My youngest had the day off school the other day (teacher workday) and we decided to live it to the fullest. We cuddled up under the giant, red, fuzzy blanket that sits on our couch with hot cocoa (him) and coffee (me) and watched a movie he’d wanted to see. We fit together the pieces of a giant puzzle of the world, and then we headed to the corn maze.
When I’m in a corn maze I feel like I’m in an adventure story, on a mission to find the golden goose or missing clue. Okay, so I’m also dramatic, and live a bit inside my head of fairytales. But I am mystified by corn mazes, not just because they’re the perfect setting for a quest, but also because this destination, which draws people from all over for fall fun is actually just a dead corn field. The farmer grew corn in the summer (knee high by the Fourth of July is the rule in Ohio) and sold thousands of ears of it all summer long. My kids and I husked thick wrappers, and untangled shiny silks. I flash boiled the sweet, golden ears and we ate them slightly salted with watermelon and barbequed chicken all summer long. But summer is over—yikes it got so chilly in a heartbeat—and the corn has been harvested, and it’s time for steaming pots of soup and crisp apples. The farmer could have looked at the brown, dried out stalks, and simply plowed them down, preparing the soil for next year’s planting. He had that choice. Summer was over. Time to move on. But he knows better. He knows that even the stalks had purpose. That none of it has to be wasted.
There’s even more to it than immediately meets the eye. The corn has been harvested, but some dried up ears remain on the brittle stalks. These ears will be gathered and used as feed for the cows all winter long. Wild morning glories have taken seed and used the seemingly expired stalks as a support system, upon which they can grow and bloom, vibrant purple blossoms.
God, along with all of His other royal attributes, is the King of not letting anything be wasted. He looks at us, even when we feel shriveled and like we’ve been picked clean, even when we have no idea how that thing or that person could be used for our story moving forward and says, “Yup, I can use her. I can use him. I can use that class she taught or the one he took. I can use that conversation, that love for drums or jalapeno peppers, that relationship that fizzled. I can use all of that to add fervor, flair, or fun, or maybe to fortify their life.”
He About five years ago I had completed writing a novel and was struggling to find a publisher. A friend arranged for me to meet one of her editor friends, so I could pick his brain on how my book might find a slot in the current industry. The editor was savvy and kind. He gave me solid advice, but unfortunately to this day that novel has never been published. Did God waste this meeting? No. He doesn’t work like that. In January of this year the same editor contacted me and asked me to write two books for him. Two? What? Last week another ministry called saying, the very same guy suggested I might be able to help them with a writing project. What? A lunch over fried green beans, y’all, (apparently it’s a Nashville thing), five years ago did not land my novel a book deal. But it created a relationship that led to future writing adventures. Does that make sense? Of course not to me. But that’s what God is always doing.
What in your life looks like it was or is a waste of time. What are you looking at on your desk or in your planner that makes you just shake your head and ask God, “Why?” It could be a place you moved, an organization you invested in, an endeavor you tried. It might look like a dead end now, but God will use it somehow—for growth or healing, as experiences you can learn from and apply around the next bend of this adventure we call life.
Sometimes you have to circle back to the direction you just came from in a corn maze to actually progress to the finish line. It doesn’t make sense when you’re in the midst of it. It feels like you’re going backwards. But you’re advancing, gaining the steps you need to get where God really wants you to end up. And even when you hit a dead end or literally walk the same row of corn repeatedly, God uses that too. I promise. For my son and I, who were in the corn maze for over an hour—we literally passed the same couple three different times. “Hi. Again.” We laughed more. We told more stories. We experienced more one-on-one time together. We breathed in bigger gulps of brisk autumn air. And it made my mama heart so full and glad. All because we were lost in some dead corn. I’m so grateful for a brilliant, glorious God who always knows better than I do, which way I should go, when, and why.
He chose us in advance. And He makes everything work out according to His plan. —Ephesians 1:11
So, don’t throw up your hands. Take a deep breath. God is with you in this very moment. He sees the work you put in, the avenues you explored, the times you bit your tongue. The day and the day after that when you tried again. He has this giant, phenomenal plan for you, and He’s so excited that you took that step to the left, and that one slightly backwards, because He knows that will lead you to where He’s pointing you. You might see dead, empty stalks. But Jesus sees a phenomenal corn maze, some nourishment for His kingdom, and something wild about to bloom.
My Uncle Ray (who wasn’t really an uncle, but actually my mom’s cousin) introduced me to fishing when I was about four. He was a farmer and had a pond on his property stocked with rainbow trout. Ray treated me like the Princess of Fishing, telling me what a great job I was doing, making a point of telling my mom when I was in close earshot, “Laura could make a fine fisherwoman.” At the time I had no idea how much of the work Ray did or what a “stocked” pond even meant, I just knew that he taught me how to put a worm on a hook, cast a line, and reel in a beautiful iridescent trout I could be proud of.
A handful of years later our family went to Florida for spring break and stayed with my actual uncle, Lowell. He took us out deep-sea fishing on his boat. I got so seasick I spent most of the day lying down in the cabin, but despite my nausea a gigantic barracuda bit on “my” line. Of course my uncle, my dad, and everyone else on board had to reel the big boy in, but still somehow, it felt like mine.
With those limited experiences I am hardly a fisherwoman, but when our family heads to the beach for summer vacation we always buy crab nets, string, and chicken backs for bait from either Walmart or the local hardware store and venture out to the pier posing as the crew of the Deadliest Catch for an afternoon. It’s something my husband did when he was a kid, and he’s carried on the tradition with our four kids and me.
Some years we catch scads of blue crabs. One year we didn’t catch a single one. Some spots or nets seem to be more productive than others as they dangle from the pier. Some years one of our kids will seem to catch the mother lode while others repeatedly pull up their nets empty except for the bait, exclaiming, “I caught chicken!” We’ve had expeditions where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, sweat pouring down our backs and dripping from our brows. This year it was sunny, then rained so hard it sent us under a shelter, only to turn sunny again a few minutes later.
Jesus hung out with fishermen and talked about fishing all of the time. I figure if He spent His time in boats with nets, there’s probably something to learn there. My takeaway from trying to figure out how to catch fish, or crab, is that it mirrors my journey in life.
First, no matter where I’m headed, I need someone to help me—a guide who’s gone before. I would have never even known where to fish, let alone what to bring, or how to use the rods, nets, hooks, etc. if it weren’t for my Uncle Ray, Uncle Lowell, and my husband leading me to the fishing spots and coaching me on how to hold, cast, and reel. In my life, I need Jesus. I can’t start an adventure, a new endeavor, assignment, job, relationship, or experiment without Him. Jesus knows the best places for us to go, and how we should get there. He knows when we need stocked ponds, and when we’re ready for deep waters. He equips us with the tools we’ll need to face whatever lays ahead and teaches us how to use them. He gently explains the best course of action along the way, and cheers for us when we get the catch.
Second, I need to be patient. Sometimes the things I’m after, the goals I set, the roads I set out on seem to take forever to obtain, achieve, or traverse. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, just maybe, on some things I want I’ll never get, because I’m supposed to be doing something else with someone else somewhere else. Being patient could mean standing for an hour or day or month or year without so much as a nibble on my line. It could mean sending out another application or submission, running one more lap, biting my tongue one more time, praying another prayer, going to one more audition, inviting her again, rehearsing one more time. But mainly it means trusting Jesus, that He’s in control, that He knows what’s best, that He’ll move things forward, or sideways if necessary, (and it will be like a snap of the fingers for Him) when it’s time, when we’re ready, when it makes sense for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. Sometimes the waiting, the trying again, builds the character we need to be able to take the next step or the next.
Third, I never know how things are going to go down. Some days everything goes swimmingly (sorry, couldn’t resist). Some days I’ll question why I’m out there, standing in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Some days I’ll feel queasy and others my nets will fill effortlessly. Some days I’ll catch exactly what I’m looking for, and others my nets will pull up the most random, brilliant treasures—like when my youngest pulled up a horseshoe crab too heavy for him to lift or when I caught a hermit crab, curled up inside his shell. But every day, Jesus is up to great things, kingdom building things. He always has something to teach us. When things are rough and challenging, it reminds us to be dependent on Him and His power and His grace. That we’re not going to get through unless we lean on Him, take shelter in Him, slather Him on like sunscreen to save us from being burned. When things come easily, we’re reminded of how great our God is, that He can move mountains, or fill nets, despite the circumstances. There are people He’ll have us meet walking down the boardwalk of life that need a smile or a hug, or maybe they’ll explain something in a way we never heard before, or they’ll become our new best friend. There are times when we’ll have zero idea what Jesus is up to, but we’ll sense it’s cool, amazing— like the day this week when I hadn’t caught a crab, but I pulled up a brilliantly striped zebra fish, flapping in my net.
I don’t know what your life adventure looks like. But I do know if you let Jesus guide you, if you’re patient with His perfect timing, and if you can let go of how you think things should go, then you’ll be in for an incredible adventure.
After a night of catching no fish at all, Jesus told his disciples:
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it there, and they were unable to haul it in because of the great number of fish. —John 21:6
My husband and I joke that God’s voice might sound a whole lot like James Earl Jones'. We were reminded of that tonight. We had a family movie night and watched Field of Dreams. I hadn’t seen this movie since it first came out, which was closing on twenty years ago—yikes! But I still remembered the key line, “Build it and they will come.”
You guys I feel like that all of the time. Like God is whispering to me, “Write it and they will read. Write about your kids’ soccer games, what a bad driver you are, how you let a squirrel into church, peanut butter, that book you read.”
And I think, “Eh? Really? Who wants to hear about that?”
And God, says, “Write it. Write if for Me. I’ll do something with it.”
And so I write. And I hope someone will read the words. But more importantly I pray over each blog that it will somehow impact somebody out there, that someone will understand how much God loves them just a little bit better. That someone will truly believe in their bones a milli-moment more that they are uniquely created by the ultimate Creator to do amazing things. I pray before I open the lid of my Mac, before I click “publish” on a new blog, before I push “send” on a proposal or manuscript or revisions or fourth round of revisions to an editor, before I walk out in front of an audience, before I sync something on social media. I pray that God will use the words He gave me for His glory.
Because none of the words come from me. None of the stories come from me.
Just like Kevin Costner hears a voice in the cornfield telling him to build a baseball field, I believe God calls me to write the craziest things, the things that don’t make sense. But when I do? Something insane happens. It’s no longer about the stories I tell, it’s all about getting closer to Jesus. For a flash, I catch a glimpse His all encompassing love and power. And it is marvelous.
I also believe that God calls each of you to the zaniest most fabulous things. What is He calling you to do today? How weird does it sound? How limitless are the possibilities?
Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, built a baseball field, not because he’d always wanted to, not because it made sense, not to turn a profit, or to give his daughter a place to play, but simply in obedience to a voice. And then?
And Ray questions and wonders if he made the right decision, if he was out of his mind. But one day Ray walks outside and sees baseball legend, Shoeless Joe, standing on his field. The next day several baseball greats are playing on Ray’s field. The movie ends with Ray unexpectedly healing one of his own hurts and a line of cars coming to pay admission to see his field. Ray obeyed the voice even when it seemed counterintuitive to everything he knew. And something awesome happened. That’s how God works.
“March around a wall seven times. That’s how you’ll take this city,” God told Joshua and his army as they faced the impenetrable wall of Jericho. And the walls fell down.
“Oh yeah, fight their army of thousands carrying tons of sharp weapons with only pots and trumpets. You’re sure to win,” God told Gideon and his army of 300. And they won.
The poor will be rich.
The blind will see.
What wackiness is God calling you to?
We’ll all hear His voice in different ways. He calls us all to unique, specific work. And sometimes what God says seems out of the question, like something we would never be able or want to do. Ray’s wife, Annie, in Field of Dreams asks, “Why didn’t the voice send someone else?” And sometimes we ask that same question. Even Moses asked that question. But when God calls you. He calls YOU.
This film came out in 1989. Technology was different. Very. I laughed when Kevin Costner goes to the library and views microfiche, and when his wife answers the telephone with a cord. Plugged into the wall. My husband and I had to explain these things to the children. What if no one had followed God’s call to invent Google to replace microfiche or cell phones to replace wall phones? Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple spoke in our college town this past week about all of the things he was curious about, all the problems he wanted to solve, how if something had a glitch he wanted to fix it. What if he hadn’t? What if you don’t answer God’s voice? What will the world miss out on?
What is God calling you to do today? To build? To create? To join? To take on? To write? To learn? To say? To act upon?
What’s stopping you? Are you afraid of what someone will think or how they’ll react? Are you unsure of the numbers? Of the odds? Of yourself?
I know Field of Dreams is a movie, folks, but I was overwhelmed by how much it mirrors God’s call in our lives. Kevin Costner looks cuckoo. He risks his farm, his profit, and his reputation. But he knows it is what he is called to do. And just when everything seems to be falling apart—like he’ll lose his land and go bankrupt, everything falls into place.
Because God’s plans are perfect plans. Yes, His plans seem out there sometimes. Because, well He’s not of this world. Sometimes earthly obstacles feel like roadblocks when we try executing God’s plans. But if we’re obedient, if we listen when He asks us to do something? Then baseball legends from the past walk out of cornfields, strangers read about my quirky days and somehow feel God’s love, battles are won, slaves freed, and the meek inherit the earth.
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.
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?
The population of my town just split in half. One U-Haul at a time, residents abandoned Oxford, like the Onceler’s family after the last Truffula tree fell to the ground. But there hasn’t been a shortage of trees or a tragedy to drive out the inhabitants. This exodus isn’t alarming. Here, in Oxford it is expected.
Each May 12,000 students roll out of town leaving 12,000 residents to hold down the fort until their return. Each August the co-eds come charging back, doubling our population with energy, excitement and youth.
Without the 18-22 year olds Oxford, Ohio would have little reason to exist. Our commerce revolves around the University. And with no students, the University is obsolete. The restaurants and shops wouldn’t have enough customers, and the landlords have no one to rent their apartments and houses to. The students provide us with opportunities to hear speakers like the Dali Lama, jam to bands ranging from Wynton Marsalis to The Fray and cheer in a state of the art hockey arena for a championship team. What other town of 24,000 people offers Lily Pulitzer, Vera Bradley, an Aveda salon, an indoor track, an Olympic size pool and a climbing wall?
So, is the town half empty when the students leave?
Of course not.
Summers in Oxford mean free concerts at the Uptown parks every Thursday night, a deliciously fresh farmer’s market every Saturday morning, fountains to splash in, a 4th of July celebration that rivals Mayberry’s and long, lazy, hazy days to relax and recharge.
In the summer I can always find a parking spot, there is never a line at Starbucks and my drive time to anywhere in town is less than five minutes.
But in August, I’ll be thrilled to see the return of the students. They add vibrancy and excitement to my town. From them I learn about the latest fashions, the newest music and how to live with expectancy and a sense of adventure.
In Oxford, the town may become half full in the summertime, but it is never half empty. What joys does your town offer this summer? How do you plan on making the most of your summer days?
Laura L. Smith