I’ve been going to the North Carolina Mountains since I was in eighth grade. My mom says she built the house there, because she fell in love with the scenery. Which I get, because the view from that little lake community nestled in the midst of the Blue Ridge peaks is breathtaking. But for me there’s another pull—in our crazy, whirlwind, hectic, busy, overscheduled lives I’m drawn to the simplicity of the mountain house as if by a magnetic force.
No one has practice in the mountains. Or rehearsal. Or meetings. Or homework. The majority of the time our phones read “No Service.” In the mountains I don’t wear jewelry or perfume or eyeliner. Everything I need for the week fits into a small duffle bag. Mostly I wear my hair in a braid.
We play outside all day—going on mountain runs, playing Putt Putt and scrambling after tiny lizards, watching their colors change as they land on a leaf or skitter onto mulch. The kids shoot hoops and play soccer tennis. My mom and I talk for hours. When we head inside it’s for home cooked meals, Scrabble and movies (this is a no streaming zone). Three of us finished the books we brought with us and dove into new ones.
I’m not saying I could do this all of the time. I wouldn’t even want to. For one thing I’d miss Starbucks, the Internet, and lipstick too much. My kids would go through withdrawal from their soccer teams and bins of Legos. But for a week here and there it’s so lovely to unplug and slow down. To not be a slave to email or texts or social media, because it’s too hard to even check them with a wayward signal. To never look at the clock, because there’s nowhere to be. To eat when we’re hungry and sleep until I wake. And when I do wake it’s to the sound of birds warming up their vocal chords in song and church bells echoing through the valley instead of the ringtone du jour I’ve set for my alarm. I walk out onto the deck, breathe in the mountain air, and open up my Bible to just talk to God until someone else rises or the urge to make a pot of coffee in the Mr. Coffee overtakes me. For me, spring break with my mom and kids is a refreshing reset from the scampering of day to day.
But I do love day to day. I love the things I do, the places I go, the things I’m responsible for. It’s just that sometimes, the amount of them, the intensity of them, the urgency of them, the fullness of them? They wear me down and stress me out. So inserting a week of Sabbath does my body and soul good.
As I re-enter reality it’s key for me to remember to take deep breaths, to admire the views, to slow down and savor even in the midst of the busyness.
When was the last time you took a real rest? How do you slow down? Where is your peaceful place? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear. Let’s work together to try and find that still, quiet place this week. And when we do, let's breathe peace in and exhale it out to the world around us.
I was at a musical the other night and at the first joke I heard a deep, hearty laugh from somewhere behind me. I smiled. It was the kind of laugh that made me think of a grandfather, although I barely knew mine, or of Santa Claus. It was someone’s laugh who wasn’t concerned if anyone else thought that line was funny, who could have cared less how loud or quiet his laugh was, who was comfortable in the art of being entertained, and completely ready to sit back and enjoy the show. It was a lovely, welcome sound.
A few moments later I heard it again. This guy and his deep down from his belly laughter was fresh air in a stuffy theatre. He was at the high school’s production of Annie, and he was there to listen to the actors say their lines, pay attention to the performance, and savor every moment of the show.
Was I paying full attention? Allowing the fun to wash over me?
Am I that engaged in my life—listening to every line, savoring every moment, breathing in the spring air, tasting zesty tacos on Tuesday nights, laughing out loud? Or am I rushing around, shoving down bites, distracted, thinking about somewhere other than where I am, worried about what other people are doing, about how I’m going to get my to-do list done, criticizing when others make mistakes?
The man’s laughter was contagious. Because he was so comfortable cracking up, it gave others free license to join in. He got the crowd more engaged, laughing harder, which turned up the actors’ games as they played it up all that much more for the crowd. One man’s laughter made all of the jokes funnier, all of the inferences more clever, all of the performers better at their craft.
I don’t know who this man was, but I know I want to be more like him. I want to laugh out loud, and not just as an LOL abbreviation on a text, but so loud that others can hear me, that they might even join in, or at least smile. I want to chuckle, chortle, and snort and enjoy each and every moment of this amazing life. I want to gripe less and giggle more. Are you with me?
Loosen up a little today. Allow something silly to tickle your funny bone. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Laugh and laugh and laugh some more until you get others to join in—until you create a chain reaction of joy.
I appreciate that the days leading up to Thanksgiving ignite our thankful nature, because I have so much to be thankful for. We get to choose how we look at each and every situation that comes our way. We can dwell on the mishaps and misunderstandings, or we can be in awe of what we have. Which will we choose?
Overall, I see myself as a grateful kind of girl. But although I don’t mean to, I still seem to grumble about something or other most days.
Me? I’m trying to be less grumbly and more grateful.
Do you know the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell? I prefer the remake by the Counting Crows, but the lyrics warn, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got…’til its gone.” I don’t want to take the gifts I have for granted. I don’t want them to slip through my fingers unnoticed or unappreciated. I want to cherish them and savor them and drink them in. November seems to be the perfect time to work on improving my perspective.
My younger daughter had an out of town soccer tournament this past weekend. And although it meant leaving my husband and other three amazing kids for a couple of nights, I was still excited with the prospect of spending two nights visiting with one of my favorite people on the planet (the tournament was near my mom’s) and getting to spend time with my precious girl. Yet, I’ll admit Saturday’s game came a little early, the parking lot was slightly insane, and I was a bit shivery as I wrapped my hands around a coffee cup on the sidelines of a frost-covered field. As the girls warmed up, I asked the coach, who had worked the night shift, not slept, and came straight to coach the girls, “How do you stay awake? Loads of coffee?” He shook his head and laughed. His answer convicted me, “Honestly, the smiles on these girls faces totally energizes me.” Perfect perspective.
Even though I’d started out in the right mindset, I needed reminded to choose grateful over grumbling (thanks, Coach). My mind reset. I stopped inwardly whining and started absorbing God’s blessings, starting with the spectacular sunrise over the fields and the warm cup of coffee my mom had brewed for me. I had a memorable weekend loaded with conversations and walks with my mom and packed with giggles, silly photos, chocolate cake and even a couple of episodes of Fixer Upper with my daughter. The weekend was pure gift.
I’m writing this blog just prior to the election. Emotions about our future president are so thick they are difficult to wade through. But no matter if your candidate won, or the other candidate won we still live in a country where we had the right to vote. Where I, as a woman, had the right to vote. Where a free education is available to all of our children, despite income, race or religion. Where it is safe for our kids to get on a school bus in the morning and to ride it back home to us each afternoon. When I attend my kids’ soccer games, I can sit anywhere I like, wear anything I’m in the mood to wear. When the “National Anthem” is played I’ll get goose bumps contemplating my freedoms. We live in a country where we can still express our opinions without fear, where we can practice our faith without risk of imprisonment, or worse. Are we choosing gratitude?
Yes, life is crazy, and it gets interrupted, and the script doesn’t always go the way I would write it. But God is a much better writer than I am. And I don’t want to miss any of the gifts He has in store. I challenge myself (and you) today not to dwell on what we don’t have, but to focus on all we do have, to be thankful for the vibrant crimson, oranges and gold of leaves and the smoky scent of bonfires, for lungs that breathe in crisp November air, for the people in our lives who make us smile, and for a God who loves us so completely, so personally, that not only did He die for us, but He also provides countless surprises and delights for us each day.
What are you grateful for today?
Envision a push up. Get down on the floor if you need to. Do one fast.
Down. Up. Done.
Now do one s-l-o-w-l-y. Dddooowwnn and then back uuupppp. Harder right?
My yoga instructor was talking about how when we hold a pose we actually work our muscles more intensely than if we go in and out of a pose quickly. She asked if we knew why that was. “Because otherwise we cheat ourselves,” I answered. And I didn’t want her to think I was cutting corners throughout class, so I followed up with, “we don’t mean to, but we do.”
And it got me thinking about so many aspects of my life where I don’t mean to cheat myself, but I do.
I grab a handful of chocolate chips, because I love them, but I shove them in my mouth as I’m on my way out the door, and don’t really allow myself to savor the richness of them, the way the dark cacao sets off the slightly sweet from the cane sugar. What if I ate one, and then another, and then a few minutes later one more?
There are hugs I pull back from too quickly from my kids, because we’re in a rush to get to school, to practice, to bed. What if I held on tighter? Longer?
As soon as my coffee is in hand, I chug the first sip, eager for my morning caffeine. What if I took a deep breath first, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of roasted beans?
There are days I rush into Bible study, sliding into my seat as our discussion begins, and slip back out as quickly as possible after the final “amen” without pausing to absorb something I’ve learned or to consider a question someone asked. What if I got there early? Intentionally stayed put for a full five minutes after everyone else stands up and let it all soak in?
What if I held the poses of life longer?
How about you? Are you texting during a movie and missing beautiful lines that would make you weep? Typing an email while on the phone with someone else so you can get more done, but missing an idea the person you’re talking to is trying to share? Skimming through the book for book club just to get to the end without savoring the depth of the characters or a description of a breathtaking blue jay? Are we going through the motions so quickly that we’re cheating ourselves of the moments that nourish our bodies, stir our hearts, inspire our souls, and challenge our minds?
Are our mouths open? Are our eyes open? Are we allowing ourselves to be wowed and changed and loved by God?
I don’t want to cheat myself of any of those things. No. I want to taste every morsel of chocolate, breathe in every snuggle, smell every cup of coffee, learn as much as I can, understand better, grow stronger and more aware, be more in tune, and less tuned out. This week is the perfect week to challenge myself to this. There are apples to be tasted, leaves to crunch underfoot, a visit with my mom to enjoy, soccer games to cheer at, a date with my husband to flirt with him, a pot of pumpkin chili to prepare, and the music of my son playing in the worship band to listen to. I don’t want to miss a single beat or bite or breath. Will you join me? In tasting and seeing the goodness God has prepared for us?
What do you have in store this week and how can you savor it?
We were driving down the highway when both of my daughters started cracking up in the backseat. “Look at that lady!” They eventually squeaked and pointed between peals of laughter.
In the van to our right was a woman not just singing by herself in her car, but all out busting a cold move. She was flapping her arms and bopping her head and despite looking a little odd, she also looked like possibly the happiest person on the planet. “That must be her absolute favorite song!” I decided. As we drove past we noticed her license plate read SONGS1. “And,” one of the kids added, “she must really love music.”
Twenty minutes later in our drive as cars wove forward and back, switched lanes and repositioned themselves we were again beside SONGS1. Still her entire upper body was moving and grooving. She was still in an all-out-sing. Clearly she was on to new songs, but it seemed that all songs brought this woman so much pure joy.
What brings you that kind of joy? When was the last time you experienced it?
The other day at the pool, two of my kids were on the basketball court. A little guy, maybe three or four years old, came bounding up to them and proclaimed, “I knew you were playing basketball over here! I am really good at basketball!” He proceeded to swing his arms haphazardly while the ball kind of bounced beside him and the biggest smile in the world shone from his face.
Do you know this kind of uninhibited joy?
Do you sing at the top of your lungs?
Do you start dancing if the music makes your foot tap?
Do you grin from ear to ear, join the game, approach strangers, and bounce the ball just because it’s fun, because it makes you happy? We should. God wants us to.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music
I know there is work to be done. There are bills to be paid, meals to be prepared, practices to drive to, tanks to be filled, and always laundry and more laundry to be put away.
But God calls us to make a joyful noise. Yes, He wants us to be responsible—to do the work set in front of us, but He also wants us to delight in all of the beautiful, marvelous experiences He placed in this world for our pleasure. Driving to work? Call a friend who makes you laugh. Sweeping the floor or exercising? Put on some great tunes and “burst into jubilant music”.
Wear the clothes that make you feel good.
Paint your walls your favorite color.
Eat the foods that make you say, “yum” out loud (think watermelon and corn on the cob from the local farmer’s market).
Have a spontaneous dance party.
Roll your windows down and let your hair blow in the breeze.
Find the things that bring you great joy. Take time for them. Read a chapter by your favorite author. Stop by your favorite bakery. Go for a bike ride on that gorgeous trail by the stream. Make popsicles. Then eat them! (It’s so easy to make popsicles! I made these with the juice at the bottom of a bowl of watermelon we’d devoured, two mushy bananas, and a handful of leftover blueberries. I dropped them all in the blender, whirred them together, poured them in these plastic molds, and popped them in the freezer. The whole process took about four minutes. They are sweet and so very refreshing on a hot humid afternoon).
And by all means shout for joy and bring a gift of laughter to all you do, wherever you go. It will make you feel good inside and out. And maybe someone will look at you and say, “They look like the happiest person in the world.”
On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence
I’d love to hear…what brings you joy? How do you intend to incorporate it into your life this week?
You may have noticed there was no True Reflections blog last week. I missed you all, but I was taking a break. I was resting. When was the last time you rested?
I mean really rested. For more than five minutes? When was the last time you turned off your phone, sat, gazed, breathed, and didn’t look at the clock for hours on end?
“When could I possibly,” you ask? I ask myself that sometimes, too—like all the times. This weekend our calendar includes dinner with friends, eleven soccer games (three of which are out of town), a graduation, church, a wedding, a visit with my mom, and a team meeting. It is physically impossible for us to get to all of these things.
But we’ll try.
And then we’ll be full and happy and connected and stimulated and… exhausted! I think for most of us in today’s world, this is a typical snapshot of a day-in-the-life.
And I am so grateful this is my life, because I love my friends, kids, and family. But it is impossible to maintain this kind of momentum. I didn’t even mention the fact that we should try to squeeze in eating, bathing, and sleeping somewhere in the mix. So how do we find rest in the midst of mayhem (awesome mayhem, but mayhem none the less)?
We have to be intentional.
We need to schedule down time just as intentionally as we plan workouts or conference calls. There are two kinds of rest that we need to make time for:
Both are critical to our mental and physical wellbeing, but it is the latter that I’m talking about here. The get away from it all, put your phone away too (crazy, I know but so freeing), let your brain and all the thoughts in it, your heart rate and your body s-l-o-w down.
Remember, God created Sabbath. He wasn’t exhausted when He created the world, He is God, so it didn’t tax or stress Him. At all. But when He was done, God invented the day off to teach us that all good work needs to be followed by rest. God’s creation of Sabbath was just as important as His creation of land and sea, animals and plants. He knew what we sometimes forget—without rest, we can’t process all the great stuff that happens during the busy times.
By the seventh day God had finished his work.
On the seventh day He rested from all his work.
God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day
Because on that day he rested from his work, All the creating God had done. Genesis 2: 2-4
As Priscilla Shirer says in her book, Breathe, “In the midst of a universe that cannot exist for a second without constant motion, God transcended the order of nature. He stopped. He rested. And He prescribes the same for you and me.”
My husband and I just got back from one of these brilliantly, spectacular slow downs. We escaped to my mom’s place in the mountains for a couple of days while my incredible mother stayed with our kiddos. In the mountains it’s next to impossible to get a signal. There’s no cable. There’s not even a coffee shop (don’t panic, we packed our Nespresso). However there are breath-taking mountains, a still lake, winding walking trails, the sound of birds singing, and Brett and I had each other. We spent our time walking and talking, sharing, reading the Bible, watching Nicholas Sparks movies, cooking delicious food, listening to a great sermon series, and just staring out at the view.
And in this time and space my husband and I exhaled. Together, we exchanged stories that in our whirl and swirl of daily life had never surfaced. We shared hopes and aspirations. We listened to and worked out each other’s issues, stresses, concerns. And we took time by ourselves, too. I journaled about where I’ve been this past year and where I’m headed. I made plans, jotted down goals, dreamed.
Amazingly, when my life wasn’t so noisy—and I just don’t mean actual noise, but the noise of busyness and distraction—I could hear more clearly. I could hear my husband more crisply. Without the clutter in my brain, I could hear God’s voice reminding me how much He loves me, how much peace He offers, how He’s got my life safely guarded in His hands. When I’m too busy, it’s harder to find time to hear His voice. But in the stillness it surrounded me. And it reminded me of my true reflection, that I am a daughter of Christ.
It’s summertime folks. And that can mean trips and camps and conferences and getting caught up on all the things we don’t get to during the other parts of the year. But it is also a time where it may be easier to carve out some space to just be. Whether you take one personal day or a handful of vacation days, I urge you to find a beautiful spot—a rooftop, a dock, a field of wildflowers, a beach, a park bench with a peaceful view—and sit and unplug and rest and unwind and breathe and listen. Take time off. You don't just deserve it. You need it. It's part of what God created you to do. And if you're worried about what will happen to all of the items on your to do list while you're taking time off, I promise, God has them under control. He's got you covered. I also promise you will not regret resting.
Do you have any plans to unwind this summer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
Brett’s aunt was turning 75 and her husband was throwing a surprise party to celebrate. We had a million and eight excuses not to go. Brett had just had hand surgery. I was on the fifteenth day of fighting a sinus infection and the snot was winning. The party was an hour away from home. On a weeknight. The night before the kids’ last day of school before Christmas break.
But Brett’s aunt was turning 75! So, despite obstacles and inconveniences we paid the very small price of attending—a little time, a little planning, a little more energy than we had in the reserves. And it was glorious. There was lobster. AND cake.
But even better than the lobster and cake was a room full of people celebrating a woman who has lived life large. Aunt Linda was a flight attendant who has traveled the world from China to Germany to Paris back to California and Ohio again. She actually made a deal with Monte Hall on the original Let’s Make a Deal show. She worked as a waitress in the Playboy club in the 70’s and has stories about Hugh Hefner that would make your eyes pop. She has lived. And this gathering of neighbors, family and friends was a testament to her verve and vitality.
What if we’d stayed home? Called in sick? Everyone would have understood. No one would have been mad at us. But we would have missed it.
Jesus invites us to a feast too, in Matthew 22:1-3 “God’s kingdom,” he (Jesus) said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!
Why wouldn’t the invited guests come? I mean who wouldn’t come to a wedding banquet of a king? (Cough). Perhaps the person who had the sinus infection? Or the four kids who needed to pack lunches, and bring in a treat, and a gift for their teachers the next day? Just saying. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us that easily.
“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. Mt 22:4-7
I mean, we have work to do, right? Driveways to shovel, dishes to wash, tests to study for, clients to serve, reports to finish, emails to send, things to sell, volunteer hours we’ve signed up for. But what are we missing when we tend to our to-do lists instead of God’s invitations? How many times do I reply to God’s invitations, “Yeah, God, that would be nice, but I’m really busy.”? It would be great if I listened intently to the story my daughter is telling about gym class, or to grab coffee with that special friend, but I have to get dinner on the table and have deadlines to meet. They’ll understand. Now is not convenient. It might not even be feasible.
At the end of the day, or week, or year, or our lives, will we find peace that our home was spotless? Will we pride ourselves in having perfect attendance at our Paddle matches? Or will we savor the stories, the time together the feasts God laid out for us? That might include a move, a new position, changing majors, switching teams. These invitations could take some consideration, definitely some prayer, to make sure they’re from God, but if they are, can you imagine the party we might miss if we say no? And these invitations, these are just hors d’oeuvres. The biggest invitation from God of all, the one to hang out with Him, to be in relationship with Him. Well, that’s a feast. And I don’t want to have made any excuses that would make me miss it.
I’m a big proponent of saying, “no” to things. The last thing any of us needs right now is more things on our plate. But how about living our lives large, by saying “no” to the unimportant, trivial things, and RSVPing “Yes!” to God’s invitations. Because when we drop the things we think are “so important” to show up to God’s table, we will be blown away by delicacies like lobster and cake, and laughter and relationships and love.
Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. Matthew 22: 8-10
We’re all invited. Everyone in town. The good. The bad. Regardless. So, yes, that includes me and you. All of us. No matter where we stand today. No matter what we have or haven’t done. This is a New Year’s party we don’t want to miss! Ring in 2016 by accepting God’s invitation. This is the year we can live larger than ever.
We had it all planned out. Our family was all going to be home on a chilly, fall Saturday night. A rarity and a treat. To make the most of the occasion, I made a giant pot of chicken noodle soup. We planned to build a fire in the living room. We picked out a family-friendly movie none of us had seen. I even double-checked it out on my faithful Common Sense Kids Media app. We made sure it was available on Netflix, and hooked up the Wii (to run our Netflix through) in the living room, so we could cuddle, giggle and stay cozy by the fire.
But we had an uncannily warm day for late autumn. Which was gift. We went on a family walk around the neighborhood. The kids tossed the football out front. We raked leaves and savored the sunshine. But at dinnertime, as we gathered in the living room with our bowls of steaming soup, we unanimously agreed we didn’t really need or even want a fire.
We queued up the movie and after the opening song; a squiggly greenish line sabotaged the screen. The TV, which had been glitching in and out, went out out. No problem. We’re a modern American family. We own another television. So, we all gathered our bowls and spoons, our cups and the Wii, and headed into the family room. Ten minutes later we were like Groundhog’s Day, watching the same opening song. But thirty minutes later, my husband and I looked at each other, with the universally recognized “what the heck are we watching?” face. We’d already exchanged this look earlier in the film, but had decided to wait it out. Enough waiting.
I piped up, “So, guys, does anyone actually want to keep watching this?”
No one yelled, “I do, I do!”
But four sets of blue eyes looked at me with expressions saying, “What if we don’t, Mom? Is that okay?”
Again, we decided to change our well laid plans. We clicked stop. Switched to Mr. Bean’s Holiday (which is bizarrely a cult favorite in our house) and laughed so hard, I thought we would all tumble off the sectional.
We had plans. Good plans. We had intentionally scheduled family time—a meal and ambiance and a movie and even a means to watch it. But they did not work out. And we still had a blast. And this is how God’s plans in life often are for us. We plan, we organize, we make lists, and they don’t go as we intended, as we hoped. But the cool thing is God knows way better than you or I what the best plans for us are. The movie night is a tiny example, but what God had in store for us, was even lovelier than what we’d sketched out.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! Ephesians 3:20
Conversely, a few days later we found another rare evening when the six of us were gathered around the dinner table. We were eating waffles for dinner, because it’s fun, and because my picky-eater daughter who rarely enjoys the meal named “dinner” had requested them. I was just placing the syrup on the table, when Brett called from another room, “Honey, can you come here a minute?”
A little flustered that instead of coming to the table, he was summoning me away from the table, I peeked in on him.
“Do you think we should go?” he whispered and pointed to his laptop.
He was pointing to the show times for a family flick we’d all wanted to see. It was playing in one hour, at a theatre 45 minutes from our house. Fandango would not let us pre-purchase tickets, so there was a gamble of getting there and having the show sold out. We hadn’t been to this particular theatre before, so we weren’t exactly sure where it was. “Do you think we can make it?” he asked.
This is where most of the world says, “Heck, yeah!” But me, I am a planner. And my brain starts this litany, “We’re sitting down to waffles. That’s really far. We weren’t planning on going out tonight, more of a stay in kinda night.”
But God knew I needed to marry someone spontaneous, or I would officially be "The Most Boring Person on the Face of This Earth." And so, we woofed down our waffles and went. And without planning ahead, without knowing quite where we were headed, or if we’d even get in, we all sat in cushy fold-down chairs, viewed Hotel Transylvania 2 on the big screen as a family, and laughed, a lot.
We try to plan out our lives, *ahem* at least I try to plan out my life. I make lists, and constantly refer to my calendar App. Intentionality is a great thing. Without agendas and outlines no funds would be raised, no bills would be paid, no holiday meals prepared. But we need to do our part (the planning, the intentionality), and then let God take over. Because God’s plans are bigger. God’s plans are better. Whereas we only see tiny portions of the mural of our lives, He sees the whole thing, our true reflections and our destinies, and therefore, what makes best sense. Whether it’s something as simple as “What’s for dinner?” or something huge, like “Should I move across the country to go to that school or take that job?” God is in control. He made us. He loves us. And therefore He has our best interest in mind. It means letting go of the steering wheel, closing our planners, turning off a bad movie, or rushing unexpectedly out the door to see a new one. But trusting in God will always allow for an amazing adventure to ensue.
Seen any good movies lately?
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
Laura L. Smith