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 need a knee brace when I run, windshield wipers so I can see while driving in the rain, my Map App to get me anywhere outside of my neighborhood, and a hot pad to pull something out of the oven. There are things I need help with in life, things I can’t do on my own.
Only, I like to do things by myself. I don’t like to ask for help. Ever. I like to make my to-do list and get it done without bothering, pestering or imposing on anyone else, thank you very much! I’m a writer, for crying out loud. I thrive on holing up with my computer and making up stories. By myself. The problem is, just like I can’t run without my knee brace, I can’t do life without asking for help.
I can’t. You can’t. None of us can do it alone. We weren’t meant to.
Case in point. Last night two of my kids had soccer practice, another had flag football practice, and the fourth had a soccer game. All of these activities were scattered in various locations around Southwest Ohio. There was also a meeting I was supposed to attend. I clearly could not do it all. Not unless I found a rogue time-turner. I did not go to the meeting (don’t worry, I let them know I couldn’t come). I relied on another parent to get my daughter to and from her practice. A teammate with a driver's license transported my son to and from his practice. My husband and I divided and conquered the rest. Whew!
I hesitated to ask for help from these parents and friends. I mapped through every possibility of how I could do it by myself, but I couldn’t. And I wasn’t supposed to. And neither are you.
Life is not a scorecard of who gave the most rides. Nor is it a debt I owe—since I called on others for assistance, I’m required to give back to others in eight days or I’ll be fined. It is love. It is how Jesus told us to love our neighbors. Sometimes we just need to accept that we are the neighbors who need the loving. It is how He told us to stir up one another in love and good works. We are to meet together and encourage each other.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25
I will offer a ride to another child, and feed a friend a meal, but not as payback, but because this is how Jesus loves us, it’s how He loves me and you, and I’m so blown away by that, that I want to pay it forward.
But I also need to accept that love when it’s me who needs it.
Needing help has so many different faces. My kids’ soccer schedules are minimal in the scheme of life. Needing help could be huge like asking for a loan so you can make your house payment or small like ordering cupcakes from the bakery, because you don’t have time to bake and frost them for the birthday celebration. If you read last week’s blog, you know I’m struggling with my kids going back to school and with my oldest being in her “fourth” year of high school (that s- word hurts too much). A dear friend not only sensed my mama heartache, but was feeling the same way since her baby bird is flying the nest. She called. We talked for over an hour, and shared our sadness and our joy. Just knowing someone else understood my heart was like balm for my soul. Accepting her love, her compassion didn’t make me feel like I was using her, or like I was weak; it made me feel better. That’s what love looks like.
Yet, we still try to do things by ourselves, don’t we? I’m fine. I’ve got it. No worries. It’s alright. I can do it. These are our mantras. But they don’t have to be. We don't have to do it alone.
What do you need help with this week, this season of your life? Do you need someone to bring the snack, work your shift, take over your leadership position, give you direction, explain a math problem, or give you a referral? Maybe you really need someone to listen, because there is so much on your mind, tugging at your heart. Maybe you could use some serious prayers, because there are things way beyond your control causing you and the ones you love suffering.
Don’t be afraid to ask. This is not an indicator of weakness or incapability. It’s just a matter of the fact that all of us have limited time and finite resources and multiple needs.
God knows we need help. He doesn’t want us to do it alone. He sensed Adam was lonely and created Eve. He knew the world was a mess, and He sent His only Son. Jesus ascended into heaven, but sent down the Holy Spirit to be with us. God loves each and every one of us, and not only is He available any place any time of day we want to talk to Him, He has also put in our life others who can help us too.
I wavered about sending out my flurry of texts asking for rides for my kids here and there. But the alternative was my kids not going to their activities. Guess what? Not one person seemed flustered or put out by my requests. My kids got where they needed to be. At the end of the night we were all back home together. That is a beautiful thing. And all I had to do was ask.
Are you ready to ask for help today? Because God is waiting to give it to you. Jesus instructs the disciples: For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:8
That’s an invitation I’d like to take Him up on. Looks like I have some asking to do? You?
Open Letter to Sports Illustrated and its Swimsuit Cover Girls Why this year’s covers do the opposite of embrace true beauty
There’s been a lot of hype about the annual swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. This year, the magazine is promoting the fact that they ran not one, but three covers to promote what true beauty looks like.
“It’s always been an objective of mine to be more inclusive and be more representative of what real beauty is,” MJ Day, editor of the issue explains in an interview with People magazine.
The covers feature:
1. Typical young thin blonde model, Hailey Clauson
2. Muscular women’s fighter, Ronda Rousey
3. Countercultural size 14 model, Ashley Graham
I love the buzz around embracing different body types and being more inclusive in our definitions of beauty. I am a huge proponent of embracing true beauty, that each of us is a unique, perfect masterpiece. But, Sports Illustrated, I am so confused!
We’ve come so far in celebrating the inner strength, true beauty and athletic prowess of women’s athletes like Carli Lloyd, 2015 FIFA player of the year. We’ve brilliantly praised the true beauty of curvy-figured Adele whose heart-wrenching voice stirs our souls. So how can we be okay with the number one magazine sold and viewed by on average, 23 million people, bringing in over $1 billion, to be of naked women under the guise of “sports” and “embracing beauty”?
It disturbs me. And it breaks my heart. As a mother and advocate for women of all ages, here is what I want to say to each cover girl and to Sports Illustrated about how we should define true beauty.
Cover girl #1, Hailey Clauson you are beautiful. But Sports Illustrated, how is showcasing her wearing only a g-string and squashing her breasts with her hands embracing her true beauty? I have two daughters. There has never been a day that I have thought I would build my girls’ self-confidence by telling them to dress scantily or draw attention to themselves by exposing their bodies. Not once. This is not how I want them to view beauty, or how I hope they aspire to define their worth. I also have two sons, and I do not want them to see this image, drop their jaws, drool, and think, this is what I’m looking for in a girl. This is what defines beauty. This cover doesn’t embrace the whole beautiful package of Hailey, but only her physique displayed in objectified positions.
Cover girl #2, Ronda Rousey, you are beautiful. Sports Illustrated, you chose her to make a statement that strong, athletic bodies are beautiful. My daughters are athletes. I love that they find confidence and self-esteem in working hard, playing as a team, giving it their all and pushing their bodies to be strong. But SI, your athlete “role model” is naked. Yes, nude, as in zero clothing, just body paint. Not a stitch of swimsuit. And the last time I checked, paint does not count as clothes. How is placing Ronda, naked with a tapestry painted on her torso, embracing her talent, skill, drive, strength, accomplishments, girl power, which is integral to her true beauty?
Cover girl #3, Ashley Graham, you are beautiful. Your smile is dazzling and I’m so impressed that you have been an advocate for eliminating the word “plus size” from our vocabulary, especially within the fashion and magazine industry. You even rocked a Ted Talk proclaiming we should just say, “my size.” But Sports Illustrated, you brag Ashley is the “first plus-size cover model” to grace your publication. SI you’ve not only ignored Ashley’s personal cause, but thrown it back in her face, or should I say, her bikini.
All of this has been on my mind since I saw an interview with the cover girls on Good Morning America. I’ve been mulling it over. Thinking through it. Excited that people are out there talking about body image, that interviews are taking place about how beautiful all body types are, but at the same time truly frightened about the ramifications of good intentions with scary results.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19
When I opened my mailbox last week to see a topless Hailey Clauson smiling at me, I felt violated. My fourteen-year old son subscribes to SI. He’s a sports fanatic. But because the swimsuit issue has been risqué for years, we check the box on his subscription card to get the full year of Sports Illustrated WITHOUT the swimsuit issue. Yes, even when we deliberately chose that these images would not mold our sons’ or daughters’ views of what true beauty is Time Inc. still delivered it to our household. What?
I tossed the magazine in the recycler. But its contents are haunting me. It concerns me that this was delivered to at least three million other mailboxes, that at lease another million people purchased it at newsstands, that more than 23 million other pairs of eyes will see objectified, naked women under the distorted lens of calling this ‘celebrating true beauty’.
True beauty is what lights you up inside. True beauty is your laugh, the way your eyes sparkle, yes, your specific and unique curves, height, skin color and hair texture. But not as individual parts, not as body parts, and those body parts weren’t made to be exploited. Just as Seurat’s pointillism painting, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” isn’t about a certain shade of green he used or the child in the forefront of the painting or the size of the canvas, it is a masterpiece because a million dots in a range of colors, all come together to create one beautiful picture. That is like each of us, a million different components, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, talents, skills, insights, smiles, curves of eyebrows, all coming together to create beautiful, individual masterpieces. This is what we need to celebrate. I would love to see Time Inc. truly take this on, but they aren’t doing so with this year’s swimsuit covers.
How do you feel about the swimsuit issue? Leave a comment below if you think Sports Illustrated is broadening or narrowing our view of beauty?
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.
“We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out,” is how one of my favorite Elvis songs, “Suspicious Minds”, begins. And as much as I love that song, especially the remake by the Fine Young Cannibals, there’s nothing melodious or harmonic about feeling trapped.
Trapped—you know that feeling of being stuck, of having the door slammed in your face and not knowing where to turn?
My fourteen-year old son has a summer birthday, making him one of the older kids in his class and one of the younger kids on his soccer team. The rest of his club team started high school this fall and tried out for their high school teams. Meanwhile, Max was left standing alone. It happens in sports, so often that there’s a term for it – Trapped Eighth Grader. Everything settles itself out in the spring, when all of the players of Max’s team will be free from their high school commitments, and they’ll all play together. Next fall, Max can try out for his high school team. But in the meantime, for this fall, he was officially trapped.
Max’s team had been yanked out from under his feet. What were we going to do? So, Max and I began praying about the situation.
We’d heard rumors of a team of home-schooled boys, who scrimmaged against some of the smaller high schools, but Max wouldn’t have known any of the players, and they’d all been playing together for years. We discussed hiring a soccer trainer to fine tune Max’s skills and keep him active, but not only was it expensive, Max wanted to play games. There was also talk of his club joining trapped eighth graders from a large geographical area to practice and scrimmage, but nothing ever materialized.
Then one day this summer, Max joined me for my morning jaunt to Starbucks. He wore his club soccer t-shirt, and while I was at one end of the line ordering my coffee, the barista at the other end of the counter started chatting with Max. By the time I got over to where Max was, the barista, who I’ve never seen working at my Starbucks before or since, was inviting Max to join in a standing pick up game of soccer. The players ranged from college boys to professors to community members who’d played high school or college club soccer, and still loved the game. They met twice a week, with no fees, at the park five minutes from our house. We walked out whispering to one another. It looked like God had answered our prayers.
Max has been playing with these guys ever since. And loving it. The players are first rate. Max gets tons of touches on the balls, lots of opportunities to learn and grow and shoot and score, and gets a great workout, without any pressure to start or win. This is not something Max or I or his soccer coach could have orchestrated. None of us knew these guys played. If I had, I would have never guessed my eighth grader would have been welcome. But he is. The other guys are super friendly and accepting of my son. Max and I could have never strategized that he should wear his club shirt to get noticed by a Starbucks worker I’m thinking was a sub. But God knew. He always does. And once again, He orchestrated something so perfect and out of the realm of my consideration that I am blown away. It didn't happen over night. It didn't become clear to us the first time we prayed about it. The first avenue we tried and the second and the third also were dead end streets. But God always had this in mind.
It is in Christ Jesus that we find out who we are and what we are living for. (Ephesians 1:11 MSG)
You see, we’re never really trapped. Sometimes it sure looks like it. Sometimes we’re suffering from an ailment or depression or a loss. Some days we get a rejection or a bad score or a bad review. But with God there is never a dead end. Jesus is The Way. And when we trust in Him, He always reveals the beautiful plan He’d intended for us all along.
You don’t have to figure the way through or out or over the slammed door in your life. But you do need to turn it over to God, and watch the amazing ways He’ll make you flat enough to slide under the door, strong enough to bust through the door, or reveal a secret passageway out, you’d never seen before. With Jesus there is no trapped, just pauses in the beautiful journey He’s walking with you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG)
I dare you to say, “God.” And not in an OMG kind of way, but in a reference to God the Father, the Almighty kind of way.
Does that make you uncomfortable?
This is part two of my series about being bold in our faith. I’ve been on vacation in Vancouver for the last week going on walks along the sea wall, shopping at Granville Market, but mainly to see the U.S. play in the Women’s World Cup. It was a beautiful, clean, green city filled with public parks, beaches, fresh, organic food and ultra friendly accommodating people. You know I love to write about the places I travel to, so who knows, maybe a future story will have a character or two voyaging to Vancouver.
At home I chat about God a lot. His name comes up in my conversations, because He’s often on my mind. It’s one thing to tell someone from my small group that I’ll be praying for them, or ask someone from church if their kids are going to VBS this summer. It’s another thing to talk openly about my faith somewhere where I’ve needed to pull out my passport, to say “God” to a stranger.
But not really. Because I do believe in God. I do rely on Him for all things. I know my strength comes from Him. I know He loves me. I know He created me, has purpose for me, sent His son, Jesus to die for me. And He does all of those things for you too.
So, why should I feel uncomfortable saying God’s name? Why do you feel uncomfortable bringing God up in conversation? Are there some situations where you feel more comfortable talking about God? Some situations where you feel less comfortable talking about Him?
The truth is, with Jesus as my Savior, mentioning Him and being faithful to Him aren’t that hard at all.
I just need to be intentionally bold. In Vancouver, our family prayed out loud at restaurants, holding hands, heads bowed. We weren’t being brave. We don’t deserve a badge of courage. But we were so grateful for our time together, for our trip, for our safe travels, for the meals we were able to enjoy, it felt right to pray, just like it always does. I don’t know if any of our waiters or waitresses or any of the other diners heard us say, “God”, or “Jesus,” but it was pretty obvious what we were doing. I hope it encouraged someone to thank God for their food or the gorgeous blue sky or the person sitting next to them. If not, at least I know I was being true to my Savior.
Slightly bolder, I told my cabbie, “God bless you,” as I paid him his fare. I told our porter at the airport, “God bless you,” as he waved goodbye. Again, these things come easily when I stop in awe of the One who made me. But when I’m in the whir and stir of traveling I get distracted, and have to be intentional.
Have you said God’s name to anyone today? If not, I dare you to.
Where are you traveling this summer? How can you boldly take your faith wherever
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?
I am so excited to share with you my latest release, It's Addicting. It's Addicting releases July 14 in both print and e-book formats from Playlist Fiction.
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 addictions pulling them away from their true selves. Still, obsessing over perfection, exercise, or a super-cute boyfriend could never be a bad thing—could it? 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 so glad to see Laura L. Smith writing about such serious and important issues. Kudos to her for being brave enough to write the truth. ~ New York Times Best Selling Author, Tosca Lee
It's Addicting tackles real-life issues with raw honesty. This book is something every high-school and college-aged girl should read.
~ Nicole O'Dell, author, speaker, and founder of Choose NOW Ministries
Laura L. Smith writes with precision and honesty in the third book of her popular Status Update series. It’s Addicting asks readers to consider their own lives and the blinders we all wear. The college roommates in this book struggle with the most authentic of issues—the sometimes subtle but often overwhelming addictions we all cling to. In the end, the answers aren’t easy or pretty, but Smith, with characteristic gentleness, pushes readers to see that clarity and hope come from one place—a God who seeks us as fiercely as we seek Him. ~Laura Anderson Kurk, author of Glass Girl and Perfect Glass
525, 600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?
“Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT by Jonathon Larson
I first saw RENT in New York City in 2005. I honestly didn’t know anything more about the plot than it was about artists squatting in an empty New York warehouse, and that it was a modern version of the opera, La Boheme, set in Paris. Hello. You had me at Paris. I wasn’t prepared for it to pierce my heart and affect my soul.
I bought the CD and played it nonstop for months. The following year the movie came out. Watched it. Even learned how to play “Seasons of Love” on the piano.
I saw RENT again over the weekend. This time instead of at the Nederlander Theatre seating 1200 people on Broadway, I was on Miami University’s campus at a theatre seating less than 100. Instead of Drew Lachey and Scary Spice (Melanie Brown) in the leads, college students performed the roles of Mark, Mimi, Roger, Maureen, Joanne, Tom Collins and Angel.
And these students with their raw talent and intense passion pierced my heart and affected my soul all over again, probably even more so than when I saw it on Broadway. (If you count crying four times during the performance “affecting”.)
For those of you who haven’t seen RENT. Go do so. Now, preferably. But if that’s not an option, know it is the story of one year in the lives of a group of friends. They face poverty, rejection, love, glory, success, denial, death, joy, fear, comfort and loss. But mainly, they learn how to appreciate the moments.
It’s impossible for me to see RENT and not reflect on the past year of my life. This is something I usually reserve for New Year’s or birthdays, but today it is fresh on my mind, tugging at my heart. In my last 525,600 minutes I lost a father in law, visited the beach, had my oldest child start high school, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, joined a Bible study, published a new series with a new publisher, looked at the sun through a giant telescope, rode a tiny rollercoaster. But my favorite parts of my year haven’t been the big events, they’ve been the moments, the snapshots in time where I’ve discovered something new, felt loved, was inspired. When listing highlights of my year I wouldn’t write ‘going to Paris’, but instead I’d say, my husband recorded the bells ringing from the infamous bell tower of Notre Dame on a sunny afternoon on his phone for me, so I could listen to them over and over. I don’t measure my year in the 500 soccer games I’ve attended. I might be exaggerating. A little. But the magnificent save my son made as goalie on a Penalty Kick against his team is a moment of pure joy I’ll cherish as I reflect on the year.
And in each moment, I know God was with me. Is with me. Is with you. As the song “Seasons of Love,” says “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” He is there. Every hour of every day. Every step of the way. Every conversation. Every breeze, every flavor (I think especially the salty caramel mocha flavors) and handshake and hug.
What are the highlights of your last 525,600 minutes?
When I was on my high school’s dance team, our motto was “Teamwork Makes It Happen”. Not very catchy, but there’s a lot of truth in that phrase. On dance team it wasn’t about an individual’s abilities, it was about dancing in sync, together. The perfect example was the kick line. Everyone’s kicks had to be the exact same height, so it appeared as if one giant leg was going up then down, while the other giant leg followed suit. Shorter girls had to stand on tiptoes to make their legs reach. Uber flexible girls actually had to lower their kicks to line up with the team.
Have you ever been part of a softball team? A play? A fundraiser? If so, you know the risks of putting yourself out there. You’ve had to rely on others. You understand the challenges of working collectively for a common good.
I haven’t been in a kick line for a looooonnnnggg time, but this past fall I was invited to be on a team to launch a new line of young adult fiction books. By now, you’ve probably heard me chat about Playlist Fiction. Ever wonder what authors talk about when they get together? Everything, really. But recently, one of the other Playlist authors, Laura Kurk, and I were chatting about the excitement and uncertainty of banding together to create something new. Here’s an inside peek at our conversation.
LS: I remember when our agent suggested forming a team of authors to launch a new line, to include your novels, my novels, Jennifer Murgia’s latest title, Stephanie Morrill’s newest book and debut author Rajdeep Paulus. I know what was going through my mind. What was on yours?
LK: Writing is a lonely profession. It takes physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to maintain the integrity of our thoughts and ideas while we work.
I’m usually okay with this, being an introverted soul. But sometimes I feel too alone. I’ve dreamed of having a team of like-minded people who would offer support, guidance, and friendship. I said yes, without hesitation.
LS: Me too. It was an incredible idea to have a support network within the solitude, to not have to go these books alone. But there was still a major unknown. None of us had worked together. All of our writing styles were a little different. What were your concerns?
LK: The same all students have when they hear the dreaded words, “Group Project.” I was always the kid who took on the biggest part—because I wanted the project done right. But, it turns out, I think we were all the kids who took on the majority of the work for group projects.
LS: So, was that because we were overachievers, or because we enjoyed writing essays?
LK: Ha! Both. But the great thing about our team is we overachieve for each other. I’ve never really been on a team, so this is my first experience with seeing other people sacrifice their time and talent for each other. It’s overwhelming. Makes me wish I had played t-ball or something.
LS: T-ball was not my best experience. Let’s just say I sat the bench. A writing team uniform fits me way better. I think the two major factors that have led to the success of our team are communication and a common desire to succeed as a whole.
LK: We’ve avoided any of us carrying all the weight.
L S: Right. We share it. Our communication from the get-go was key. Remember the dozens of emails about expectations and content for the line?
LK: Back and forth, plus the conference calls. We agreed on a mission and a feel. We agreed our books would be unique, real, and match the rhythm of our readers’ lives. We incorporated that into everything from our plot lines to the Playlist Fiction website.
LS: And once we identified ourselves, we all took responsibilities based on our strengths. You developed our Twitter account. Jennifer worked with the designer. Rajdeep created the count down graphics and manages our Playlist fan mail. And what would we do without Stephanie who writes the newsletter and runs all the spreadsheets? It was remarkable to watch everyone play to her areas of expertise. We had all poured ourselves into our novels. We longed for them to reach readers who would identify with our characters and gravitate to our plots. The more readers engaged with the Playlist Fiction brand overall, the more opportunities we had to touch those readers.
LK: We were all invested.
LS: All for one and one for all. What hopes did you have for the team?
LK: I hoped I would develop relationships with people who shared my faith and my goals. I hoped for friends who would understand why writing is spiritually fulfilling for me, and who would hold me accountable with the words I choose. We’re not just a team. We’ve found friendship, validation, accountability, a louder voice, a bigger splash. We’re even prayer warriors.
LS: It’s awesome isn’t it? It’s powerful for me to see how much stronger we are together than alone. But when you gain something, you tend to give something up. What did you sacrifice to be part of a team verses publishing your novels under a solo contract?
LK: I think there’s a misconception that publishing solo with an existing publisher means you can sit back. Authors have to market themselves constantly, so the team has been a blessing. The sacrifices I’ve made have been easy. The amount of work we’ve done to build recognition for this debut line of fiction has been mind-blowing. We’ve worked a lot of late nights.
LS: Which resulted in a lot of late night e-mails. Some of them made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Others brought tears to my eyes. We swapped lyrics from everything from the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song to old Depeche Mode tunes. We shared stories about our siblings and children, admitted indulgences and weaknesses. We became good friends.
LK: I love how we support one another. Often you see writers who grab attention, because attention translates into sales. Our team members are more concerned with making sure we all find success. We work like this because we believe in the message of hope and healing we each have for our audience. We write for young adults. We found each other because we all felt there was a lack of hopeful fiction for teens.
LS: I’m praying we’ll provide some of that much needed hope.
LK: I believe we are. But despite the encouragement from one another, it does take maturity to keep this team in tact.
LS: Definitely. All teams do. None of us can be scorekeepers. We can’t say, “she did this and she didn’t do that while I did this.” Just like soccer player can’t say, “I scored and she missed my pass and she should have stolen that ball.” Each author has the integrity to give our team her personal best. As a team, we respect and honor the time and way we each achieve this. On any given day one author could be promoting the line, while another is dealing with family issues and yet another is frantically editing her next novel. The following week those roles can and do switch. What’s beautiful is how much we lean on one another, draw from one another, learn from one another. Like you said at the beginning, writing can be a lonely endeavor. But our team offers a community to share the writing journey.
Jesus didn’t leave one disciple high and dry to share the gospel. He introduced them to one another, had them dine together, travel together, so when it was time for Him to ascend, the disciples were prepared to work as a team. I believe God brought our Playlist Fiction team together to share the stories He’s put in our hearts.
Are you part of a team? How do you think God’s equipped you to be an important team member?
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