I’m sitting in the high school theater. One girl sits behind the piano, playing a song I’ve heard on the radio. She sings it more beautifully than I’ve ever heard. A guy sits on the stage drinking soda out of a flask—very dramatic. The students filter in, greeting each other, hugging. One girl walks in with a boot on her foot. “What happened?” “How long do you have to wear it?” “Can you still do the show?” The questions hit her rapid fire. More chatter as the teens take time to acclimate to this space—the theater, a gathering of friends, of others who love the stage.
And then, the director calls out, “Everyone on stage. We’re working on the car song. Go ahead and take a seat.” The entire room changes in five seconds from the atmosphere of a cafeteria to a scene from Rise.
There was a time to arrive, get comfortable, exchange hellos, and there is a time to get serious. To get to work. Both are important. And even in the work, it’s not predictable. Two weeks from the show, the cast typically takes it from Scene 1, all out reading lines and dancing across the stage. But this day is a day for the details, to nit pick a song apart, and make sure it’s spot on.
I’m emotional today, because I’ve also gone though a shift of what it is time for. I’ve been under an insane deadline. The number of days I had to write the number of pages that were due did not compute. It was a time to keep my head down, stay focused, cut out anything extra, eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. It was a time to write for hours on Saturdays, to wake up early on weekdays, to skip a couple of blog entries. Grinding out, page by page, trying to make the words flow, trying to make it all Biblically accurate, trying to make it right. And yesterday, I turned it in. Insert giant exhale here. I sent my manuscript to my project manager, closed the document that had sat open on my screen for weeks, shut my Mac, and went for a run.
Yesterday afternoon I cooked a real dinner for my family—with sides and everything. I went for a walk with my husband, sat by the fire and watched a movie with these my kids. This morning I slept in, made crepe batter, and didn’t touch my computer until, well, now. I’ve entered a whole different zone. Not that I won’t have more writing assignments (I mean, I hope I will). But today I need to recognize I was in a season of deep, intense, work, and now I need to take a season of rest. I’ll get comments back from the editor next week, and I’ll have to get back to work, but now? Now I can hang with my family, enjoy a meal, sleep, write a blog with rambling words about how God has been working on me lately.
And here’s how He’s been working. God has shown me that just like it says in Ecclesiastes 3; there is a time for everything. God runs that eternal clock that we are all watching and checking and running around trying to stay in sync with it. But He does not see time like we do. God is less concerned with who’s first in the pick up line, who gets there early enough to get the best parking spot, who’s sitting in their desk when the boss arrives, who’s strolling into church halfway through the second song, and who arrives at the finish line in the middle of the pack.
God looks at it like this. “I have something for you to do. Please do it. Your life will be better if you do it and if you do it on my timeline.” And for each of us on each day and even in different parts of the day that’s something different—a time to plant, a time to uproot, a time to heal, a time to tear down, a time to rebuild, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance, a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them… God sees us and knows what is actually best –when we need to step out, step up, step to the side, and when we need to take more steps before we’re ready. These are the assignments He gives us with our time.
For me this meant lots of coffee, reading, writing, checking, rereading, rewording. But none of this work made sense, and none of it could happen for me unless I did something first.
Each day I closed my eyes and prayed. “God, thank you for this opportunity. For the chance to write these stories for You. Please help me use my time wisely for Your glory. Please help me write the words You want written, words that point people to you. Please give me endurance. Please give me focus. I am so grateful for Your love. That You allow me to do this thing I love. Thank You for my family. I love them so. Please help me balance all the things. And trust You when I feel like I’m dropping balls and praise You when things go smoothly. Please, Lord, let me use this day to serve You.”
Because of that prayer, on the days when I was super productive, or on days when I was super not, all was well. When I took three giant steps backwards to rewrite a whole section. When we had two soccer practices and play practice and an event at school. When I felt energized or exhausted, it somehow worked. Because it was for God and for His glory. And then it didn’t matter how much I’d written. I’d written for Him. And that’s all that mattered in the first place.
What is it time for in your life? It might be time to get accustomed to new space, to familiarize yourself with the people around you, to take time to give someone a hug, to check in and see how they’re doing. It might be time to get going, to do the work in front of you. For you it might be time to practice—to run through that presentation, that drill one more time even if you’re exhausted, look through your notes, rehearse your lines, your part. It might be God wants you to take time to fix some broken things—the flat tire on your car, the broken ice maker on your freezer, the way you’ve been looking at things, the way you’ve been treating someone else or yourself.
Maybe for you it’s time to sleep, to take a hot bath, to stay inside, to do your nails, to sit by a window and gaze out as the raindrops trickle down the window, or sit outside and listen to the birds twittering, grateful for the promise of springtime.
There are times for everything. And everything works brilliantly when it’s done in God’s time. For the cast of this play, today is time to go over the third measure of one song with the vocal coach over and over, feet dangling over the edge of the stage. But in a week and a half they’ll be performing for a full theatre in costumes and makeup. It’s all important. The work. The rest. The performance. And they’re all best executed when we realize they are all from God, all part of His plan, that they all hold equal credence.
What is God calling you to do today? Work? Rest? Rebuilding? Going for it? Settling down? Nesting? Going out? Waiting? Charging forward? He will use all the times in perfect ways. Trust Him. Talk to Him. Then go out and do what He’s called you to do in this specific, priceless season.
Our hands. We use them for a zillion and nine things a day. To brush our teeth, brew our coffee, open the pages of our Bibles, type emails and texts, buckle littles into their seats, stir pots of soup, shuffle cards, brush/straighten/curl/braid our hair, tie shoes, sign forms, sometimes even carve pumpkins.
Over the weekend I had the blessing of watching countless folks use their hands to make a difference. I was part of the Women of the Word event in Indiana and was blown away by hundreds of hands doing Christ’s work. I met women who play guitar with their hands at retreats for inmates, who hold hands with addicts in rehab ministry, who sketch with pastels beautiful landscapes illustrating the living water Jesus offers, and who cook meals with their hands for prison ministry. There were women and men who clicked microphones on my back, brought me something to eat, and packed up my books with their sweet loving hands. Hands passing out programs, doling out index cards, stuffing sacks with sandwiches and apples, frosting cupcakes, opening doors, running videos and music from the sound booth, clapping in time with familiar hymns, and holding other hands in prayer. I was humbled by all of the hands doing so much work, so many things I cannot do or haven’t even considered trying. I marveled at how all of these hands did the work they were created to do—humbly, lovingly, just how Jesus taught us.
When the body of Christ comes together it is a beautiful thing. Because one pair of hands was never intended to do it all. My hands can’t play the guitar or run a soundboard. My hands have never found their way into the rooms of some of those ministries. But my hands were blessed by getting to shake hands and hold hands with so many other hands doing their thing to share the love Jesus offers us.
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.—Ephesians 2:9
How will you use your hands today? What work has been put in front of you? Can you create art? Bake? Write equations on a Smartboard and explain them so the next generation can learn? Will you help someone cross the street or zip up their coat? Hammer something into place? Turn the steering wheel to get someone exactly where they need to be? Clean up a mess? Turn on a light in a darkened room or a darkened heart? Help someone up who’s fallen down? Maybe last night you used your hands to pass out treats to adorable kiddos playing make-believe in costume. What has God gifted you to do? What is He calling you to do?
Because your hands? They are one of a kind hands. Your hands are the only ones with those fingerprints—the only hands who can sign that signature. And as uniquely as God created our hands, He also uniquely created the works our hands are equipped to do. And the work your hands can do? It is critical. It is important. It is necessary in building the kingdom. So stretch out those fingers, gloss up your nails with garnet or caramel lacquer for fall if you choose, and then get busy. Because there is so much work to do. And only your hands can do the beautiful, challenging, perfect tasks God has put in front of you today.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
I think most of us have at least two personas.
One is the uncomfortable, uncertain version of ourselves. When we are around specific people or in certain settings we tend to feel insecure and underestimate our capabilities. Personally, in these situations I lower my head, keep quiet, stay on the edges of conversations and groups, unsure of what to say, not feeling like I have much to contribute. I have friends who react the opposite in these same scenarios. They become louder, spewing things they don’t even mean to say, things that are a bit too snarky, or that challenge others as protective armor from having to reveal themselves. You might have a different default mode altogether that you use to cope with the places and people where you feel out of place. None of these is our best or brightest. These are the places we need to spend less time.
But then there is our true self. The way we feel and act when we are in our element. Where laughter comes easily, where we believe our ideas matter, where we can look people straight in the eye and say how we feel without any fear of being judged or misunderstood. When the weather seems perfect and our clothes feel comfortable and our phones stay tucked in our pockets and purses and we never glance at the clock, but wish we could stay a long while. These are the places we need to spend more time.
Which one of these personas are you currently living?
There is a scene in The Little French Bistro by Nina George where one of the main characters sees an artist’s portrayal of her. She is overwhelmed, because the woman the artist has depicted is stunning, captivating, positively beautiful and mesmerizing. Conversely, the character finds herself quite ordinary and unremarkable.
She asks the artist, “Is that how you see me?”
The artist replies, “That is how you are.”
It is a powerful scene. Because the woman was amazing. She just couldn’t see it in herself. Just like all of us are captivating. But we’re quick to dismiss our value and often struggle to see our true reflections. But Jesus? He always sees our true selves. And He always sees us as magnificent.
When we compare ourselves to others, measure ourselves against social media, and strive to make ourselves known—to get our numbers on the board. We often sell ourselves short. We focus on our faults and the places we do not excel. But Jesus created us. He created you and I uniquely and distinctly. He formed us to do amazing works. Allow Him to remind you who you are in Him. That you are as captivating as a masterpiece in a gallery—able to make those passing by pause, ask questions, and ponder. You truly make hearts beat faster, mouths curl into smiles, and brains expand their thoughts.
How do you find this beautiful self that’s sometimes so hard to see? Start by hanging out with Jesus. When I’m with Him, I see a me that doesn’t even resemble the woman who sits awkwardly on the fringe of a conversation or pants to keep up in a race or whose brain hurts when she looks at financial statements. Instead I see a woman who gets high on telling stories, who is loved by her family, treasured by her Savior, and therefore beautiful in a distinct way. Spending time with Jesus opens our eyes to better see the people who see our true personas and to the things that make us more of our true selves.
Once you’re vision has been cleared up a bit by Jesus, start doing fewer things that empty you. Do more of the things that thrill you, bring you peace, make you feel whole—that could be kicking instead of throwing the ball, teaching or taking a class, rocking a baby, or hiking a trail. Slowly stop spending time with the folks who drain you, who make you feel small. Your stunning true reflection is lost on them. Instead seek out the people who recognize you for the treasure you are.
How do you see yourself?
How do others see you?
How do you want to be seen?
The truth is you are Christ’s masterpiece. It’s time to allow Him to show you who you truly are. You might be surprised at the capable, worthy person you see in the mirror. You might turn to Jesus and ask, “Is that how you see me?” He is certain to reply, “That is how you are.”
Last year the music icon, David Bowie died. I loved his music. And his multi-colored eyes. And his song, “Changes”. “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn to face the strange.” Our lives are always changing. And those changes can seem strange or awesome or unexpected or confusing or exciting or unsettling or just plain unknown. As Heraclitus of Ephesus put it, “The only thing constant is change.”
Does it ring true for you? Do you have any changes in your life right now? Big ones? Small ones? Ones you’ve been planning for? Ones that blindsided you?
With back to school our family’s life is jam packed with change—new teams, new teachers, new classes, new students. There are minor changes, like the 24 emails I’ve received in the last week about my kids’ soccer teams. Twenty-four! Each and every one detailed some change. We have a joyous change—our youngest just outgrew his peanut allergy (praise Jesus!). If you read last week’s blog, you know we just dropped our oldest off at college. That is a major life changer. I’m still a bit weepy, so I won’t dwell on it, but at least we had eighteen years to prepare for it.
But part of that predicted change took us by surprise. Like the fact that the week before we took Maddie to college:
1. One of her three roommates decided not to come to school this year and
2. Maddie’s college soccer coach resigned.
We didn’t see those coming.
But you know what? God did. God has never once been blindsided. God has known for ages where Maddie would go to school. He knew exactly why the one roommate needed to wait a year. God knew the coaching staff was going to change. Sometimes the need for change is immediately obvious to us. Some things we may never figure out. But we don’t need to. Not if we stay true to who we are and trust that God has promised to be on our side. Because whatever’s going on, He’s got it.
So the roommate thing? I don’t know why it shook down like it did, but I do know my daughter and her other roommate stayed true to their plan, they went ahead and moved in. Now the two of them share a ginormous dorm room designed for three or four girls. I don’t know the details about the coach, but it sounds like she had a fantastic opportunity that was important for her to take. And all the girls on the team, Maddie included, who showed up to the first meeting and to practice, they still get to play college soccer. And…the new coach is fantastic!
Our family is in the midst of some other transitions, too. We understand why we’re here, but we don’t yet quite understand how it’s all going to play out. On many levels we don’t know what this shift looks like yet. But God does. And He’s working in and through it. Our family plans to stick together, put in our best effort, stay true to our identity and trust God with the rest. Whatever is changing in your life, God is working in and through it, too.
Most of the time I can accept change. I remind myself, “God must have a reason.” But then I stumble, “What is the reason? When will I know the reason? If this door is closed or that door is opened, how is God going to guide me next? What does this new path look like?”
I want to know. Oh, how very desperately I want to know. But I don’t have to know.
Because Heraclitus of Ephesus was wrong. The only thing constant is Jesus. And even though everything else changes. God does not. Not ever. I can cling to that. So can you.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
That means Jesus is never going away (Revelation 1:8). He’s never giving up on us. He will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He will always love us (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus is always working things out for good (Romans 8:28). Whew. When I sink into those truths, changes are not only okay, but the question marks are okay, too. There is excitement in the fact that God is on the move, even if I have no idea how or what that looks like. Because Jesus doesn’t change, He is the one thing we can count on. Always.
So here we go, folks. I don’t know what changes are staring you down as you read this, or which ones will surprise you next week or next month. But I do know when those changes come, we don’t have to face them by ourselves. We can stand strong in who God created us to be. God will be the constant we can cling to. The rock that is Jesus is unmoving.
Do you have someone you love so much; you could never be truly mad at them, never love them less? For that matter, you love them so completely; you couldn’t possibly love them more?
Maybe it’s your dog. Whether he tracks mud on your floor, fetches the stick, or chews on your shoes you want to cuddle him, because he’s so darn sweet. Or maybe it’s your niece, granddaughter, or the little girl you babysit, because, hello? Has anyone seen her cuteness? Sure she’s sassy and has a bit of an independent streak, but one hug from her and you are done for.
This is how God sees us.
It’s true. When we make a mess, don’t apologize, try to do things our way, throw in some attitude for good measure, lose our tempers, etc. God loves us so unconditionally; none of those things seem to matter. He just wants to take us into His arms, ask about our day, reassure us when we’re insecure, and calm us down when we’re upset. And when we achieve grand goals, win the prize, get the raise, He’s happy for us. He still loves us, but not more, because He already loves us so much.
When I see my kids studying for a test, I don’t care what grade they get. Sure, I hope they do well, because they’ve worked hard. I hope they’ll be rewarded for their effort. But I love that they’re being diligent. The score on the exam does not sway my love for them one way or another. It can’t. Same with anything they work towards. I hope they get summoned from the bench in a soccer match. I hope they win, because they’ve been training hard, because it matters to them. But their amount of playing time, a win, loss, or tie, doesn’t impact how much I adore my children, or how proud I am of them.
God loves us infinitely more than we are capable of loving those around us. So why oh why, do we ever feel the need to earn His love and grace? He already loves us. His grace is already ours.
I know this, yet, I was in a funk the other day. I was feeling as if my writing was not enough for God, that I wasn’t doing enough with my words for Him. Which sometimes is the Spirit prompting us to get off the couch and go. But this wasn’t. I knew I was focused and devoting time to writing words that wove themselves into stories. I was doing okay with inputs but was feeling responsible for outputs. That’s not my job.
Yes, it’s up to us to give things our all (and please know that some days “our all” is just squeaking by, because we’re spent and that’s OK). But how things turn out, we’ve got to trust God with that. When we use the talents God’s given us, God will work things out according to His perfect plans. I know that, but lose sight of it. My slump was self-doubt creeping in. And trust me, self-doubt is never from God.
How about you? Ever doubted any of your abilities?
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
Just as you delight in your dog, or that little girl, or whoever. Just as I marvel at my kids, God finds joy in us. Because we are the people He created. Which means He gave us our talents. And as long as we’re using them, He doesn’t care if our song hits number one, or if our department brings in the most grant dollars, or if our yard wins Garden of the Month. God just thinks it’s super cool that we’re singing, writing grants for things we’re passionate about, and digging in the dirt making things grow. Remember, He can take all the parts of us that aren’t quite there yet—our weaknesses—and perfect His power through it.
It’s when I’m not enough that God can show off His perfection.
Some of the most priceless moments with my kids are “good nights.” We recount highlights of the day, pray together, and exchange a hug. But the best part is when I tell them I love them. Because I do. Down to my core. And if they say, “I love you, too,” my heart explodes with joy.
God’s not looking for achievements, promotions, and dollar signs. He’s thrilled when we utilize the gifts He’s given us, just like I clap like crazy if one of my kids scores a goal or nails their lines. But as God showers us with His great love, what He most wants from us is an, “I love you, too, Lord.”
You don’t have to strive today. God isn’t using a measuring stick. Do your best. Use what He’s given you. Love large. God will do the rest and fill in the flaws and stumbles with his perfect power. And when God tells you how much He loves you, believe Him, then whisper, “I love you, too.”
Have you seen the movie Begin Again? My favorite scene is when Gretta, a disenchanted musician is coerced by her friend to perform at an open mic night at a pub. While she’s singing, Dan, a down and out music producer, is ordering a drink at the bar. But at the sound of her voice and her acoustic guitar he turns around. And everything stops.
Like magic, a few chords resonate from the piano on the corner of the stage, accompanying her tune. Drumsticks are raised by invisible hands to pound out a beat at the exact right moment. A cello and bow appear on stage and play a few perfectly placed notes all by themselves. Dan might be going through a rough period—with his family and with his job, but he has a God-given gift. He can produce music. And he can do it like a maestro. He rubs his chin, tilts his head, and as he nods a violin appears out of thin air playing the coup de grace for the song’s bridge. All it takes are a few notes from an unknown singer, and Dan inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to turn a good song into the kind that strikes a chord in your heart.
This is what God-given gifts look like. Effortless to those who weld them. Unbelievable to those who witness them. We usually spot them quickly in others, but falter when it comes to identifying them within ourselves. What are your God-given gifts—the things you do so naturally, that you might not even own up to them?
Recently I hit a brick wall while in the midst of responding to edits on a book I’m finishing. I knew what I wanted to say and why it was important to me. I understood what the reviewer was communicating, but I could not for the life of me make the two concepts work together. But my friend, Amy? She talked me off the ledge. She took a look at a passage that paralyzed me and said, “Oh, this is great. You just need to tweak this sentence by adding this and deleting that.” It was like she’d waved her magic wand and instantly fixed something I’d been tangled in for over an hour.
I was considering tiling the backsplash in my kitchen but I’m clueless in the home décor department, so I texted my friend, Jamie, who along with being an artist, stages houses. Five minutes and fifteen texts later she had pulled a Joanna Gaines and suggested what she would have a carpenter do on my cabinets and what color of paint would be the perfect accent to the tile.
Have you witnessed something like this? Someone who steps into a challenge and simply slides and turns what are obstacles to you as easily as the squares on a Rubik’s cube, and within moments has all of the sides and colors in neat little rows. The rest of us stand with our jaws hanging open saying, “How did they do that? What just happened?”
This is what God-given talent looks like. Effortless. What can you do like this? You might not even know you can do it, because it comes so stinking easy to you. You might not even think about it, never even consider it. It’s just what you do. But that’s not what everyone does, how everyone looks at things, this is your special thing. This is how the Creator of the Universe created you. Can you pluck a fabulous harmony on the upright bass? Can you look at a chemistry equation and immediately see which reactants and products in what quantities are necessary to balance it? When a friend is frazzled, do the right words, nods and gestures come naturally to you to calm and soothe them?
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…Romans 12:6
That gift you have? God placed it in you the day He made you.
You have a special thing! There’s something you do that awes the people around you, that leaves them asking, “How do they do that?” And when you find that thing—do lots of it. Do more of it. Find additional ways to integrate that thing into your daily life. Seek more opportunities to apply this skill, to exercise those muscles, to play your song. Don’t let your talent sit on a shelf collecting dust. The world needs you and your gift, because the rest of us can’t do it, and even if we can somehow accomplish that thing you do so well, when we do it—it is with great struggle and frustration. I needed friends to help with edits and with decorating. The world needs you to line it up, click things into place, plug them in, and light things up.
Because God gave you that gift in the first place, when you put it in His hands, it can soar like it’s on steroids! Even more masterfully than a music producer, God inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to highlight and accentuate your talents. Ask Him to guide that gift He gave you, and watch Him turn the tune of your life into the kind that makes people dance and cry and sing at the top of their lungs, the kind people remember, and play over and over again, because it strikes a chord in their hearts. Today you can begin again. You can tap into your God-given talent, ask Him how you can use it to serve Him, and together you can fill the air with magnificent melodies.
Two nights ago my husband woke in the middle of the night because our power went out. I know, who needs power to sleep? He does. Because when the electricity went out, so did his fan, and the silence woke him. Go figure. He walked around the house with his phone flashlight shining, trying to solve for the outage. He later got back in bed, rolled around, sighed, and eventually fell back to sleep.
I’m no better. Last night I woke up because there was such a strong scent in our bedroom I worried there must actually be a skunk in our bed. Thankfully, there was not. But the skunk in the woods outside our window must have had some turbo-powered perfume. I sat there in the dark pondering the probability of a skunk getting in our house, climbing the stairs and snuggling in, after awhile got a glass of water, crawled back in bed, rolled over, tugged the covers, prayed silently and concentrated on relaxing and falling back asleep. I eventually succeeded.
Our lives are filled with interruptions—things that disrupt our regularly scheduled programming. Whether that’s the addition of something (a pungent odor) or the subtraction of something (white noise). We are interrupted by the buzz of a text or a car cutting in front of us. Our work is impeded when we can’t get a signal and dinner is delayed when we accidentally set the oven at the wrong temp or spill the spices while measuring them into tiny spoons.
In all these circumstances, we eventually put down our phones, pull into a parking spot, tap into the 4G network and pull the lasagna out of the oven. But it takes patience, concentration and focus.
The same is true when our true reflections get interrupted, disrupted, disturbed. We can go around knowing full well we are created by God, that He loves us, that we have a God-given purpose in life, and then like a rock being thrown into a still pond, something comes along that causes ripples in who we see ourselves to be. We get a rejection letter. Our best friend bails. We get in an argument with our spouse or sibling, or get blamed for someone else’s mistake. We let someone we care about down. The coach benches us. Our friends do something without us. Someone casts a snide comment our way. We lose our balance in a yoga pose or our way on a bike ride. Some days we just plain lose our way and our balance—no exercise required.
And when that happens, we have to get back to who we are, that we are Christ’s masterpieces (Eph 2:10) that we are wonderfully made to inspire awe (Psalm 139:14), and we need to do it with patience and focus. We might need to get up from where we are and move around a bit, get a new view on things, shine some light on them. We might need to hydrate with living water (Jesus), wrap ourselves in the cover of God’s love and pray. We need to turn back to our Bibles and fill up on the truths that God loves us. He’ll give us courage and strength. We have nothing to fear with Him on our side. Jesus offers us peace. He is our hope, light and way.
We need to go hang out with the special people who remind us of these truths, who love us for exactly who we are. We need to do the things God created us to do—the things we’re good at, eat our favorite foods, wear our favorite clothes, listen to our favorite bands, and talk to God over and over again until we remember, until we fall back into our rhythms and find the blissful peace of knowing we are beautiful, we are priceless, our lives have meaning.
And even when it feels like nobody else knows or notices, God is there loving us—in the middle of the day, in the middle of the traffic jam, the disappointment, the self doubt and even in the middle of the darkest nights. It just takes a little focus, concentration, and turning it over, but soon we can tune out the interruptions and settle back into knowing we have value and worth, because we are loved by God. We can once again embrace our true reflections.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
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?
Laura L. Smith