Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
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.
When I’m at the beach I wear these heinous shoes all day, every day. They are the dorkiest item of apparel I own, but I wouldn’t even consider walking through the sand without them.
As soon as my feet hit the boardwalk leading from the condo to the beach, my family parts like the Red Sea, and I take off sprinting past them, sometimes with the pool bag flapping at my side, until I am ankle deep in ocean. I look ridiculous. I know I do. I look like I’m being chased by a Land Shark. People probably joke at dinner about the crazy lady they saw running by herself onto the beach, speculating about what motivated me to act like a maniac. But I do not care.
See, I’m allergic to fire ants, and not just like “achoo” or “dang I got a rash” but like” jab me with my Epipen and rush me to the hospital ASAP.” So to avoid these little buggers who live in hot, sandy places, I cover my feet and keep them in the wet sand where the ants are less likely to bite. And it is worth the ugly shoes and the strange antics to stay safe. Every single step of the way.
I’m sure there are many other things I do that seem strange or counter cultural to someone observing, but I do them for self-preservation. You probably do too. At dessert while out to eat with some girlfriends recently, one friend offered another friend a bite of her brownie. She answered, “No thanks. It looks so good, but I’d have to pay for it for a week.” She is gluten free and knows the wheat in baked goods attacks her body. The bite of rich, chocolaty brownie, although oh so yummy, just isn’t worth it for her. I have another girlfriend who needs her sleep. NEEDS IT. Like no one else I’ve ever met. She wakes up, takes her kids to school in the mornings and goes back to bed for another hour or so every school day. As a result every minute she’s awake she is more energetic, more productive, and happier. It is what she needs to be healthy and in a good place. And so no matter what everyone else does or thinks she should do, she deliberately gets her sleep.
It’s not always convenient to do the thing that’s best for you. But it’s essential to do it anyway.
The most significant thing I do each day to keep me grounded, safe, full of joy, and in the right frame of mind is to read the Bible. Most mornings I am on the fly—attempting to sneak a jog in before it’s sweltering hot, trying to get one of my kids on time to an early morning soccer game, hoping to get a bit of writing in before the rest of my family wakes up. And then there are the days when I am just sooo sleepy. But regardless of how handy or opportune, deliberately starting my day in the Word keeps me anchored to who I am.
So before I pull my covers off, I reach under my bed, pull out my Bible and my journal and see what God has in store for me for the day at hand. My morning time with my Bible:
There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG
Just like my awful pink beach shoes keep me safe from seemingly harmless insects that are life-threatening to me, beginning my day immersed in the Word of God protects me against seemingly innocent insults, rejections, comments, stresses and tensions, and reminds me I am wholly and completely loved and accepted, just as I am. And this reward is so fulfilling that I am always glad I woke up early, took the time, or waited to get started on something else. Always.
How about you? What seemingly countercultural or inconvenient things do you do to keep yourself grounded, safe, happy and shining your true reflection?
My daughters and I don’t perspire. We sweat.
After an intense summer of ninety-five degree runs, soccer practices, Zumba classes, and training sessions, we collectively created enough sweat and stench to rival the toxins of the local trash heap.
Unfortunately, so had our sports bras. I know they’re made out of some high tech fabrics that maximize comfort and movement during workouts, but that same fancy material seems to be a body odor sponge. Washing them was not doing the trick. They’d come out of the laundry cleaner, but still reeking of sweat. It was time to take some serious action. I tried drying them with fabric softener sheets, even though they’re never supposed to go in the drier. Desperate times call for desperate actions. Sadly, it was a fail. Once the humidity level dropped enough that I could actually walk outside without becoming instantly soaked, I tried drying the sports bras outside to air them out and let them soak in that fresh outdoorsy aroma. No luck. I tried sprinkling loads of laundry with lavender oil. Although the laundry room smelled lovely, the sports bras still came out of the machine putrid. By back-to-school our sports bras were so foul I wasn’t allowing them to be thrown in the hamper, because they were literally stinking up all of the other laundry. It was that bad. Nothing was working. Nothing.
I sat down my daughters and said, “I know our sports bras have all these fabulous colors like teal and hot pink. I know they have cool designs of squiggles and zebra stripes and dots. But I also know they smell to high heaven, and I haven’t been able to figure out a way to make them smell fresh again. I have one solution, but it’s risky. Bleach.”
Not being laundry experts they shrugged and asked, “Why’s that a problem?”
“Bleach is great at deep cleaning, but it literally takes color out of things, so our sports bras might have white spots or pale discolored patches, but come on, who sees them anyway? I think we need to try,” I answered.
They agreed and we ran the experiment. First round of sports bras bleached smelled…fresh. No way! It was true! Could it have been that easy all along?
And so now, the sports bras in question continue to go in with the whites, the towels, the sheets, the undershirts, and the Clorox. So far, none of them have come out faded, but they could at any time. And it would be okay, because we can actually put them on our bodies without cringing.
The same is true for us and our sins. We all sin. We judge someone else while pumping gas because of the way they look or because of the music coming out of their car. We tell a white lie to cover up the fact that we forgot or were running late. We gripe about a co-worker or teacher or coach. We do worse things too, but big or small, often or rare it’s sin. And it stinks!
We can try all kinds of crazy things to cover up our sins—to make them “smell better”. We can tell a great story around them to try to make them more acceptable. We can confess them to a friend to try and air them out. We can promise to work faster, try harder, do more, but the truth is none of our attempts can get the sin out of our lives. That’s right. None of them. Nothing will work to get that stench out of our souls. -- except Jesus.
In the same way Clorox literally pulls stench and stain out of clothing, Jesus pulls sin and all its nasty residue out of us; only He’s way better. He didn’t do it through a potent chemical, but through His blood. By dying on the cross, all of our stinky habits and smelly mistakes were bleached clean forever. Jesus washes us pure and clean any and every time we ask Him.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
“Nothing but the Blood” by Robert Lowry, 1876
Are there any sins stinking up your life? Give them a spin with Jesus, and I promise you’ll feel cleansed.
Yesterday my husband and I took the day off.
It wasn’t a snow day.
It wasn’t a sick day.
It wasn’t some obscure bank holiday.
But we took it off anyway.
Because we need to slow down.
I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure you feel incredibly relaxed and rested and haven’t done anything in so long; you often tell people you are idle and your time is unoccupied. Right?
If you nodded your head then I haven’t chatted with you in a lonnnggg time. I can’t remember the last time anyone responded to me about all the free time they have. It’s all about busyness, achievement, enriching, accomplishing, isn’t it? Even snails these days are zipping around racecourses and going viral. Or so the kids’ movie, Turbo, depicts. That snail is fast!
And all of those things are good. Grand even. Until they become too important. Until we forget to take time for others, for ourselves, for God.
Even Jesus, Son of God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World, took time off. He would wake up early in the morning or take off late at night by himself, not to check scores, or statuses or headlines. Not to file one more report, or do one more set of sit-ups or tidy up one more room. But to go up the mountain, or out of the way and pray.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16 NIV
Jesus also took time to share meals with the disciples. We don’t have any scripture passages depicting Jesus eating lunch at His desk while working on His next sermon or scratching on pieces of parchment during meals and handing them to messengers to deliver in the middle of dinner with His disciples. But we have several passages where Jesus is dining with them, talking with them, listening to them, showing them love, and teaching them about the Father. In fact his last interaction with his disciples was a meal, the last supper. And His one of Jesus’ first interactions with his friends after His resurrection was breakfast.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12 NIV
So yesterday I dropped the kids off at school, grabbed a few groceries, and picked up supplies one of them needed for a project. Then I headed home. By 8:30 AM my husband and I were sitting in the family room, not at the table, not near one of our desks, not in the front seat of the car headed somewhere, but on the soft, cushy couches in our family room with the sunshine streaming in through the windows. We sat and talked for hours. About things we’ve been reading, and sermons we’ve listened to, and what God’s been teaching us. We talked about a trip we’d like to take and the state of our hearts and concerns on our minds and the blessing of our marriage. At some point we milled in and out of the kitchen, came back to the family room with our plates of sandwiches and fruit and watched a movie together. In the middle of the day. On a Tuesday. We even figured out how to work Netflix by ourselves, without any of the kids to help us. Score!
And then we went for a walk. Yes, it was twenty-two degrees outside. Yes, I was dressed in running clothes, because I’d planned to get in a strenuous workout. But, instead, we stretched our legs, inhaled crisp air, reflected on how bright azure the sky was, and exercised our souls.
And then it was time. Time to get the kids, and work on homework, and make dinner, and answer email, and run a load of laundry, but I did it more refreshed. More aware of how God is working on me. More grateful for the world I live in, my incredible husband, my amazing children. I know I can’t take every day off. And neither can my husband. But I know I need to take more of them.
It’s easy to let the demands of life fill my calendar and dominate my thoughts. It takes effort to slow down and unwind and intentionally set my phone somewhere I can’t reach it. But the effort is so rewarding. Because it allows God to restore my soul.
David got it right in the 23 Psalm (and my friend, Holly Starr, sings it so beautifully above)
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Let God lead you to still places, lie down, rest. Let Him restore your soul.
When was the last time you slowed down? Truly took a day off? Maybe it’s time to pull out the crammed calendar and schedule one.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus Philippians 3:14
Again this year, I traded watching the Macy’s parade from my mom’s cozy couch for the excitement of thousands of people gathered together in the chilled Thanksgiving morning air. I loved watching the people of all ages and stages assembled near the starting line, adrenaline beginning to surge as the speakers played familiar tunes like “Happy” and since I was in Columbus, Ohio, “Hang on Sloopy”. All walks of life were there; grandpas, dads, sons, grandmas, mothers, daughters, families, friends, strangers, large groups, solo runners, dogs and strollers too. Some had the goal of making a personal best or breaking a record, others had the goal of completing the race to claim their pumpkin pie at the finish line. Their outfits ranged from high tech athletic gear, to colorful tutus and turkey hats, there were people in Cookie Monster pajama pants and others dressed in pilgrim suits. Some participants donned basic crew neck sweatshirts and sneakers, many wore hybrid outfits of any or all of the above mentioned possibilities, all with one goal, one cause, running the race.
The excitement of a race is similar to that of a parade or a concert, a crowd of strangers united for an hour or so. This year was the fourth time I’ve run a turkey trot, and again I was blessed to see the human race at some of its finest moments during a race. What if we all treated one another as we do on the running course?
Even though the temperatures were somewhere in the mid-twenties, and icy pelts of snow were blowing sideways throughout the race, there were spectators, yes friends and family of runners, but also locals who wanted to come out, cheering the runners along. It doesn’t matter how we were dressed or how slow or fast our paces, at every mile marker, and sometimes in between, people cheered, “Great job!” “Keep it up!” “You’re doing awesome!”
Volunteers handed out glasses of water at water stands encouraging us to hydrate, picking up our cups as we ran on.
Strangers chatted along the way, made room for others, patted each other on the back, took pictures for and of one another, exchanged smiles, and “Happy Thanksgivinged!” each other.
Two girls in front of me fell out of rhythm. “Go ahead,” said the one. “I don’t want to slow you down. I’ll meet you at the end.” And her friend replied, “No, I’ll slow down. We’re in this together.”
When I’d run my race, gathered my water, found my family and was headed back to the car I saw a man about my age just closing on the finish line. He looked fit, like a runner, pushing a wheelchair occupied by an elderly gentleman wrapped in a blanket. I’m guessing he was the runner’s father, but maybe not.
Life is busy, crazy, intense sometimes. For many you’re neck deep in studying for or grading exams, Christmas shopping and baking and decorating, writing year-end reports, and achieving 2014 sales numbers or deadlines. But, what if we treated each other like runners in the Turkey Trot year round? What if we took a break from trying to get ahead, from keeping our noses to the grindstone and from over achievinghttp://www.columbusturkeytrot.com? What if instead we cheered each other on, smiled at stangers, waved and said, “Happy Thursday or Wednesday or whatever”, gave each other pats on the back, waited for one another, said, “I’ll wait, we’re in this together,” and pushed one another along when we can no longer go it alone?
I am so thankful for all of you. As you trot through this holiday season I hope you find refreshment and encouragement along your course. Just for the record, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing today, “Keep it up! You’re doing awesome!”
I admit it. I’ve used a fake ID to get into the Rec Center.
Now, I actually have a paid membership, so I’m not getting in for free, or cheating the system, but yes, when I’ve misplaced my ID I’ve swiped one of my kid’s cards to get through the turnstile. Apparently security isn’t that scrutinizing.
There was a period in time when I NEVER seemed to be able to find my ID card to get into the Rec Center.
It’s not that I wasn’t trying to keep track of it. I was. I just wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I’ve tried keeping it in the little armrest thingy of my car, so every time I drive to the Rec, there it will be. Which works, until I go to the Rec in my husband’s car and after my workout, can’t put it back in my arm rest thingy, so it comes in the house with me and gets dropped on the counter in the rush to get showered and on to the next thing. I’ve tried putting my ID in the pocket of the jacket I usually wear when I work out, which is fine, unless I wear another jacket, or it’s too warm to wear a jacket. I’ve tried keeping it in my basket of important things on the kitchen counter, only that supposedly tidy, organized place becomes a black hole of things I’m supposed to be signing, paying, filling out, mailing. Yikes!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emptied all of my purses, dumped that basket on the counter, turned pockets inside out all in the name of an indoor workout. If you wonder why I need to workout inside, move to Ohio this winter, you’ll be buying your own Rec Center pass. Not to mention the yoga…ahhh.
Amazingly, after twelve years, I have misplaced my ID countless times, but never truly lost it. It always turns up, almost like it’s finding me. I’ve finally decided to keep the ID in my wallet. (I have no explanation as to why I never thought of that before). So far, it’s working, but I’ll keep you posted.
Unfortunately, there have been times when I’ve gotten like this with Jesus. I know exactly where He is in my life, then I set Him down when life takes an unexpected route or I’m in a huge hurry or there’s a change in my seasons. It’s not long before I realize how much I’m missing Him and how much I ache to find Him.
Why? Why would I ever stash Jesus away, or try to put Him down somewhere. It’s not that I ever want to lose track of Jesus. No way. I always want to know where He is and what He’s up to and what He has in store for me. I just don’t always do a very good job of it.
I'm in a relationship with Jesus. And relationships need constant communication to work. Parents and kids need to talk. Spouses need to talk to each other. BFF’s need to talk and text and Snapchat. Bosses and employees need to talk. Teachers and students need to talk. If you don’t, the other person in the relationship doesn’t know if you’re excited, worried, eager, anxious, sad, elated, stressed or pumped up—let alone why you’re feeling any of those things. Therefore they can’t cheer for you, hold you, listen to you, pass you a Kleenex, explain something to you, hug you, hold a dance party with you or bake you chocolate chip cookies, because they don’t know you need any of those things, because you’re not sharing with them, being with them.
I don’t function well when I do my devotions some mornings or when I attend Bible study some sessions or when I pray just when I wake up or just before I go to bed. For my relationship with Jesus to work, I need to read His word daily, hang out with other believers continually, pray to Him morning, noon and night-- when I’m in awe of a sunrise or stressed about being late somewhere, or need patience with a family member or am savoring a sip of mocha.
I need Him in my wallet, so to speak. With me everywhere I go, all of the time, every day. The most awesome thing about Jesus? Even when I don’t know where to look, He always finds me. Because as much as I want to hang out with God. God wants to hang out with me even more. And He wants to hang out with you too! How awesome is that?
Is there anything you constantly misplace? I’d love to hear, what are some ways you keep Jesus front and center, so He never gets lost in the fray of your life?
“Do you have “Shake It Up Baby?” a guy asked me one day when I was working my high school job at a record store.
Yup, I said record store. So, you know this story is a major throwback. I didn’t know of a song, “Shake It Up Baby”, but I’m a huge Beatles fan and had just seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was topping the box office. I did some quick calculating in my head (my favorite kind, the kind without numbers) and suggested perhaps he was looking for “Twist and Shout”.
“By the Beatles.”
“The one in Ferris Bueller.”
“Right. Right.” He nodded. “Shake it Up Baby.”
When was the last time you shook things up?
Because when you do, there are always some bubbles.
I’m a routine girl. I run in the morning when the air is cool and crisp and my mind can wander through the day’s events. After my run I dig into my writing. But yesterday after dropping my kids off at school, fully clad in workout clothes, I delayed my run and started writing instead. It was one of those writing sessions where I was focused and in tune and words flowed. They’re not all like that, I promise. But yesterday’s was. Fizz.
Due to a series of late nights I’m way behind on sleep, and I’m a girl who needs her sleep. So in the middle of the day I took an hour-long nap. Ahhhh. Crazy, for me, and with my list of to-do’s it felt irresponsible. But I woke rested and sane, and less grumpy. As a result of being more alert, the remainder of my day was more productive. Foam.
With four kids, part of my day, usually involves a grocery run. We are always out of something. I’d made a list the night before, had it in my purse and didn’t go. Instead, after school I took the kids to the farmer’s market. They ran around the straw maze and ate apples fresh from the orchard while I grabbed the necessities. We got what we needed and it was way more fun. Bubble.
My husband and I try to find a way to “date” every weekend. Sometimes that means going out to dinner. Sometimes our date consists of sitting by the fire chatting while the kids watch a movie in the next room. But between travel and soccer tournaments our weekends have been packed. So last night, Thursday, we had a date. We ate delicious fig and prosciutto pasta with brown butter sauce from the market on our porch and talked and laughed and shared. It was lovely. And it was on a school night. Carbonate.
Maybe you’re the opposite. Maybe you never have a list or a plan or a schedule. And you’re reading along wondering what’s so shaken about any of those occurrences. What if for one day, just one, you made a list before going to the grocery and planned out how you were going to use your day? For you, that might be the shake up you need. Stir.
None of those things are radical, but the small changes to my everyday routine refreshed and revived me. Don’t get me wrong. Routine is how I make things work. I can’t skip my runs and the grocery every day. I can’t take naps everyday and have dates on every school night. Our family unit would start to unravel. But every once in a while, it’s exactly what I need to see things through fresh eyes.
What about you? Have you shaken things up lately?
Stronger abs, learn a foreign language, the perfect hair do, teach your child to read, learn to juggle, reduce your stress, you name it… There are countless articles, books and blogs that will teach you how to do all of this and more in just ten minutes a day. In just six hundred seconds you can accomplish great feats. The only problem? If I take ten minutes a day to do crunches, listen to podcasts in French, flat iron my hair (who am I kidding, that would take a good 45 minutes) throw balls in the air, etc. I start running out of time to have conversations with my mom, pick my kids up from school, go to yoga, read my Bible, make dinner, kiss my husband, do laundry, work on my novel – the things I want to do and the things I need to do each day.
So how do we use our time best? There is so much in life I’d like to accomplish ranging from having organized closets and baking more chocolate chip cookies to attending Bible study and volunteering my time. There is no magical formula for how I allocate twenty-four hours each day, and no one to hold me accountable for each and ever minute. Is there?
Sometimes I feel pulled in a zillion directions.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “good is the enemy of best?”
It’s true. It is fun decorating for VBS and the windows in my house look so sparkly when I wash them and I feel stronger when I lift weights and my skin feels smoother when I give myself a facial and I can’t wait to read the next chapter of Eleanor and Park and, and, and... But are these things the best use of my time?
I’m not saying they are or they aren’t, because sometimes trivial things are critical and sometimes important things are meaningless. Who has God called you to be? What does He have in store for you today? Have you asked Him?
The thing that absolutely, positively has to happen for me each day is spending time in the morning with God. I read Matthew 19 yesterday. Verse 14 is about having a heart like children to enter God’s kingdom. God worked that in my brain and in my heart, about how important my kids are, which I knew, which I know, but today He really rubbed that into my very fabric.
I have a new novel that needs promoting, a tour that needs more dates booked, a hamper full of laundry and dozens of emails I need to return. But the absolute best use of my time was spent following God's nudge, and spending time with my kids. I watched The Princess Diaries with my daughters. I’ve seen it before and read the book. But my boys, who would never watch this, weren’t at home, and school starts soon, and we needed some snuggle on the couch girl time. As the new school year is lurking we were able to talk about the cool kids and the mean girls and people who like you just because you’re … fill in the blank. We talked about how the most important person for each of us to be is the person God made us to be. We recited the Eleanor Roosevelt quote over and over.
Today I was supposed to walk with a friend. I love her. She’s strong and inspiring and a great listener and makes me think. I was looking forward to spending ten times six minutes of my day picking her brain and pouring out mine while getting some exercise. But she had to cancel, and I ended up going to the park by myself. It was eerily cool for August, a storm was rolling in, but hadn’t hit quite yet. I ran faster than usual, invigorated by the wind, and listened to “Oceans” by Hillsong United over and over again begging God to give me ‘trust without borders’, spending time immersed 'in the presence of my Savior.’
It’s good to be intentional about our time. Like I said earlier, there are things I need and want to get done every day. But what if instead of filling every single ten-minute block of time, we spent some time letting God do His thing? Letting Him work ten minute miracles in our lives?
What can you do in just ten minutes? Better question, what can God do in just ten minutes? What is God urging you to put on your to-do list today and what is He urging you to delete from your calendar?
The lazy, hazy days of summer. I love them. I adore rising early and going running with my husband in the morning air, before the heat breaks. I love exploring museums and parks and botanical gardens with my kids. It’s fun making smoothies out of whatever fruit is in the fridge, a glob of yogurt and a ton of ice, then slurping it down with a straw (we take any leftovers, pour them into popsicle molds, and freeze for the next day). I savor getting caught up on my reading pile, well, at least making a dent in it. Splashing in the pool on hot summer afternoons with my kiddos is a blast. Usually my writing goes on a bit of summer vacation too, so I can enjoy a slower pace with my family.
Last week Brenda Yoder tagged me in a game of blog tag, where writers share what they’re currently working on with each other and with their readers. Brenda is working on a book called, Balance, Busyness and Not Doing it All. And since most people I know, self included, are busy, or feel overwhelmed, or wonder how we're going to get it all done, I can't wait for its release.
And although I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, writing this summer, this is an exciting time in my writing journey. I released a new book, It’s Addicting. It’s the third book in the Status Update series revolving around four college roommates.
Obsessing over status, grades, exercise or a boyfriend could never become an addiction...could it? This third installment of the Status Updates series finds four college sophomore roommates finally getting comfy with the routines of dorm life. But Kat, Claire, Palmer, and Hannah soon begin to feel the nagging ache of innocent little addictions pulling them away from their true selves. Hang out with these four roomies to see if they can—or even want to—ditch these sneaky little hang-ups before they take over their lives.
I’m really excited about the response I’ve gotten from readers so far. It’s always a thrill to actually hold a copy of a book I’ve been working on for over a year in my hands.
I’m also gearing up for a tour with Christian recording artist, Holly Starr. We’re traveling through the Midwest in September sharing the message of finding our true identity in Christ. The tour is called Through My Father’s Eyes Tour and is being sponsored by Sisterhood Magazine. If you haven’t checked out Holly’s music yet, it would be a perfect addition to your summer playlist. And Sisterhood is packed with great ideas for summer DIY projects, trips, hairstyles, etc.
Plus, you know, I AM a writer, so I have a new book idea brewing. Notes scratched on napkins and corners of envelopes. More ideas jotted in my Notes App. A character. A setting. A struggle. I love this stage of writing. It holds all of the excitement and uncertainty of infatuation.
This game of tag requires that I answer a couple of more questions, so here goes….
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I was a marketing major in college. And one of the things they emphasized in my program, was your product had to have a distinguishing feature, and you had to know that niche.
Maybe I took it a little too seriously, but I write contemporary, Christian young adult, issue-driven fiction. That’s a lot of modifiers. And there’s not a lot of it out there. Try finding one whole shelf that carries Christian YA fiction at your local Barnes & Noble. I double dog dare you. If you do find the partial shelf dedicated to this genre, you won’t find many titles that take the current issues teens face every day and hit them square in the nose, challenging them to react, reminding them that Christ is with them in all the hard stuff.
WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO?
Because it’s real. Because it’s relevant. Because high school and college girls will find a boy attractive, will be at a function where there is alcohol, will feel pressures from this world to perform, to fit in, to look a certain way and to wear certain clothes and to succeed. And if we don’t talk about these things, then they get buried. Then there is guilt and shame and uncertainty. Shining light on these subjects allows teens and parents to examine them, allows girls to decide how they’re going to handle them, what their reaction to these situations would, could and should be, gives them a safe place to explore these challenges and talk about them and process them. I write about real life issues. I write what I write to let young women know they are not alone. And that no matter what, no matter what alley of life they’ve gone down, no matter what tragedy or trauma has hit them over their heads, Christ is with them, every step of the way.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
It starts with a flicker in my brain. I get ideas every day, but some of them stick and develop and persist, while others fade away before I’ve finished my Starbucks. The ones that keep coming back to me are the ones I pursue. I gather ideas first, flashes of color, moods. Then I switch gears and go into fact-finding mode. Since all of my novels deal with real life struggles, I interview young women who have faced that specific struggle. It’s Complicated deals with date rape, so I interviewed college girls who had been violated. I asked how it affected them, what emotions they went through, what emotions they’re still going through. I take similar threads or unique details and weave them into a fictional tale, using the research to keep my stories authentic. Using story telling to keep it make-believe. And then I start writing. Just immersing myself in story. I always have an idea of the beginning and end when I start writing the actual book, but the middle; the plot itself propels itself forward as I write.
TAG YOU’RE IT
Since this is a game of virtual writer tag, for next Monday I’m tagging:
Amy Parker, author of more than 20 books. She was my editor on my very first novel, Skinny, and she's become one of my dearest friends. She has an incredible book releasing this fall. I’ll let her tell you all about it next week but to get you thinking, it revolves around the 20th anniversary of the end of the genocide in Rwanda. Powerful stuff!
Betsy St. Amant, who I had the pleasure of endorsing her YA novel, Addison Blakely, Confessions of a PK, a few years back and have continued to get to know via our ministry with Nicole O’Dell’s Choose Now. Betsy writes so many books I can’t keep track of her, so I’m excited to see on August 4th what awesome projects she shares with us.
How about you? How are you spending your summer days? What projects are you working on?
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