounds onto the pans.
But…hmm. Something tasted off. I took another taste, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the dough—it wasn’t sour or rotten or anything—it just wasn’t right, and as a dough connoisseur I could tell. I had my son try it. He thought it was fine, so we baked the cookies and allowed the house to fill with the warmth and scent of chocolate chippers. Hot out of the oven the cookies tasted fine, more than fine, delicious—rich and gooey. But something still wasn’t right with the dough. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until I was cleaning up and took one last little lick. It tasted like it had a hint of banana in it. And for the record there are zero bananas in my secret recipe.
I thought through this puzzle as I sloshed the sponge along the sides of the bowl. And then it dawned on me. One of the sticks of butter had been resting on a slightly mushy banana on the door of my fridge. And bananas have this mysterious quality that their flavor permeates everything they’re near. Ever notice that? Put a banana in a lunch box and the entire lunch will taste like bananas, even the ham and cheese sandwich. I use bananas in cooking all of the time. I substitute them for cooking oil in baked goods. Mushy bananas make excellent binders in muffin, pancake, and waffle batters. You can read about my banana waffles here if you want. I’ll throw them into any of those concoctions without hesitating. But for some reason, not an actual banana, but just the proximity of one to a single ingredient in my cookie dough infused the entire bowl with the flavor.
Is there anything in your life that’s slightly off? It might not be totally wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. An activity you’re engaged in, someone you’re hanging out with, that habit that is making the whole bowl of batter of your life taste not quite right. I couldn’t extract the flavor of banana from my cookie dough. But we can make an effort to limit and eliminate the things in our lives that are shifting things off balance.
We can say, “no.” We can choose to not answer that person’s text who always makes us feel small or not sit next to the person who brings out our negative side at the game. We can refuse to watch that show even if our whole family is watching it. We can leave the room if it does something strange to us, makes us a little off, nudges us in the wrong direction. We can turn off our phones. Even if we might miss a hilarious text. We can put our phone in another room, so we’re not distracted or consumed by that tiny screen if it’s becoming a problem. We can choose to exercise somehow today—walk or shoot hoops with our kids or even play tag. We can select something good for us on the menu (that might be good for our body, soul, or mood, depending on what’s best for today.) We can speak up someplace where we’ve remained silent, but something tells us we shouldn’t hold our tongues any longer.
Take a look at your life? Is there anything that’s throwing you out of line of the glorious plans Jesus has for you? Of His perfect love for you? Anything that clearly contradicts the Bible, and you’ve kind of been blowing it off or rationalizing, but probably shouldn’t be? Something seemingly as benign as a banana holding hands with a stick of butter? We all have these things, and God wants to help us get back on our feet with each and every one of them. He doesn’t want us to go it alone. He’ll equip us with the opportunities and endurance and patience we need. We just need to ask for help.
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. —Psalm 94:18-19
My cookies ended up being fine, but the dough never even tempted me to a second, or third, or tenth bite. Which is super weird. Whatever tastes a little off today, even if you can’t detect why or how, turn it over to God. Take the time to think talk over with Him what’s wrong and why. He’ll support you. He’ll comfort you. He wants to renew your hope. God wants you to stand strong. He’ll give you the tools to get back on track. Heck He might even give you some M&M’s.
My husband and I were going for a walk after dinner, but have you noticed? It’s getting dark so early! So, halfway around the block he had to turn on the flashlight on his phone. The hum of a car engine was buzzing somewhere behind us. Brett, always the gentlemen, motioned that I stand on the inside of him, closer to the curb, and said, “Let me stand nearer to the car. I want them to see our light.”
Yes, I thought. I want the whole world to see my light, the light that is Jesus living inside me. How can I do that well?
Showing up a couple of minutes before yoga started, I put my flip flops and water bottle in a cubby, grabbed a blue yoga block, and found a spot to roll out my mat. Instead of the usual instructor, a college student—a yoga trainee—was standing by the sound system looking over her notes, apparently ready to teach the class. I said, “hi,” walked past her and found some room on the highly-polished wooden floor near a giant window. I gravitate to a spot aglow in sunlight, because I soak in the warmth of the sun like a sponge. As I unrolled my gray mat with stenciled pale blue flowers stenciled the softly playing music caught up with my brain. It was “Everything” by Lifehouse. You all, have you heard this song? I have one friend who literally became a Christian after seeing a performance of this very song. I circled back from my mat, one minute until class began, and told the trainee, “I love this song. Thank you so much for playing it.”
“Oh, I like it, too,” she answered. “I just think it’s so calming.”
I smiled, nodded, and hurried back to my mat so she could get started.
Hmmm. Calming? Sure. But so much more. Maybe she doesn’t know the lyrics are all about Jesus. I mean it doesn’t mention His name and Lifehouse is a crossover band, meaning they play to Christian and mainstream audiences. But as our instructor got us seated, breathing, and focused the instrumental version of “So Will I,” by Hillsong Worship drifted over the speakers. As I swan-dived (is that swan-dived or swan-dove? I’ve never said it in the past tense before) I sang along to the melody in my head, “If the stars were made to worship, so will I.” And as I was practicing yoga I was worshipping. So sweet. This girl, working to be certified as a yoga instructor was using class to spread the light of Jesus in her. It wasn’t lightning bolt explosive light, but at the same time it absolutely was. Awesome. I wanted to be like her. I mean not exactly like her. I don’t have any desire to teach yoga or be twenty-one again. But I do want to shine Jesus where I am—how God calls me to do it.
The next day I was at Kroger, as usual, this time buying approximately 83,000 Gatorades and granola bars for soccer team snacks. It was clear this was too big a job for the YouScan, so I got in Sharon’s lane. The customer in front of me was grumbling about something or other, but by the time she was pushing her cart away the shopper was nodding and saying, “Mmm hmm,” to Sharon’s comment about counting our blessings.
When I got up to Sharon, she grinned and said, “Turn it around, turn it around.” This is her goal. To take the negative talk and turn it around. To remind people of the good in the world and the good in them—of God’s love for them, of their blessings. Sharon is an expert at this. How cool that Sharon decided to make her checkout line her ministry. This is where she shines Christ’s light daily. I can’t imagine how many people she has face to face contact with each week—the impact she’ having on God’s kingdom. Each shopper leaves her lane with a “God is so good,” or “aren’t we so blessed?” She literally pours blessings upon blessings on her customers. I want to be like Sharon. Because Sharon reminds me of Jesus. But I don’t work at Kroger. God has other ways for me to shine His light. Other ways for you, too.
I think we overthink this sharing about Jesus business. We think we have to have every Bible verse memorized or have gone through special training or know all the answers or do big gigantic acts or fix all the broken pieces of our lives in order to shine a little light. But God would never make it that hard on us. You guys there are so many ways to spread the very good news that Jesus longs to rescue us, offer us a better life, that He’s already wiped our slates clean by dying on the cross for us, that all we have to do is say we believe, and we can experience this freedom. Jesus doesn’t need us to set off fireworks, although sometimes He’ll ask us to. Even the flicker of a candle is so beautiful and changes the mood of an entire room.
I think my pastor is amazing. He does an incredible job of shining the light of Jesus during his sermons every week. But Sharon also shines light over groceries. And a college-aged yoga instructor in Ohio shares the spiritual strength and balance Jesus offers with the people coming into her room to gain strength and balance for their physical bodies. I have several friends who teach at the public university in our college town who shine so much Jesus light in their classrooms, students can’t help to catch a glimmer.
Jesus calls us to be light—to bring out God’s colors in the world (Mt 5:14), but He doesn’t tell us how that has to look. In fact, He’s created us all so uniquely, He gives us all completely different ways to do it—flash bulbs, twinkly lights, flood lights, dimmer lights, strobe lights, colored lights and energy efficient bulbs, so more people can know about Him, from several different angles, and experience multiple facets of God’s great love.
So what’s your thing? How are you going to shine some light? Where did God put you? Who do you know? What can you do? Who do you interact with? What are your talents? God put you in those places with those people for specific reasons. You don’t have to stand on a stage or work with the public. You can show off God’s colors on the sidelines of your kids’ soccer games, at the meetings you attend, to the neighbor’s you pass when you’re out walking your dog.
All you have to do is share what you already know, about who Jesus is, what He does, what a difference He makes. Lifehouse does this in that song my yoga teacher was playing, “You’re all I want. You’re all I need, You’re everything.” This song was on an album that sold over 4 million copies and was featured on the WB hit drama, Smallville. Do you know how much light that is? How many of God’s colors were revealed in 4 million copies plus all the viewers of Smallville? You can do it. Right where you are. With the gifts you’ve been given—by singing it out loud, or playing it in the background or something else altogether. Just let it be known that Jesus is your light—your everything.
Take a quick assessment of how you can get out your flashlight or spotlight and shine a little light. God won’t make this hard. It’s always easy to share good news. Just do it naturally where you are and who you’re with. It doesn’t have to be in your face and overt. It could be by choosing to do or not to do something, or maybe it’s saying or not saying something else. Someone might ask why you did that. Someone will notice. And then you’ve brightened things up a bit—you’ve let them see your light—the light of Christ. Let it shine.
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
My daughter came downstairs, her long, thick hair still wet from the shower. It had been a long day. She had one of those tired headaches that can only be solved with sleep, but she was staring down a 6:00 AM alarm waking her for school the next morning. She looked at me with giant blue eyes and held out her brush. “Could you please brush my hair? Really gently? I can’t do it softly enough myself.” This resonated so deeply. Do you wish someone would be gentle? Are you maybe not even able to be soft enough with yourself?
I’ve been blessed in the last couple of weeks to visit with some brilliant, gorgeous, strong women, who are basically rocking the socks off the world. But underneath the surface, these friends seem exhausted, run down. They’re juggling work, family, health, and the enigma of getting it all done, getting it all done well, and succeeding at this juggling act all of the time. One of my friends recently landed her dream job. But the dream job required a move and she’s exerting large amounts of effort trying to settle into her new space, meeting new friends, figuring out where to do anything—like get an oil change, and proving herself in this dream job. She’s with the opportunity, but starting fresh takes extra time and energy—more than normal. And she’s worn out.
Another friend is a sales rep and they’ve had a change in their product line. In good ways, but also in learn new and different strategies; reinvent the process kind of ways. Plus she has a medical issue. On top of her kids, marriage, house and groceries. And she’s slightly frazzled. Yet another friend has this huge, brilliant idea to create something new and exciting. This plan won’t pop into being by itself. It takes extra hours, extra mental capacity, on top of my friend’s current carpools, current exercise routine, current commitments. And she’s pumped up about this big beautiful idea God gave her, but trying to do it all—well it’s overwhelming.
And I’m praying for all of my friends in their busyness, praying for peace, and moments where they can slow down and find things that they can let go of. I’m praying for all these friends as I’m cramming writing time into every spare minute of the day, because my manuscript is due to my publisher in a week. My son has play practice? I’m there. With five resource books and my laptop spread across a row of seats in the theatre. My daughter has gymnastics. Same. It’s Saturday? Cool. I’ll set the alarm early and respond to the comments from my project manager until my cuties wake up. And, in the meantime….I'm still hustling to get it all done. Prep for Bible study. Write notes for my kids’ lunches. Log a few miles at the gym. Keep up with the mystical clothes hamper that is miraculously always full. How does it do that?
I LOVE doing all these things. I love my family. I love to write. I love Bible study. I’m doing these things today, just like I did them yesterday, and last week, because that’s what I do. I get the stuff I want to do done.
But my husband had to sit me down, and take the figurative brush out of my hands. His words were wise, but they felt sharp: You can’t do it all?
Hmm, I thought. Why not?
Husband: You are on deadline. This is not your normal. For the next week, let go a little.
My friends are swamped, but me? I’ve got this. Right? Let go? Of what? Not my kids. Not this sweet man talking to me. And the writing, well I kind of signed a contract. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good.
Husband: Let’s order pizza tonight. Let the kids make dinner one night. What else is easy? Let’s do that.
Me: Okay, fine. I like pizza. Sounds good for tonight. I’m so agreeable. Problem solved. Moving on.
Husband: I’ll pick the kids up from school tomorrow.
Me: But you have work. I was fine with the pizza thing, but that’s plenty of help, thank you very much.
Husband: I know, but I can grab the kids. Not every day, but tomorrow. It gives you an extra hour.
Me: Silent, but insides screaming, I’ll do it. I’ve got this. I can do this. I can make it work. Because I want to. Because I can find a way. Because I hate letting people down.
But Brett is not suggesting, he’s telling, and he never tells me what to do. I must be manifesting the symptoms I see in my friends, that look behind the eyes, that I’ve got this, but it’s hard and any minute I might slip. It took courage and love for Brett to speak this to me. I glue my lips together and try to listen. I nod. It’s like God has grabbed me and is making me lie down. And these blunt words? They actually sound like gentleness, sound a lot like grace.
I needed someone to be gentle with me, and I didn’t even know it. I saw it in my friends, but not in myself. How about you? Do you wish you could be treated gently right now? Are you incapable of being soft enough with yourself?
The good news? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures. Meaning, when we’re burning the candle at both ends, staying up too late and remedying this routine with too much coffee the next morning (anyone?), Jesus says, “Stop. Lie down. Rest.”
He leads us beside still waters. Sigh. Did somebody say still?
Take a deep breath. Look at your to do list. What can you erase or delete? What are you trying to do, because you expect you to do it, even though maybe no one else expects it, or maybe someone else could do it just as easily? Can it be delegated? Can it wait a week? Is there someone you could ask for help? Could you pay someone to watch the kids for an hour or two, or to clean the house this one time, or even pay the $5 for Clicklist to do the grocery shopping for you? You don’t have to answer every text, call, and email as they pop on your screen. You don’t have to do it all. Period.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Be gentle with yourself. I know there is so much to do, great stuff, important stuff, deadline stuff. But you don’t have to do all of it. And when you can’t even be gentle with yourself, Jesus will be. He’ll soak warm sunshine into your skin, provide a moment where for some reason the house is quiet, or maybe He’ll have your spouse or friend or coworker unexpectedly tell you, “I’ll do this thing. I’ll make this call. I’ll write this note, so you don’t have to.” Accept the grace. Lie down. Don’t fill that still moment with another to-do. Fill it with Jesus. Hand him your hairbrush or your to-do list or your expectations, and allow Him to gently restore your soul.
I went for a run today, listened to my “Run” playlist and came back dripping with sweat. It had been a long time (due to the unseasonably cool weather) since I’d been dripping with sweat, or since I’d listened to music on a run. I’ve been listening to podcasts and books on tapes, which are great, but music? I’ve missed it. It feeds my soul. I realized I’ve been busy doing lots of wonderful things, but some of my favorite things have been packed away with my swimsuits and sundresses. As the cicadas emerge (yikes!) so do lots of other things that make my heart sing.
It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing. Or that I’ve been doing yucky things. Not at all. It’s just I feel a tangible shift as spring sidesteps into summer, from school year, to having the kids home. Yes, my actual daily routine changes, but something about my whole persona swings too.
I live in a college town, so my habitat changes overnight from the buzz of millennials filling the sidewalks and shops wearing back packs and holding coffee cups to almost empty streets, and locals splashing with their kids in the uptown fountains while licking ice cream cones. How does your life change when you turn your calendar to summer? How does your schedule change with longer, hotter days? Do you go from pots of soup to steaks on the grill? From jazz to pop? From evening workouts at the gym to early morning walks outside?
Since I’ve always loved a good research paper (I’m serious. I’m that nerdy girl), the past few months have been fascinating. The work I’ve been doing has called me to learn. I’ve been immersed in studying everything from the layout of Anne Frank’s hideout, to the structure of a biography, to the ropes used on ancient ships, to the Hebrew translation of the word “fear.” I love research. I do. But the little girl who spent countless hours of her childhood hidden in the branches of willow trees transported to Narnia—that part of me—is thrilled to be dipping my toes back in the pools of fiction. Writing nonfiction is thought provoking. And I love to learn, but writing fiction is flowing and creative and unpredictable. I never know what my characters will say or where they’ll end up as they journey to the end of their tale. My mind and my soul delight in the wandering.
I am amazed that God has created so many different pieces of me—even pieces that oppose one another. How can one girl love to discover historical details and adore making things up? How can she like to cuddle under piles of blankets and sit in the sun, allowing the rays to warm her through and through? Well, because God created me to love books—all books, and warmth—however I can get it. And because life changes, because I end up in different places at different times, because I have different assignments and adventures and opportunities and obstacles and challenges and puzzles to solve, I get to tap into the ways God made me and enjoy them in every circumstance. He’s done the same with you—woven varied likes and cravings and interests into your very being. And He loves it when you tap into different parts of them, when you exercise new or dormant muscles.
I’m transitioning from things I love to other things I love—from boots to flip flops, from dark roast to iced coffee, from the darkest of burgundy to the palest pinks and brightest blues on my fingers and toes. I’m grateful for all of them! And they’re all me—parts of me—parts of me that need to be expressed and that blink in joy at the dazzling sunlight when they emerge after hibernating.
So for now, I’ll tuck away my favorite army jackets and close off my beloved fireplace. I’ll stretch my legs and let my mind dance and allow the freedom of summer to infiltrate my very being. And when the leaves start to turn, I’ll be just as excited to pull out my sweaters and scarves.
How about you? Why not make a list of things you love about summertime? I’d love to hear how your schedule switches and how your different God-given passions and joys emerge in the warmer months.
My husband and I recently snuck away to Monterosso, a small Italian fishing village. In my eyes, it is the most beautiful place on earth. Monterosso is an adorable water-colored village nestled along the coast, protected by jagged cliffs and connected by trains and trails to four other neighboring towns that together comprise the Cinque Terre (five lands).
A train ride from one town to another lasts approximately three minutes. But if you travel by foot, the hikes take between two to three hours. The trails climb up from the centers of the towns through vineyards and past waterfalls to high peaks. They level out offering countless views of the aqua blue Ligurian Sea, then wind back down into the next adorable village. Each trail is unique—one is predominantly stairs, another slanty and muddy, some narrow, some broad, but they all promise to work your leg muscles, provide you with spectacular vistas, and guide you along the way via red and white trail markers.
Okay, I’m laughing as I type. Because the trail markers, well, they’re not like the street signs this Ohio girl is accustomed to. They are basically hand painted stripes that could show up on a rock, a tree, a signpost, or any seemingly random interval the trailblazer decided to paint them. So let’s just say as my husband and I hiked our way through the Cinque Terre, we took more than a few wrong turns at Albuquerque.
But the markers were always there, albeit sometimes hidden. And when we felt extremely uncertain and unsure, we could hone in, focus, and eventually find another set of red and white stripes—on a fence, on a wall—reminding us where to go, to keep us headed in the right direction.
Step after step, bend after bend, the twists of the trails reminded me of the journeys of life. The times I’m walking along, enjoying the sunshine, when all of a sudden I have to watch my step, hold on to the rail, because things went wonky, and if I’m not careful I could slip or fall or twist myself into a dangerous place—somewhere I shouldn’t be. The gratefulness when I regain my footing, when I successfully maneuver through a tight spot, and even when after stumbling, I’m able to stand back up, brush myself off, assess the scrapes and scratches, and say, “I’m okay.” The times I’m exhausted, out of breath, but I keep going, one step after another, and then out of the blue I’m rewarded for obediently moving forward by one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen—vibrant indigo Morning Glories blooming inexplicably out of rocks, rows of vines intricately twisted lush with grapes, whispery silver leaves on a shady olive tree, the sea as far as my eyes can focus. There’s also the awe of viewing something I’ve never seen before just when I least expect it.
And of course, like life, there are all of the splits in the trail—the should I go up or down, turn left or right places. I have so many friends facing forks in their roads—should they move? Stay put? Change jobs? Who should they room with? If they’re supposed to go, where should they go? What classes should they take? What should they give up in order to have time for the thing they’ve been called to? How will they pay for it?
How about you? Any questions on your heart—decisions you’re trying to make? Turns in your life journey?
On our Italian hikes the signs seemed irregular to me, not where I would have put them, not how I would have marked things, but they were there. And when we are not sure what our next steps in life should be, when we can’t “see the signs” they are also there. We just have to focus, intentionally hone in, because we all have someone to help us along the way. Jesus says, “I am the way.” Which sure is reassuring when we’re lost, confused, misguided, or the backs of our legs are cramping.
I know Jesus is the way. I am confident He will lead my steps and show me where to go. Only sometimes when I’m at the fork in the road, looking left and right I don’t hear Him, can’t tell which way He wants me to go. Usually, because I’m looking in the wrong places in the wrong ways and muffling His voice with the noise of the world. So I get frazzled and flustered and frustrated. My heart beats too fast, and I worry that I’m lost. Should I be in the middle of someone’s lemon grove (yes that happened)? It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s one thing on a vacation hike, but in real life when we feel lost and confused what are we supposed to do? Take a deep breath, remind ourselves that He is with us, that He will never forsake us (similar to reminding myself someone has marked this trail. I have seen the markers. There will be more). And take a few steps forward.
For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
And if after five minutes of hiking, or five months of praying we still feel unsettled, well then, it’s usually time to get a sip of water, maybe nibble on a granola bar from our backpacks, and circle back, to the last time we turned, to where the path split, when we last made a choice. When I’m in the wrong place and actually take time to retrace my steps, it usually becomes quite clear where I went wrong.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. —Hebrews 13:5
And sure enough when I go back to where I veered, there is one of those crazy sets of stripes. Red and white. Red, like Christ’s blood that He shed to save us from all of our mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns. And white like how pure and clean we are now, because of His love. With signs like that, we can be assured we’re on the right track. We just need to seek His direction, go where He leads us, then take in the views.
For me in hiking (and in life), the thrill is not in reaching the destination at the end of the journey—no the joy is in the discovery, in the learning, in the overcoming the challenges, in the surprises I could have never imagined, but that God delights me with along the way.
Where are you headed today? Follow the markers God has put out for you and delight in the journey.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
I never got to meet my maternal grandmother, because she lost the fight with breast cancer when my mom was still in high school. Devastating. My mom’s sister, my aunt Sheila, also lost her life to breast cancer while I was so young, my memories of her are few and fleeting. And although I never had the opportunity to develop relationships with these ladies, they are still my family, my roots, my gene pool. This isn’t just another cause to me. This is part of my story.
And because these branches of my family tree died from breast cancer I’m at high risk. I can’t control if I ever contract breast cancer or not. But there are still things I can do. Things you can do too.
You’d have to be blind not to realize October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is everywhere, which is awesome, because I love pink. But it’s even more awesome, because so many companies, brands, teams and every day people have gotten in on this fight against breast cancer. Every time we buy a cup with a pink ribbon on it or a bottle of One Hope Chardonnay (it’s not too good to be true, there really is wine with a cause) a little more money helps researchers find a cure, once and for all, for this life stealing disease.
But there’s more we can do.
Something more personal than football players wearing pink cleats. Something more powerful than eating pink M&M’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love all M&M’s and enjoy the pink ones extra bunches. I also get a kick out of seeing macho athletes wearing pink.
But there are things we can do that start with us, that begin with caring for our true reflections. We can eat right and exercise, because both of those things reduce the risk of breast cancer by 20-40%. Wow! Pass the whole grains and my gym shoes, please. Not to mention eating right and exercising reduces the risks of a lot of other nasty diseases too. If you’re over forty-five, please get your annual mammogram. And, it seems uncomfortable and awkward and strange to talk about, but we have to do our breast self-exams, girls! If you are old enough to wear a bra, you’re old enough to start doing self-exams. We know our bodies better than any one else. We are the ones most likely to discover a lump, to know the difference between a lump, a bruise, or poison ivy, or to know intuitively that something is out of sorts, out of place. How are we going to know? Because if we check ourselves monthly we’re figuring out what normal is. We’ll know what our breasts are supposed to feel and look like. So if they don’t feel or look like themselves, we can hightail it to our doctors and have things checked out.
You are beautiful. God made you. And because He made you, He longs for you to take care of yourself.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
Take care of that body so one day your granddaughters and nieces will know you, will laugh with you and share with you. Glorify God by caring enough to check in with your body. Feel free to reward yourself with some pink M&M’s afterwards as a ribbon for taking such good care of you.
Laura L. Smith