I could eat fall up by the spoonfuls! The crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market, the sweet creaminess of a pumpkin spiced latte, I even have some “Perfect Autumn” foaming hand soap in my bathroom that smells so amazing, it uplifts my mood every time I wash my hands. You may or may not catch me sniffing my palms a good fifteen minutes later. Cozy sweaters and cute boots, caramel everything! Oh, plus candy corn. But the delightful chill of an autumn morning morphing into the warmth of a sunlit afternoon does more than point me to pumpkin patches, it points me to God.
Have you seen a field packed with gigantic sunflowers all facing the sun? Each one of those sun-shaped blooms has a brown face comprised of 2,000 seeds! And those little seeds in the face of a flower can be snacked on by baseball players, birds, or your brother, turned into cooking oil, or planted, creating the potential for an endless supply of these stunning stalks. Only God could have invented such a sustainable source for birdseed, protein, and bouquets.
If you slice your favorite Gala or Granny Smith sideways as if you were cutting its waistline, you’ll see five seemingly perfect shaped points of a symmetrical star holding the apples seeds. How did this geometric phenomenon end up on the inside of a piece of fruit? I can’t even draw an equally sided star. Only the Master Artist could create something like this. He doesn’t even show it off. He hides it inside your lunchbox.
Leaves change color from bright green to spicy browns, deep reds, earthy oranges, and vibrant yellows. They do this on their own—without anyone painting, tinting, or tie-dying them. Acorns have pointed ends, helping them lodge into the ground to grow a new crop of trees. Corncobs alwayshave an even number of rows of kernels. Birds, who are known for their feeble “bird brains,” sense the coming cold weather is dangerous, and find their way without a GPS or any kind of App whatsoever to warmer climates. The outdoor critters who stay in Ohio grow thicker fur to keep warm in cooler months. I marvel out how intricately God designed every detail of creation. In the fall He seems to show off a little extra.
When I take a few moments to consider this on a cool evening as the Harvest Moon glows almost the moment the sun sets, I can’t help but be grateful for such an intentional and specific God. I can’t help but remember that He also designed me, and the people I love, you, and your special folks, too—each one of us full of beautiful surprises, ways to bear fruit, and the ability to cope in rougher conditions. If He drizzled this much creativity, beauty, and purpose into corncobs, flowers, and the fur of a bunny, God surely poured it into each and every one of His children, as well.
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? —Matthew 6:26
You were as precisely designed as the star inside an apple. Your face is more breathtaking than a sunflower. God cares more about you then the hummingbirds He leads over 4000 miles from Ohio to South America and back again in the spring. Take a moment to drink in God’s gorgeous creation this week—gaze at a golden autumn sunrise, watch a squirrel skitter to and fro with a nut in his mouth, listen to his tiny feet crunch in the leaves, simmer some cider on your stove, and then praise Jesus. Thank Him for His glorious creation, but even more so for the love, care, and detail He tenderly put into you.
I want my kids to stay home and not return to school. I want the evenings to stay long, the air to stay warm, and to all sit around on the screened-in-porch laughing and talking with a soundtrack of crickets playing in the background.
What do you want right now? The starting position? The starring role? A different relationship status?
In Disney’s The Princess FrogTiana and Prince Naveen show up at Mama Odie’s with green skin, sticky, pink tongues, and covered in mucous. They want to be turned back into humans. But Mama Odie cautions the two “frogs” against striving for what they want, and instead digging deeper to discover what they need. Hmmm.Maybe I should do the same.
Summer forever sounds good and glorious in my mind, but God is way wiser than Mama Odie or me. He knows my kids need to go back to school. If they didn’t their soccer seasons would never commence, they wouldn’t have the conversations that will grow, challenge, and inspire them, play the music orchestrated for them, or audition for the roles they’re itching to act in. If my kids stayed home I would never complete the book I’m working on. If it stayed summer the leaves wouldn’t turn vibrant orange and deep scarlet, the apples wouldn’t ripen, crisp and tart, and we’d never get sweet, frothy Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. Tragic.
Can you picture a year without fall? What would I be forfeiting if I got what I want? We think we know what we want, but God knows better what we need.
How can I be so sure? Experience, for one thing. If all the relationships I’d wanted to work out had, I wouldn’t have married my incredible, loving husband. If we’d been able to purchase the house we wanted to buy when we moved back to Ohio, we wouldn’t have enjoyed our home for the last eighteen years. If my company had granted me the part-time position I wanted after having my first baby, I wouldn’t have pursued writing. And that’s just a sampling of the times God knew way better than I did what was best for me.
I also know God is wiser and more capable than me from reading scripture:
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of His power. – Job 37:5
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty. —Job 37:22-23
This glorious, great, dazzling, powerful, Almighty God of ours knows what He’s doing and has the power to make it happen. He loves us more than we can hope or fathom. Shouldn’t we trust Him to take care of our needs?
What do you want?
What do you need?
Because they’re not always the same thing. I see this as a parent. My kids want to stay up later—which means they’ll be exhausted the next day. They want giant bowls of ice cream, which are tasty in the moment. But if they only ate ice cream, they’d get cavities and face some health issues. Mama Odie suggests to the two frogs who want to return to human form, to consider where happiness comes from before they make a wish. How do we dig deeper?
By praying. It’s that simple. Talk to Jesus. Tell Him you’re worn out, excited, nervous, sad, tired of waiting, not sure what to do next. Tell Him your hopes and dreams—what you want. He already knows exactly what’s on your heart. But He also knows exactly what will fill you with joy, help you thrive, and saturate you with peace. Yes, we all want things. But why not turn those wants into conversations. Then take time to listen to what God whispers, walk away from the doors He shuts, peek through the windows He opens, act upon His nudges, and trust Him in the process.
Our God is glorious. And He loves you so much. He might not give you everything you “want.” But He will provide you with everything you need, plus more than you could ever imagine.
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
Due to crazy schedules and me skimming too fast through one too many emails my youngest and I pulled up to his school for basketball tryouts the other night. “Hmm,” I said. “I wonder why there aren’t any cars here.”
“Yeah, kind of strange,” he answered. “We are kinda early.”
I checked my phone. “Six minutes early.”
We got out of the car walked to the door, and you already know the scenario, the door was locked. No one was there.
I texted another mom and scrolled through emails. Pretty sure I did this simultaneously, which might be how we’d ended up here in the first place. Yes, there was a coach’s meeting tonight. No, there weren’t tryouts. Yes, there were tryouts for an elite team at a different place tonight, but those were not the tryouts we were trying to attend. Total mom fail. Although my son shrugged it off as we got back in our car, I knew he’d gotten mentally and emotionally ready for tryouts. There’s an adrenaline surge of excitement and nervousness no matter your skill level or what you’re auditioning for. It was a chilly evening and he’d had to change into basketball clothes and ride to the next town for absolutely nothing. When we got home he said, “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Ummm. “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter. “Do you think I would have left you at the tryouts I thought you had, but weren’t real?”
He laughed, too. “No. But thanks for coming straight home, and for taking me in the first place.”
This kid is too much. He is honestly the most grateful person I know. This has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with the kind spirit God has placed inside of him. This is the same boy who has said, “Thank you for letting me make dinner tonight.” As in him. Cooking for our family. And then thanking me. No lie. He oozes gratitude. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the happiest people I know.
Does thankfulness equal joy?
There’s research that makes it sound like that’s true. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, wanted to know why some people were content with their lives, while others were not. She conducted thousands of interviews trying to discover what makes a wholehearted person. “Wholehearted living,” she says, “is about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” These people had joy.
Do you know what she found? Every single person who made it to her “wholehearted” list practices gratitude on a regular basis. Meaning, they don’t just say, “thank you” when the barista hands them their pumpkin spiced latte, but they daily, intentionally, take time to mentally note things they can be thankful for.
I think Brene is pretty rockstar, if you haven’t watched her Ted Talks or read her books, do that and soon, but there’s a source I deem much higher than Brene, higher than any other source, the Bible. And the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
As we enter into November and pumpkin pies and pilgrims, are we focused on which family we’ll see when and what dish we need to prepare for Thanksgiving, or are we actually taking time to be thankful?
My son has to practice basketball. Dribbling and shooting aren’t part of his daily life, unless he intentionally goes out to the garage, grabs the ball, and takes time to practice. No one else in our family plays this game. So for Maguire, this means motivating himself, dribbling up and down our cul de sac when it’s chilly outside, shooting over and over when there’s no one else to play with. The same is true for gratitude. We aren’t going to just “be thankful” unless we intentionally set aside time or habits that enable us to appreciate all we have.
Where do we start? A lot of people say grace or a prayer before they eat. Do you do this? Before every meal? Even a Starbucks scone on the fly? Even at a business dinner with clients? You could start by thanking God for every single meal, regardless, for having food, any food, when so many people in the world are literally starving, for crunchy apples the colors of fall leaves, and warm, hearty soup on a chilly day. It’s an easy place to start.
How about as a family with daily prayers? Could you all go around and say one thing you’re thankful for? Before you start your day? Before you go to bed? Both? This holds you all accountable to one another. At least once a day, even the grumpiest family member with the lousiest stuff going on can practice finding something they’re thankful for. And when we say it out loud, “Thank you God for cozy blankets or a stunning sunrise this morning,” all of a sudden, we realize we truly are grateful.
A thankful list or journal is a brilliant way, for all you planner-obsessed, list-making, color-coded folks out there (raises hand). Create a separate journal or pad of paper where you write down at least five things, or ten things, or twenty, up to you, you’re grateful for each day. Make the time consistent—when the kids get on the bus, when you arrive in the office, when you park your car in the parking lot, but before you get out—whatever time of day you can both make it fit into your schedule and it will help mentally prepare you for what’s next.
Maybe none of these ideas make sense for you, but your morning drive time would be ideal, or your lunch break, or you’d like to put up a sticky note on your mirror each day with something you’re thankful for, or change your screen saver to “Give thanks in all circumstances!” so that every time you pick up your phone, you’re reminded to thank God for something. You don’t have to limit yourself to being grateful at these set times, but scheduled times, just like brushing your teeth before you go to bed, makes it part of your routine.
Today, I’m sick. I don’t know what hit me, but I feel like my head is in a way too tight helmet and like I could sleep until Christmas. But I am so grateful. Grateful my kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, so I don’t have to worry about their basic needs. Grateful my husband brought a rich, chocolate muffin and steaming, coffee up to me in my bed. Thankful for vitamin C packets that give my immune system a boost. Grateful I could sleep in and wear sweats, because there is only one place I had to be all day, you guessed it, actual basketball tryouts.
Throughout November, I’m going to provide a place for us to practice gratitude together for anyone who’d like to get into this habit. It is proven to bring us joy, and more importantly to please God. I’ll use #thankfulnessproject to organize the posts. I’d love for you to check out my Facebook and Instagram daily to join in. But let’s start right now. What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
Saturday night two of the kids had soccer scrimmages. We thought it was a great excuse to grab the grandmas, bring them along for an evening of visiting and watching the kids play. However, the sky had other plans. The clouds thought it was a fantastic night for a thunderstorm. After driving an hour to the location of Game #1, we sat in the car watching the sky flash with electricity and listening to booming thunder for over an hour. Then this game was cancelled altogether.
But you know what? We also ended up having a picnic in the car—if you count hot, salty, rosemary fries and chicken sandwiches smeared with creamy avocado from Smashburger a picnic, and I do. When the storm stopped, the sun came out revealing a spectacular full-arc rainbow. We had thirty minutes while the team warmed up, so we went on a lovely walk around the school grounds. We laughed, got caught up, and had a sweet family evening despite the weather.
What changes in plans have switched your schedule this week? How did you handle them?
Sunday night was date night. I put on lipstick, sprayed perfume, set up our kids with frozen pizzas and a movie, hugged them goodbye, and drove into the sunset with the man of my dreams. We pulled into the empty parking lot of the yummy Italian restaurant we’d planned on dining at to discover a “Closed” sign in their window.
Gratefully, I have a quick-thinking entrepreneurial husband who embraces changes in plans. He calls them “opportunities.” No lie, the man rubbed his hands together as if now that our date night had been hijacked, the world was his oyster. Fifteen minutes later we exited Kroger with a baguette, brie, a bottle of wine, and a couple of crisp apples—all the fixings for an impromptu dinner for two that didn’t involve me cooking, because please, date night. Our kids were surprised to see us. But you know what? We had a romantic evening on our screened-in porch. My husband and I talked for hours while dipping crusty bread in creamy cheese, and bonus, grocery goodies were way less expensive than dinner out would have been.
When your plans get turned upside down, what do you do? Panic? Get angry? Shut down? Start pointing fingers? Or look for opportunities? Figure out how to reallocate your time, look for ways to shuffle the pieces around to make a different picture, double up, juggle, or seize the day?
Here’s the deal. I do so much better when there’s a schedule. We have four kids and life gets crazy, and the only way to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there and make sure we’re all fed on a daily basis is by planning it all out. I sleep better, breathe deeper, am more relaxed when I know what to expect. But plans change. All the time. The examples I gave are every day occurrences—the flight gets cancelled or an impromptu party breaks out or the meeting gets changed or someone gets sick or they win an award and the ceremony is tonight…and it’s out of our hands, and we have to adjust, cope, slide into Plan B. I’m also aware there are changes in plans that rip the carpet right out from under our feet, leaving us feeling helpless about how to move forward. But God is with us through all of it—the every day and the tragic. Right beside us. Loving us. We need to lean on Him when the changes are too hard to take on our own, and be open to what God has in store. Because He has so very much good for us planned.
I love the song, “Yes I Will,” by Vertical Worship. It starts, “I count on one thing. The same God who never fails, will not fail me now.” Oh gosh, amen! We cannot count on the weather or our health or the calendar or other people all of the time. But we can always count on one thing—God. He’s the one who is in control. He’s the one who will never change, never let us down.
And He is there in all of it. Every single thing.
So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose. —Romans 8:28
So, when a curve ball comes your way today:
I guarantee sometime this week you will experience a change in plans. No matter how big or small, or exciting or jarring, I promise He is at work, for good. God’s plan is perfect. And He will never fail you.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
I reached for my sunglasses, where they’d been, hooked on the neckline of my top, but they weren’t there. I tapped the top of my head. Not there. Even though I was certain I’d worn them into Butterfield’s market, I still checked the console in my car where I sometimes set them and in the sunglasses holder up top where I should store them, and in the middle compartment. Nothing.
I got down on the floor of my car, in case they’d slipped. I picked up my purse and dug through it. Kleenex, coupons, and candy, but no sunglasses. By now, my mom and kids were back at the car.
“What’d you lose?”
“My sunglasses,” I mumbled.
“Did you check the register?”
“Are they in the greenhouse?”
We all went back inside and retraced our steps through mounds of dark orange pumpkins, crazy-shaped gourds, giant pots of mums, and bales of straw. They weren’t lying on the counter where I’d paid. The greenhouse, warm from the sun and fragrant with heady mums didn’t seem to be hiding them. We milled through the barrels of apples, bags of caramel corn and jugs of cider, but my sunglasses were nowhere to be found. What looked like an entire freshman corridor of college students trickled in for a hayride, making it difficult to even walk through the market, let alone continue my search. In one final effort, I left my name and number with the girl working the checkout, in case they turned up.
Have you lost something recently? Your keys? Your folder? Your phone? Some days I think I’m losing my mind. We search frantically on our way out the door for that cleat, that notebook, that bill we were going to drop in the mailbox. We scramble and scurry to find the things we’ve misplaced. We’ll stop everything to look for that one thing.
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” –Matthew 18:12
Jesus says we are the thing He’ll drop everything else to find.
You know how desperately you want to find your debit card? That phone number? The email you misplaced in your inbox? Your other earring? You know how you look and search and barely talk to anyone as you’re single-mindedly searching for it? That’s how desperately Jesus wants to hang out with us, the lengths He’ll go to to be with us, the extent of which He loves us. He’d stop everything to look for me? Yes. He’d stop everything to look for you, too.
When I got home I opened my trunk and grabbed a pot of crimson mums
“Mom! Stop! There they are!” My daughter yelled.
I looked down not registering what she was talking about. There were my sunglasses intertwined among the stems of flowers. Laugher. Relief. I snagged the shades and popped them back on my face.
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn't wander away! --Matthew 18:13
Jesus rejoices when He finds us, when we let Him find us, when after hiding out among the flowers or the apples or the pumpkins we are finally looking at Him, listening to Him. He laughs. He sighs. He grabs us and pulls us close.
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?
While grabbing an apple in the kitchen to fight off a mid-day stomach growl, I heard an erratic banging from the dining room. I peeked around the corner to spy a large black bird flapping his wings and flying straight toward one of the windows--crash—hitting it so hard, he fell back to the ground in a feathered heap. Was he dead? How long had he been down here? How in the world did a bird get in our house?
The bird quickly answered my first question—he was not dead—by rearranging his body, raising his wings and aiming straight toward another window, only to repeat the whole crashing and crumpling scene. A close-up wild bird is very different than gazing at one flittering through the trees. He appeared so much gawkier, louder, and infinitely crazier. My instinct was to get him OUT! But he was like a lunatic, also probably severely concussed, so I avoided his hysterical flapping (I did not want him plummeting into me) by ducking through the hallway to open the front door. I swung the wooden door in and the storm door out, sliding the catch so it would stay open, all while talking to the bird as if it were a toddler, “Come on bird. Here’s the door. You can go outside now. Here you go.” But where did he go? He was nowhere in sight.
I followed my ears to the clatter of colliding and flapping in the living room. He must have snuck in this room, like one of those secret passageways in Clue—where you can go straight from the Conservatory to the Lounge even though they’re on opposite ends of the game board. He had tricks up his feathered sleeves, and he was now head-banging against the window in his new room. When he fell to the floor. Again. I rushed past him to open the back door leading to our screened-in porch “Alright, bird. Come on out to the porch. I’ll get this door open for you too, or the front door’s still an option. Either one works for me.”
I got the screen door open and finally remembered to breathe as he soared onto the porch. Brilliant. Until he crashed straight into one of the screens. I now know the origin of the word “birdbrain”. I closed off the porch, so he couldn’t get back in the house, and kept talking to him while shooing him time after time in the direction of the exit. After several crash and burns, he flew outside. I slammed and latched the door behind him.
Finally free of the problem of having a large bird flopping around my home, I pondered how he ever got so misplaced that he ended up here, that he thought he wanted to be in our house instead of out in the open where he belonged? How did he get so confused, distracted that he couldn’t distinguish glass or screens from air, from wide-open spaces? I considered how the more exhausted and anxious he got, the more he seemed to spin out of control.
But I do it too. Do you? Do you ever run into the same wall time and time again? Trying to do it all by yourself, ignoring the voice coaching you out to freedom
Instead of embracing the trees and sky where God has placed you, do you ever seek something you’re not suited for, somewhere unbecoming of the beautiful being God created you to be? Have you ever banged your head on the glass thinking it might be a way out, crashed into a screen when you’ve flown a little too high or too low?
Like that bird, we all get off track sometimes, misplaced, confused about where we want to be, where we should be, what is truly important. We find ourselves someplace we never imagined, and we can get trapped there. Appearances, brands, numbers on the scale, on test results, on the scoreboard, or in our checkbooks distract us. We get tired and stressed, which confuses us and we start making bad, frantic decisions. But how do we get back on track, back to our true selves, our true reflections?
It’s easy, if we’re willing to take a deep breath, get our bearings and listen. God is opening doors and windows giving us fresh opportunities and new chances, shooing us to the openings, to the ways out of bad situations and into wide-open spaces. He’s talking to us saying, “Look over here!” We just need to listen.
And when we pull ourselves out of our heaps and fly to the beautiful places He’s providing for us, we can stop feeling scared, lost, overwhelmed, or incapable, and spread our beautiful wings and soar as He designed us to do.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1
Laura L. Smith