I was having coffee with my friend, Beth, trying to get caught up on all of the things. She asked, “So, what kinds of New Year’s resolutions did you make?”
I looked her straight in they eye, defied society and said, “I didn’t make any.”
“No way,” she replied. “You seem like such the type.”
I am such the type. Beth knows me well.
I am a girl of lists and schedules. In fact I don’t know anyone who likes to “know the plan” more than I do, or who gets more ruffled when “the plan changes.” In a life where I wear many hats, juggle many schedules, mother four and a half kids (I lovingly refer to my husband as #fifthchild) there is so much to tend to each day and week. So much of it would fall through the cracks if I wasn’t diligent about the family calendar App—figuring out who will get a ride when, where, and with who.
But this great quality of mine, this one of making sure things get done—that my husband and I take time to date, that my writing assignment is turned in, that the forms are signed and submitted, is also a coping mechanism that can become a problem. They say our best trait is often our worst trait. See, when I feel like things are out of control, I have a quick fix for that. I can plan, and in doing so, control all of the hourglasses, clocks, and timers, or so I pretend.
My second semester of college was a time when things felt out of my control. I had pledged a sorority. My roommate had not. Instead she got super involved in a great student org. All of our plans to be besties and do everything together got fragmented by my obligations and her obligations and all the places they did NOT overlap. My high school boyfriend and I decided to “see other people.” All of our plans to live happily ever after evaporated. The novelty of college had rubbed off. Classes were hard. New friendships were hard. I felt I had no control over the events and circumstances around me. In attempts to cope with the unknown I started scheduling my days—writing out the hourly details on a piece of skinny paper and clipping it to my planner—so I could “control” the big picture and the details. Not like, oh tomorrow I’ll study at the library in the evening. But like freaky, insane girl:
8:00-8:30 eat breakfast
8:30-8:45 room, grab books, walk to class
10:00 stop by sorority, hang out with girls
11:00 write letters to Little Sis and Bridget
12:00 eat lunch
12:45 Change for aerobics.
1:00 aerobics …for every freaking half hour and hour mark of the day.
I stuck to it like glue. Oh, that’s not the time I had scheduled to visit with friends, too bad, guess I won’t visit with them. Oh, I don’t have that much homework tonight. I still scheduled three hours to study, so I’ll stay at the library and read ahead, go over the notes again. All the showers are taken. Guess I’ll stand here in the gross dorm bathroom until someone gets out, because this is the time I’d scheduled to shower. Give me a rule, even one I wrote for myself, and I’ll keep it. It’s amazing I advanced to sophomore year without being put in the nuthouse.
Planning is great. And I applaud everyone with resolutions, goals, lists for the New Year. My problem is, if I make a resolution I’ll be so sickly strict about it. Walk 15 miles each week? Come Saturday night I’ll be walking circles in my kitchen instead of snuggled on the couch with my kids watching a great movie, because I need to hit that goal. Read three books a month? No one might hear from me the 28th through 30th. All phone calls and coffee dates canceled, because people, I have a goal to meet. Spend 15 minutes with Jesus at lunchtime everyday? God could be telling me something super important, but oh, look at the time, fifteen minutes is up. Next.
I can’t stand it, but I’m a legalist. This kills me, because Jesus warned us not to be. He got on the Pharisees every single day about being so uptight about rule following. I took ballet my entire growing up years where we pointed our toes constantly. Not surprisingly being flex comes hard for me.
There is zero wrong with having a plan, setting goals, chasing dreams. These are all amazing things; fabulous ways to make great use of the time God has given us. And I do have some dreams and goals for the year. I’m just not writing them down or saying them out loud. Instead I’m talking every day to Jesus about them. Okay, see, I can’t do that, because if let’s say, next Wednesday I focus all of my prayer time on one of my kids I’ll feel like I slipped on the every-day-dream-and-goal-prayer. Let’s try again. I’m talking to Jesus about my dreams and goals this year. Lots. Often. Also, I’m asking Him how I can use my time to glorify Him, asking Him what inputs I should tackle, trusting Him with the outputs. Living expectantly of what He’ll do. At least this is my aim.
When we live strictly within the confines of our calendars and to-do lists and even resolutions there is mock safety of having a plan, a false sense of security that we have everything under control. We don’t. We can be so constricted and unavailable to the miracles Jesus can work when we plan it all out. If we instead focus on Him, we’ll be blown away! His plans and ideas are always so much more fantastic than anything we could think up or plan on our own.
God told Moses to spread his arms over the Red Sea and it would part (Exodus 14:16). Probably not in Moses’ planner for the day. But Moses spread out his arms, and that Sea split in two, allowing the Israelites to escape Pharaoh and his powerful army.
Jesus told the disciples who had put in an incredibly long work day, who felt like they were banging their heads against the wall, catching zero fish for hours on end, wives waiting at home, muscles aching, sweat dripping in their eyes, to cast out their nets one more time. After the whistle had blown. After they were spent. But the disciples listened to Jesus, went off the plan, and voila, their nets were bursting with fish (Luke 5).
I have no idea what Jesus has in store for my life this year or for yours. Because walking on dry land through a sea and catching netfulls of fish where there were none is beyond my brainstorming or even wildest dreams. This is the whole point. God’s ways are phenomenal, unpredictable and take-our-breath-away fantastic.
Some of you may need goals and plans and lists or else nothing will ever get accomplished. Super. Some of you may have resolutions, because there are bad habits that need to be kicked, and healthier plans that need to step in to gear. I applaud you. For you, resolutions might be the impetus to get started, try again, think bigger, get focused. Bravo! You, go! I’m excited for and proud of you for focusing on bigger and better things. But for me, I know I end up using these good things as a means for me to attempt to control things. My resolutions end up controlling me. I don’t want them to, because God is actually the one in control, and I long to hand it all over to Him.
I plan on talking to Jesus tons this year, leaning into His truths, and His ways. Will you join me? I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
This fall I started teaching a new Bible study, at a new place, with a group of women I’d never met before. I had a case of first-day-of-school excitement and nervousness so real I wondered if I should buy myself a new lunchbox and glue stick.
To prepare for the first session I:
Five minutes later a squirrel was running around the church. No lie. A squirrel! The pastor, who I’m sure was impressed with the new girl they picked to lead Bible study, and I scurried around for several minutes eventually shooing the little guy out.
The DVD player worked. We drank coffee. The ladies were awesome. When it was over, everyone left except one girl who helped me make sure the doors were locked and the alarm was set. I hopped in my car, checked my messages, and started to back out. Only, there was another woman coming out of the church with her littles. A woman who I thought had already left, but apparently was changing someone’s diaper. A woman who I had locked in the church. When she opened the door, yup, you guessed it, the alarm went off.
I had to call the pastor and beg him to drive back to the church to turn off the alarm system before the cops came (as if I hadn’t already dazzled him with my competency). But I got this great opportunity to get to know both the girl I locked out and the girl who helped me. I hadn’t known their names two hours prior, and now we stood in the parking lot chatting and laughing with the alarm blaring in the background.
The next week I arrived early. Only through a miscommunication of mine, the church was locked. And I didn’t have a key. There were a dozen women, many with toddlers, two babysitters, a locked church and me. I was rocking this new gig. But you know what? It was also a stunningly gorgeous autumn day. And picnic tables had been set up in front of the church. Tables that aren’t always there, but today were. And the church has a fantastic toddler-safe playground. I sent the kids with the sitters to play on the playground and the ladies and I set up shop at those picnic tables. We had such meaningful conversation.
The third week all of the gourmet chocolates I’d stashed in my bag to put out for the girls had melted into one gooey glob. Guess what? Bible study that day? Still grand.
Moral of the story? No matter how much I prepared, I could not secure the outcome of Bible Study. No matter how much I prepare for anything I can’t control the outcomes. Just the inputs. I can’t. You can’t. We aren’t supposed to. We weren’t meant to. And even if we think we can or try our hardest or prepare in all of the best ways we know how, we aren’t in control. But thankfully, God is.
Yes, since I agreed to lead this group I should come prepared. That’s a common courtesy. But I also need to accept that I’m not in control of “how well Bible study goes” or what women get out of it, or what these awesome ladies learn. God is.
When we do our jobs, care for our family, serve our organizations, teams, or churches, parent our kids, love our spouses, we should do our best. We should prepare, because that’s kind and respectful and caring. Because we would want others to do the same for us. Because Jesus loves us so perfectly. But in the end, the outcomes are in God’s hands.
If you have a tryout or an audition, play your hardest, strive to hit the high notes, work on memorizing your lines. If you have an assignment, read the material, think through it well, answer to the best of your ability. If you’re planning a party, buy and/or cook yummy food, check to make sure you have napkins and cups. If you have a deadline, arrange your schedule to allow enough time to get the work done. But don’t forget to pray over it. Put your work and your efforts, which on any given day could be stellar or less than stellar, in the hands of the Almighty who is always spot on and eternally at His best. And then trust Him.
How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? —Galatians 3:2 MSG
Last week during the video for Bible study, Jennie Allen said something like this (I’m paraphrasing, because when I take notes, I quote what I like and emphasize what I feel God is trying to tell me—so this is what I jotted down), “This has never been about my competency. It’s only about my love for Jesus and His love for me.”
No matter what you’re working at today know that, absolutely, you should give it your best. Because God made you. Because He’s given you this opportunity. Because He’s gifted you in ways to serve Him through this. Do the things you know how to do—the things you can control. Prepare in the ways you know how to prepare. But remember, it is not about your competency. It never was. It’s about your love for Jesus and His love for you. So, whisper a prayer over the situation—your interview, upcoming move, surgery, or evaluation. Then trust our God who is greater, who knows exactly what we need before we ever ask, who loves us, and is fighting for us, and is on our side. Trust the God who has more than everything we could ever need to accomplish what needs to be done. When we come to the end of ourselves we find God there waiting to complete the good work He has begun in us.
When it’s all said and done, don’t forget to marvel at what He does with our meager offerings—squirrels, alarms, melted chocolates. He takes these things and turns them into friendships, abundance and grace. This is what Jesus offers. Do your best today, but don’t worry about your competency. Instead focus on His love.
Put out your hands. Imagine something you adore is in those hands—beautiful, delicate shells you’ve gathered on the beach or maybe sweet, colorful M&M’s. Now close one hand into a fist. And leave the other one palm up and open.
With your closed hand, you’ll ensure you get to keep your treasure. No one can take it. It can’t get knocked out. But you know what? If someone spots a perfect purple scallop or finds twelve more candies in the bottom of the bag, they can’t give them to you. They can’t permeate your clinched fingers. Now imagine not shells or M&M’s but God’s blessings in your palms. Do you want to keep your hands open to what He puts in or takes out. Or do you want to hold tight to what you know and to what you want to keep?*
Because this is life, isn’t it? We want to hold on tightly to the things that are important to us—our jobs, our money, our time, our homes, our space, our family. We want to be able to control it and keep it and have it available for when we need it. We’re fearful the things we hold dear will get knocked out of our grip. But when we clutch too tightly, we risk never seeing what it would be like if something was added. We also have it backwards. Because all those things that are “ours” are actually His. We wouldn’t have any of them without God. God is the giver of all. If we have a roof over our heads, someone to hug, air in our lungs, a meal in front of us, it is because God is good, and He has showered us with gifts.
We love these gifts God gives us. And then we beg God to let us keep what we love. But do we ask Jesus what He thinks would be best now, in this stage of life, in this time and place? If we could be doing more for His kingdom if we let go a little bit of that and maybe added a pinch of that?
I’m learning that the letting go is when we actually fly. When you get the nerve to walk to the edge of the diving board, and not clutch it with your toes, but release yourself into the air, you feel the freedom of flying and then the thrill of plunging into cool water. Could you do a belly smack? Sure. Is it possible you’ll get water up your nose. Very. But are those things worth the exhilaration of the moment you’re in the air, and the one after that when you’re under water? Absolutely.
The day this blog goes live is the day I take my oldest daughter to college. Talk about having to learn to let go. Yikes! But there is such beauty in an open handed approach. For 18 years I’ve held my daughter in my hand. I’ve loosened my grip a little bit with each passing year—from sending her off to preschool, to letting her go on her first sleepover away from home, to later handing her a phone and then car keys, and now this…
And with each letting go there is uneasiness, uncertainty. How will it go? Will she have fun? Will she be safe? Will she be nervous? All legit questions. But the better ones are these: Who will she meet? What will she learn? How will she grow? What will she discover? Because it is in the opening of our hands, that God can clean out the things inhibiting us, stifling us, keeping us back, or maybe even hurting us to make room for Him to pour in His blessings.
Right now as I type this I hear the squeaky peep cheep of baby birds. One of our screens is ripped at the corner. It looks like a little flap. A mama bird has snuck under that flap and built the safest nest possible for her babies. Their nest rests in the corner of a windowsill with its very own door. Can you believe God? He had those babies hatch right as I’m packing up my baby girl. And today? They're learning how to fly! I get to observe first hand the beauty and glory of those fledglings learning how to flap their tiny wings and leave their nest. How sweet and personal is our God? Why would I ever question the way He does anything?
It is in the letting go that we learn to experience the thrill and pure joy of flying—whether that’s our own flight, or the soaring of something we’ve created, something we’ve built, or someone we love. It is in the letting go, that God can fill up our hands, hearts and lives with unexpected blessings. And then, with His help, we can soar.
*thanks to my friend, Diane, who shared with me a sermon she heard on living open handed for God that helped inspire this post
There was a strange banging and clanking sound coming from our laundry room. I carefully cracked open the door, concerned about what I would see. There was our washing machine spinning uncontrollably, doing the Macarena back and forth to an invisible band. Apparently we own the Samsung model known for exploding. This was not good. At all.
There is something strangely comforting to me about putting a heap of smelly clothes into a machine, and later pulling out a soft, warm, gentle smelling pile. I also oddly find satisfaction in folding the mound into neat, squarish shapes and lining up the clothes in organized bins. Sounds weird, but it’s a tangible reward of turning something disorderly and dirty into something appreciated and useful.
But chaos and not being able to have things as I think they should be, not being able to control them? Not my strong suit. At all. Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that’s spinning out of control? How do you feel about it?
For me, this trivial thing, this silly thing, a broken washing machine, made me feel unbalanced, just like our rocking washer. I couldn’t stop our family from wearing clothes, from sweating in them, or from using towels (believe me, I still wanted them to shower). Not only was our machine out of control, but now the heap of dirty laundry became a separate uncontrollable monster. Kids kept asking, “When will it be fixed?” “When will we get a new washer?”
“I’m working on it,” I replied. I’m really trying, I thought. But even for all the calls, repairmen, forms filled out, web searching and ordering I was stuck, waiting on others. This something I’m supposed to do and couldn’t do, made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up to the invisible mom/wife measuring stick that I’ve created for myself. Which is silly.
It happens to all of us. When meetings get cancelled, kids have temper tantrums, schedules are packed to overflowing, expenses pile up, someone we love is sick, but we don’t have the cure in our Band-Aid box or on the shelf next to the Advil? These things out of our control can make us feel frustrated and helpless. Somewhere along the way we may feel less than, because of something that has nothing to do with us. It’s such a blurring of our true reflections. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He thinks we’re pretty awesome just like we are, even when we’re not in control. Honest.
We don’t need to be in control. In fact we never were.
How’s that for good news?
God is in control. Of everything.
God is in control of the giant things like keeping the earth on its axis and tiny things like equipping ants with antennae so they can communicate with little built in headsets. If He can do all of that, God can certainly take care of anything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done.
It’s not all up to us. It never was. It never will be.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes we don’t’ know what to do, others we can’t do the work we know we’re supposed to do, because of circumstances. But there’s always something we can do—try to reschedule the meeting, offer a cuddle to the disgruntled child, figure out the exact item we’ll buy when the money is available, visit the friend who is sick, and most importantly—talk to God about it. Pray. Then we can trust God with the rest.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. —Philippians 4:6-7
We got a new washer yesterday. I’m back in business. Nine loads (giant loads, mind you), down, several more to go. I already feel better. But I’m certain there will be more things, more intense things, that feel like they’re spinning out of control. But I have hope. You do too, that we don’t need to worry. It doesn’t’ all depend on us (praise Jesus). Out of our control never ever means out of control. We can always count on God, turn everything over to Him. And He truly will take care of all our needs.
Thunderstorms were predicted all day, but I wanted to go for a walk. I checked the weather for the time with the lowest percentage chance of rain (35% at 8:00 AM). Around eight I peeked outside—not currently raining. This was my chance. I darted out the door and took a lovely walk on a pleasantly warm February morning without the slightest sprinkle. It doesn’t always work that way—thus me selecting my jacket with a hood and carrying an umbrella just in case—but without a plan, without a strategy it’s even harder to avoid the rain.
And just like I have to plan and strategize to avoid rain, I have to plan and strategize how to avoid social comparisons. Because they’re everywhere, and just like thunderstorms we can’t avoid all of them, but we can plan around them, and protect ourselves against them.
What does that look like? For all of us it looks different, because we all have different comparisons that plague us.
There was a season a couple of years back when I had a book series release with a new imprint. It was crazy, awesome, exciting and exhausting. All of the authors were encouraged by our agents and our imprint to constantly be checking sales numbers. We ran a giveaway…did it increase sales? We held a Twitter party…how did that impact sales? Our books were featured on a blog hop…which books’ sales spiked on which days? And, I hate to admit, it wasn’t just the agents and publisher who got addicted to checking our sales numbers, I did too. And it was toxic. Because some days I would feel good about my writing, other days I would feel bad about my writing, and some days I would compare my writing to the other authors who I totally adored. Ick. Ick. And double ick.
Because my writing has nothing to do with sales numbers and everything to do with Jesus. He is the one who gave me words, stories, ideas and opportunities. Jesus calls me to write, and so I write. I try and do my best. I turn over the rest to Him. And He will put the words and stories He gives me into the hands and hearts He needs them to be in. Whether one book was meant to touch just one person’s life in a profound way, or thousands of lives in small ways, He knows and He’ll make it happen. But that’s none of my business. I’m just called to write. For Him.
So, I stopped. I no longer check sales numbers and rankings. They’re there on Amazon. I can peek at them right now if I want to, but I don’t want to. The only time I look is if I’m required to report the numbers for a new proposal or for taxes. This is a way I can intentionally avoid social comparisons.
How about you?
Throwing away your scale? Check, I’ve done that, too.
Resisting searching job opportunities when you’re already happy with your job—because it just shows you what everyone else is making, where they’re living, what their supposed job descriptions are.
Where do you tend to compare yourself that you can avoid?
Is there someone you need to unfollow on social media, because every time you see their posts you get a little jealous, or feel a little smaller? Is there a person you need to hang out with less, because every time you’re with them you wish you were more like them, or because they make you feel inadequate?
We can’t avoid all social comparisons. I’ll go to a meeting and the girl next to me will have the most gorgeous pair of boots, and I’ll second guess my own boots and covet hers. A mom at a basketball game will tell me about how she’s been spending a lot of time on Pinterest and cooking all these new, delicious meals for her family. And I’ll start wishing I had time to go on Pinterest, let alone cook new, delicious meals for my family, and end up feeling guilty that I don’t. When these things come up, there’s no way to avoid them, but we can protect ourselves against them. We need to put on our virtual hoods and put up our spiritual umbrellas. We need to go back to reminding ourselves who we are—that we are loved by God. That He doesn’t care about our boots or bruschetta. We need to take Paul’s words to the Corinthians to heart:
We are each given specific gifts and talents and situations by God to glorify God. We’re not supposed to have the same sales numbers, job description, family room or menu as anyone else. We’re supposed to rock what we’ve got, and rock it for God’s glory.
So when we can avoid comparisons, lets do it.
For all of us it’s different. But the storms of social comparisons will come. Let’s be intentional about sidestepping the storms when possible, and arming ourselves with the umbrella of truth that we were created to inspire awe so we can stay relatively dry when the rains starts falling.
I act entitled. All. Of. The. Time.
I am so not proud of this fact, but it is true.
For example, I “need” Starbucks daily or I get cranky. I literally plan out my morning on how and when I’m going to get it. Even if it makes me late. Even if it’s inconvenient. I also “need” a handful of chocolate chips after lunch and dinner. Only dark chocolate will do. Preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Of course, other chocolate makes a great substitute—brownies, chocolate cake, etc. And if they’re not available, I feel a little off kilter, a little growly. Do I sound like a crack addict? Yikes! I also feel completely entitled to buy that funky bracelet and that adorable dress, I mean they’re on sale, and did I mention how cute they are?
What do you "need"? That bottle of nail polish? A bottle of wine? To run another lap? Watch just one more episode of Friends? Read another chapter? Check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram real quick? A certain brand of athletic shorts or yoga pants?
I’ve been semi-aware of this behavior, but not really concerned, because lots of other people like Starbucks and chocolate and shopping, too. Right? But recently, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I was truly convicted. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chocolate or Starbucks or great fashion finds, thank goodness. These are all gifts from God to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there is something wrong when I feel I deserve those things—that I need them.
So, to get myself back in line, I went on a strange sort of fast for the month of January. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, given up something for Lent, or fasted in any other kind of way, we’re kindred spirits. This wasn’t about eating less; this was about being less entitled, more appreciative, more aware of how God has already taken care of all my needs. I decided I would take on three areas.
First, I ate only the following foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and seafood. Which I really didn’t think would be a big deal considering I eat oatmeal almost every morning, followed by lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, and I don’t eat red meat. But do you see the glaring omission of chocolate? Still. I thought this would be easy peasy. Until Day Two of the fast when after a Saturday jam-packed with kids’ basketball games and birthday parties all over Southwest Ohio, we tumbled back home around 6:00 PM and my husband, Brett, suggested we order pizza. It sounded heavenly. All I wanted to do was put on my jams, eat pizza, and curl up with the kids and watch a movie.
But that whole grain thing reared its head. I Googled our local pizza chain, and lo and behold they had a whole-wheat crust. Who knew? I’d never been so happy to see a whole grain. So I ordered my own little personal whole-wheat pie with spinach and tomatoes. And I was extremely grateful for it. Surprisingly, even when my daughter ate our favorite deep dish in front of me, I wasn’t envious. I was just so thankful I had the option to eat pizza.
Second, I gave up Starbucks. Yep. Cold turkey. And me, and my Keurig and my Nespresso (I told you I was entitled) spent a lot of time together in January. I successfully used up a multitude of various brands and flavors of coffee pods I’d stashed in the house without having to purchase a single one. My son, Max, is an amazing barista, and made me some delicious mochas and lattes with the Nespresso. On the two coffee dates I'd scheduled, I suggested the local coffee shop, Kofenya, which is amazing, and savored every drop of the java they brewed me. Note to self, I can get better about buying local. Yes, there were Monday mornings when I missed Starbucks like crazy. But every morning, honestly, I was so grateful for coffee—for it’s warmth, and aroma, and flavor, and yeah, the caffeine. And as I sipped my home brew, I thanked Jesus for being the ultimate waker-upper, my perfect source of energy.
Third, I gave up shopping. I only allowed myself to buy food, beverages and household basics (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, shampoo--the boring stuff). We went on our annual family field trip to the mall to exchange ill-fitting Christmas gifts, and I exchanged both my yoga pants and jeans for better sizes. But contrary to tradition, I did not buy a single amazing, spectacular January clearance item. Not the Gap t-shirts for only $4, because I always need another black t-shirt, and another white one. Not that really cute top in the window of Francesca’s that was 70% off. Not even the socks at American Eagle, which they were virtually giving away. And although it took great restraint to not take any of those steals to the register, I came home feeling lighter. My closet is already packed. I didn’t need any of those items. I actually saved myself from having to root through more clothes to find “the right” items later. It felt oddly good. For the rest of the month I deleted every single email from a retailer wooing me with their “biggest ever” clearance events and steered clear of Target, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, because why tempt myself like that? And each time I had the urge to just click on that message, browse that website, pop into that boutique, I tried to remember to thank Jesus for His ultimate coverage, for being more fulfilling than a shopping buzz.
Was I perfect on my fast? No way. You want the dirt? Here’s just a sample.
There was the time Brett brought me home a gorgeous single serving carrot cake from Panera. “It’s whole grain,” he told me.
I looked at him.
“It is,” he said. “I asked them.”
He was clearly lying. But he also went out of his way to go inside a Panera, order me a treat mid-way through my fast, even one that contained a vegetable, and looked brown, like whole grains tend to. I savored every morsel, appreciating his gesture of love and that miracle of a cake. I enjoyed half of it that day, and saved the other half for the next day, instead of gorging it down in one swallow, or thinking, “gee, I wish this was a brownie.” It was so phenomenally delicious. I was learning from this fast—when I don’t expect a dessert or feel like I’m entitled to one, I can appreciate the ones I get so much more fully.
A similar thing happened while in Texas. My sweetheart of a host took me out to lunch at an adorable spot called Nostalgia. “The best part of this place,” she smiled, “are the desserts. They come with your lunch.” I inwardly panicked. I didn’t want to break my fast. I’d been so good. But the thing I was learning most from fasting was being grateful for what I had. Being grateful for a store brand dark roast pod in my Keurig, because it was coffee, and I had the pleasure of drinking it. Being grateful for fresh fruits and organic Greek yogurt, because they are delicious and sweet and good for me, and because I always have food on my table and in my stomach. And, so, I made the game time decision to be grateful here too. The Hummingbird Cake contained pineapple and bananas, leaning itself towards the fruit category. Each and every bite of this cake I’d never even heard of before was delicious. And don’t get me started on the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. On this day, I was so grateful (after over 20 days of no desserts, well except the carrot cake) for a dessert. And yes, I ate peach cobbler with my same lovely friend that night, because, well, when in Texas.
There was the time when my mom made stuffed peppers with white rice. Agh! White rice isn’t a whole grain. Some of you are thinking I’m totally nuts here, but I am such a rule follower (too much of a rule keeper, too stringent, too much of the time). Add that with entitlement to my list of many flaws. Only brown rice counted on my self-induced fast. But this fast was all about being more appreciative. And not valuing a home-cooked meal from Mom, well that’s plain ridiculous. So, I counted every delicious bite, every grain of rice as sheer gift.
There was also the time, when I bought myself a sweatshirt. I wrestled with the idea. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to buy myself anything. I hadn’t even bought my kiddos anything this month. Not one cute notepad or t-shirt. But this sweatshirt helped fund the amazing event I was speaking at, Project Beautiful, bringing hundreds of girls together to remind them of their true beauty. And it reads, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made across it’s soft, cozy self. These words are what I long to share with everyone I meet—that they were created by God to inspire awe, that He created them wonderfully. And so, the decision to purchase was intentional, not entitled, and felt very right.
By the third time we’d ordered pizza in January, Brett finally ventured to try a bite of mine. Our whole family was gathered around the dinner table swapping stories and laughing when Brett exclaimed, “This..really is…very bad!” and spit out his bite. Which of course led to hysterics. My girls were curious, so they tried it too, only to prod, “How can you eat that, Mom?” “It is really gross! You don’t like it do you?”
And it was strange. I was so grateful each time we ordered pizza that I didn’t have to make another run to the grocery in the bitter January air, think about “what was for dinner,” cook, or clean, that I’d never considered the subpar flavor. All I had to do was hang out with my family and eat pizza. And that tasted pretty good to me.
My fast is officially over. I’m interested to see how it will change me. If I will be less entitled, more grateful, more giving. I pray I will be. I also pray I'll turn to Jesus more--for me to turn to my worldly fixes to fill my voids less. Because Jesus is sweeter than chocolate, more revitalizing than caffeine, and quite frankly, as my friend Holly Starr sings, He's "Everything I Need". Because when I decide that I “need” this and I “need” that, I’m truly not the best version of myself. But when I am grateful for the food I have, the roof over my head, the clothes in my closet, my loving family, well then, I can see my true reflection much more clearly.
How about you? Anything you “need” on a daily basis? Have you ever fasted before? How did it work for you? Let me know in the Comments below.
With the new school year, comes a sense of order and routine after the free-flowing days of summer. And each fall, I feel I am expected to be a bit more in control—more in control of what I say, what I wear, how I organize my time, how I manage my money, how I act in public. Being in control most of the time is a very good thing. We shouldn’t shout in libraries, spend more than we make, wear our swimsuits to the office, etc. But sometimes, it’s a very, very good thing to revert, and to let go.
When was the last time you pulled out a box of crayons and drew an imaginary animal or a purple sun? When was the last time you jumped off the diving board or spun someone around in circles in the pool? When was the last time you let out a whoop of excitement in public?
How did it feel? Freeing? Refreshing? Revitalizing?
This summer I took a Zumba class for the first time. Zumba defies letting go of control. I grew up dancing—ballet, high school dance team, and out and out jamming to R.E.M. and New Order at clubs and college parties. But grown women aren’t supposed to shake their hips, do the snake, or wiggle their behinds. Unless, apparently, they’re doing Zumba. The first couple of classes I was like a robot, learning the steps and memorizing the combinations. Somewhere during the third class, I realized when I stopped focusing so hard on getting the footwork right, I could feel the beat, find my groove, and actually do the routines better. But I had to convince myself that it is, after all, okay for a grown woman to shake it (at least in Zumba class). And when I did, it WAS SO MUCH FUN!
Sometimes we need to shake things up to find our groove, do our routines better and experience life more fully. One area I fear I might try to control too much is my faith walk. I go to this church, at this time. I read “this much” of the Bible each morning. I do Bible study on Wednesdays, and do the homework for it at lunchtime when my kids are at school to refocus midday. Which is all great. Because it keeps me in step with God. It keeps me faithful. But what if I redefined walking with Jesus as dancing with Him? What if I let Him spin me and dip me, always trusting Him to catch me, and twirl me back to Him?
What if I shook it up a bit?
What if you did too?
So, I’m challenging myself, and you, to shake up your dance with Jesus this school year. Try a new service, a new station, a new podcast, listen to a different preacher, read a new book, join a new group, pray outside (or inside if you’re usually an outdoor girl), write with a crazy-colored pen in your journal.
Go for a hayride. Eat a caramel apple and don’t worry about the mess. Rake a pile of leaves and then pounce in it. I can’t wait to hear how all of you shake up your school years!
To get your shake-up started, I’m offering my book, It’s Complicated, which just so happens to revolve around four college roommates as they go back to school, for FREE through the end of September. Share with your friends. Click here to download now.
SHAKE UP YOUR GROUP
I’d also love to shake up things in your group by coming to speak to you about how beautiful and beloved you are, because you are made in Christ’s image. Click here to find out more about my speaking. And just message back if you'd like to book a date.
It started out as rain, but as we drove down the winding farmland roads we saw a flash and then felt the tremor of thunder even before we heard it. A summer storm. I flipped my wipers from medium to high, slowing my speed, taking my time. I’m not that strong a driver, so I turned down the radio and chatted lightly with my daughter in the back seat, trying to downplay how tense I was driving in the storm, while straining to maintain focus on my steering.
The winds picked up and there was so much water it was hard to imagine it coming down any harder, until it did. The metallic scent of rain leaked in through miniscule cracks between the windows and their seals.
Then plunk, plunk, the hailstones bounced off our windshield, and our roof, and our trunk. They clattered like a steel drum band, only I didn’t feel like dancing. No, I wanted to be home. I wanted to be cozy in my family room with a vanilla candle burning, but I wasn’t. And it wasn’t safe to drive. And I had precious cargo in the back seat, still chatting away about her soccer practice. I couldn’t go another mile on my own, and I knew it.
So, I pulled over into the park at the side of the road, not under a tree, in case it blew over or lost a branch, but in the middle of the parking lot. The hail still pelted against my SUV and the rain was so torrential we couldn’t see out our windows.
“I’m just going to pull over for a minute and see if the storm settles a bit. I’m going to settle myself a bit too, before we drive on home,” I announced.
“You can stay here as long as you need to, Mom.” Words of wisdom from an eleven-year old.
What’s going on in your life?
Any storms blowing your way?
Maybe it’s just light rain now, or maybe you’re deeper in. Maybe you’ve got a full on thunderstorm rocking your car and hail threatening to crack your windshield.
Because life isn’t perfect. God doesn’t promise that it will be perfect. But He does promise that He’ll stay with you.
And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age." Matthew 28:20
But Jesus can’t stay with you, if you don’t let Him. If you keep going, if you don’t pause to rest, to catch your breath, to regain your calm. If you keep driving into the storm, the storm will shake you. It’s never too late. You can pull over now and now, and yup, there’s still a chance. Pull over now!
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, it’s like we’re in a race to get to the next destination, even if it’s killing us to do so. Veer to the berm, find a safe spot, and pull over. Inhale Jesus’ love and His grace, His strength and His peace, which is way more fulfilling and satisfying and soothing than anything the world can give you. And when you’re ready, you can start your engine again. There’s no need to fear, because He is with you. All the way.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
What are your little addictions?
Some of mine include: Starbucks, music, nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers), exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it), my phone (sad but true).
What are some of yours?
Maybe your addiction list includes; nachos, getting all A’s, your job, the beach, your sport/instrument/club/activity, Instagram, your best friend, a TV show, fashion, your boy friend…
Our lists could go on and on of the fun little interests, innocent cravings and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But when does a passion or interest become an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern day idols?
WHEN WE OVERDESIRE THEM.
See, it’s not the desiring that’s a problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on. He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him.
But when our little addictions conflict with or create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our “addiction” becomes more important than God, when we OVERDESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.
How do I mean?
I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is an over desire. This is a problem.
Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan adventures or weekends together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you, so you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.
See the pattern? So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little every day desires from becoming something we obsess over?
First, ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. But truly our entire identity, all of our affirmation should come from Christ who created us.
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Gal 5:26 MSG
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
When I have a morning where going to Starbucks will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress as I try to squeeze it into a tight schedule, I can pray, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink you in this day, and feel you working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.
When your boyfriend or friend wants you to do something that compromises your values -- whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment, and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”
And then read Bible verses (better yet, memorize a few) that will remind you of these things, that Jesus is enough. That in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.
Here are some that help me:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ~Psalm 139:14
God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:4
It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless ~1 Corinthians 4:3
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
My characters in my new novel, It’s Addicting, encounter these very types of addictions -- the fun things that seem innocent enough. Follow college roommates Kat, Claire, Hannah and Palmer as they learn, explore, grow, discover and sometimes fall prey to their over desires in this third installment of the Status Updates series.
What about you? Have any addictions you'd like to share?
I’m on spring break in the mountains of North Carolina, and it’s gorgeous. Well, the mountains are spectacular. The weather? Not so much. Forty-four degrees and cloudy isn’t ideal for hiking and cookouts, but our family certainly isn’t going to let a few clouds stop us. So, today, we’re at the indoor pool, swimming and splashing while it rains outside.
At the edge of the indoor pool sits a hot tub, so close to the edge of the pool you can reach out and touch it. Directly above the hot tub is a sign that reads MUST BE 16 OR OLDER TO ENTER HOT TUB.
There are three children, clearly under sixteen, I’m pretty sure under the age of six, whose bodies are in the pool, but they’re dangling their arms into the warm, bubbly cauldron of the hot tub. It’s so tempting. I’m sure their bodies are chilled from the damp week, and how can a warm bubble bath possibly harm them?
I know these are just kids in swimsuits, hair slicked back from the water, but I see Eve staring at that shiny, juicy apple hanging from the limb of a tree.
I know. I know. You’re a great swimmer. You take really hot baths at home. You’ll just be in for a minute. Other kids are in there. You saw them. You eat fruit all the time. You’re allowed to eat every other fruit in the entire garden. What could it hurt? This once? You might really learn something, gain something from it. The pretty serpent said so.
Hot tubs lower your blood pressure, and when you’re under sixteen that can equate to throbbing headaches, dizziness, nausea, even passing out. Passing out in water equals bad. And, we all know what happened to Eve when she ate that ripe piece of fruit.
I’ve experienced Spring Break temptations shouting out from every poolside, restaurant, bar, cute boy, beach, street and hotel first hand. And you don’t have to be on spring break to be surrounded by temptations. They’re everywhere. So wherever you’re headed for spring break, or if you’re on a staycation, or if you’re just in your normal daily routine, you will have opportunities today and tomorrow and the day after that to make good and bad choices. They’ll look fun, interesting, safe enough, potentially exhilarating, dare I say tempting, and like they couldn’t possibly hurt you.
But as someone who’s regretfully eaten a couple of pieces of forbidden fruit in my past, I want to let you know, there isn’t a single dangling apple I’ve ever tasted that didn’t give me a terrible “stomachache” not to mention remorse. Rules exist for reasons. We’re not ready to drive until we’re 16 or drink alcohol until we’re 21. There are speed limits and number of people in a room limits and city limits all for good reasons, even when we can’t see what they are.
God is strong and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use, so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Eph 6: 10-11
Look for the signs that say, “warning,” “attention,” “caution”. They aren’t always in print or mounted on walls, but they’re usually pretty visible. Listen to God’s voice. Do your temptations contradict His word, what He’s called you to do? If so, you might want to think twice before you dive in or reach up.
Where are you headed for Spring Break? Do you think you’ll run into any temptations?
Laura L. Smith