Do you know what I’d really like?
For school to be out.
For summer to be here.
To be on the beach. With my family. On a warm, breezy day. With an iced coffee. And perhaps a chocolate croissant.
You know where I am? Ohio. Where spring is having an identity crisis. Where it’s too chilly to consume any ice, especially in my morning dark roast. Where my kids are at practice. And one is at college. And we’re all trying to grind it out until summer magically appears on our calendars. I think of all the things that need to get done between now and the end of the school year—forms, assemblies, applications, schedules, field trips, celebrations, checks, envelopes, emails, and definitely a slew of soccer games.
My mind fusses over these things, and guess what God shows me—the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, which mainly revolves around a giant construction project, words I usually gloss over. But God wants me to hear it. Maybe He wants you to hear too. There’s a connection. Hang with me Fixer Upper fans. King Solomon built the most stunning temple ever—cedar and gold totally out trump shiplap. But the Babylonians destroyed the temple. Years later a guy named Nehemiah was working for the King of Babylon and asked if he could take some guys he knew and rebuild his hometown—a kind of precursor to Chip Gaines. The king agreed, so Nehemiah road tripped with some friends back to Jerusalem. There was so much work to do—the city wall, the temple, Jerusalem was a mess. They just wanted it to be finished—to snap their fingers and have everything be in place for the big reveal. But that clearly wasn’t happening. Where to start?
I feel this way, too! There’s so much to do. Everything’s a mess. I just want it all to be in place. You? Where do we start?
Nehemiah came up with a plan—you do this, you do that. And the priests? Each one was instructed to repair the section immediately across from his own house. Neh 3:28. This tampered down bickering over who would do what. It also made the construction more efficient, because you just woke up and got to work. Zero commute. This seemingly overwhelming project was completed by hand in only 52 days.
So, if Nehemiah came up with a great plan on how to delegate work, I’m pretty sure God has an even clearer understanding of what needs to get done and who should do it. Because I’m slightly dense at times, God puts the work He needs me to do right in front of me. Meaning God has put amazing, exciting, interesting things on my path today. Right before my very eyes. Yours, too.
God says, “There is so much kingdom work to do—an article to learn from, trees heavy with blossoms to marvel at, family members hastily shuffling to activities to look in the eye and tell them they are loved, neighbors to grab garbage cans or mail for, kids in a carpool or coworkers that we can truly listen to, reminding them that they matter, sandals to pull out of hibernation, cupcakes to bake and sweet frosting to lick off the spoon, an envelope for the office to draw a smiley face on, because who knows—it might make someone smile. Some days it feels like a lot.” God reassures, “But don’t worry. I have a plan. I know exactly what everyone needs to do. Let’s get going. I’ll tell you where to start.”
As I glance at what’s in front of me I see this blog I get to write, because God has blessed me with a space to speak my mind, free, and unfettered from restrictions, guidelines, or editorial direction. No one else is going to write it. God reminds me. I put these experiences, thoughts, and ideas on your specific heart. So I write what’s right in front of me.
I have an upcoming date with my husband at a delicious Italian restaurant guaranteed to have simmering garlic and fresh-baked bread. I can’t wait to let the flavors dance on my tongue, to get dressed up and go out with my lifetime boyfriend. Have fun! God insists. You always wanted a guy who truly loves you. Guess what? He’s right in front of you. Don’t be afraid to wear the red lipstick. Flirt even.
I’m involved in a wonderful Bible study with an awesome group of ladies. Each week we dive into God’s word, figure out all the ways we need more Jesus, remind each other how loved we are, and share tears, laughter, and mouth-watering muffins. We take a hiatus in the summer. I will miss them and their support. Savor it now, while it’s in front of you. God urges.
I get to cheer on my kids outdoors in the sunshine. They have solid coaches who care about their character and development. The spring soccer season is intensely condensed, but over in a flash. Why not embrace the smell of fresh-mown grass and sweet and salty Kettlecorn popping in giant vats, the energy of kids sprinting and passing balls, the excitement of the crowd. God passes me a folding chair and my water bottle.
The things God has put in front of you are probably completely different--a class to teach, an exam to pass, a trip to pack for, a marathon to run. Do those things. Do them. well. Life is good, no grand, exactly how it is, today, if we acknowledge it. There is work to do. Wonderful work. Plenty. Right in front of me. Right in front of you. Right where God put it. Right where God put us. Why would we desire or crave or covet anything else?
I don’t need to wish away the school year, or pine for summer. I don’t have to worry about when or if I’ll get the next writing project. I don’t have to hope for a cleaning fairy to sweep through my house, or question how long until it hits eighty degrees. God calls us to embrace exactly what’s in front of us today. Because guess who put it there? And guess who equipped us to handle it?
What is in front of you?
Who are the people in your dorm, apartment, home, class, workshop? What can you learn from them? What are the questions you want to ask? Events you want to attend? Take one step forward, to what’s right in front of you, and get going. You’ll be amazed how God will use you, and how gratifying it will be. That’s truly what the big reveal is. Not how beautiful the finished project is, but how stunning the work in progress can be.
..if you’d like more reminders about how much God loves you throughout the week, follow me on:
The thing about promises is that you keep them.
Or we’re supposed to. But everyone knows some promises hold more weight than others. There are some promises we don’t even pretend will be kept, because we know that either the maker of the promise is unreliable or the nature of the promise is impossible to keep. Think back to junior high elections—the poster that read “Jake for President, if I get elected I promise less homework and more ice cream in the cafeteria.” Um, Jake? Seventh Grade Class President doesn’t hold that kind of weight.
It’s gotten to the point that a promise isn’t enough. We have to swear by it, commit to the promise in writing, or the promise of all promises—make a pinky promise. But even those promises—contracts, vows, oaths—sometimes get broken. But God? He never breaks a promise. Never.
I’ve been working on a writing project this summer, which has put me deep in the books of the Old Testament. I’ll be honest, if I’m picking a chunk of the Bible to read, I prefer the letters from Paul. That’s not where God put me. I found myself imbedded in the pages of thick detailed books where I prefer to skip the battle scenes and go straight to the stories about lion’s dens and fiery furnaces. But it was important for my project that I read every word.
And in that reading, God blew me away. There were passages I thought I knew well, and others I hadn’t spent much time on, but page after page God opened my eyes to one particular truth—He is the God who keeps His promises. Every single time.
God said to an older man and woman with mega infertility issues, “Your kids and grandkids will outnumber the stars.” Abraham and Sarah were skeptical. They both tried to take matters into their own hands. Sarah even laughed out loud at God’s promise. But their son Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90!!! God built a nation out of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Just like He promised.
God said to Gideon, “You’ll win this battle with a handful of men against a gigantic army. Oh, by the way, you can’t use weapons. Just bring some torches, pots and horns.” Gideon was hiding when God found him. He had a rinky-dink army and no battle skills. But God kept his promise. The enemy defeated themselves. Biggest ‘own goal’ ever.
God said to Joshua, “I’m going to give you this city. All you have to do is walk around it for a week.” And the three tiers of walls that stood four stories high around Jericho literally crumbled to the ground. I get lost easily and have circled many a city block. Thankfully, nothing has fallen down. But when God promises something, even if it sounds ludicrous or impossible, it happens. Because God keeps his promises.
I could go on, but the point is if God says something is going to happen, it will. There are some promises God has across the board promised all of us, like that He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), which would be plenty on its own. But there are more personal promises that He’s made to me and to you. God promised the shepherd boy David he would become king of Israel. God promised Noah he would be safe from a giant flood when there wasn’t a drop of rain in sight. Those most likely aren’t the promises God has spoken to you lately, because those crazy unlikely sounding promises were very specific to David and Noah. God has other specific promises, possibly super out-there promises, for you and me.
Sometimes God’s promise is something I could never dream up, but God could and does—as in the project that planted me in the Old Testament this summer. God taught me so much through this storytelling assignment, I am blown away. And I never saw it coming.
What has God promised you? Hang on to the fact that He never breaks His promises. No matter how we mess up, how tired we are, how defeated or unworthy we feel. God’s promises don’t look like worldly promises. They’re way more spectacular. And they always come to fruition in ways richer and fuller than we could orchestrate on our own. Whatever God is promising you today, it will happen. I promise.
The lazy, hazy days of summer. I love them. I adore rising early and going running with my husband in the morning air, before the heat breaks. I love exploring museums and parks and botanical gardens with my kids. It’s fun making smoothies out of whatever fruit is in the fridge, a glob of yogurt and a ton of ice, then slurping it down with a straw (we take any leftovers, pour them into popsicle molds, and freeze for the next day). I savor getting caught up on my reading pile, well, at least making a dent in it. Splashing in the pool on hot summer afternoons with my kiddos is a blast. Usually my writing goes on a bit of summer vacation too, so I can enjoy a slower pace with my family.
Last week Brenda Yoder tagged me in a game of blog tag, where writers share what they’re currently working on with each other and with their readers. Brenda is working on a book called, Balance, Busyness and Not Doing it All. And since most people I know, self included, are busy, or feel overwhelmed, or wonder how we're going to get it all done, I can't wait for its release.
And although I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, writing this summer, this is an exciting time in my writing journey. I released a new book, It’s Addicting. It’s the third book in the Status Update series revolving around four college roommates.
Obsessing over status, grades, exercise or a boyfriend could never become an addiction...could it? This third installment of the Status Updates series finds four college sophomore roommates finally getting comfy with the routines of dorm life. But Kat, Claire, Palmer, and Hannah soon begin to feel the nagging ache of innocent little addictions pulling them away from their true selves. Hang out with these four roomies to see if they can—or even want to—ditch these sneaky little hang-ups before they take over their lives.
I’m really excited about the response I’ve gotten from readers so far. It’s always a thrill to actually hold a copy of a book I’ve been working on for over a year in my hands.
I’m also gearing up for a tour with Christian recording artist, Holly Starr. We’re traveling through the Midwest in September sharing the message of finding our true identity in Christ. The tour is called Through My Father’s Eyes Tour and is being sponsored by Sisterhood Magazine. If you haven’t checked out Holly’s music yet, it would be a perfect addition to your summer playlist. And Sisterhood is packed with great ideas for summer DIY projects, trips, hairstyles, etc.
Plus, you know, I AM a writer, so I have a new book idea brewing. Notes scratched on napkins and corners of envelopes. More ideas jotted in my Notes App. A character. A setting. A struggle. I love this stage of writing. It holds all of the excitement and uncertainty of infatuation.
This game of tag requires that I answer a couple of more questions, so here goes….
HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
I was a marketing major in college. And one of the things they emphasized in my program, was your product had to have a distinguishing feature, and you had to know that niche.
Maybe I took it a little too seriously, but I write contemporary, Christian young adult, issue-driven fiction. That’s a lot of modifiers. And there’s not a lot of it out there. Try finding one whole shelf that carries Christian YA fiction at your local Barnes & Noble. I double dog dare you. If you do find the partial shelf dedicated to this genre, you won’t find many titles that take the current issues teens face every day and hit them square in the nose, challenging them to react, reminding them that Christ is with them in all the hard stuff.
WHY I WRITE WHAT I DO?
Because it’s real. Because it’s relevant. Because high school and college girls will find a boy attractive, will be at a function where there is alcohol, will feel pressures from this world to perform, to fit in, to look a certain way and to wear certain clothes and to succeed. And if we don’t talk about these things, then they get buried. Then there is guilt and shame and uncertainty. Shining light on these subjects allows teens and parents to examine them, allows girls to decide how they’re going to handle them, what their reaction to these situations would, could and should be, gives them a safe place to explore these challenges and talk about them and process them. I write about real life issues. I write what I write to let young women know they are not alone. And that no matter what, no matter what alley of life they’ve gone down, no matter what tragedy or trauma has hit them over their heads, Christ is with them, every step of the way.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
It starts with a flicker in my brain. I get ideas every day, but some of them stick and develop and persist, while others fade away before I’ve finished my Starbucks. The ones that keep coming back to me are the ones I pursue. I gather ideas first, flashes of color, moods. Then I switch gears and go into fact-finding mode. Since all of my novels deal with real life struggles, I interview young women who have faced that specific struggle. It’s Complicated deals with date rape, so I interviewed college girls who had been violated. I asked how it affected them, what emotions they went through, what emotions they’re still going through. I take similar threads or unique details and weave them into a fictional tale, using the research to keep my stories authentic. Using story telling to keep it make-believe. And then I start writing. Just immersing myself in story. I always have an idea of the beginning and end when I start writing the actual book, but the middle; the plot itself propels itself forward as I write.
TAG YOU’RE IT
Since this is a game of virtual writer tag, for next Monday I’m tagging:
Amy Parker, author of more than 20 books. She was my editor on my very first novel, Skinny, and she's become one of my dearest friends. She has an incredible book releasing this fall. I’ll let her tell you all about it next week but to get you thinking, it revolves around the 20th anniversary of the end of the genocide in Rwanda. Powerful stuff!
Betsy St. Amant, who I had the pleasure of endorsing her YA novel, Addison Blakely, Confessions of a PK, a few years back and have continued to get to know via our ministry with Nicole O’Dell’s Choose Now. Betsy writes so many books I can’t keep track of her, so I’m excited to see on August 4th what awesome projects she shares with us.
How about you? How are you spending your summer days? What projects are you working on?
Street team: a modern version of a credible "cool" field marketer with the ability to create hype for your artist (brand/song/book) through credible peer-to-peer interactions and viral word-of-mouth influence marketing (Wikipedia)
Sound like you? Are you modern? Cool? Do you like books?
SORRY, STREET TEAM APPLICATIONS ARE CLOSED AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO APPLIED.
Then, we (myself and four other rockin Young Adult fiction authors: Laura Anderson Kurk, Jennifer Murgia, Stephanie Morrill and Rajdeep Paulus) want you. We are launching a new line of edgy, emotional young adult reads throughout 2013, and we’re searching for readers, like you, to be our street team.
I was blessed to be on Mary De Muth’s launch team for her recent book release, Everything. I expected to and loved reading her inspiring book for free before the rest of the world, but the impact the communication with Mary and the community of readers had on me blew me away.
HERE'S HOW IT WORKS
1. You get free books. I repeat you get free books. Authors will send you the PDF’s of their latest young adult novels prior to their release.
2. You’ll be admitted into our secret society, learn our secret handshake, etc. Okay it’s really a Facebook group, but there you’ll have real access to the authors and find a community of readers like yourselves.
3. In exchange for the free books, let people know about them, loudly and clearly. Tell your friends, Pin the covers on your Pinterest boards or post them on Instagram, tweet, FB post, do whatever you do when you’re excited or intrigued by something to let your peeps know what you’re up to.
If so, go to the CONTACT LAURA tab at the top of my site and give me your:
· Favorite book
· Favorite author
· Number of Facebook friends
· Number of Twitter followers
· Number of Instagram followers
· Number of people following your Pinterest boards
Our group of authors will select the final street team. You'll be contacted individually, and the fun begins.
This is your chance to be part of something bigger, and did I mention the free books?
The beautiful Bethany Jett, author of the soon to be released The Cinderella Rule, invited me to join her and other authors as we share what we're writing, and why you'll want to read it.
Bethany and I share loves of writing, fashion, Christ, chocolate, kissing and the shoes on the cover of her new book. Check them out, you’ll see why.
What am I writing? I’m working on a new series revolving around four women rooming together at a fictitious college. Clearly the story lines for a series are endless with the ups and downs, trials and triumphs of living away from home for the first time and navigating around the college scene. But that’s all I can tell you for now. I’ll let your imaginations run wild and share with you soon more information on titles, characters, plots and release dates.
Why am I writing this series? First, I live in a college town, Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. College girls surround me. I’m friends with many of them. I hear their stories, their dilemmas, their fears and their hopes. I wanted to capture this time of life full of uncertainty and potential for them and other girls like them. Second, my college years were a critical time of my life. I fell from my faith. I made mistakes, some big and some small. I had a blast in college, made amazing, lasting friendships and met the love of my life, my hubby, in spite of myself. You see, I also doubted myself. I tried too hard to be accepted. I did many things I regret. I lost the essence of who God created me to be during those years. I long to share what I’ve learned about loving myself more and worrying about what others think less with the college girls of today and tomorrow. I want to share with them how beautifully and wonderfully they were created and urge them to not pay attention to what everyone else is trying to achieve, but instead strive to be the best versions of themselves.
What actors would I have play my characters? Well, there are four girls and without revealing too much about their personalities I think Dakota Fanning, Vanessa Hudgens, Anna Popplewell and Ellen Page would make the perfect representations of the room mates.
Who represents me? Amanda Luedeke of MacGregor Literary. She is brilliant and sharp and pushes me to write better and explore new options.
What other books in this genre compare? Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares, Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares, Bloomberg Place Series by Melody Carlson, Mixed Bags by Melody Carlson
Some amazing authors you should check out, if you haven’t already:
Laura Kurk Anderson – YA fiction – Glass Girl
Stephanie Morrill – YA fiction – The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt Series
Jennifer Murgia – YA Fiction – Angel Star, Lemniscate
So, how about you? What are you reading this month? What projects are you working on? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment below.
You may have noticed, or not, that my blogs to date have been, well, random.
The thing is, I L-O-V-E to write. And, when I have treasured writing time, I typically dedicate it to my next novel. But, I have more ideas in my writer’s head than the ones my characters are currently going through, although they are going through so much. If I had nothing else to do in life, I’d write all day long, every day. However, I have other things to do – loads of other things, oodles of other things I also LOVE to do. So, as part of my New Year’s resolutions, or maybe more like New Year goals, I’ve decided in 2012 to combine the two.
I am going to write about all those other things I do all day long in no particular order– reading, listening to music, eating chocolate, exercising (to balance the chocolate), traveling, playing with my four amazing kids, growing my relationship with God, trying not to let God down, being amazed by God’s love and grace and glory and gifts, being madly in love with my Prince Charming (aka my husband), sipping coffee, trying to perfect my French …. Anyway, you get the idea.
Officially, as of today, I will post a blog each Friday – something to launch the weekend. I hope you tune in so we can get to know one another even better. I hope if something moves or upsets or excites or inspires you or even makes you think, you’ll comment to let me know.
I find myself already looking forward to next Friday.
Until then, peace be with you.
Laura L. Smith