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?
Pulling out of the small parking lot after consuming the most ridiculous cappuccinos (so large, they were served in bowls) and an incredible brunch at Marche, my dear friend, Amy, and I couldn’t help but notice the head, shoulders and torso of a man emerging from a dumpster. Bedraggled and unshaven, he leaned over and rummaged around the trash searching for…something.
The decadent crêpe I’d just demolished, laced with apricots and dark chocolate, felt heavy in my stomach. My heart felt even heavier in my chest.
“What’s he looking for?” Amy asked, “food?”
“Probably,” I sighed, “so sad.”
“So sad,” she echoed, while clicking on her blinker and turning down the narrow alleyway. I’m not from Nashville, and even if I was, I have no sense of direction, so I allowed my mind to pray for the man while Amy drove. But only for about a minute and a half, because then she pulled into a minimart, shoved her car into park, and shouted to me, as she jumped out of her running car, “Be back in a minute.”
She could have needed Advil or gum; maybe she needed to pick up something for her boys. As promised she was back in in less than sixty seconds with a bag, but it wasn’t full of sundries. It was jammed with food. For the man.
“You’re amazing,” I said to her, as she turned back towards the dumpster.
“He was hungry. I had a couple of dollars,” she said. “It won’t fix anything, but at least he won’t be hungry today.”
When the dumpster came back into view, the man had vacated. But he hadn’t gone far. We spotted him pushing his abandoned grocery cart filled with smashed aluminum cans. Amy rolled down the window, and the man spoke first, “Just collecting my cans,” as if we chatted all the time and he was just giving us an update. Amy handed him the bag, told him to have a great day, and we drove off, just like that. You should have seen the beautiful smile on his weathered face. Amy was wrong. It had fixed something, maybe not his cycle of poverty, or his need for sustainable income, but it had changed his perspective of himself.
For a moment on a Wednesday in October, my friend showed this man his true reflection, not in a mirror, but in a bag of peanuts and crackers. She showed him he was noticed, he was worthy, that he deserved brunch just as much as we did, and that he didn’t deserve to have to rummage through a trash heap to find it or to gather enough cans to finance it. She showed him that somebody cared.
And in showing this man his true reflection, Amy’s true beauty played a beautiful melody throughout Music City, her own beautiful reflection beaming bright.
In one of my favorite childhood shows, Fraggle Rock, the Fraggles sought insight from Marjory the Trash Heap. “I’m orange peels, I’m coffee grounds, I’m wisdom!” she proclaimed.
On this day, I also found unexpected wisdom from a trash heap. I’m not sure if the man was knee deep in orange peels, but I’m pretty sure after experiencing the cappuccinos at Marche that there were coffee grounds. Because my sweet friend Amy could see that this man was a beautiful creation in Christ, she was able to remind him that he was. And in so doing, in offering love, she showed the world what true beauty looks like.
Do you remember Fraggle Rock? Do you remember any of the wisdom from the Trash Heap? Do you know someone whose true reflection shines? Let me know about them. I’d love to highlight them on my blog.
The day my nephew Chad was born, no one would have imagined one day he’d be crowned king. No one, except God, because that is exactly how our Creator saw Chad all along.
And eighteen years later at a soggy, chilly, rainy football game in a suburb of Cincinnati, thanks to the amazing true beauty of his high school community, Kings, Chad was not only elected by his peers onto the homecoming court, but called to the throne with this announcement, “And this year’s homecoming king is no other than Chad Handorf!”
And the meek shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Yes, my sweet, smiling nephew who somehow sustains himself on chicken nuggets and pretzels, who always carries a coaches whistle, who has faithfully cheered the loudest at every single one of his three siblings’ games, who laughs and tells the most fantastic stories, who sings the loudest and proudest when the cousins go Christmas caroling each year, the boy who came too early, who had a list of medical problems, who survived against the odds, and who lives with the implications and limitations of Down Syndrome each and every day got to see a glimpse of how God sees him. He got to see his true reflection.
But wait, there’s more.
Chad is buddies with one of the girls on the homecoming court, Emily Lima. He was convinced he should invite her to homecoming. Even though she has a boyfriend. My sister-in-law insisted he not do it, because of the boyfriend. But Chad has always been a little stubborn. And so, he made a sign, held it up in class, and asked this girl to the dance. Emily said, “Yes, I will. I’d love to.” And so, she, her boyfriend, and Chad, well, they went to the dance together. It is only fitting, that this beautiful girl, who helped show Chad his true reflection, was crowned queen.
You know what true beauty looks like? My nephew, Chad, with a crown on his head, face beaming, knowing through and through that he is a child of the one true King.
“We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out,” is how one of my favorite Elvis songs, “Suspicious Minds”, begins. And as much as I love that song, especially the remake by the Fine Young Cannibals, there’s nothing melodious or harmonic about feeling trapped.
Trapped—you know that feeling of being stuck, of having the door slammed in your face and not knowing where to turn?
My fourteen-year old son has a summer birthday, making him one of the older kids in his class and one of the younger kids on his soccer team. The rest of his club team started high school this fall and tried out for their high school teams. Meanwhile, Max was left standing alone. It happens in sports, so often that there’s a term for it – Trapped Eighth Grader. Everything settles itself out in the spring, when all of the players of Max’s team will be free from their high school commitments, and they’ll all play together. Next fall, Max can try out for his high school team. But in the meantime, for this fall, he was officially trapped.
Max’s team had been yanked out from under his feet. What were we going to do? So, Max and I began praying about the situation.
We’d heard rumors of a team of home-schooled boys, who scrimmaged against some of the smaller high schools, but Max wouldn’t have known any of the players, and they’d all been playing together for years. We discussed hiring a soccer trainer to fine tune Max’s skills and keep him active, but not only was it expensive, Max wanted to play games. There was also talk of his club joining trapped eighth graders from a large geographical area to practice and scrimmage, but nothing ever materialized.
Then one day this summer, Max joined me for my morning jaunt to Starbucks. He wore his club soccer t-shirt, and while I was at one end of the line ordering my coffee, the barista at the other end of the counter started chatting with Max. By the time I got over to where Max was, the barista, who I’ve never seen working at my Starbucks before or since, was inviting Max to join in a standing pick up game of soccer. The players ranged from college boys to professors to community members who’d played high school or college club soccer, and still loved the game. They met twice a week, with no fees, at the park five minutes from our house. We walked out whispering to one another. It looked like God had answered our prayers.
Max has been playing with these guys ever since. And loving it. The players are first rate. Max gets tons of touches on the balls, lots of opportunities to learn and grow and shoot and score, and gets a great workout, without any pressure to start or win. This is not something Max or I or his soccer coach could have orchestrated. None of us knew these guys played. If I had, I would have never guessed my eighth grader would have been welcome. But he is. The other guys are super friendly and accepting of my son. Max and I could have never strategized that he should wear his club shirt to get noticed by a Starbucks worker I’m thinking was a sub. But God knew. He always does. And once again, He orchestrated something so perfect and out of the realm of my consideration that I am blown away. It didn't happen over night. It didn't become clear to us the first time we prayed about it. The first avenue we tried and the second and the third also were dead end streets. But God always had this in mind.
It is in Christ Jesus that we find out who we are and what we are living for. (Ephesians 1:11 MSG)
You see, we’re never really trapped. Sometimes it sure looks like it. Sometimes we’re suffering from an ailment or depression or a loss. Some days we get a rejection or a bad score or a bad review. But with God there is never a dead end. Jesus is The Way. And when we trust in Him, He always reveals the beautiful plan He’d intended for us all along.
You don’t have to figure the way through or out or over the slammed door in your life. But you do need to turn it over to God, and watch the amazing ways He’ll make you flat enough to slide under the door, strong enough to bust through the door, or reveal a secret passageway out, you’d never seen before. With Jesus there is no trapped, just pauses in the beautiful journey He’s walking with you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG)
With the new school year, comes a sense of order and routine after the free-flowing days of summer. And each fall, I feel I am expected to be a bit more in control—more in control of what I say, what I wear, how I organize my time, how I manage my money, how I act in public. Being in control most of the time is a very good thing. We shouldn’t shout in libraries, spend more than we make, wear our swimsuits to the office, etc. But sometimes, it’s a very, very good thing to revert, and to let go.
When was the last time you pulled out a box of crayons and drew an imaginary animal or a purple sun? When was the last time you jumped off the diving board or spun someone around in circles in the pool? When was the last time you let out a whoop of excitement in public?
How did it feel? Freeing? Refreshing? Revitalizing?
This summer I took a Zumba class for the first time. Zumba defies letting go of control. I grew up dancing—ballet, high school dance team, and out and out jamming to R.E.M. and New Order at clubs and college parties. But grown women aren’t supposed to shake their hips, do the snake, or wiggle their behinds. Unless, apparently, they’re doing Zumba. The first couple of classes I was like a robot, learning the steps and memorizing the combinations. Somewhere during the third class, I realized when I stopped focusing so hard on getting the footwork right, I could feel the beat, find my groove, and actually do the routines better. But I had to convince myself that it is, after all, okay for a grown woman to shake it (at least in Zumba class). And when I did, it WAS SO MUCH FUN!
Sometimes we need to shake things up to find our groove, do our routines better and experience life more fully. One area I fear I might try to control too much is my faith walk. I go to this church, at this time. I read “this much” of the Bible each morning. I do Bible study on Wednesdays, and do the homework for it at lunchtime when my kids are at school to refocus midday. Which is all great. Because it keeps me in step with God. It keeps me faithful. But what if I redefined walking with Jesus as dancing with Him? What if I let Him spin me and dip me, always trusting Him to catch me, and twirl me back to Him?
What if I shook it up a bit?
What if you did too?
So, I’m challenging myself, and you, to shake up your dance with Jesus this school year. Try a new service, a new station, a new podcast, listen to a different preacher, read a new book, join a new group, pray outside (or inside if you’re usually an outdoor girl), write with a crazy-colored pen in your journal.
Go for a hayride. Eat a caramel apple and don’t worry about the mess. Rake a pile of leaves and then pounce in it. I can’t wait to hear how all of you shake up your school years!
To get your shake-up started, I’m offering my book, It’s Complicated, which just so happens to revolve around four college roommates as they go back to school, for FREE through the end of September. Share with your friends. Click here to download now.
SHAKE UP YOUR GROUP
I’d also love to shake up things in your group by coming to speak to you about how beautiful and beloved you are, because you are made in Christ’s image. Click here to find out more about my speaking. And just message back if you'd like to book a date.
Having lunch with a couple of friends the other day we got chatting about pumpkin carving. They could take it or leave it. Me? I can’t imagine October without it. The anticipation from my kids of what face they’ll make this year. The ripe scent when my knife makes its first deep cut into pumpkin flesh. The chatter of six voices sharing markers and spoons and toothpicks and comparing the insides, faces and progress of each other’s creations. The smooth, slimy feel of seeds as I pick them out of the sticky pulp. The way the lids fit perfectly back on their jagged jack-o-lantern jars. The salty, earthy flavor of seeds freshly roasted. And yes, someone always gets slimed.
I’m a holiday tradition girl. Traditions do something inside of me, tickling my senses, marking years and memories, solidifying who I am and who I’m with and the glorious blessing of being alive.
My other fall traditions include, but are not limited to; a family hayride, ordering foamy soaps, candles and hand sanitizers with scents like Pumpkin Cupcake and Crisp Fall Morning and placing them in our bathrooms, on our counters, tucking them in backpacks and pockets. Multiple visits to our local farmer’s market, Butterfields, for crisp apples and a run through the straw maze.
Filling and refilling the candy dish on the counter with candy corn. Baking and eating pumpkin bread and apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. Watching It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with our whole family piled together on the couch. Drinking Pumpkin Lattes on Saturday morning.
What are some of your fall traditions?
“Do you have “Shake It Up Baby?” a guy asked me one day when I was working my high school job at a record store.
Yup, I said record store. So, you know this story is a major throwback. I didn’t know of a song, “Shake It Up Baby”, but I’m a huge Beatles fan and had just seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was topping the box office. I did some quick calculating in my head (my favorite kind, the kind without numbers) and suggested perhaps he was looking for “Twist and Shout”.
“By the Beatles.”
“The one in Ferris Bueller.”
“Right. Right.” He nodded. “Shake it Up Baby.”
When was the last time you shook things up?
Because when you do, there are always some bubbles.
I’m a routine girl. I run in the morning when the air is cool and crisp and my mind can wander through the day’s events. After my run I dig into my writing. But yesterday after dropping my kids off at school, fully clad in workout clothes, I delayed my run and started writing instead. It was one of those writing sessions where I was focused and in tune and words flowed. They’re not all like that, I promise. But yesterday’s was. Fizz.
Due to a series of late nights I’m way behind on sleep, and I’m a girl who needs her sleep. So in the middle of the day I took an hour-long nap. Ahhhh. Crazy, for me, and with my list of to-do’s it felt irresponsible. But I woke rested and sane, and less grumpy. As a result of being more alert, the remainder of my day was more productive. Foam.
With four kids, part of my day, usually involves a grocery run. We are always out of something. I’d made a list the night before, had it in my purse and didn’t go. Instead, after school I took the kids to the farmer’s market. They ran around the straw maze and ate apples fresh from the orchard while I grabbed the necessities. We got what we needed and it was way more fun. Bubble.
My husband and I try to find a way to “date” every weekend. Sometimes that means going out to dinner. Sometimes our date consists of sitting by the fire chatting while the kids watch a movie in the next room. But between travel and soccer tournaments our weekends have been packed. So last night, Thursday, we had a date. We ate delicious fig and prosciutto pasta with brown butter sauce from the market on our porch and talked and laughed and shared. It was lovely. And it was on a school night. Carbonate.
Maybe you’re the opposite. Maybe you never have a list or a plan or a schedule. And you’re reading along wondering what’s so shaken about any of those occurrences. What if for one day, just one, you made a list before going to the grocery and planned out how you were going to use your day? For you, that might be the shake up you need. Stir.
None of those things are radical, but the small changes to my everyday routine refreshed and revived me. Don’t get me wrong. Routine is how I make things work. I can’t skip my runs and the grocery every day. I can’t take naps everyday and have dates on every school night. Our family unit would start to unravel. But every once in a while, it’s exactly what I need to see things through fresh eyes.
What about you? Have you shaken things up lately?
I have always loved music. Always.
Growing up, every cupboard, shelf and rack in our home was filled with the records my dad collected. I’d memorized the Wizard of Oz soundtrack before I could ride a bike and learned most of the lyrics to the entire Beatles catalogue before entering junior high. I still listen to music when I’m freaked out, chilling, excited, tired, pumped up, worked up, working out, baking, driving, you name it. And, I always sing along. Always.
Unfortunately, for those around me, I’m not that strong a singer. That fact hasn’t dampened my love of music, not one little bit.
A couple of years ago I attended a Chris Tomlin concert. In the middle of the show, Chris Tomlin took a break and Louie Giglio came on stage and spoke. It was a-mazing, and at the time, I’d never experienced anything like it. The mixed media of an inspirational singer with an inspirational speaker, well, it spoke to me.
Being a speaker myself, a thought, like a single brightly colored thread, wove itself through my brain. "What a cool way to speak," I thought, “as part of a concert, you know a ‘we interrupt this fantastic concert for a word about how much God loves you,’ and then ‘back to our regularly scheduled program’.” But the thread was thin, and my brain was packed.
A few months later Holly Starr, a Christian recording artist I’d gotten to know via Twitter was cruising through Ohio. We connected while she was in town, and I instantly felt like God sent her into my life for a reason. Her songs were beautiful and powerful, but even more incredible than her music was her faith. She shared with me how she became inspired to become a worship leader after seeing a Chris Tomlin show! WOW! Another thread, a thicker one, more coarse and tactile, wove its way through my mind and intertwined with the first, what if Holly sang and I spoke?
I’m blown away by how God prepares us, how intricate and well thought out and executed His plans are. Because, in just two weeks, Holly and I will be doing just that. We are thrilled to be sharing the message that our true identity is in in Christ – not from how much money we make, or what we drive, or how many followers or likes we have, not from what brand of shoes we wear, or how fast or strong we are, or what size we wear. The reality is, we were made in God’s image, meaning we are exactly as we are supposed to be, and we are perfect in His eyes.
Our sponsor, Sisterhood Magazine, helps us present the Through My Father’s Eyes Tour. Those two idea strands, the two seemingly random ideas, God has woven them into beautiful fabric.
We’d love to have you join us in this celebration. If you live near Bismarck, ND, we’ll be at Calvary Chapel at 7:00 PM on September 13. If you live near Ames, Iowa, we’ll be at First United Methodist Church at 6:30 PM on September 20. We’ll also be on the Finding Balance webinar together October 7 from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM . Holly and I still have a few openings mid-September if your church or organization would like to partner with us in sharing this important message of true beauty.
After all of these years of singing to myself I can actually say, “I’m going on tour.” I promise you I won’t sing. Cool how God works. Always.
What’s your first memory of music?
On today's blog I feature up and coming young author, Devin Berglund. Devin calls herself a writer, dreamer, wanderer and all-time enjoyer of life. She loves crafting stories that change lives. Her short story, Hope For Another Day, releases on Halloween.
One autumn morning, I was walking to my college class. Leaves floated around the blue sky and rustled on the sidewalk. It was the perfect day. Once I got to class, I sat down next to my friend. Class hadn't started yet, but my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I looked at the name - Dad.
"Are you sitting down." I looked around at my friends in class, then got up and walked into the hallway to sit at a bench. I remember the sunlight shining through the window. It was the perfect day, but not for this kind of conversation.
"Uh... Yeah? I am now. What's wrong?" A pause came from my dad's side. I remember turning through the book of all the faces I knew and loved dearly.
"Grandpa Dennis passed away, this morning."
I don't think I said anything other than breaking into tears. I couldn't stop crying.
That week was one of my toughest in my college career. My family went down to Crystal, North Dakota. I had to finish out the week of classes, before I could join them.
It's been six years, since my Grandpa went to be with the Lord. It was tough and it took a long time to heal for all of our family. And we still haven't completely gotten over the loss.
One of my favorite Bible verses that got me through many tough experiences was Jeremiah 29:11-14
When we go through troubles, God will pick us up again and set us on our feet again.
But after that is when the work begins. We have to strive to live good and happy lives filled with HOPE. In my Urban Fantasy short story, Hope For Another Day, I wrote about a character named Silvia. She is a young woman who lost her husband and also a young infant. In my writing, I want to share with the world that there is always something great to hope for. A beautiful sunset in every day.
After losing her husband to a car accident, Silvia yearns for the normal life she once had and the love she lost. One night, while walking through the forest, her life is turned upside down when she discovers a mysterious secret in the forest.
This is a twist on the fairytales we were told while we were young. It’s a story about fate, loss, and giving life a second chance.
Just as my Grandpa's life was cut so short, we can't take life or the days we are given for granted. We should push onward without worry and fear. We should push onward with hope in our hearts.
1. Chilly morning runs on campus
2. Carving pumpkins
3. Roasting pumpkin seeds
4. Candy Corn
6. Leaf rubbings
7. Apple crisp fresh out of the oven topped with vanilla ice cream
8. My black motorcycle jacket from the leather markets in Florence
9. Spooky scented hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Words (our family calls them hanee sanees)
10. Salted Caramel Mochas
But, you know my favorite part of fall? Rejoicing that God created all of these flavors, smells, activities, fashion statements and the incredible beauty of the changing leaves for us to enjoy.
What are your favorite things about fall?
Laura L. Smith