I positively love the beautiful little college town we live in. But this summer it has been attacked by the construction army. I cannot turn right out of or park in my neighborhood. One of the three main roads going through our small town has been closed all summer, and the route leading south out of town to where all of our soccer practices take place has been limited to one lane since June.
The crews are frantically trying to finish up. The college students and their parents will arrive in two weeks, and unless roads are open and running they won’t know which way to go.
For me, it’s been slightly inconvenient, but not a huge deal. I’ve had to plan my trips. How to get from here to there? is the question I keep asking myself. And since I’ve lived in Oxford for sixteen years I do know where to go. I know I can go a mile north out of my way, cruise parallel to the road I want to take, head back south a mile and end up on my normal route. I know that even though it’s near impossible to get to one of the houses we carpool with for soccer, there is a parking lot both families can get to as a meeting point. I know this, not because I’m a good driver. I’m not. Not because I have a good sense of direction. I might have the worst. I know this, because I’ve spent enough time here to know my town.
My life is undergoing a little bit of construction too.
How about yours?
My oldest daughter is going off to college. My oldest son is learning to drive. Both of which create all kinds of letting go, releasing, and reacclimating. There’s also some roadwork within our extended family—health issues, relationship problems. We all go through changes, some of them more painful than others. My issues are minor—a lane closure, no edge lines. I’m sure many of you have the same or much worse—barricaded sections of your life, some roads permanently altered, some bridges torn down. I’m sorry times are difficult. Please know I’m praying for you.
So how do we get around when our normal routes are shut down? When we have to change the way we do things or get places? When the roads of life are harder or impossible to travel? Not by ourselves. Because frankly, I’m not wise enough to have all the answers, strong enough to walk through all the hard stuff, or patient enough to get from A to B by myself. But with Jesus, I can do all that. And so can you.
By knowing Jesus so well that even when we have no idea where to turn, we can trust Him to show us which way to go. By knowing how much He loves us and cares for us and walks with us that we know we’re never alone. By knowing how strong and capable He is, how He can literally move mountains or anything else in our life that needs moved. By knowing Jesus is for us, fighting for us, that He wants us to come out safe and sound.
The more I read the Bible, the better I understand what Jesus is capable of, how immense He is, and how much grace He extends. The more time I spend talking with Him, the more I feel the power of His love, the guidance of His hand, the reassurance of His presence. And then all of a sudden, maneuvering through life construction is more manageable.
The construction in Oxford will be winding down soon. Over the next two weeks cones, barricades, and strong workers in orange vests will disappear. The locals will sigh in relief. The students and their families will marvel at the pretty brick streets, the freshly painted lines, and the lovely planters lining the roads. And for a while, driving around here will feel simple. But next summer there will be new projects to make sure our town remains picturesque. I’ll be ready. Because by then, I’ll have had yet another year to learn my way around this place.
And in my life and yours, some things will work themselves out, others will go away. But some will flare up and expand. There will be new bumps and trials we’ll go through and experience. And the better we know Jesus, the better we’ll be able to navigate through all of them.
Pulling out of the small parking lot after consuming the most ridiculous cappuccinos (so large, they were served in bowls) and an incredible brunch at Marche, my dear friend, Amy, and I couldn’t help but notice the head, shoulders and torso of a man emerging from a dumpster. Bedraggled and unshaven, he leaned over and rummaged around the trash searching for…something.
The decadent crêpe I’d just demolished, laced with apricots and dark chocolate, felt heavy in my stomach. My heart felt even heavier in my chest.
“What’s he looking for?” Amy asked, “food?”
“Probably,” I sighed, “so sad.”
“So sad,” she echoed, while clicking on her blinker and turning down the narrow alleyway. I’m not from Nashville, and even if I was, I have no sense of direction, so I allowed my mind to pray for the man while Amy drove. But only for about a minute and a half, because then she pulled into a minimart, shoved her car into park, and shouted to me, as she jumped out of her running car, “Be back in a minute.”
She could have needed Advil or gum; maybe she needed to pick up something for her boys. As promised she was back in in less than sixty seconds with a bag, but it wasn’t full of sundries. It was jammed with food. For the man.
“You’re amazing,” I said to her, as she turned back towards the dumpster.
“He was hungry. I had a couple of dollars,” she said. “It won’t fix anything, but at least he won’t be hungry today.”
When the dumpster came back into view, the man had vacated. But he hadn’t gone far. We spotted him pushing his abandoned grocery cart filled with smashed aluminum cans. Amy rolled down the window, and the man spoke first, “Just collecting my cans,” as if we chatted all the time and he was just giving us an update. Amy handed him the bag, told him to have a great day, and we drove off, just like that. You should have seen the beautiful smile on his weathered face. Amy was wrong. It had fixed something, maybe not his cycle of poverty, or his need for sustainable income, but it had changed his perspective of himself.
For a moment on a Wednesday in October, my friend showed this man his true reflection, not in a mirror, but in a bag of peanuts and crackers. She showed him he was noticed, he was worthy, that he deserved brunch just as much as we did, and that he didn’t deserve to have to rummage through a trash heap to find it or to gather enough cans to finance it. She showed him that somebody cared.
And in showing this man his true reflection, Amy’s true beauty played a beautiful melody throughout Music City, her own beautiful reflection beaming bright.
In one of my favorite childhood shows, Fraggle Rock, the Fraggles sought insight from Marjory the Trash Heap. “I’m orange peels, I’m coffee grounds, I’m wisdom!” she proclaimed.
On this day, I also found unexpected wisdom from a trash heap. I’m not sure if the man was knee deep in orange peels, but I’m pretty sure after experiencing the cappuccinos at Marche that there were coffee grounds. Because my sweet friend Amy could see that this man was a beautiful creation in Christ, she was able to remind him that he was. And in so doing, in offering love, she showed the world what true beauty looks like.
Do you remember Fraggle Rock? Do you remember any of the wisdom from the Trash Heap? Do you know someone whose true reflection shines? Let me know about them. I’d love to highlight them on my blog.
As I drove home at sunset, the ginormous golden orb seemed to be directly in front of me. The light from the sun was so bright, so blinding, I literally couldn’t see where I was driving. I had to slow down to a snail’s pace of 10 MPH on a 45 MPH road. I was grateful no one was behind me, because they would not have been pleased at my pace, but I was also a bit mesmerized by the fact that I could not see the world around me. I was blinded by the light, which was beautiful and intense, yet I was fearful I might hit a deer, a runner, a tractor, or another car.
This was the same sun I see every day, but on steroids. I crave it’s warmth and light, but in this moment it was truly too bright for me to handle. I delight in spectacular sunrises each morning when I drive my kids to school. And from my back porch each evening, breathtaking sunsets gift me with beauty and peace.
I love the sun, but in this moment, it’s light was too intense for little old me, and it was verging on dangerous.
I couldn’t help but think how much the sun is like the Son of God. I embrace His love comforted by His beautiful gifts of inspiration and comfort, His warmth and light throughout the day. But He’s too bright me for me to handle in His entirety right now. In my earthly state, I would be so blinded by His stunning intensity that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill the earthly roles He’s assigned to me of wife, mom, writer, and friend. His holiness is just too unfathomable for a mere human, like me, to be able to comprehend.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
Still, I love those moments of clarity, those flashing bright moments when all I see is Him! When His complete brilliance is revealed in a flash. You know that time when someone gives you a hug and you feel fully loved? Or when you’re singing a song at church and you lose track of where you’re sitting and what you’re wearing and who else is there, because you feel so close to God, that’s all you feel? Or that moment when you’re reading the Bible or doing a Bible study or chatting with a friend about how God is working in your life and you have an epiphany, an “A-ha! That’s how I’m supposed to handle it!” or “That’s why that happened!” I love those snippets in time. I cling to them. Hopefully I learn from them more about myself and my Savior, enough to keep close to Him in the day in and day out. For now those sunrises and sunsets are exactly what I need. But, man, do I look forward to the day when I can absorb His full brightness and glory.
So for now, for this weekend I will savor the bright luster of sunrises and sunsets. The gorgeous glow in the sky and of my Savior’s love. But I will also treasure the fact that these are mere samples of His greatness, and that one day I’ll be ready for His blinding loveliness.
Where in your life have you witnessed flashes of God’s intense brightness?
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
Have you ever seen the musical “State Fair?” The show revolves around a family’s adventures while attending the Iowa State Fair. One of the songs is “Driving At Night”. It’s classic Rogers and Hammerstein.
It was only fitting that when I was traveling home from Iowa, where they do take their State Fair seriously, I would be “driving at night”. For the record, I’m not that strong a driver. Add a delayed flight landing at midnight and some dark country roads, and I’m in trouble. This is one of my weaknesses I am very aware of. So, as I was on my second flight I 1. Closed my eyes, knowing any rest I could get would help me stay awake on my drive home and 2. As I let the hum of the jets lull me, started praying.
I prayed I would stay alert despite being exhausted. I thanked God my flight wasn’t cancelled, because at one point the gate check attendant had speculated it would be. I prayed I would drive safely and be able to see clearly, even though I’m slightly night blind and have zero depth perception. I prayed God would protect me and get me home to my family. An hour later the screech of the wheels signaled our landing and we rolled into our gate.
The airport that late was eerily vacant. I cruised out of the terminal, straight to my car, and onto the well-marked highway. Fantastic start. Fifteen minutes into my drive, construction cones merged the highway into one lane. A road crew was hard at work. Brilliant to do the work at night when there are fewer drivers. Less brilliant if you’re one of those drivers.
The crew was repainting the centerlines of the road, thus cones encroached into the only open lane. It was so tight, I passed piles of cones scattered across the road on three different occasions -- places where other drivers didn’t stay in their confined lane. As I focused on staying between the lines, dazzling lights blinded me. The bright glare from the paint trucks was like someone flashing their brights directly into my eyes. I slowed down and dove back into prayer. I was nervous someone would come flying onto my tail at any second, ticked at my snail pace.
But they didn’t. Not once during the twenty miles of construction did someone tailgate me as I crept along at 40 mph to avoid hitting cones, or worse, the rail. Not once did I hit either of my barriers. Not once did my eyes droop or panic arise.
Instead, I drove mile after mile, spotting my exit, breathing a sigh of relief to be out of the construction zone, but knowing curvy, unlit farm roads awaited me. Still a calm, determinedness filled me. I sat up straight, kept my eyes on the road and prayed.
And God was with me. Clearly. Most of you probably wouldn’t have had any problems. Most of you can probably judge how far things are away from you, don’t mind driving, and aren’t marginalized by driving at night. But I am. I could not have done this alone. But I didn’t have to. I pulled into my garage a little over an hour later, without scratches or anxiety.
Driving at night, despite how catchy the song is, scares the daylights out of me, literally. But God never left my side. He lit my way, and ushered me home safely.
He can do the same for you. So wherever you’re headed this weekend literally or figuratively, know He is right by your side.
Is anyone road tripping for fall break? Any road blocks in your way you can hand over to God?
“What should I wear today?”
So many things factor into my decision -- the weather, my mood, where I’m going or who I’m seeing today. I’ll wear certain clothes for a work out and different clothes for lunch with a friend and a totally different outfit if I’m going out to dinner with my hubby. And even the lunch with a friend outfit, the snappy caz look, totally varies with my mood. Am I feeling funky? Artsy? Classic? Frilly?
I’m such a writer nerd I even dress “in character” sometimes when I’m writing. I might wear cowboy boots and a denim jacket like my character, Claire, or a purple scarf since purple is Hannah’s favorite color. It helps me process how they might act, or what they might say.
But there is another decision I must make each day as well. Not about what I’ll physically wear, but about what I’ll wear spiritually. Will I put on old habits, and persistent worries? Will I slide on a little judgment or buckle on my ego? When I get dressed spiritually will I pull on fear or anxiety or shame? Or will I clothe myself in Christ?
Why should I clothe myself in Christ?
For one thing, if I’m clothed in Christ I am surrounded by him, literally wrapped up in Him, cocooned in Him, enveloped by Him. What beautiful imagery to remember I am loved and protected by my Savior.
Also, if I’m clothed in Christ, then I always have Him with me. I’ll never leave Him on my dresser or in my other purse or in the car if I’m wearing Him. And if I always have Him with me, well, that’s a really good companion to guide me along my journey. The best.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 NIV
And if I’m clothed in Christ, then when others look at me, they’ll see Him. Right? How many times has someone complimented your scarf or your earrings? It’s not because they think you have a stylish neck or gorgeous ears, but others see the things we wear. If we’re supposed to shine Christ’s light, to go out and share the Good News, then why not put on Christ, so others can see Him wherever we go?
The really cool thing about being clothed in Christ is that when I wear Christ, I don’t need anything else. He always fits, is always comfortable, never makes me look fat, matches perfectly and makes me feels good all over.
When I go running I need running shorts and a t-shirt. But I also need to wear running shoes, socks, and a running bra. I also want a ponytail holder and preferably a headband to keep my crazy hair out of my eyes.
But when I wear Christ. I need nothing else. Nothing.
In fact when I add anything to Christ I actually take away from Him. If I think anything I can do will help who I am or harm who I am, I’m wrong. Think about it as zipping up the cutest floral sundress and then topping it with a plaid wool coat. Ick! It ruins the whole thing, takes away from how darling the dress was to begin with. A total Fashion Don’t. That’s what we do when we think we should be seen or viewed or valued as our relationship with Christ plus this achievement or plus that good thing we did or have or made.
Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t’ loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about! Romans 13:14
This all sounds great, as I get ready in the morning. I don’t want anything but Jesus. I read my Bible, jot some thoughts down in my journal, pray too. Hop behind the wheel of my car and crank up Air1. And then it starts, doesn’t it? In line at Starbucks the girl in front of me has her nails painted a beautiful pale pink for spring and her hair is straighter than a ruler.
That girl’s nails are gorgeous. I love that color. I should get that color. I thought I liked the new pink I got, but hers is way prettier and how does she get her hair so straight? Does it take her forever? Probably.
In my car armed with dark roast with a shot of mocha, I successfully grab some groceries, hit the ATM, fill up my tank with gas and return a stack of library books all in a matter of 45 minutes.
I rock. I’m so efficient and organized. I totally multi-tasked, chose out a great route at a quiet time of day to accomplish all of this. I can do it all!
Back home at my computer I find an email holding a rejection to a book proposal I’ve submitted.
They didn’t like my book? Really? Why? Does it stink? Am I not supposed to write this book? Am I not supposed to write at all? Who made this decision anyway? I can’t do it all! Where’s the chocolate?
And an hour after clothing myself in Christ I’ve allowed self talk in my crazy brain to add a scarf of social comparisons, bangle bracelets that clang my praises like a gong and a belt of self doubt and insecurity. I’m only accepting half of His grace. Because when I accept His full grace, I know 100% that I don’t need anything but Him.
I don’t need any of those worldly “accessories”. Jesus set me free! He set you free! When He died on that cross all of our past and shame and sins and shortcomings were nailed to the cross with Him. It doesn’t matter what anyone else wears or has or does. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been as long as where we’re going is with Jesus. What matters now is that we love Him and that He loves us. That’s it.
And when we clothe ourselves in Christ, not only do others see His light shining brightly, but also God looks at us and sees that outfit of Jesus. He sees us at our best, as He created us, pure and radiant, like Jesus.
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. Gal 5:1 NIV
What will you wear today? Don’t be a fashion don’t. Clothe yourself in Christ.
The trickiest moment for me each day is pulling into my garage. Due to some optic issues (three eye surgeries as a child) I have no depth perception. Both sides of the garage seem to be closing in on me, or maybe they’re really far away – impossible to say. After nine years of driving my old car, I’d figured out the angle to head in, the timing of turning my wheel, the exact second to rotate the steering wheel counterclockwise to straighten out. But my trusty Mazda finally gave up, and I got a new one.
After enjoying all the fun new gadgets of a new car for four weeks (like heated seats on a chilly morning and being able to stream all my favorite tunes from my iPod through my speakers) I heard the noise - the sickening, shrill scraping, sound of metal on wood. I felt the pressure of the car against the frame of the garage as if it were pushing directly into my chest. And in this instant I was frozen, but I couldn’t stay there. I could not leave the car half in and half out.
How often in life do I get stuck – halfway between happy and sad, between starting and finishing, between resentment and forgiveness, between selfishness and selflessness, between letting go and holding on, between doing it for my good or for the good of God’s kingdom? Frozen in place, afraid to move forward or back.
If I pulled out, my car would scratch and smash its way out of its predicament. If I pulled forward I would scrape and bang my way in. Either way was guaranteed to cause even more damage. Yet I was forced to move.
Sometimes moving can be more intimidating than getting stuck.
I pulled the car the rest of the way into the garage, cringing as the wood continued to gouge my car’s side. Once in park, my kiddos jumped out to play in the yard, and I disembarked to assess the damage. Thick white streaks of garage paint scarred the black shiny veneer of my new vehicle. But I was safe. My kids were safe. The car still ran. And, I was no longer stuck.
While I was examining the scratches, my six-year old son came running to my side. He held three spectacular ruby red roses, sweet and fragrant. “These are for you, Mama.” He smiled.
Most of my life I’m driving along, happy, busy, content. But, when I’m wedged halfway between where I was and where I’m supposed to go, do I put 100% of my faith in Him? Am I willing to grind a little more, scrape my sides, take another gouge or two, sacrifice some time or comfort or success to get out of life’s traps?
If I come out of a mess with a few scars, isn’t that okay? Isn’t the important thing that I come out holding God’s hand?
Pulling my son close and feeling his warm little body in mine, I remembered what truly matters. Not cars. Not my ability to park or drive, not my determination to do things my way, to stay where I’m comfortable or to cave into the in-between.
When the going gets tough, sometimes it takes a few more scratches to come out of that tight spot. But once out, there is safety and peace and beauty and love. These lyrics from Holly Starr’s song, “My Cry” are the perfect prayer in these moments. “I will not stay here anymore. I’m not the way I was before. I need your strength. I need your help, Oh Lord.”
What do you need to grind out today to pull through the place where you’re stuck?
Laura L. Smith