My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
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?
As I clean the top left section of my white board, I am stopped mid-erase, in total awe of God’s plans, and how He orchestrates them.
About a year ago I started the search for a literary agent to represent me. I’d had an agent previously. We’d broken up, because we wanted different things. And as with any relationship that ends, I’d needed some time to sort through it. But last year I was prompted to look for a new agent.
All searches—for a job, a new house, a college, a spouse—are a process. These searches remind me of working my way through a corn maze. Have you been in one? You know where you’re starting. You know there is a finish. You’re just not sure how you’re going to get from A to B. The names and dates I’m erasing from my white board are a testimony to this process—of websites researched, proposals written, submissions sent, phone calls made. Are you searching for anything right now?
On my quest I took wrong turns when I looked around and saw endless rows of corn, where I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from the finish line, more and more lost in the maze. These were the days I chatted with agents who didn’t get me, who said they wanted to represent me, but they hadn’t even read my email to see what I wanted represented, who made suggestions that just didn’t make sense. I shook my head, discouraged, not sure what to do next. Luckily, I had friends and family who kept giving me new suggestions, kept encouraging me, kept praying for me, kept me on track when I would start to lose perspective. Their company along the journey made a world of difference. I mean, where’s the fun in tackling a corn maze by yourself?
There were days when I hit dead ends like getting to a wall of head-high corn stalks not sure if I would ever get out, where it felt like I’d come so far to get absolutely nowhere. These were the days I got rejected from agents whose work I respected, who I thought might be a great fit.
But there were also brilliant, beautiful moments. Just like when you’re in a corn maze and you spot a scarlet ladybug, when the sunshine warms your face, when a fuzzy caterpillar crosses your path, when you’re laughing so hard with your companions, or you’re floored by the intricacies of a sparkling spider web woven to perfection, and you forget all about solving the maze, when you just want to breathe in the moment. These were days when I was writing new material, and sensing God’s inspiration behind every word. These were days when I had speaking engagements and met the most amazing, awe-inspiring women. There were some of my favorite moments of the past year, which had nothing to do with writing or agents—baking cookies with my kids and eating spoonfuls of the dough, going for walks with my husband as the sun set in our neighborhood, enjoying the company and insights of a good friend or a good book.
When you walk through a corn maze, no matter what stage of it you’re in, the farmer has plowed a wide, smooth path to the end, to the finish line. It’s there. You just can’t see it yet. He even gives you a map to follow along your way. But there are times when the map seems confusing, when you try to solve it yourself, when you forget about the map in your hand altogether. Life’s mazes are the same. God has plowed a wide, smooth path to the finish line—to the right job, the right roommate, the right date, the right team, the right neighborhood. He even gives us a map to follow to get to the end. The Bible is packed with everything we need to make the right decisions, to stay strong and courageous, to understand that if you hit a dead end, you just need to turn around because God will provide a way out, that God will never leave you, that if you have a little faith, you can move mountains, or solve corn mazes. But some days we forget. Or tuck our maps in our pockets. Or try to solve it ourselves, just because we want to, even when we know better.
And just like walking through a corn maze, there is a thrill in finding the sign that reads FINISH in red letters at the end, but the journey is a thrill, it’s packed with discovery and hope and mystery and laughter. And with life’s corn mazes, you don’t have to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end, because you can have faith, that our perfect God has plans for you, plans to prosper you, plans for a future.
For me, the finish line of this particular corn maze of my life is that I’ve signed with Emily Sweeney of ESY Marketing Solutions. She is sharp, funny, and real. She gets me. She understands the industry. She has brilliant ideas. As I chat with Emily, I understand fully why none of the other agents worked out. I am in awe of the fact that God kept me from signing with any of them, because He knew all along that I needed to sign with her. Emily wasn’t even an agent when I began my search! She was still working at a major publisher. So when I thought it was taking forever, God was just making sure everything was in place. I see God’s fingerprints all over my journey.
As I stand here erasing the steps of me trying to solve this maze I am blown away by what He had in store all along, and I am reminded to hold tight to this moment. Because there will be more quests I go on in life. There will be a different search, with different questions, new sets of dead ends and wrong turns. But I can be certain, just like you can, that God has a perfect path laid out. All we have to do is patiently follow it one step, one day at a time. When we get mixed up, we need to go back to His map, ask Him for guidance, and He will lead us to life’s finish lines. And along the way, we can savor the journeys.
Ever heard of Nerf Wars? No, they're nothing like Star Wars. Nerf Wars are when teams of teens make a bracket (like you would in any sports tournament). The teams go against their assigned opponents with the goal of hitting more members of the opposing team with Nerf bullets than the opposing team hits of your team by the end of the assigned time. Shot players are out and can no longer shoot. Winning teams advance to the next bracket. It’s like an extended game of dodge ball, only with Nerf guns. Got it?
But as with most games, there’s a lot to be learned by the rules—life lessons. I’ve had the pleasure of spectating and strategizing with my daughter as she partook in this war with her friends, and I’ve learned a few strategies I want to apply to my daily life.
1. Be intentional
There is a thrill, an excitement, and a little bit of anxiety during Nerf Wars, because at any moment you could get shot. It’s all in fun—it’s just a game, so the stakes aren’t high, but still there’s that strange feeling that someone is after you. My daughter had to rethink her daily tasks. She had to be intentional about things she usually did by rote, things she took for granted. She asked if she could park in the garage instead of the driveway, so she could pull her car in, shut the garage door, and never be out in the open where she could get shot. She started conversations with people she hadn’t chatted with before, so she could decipher when and where her opponents were going. She planned new routes home from school in case she was being followed.
I, too, need to be more intentional. There are so many things I habitually do without even thinking about them. I eat the same things for breakfast, read the same blogs, and sit in the same seat at church. What if I approached each day fully aware and intent on expanding my horizons and picking the best routes for my daily life instead of the most familiar ones?
2. Never leave your wingman.
Just like in Top Gun, In Nerf Wars it’s not only important to be in constant communication with your teammates, it’s also critical to have someone with you—a wingman. Maybe your wingman will drive while you roll down the passenger window to shoot an opponent. Maybe, if they’re already out of the game, your wingman will act as a human shield to protect you from oncoming Nerf bullets. Maybe a wingman will help you find someone’s house, or just to keep you company or make you laugh while you’re on a stakeout.
I also need a wingman. We aren’t created to do life alone. We all need people to talk to, to laugh with, to plan with. Some days I need my friends and family to act as human shields, protecting me from unkind words or rejections from the world. I definitely need a small, close circle of people praying for and with me. I hope my wingmen and wingwomen and wingkids never leave my side. I’m reminded how important it is to stand by theirs
3. Stay in the light
I cracked up each night when my daughter called, asking me to turn on all the outside lights. When she pulled up to our house, she wanted a clear view—wanted to see if anyone was waiting to attack her.
I also need to stay in the light. I need to stay where I can see what’s going on, where I can tell the difference between right and wrong. There are places I’ve been and people I’ve been around, that when I’m there or with them, everything starts to get dim, maybe even dark. Where decisions are harder, where lines get blurry. You probably have your darker places, too. But Jesus is light. And when I stay grounded in Him, I can see what’s coming, and not be taken by surprise. I can see things for what they truly are, and act accordingly. When I shine His light on any situation it gets brighter and clearer, and I am immediately less concerned about the unknown.
I don’t know what battles you’re fighting today. I hope they’re just all fun and games, like Nerf Wars. But I know some days the battles are real. When they are, be intentional, keep a wingman close by, and stay in the marvelous light of Jesus.
I reached for my sunglasses, where they’d been, hooked on the neckline of my top, but they weren’t there. I tapped the top of my head. Not there. Even though I was certain I’d worn them into Butterfield’s market, I still checked the console in my car where I sometimes set them and in the sunglasses holder up top where I should store them, and in the middle compartment. Nothing.
I got down on the floor of my car, in case they’d slipped. I picked up my purse and dug through it. Kleenex, coupons, and candy, but no sunglasses. By now, my mom and kids were back at the car.
“What’d you lose?”
“My sunglasses,” I mumbled.
“Did you check the register?”
“Are they in the greenhouse?”
We all went back inside and retraced our steps through mounds of dark orange pumpkins, crazy-shaped gourds, giant pots of mums, and bales of straw. They weren’t lying on the counter where I’d paid. The greenhouse, warm from the sun and fragrant with heady mums didn’t seem to be hiding them. We milled through the barrels of apples, bags of caramel corn and jugs of cider, but my sunglasses were nowhere to be found. What looked like an entire freshman corridor of college students trickled in for a hayride, making it difficult to even walk through the market, let alone continue my search. In one final effort, I left my name and number with the girl working the checkout, in case they turned up.
Have you lost something recently? Your keys? Your folder? Your phone? Some days I think I’m losing my mind. We search frantically on our way out the door for that cleat, that notebook, that bill we were going to drop in the mailbox. We scramble and scurry to find the things we’ve misplaced. We’ll stop everything to look for that one thing.
"If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won't he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” –Matthew 18:12
Jesus says we are the thing He’ll drop everything else to find.
You know how desperately you want to find your debit card? That phone number? The email you misplaced in your inbox? Your other earring? You know how you look and search and barely talk to anyone as you’re single-mindedly searching for it? That’s how desperately Jesus wants to hang out with us, the lengths He’ll go to to be with us, the extent of which He loves us. He’d stop everything to look for me? Yes. He’d stop everything to look for you, too.
When I got home I opened my trunk and grabbed a pot of crimson mums
“Mom! Stop! There they are!” My daughter yelled.
I looked down not registering what she was talking about. There were my sunglasses intertwined among the stems of flowers. Laugher. Relief. I snagged the shades and popped them back on my face.
And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn't wander away! --Matthew 18:13
Jesus rejoices when He finds us, when we let Him find us, when after hiding out among the flowers or the apples or the pumpkins we are finally looking at Him, listening to Him. He laughs. He sighs. He grabs us and pulls us close.
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?
I need a knee brace when I run, windshield wipers so I can see while driving in the rain, my Map App to get me anywhere outside of my neighborhood, and a hot pad to pull something out of the oven. There are things I need help with in life, things I can’t do on my own.
Only, I like to do things by myself. I don’t like to ask for help. Ever. I like to make my to-do list and get it done without bothering, pestering or imposing on anyone else, thank you very much! I’m a writer, for crying out loud. I thrive on holing up with my computer and making up stories. By myself. The problem is, just like I can’t run without my knee brace, I can’t do life without asking for help.
I can’t. You can’t. None of us can do it alone. We weren’t meant to.
Case in point. Last night two of my kids had soccer practice, another had flag football practice, and the fourth had a soccer game. All of these activities were scattered in various locations around Southwest Ohio. There was also a meeting I was supposed to attend. I clearly could not do it all. Not unless I found a rogue time-turner. I did not go to the meeting (don’t worry, I let them know I couldn’t come). I relied on another parent to get my daughter to and from her practice. A teammate with a driver's license transported my son to and from his practice. My husband and I divided and conquered the rest. Whew!
I hesitated to ask for help from these parents and friends. I mapped through every possibility of how I could do it by myself, but I couldn’t. And I wasn’t supposed to. And neither are you.
Life is not a scorecard of who gave the most rides. Nor is it a debt I owe—since I called on others for assistance, I’m required to give back to others in eight days or I’ll be fined. It is love. It is how Jesus told us to love our neighbors. Sometimes we just need to accept that we are the neighbors who need the loving. It is how He told us to stir up one another in love and good works. We are to meet together and encourage each other.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another… Hebrews 10:24-25
I will offer a ride to another child, and feed a friend a meal, but not as payback, but because this is how Jesus loves us, it’s how He loves me and you, and I’m so blown away by that, that I want to pay it forward.
But I also need to accept that love when it’s me who needs it.
Needing help has so many different faces. My kids’ soccer schedules are minimal in the scheme of life. Needing help could be huge like asking for a loan so you can make your house payment or small like ordering cupcakes from the bakery, because you don’t have time to bake and frost them for the birthday celebration. If you read last week’s blog, you know I’m struggling with my kids going back to school and with my oldest being in her “fourth” year of high school (that s- word hurts too much). A dear friend not only sensed my mama heartache, but was feeling the same way since her baby bird is flying the nest. She called. We talked for over an hour, and shared our sadness and our joy. Just knowing someone else understood my heart was like balm for my soul. Accepting her love, her compassion didn’t make me feel like I was using her, or like I was weak; it made me feel better. That’s what love looks like.
Yet, we still try to do things by ourselves, don’t we? I’m fine. I’ve got it. No worries. It’s alright. I can do it. These are our mantras. But they don’t have to be. We don't have to do it alone.
What do you need help with this week, this season of your life? Do you need someone to bring the snack, work your shift, take over your leadership position, give you direction, explain a math problem, or give you a referral? Maybe you really need someone to listen, because there is so much on your mind, tugging at your heart. Maybe you could use some serious prayers, because there are things way beyond your control causing you and the ones you love suffering.
Don’t be afraid to ask. This is not an indicator of weakness or incapability. It’s just a matter of the fact that all of us have limited time and finite resources and multiple needs.
God knows we need help. He doesn’t want us to do it alone. He sensed Adam was lonely and created Eve. He knew the world was a mess, and He sent His only Son. Jesus ascended into heaven, but sent down the Holy Spirit to be with us. God loves each and every one of us, and not only is He available any place any time of day we want to talk to Him, He has also put in our life others who can help us too.
I wavered about sending out my flurry of texts asking for rides for my kids here and there. But the alternative was my kids not going to their activities. Guess what? Not one person seemed flustered or put out by my requests. My kids got where they needed to be. At the end of the night we were all back home together. That is a beautiful thing. And all I had to do was ask.
Are you ready to ask for help today? Because God is waiting to give it to you. Jesus instructs the disciples: For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:8
That’s an invitation I’d like to take Him up on. Looks like I have some asking to do? You?
Even though the years since I’ve attended school have come and gone, I’ve never gotten off of a school calendar. I live in a college town. My husband is a professor. I have four kids. In my life, the abrupt change the first day of school brings is more significant than January first. To me, back to school is New Year’s Eve—a season of change, unlocked potential, resolutions, goodbyes, hellos and opportunities.
My youngest told me that although he LOVES summer, he’s really looking forward to school starting, because he’ll get to see all of his friends, wear his new gym shoes, draw with his new Crayons (there is something thrilling about a new 64 pack with sharpened points all lined up by color), and start his flag football season. Our conversation made me smile.
Those are great things to look forward to.
What are you looking forward to this fall?
I’m excited to unroll my yoga mat that’s been collecting dust all summer. I’m eager to move my Mac off the kitchen counter where it’s been hanging out for impromptu writing sessions—aka the moments my kids were otherwise occupied—back to my writing nook where I can spend hours with two of my best friends—Words and Stories. And Bible study starts soon. I’ve missed those women and the structured discipline of studying God’s word. These are all awesome things I’m super geared up to get back into.
But today, the day my kids all go off to school and leave me, the day I sit at the kitchen table and eat lunch by myself, the day the house is eerily silent, is the hardest day of the year for me. A piece of my heart walks out of my car and into my children’s school, leaving me with a missing piece and an ache—as if part of me has been taken. I love those kids. I love summer. I love summer, because I get to spend so much time with them.
So I’m bittersweet. You?
There are hellos of new roommates and goodbyes to families as college students lug their crates into their dorms. Ends and beginnings to our places in neighborhoods, churches and workplaces as we move, relocate, and reallocate pieces of our lives. Seasons change, and God calls us to embrace each one. Just like the first page of a brand new spiral notebook, the possibilities of fall are endless and full of promise. To help ease my transition, I bought my own back-to-school supplies, because please, look how adorable these are, and because they help my creative juices flow (plus with each Yoobi product I purchased an item will be donated to a classroom in need—cool, right?) New notebooks and markers are fresh starts, bright ink, slabs of marble, just waiting to be carved.
And this is the life Jesus offers us everyday. He says, “I know you’re still bitter from that argument, frustrated with the coach from last season, stressed about how carpool could possibly work, anxious about today’s meeting, freaked about balancing a new routine, concerned about a new school, a new job, a new home, but why? Anything you’ve done in the past where you’ve messed up, I’ve erased, I’ve washed clean by dying on the cross. Anything you’re facing, I’ll be with you. Fear not. For I am with you. Always.”
So open to a new page, friends. This doesn’t mean forgetting your old friends, teammates or family, but it does mean embracing where you are, the place and time God has placed you. For me, it means not dwelling on the fact that I can’t go to the pool with my kids today, and instead diving into a writing project I’ve been chomping at the bit to start.
Say you’re sorry.
Begin something new.
There are so many possibilities awaiting us today, ours for the taking, if we’ll reach out and seize them.
What fresh starts are you looking forward to this fall?
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?
Have you ever eaten an apple from Walmart? Sure all of the apples in the ready-to-go, easy-to-carry, plastic bag are the same shape and size. They’re even all the same color. Even if they’re multi-colored apples, it’s uncanny how they manage to package eight apples with the exact shade and portion of yellow marbled into the exact hue and percentage of red all in the same bag. But once you bite into one of those look-alike apples, you forget you’re eating an apple. Instead you get a mouthful resembling mealy cardboard.
Have you ever picked apples in an orchard? Off a real, live tree? Or at least purchased apples from an apple farmer, at a roadside stand, or a farmer’s market? They’re all unique. One might have a ding. Another an uneven spot. You might find one with its stem and leaf still attached. Their surfaces aren’t as smooth or shiny (translate waxy) as the ones at Walmart. Even apples from the same tree are different sizes with distinctive curves. Ever bitten into one and experienced the layering of sweet and tart, crisp and juicy, like crunching morsels of cider? These apples are like ambrosia. It’s almost blasphemy to use the same word to label this fruit as the kind they’re calling apples at Walmart.
God created us to be orchard apples.
Not Walmart apples.
He designed each and every one of us in His image. He knows exactly how much water we need, what kind of fertilizer we require, how to keep the pests away. He appreciates us when we are seeds, seedlings, beautiful pink blossoms in the spring, and as we grow into solid fruit. He doesn’t judge us along the way, try to grow us in a rush, pick us too early, or stuff us in a plastic bag and ship us before we’re ripe. See, God made us; therefore He loves who we are at every stage of our life, our dings, our rough spots, our natural surfaces. He doesn’t ask us to be anything we’re not, or try to cram us into a bag, force us to like someone else. No, through His love, God helps us become the best versions of ourselves. Much like those fresh from the orchard apples. Some of us are sweet, and some of us are tart, and some of us are a mix of both. We are red and green and gold and pink and all kinds of swirling combinations.
A Granny Smith does not want to be like a Golden Delicious, she’s too sassy for that. A Pink Lady has no aspiration to be a Honey Crisp, because she’s amazingly sweet and crisp and beautiful just like she is. Each apple just tries to be itself, because that’s who it was made to be. Us too. We need to relish in who we were made to be our Creator. Remember you are an orchard apple, not a Walmart one, so delight in the layers of your personality, your one-of-a-kind shape, size and flavor.
I love to bake. One of my family’s favorites this time of year is Apple Crisp. The secret to this recipe is to use a variety of apples. The different degrees of sweet and tart, crisp and soft all meld together when they bake into something unbelievably scrumptious. We deal with gluten and nut allergies, but this dessert is safe for all of us to savor. It is warm and sweet and spicy. Top it with some vanilla ice cream that melts over the crunchy topping, and you’re pretty close to this side of heaven. You don’t need any skills to make it, just a great variety of farmer’s market apples and a peeler.
7 medium-sized apples peeled and sliced thinly. A variety is best, some gold, some green, and some red. Mix it up.
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 ½ cups gluten free rolled oats (you can use regular, but don’t use steel cut, they don’t work as well)
½ cup gluten free flour (I use a ready-made blend, but you can make your own blend, or use GF oat flour or use regular flour. They all work the same.)
½ tsp. Cinnamon
Vanilla Ice Cream or if you’re feeling festive, whipped cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
What's your favorite way to serve apples in the fall?
Laura L. Smith