Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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On a stroll through the formal gardens my youngest picked up this leaf hole-punched by insects, held it in front of his face and peered at me. We took turns looking through the leaf, still able to see each other, the sunny marigolds and the scarlet impatiens, but everything was muted, less vibrant. It was odd to be able to see, and yet not. As the bees buzzed overhead and the July sun warmed our skin, I pondered where I need to pull away the metaphorical leaf from my face, so I can see God and His plans for me more clearly.
In the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter has a beautiful, courageous imagination, but in real life he’s complacent, bullied, lonely, and struggles to name a single interesting thing about himself. To keep his job Walter must step out of his daydreams, and in doing so experiences more than he ever realized was possible. This gorgeous film reminds me so much of the leaf. What has God put in our hearts that we’re just imagining we could do or say today, that’s right in front of us yet veiled by something easy to remove? Are we willing to step forward in faith, throw down the leaf, and transform our daydreams into realities?
Because God doesn’t want us living a partial life, seeing things from a muted perspective. He wants us to get going and live fully. He has so much in store! In Hebrews 12:1 we learn we were made to run the race, not cheer on the sidelines. Paul tells the church in Corinth not to sit and think about doing the work God has called them to, but to, “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort. Paul tells the church in Ephesus to run on the road God calls us to travel. King David prays in Psalm 119, “Oh that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.”
To have no regrets. Yes, please! That’s the road I want to travel. One without regrets. One where I don’t look back and wonder what it would have looked like if I’d been willing to open my eyes, take action, and act upon God’s promptings.
What is God nudging you to do? That place He wants you to go, thing He wants you to try, person He wants you to meet? What’s holding you back?
Sure...everything has a price--time, money, energy--are some of the costs of pursuing dreams. But ask anyone who’s completed the marathon they felt inspired to run, climbed the mountain God whispered they should climb, taken the step where God pointed them to walk, if it was worth it. The answer is almost always the same--it was better than they imagined.
Does it feel like God is leading you to further your education? Order yourself a GRE, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT prep book, (Amazon will get it to you by tomorrow), sign yourself up to take the test, and start researching programs. Has God given you an itch to travel, to see more of the world He created? Book yourself a cheap plane ticket on Kayak or convince a pal to take a road trip with you to a city you’ve never visited.
My son and I crossed a bridge and gazed at the gorgeous reflection of the sky and trees in the water. It looked so real--as if we were actually looking upward. But we weren’t. If we keep thinking about what we could be and do, but don’t take any steps toward doing it, it’s like gazing at the reflection of trees in a stream instead of swimming in the water or climbing the trees. So let’s stop thinking about it and dive in, climb upward, and embrace the glorious adventures God has in store.
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Ten years ago I climbed out of a cab into a narrow alley in Lyon, France with two of my kids, jet-lagged and disoriented. When our driver stopped in front of the graffiti-laden door I was speechless. This was the address I’d given him. My husband and other two children would be delivered to this same spot any minute (one French taxi was not equipped to hold two parents, four kids, and six pieces of luggage). So, even though I couldn’t imagine this is where we would be living for the next month while my husband taught at the local university, this is apparently the place the school had rented for us. The small black Peugeot taxi disappeared down the steep alley, and I extended my arms like wings pulling my kids close trying to make them feel safe, even though the burning pit in my stomach and dark sense of dread enveloping my heart intensified by the second.
On our recent family vacation to France we revisited this alley hearts warm, smiles creeping across our six Smith faces.
Because behind the graffiti-covered front door is a walkway leading up a series of stairs to a fantastic French apartment complete with bright purple and green throw pillows on a dove gray Ikea couch, a basket of toys, and a spectacular view of a church steeple and the red-tiled rooftops of Lyon. The memories of the five weeks we spent here ten years ago are some of my fondest.
Despite my initial moments of dread, ends up we lived on the same street as the elementary school and only a two-minute walk from a peaceful playground. Safe. Quiet. Family friendly. While Brett rode the bus to the University each morning, the kids and I crossed the Saone River on a cherry red bridge to the outdoor market, purchasing fresh produce. Our next stop was the boulangerie to find fresh warm pastries and baguettes for the day. While Brett taught students from around the world about entrepreneurship, our kids played futbol with French children on the playground and tag in the large public square with a giant statue of the sun king, Louis XIV. We explored the ancient Roman ruins, and the cathedral Fourvière covered with mosaics perched atop a hill. Church on Sundays was at Saint-Georges, originally built in the year 550 at the end of our street, whose church bells serenaded us daily on the hour. We learned our way around the city, and became friends with our baker and grocer. It was like a page out of a Madeline book.
You see, you can't judge an adventure by its doors.
What looked to be a run down apartment in the bad part of town turned out to be a charming home within walking distance to everything a family with four kiddos could want in the loveliest (in my opinion) neighborhood in Lyon. Turns out the university knew exactly what they were doing when they rented the apartment. They were taking care of us. We just didn’t realize it at first glance.
How often do we do this? Decide something is bad, wrong, unsafe, finished, undoable before even waiting to see what’s behind the door. We give up before we start, or at least before we’ve allowed God to show us what He’s up to.
I think of the poor disciples after Jesus was crucified. Their Savior, leader, pastor, friend was gone. They saw Him brutally executed. Watched His body carried away and sealed in a grave with a giant forboding stone. But behind that stone the most amazing thing was going down. Jesus conquered the grave, so that we too, would never be stuck in the dark without air. The disciples couldn’t see this. Not until they looked inside the door on Sunday and realized that tomb was empty.
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. —Mark 16:2-6
What door seems shut in your life? Or damaged or covered in grafitti or locked or knocked down or sealed with a stone?
Sometimes God closes doors. And I am so grateful for that, because the doors He’s closed in my life have forced me to turn around so I could see the things He wants to teach me, and eventually the doors He’s swung wide open for me.
But Jesus also asks us to trust Him. Trust that the skill God gave you He will use for good. Trust that the relationship that didn’t work out wasn’t supposed to last for an extremely good reason (even if you don't see that today). Trust that Jesus has something incredible in store at the new place He’s put you. Trust that the sun will shine again. Trust that the apartment He set up for your family in France will be safe. Trust that when Jesus said He was coming back, He meant it.
I can’t tell you which doors are permanently closed and which ones you need to push open in your life. But I do know God will show you. He wants us to discover His plans. It’s not some game He’s playing like Let’s Make a Deal. God would never hide a goat behind one of the doors He's set on your path or lock a door He intends for you to walk through. No. He puts exactly what we need behind precisely the right door and if we’re patient (apparently sometimes it takes about three days) and willing to unlock the door or roll back the stone we’ll discover pure love, ultimate grace, and adventures beyond our comprehension.
Are you ready to push open the door?
Every bathroom on our France vacation was a puzzle. How do I turn on the shower? Once I get the water on how do I possibly keep the water in the shower without a door or curtain? How do I flush?
The washing machines were no easier. In fact, in our first apartment the washer and dryer was the same machine. What? And in our second apartment, I ran our first load through the dryer first, thinking it was the washer. At least the clothes were warm and fluffy for their bath. Oh, and the cycles were about three hours long. Each. Yup. Six hours to do one load of laundry.
But we had to shower, flush, and wash our clothes. So… we figured it out. Because we had to. And guess what? Even though new and different things kept throwing us for loops, we worked through them. Not always elegantly or efficiently. There was one shower I never solved. I took a bath instead.
But it got me thinking to big things; dreams, challenges, obstacles, goals and aspirations—things where we sometimes don’t know how or when to act or what it should look like when we do. And how quickly we sometimes say, “I don’t know how that works? I don’t know what to do? It makes me uncomfortable. It seems hard. I don’t know where to start?”
And so we don’t do anything. We sit. And stay stuck. And hope someone will come to rescue us. Pray that God will have the perfect person or solution ring our doorbell. Praying is awesome, and always a great strategy, but Jesus wants us to do our part, too. Praying wasn’t going to get our clothes clean in France. I had to take action—trial and error, detergent, translating, button pushing, dial turning, and the willingness to go at it again.
So what are you wondering about today? How to write your college/grad school/Peace Corps essay? Transfer information from your old laptop to your new one? Pursue that career? Put up a website? Eat healthier? Get the word out about your business? What are you doing about it? What actions are you taking?
I’m not suggesting for a second that you try to move forward without Jesus. That’s not how God intended us to go about life. Talk to Jesus about your dreams, challenges, heartbreak, and ideas. Ask Him lots of questions. He knows what’s up already. He knows where we’re confused or uncertain or stuck or out of strategies and He LOVES to chat with us about it. He also wants to steer us in the right direction, strengthen us, give us hope, and equip us to move forward. But He also wants us to go, act, and do.
When our car, okay, let’s just call it a tank (France is not used to families with four kids plus Grandma driving around with all their luggage), was low on gas, we had to fill it up. But we couldn’t find the gas tank. Anywhere. Four of us drive and regularly fill up cars with gas. The other two of us are extremely bright, capable teenagers. You’d think we could solve this. We all walked circles around the vehicle, looking for any place we might insert the nozzle. And found…nothing. But we couldn’t just say, “I give up,” or I’d still be stuck in the French countryside somewhere (hmmm…maybe I should have…). Instead, first we searched. Second, several minutes in, I Googled “where is the gas tank on a Volkswagen whatever the model was.” My husband and I watched a twenty-two second video, and discovered, the gas tank was behind a secret panel on the driver’s door. Of course. Ha! We found it, filled up, and drove to a magnificent church by the sea.
So, what can you do today to propel yourself forward? Go up to that person you see doing the thing you want to be doing and ask them some questions, like: what kind of training did you need? How did you go about finding the right customers? How much did you have to pay for that? Toss them out your ideas: what do you think about…? Google something. Watch a YouTube video. Apply for a job or scholarship or a whole bunch of both. Enter the contest. Read a book, a blog, or ten. Try a new recipe. Jot down some notes. Listen to a podcast. Try a new route. Send out a slew of emails asking people who have already powered through your situation, lived in that city, tried that task, or healed from that ailment, if you can get together for coffee and pick their brains.
God has perfect plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Whew! It looks like a jigsaw to us, but God already knows how it looks when all of the pieces are assembled. The puzzle in front of us is waiting to be solved. God will whisper hints, but often, we need to physically pick up the pieces, manipulate them here, turn them sideways, and then try them over there until God reveals where they fit. As He teaches us what we need to know, introduces us to the people He wants us to meet, puts us in the places where we gain experience to handle what He has in store, we need to do our part.
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. –Hebrews 12:1-2
Let’s get running on that road He’s called us to travel. I can’t wait to see where we'll go.
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I like to be comfortable.
I mean really comfortable. I love to put on my jams as early as possible—as soon as I’m home for the day—cozy up on the couch with a soft, snuggly blanket, a mug of orange spice tea, and play Euchre or watch a movie with my husband and kiddos.
These are wonderful moments. And I truly believe God created spices,, blankets, and decks of cards for our enjoyment. He wants us to savor these things. But of all the incredible promises God gave us—that He loves us, is always here for us, gives us strength, forgives us, empowers us, never leaves us, He never promised we’d be comfortable. Hmm.
Lately I’ve been holding tight on to comfortable, my daily routine, the things I can control, a nice, even work load, things that feel doable, familiar places, and where I can reach that fleecy blanket. But God’s been asking me to let go. He’s been placing new people and opportunities on my path—exciting opportunities, cool chances to share with more people how much Jesus loves them right now, as we are, where we are. And I’ve been shaking my head. I’ve been telling God, “Oh that sounds nice, but I’d have to drive far, work more hours, not be able to swing by the grocery if we’re out of something. The laundry might pile up. The kids might need me. What if I don’t get the blog out?” Yup, this was real this week. Because Tuesday night I ordered carry out, my son’s school pants were dirty, we were out of fruit and milk, and I hadn’t written a blog. I was freaking out a bit, because I like to have all of those things taken care of. I felt antsy. I was so uncomfortable.
God is so gracious, because He doesn’t chastise me as harshly as He should. God should tell me, “What is wrong with you? Why are you stressing about these little things, when hello, I’m God. I’m offering you amazing possibilities. Are you listening to yourself?”
No. He’s sweeter. And wiser. Instead God says, I love you. I’ll equip you. I’m not asking you to do these things, because I expect you to do it all. I know you’ll be uncomfortable, but I’ll do something incredible with it. I want to work through you. I want you to depend on me.
Ahh. I. Don’t. Have. To. Do. It. All.
And neither do you.
But I bet there is something God is calling you to—something that seems difficult, perhaps uncomfortable. It could be something giant, like moving to a new city, or turning down a job offer, or it could be something as simple as telling a friend who’s undecided on her faith that you’ll be praying for her. Maybe God’s urging you to raise your prices, take a week off, make a phone call, go back to work, or sell your house. Maybe He’s nudging you to take a class, call the doctor, or visit your neighbor. And this thing makes you squirm—it’s out of your comfort zone, not your normal, and thinking about it puts you on edge. (Side note, God would never ask you to do something that would harm you—so if you feel like you’re being pushed to do something toxic, that’s not God. Step away.)
But uncomfortable, yeah, that sounds like God.
Jonah was not comfortable going to Nineveh to give the violent, malicious folks there a message. Moses wasn’t comfortable going to Pharaoh and demanding the release of his free labor force. None of the disciples were super comfortable with the fact that every time they mentioned Jesus’ name they risked being thrown in jail. But God was with Jonah. All the Ninevites converted on the spot. God was with Moses—it took some repeat action, but over two million Israelites walked out of Egyptian slavery, and straight through the Red Sea to safety on the other side. And the twelve disciples—a dozen uneducated, mix-matched, regular guys? God was with them. They spread the good news about Jesus, enabling you and me, over 2000 years later in a land that hadn’t even been discovered at the time, to know Jesus. To hear the good news that He died for our sins, rescued us from our troubles, and loves us completely.
God is with us, too.
What is God calling you to do that might feel bumpy or prickly?
Whatever it is, if it is God’s calling, please know He doesn’t expect you to go it alone. He doesn’t want you to. God will walk with you; give you the words, the ideas, the introductions, the skills, and the resources. If it’s Kingdom work, God wants it to get done. Since He invented vibrant purple flowers that can bloom from brown bulbs underground and gorgeous rainbows of color that arc in the sky from a mixture of rain and sun, He’s more than capable of accomplishing whatever He’s asking you to do.
When we hear God asking, “Who should I send? Who will go?” All we have to do is trust Him. Get off the couch. Get out of our comfort zones. Let go of the blanket. Take a deep breath and answer, “I’m in. Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
My daughter folded herself forward in the passenger seat, tugged her church top off, and swiftly wiggled her way into a t-shirt. She could sit upright to pull her thick, fuzzy sweatshirt over her head, but it was still quite a feat with the seatbelt and all. I won’t try to describe the dance moves she had to execute to pull off her skinny jeans, so she could slip on her joggers. But she had to do it. She was going straight from church to a cool volunteer opportunity to play with some kids in need. There wasn’t time to go home, or even grab a moment in the church bathroom to change. The top and jeans were perfect for church. The sweats were ideal for where my girl was going. The change was necessary. As were the less than ideal circumstances for making the switch. But it was worth it. She got to both attend church and play tag with kiddos.
This moment of squirming and giggles in the car matches a series of questions God keeps asking me: Where have I had you? Where am I taking you? What needs to change to walk into this new space?
My first clue was in December. A friend asked, “What can I pray about for you?”
Words came from nowhere. “I feel a shift coming. I don’t know what it is, but I really feel like God is preparing me for a change. Could you pray that I stay focused on Him and His plans, throughout that change?”
What just happened? What shift? What change? I hadn’t felt any of this until the words escaped my mouth. As my friend climbed out of my car, I had to sit a minute to catch my breath. I felt like I’d been bowled over. God, what are you planning? What’s changing? I want to hold tight to You in this!
Is anything changing in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A new expense? A new routine? Does the ground feel like it’s moving under your feet?
Another day. Another friend. Same crazy questions and ideas from God. As we circled the indoor track, gym shoes rhythmically thumping the rubber surface, our unplanned conversation orbited from where we’ve been to where we’re headed and what that means.
In my Bible study we’re studying Jonah. Jonah was a prophet living in Israel, delivering messages from God to the Hebrew people. Until God gave Jonah a new assignment, “Get up and go to Nineveh.” Jonah had been at one post, Israel. But he was being sent to a new one five hundred miles away. And it changed everything. Um, God, I don’t want to go to Nineveh. But I also don’t want to end up in the slimy, smelly belly of a big fish. I’m listening. What changes do you have in mind?
And even though I’m in a Bible study about Jonah, God keeps pointing me back to Ephesians. Specifically 2:10 God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. And chapter 4:1 I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. Hmmm. Work I had better be doing. Work He’s gotten me ready to do. Work I best be running after. But if I’m running, don’t I need to take off these cute boots and put on my Nike Zooms?
What is God calling you to today? How is it different than what He had you doing before? What changes might you need to make? What discomfort or inconvenience might you have to endure? How will you intentionally walk (better yet run) onto this road He’s calling you to travel?
My youngest was on the court in the last two minutes of his game. My phone vibrated. Can Maguire spend the night? We were twenty minutes from home and five minutes from his friend’s house. The ideal scenario would be to drop Maguire at the friend’s immediately following the game. Only he was in his uniform and didn’t have a pillow, toothbrush, etc.
After the buzzer I chatted with my boy. Yes, he wanted to go to his friend’s. Yes, he would even skip home, a shower, and his own covers. I sent Maguire into the restroom where he pulled off his uniform and tugged on the sweats he’d worn over his jersey and shorts on the way to the game. And although he wasn’t fresh, he was comfortable enough to snuggle on a friend’s couch with a borrowed blanket for the night. He’d been playing basketball. But it was time to hang with his buddy. To go from one to the next meant something had to give. He had to change. He also had to give up some comfort, but it was worth it.
Here it is again. This change in direction and the necessary action to make it happen. God doesn’t promise us it will be easy. But He promises it will be glorious and extravagant (Ephesians 1:19). That seems worth a little discomfort. That feels like it will be worthwhile to do without some of the security blankets I’ve been holding. But it’s still a bit scary, eyeing that new unfamiliar road. But also, so very exciting.
Today, in a new stage of life, where my kids are older and intriguing assignments are knocking at my door, what’s best for my family, best for me, best for this work God has called me into? I’m not sure, and I don’t how it will all play out. But I’m feeling the need to tug off my previous outfit, and put on something more appropriate for the next season.
What is this new attire? I haven’t found it in my closet yet. But with this coming shift, I know I’ll need to let go of control, and say, “no,” to some things. I’ll need to enlist help and be flexible as I learn what a day in the life of this new season for Laura looks like. And I’ll need to accept that there will be bumps during the transition. Changing outfits while riding in a car can be tricky. Certainly less than ideal. But the end result is worth it.
The coolest part? God is with me on my journey and with you wherever He’s taking you. He doesn’t ask us to go out there and do it alone. He says to join Him in the work He does. Join Him. Yes, please. There’s no one I’d rather walk through life with than the One who loves me, believes in me, encourages me, holds me, comforts me, and cheers for me just for trying. Because what God really wants isn’t a best-selling novel from me or a full-ride scholarship, trophy, or promotion from you.
What He really wants is for us to join Him. That’s all. To walk through life with Him. To trust Him when He says He creates us for cool stuff and wants us to do it, because it will be amazing, and because He can shower us and the world with His love and grace while we do this work He’s put in front of us together.
So, let’s get going. Ready? Set? Go!
My youngest had the day off school the other day (teacher workday) and we decided to live it to the fullest. We cuddled up under the giant, red, fuzzy blanket that sits on our couch with hot cocoa (him) and coffee (me) and watched a movie he’d wanted to see. We fit together the pieces of a giant puzzle of the world, and then we headed to the corn maze.
When I’m in a corn maze I feel like I’m in an adventure story, on a mission to find the golden goose or missing clue. Okay, so I’m also dramatic, and live a bit inside my head of fairytales. But I am mystified by corn mazes, not just because they’re the perfect setting for a quest, but also because this destination, which draws people from all over for fall fun is actually just a dead corn field. The farmer grew corn in the summer (knee high by the Fourth of July is the rule in Ohio) and sold thousands of ears of it all summer long. My kids and I husked thick wrappers, and untangled shiny silks. I flash boiled the sweet, golden ears and we ate them slightly salted with watermelon and barbequed chicken all summer long. But summer is over—yikes it got so chilly in a heartbeat—and the corn has been harvested, and it’s time for steaming pots of soup and crisp apples. The farmer could have looked at the brown, dried out stalks, and simply plowed them down, preparing the soil for next year’s planting. He had that choice. Summer was over. Time to move on. But he knows better. He knows that even the stalks had purpose. That none of it has to be wasted.
There’s even more to it than immediately meets the eye. The corn has been harvested, but some dried up ears remain on the brittle stalks. These ears will be gathered and used as feed for the cows all winter long. Wild morning glories have taken seed and used the seemingly expired stalks as a support system, upon which they can grow and bloom, vibrant purple blossoms.
God, along with all of His other royal attributes, is the King of not letting anything be wasted. He looks at us, even when we feel shriveled and like we’ve been picked clean, even when we have no idea how that thing or that person could be used for our story moving forward and says, “Yup, I can use her. I can use him. I can use that class she taught or the one he took. I can use that conversation, that love for drums or jalapeno peppers, that relationship that fizzled. I can use all of that to add fervor, flair, or fun, or maybe to fortify their life.”
He About five years ago I had completed writing a novel and was struggling to find a publisher. A friend arranged for me to meet one of her editor friends, so I could pick his brain on how my book might find a slot in the current industry. The editor was savvy and kind. He gave me solid advice, but unfortunately to this day that novel has never been published. Did God waste this meeting? No. He doesn’t work like that. In January of this year the same editor contacted me and asked me to write two books for him. Two? What? Last week another ministry called saying, the very same guy suggested I might be able to help them with a writing project. What? A lunch over fried green beans, y’all, (apparently it’s a Nashville thing), five years ago did not land my novel a book deal. But it created a relationship that led to future writing adventures. Does that make sense? Of course not to me. But that’s what God is always doing.
What in your life looks like it was or is a waste of time. What are you looking at on your desk or in your planner that makes you just shake your head and ask God, “Why?” It could be a place you moved, an organization you invested in, an endeavor you tried. It might look like a dead end now, but God will use it somehow—for growth or healing, as experiences you can learn from and apply around the next bend of this adventure we call life.
Sometimes you have to circle back to the direction you just came from in a corn maze to actually progress to the finish line. It doesn’t make sense when you’re in the midst of it. It feels like you’re going backwards. But you’re advancing, gaining the steps you need to get where God really wants you to end up. And even when you hit a dead end or literally walk the same row of corn repeatedly, God uses that too. I promise. For my son and I, who were in the corn maze for over an hour—we literally passed the same couple three different times. “Hi. Again.” We laughed more. We told more stories. We experienced more one-on-one time together. We breathed in bigger gulps of brisk autumn air. And it made my mama heart so full and glad. All because we were lost in some dead corn. I’m so grateful for a brilliant, glorious God who always knows better than I do, which way I should go, when, and why.
He chose us in advance. And He makes everything work out according to His plan. —Ephesians 1:11
So, don’t throw up your hands. Take a deep breath. God is with you in this very moment. He sees the work you put in, the avenues you explored, the times you bit your tongue. The day and the day after that when you tried again. He has this giant, phenomenal plan for you, and He’s so excited that you took that step to the left, and that one slightly backwards, because He knows that will lead you to where He’s pointing you. You might see dead, empty stalks. But Jesus sees a phenomenal corn maze, some nourishment for His kingdom, and something wild about to bloom.
Last week I went to the annual Christian Book Association convention in Nashville. The event was at the Opryland Hotel. Which is so crazy cool. It’s like Disneyland in a hotel. Well, without the rides and characters. But there are waterfalls – in the hotel. And a whole section called, “The Delta,” because it looks like New Orleans, complete with lampposts and wrought iron balconies. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and two separate Starbucks (there might be more, but I saw two) within the hotel. It really is insane. And extremely easy to get lost in. Especially if you’re directionally challenged, like myself.
One of the huge benefits of traveling to Nashville for me is visiting with my sweetheart friend, Amy. I walked her to the place in the convention center (which is part of the hotel) where her book signing was taking place. Side note—oh my, check out her newest book, Night Night Sleepytown, so adorable! Then I turned around to head toward the entrance of the hotel, so I could grab an Uber to a meeting I had across town. Except where the heck did they hide the entrance? I walked down one set of blue-carpeted stairs, turned down a hallway with white doors, but didn’t have any sense of certainty to where I was going. I asked a group of women wearing name badges and none of them knew where the entrance was either. I tried another hall and spotted the back of a worker in uniform walking off into the distance.
“Excuse me,” I called. Please let him have heard me.
He turned. “Are you lost?” He asked in a beautiful, lolling accent.
“To be honest, completely lost.” I answered. “Do you know where the Cascade Lobby is?”
“Yes,” he smiled and started walking. I followed. “My first two weeks here, I couldn’t find anything,” he confessed.
“But now, you’re a pro?” I asked.
He laughed and kept walking. Soon we arrived at a crossroads where I assumed he would point me toward the exit. I paused.
“You know where you’re going?” He asked.
“No.” I answered. Because not one thing looked familiar. “But I don’t want to take you away from whatever you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you so much,” I sputtered.
We continued for ten minutes. Yes, it took that long to get to the lobby, so we had time to chat. I learned he was from the Dominican Republic. He thinks Nashville is “cool”, but misses home. He plans to go back and finish University, then return to Nashville. One thing my new friend said hit so hard. He was saying something about a training session he had that was near, “Where I found you.” As if he had found me. Even though I was the one who was lost, desperately searching for a way out. Even though I was the one who was so excited when I saw him, when I found him. Or so I thought. But of course what my new friend said was true, he found me and put me back on course. I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness and patience. Man, I’m sure he had a lot of work to keep that hotel running, but he acted as if he had nothing else to do, but walk me along.
Guys, this is what Jesus does!
I’m walking around confused, headed the wrong way, worried about this, stressed about that, putting too much importance on this thing, and not paying enough attention to that thing. I’m looking for answers, but don’t know where to start. I head up those stairs, and down that hallway. And ask the wrong people for advice. Then Jesus finds me. And He patiently, gently, takes all the time in the world to escort me back to where I need to go, as if He has nothing else to do, even though He’s fairly busy caring for the world.
Jesus gave them another parable:
“There once was a woman who had ten valuable silver coins. When she lost one of them, she swept her entire house, diligently searching every corner of her house for that one lost coin. When she finally found it, she gathered all her friends and neighbors for a celebration, telling them, ‘Come and celebrate with me! I had lost my precious silver coin, but now I’ve found it.’ Luke 15:8-10
I ordered my Uber, walked outside, and almost immediately my phone rang. My Uber driver was here, “Just to the left,” he said. I walked left. Two colorful taxis, one with turquoise and yellow markings, and another—a checkered cab, except it was bright green instead of yellow and looked like it might take you to the Emerald City were parked along the curb. I saw two pick-up trucks and a hotel shuttle. I did not see the Honda Sienna that Uber said was my ride. As I looked around confused my driver gently spoke to me, “I see you. No, not there,” he said. “Keep walking left.” I took a few more steps away from the entrance, not seeing any cars at all, but he kept coaxing me. “You’re closer. I see you.” Just as I was about to say, “I don’t’ see you.” I did see him. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed all in white with a big smile on his face, waving.
What? How did he know I was the “Laura” who called for a ride? There were multiple women milling around outside the entrance. I’d never had an Uber driver get out of his car to find me before. Why did he do that? Above and beyond. But once again, so soon after the last time, I was the one who was lost, and once again I’d been found.
In our lives we are the ones who need to be repeatedly found by Jesus. Because we keep getting lost. We get lost in the idea that we need to achieve a certain pace, or do things like our moms did, or be in charge of that person’s happiness, when what we’re really supposed to be doing is loving Jesus, and letting Him love us back and guide our steps. Because when we do—all the other stuff falls into place. I don’t mean it gets wrapped up in a bow. I mean it lands in its proper position, where God can use it best. And every time we go off the tracks, Jesus comes and finds us. Sometimes we’ll walk right past Him. Because we’re not looking for Him. Or because we’re looking the wrong way. Or thinking He’ll show up with a different solution. But He is there. And when we listen and keep walking left, even though it feels like we’re going rogue, there He is, waving, speaking in a kind voice, getting us to where we need to be—to get out, to move forward, to head to our next destination.
Wherever you feel lost in this season of life—at a loss for words, a loss of funds, a loss of direction, a loss of hope—Jesus is looking for you. And when you allow Him to find you, He’ll smile and wave and say, “I see you. I found you.” Who knows? He might even say it in an awesome island
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
Laura L. Smith