I went for a run today, listened to my “Run” playlist and came back dripping with sweat. It had been a long time (due to the unseasonably cool weather) since I’d been dripping with sweat, or since I’d listened to music on a run. I’ve been listening to podcasts and books on tapes, which are great, but music? I’ve missed it. It feeds my soul. I realized I’ve been busy doing lots of wonderful things, but some of my favorite things have been packed away with my swimsuits and sundresses. As the cicadas emerge (yikes!) so do lots of other things that make my heart sing.
It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing. Or that I’ve been doing yucky things. Not at all. It’s just I feel a tangible shift as spring sidesteps into summer, from school year, to having the kids home. Yes, my actual daily routine changes, but something about my whole persona swings too.
I live in a college town, so my habitat changes overnight from the buzz of millennials filling the sidewalks and shops wearing back packs and holding coffee cups to almost empty streets, and locals splashing with their kids in the uptown fountains while licking ice cream cones. How does your life change when you turn your calendar to summer? How does your schedule change with longer, hotter days? Do you go from pots of soup to steaks on the grill? From jazz to pop? From evening workouts at the gym to early morning walks outside?
Since I’ve always loved a good research paper (I’m serious. I’m that nerdy girl), the past few months have been fascinating. The work I’ve been doing has called me to learn. I’ve been immersed in studying everything from the layout of Anne Frank’s hideout, to the structure of a biography, to the ropes used on ancient ships, to the Hebrew translation of the word “fear.” I love research. I do. But the little girl who spent countless hours of her childhood hidden in the branches of willow trees transported to Narnia—that part of me—is thrilled to be dipping my toes back in the pools of fiction. Writing nonfiction is thought provoking. And I love to learn, but writing fiction is flowing and creative and unpredictable. I never know what my characters will say or where they’ll end up as they journey to the end of their tale. My mind and my soul delight in the wandering.
I am amazed that God has created so many different pieces of me—even pieces that oppose one another. How can one girl love to discover historical details and adore making things up? How can she like to cuddle under piles of blankets and sit in the sun, allowing the rays to warm her through and through? Well, because God created me to love books—all books, and warmth—however I can get it. And because life changes, because I end up in different places at different times, because I have different assignments and adventures and opportunities and obstacles and challenges and puzzles to solve, I get to tap into the ways God made me and enjoy them in every circumstance. He’s done the same with you—woven varied likes and cravings and interests into your very being. And He loves it when you tap into different parts of them, when you exercise new or dormant muscles.
I’m transitioning from things I love to other things I love—from boots to flip flops, from dark roast to iced coffee, from the darkest of burgundy to the palest pinks and brightest blues on my fingers and toes. I’m grateful for all of them! And they’re all me—parts of me—parts of me that need to be expressed and that blink in joy at the dazzling sunlight when they emerge after hibernating.
So for now, I’ll tuck away my favorite army jackets and close off my beloved fireplace. I’ll stretch my legs and let my mind dance and allow the freedom of summer to infiltrate my very being. And when the leaves start to turn, I’ll be just as excited to pull out my sweaters and scarves.
How about you? Why not make a list of things you love about summertime? I’d love to hear how your schedule switches and how your different God-given passions and joys emerge in the warmer months.
My husband and I recently snuck away to Monterosso, a small Italian fishing village. In my eyes, it is the most beautiful place on earth. Monterosso is an adorable water-colored village nestled along the coast, protected by jagged cliffs and connected by trains and trails to four other neighboring towns that together comprise the Cinque Terre (five lands).
A train ride from one town to another lasts approximately three minutes. But if you travel by foot, the hikes take between two to three hours. The trails climb up from the centers of the towns through vineyards and past waterfalls to high peaks. They level out offering countless views of the aqua blue Ligurian Sea, then wind back down into the next adorable village. Each trail is unique—one is predominantly stairs, another slanty and muddy, some narrow, some broad, but they all promise to work your leg muscles, provide you with spectacular vistas, and guide you along the way via red and white trail markers.
Okay, I’m laughing as I type. Because the trail markers, well, they’re not like the street signs this Ohio girl is accustomed to. They are basically hand painted stripes that could show up on a rock, a tree, a signpost, or any seemingly random interval the trailblazer decided to paint them. So let’s just say as my husband and I hiked our way through the Cinque Terre, we took more than a few wrong turns at Albuquerque.
But the markers were always there, albeit sometimes hidden. And when we felt extremely uncertain and unsure, we could hone in, focus, and eventually find another set of red and white stripes—on a fence, on a wall—reminding us where to go, to keep us headed in the right direction.
Step after step, bend after bend, the twists of the trails reminded me of the journeys of life. The times I’m walking along, enjoying the sunshine, when all of a sudden I have to watch my step, hold on to the rail, because things went wonky, and if I’m not careful I could slip or fall or twist myself into a dangerous place—somewhere I shouldn’t be. The gratefulness when I regain my footing, when I successfully maneuver through a tight spot, and even when after stumbling, I’m able to stand back up, brush myself off, assess the scrapes and scratches, and say, “I’m okay.” The times I’m exhausted, out of breath, but I keep going, one step after another, and then out of the blue I’m rewarded for obediently moving forward by one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen—vibrant indigo Morning Glories blooming inexplicably out of rocks, rows of vines intricately twisted lush with grapes, whispery silver leaves on a shady olive tree, the sea as far as my eyes can focus. There’s also the awe of viewing something I’ve never seen before just when I least expect it.
And of course, like life, there are all of the splits in the trail—the should I go up or down, turn left or right places. I have so many friends facing forks in their roads—should they move? Stay put? Change jobs? Who should they room with? If they’re supposed to go, where should they go? What classes should they take? What should they give up in order to have time for the thing they’ve been called to? How will they pay for it?
How about you? Any questions on your heart—decisions you’re trying to make? Turns in your life journey?
On our Italian hikes the signs seemed irregular to me, not where I would have put them, not how I would have marked things, but they were there. And when we are not sure what our next steps in life should be, when we can’t “see the signs” they are also there. We just have to focus, intentionally hone in, because we all have someone to help us along the way. Jesus says, “I am the way.” Which sure is reassuring when we’re lost, confused, misguided, or the backs of our legs are cramping.
I know Jesus is the way. I am confident He will lead my steps and show me where to go. Only sometimes when I’m at the fork in the road, looking left and right I don’t hear Him, can’t tell which way He wants me to go. Usually, because I’m looking in the wrong places in the wrong ways and muffling His voice with the noise of the world. So I get frazzled and flustered and frustrated. My heart beats too fast, and I worry that I’m lost. Should I be in the middle of someone’s lemon grove (yes that happened)? It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s one thing on a vacation hike, but in real life when we feel lost and confused what are we supposed to do? Take a deep breath, remind ourselves that He is with us, that He will never forsake us (similar to reminding myself someone has marked this trail. I have seen the markers. There will be more). And take a few steps forward.
For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
And if after five minutes of hiking, or five months of praying we still feel unsettled, well then, it’s usually time to get a sip of water, maybe nibble on a granola bar from our backpacks, and circle back, to the last time we turned, to where the path split, when we last made a choice. When I’m in the wrong place and actually take time to retrace my steps, it usually becomes quite clear where I went wrong.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. —Hebrews 13:5
And sure enough when I go back to where I veered, there is one of those crazy sets of stripes. Red and white. Red, like Christ’s blood that He shed to save us from all of our mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns. And white like how pure and clean we are now, because of His love. With signs like that, we can be assured we’re on the right track. We just need to seek His direction, go where He leads us, then take in the views.
For me in hiking (and in life), the thrill is not in reaching the destination at the end of the journey—no the joy is in the discovery, in the learning, in the overcoming the challenges, in the surprises I could have never imagined, but that God delights me with along the way.
Where are you headed today? Follow the markers God has put out for you and delight in the journey.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
I never got to meet my maternal grandmother, because she lost the fight with breast cancer when my mom was still in high school. Devastating. My mom’s sister, my aunt Sheila, also lost her life to breast cancer while I was so young, my memories of her are few and fleeting. And although I never had the opportunity to develop relationships with these ladies, they are still my family, my roots, my gene pool. This isn’t just another cause to me. This is part of my story.
And because these branches of my family tree died from breast cancer I’m at high risk. I can’t control if I ever contract breast cancer or not. But there are still things I can do. Things you can do too.
You’d have to be blind not to realize October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is everywhere, which is awesome, because I love pink. But it’s even more awesome, because so many companies, brands, teams and every day people have gotten in on this fight against breast cancer. Every time we buy a cup with a pink ribbon on it or a bottle of One Hope Chardonnay (it’s not too good to be true, there really is wine with a cause) a little more money helps researchers find a cure, once and for all, for this life stealing disease.
But there’s more we can do.
Something more personal than football players wearing pink cleats. Something more powerful than eating pink M&M’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love all M&M’s and enjoy the pink ones extra bunches. I also get a kick out of seeing macho athletes wearing pink.
But there are things we can do that start with us, that begin with caring for our true reflections. We can eat right and exercise, because both of those things reduce the risk of breast cancer by 20-40%. Wow! Pass the whole grains and my gym shoes, please. Not to mention eating right and exercising reduces the risks of a lot of other nasty diseases too. If you’re over forty-five, please get your annual mammogram. And, it seems uncomfortable and awkward and strange to talk about, but we have to do our breast self-exams, girls! If you are old enough to wear a bra, you’re old enough to start doing self-exams. We know our bodies better than any one else. We are the ones most likely to discover a lump, to know the difference between a lump, a bruise, or poison ivy, or to know intuitively that something is out of sorts, out of place. How are we going to know? Because if we check ourselves monthly we’re figuring out what normal is. We’ll know what our breasts are supposed to feel and look like. So if they don’t feel or look like themselves, we can hightail it to our doctors and have things checked out.
You are beautiful. God made you. And because He made you, He longs for you to take care of yourself.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
Take care of that body so one day your granddaughters and nieces will know you, will laugh with you and share with you. Glorify God by caring enough to check in with your body. Feel free to reward yourself with some pink M&M’s afterwards as a ribbon for taking such good care of you.
Laura L. Smith