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 appreciate that the days leading up to Thanksgiving ignite our thankful nature, because I have so much to be thankful for. We get to choose how we look at each and every situation that comes our way. We can dwell on the mishaps and misunderstandings, or we can be in awe of what we have. Which will we choose?
Overall, I see myself as a grateful kind of girl. But although I don’t mean to, I still seem to grumble about something or other most days.
Me? I’m trying to be less grumbly and more grateful.
Do you know the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell? I prefer the remake by the Counting Crows, but the lyrics warn, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got…’til its gone.” I don’t want to take the gifts I have for granted. I don’t want them to slip through my fingers unnoticed or unappreciated. I want to cherish them and savor them and drink them in. November seems to be the perfect time to work on improving my perspective.
My younger daughter had an out of town soccer tournament this past weekend. And although it meant leaving my husband and other three amazing kids for a couple of nights, I was still excited with the prospect of spending two nights visiting with one of my favorite people on the planet (the tournament was near my mom’s) and getting to spend time with my precious girl. Yet, I’ll admit Saturday’s game came a little early, the parking lot was slightly insane, and I was a bit shivery as I wrapped my hands around a coffee cup on the sidelines of a frost-covered field. As the girls warmed up, I asked the coach, who had worked the night shift, not slept, and came straight to coach the girls, “How do you stay awake? Loads of coffee?” He shook his head and laughed. His answer convicted me, “Honestly, the smiles on these girls faces totally energizes me.” Perfect perspective.
Even though I’d started out in the right mindset, I needed reminded to choose grateful over grumbling (thanks, Coach). My mind reset. I stopped inwardly whining and started absorbing God’s blessings, starting with the spectacular sunrise over the fields and the warm cup of coffee my mom had brewed for me. I had a memorable weekend loaded with conversations and walks with my mom and packed with giggles, silly photos, chocolate cake and even a couple of episodes of Fixer Upper with my daughter. The weekend was pure gift.
I’m writing this blog just prior to the election. Emotions about our future president are so thick they are difficult to wade through. But no matter if your candidate won, or the other candidate won we still live in a country where we had the right to vote. Where I, as a woman, had the right to vote. Where a free education is available to all of our children, despite income, race or religion. Where it is safe for our kids to get on a school bus in the morning and to ride it back home to us each afternoon. When I attend my kids’ soccer games, I can sit anywhere I like, wear anything I’m in the mood to wear. When the “National Anthem” is played I’ll get goose bumps contemplating my freedoms. We live in a country where we can still express our opinions without fear, where we can practice our faith without risk of imprisonment, or worse. Are we choosing gratitude?
Yes, life is crazy, and it gets interrupted, and the script doesn’t always go the way I would write it. But God is a much better writer than I am. And I don’t want to miss any of the gifts He has in store. I challenge myself (and you) today not to dwell on what we don’t have, but to focus on all we do have, to be thankful for the vibrant crimson, oranges and gold of leaves and the smoky scent of bonfires, for lungs that breathe in crisp November air, for the people in our lives who make us smile, and for a God who loves us so completely, so personally, that not only did He die for us, but He also provides countless surprises and delights for us each day.
What are you grateful for today?
As I clean the top left section of my white board, I am stopped mid-erase, in total awe of God’s plans, and how He orchestrates them.
About a year ago I started the search for a literary agent to represent me. I’d had an agent previously. We’d broken up, because we wanted different things. And as with any relationship that ends, I’d needed some time to sort through it. But last year I was prompted to look for a new agent.
All searches—for a job, a new house, a college, a spouse—are a process. These searches remind me of working my way through a corn maze. Have you been in one? You know where you’re starting. You know there is a finish. You’re just not sure how you’re going to get from A to B. The names and dates I’m erasing from my white board are a testimony to this process—of websites researched, proposals written, submissions sent, phone calls made. Are you searching for anything right now?
On my quest I took wrong turns when I looked around and saw endless rows of corn, where I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from the finish line, more and more lost in the maze. These were the days I chatted with agents who didn’t get me, who said they wanted to represent me, but they hadn’t even read my email to see what I wanted represented, who made suggestions that just didn’t make sense. I shook my head, discouraged, not sure what to do next. Luckily, I had friends and family who kept giving me new suggestions, kept encouraging me, kept praying for me, kept me on track when I would start to lose perspective. Their company along the journey made a world of difference. I mean, where’s the fun in tackling a corn maze by yourself?
There were days when I hit dead ends like getting to a wall of head-high corn stalks not sure if I would ever get out, where it felt like I’d come so far to get absolutely nowhere. These were the days I got rejected from agents whose work I respected, who I thought might be a great fit.
But there were also brilliant, beautiful moments. Just like when you’re in a corn maze and you spot a scarlet ladybug, when the sunshine warms your face, when a fuzzy caterpillar crosses your path, when you’re laughing so hard with your companions, or you’re floored by the intricacies of a sparkling spider web woven to perfection, and you forget all about solving the maze, when you just want to breathe in the moment. These were days when I was writing new material, and sensing God’s inspiration behind every word. These were days when I had speaking engagements and met the most amazing, awe-inspiring women. There were some of my favorite moments of the past year, which had nothing to do with writing or agents—baking cookies with my kids and eating spoonfuls of the dough, going for walks with my husband as the sun set in our neighborhood, enjoying the company and insights of a good friend or a good book.
When you walk through a corn maze, no matter what stage of it you’re in, the farmer has plowed a wide, smooth path to the end, to the finish line. It’s there. You just can’t see it yet. He even gives you a map to follow along your way. But there are times when the map seems confusing, when you try to solve it yourself, when you forget about the map in your hand altogether. Life’s mazes are the same. God has plowed a wide, smooth path to the finish line—to the right job, the right roommate, the right date, the right team, the right neighborhood. He even gives us a map to follow to get to the end. The Bible is packed with everything we need to make the right decisions, to stay strong and courageous, to understand that if you hit a dead end, you just need to turn around because God will provide a way out, that God will never leave you, that if you have a little faith, you can move mountains, or solve corn mazes. But some days we forget. Or tuck our maps in our pockets. Or try to solve it ourselves, just because we want to, even when we know better.
And just like walking through a corn maze, there is a thrill in finding the sign that reads FINISH in red letters at the end, but the journey is a thrill, it’s packed with discovery and hope and mystery and laughter. And with life’s corn mazes, you don’t have to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end, because you can have faith, that our perfect God has plans for you, plans to prosper you, plans for a future.
For me, the finish line of this particular corn maze of my life is that I’ve signed with Emily Sweeney of ESY Marketing Solutions. She is sharp, funny, and real. She gets me. She understands the industry. She has brilliant ideas. As I chat with Emily, I understand fully why none of the other agents worked out. I am in awe of the fact that God kept me from signing with any of them, because He knew all along that I needed to sign with her. Emily wasn’t even an agent when I began my search! She was still working at a major publisher. So when I thought it was taking forever, God was just making sure everything was in place. I see God’s fingerprints all over my journey.
As I stand here erasing the steps of me trying to solve this maze I am blown away by what He had in store all along, and I am reminded to hold tight to this moment. Because there will be more quests I go on in life. There will be a different search, with different questions, new sets of dead ends and wrong turns. But I can be certain, just like you can, that God has a perfect path laid out. All we have to do is patiently follow it one step, one day at a time. When we get mixed up, we need to go back to His map, ask Him for guidance, and He will lead us to life’s finish lines. And along the way, we can savor the journeys.
Envision a push up. Get down on the floor if you need to. Do one fast.
Down. Up. Done.
Now do one s-l-o-w-l-y. Dddooowwnn and then back uuupppp. Harder right?
My yoga instructor was talking about how when we hold a pose we actually work our muscles more intensely than if we go in and out of a pose quickly. She asked if we knew why that was. “Because otherwise we cheat ourselves,” I answered. And I didn’t want her to think I was cutting corners throughout class, so I followed up with, “we don’t mean to, but we do.”
And it got me thinking about so many aspects of my life where I don’t mean to cheat myself, but I do.
I grab a handful of chocolate chips, because I love them, but I shove them in my mouth as I’m on my way out the door, and don’t really allow myself to savor the richness of them, the way the dark cacao sets off the slightly sweet from the cane sugar. What if I ate one, and then another, and then a few minutes later one more?
There are hugs I pull back from too quickly from my kids, because we’re in a rush to get to school, to practice, to bed. What if I held on tighter? Longer?
As soon as my coffee is in hand, I chug the first sip, eager for my morning caffeine. What if I took a deep breath first, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of roasted beans?
There are days I rush into Bible study, sliding into my seat as our discussion begins, and slip back out as quickly as possible after the final “amen” without pausing to absorb something I’ve learned or to consider a question someone asked. What if I got there early? Intentionally stayed put for a full five minutes after everyone else stands up and let it all soak in?
What if I held the poses of life longer?
How about you? Are you texting during a movie and missing beautiful lines that would make you weep? Typing an email while on the phone with someone else so you can get more done, but missing an idea the person you’re talking to is trying to share? Skimming through the book for book club just to get to the end without savoring the depth of the characters or a description of a breathtaking blue jay? Are we going through the motions so quickly that we’re cheating ourselves of the moments that nourish our bodies, stir our hearts, inspire our souls, and challenge our minds?
Are our mouths open? Are our eyes open? Are we allowing ourselves to be wowed and changed and loved by God?
I don’t want to cheat myself of any of those things. No. I want to taste every morsel of chocolate, breathe in every snuggle, smell every cup of coffee, learn as much as I can, understand better, grow stronger and more aware, be more in tune, and less tuned out. This week is the perfect week to challenge myself to this. There are apples to be tasted, leaves to crunch underfoot, a visit with my mom to enjoy, soccer games to cheer at, a date with my husband to flirt with him, a pot of pumpkin chili to prepare, and the music of my son playing in the worship band to listen to. I don’t want to miss a single beat or bite or breath. Will you join me? In tasting and seeing the goodness God has prepared for us?
What do you have in store this week and how can you savor it?
I’ve ridden in a limousine once. It was my grandfather-in-laws 90th birthday. The champagne cork was popped at the last three graduation parties of members of my husband’s family. See, there’s something my father-in-law taught me, and that is the importance of celebrating the big stuff.
He was behind the limo and the champagne. He was the one who didn’t just give up smoking, but wrapped up the last pack of cigarettes he ever bought, the unfinished pack that marked his decision to quit, and gave it to his dad for a birthday present. He was the one that when our first baby was born, grabbed my mother in law, hopped a plane from Cincinnati to Atlanta, a train from Hartsfield airport to the hospital and arrived within moments of her birth. My father-in-law, Rick, knew that the high points in life are rare, and deserved to not only be celebrated, but to be celebrated with flair, with a bang!
This is the time of year when the number of celebrations seems a bit overwhelming. There are graduations from everything from preschool to grad school. There seem to be countless parties, and thankfully sheet cake (man I love sheet cake, especially the corner pieces laden with frosting). Tis the season for ballet recitals, guitar recitals, art shows, baseball and softball tournaments, end of school year carnivals, festivals, and class parties. Not to mention, June is the month for weddings.
But don’t let the number of events lessen the importance of any of these events. Diplomas don’t come easily. There are countless pages of homework, flips of flash cards, problems solved, essays written and rewritten, study sessions that go into that piece of paper. Recitals are fun to watch, but they are a fleeting demonstration of the hours of rehearsing that go into the final performance.
My son graduated from 8th grade last night. He has spent the last nine years in his grade school with the same group of kids. During those years he’s gone from reading Jack and Annie to John Green. Moved from playing Old MacDonald on the piano to Ed Sheeran on the guitar. He’s also grown about four feet taller. So, yes, we went out to dinner, took tons of pics, and I made cheesecake, because it’s his favorite.
But there are other things we need to celebrate, too. Learning how to ride a bike, getting a driver’s license, mastering a headstand, finishing a major project—the work that went into it, the obedience to see it to completion, the satisfaction of typing “the end” or pushing send or turning it in or zooming through the neighborhood on wheels. We should take time to celebrate an acceptance of a new job, an award or scholarship, a position on a team, because it signifies an intentional “yes” to move forward to take the next step.
There are so many go to the grocery days, mow the lawn days, crank out the edits days, work an extra shift days, run one more lap days. So on the oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-exciting-days we need to celebrate.
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 NKJV
How you celebrate is truly up to you, but do it big, do it grand. Don’t just tell your family about the job offer you’d been waiting for at the breakfast table as everyone is grabbing their granola bars and dispersing for the day. It’s not braggadocios to say, “I’ve been working on this for months and I can finally play the song, got my article published, broke my record, or completed the marathon.” The people who adore you will want to congratulate you. Let them. This is a chance to revel in the ways God is faithful, in the times He helped you push through the walls, kept you keeping on.
Don’t just type an email to your sister who finished her final class for her masters program or to your girlfriend who got engaged. You don’t need to send a town car or pour the bubbly, but you do need to do something special—something that signifies how awesome it is that she was faithful and used the gifts and talents God endowed her with or that God is faithful and brought the person into her life she’s been waiting for.
Think through who achieved what and then put some thought into how to celebrate. You could treat someone to a meal or a cup of coffee. You could make a poster, decorate their front door, write congratulations with washable paint on their car windows. Do they like music? Block out their calendar and take them to a free concert in the park or grab their phone when they’re not looking and download some new tunes onto it that you’re pretty sure they’ll love (pay with your Apple account of course). Do you have a green thumb? Plant flowers in their window box. Do they love to cook? Tie a bow on a fresh pot of live basil for them to snip all summer. Did they finish a really exhausting season where they gave it their all. Make cupcakes with frosting in their team colors. Be you. Be original. Be sensitive to the person you’re celebrating (if they hate crowds, please don’t throw them a giant surprise party). But do revel in life’s milestones and accomplishments.
God created this day. He’s the one who brought you or the person you adore this far. He gave each and every one of us skills and drive and motivation and time and resources and maybe even a few lucky breaks to get us where we are. And God created us to rejoice. So don’t do it half-heartedly. Be all in and go all out for your celebrations. There are plenty of days, but this Day, this one deserves something extra special. Rejoice in it.
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
I act entitled. All. Of. The. Time.
I am so not proud of this fact, but it is true.
For example, I “need” Starbucks daily or I get cranky. I literally plan out my morning on how and when I’m going to get it. Even if it makes me late. Even if it’s inconvenient. I also “need” a handful of chocolate chips after lunch and dinner. Only dark chocolate will do. Preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Of course, other chocolate makes a great substitute—brownies, chocolate cake, etc. And if they’re not available, I feel a little off kilter, a little growly. Do I sound like a crack addict? Yikes! I also feel completely entitled to buy that funky bracelet and that adorable dress, I mean they’re on sale, and did I mention how cute they are?
What do you "need"? That bottle of nail polish? A bottle of wine? To run another lap? Watch just one more episode of Friends? Read another chapter? Check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram real quick? A certain brand of athletic shorts or yoga pants?
I’ve been semi-aware of this behavior, but not really concerned, because lots of other people like Starbucks and chocolate and shopping, too. Right? But recently, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I was truly convicted. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chocolate or Starbucks or great fashion finds, thank goodness. These are all gifts from God to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there is something wrong when I feel I deserve those things—that I need them.
So, to get myself back in line, I went on a strange sort of fast for the month of January. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, given up something for Lent, or fasted in any other kind of way, we’re kindred spirits. This wasn’t about eating less; this was about being less entitled, more appreciative, more aware of how God has already taken care of all my needs. I decided I would take on three areas.
First, I ate only the following foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and seafood. Which I really didn’t think would be a big deal considering I eat oatmeal almost every morning, followed by lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, and I don’t eat red meat. But do you see the glaring omission of chocolate? Still. I thought this would be easy peasy. Until Day Two of the fast when after a Saturday jam-packed with kids’ basketball games and birthday parties all over Southwest Ohio, we tumbled back home around 6:00 PM and my husband, Brett, suggested we order pizza. It sounded heavenly. All I wanted to do was put on my jams, eat pizza, and curl up with the kids and watch a movie.
But that whole grain thing reared its head. I Googled our local pizza chain, and lo and behold they had a whole-wheat crust. Who knew? I’d never been so happy to see a whole grain. So I ordered my own little personal whole-wheat pie with spinach and tomatoes. And I was extremely grateful for it. Surprisingly, even when my daughter ate our favorite deep dish in front of me, I wasn’t envious. I was just so thankful I had the option to eat pizza.
Second, I gave up Starbucks. Yep. Cold turkey. And me, and my Keurig and my Nespresso (I told you I was entitled) spent a lot of time together in January. I successfully used up a multitude of various brands and flavors of coffee pods I’d stashed in the house without having to purchase a single one. My son, Max, is an amazing barista, and made me some delicious mochas and lattes with the Nespresso. On the two coffee dates I'd scheduled, I suggested the local coffee shop, Kofenya, which is amazing, and savored every drop of the java they brewed me. Note to self, I can get better about buying local. Yes, there were Monday mornings when I missed Starbucks like crazy. But every morning, honestly, I was so grateful for coffee—for it’s warmth, and aroma, and flavor, and yeah, the caffeine. And as I sipped my home brew, I thanked Jesus for being the ultimate waker-upper, my perfect source of energy.
Third, I gave up shopping. I only allowed myself to buy food, beverages and household basics (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, shampoo--the boring stuff). We went on our annual family field trip to the mall to exchange ill-fitting Christmas gifts, and I exchanged both my yoga pants and jeans for better sizes. But contrary to tradition, I did not buy a single amazing, spectacular January clearance item. Not the Gap t-shirts for only $4, because I always need another black t-shirt, and another white one. Not that really cute top in the window of Francesca’s that was 70% off. Not even the socks at American Eagle, which they were virtually giving away. And although it took great restraint to not take any of those steals to the register, I came home feeling lighter. My closet is already packed. I didn’t need any of those items. I actually saved myself from having to root through more clothes to find “the right” items later. It felt oddly good. For the rest of the month I deleted every single email from a retailer wooing me with their “biggest ever” clearance events and steered clear of Target, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, because why tempt myself like that? And each time I had the urge to just click on that message, browse that website, pop into that boutique, I tried to remember to thank Jesus for His ultimate coverage, for being more fulfilling than a shopping buzz.
Was I perfect on my fast? No way. You want the dirt? Here’s just a sample.
There was the time Brett brought me home a gorgeous single serving carrot cake from Panera. “It’s whole grain,” he told me.
I looked at him.
“It is,” he said. “I asked them.”
He was clearly lying. But he also went out of his way to go inside a Panera, order me a treat mid-way through my fast, even one that contained a vegetable, and looked brown, like whole grains tend to. I savored every morsel, appreciating his gesture of love and that miracle of a cake. I enjoyed half of it that day, and saved the other half for the next day, instead of gorging it down in one swallow, or thinking, “gee, I wish this was a brownie.” It was so phenomenally delicious. I was learning from this fast—when I don’t expect a dessert or feel like I’m entitled to one, I can appreciate the ones I get so much more fully.
A similar thing happened while in Texas. My sweetheart of a host took me out to lunch at an adorable spot called Nostalgia. “The best part of this place,” she smiled, “are the desserts. They come with your lunch.” I inwardly panicked. I didn’t want to break my fast. I’d been so good. But the thing I was learning most from fasting was being grateful for what I had. Being grateful for a store brand dark roast pod in my Keurig, because it was coffee, and I had the pleasure of drinking it. Being grateful for fresh fruits and organic Greek yogurt, because they are delicious and sweet and good for me, and because I always have food on my table and in my stomach. And, so, I made the game time decision to be grateful here too. The Hummingbird Cake contained pineapple and bananas, leaning itself towards the fruit category. Each and every bite of this cake I’d never even heard of before was delicious. And don’t get me started on the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. On this day, I was so grateful (after over 20 days of no desserts, well except the carrot cake) for a dessert. And yes, I ate peach cobbler with my same lovely friend that night, because, well, when in Texas.
There was the time when my mom made stuffed peppers with white rice. Agh! White rice isn’t a whole grain. Some of you are thinking I’m totally nuts here, but I am such a rule follower (too much of a rule keeper, too stringent, too much of the time). Add that with entitlement to my list of many flaws. Only brown rice counted on my self-induced fast. But this fast was all about being more appreciative. And not valuing a home-cooked meal from Mom, well that’s plain ridiculous. So, I counted every delicious bite, every grain of rice as sheer gift.
There was also the time, when I bought myself a sweatshirt. I wrestled with the idea. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to buy myself anything. I hadn’t even bought my kiddos anything this month. Not one cute notepad or t-shirt. But this sweatshirt helped fund the amazing event I was speaking at, Project Beautiful, bringing hundreds of girls together to remind them of their true beauty. And it reads, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made across it’s soft, cozy self. These words are what I long to share with everyone I meet—that they were created by God to inspire awe, that He created them wonderfully. And so, the decision to purchase was intentional, not entitled, and felt very right.
By the third time we’d ordered pizza in January, Brett finally ventured to try a bite of mine. Our whole family was gathered around the dinner table swapping stories and laughing when Brett exclaimed, “This..really is…very bad!” and spit out his bite. Which of course led to hysterics. My girls were curious, so they tried it too, only to prod, “How can you eat that, Mom?” “It is really gross! You don’t like it do you?”
And it was strange. I was so grateful each time we ordered pizza that I didn’t have to make another run to the grocery in the bitter January air, think about “what was for dinner,” cook, or clean, that I’d never considered the subpar flavor. All I had to do was hang out with my family and eat pizza. And that tasted pretty good to me.
My fast is officially over. I’m interested to see how it will change me. If I will be less entitled, more grateful, more giving. I pray I will be. I also pray I'll turn to Jesus more--for me to turn to my worldly fixes to fill my voids less. Because Jesus is sweeter than chocolate, more revitalizing than caffeine, and quite frankly, as my friend Holly Starr sings, He's "Everything I Need". Because when I decide that I “need” this and I “need” that, I’m truly not the best version of myself. But when I am grateful for the food I have, the roof over my head, the clothes in my closet, my loving family, well then, I can see my true reflection much more clearly.
How about you? Anything you “need” on a daily basis? Have you ever fasted before? How did it work for you? Let me know in the Comments below.
One of the highlights of living in a small college town is the Fourth of July.
There’s a penny carnival, where most of the booth operators don’t even collect the copper coins clutched in the children’s hands to play bean bag toss, get their face painted or bounce in bare feet in the inflatable jumpy house. Dum Dums and Tootsie Rolls clatter on the brick-paved street as library workers, firefighters and the mayor toss candy to the kids lining the curbs.
On scorching July evenings as our entire town gathers at the park, we eat icy-cold snow cones with generous pumps of sweet, sticky flavored cherry or blue raspberry syrup, and we’re certain to bump into everyone from former teachers to co-workers to friends our kids played with when they were toddlers. We’ve waved sparklers with colleagues from Canada and played pick-up soccer games with my husband’s international students from North Africa.
But of course the coup de grace, the main stage event is the fireworks.
“That one looks like a jellyfish!”
“Oooh, I like that one!”
“The kind that shoots up like a rocket then has brightly colored fizzles is my favorite.”
Pop pop pop!
“No the green ones that change color to pink, those are my favorite. Oh, I can’t decide. They’re all my favorite.”
And we are. In awe. Starry-eyed and goosebumpy, like kids on Christmas morning, of the colorful explosions glimmering against the dark, night sky.
These sparks of light and celebration signify the freedom of our country, but they signify something more—possibility, hope, beauty.
Fireworks broken down are man made packets of gunpowder and fire with metal salts, such as sodium nitrate of calcium chloride, mixed in to emit different colors. So how much more can we be in awe of God, the creator of vibrant sunsets, roaring waterfalls, rainbow dotted fields of wildflowers, who does His work, not in a lab but with His imagination and magnificence? God makes our hearts beat, our spines tingle, our eyes tear up with emotion. Have you taken time today to sit still and be in awe of Him?
I love the fireworks. I gaze completely content, undistracted, feeling fizzy inside when I watch them each year, like time has stopped and the world is filled with wonder, and I can do anything. Of course I am even more amazed by the way God loves me, blesses me and provides for me, and I am in awe of Him. Completely. Every day. But I don’t stop my life, pull up a chair, give Him my undivided attention and shout out, “Wow!” nearly often enough. Do you?
My favorite part about baking chocolate chip cookies isn’t sliding the finished product off the cookie sheet with a spatula. It isn’t even eating a warm cookie from the oven, although that is grand. No, my favorite part about making my favorite food is the process.
I love sniffing the vanilla from the jar, and letting the sweet, relaxing scent fill my nose. I love the magic of creaming butter and sugar and having the two become one substance. I love eating a handful of chocolate chips as I go. I’m amazed that things that taste as bitter as baking soda or as bland as flour can combine together to make delicious dough. And yes, for the record, I do like eating the dough more than the baked cookies.
So why oh why do I worry about how many copies one of my books has sold during a promotion? Why do I care how many goals one of my children scores in their soccer game? Why do I add up in my head how many cents I saved with my coupons at the grocery? Why does it matter how many people hearted my post on Instagram?
Why do I get caught up in end results?
I laugh as I write this, because I know why. I love to write, and hope my books sell enough that publishers will want to publish my future manuscripts. I love my children and long for them to feel fulfilled. I want to be a good steward of the family budget. I like to be liked. Don’t we all?
I don’t know what end results big or small loom over your head today, but I do know God has them already planned and already taken care of.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 26:33 ESV
And knowing that He’s got me covered, that He’s got us covered should give us all a bit of breathing room. A chance to step away from the end results and enjoy the process. For me, that means delighting in constructing a conversation between two of my characters. How will they react to one another? Will one of them look away? What will go on inside of their heads? It means cheering from the sidelines for my kids and smiling when I put a box of their favorite cereal in the grocery cart. What does it mean for you? What end results are you hanging on to today, maybe even stressing about, perhaps being anxious about? Let them go.
Savor the process, the place God has put you today. Are you job searching? Think of the all the possibilities. Treat each interview as a chance to get to know someone interesting, to brighten their day, to learn something new. Is it your eighth snow day in a row? Play more games, watch more movies, maybe even bake some cookies and eat the dough. Because when else do you have time to do these things?
Yes, end results matter. But God already has them covered. So enjoy this day He has given you.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
What process do you plan on enjoying today?
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.
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