The other night I was totally in the mood to bake. I got my youngest in on the endeavor and after a quick scan of the cupboards we confirmed we had all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. With M&M’s. Because why skimp? Life is short.
I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since high school. How many hundreds of batches over the years? I have no idea. We creamed the butter and the sugars and added eggs. We made sure to take a good whiff of vanilla, because the sweet, thick vapor honestly soothes me. Next came the dry ingredients, and finally the chocolate. Don’t worry we both sampled the chocolate chips AND the M&M’s. I like the dough better than the cookies and cannot resist a spoonful before I plop sticky mounds onto the pans.
But…hmm. Something tasted off. I took another taste, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the dough—it wasn’t sour or rotten or anything—it just wasn’t right, and as a dough connoisseur I could tell. I had my son try it. He thought it was fine, so we baked the cookies and allowed the house to fill with the warmth and scent of chocolate chippers. Hot out of the oven the cookies tasted fine, more than fine, delicious—rich and gooey. But something still wasn’t right with the dough. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until I was cleaning up and took one last little lick. It tasted like it had a hint of banana in it. And for the record there are zero bananas in my secret recipe.
I thought through this puzzle as I sloshed the sponge along the sides of the bowl. And then it dawned on me. One of the sticks of butter had been resting on a slightly mushy banana on the door of my fridge. And bananas have this mysterious quality that their flavor permeates everything they’re near. Ever notice that? Put a banana in a lunch box and the entire lunch will taste like bananas, even the ham and cheese sandwich. I use bananas in cooking all of the time. I substitute them for cooking oil in baked goods. Mushy bananas make excellent binders in muffin, pancake, and waffle batters. You can read about my banana waffles here if you want. I’ll throw them into any of those concoctions without hesitating. But for some reason, not an actual banana, but just the proximity of one to a single ingredient in my cookie dough infused the entire bowl with the flavor.
Is there anything in your life that’s slightly off? It might not be totally wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. An activity you’re engaged in, someone you’re hanging out with, that habit that is making the whole bowl of batter of your life taste not quite right. I couldn’t extract the flavor of banana from my cookie dough. But we can make an effort to limit and eliminate the things in our lives that are shifting things off balance.
We can say, “no.” We can choose to not answer that person’s text who always makes us feel small or not sit next to the person who brings out our negative side at the game. We can refuse to watch that show even if our whole family is watching it. We can leave the room if it does something strange to us, makes us a little off, nudges us in the wrong direction. We can turn off our phones. Even if we might miss a hilarious text. We can put our phone in another room, so we’re not distracted or consumed by that tiny screen if it’s becoming a problem. We can choose to exercise somehow today—walk or shoot hoops with our kids or even play tag. We can select something good for us on the menu (that might be good for our body, soul, or mood, depending on what’s best for today.) We can speak up someplace where we’ve remained silent, but something tells us we shouldn’t hold our tongues any longer.
Take a look at your life? Is there anything that’s throwing you out of line of the glorious plans Jesus has for you? Of His perfect love for you? Anything that clearly contradicts the Bible, and you’ve kind of been blowing it off or rationalizing, but probably shouldn’t be? Something seemingly as benign as a banana holding hands with a stick of butter? We all have these things, and God wants to help us get back on our feet with each and every one of them. He doesn’t want us to go it alone. He’ll equip us with the opportunities and endurance and patience we need. We just need to ask for help.
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. —Psalm 94:18-19
My cookies ended up being fine, but the dough never even tempted me to a second, or third, or tenth bite. Which is super weird. Whatever tastes a little off today, even if you can’t detect why or how, turn it over to God. Take the time to think talk over with Him what’s wrong and why. He’ll support you. He’ll comfort you. He wants to renew your hope. God wants you to stand strong. He’ll give you the tools to get back on track. Heck He might even give you some M&M’s.
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
My daughter came downstairs, her long, thick hair still wet from the shower. It had been a long day. She had one of those tired headaches that can only be solved with sleep, but she was staring down a 6:00 AM alarm waking her for school the next morning. She looked at me with giant blue eyes and held out her brush. “Could you please brush my hair? Really gently? I can’t do it softly enough myself.” This resonated so deeply. Do you wish someone would be gentle? Are you maybe not even able to be soft enough with yourself?
I’ve been blessed in the last couple of weeks to visit with some brilliant, gorgeous, strong women, who are basically rocking the socks off the world. But underneath the surface, these friends seem exhausted, run down. They’re juggling work, family, health, and the enigma of getting it all done, getting it all done well, and succeeding at this juggling act all of the time. One of my friends recently landed her dream job. But the dream job required a move and she’s exerting large amounts of effort trying to settle into her new space, meeting new friends, figuring out where to do anything—like get an oil change, and proving herself in this dream job. She’s with the opportunity, but starting fresh takes extra time and energy—more than normal. And she’s worn out.
Another friend is a sales rep and they’ve had a change in their product line. In good ways, but also in learn new and different strategies; reinvent the process kind of ways. Plus she has a medical issue. On top of her kids, marriage, house and groceries. And she’s slightly frazzled. Yet another friend has this huge, brilliant idea to create something new and exciting. This plan won’t pop into being by itself. It takes extra hours, extra mental capacity, on top of my friend’s current carpools, current exercise routine, current commitments. And she’s pumped up about this big beautiful idea God gave her, but trying to do it all—well it’s overwhelming.
And I’m praying for all of my friends in their busyness, praying for peace, and moments where they can slow down and find things that they can let go of. I’m praying for all these friends as I’m cramming writing time into every spare minute of the day, because my manuscript is due to my publisher in a week. My son has play practice? I’m there. With five resource books and my laptop spread across a row of seats in the theatre. My daughter has gymnastics. Same. It’s Saturday? Cool. I’ll set the alarm early and respond to the comments from my project manager until my cuties wake up. And, in the meantime….I'm still hustling to get it all done. Prep for Bible study. Write notes for my kids’ lunches. Log a few miles at the gym. Keep up with the mystical clothes hamper that is miraculously always full. How does it do that?
I LOVE doing all these things. I love my family. I love to write. I love Bible study. I’m doing these things today, just like I did them yesterday, and last week, because that’s what I do. I get the stuff I want to do done.
But my husband had to sit me down, and take the figurative brush out of my hands. His words were wise, but they felt sharp: You can’t do it all?
Hmm, I thought. Why not?
Husband: You are on deadline. This is not your normal. For the next week, let go a little.
My friends are swamped, but me? I’ve got this. Right? Let go? Of what? Not my kids. Not this sweet man talking to me. And the writing, well I kind of signed a contract. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good.
Husband: Let’s order pizza tonight. Let the kids make dinner one night. What else is easy? Let’s do that.
Me: Okay, fine. I like pizza. Sounds good for tonight. I’m so agreeable. Problem solved. Moving on.
Husband: I’ll pick the kids up from school tomorrow.
Me: But you have work. I was fine with the pizza thing, but that’s plenty of help, thank you very much.
Husband: I know, but I can grab the kids. Not every day, but tomorrow. It gives you an extra hour.
Me: Silent, but insides screaming, I’ll do it. I’ve got this. I can do this. I can make it work. Because I want to. Because I can find a way. Because I hate letting people down.
But Brett is not suggesting, he’s telling, and he never tells me what to do. I must be manifesting the symptoms I see in my friends, that look behind the eyes, that I’ve got this, but it’s hard and any minute I might slip. It took courage and love for Brett to speak this to me. I glue my lips together and try to listen. I nod. It’s like God has grabbed me and is making me lie down. And these blunt words? They actually sound like gentleness, sound a lot like grace.
I needed someone to be gentle with me, and I didn’t even know it. I saw it in my friends, but not in myself. How about you? Do you wish you could be treated gently right now? Are you incapable of being soft enough with yourself?
The good news? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures. Meaning, when we’re burning the candle at both ends, staying up too late and remedying this routine with too much coffee the next morning (anyone?), Jesus says, “Stop. Lie down. Rest.”
He leads us beside still waters. Sigh. Did somebody say still?
Take a deep breath. Look at your to do list. What can you erase or delete? What are you trying to do, because you expect you to do it, even though maybe no one else expects it, or maybe someone else could do it just as easily? Can it be delegated? Can it wait a week? Is there someone you could ask for help? Could you pay someone to watch the kids for an hour or two, or to clean the house this one time, or even pay the $5 for Clicklist to do the grocery shopping for you? You don’t have to answer every text, call, and email as they pop on your screen. You don’t have to do it all. Period.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Be gentle with yourself. I know there is so much to do, great stuff, important stuff, deadline stuff. But you don’t have to do all of it. And when you can’t even be gentle with yourself, Jesus will be. He’ll soak warm sunshine into your skin, provide a moment where for some reason the house is quiet, or maybe He’ll have your spouse or friend or coworker unexpectedly tell you, “I’ll do this thing. I’ll make this call. I’ll write this note, so you don’t have to.” Accept the grace. Lie down. Don’t fill that still moment with another to-do. Fill it with Jesus. Hand him your hairbrush or your to-do list or your expectations, and allow Him to gently restore your soul.
I attended an event the other night put on by Ocean Accelerator encouraging entrepreneurs to be brave in their beginnings. There was a speaker, a panel, a commentator, a cool old theatre as the venue, and of course, networking. The crux of the evening was that if you have an idea, a dream, a business you want to start, a creative endeavor you want to explore—the first step isn’t easy. You have to bravely take that first step.
It’s hard to deny that brave beginnings are both a good idea in general and necessary to propel dreams into realities. But guys, it doesn’t end with that first brave step. We all need to take brave beginnings every day.
Years ago, I took the brave step of confiding in my husband that my lifelong dream was to become a writer. From there, leaving my first born at home with Brett one evening a week, I took the brave step of taking a creative writing class at the local college. Then another brave step to actually put my ideas to paper and write some short stories. It took all the courage from the Cowardly Lion’s medal to actually submit my stories for someone else to read and evaluate their worth. The result was one story landing in the anthology, God Allows U-Turns and another in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’d been brave, but if I’d stopped there those would have been my only two stories ever in print. You guys, I still have to take brave steps with my writing. Every. Single. Day. This week I made a list of three brave things I could do to propel my dreams. They might have been easy things for you, but for me they would have been easier to talk about and put on my to-do list and stare at than actually execute.
What brave steps do you need to take this week?
Instead of keeping your thoughts inside your head, you might need to take the brave step of telling your spouse or best friend how you really feel about something. Maybe you’ll need to be bold enough to tell somebody, ‘no.’ No, I don’t have time. No, that doesn’t make me comfortable. No, it’s not okay for my kid to watch that movie, go to that party, or talk about someone like that. Perhaps your brave step will be to get out of bed, even though it’s really hard. Maybe you’ll need to call a counselor or someone else you trust and take the first courageous step towards help. Maybe you need to be daring enough to ask God for a miracle.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." —Joshua 1:9
Our minds get flooded with ideas—some of them good, some of them bad, some of them neutral. But some of our ideas keep at us, keep nudging us, elbowing us, calling out to us from somewhere inside. These are ideas we can’t brush off. We need to take them to God, “Is this from you?” and if it is, if God shows us this is Him encouraging us, guiding us, moving us, then we need to act. Even when we’re nervous or unsure of ourselves. Because, guess what? Our ideas won't change the situation, make a difference, or change the world unless we act upon them.
My friend, Beth, was on a panel at this “Brave Beginnings” event. Her words resonate, “Sometimes brave beginnings look like fear. Sometimes being brave starts with something small.”
There’s nothing easy about being brave. It is almost always hard. Otherwise it wouldn’t take any courage at all. It’s hard to walk into a room full of people that you don’t know. It’s hard to leave a job. It’s hard to start your own business. It’s hard to admit you have a problem. It’s hard to confront someone you love about his or her problem. And being brave doesn’t have to be hugungeous. Often the biggest amount of courage is necessary to make the first call, say the first words, take the first step onto the stage, or the field, or towards recovery.
What is God calling you to be brave about this week?
You can do this! God tells us, “Do NOT be discouraged. Do NOT be afraid. I AM with you.” Even when your knees are shaking and your voice wavers. Even when last time you tried you stumbled. Even when you’ve never tried anything like this before. God is with you. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and take that step forward. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s okay if you’re heart is pounding. God is with you. Be brave.
What three things can you do this week to bravely move forward? I’d love to hear.
Last year the music icon, David Bowie died. I loved his music. And his multi-colored eyes. And his song, “Changes”. “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn to face the strange.” Our lives are always changing. And those changes can seem strange or awesome or unexpected or confusing or exciting or unsettling or just plain unknown. As Heraclitus of Ephesus put it, “The only thing constant is change.”
Does it ring true for you? Do you have any changes in your life right now? Big ones? Small ones? Ones you’ve been planning for? Ones that blindsided you?
With back to school our family’s life is jam packed with change—new teams, new teachers, new classes, new students. There are minor changes, like the 24 emails I’ve received in the last week about my kids’ soccer teams. Twenty-four! Each and every one detailed some change. We have a joyous change—our youngest just outgrew his peanut allergy (praise Jesus!). If you read last week’s blog, you know we just dropped our oldest off at college. That is a major life changer. I’m still a bit weepy, so I won’t dwell on it, but at least we had eighteen years to prepare for it.
But part of that predicted change took us by surprise. Like the fact that the week before we took Maddie to college:
1. One of her three roommates decided not to come to school this year and
2. Maddie’s college soccer coach resigned.
We didn’t see those coming.
But you know what? God did. God has never once been blindsided. God has known for ages where Maddie would go to school. He knew exactly why the one roommate needed to wait a year. God knew the coaching staff was going to change. Sometimes the need for change is immediately obvious to us. Some things we may never figure out. But we don’t need to. Not if we stay true to who we are and trust that God has promised to be on our side. Because whatever’s going on, He’s got it.
So the roommate thing? I don’t know why it shook down like it did, but I do know my daughter and her other roommate stayed true to their plan, they went ahead and moved in. Now the two of them share a ginormous dorm room designed for three or four girls. I don’t know the details about the coach, but it sounds like she had a fantastic opportunity that was important for her to take. And all the girls on the team, Maddie included, who showed up to the first meeting and to practice, they still get to play college soccer. And…the new coach is fantastic!
Our family is in the midst of some other transitions, too. We understand why we’re here, but we don’t yet quite understand how it’s all going to play out. On many levels we don’t know what this shift looks like yet. But God does. And He’s working in and through it. Our family plans to stick together, put in our best effort, stay true to our identity and trust God with the rest. Whatever is changing in your life, God is working in and through it, too.
Most of the time I can accept change. I remind myself, “God must have a reason.” But then I stumble, “What is the reason? When will I know the reason? If this door is closed or that door is opened, how is God going to guide me next? What does this new path look like?”
I want to know. Oh, how very desperately I want to know. But I don’t have to know.
Because Heraclitus of Ephesus was wrong. The only thing constant is Jesus. And even though everything else changes. God does not. Not ever. I can cling to that. So can you.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
That means Jesus is never going away (Revelation 1:8). He’s never giving up on us. He will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He will always love us (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus is always working things out for good (Romans 8:28). Whew. When I sink into those truths, changes are not only okay, but the question marks are okay, too. There is excitement in the fact that God is on the move, even if I have no idea how or what that looks like. Because Jesus doesn’t change, He is the one thing we can count on. Always.
So here we go, folks. I don’t know what changes are staring you down as you read this, or which ones will surprise you next week or next month. But I do know when those changes come, we don’t have to face them by ourselves. We can stand strong in who God created us to be. God will be the constant we can cling to. The rock that is Jesus is unmoving.
Laura L. Smith