One of the bonuses of living in a college town is “free week”. The first week of each semester, all of the fitness classes at the University Recreational Center are free. You can try everything from Zumba to Kick Boxing. You can take five or six classes a day for free, if you’re body is up for it. There’s a ton to learn. There’s no limit.
Me? I already take yoga classes, so when I attend the first week of a semester, I’m not getting a sneak peek at what the class is like. I’m getting something even richer. I’m getting back to basics.
There is an underlying current in the yoga room during free week. There are twice as many bodies. Barely any of the polished wooden floor peeks out from the kaleidoscope of yoga mats. Regulars shift, make room, adjust, give up their familiar spots for class. Which is a good thing. It gives us a new perspective. New faces pepper the room along with a rainbow of workout clothes reflected in the back mirrors.
Our instructor, Holly, is especially brilliant during free week. She takes us back to basics. As the digital clock ticks 8:00 her voice begins, reminding us how to sit. Instructing us how to breathe. Reinforcing that our breath is the most important part of our practice. Breathing? Isn’t that so obvious? But don’t I forget? We spend an hour going back to the core elements of yoga. And it is beautiful. And it is extremely difficult. I discover there are multiple poses I thought I’d figured out that I haven’t. I realize there are certain times my hips are out of line or that I forget to breathe altogether. I’ve been so focused on transitions and balance and strength, I forgot to focus on the basics. Transitions, balance, and strength are all important. They all help me get more out of the class. And it’s not that I’ve never heard the basics, never been taught how to breathe. It’s just that I lose sight of them, in the midst of everything else.
My faith is like this too. It is critical for me to continuously go back to basics, to relearn how to breathe in God’s grace, to reteach myself the Gospel. God is always teaching me new things. And there are always things He helps me discover I can be working on in my life. If I flip through my most recent blog posts I get a clear picture of the recent issues on my heart—friendships in faith, following God’s plans instead of mine, turning over my fears to Jesus, slowing down. And these are all great things, things God really wants me to be working on. But want to know what He most wants me to be aware of? He wants me to breathe in the Gospel.
What is the gospel? Pretty simple, yet so complex:
1. I will never measure up. Sound harsh. Not really. I’m not perfect. I fall down. I screw up. Every. Single. Day. I yell at one of my kids. Fall. It’s fine to discipline them, have certain expectations of them, but yell? Nope. I judge somebody, based on what they say or how they look or how they’re different than me. I wish I never ever did. But I do. Fall again. You get the idea.
2. Jesus died for my sins, so I don’t have to measure up. He was “all that” and then some. He is perfect. His blood covers all of my ugliness, mistrust, pride, jealousy, and insecurities. All of them. All of the time. Time and time again. I don’t have to be perfect. Ahhh. I am loved. Double ahhhh.
Because God loves me, I strive to be the best version of myself – all those things on my heart—the slowing down and trusting. Yet knowing I’ll never be able to master them is a good place to start, because it reminds me of God’s grace. And how beautiful and loving and overwhelmingly amazing it is. And when I inhale the fact that He loved me enough to die for me and exhale all of my darkest moments, because He loves me even in the midst of them, it helps me with all of those other things I’m working on.
I don’t know what’s on your heart today, where God is working on you, but I can promise if you remind yourself of the Gospel, of what He’s already done for you, of how immense His love is for you, you’ll be off to a good start. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Have you ever become unexpected friends with someone?
On my first young adult novel, Skinny, I had no idea how the whole editing/publishing process worked. I received an email from a woman named Amy Parker, the editor assigned to my book, saying she had sent me a previous email but hadn’t heard from me, and our deadline was approaching. I was intimidated just by the word editor. And WHAT email? How had I missed it? And deadline? Yikes! How could I have already messed things up?
I typed back with shaking fingers a giant apology, begging to chat on the phone, because I was a rookie and was clueless as to what was expected from me and when. I was anticipating someone firm, hard-edged, in a suit with black glasses. Too many movies, maybe. Instead a comforting, friendly voice packed with Southern charm and smiles filled my ear with reassurances, “no problem,” “plenty of time,” “minor changes,” “no big deal.” My shoulders relaxed. I smiled, too, even laughed, and we completed the project on time (much improved with her edits).
Amy was assigned as editor on my next two novels, Hot and Angry. And through the process we learned about each other—our shared love of coffee, chocolate, Jesus, Jack Johnson, and family. We discovered we both had a passion to share our faiths through the written word: we didn’t want to be pushy, we just longed to be genuine, and we strived for our work to be quality, to stand out.
Because God is God, Amy’s family vacation brought her within an hour of my home. We met for mochas and true confessions. Since then we’ve attended a writer’s conference in California together, she hosted me in her home, her writing brought her back to Ohio, and we’ve chatted on countless Skype sessions waving dictionaries, Bibles, and laughter. God knew I needed Amy Parker in my life. In many ways she helped launch my writing career, because she encouraged me back on that first novel to keep writing the kinds of things I was writing. But way beyond helping with my writing, she’s become one of my dearest friends. Her heart fills the room. Her faith is even bigger. And her passion for others is a result of the enormity of her heart and faith.
One of our visits was when Amy was in Columbus, Ohio. The zoo’s annual Fete, a fundraiser to protect Rwanda, the land of the gorillas, brought her to town, and I got to be her date. Amy introduced me to a man named Frederick. Frederick’s smile is as bright as a full moon on a dark sky. Immediately upon being introduced, he embraced me in a tight hug. He showed me his beautiful, colorful paintings of his homeland, Rwanda. The fete was also helping support Frederick’s foundation, a place where Rwandans disabled by the genocide can find life again, where they are taught life skills, and learn to play sports, and are given food and shelter, and most importantly, hope. Oh, did I tell you Frederick had his arms severed in the aftermath of the genocide?
Yup, that’s Frederick, grinning from ear to ear, helping others, fighting the good fight, even though he was left for dead on the side of the road. Painting bright images, embracing people he’s just met, and riding his bike around the country to raise money to help others, even though he has no hands. And, Amy, with that passion I told you about, has written with Frederick his story. You know what they named it? Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope.
Where are you today? Does something seem too big? Are you unsure? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Defeated?
Hang in there. A friend like Amy Parker is just around the corner. A man like Frederick is changing people’s lives, when he could have given up on his. Read their story. Find hope again.
What are you waiting for?
Summer is fantastic! But August always brings a flurry of back to schoolness. This means lists of things to do to get ready and lists of uncertainties as you wait to see…. if you made the team? Who your roommates will be? What dorm you're in? For someone to call/text/email you back? If you got the scholarship? If you got the job to help you pay for school? Maybe you're just waiting for a parking place or to get to the front of line at Chipotle and finally place your order as your stomach grumbles. But you might be waiting to see If you’ll be asked to homecoming. If you’ll make call backs for the audition. Are you waiting to see if you got Dr. Palumbo for Biology? For the movie you’ve been itching to see to come out on DVD? If your locker will be anywhere near your bff’s or at least near your classes? Maybe you’re waiting for test results or x-rays back from a doctor or waiting to hear if the seller accepted your offer.
There’s big stuff we wait for and small stuff we wait for, but it seems we end up spending way too much of our lives waiting. So, what to do when we find ourselves in the dreaded Waiting Place? In Oh The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss describes it as this:
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No….
We sit around and wait and worry about the out comes. But Dr. Seuss tells us, "That's not for you!" And so does Jesus.
Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Matthew 6:34
What if while we’re waiting, we make a pact, you and I? What if we make a pact to be productive during our waiting?
Waiting to see if you got the job? How about you spend some time on Linked In writing endorsements for others you’ve been encouraged by, Google and then read some articles about the job you’re seeking and learn more about the field. Waiting for your nails to dry, or to board the plane or for the person you’re picking up to come out of the building? Grab a great book you’ve been meaning to read. Keep it with you at all times, and when those boring pauses occur, immerse yourself in words and story. Who knows, you might learn something new. Waiting to see if you made it? How about working on your skills – dribbling, drawing, playing octaves, rehearsing to get better at your talent no matter what the reply is to your most recent try out, submission or audition.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Phil 4:6
Let’s promise each other we’ll pray about it, pray for peace, for God to have His almighty hand in the outcome. Let’s praise God for the hallway while we’re waiting for Him to open the next door.
I L-O-V-E this song by John Waller, “While I’m Waiting”.
Next, know that whatever you’re waiting for God already knows the answer, and He’s planned it for your good.
If He already knows, why do we have to wait? If He already knows then can’t we play first chair, get the job, always be healthy, on time and be surrounded by our best friends all of the time? I don’t know about that. Because I don’t know if moving (or any other change in your life, any outcome you’re waiting for) will introduce you to your new best friend or future husband, or teach you something to help you later on, or strengthen your sibling or something else grand all together. But God knows. And He’s got your back.
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
If He’s got it all planned out, there really is no reason to worry. So, how are you going to get out of the Waiting Place today?
Tingling all over with the announcement of the second book in my Status Updates series, It's Over, releasing April 19!
HOW CAN YOU MOVE ON WHEN IT'S OVER?
When four college roommates lose pieces of their lives, the pain isolates and the tension rises. Emotions are hard to hide and even harder to tackle. How can the girls move forward, when there is so much pain in letting go? Together, Claire, Kat, Palmer and Hannah learn to lean on God and each other, and through it all they learn loss is a part of life.
"In It's Over, Laura L. Smith confirms the truth we've been told that we are never alone in the midst of heartache and struggle. In fact, she takes us to a place where we not only get to see, but feel deeply the truth of the fact that every single one of us has a story. Every single one of has experienced pain. But more importantly, that every single one of us has great hope. Laura L. Smith's writing strikes a deep chord in my heart. It makes sense. It's real--and in my opinion, that transparency makes all the difference." ~Holly Starr, Christian recording artist
"Laura Smith speaks for the broken. With a voice that’s warm and true, Laura gives words to those rendered speechless by issues that high school and college girls should never have to deal with—but so many of them do. In writing that’s raw, relevant, and real, Smith goes where few authors dare to go: straight into the heart of today’s young woman."
~Amy Parker, bestselling author of Courageous Teens
"YA author, Laura L. Smith crafts another story that will appeal to all girls, because no one is untouched by heartache in all its forms. The grace Smith extends the four girls in It's Over will touch readers in deep ways, as they follow these characters through some of the worst parts of life. Best of all, they'll cheer when the girls lean on one another and find ways to be thankful in everything. This is a fantastic read, one that will resonate with teens, college girls and their mothers."
~Laura Kurk, author of Glass Girl
Celebrate EVERYLOVE heart on Starbucks coupon
I got this coupon from Starbucks last week and I keep carrying it around with me. Not because I want a Mocha, well actually I do, but because I love the idea of celebrating EVERYLOVE.
I know on Valentine’s Day we lean towards the romantic kind of love. But love is such a loaded word there are actually five distinct words for “love” in Greek.
I love God, my husband, my children, writing, in that order. But I love so many things. My list could ramble on like L.L. Cool J. introducing the Grammys. I love baking chocolate chip cookies and speaking French. I love listening to acoustic guitar and running in the rain. I love sipping dark roast coffee, wearing stacks of clanking silver bracelets and wiggling my toes on a sandy beach. And of course, I love you. I love you because the words of a writer are meaningless without someone to read them. So as is my tradition dear readers, I give you my annual Valentine’s gift – a recipe for something sweet and lovely that will hopefully make you smile.
CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE SQUARES
1 (20 oz.) package Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough (for a gluten free version, prepare one package Betty Croker GF chocolate chip cookie mix according to directions, but do not put on pan or bake - yet)
3 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese
½ cup heavy cream
1-cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips (save the rest of the bag for snacking)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 10x15” pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam)
3. Press cookie dough into pan and spread to cover
4. Bake 8 minutes
5. While baking cookie dough, mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs and cream in a bowl for about 5 minutes on medium speed with electric mixer.
6. When cookie crust is baked, spread with cream cheese mixture and bake 25 minutes longer.
7. Cool to room temperature.
8. Melt chocolate chips in microwave and drizzle with fork across top of dessert.
9. Refrigerate for at least four hours to set.
10. Share, eat, serve, and smile.
What’s something you love?
There’s a scene in the movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, where the English teacher at an all boys’ high school asks his students to stand on top of their desks. Some boys pounce toR the flat surface, eager to do something quasi against the rules. Others hesitate. Why? Because they aren’t used to standing on their desks.
Have you ever stood on the top of your desk?
The purpose of the exercise is to get his students to look at things in a new way, to gain a different perspective.
This week of Thanksgiving, I’m doing just that, gaining a different perspective.
I’m on top of Rumbling Bald Mountain in North Carolina. My Internet service is spotty, there isn’t a Starbucks within an hours drive and I have a cold. Nothing serious, but the kind where it feels like my head is stuffed with cotton balls. Everything sounds muffled, tastes a bit bland, smells slightly metallic and my energy is low. But, I’m thankful, well except for the Starbucks part.
I’m out of my routine – off track – on top of my desk.
So, I’m sitting more. Gazing at the sky, listening to the laugher of my family and drinking home brewed coffee.
Since I’ve been on my trip I’ve stared at a rainbow, bright and daring, as if God grabbed a handful of Crayola markers and sliced right through the sky with a burst of color. I’ve gazed at zillions of stars, dazzling bright and white through the vast blackness of night. I’ve watched the sunset, which is more like a swirl of colorful clouds dancing around the mountain peeks. As I write this as 2:33 in the afternoon, I see the moon peeking out early. I’m up so high; I feel like if I stretched just a little further, I could grab it.
“If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area and stop.” Michael Yaconelli
In my typical day, my busy schedule I am productive and healthy and happy, but if I do the same thing everyday, all the time, I miss out on some of God’s beauty, His gifts. And in the midst of missing His creation, I also miss the chance to say, ‘thanks’.
This year I am thankful for a cold, and a view not from the top of the desk, but from the top of a mountain. Because I have no emails or tweets or Facebook to distract me, because my cold forces me to take things slowly, because I’m up where things look different, I’m gaining a different, deeper perspective. And I am thankful.
How about you? What are you thankful for this year?
75% of the United States wears either contacts or glasses, including me.
Most of us struggle to see the world we live in more clearly, sharper, brighter.
I had an eye check up last week, you know the kind where they dilate your pupils with drops and everything is blurry for hours and hours afterwards? It was that kind.
Due to the dilation drops, I spent the rest of the day wishing I could see more clearly. I wished my computer screen wasn’t so bright, so I could write the chapter I’d been plotting for my new manuscript. I wished the words in the book I’m reading weren’t so blurry. I wished I could respond to an email, flip through my latest copy of In Style or even get some early Christmas shopping done online. But nothing smaller than a chocolate chip cookie would come into focus.
How often do I wish I could see God’s plan for me, His vision of me, the way He sees the world -- better, sharper, brighter, more in focus? But sometimes His ways are too bright for me to stare into. Sometimes His plans for me are too far away for me to see clearly. Sometimes, I let the lens of the world distort and twist God’s vision, His plans. So, I beg for clarity like the blind men outside of Jericho:
“Master, we want our eyes opened. We want to see!” Deeply moved, Jesus touched their eyes. They had their sight back that very instant, and joined the procession. Matthew 20: 33-34
When I pray, when I actually lean on Him to see how things truly are, I get my sight back. Not always the way I want things to look, like no writing after my eye doctor appointment, even though that’s what I’d planned. But always something amazing, like the wonderful phone call I had with my mom instead.
Lord, I really need to stop right now
Stop now and focus on you
Even with the chaos all around
Stop now and focus on you.
“Focus” by Holly Starr
When friends, magazines, TV shows, work, and other worldly voices try to fill our eyes with drops of advice and expectations and pressures to dilute His view of us, all we have to do is call out, “I want to see!” and everything comes back into focus.
How has God helped you see something more clearly this week?
Saturday night I went to a glow in the dark party. Long story, but suffice it to say I came home wearing one of those fluorescent bracelets – you know the kind when you pop and crack the plastic tube, a mysterious glowing liquid fills the chamber in either hot pink, cool blue, acid orange or neon yellow.
I was tired. It had been a full week, a cram-packed week, and although I managed to remove my mascara, brush my teeth with minty paste and run my Clarisonic over my face before falling asleep, I did not take off the bracelet.
In the middle of the night I woke to an enormous thud. My subconscious tugged me semi-awake for a second to make sure everything was okay. And as my brain registered the loud thump was only a particularly heavy walnut falling from our tree onto our roof, I saw through fluttering eyes my glowing wrist. It surprised me. I’d forgotten about it. Yet, the bracelet still glowed, still cast a lovely soft pink light about my room.
Did you have a nightlight as a child? I did. It was shaped like a little wooden birdhouse. A colored bulb sat inside like an egg. When my parents thought I outgrew my nightlight and threw it away, I switched to sleeping with my closet light on. There is something extremely comforting about a light in the midst of darkness.
My sleepy brain, comforted by my cozy covers, the realization that I was safe and my built in neon nightlight bracelet turned to the permanent nightlight that is with me wherever I go – Jesus.
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. Isaiah 40:28-29
Jesus is my comforting light in the midst of darkness. He is the One who reassures me that the loud noise is only a nut, that the to dos on my list don’t all have to get to done today, that no one else’s opinion of me matters except for His, that I will always be safe in His loving, capable arms. Even when my eyes are closed to Him. Even when my brain has tuned Him out or temporarily forgotten all that He is and all that He offers, He shines on.
But unlike the glow of the neon bracelet that had fizzled out by the middle of Sunday afternoon, Jesus’ light never goes out. Ever. No matter how jarring the bumps and thumps of life, no matter how dark our nights. He is always there, providing His soft, peaceful glow of love. All we have to do is open our eyes, for just a moment, to see Him and remember He is there.
Have you ever had a nightlight? What did it mean to you? I’d love to hear.
The trickiest moment for me each day is pulling into my garage. Due to some optic issues (three eye surgeries as a child) I have no depth perception. Both sides of the garage seem to be closing in on me, or maybe they’re really far away – impossible to say. After nine years of driving my old car, I’d figured out the angle to head in, the timing of turning my wheel, the exact second to rotate the steering wheel counterclockwise to straighten out. But my trusty Mazda finally gave up, and I got a new one.
After enjoying all the fun new gadgets of a new car for four weeks (like heated seats on a chilly morning and being able to stream all my favorite tunes from my iPod through my speakers) I heard the noise - the sickening, shrill scraping, sound of metal on wood. I felt the pressure of the car against the frame of the garage as if it were pushing directly into my chest. And in this instant I was frozen, but I couldn’t stay there. I could not leave the car half in and half out.
How often in life do I get stuck – halfway between happy and sad, between starting and finishing, between resentment and forgiveness, between selfishness and selflessness, between letting go and holding on, between doing it for my good or for the good of God’s kingdom? Frozen in place, afraid to move forward or back.
If I pulled out, my car would scratch and smash its way out of its predicament. If I pulled forward I would scrape and bang my way in. Either way was guaranteed to cause even more damage. Yet I was forced to move.
Sometimes moving can be more intimidating than getting stuck.
I pulled the car the rest of the way into the garage, cringing as the wood continued to gouge my car’s side. Once in park, my kiddos jumped out to play in the yard, and I disembarked to assess the damage. Thick white streaks of garage paint scarred the black shiny veneer of my new vehicle. But I was safe. My kids were safe. The car still ran. And, I was no longer stuck.
While I was examining the scratches, my six-year old son came running to my side. He held three spectacular ruby red roses, sweet and fragrant. “These are for you, Mama.” He smiled.
Most of my life I’m driving along, happy, busy, content. But, when I’m wedged halfway between where I was and where I’m supposed to go, do I put 100% of my faith in Him? Am I willing to grind a little more, scrape my sides, take another gouge or two, sacrifice some time or comfort or success to get out of life’s traps?
If I come out of a mess with a few scars, isn’t that okay? Isn’t the important thing that I come out holding God’s hand?
Pulling my son close and feeling his warm little body in mine, I remembered what truly matters. Not cars. Not my ability to park or drive, not my determination to do things my way, to stay where I’m comfortable or to cave into the in-between.
When the going gets tough, sometimes it takes a few more scratches to come out of that tight spot. But once out, there is safety and peace and beauty and love. These lyrics from Holly Starr’s song, “My Cry” are the perfect prayer in these moments. “I will not stay here anymore. I’m not the way I was before. I need your strength. I need your help, Oh Lord.”
What do you need to grind out today to pull through the place where you’re stuck?
Is there anyone in your life who makes you angry? You don’t want them to. You wish they wouldn’t. But either because of something they’ve done to you or someone you care about, they make you cringe or cry or both.
The answer for me is yes. There is someone in my life who loved me and betrayed me. Someone who cared for me and emotionally battered me. There is someone who has scarred one of the people I love most in this world, and in turn hurt me. I struggle with this. I pray about this, but I continue to tussle with this relationship. Jesus teaches us to love one another. So I try to continue to love despite the hurt and the fear of being hurt again. Jesus says to forgive someone seven times seventy times. So I try to forgive, but the memories still haunt me and the scars still ache.
While reading Everything by Mary De Muth I came across a passage that challenged me. It made me stop reading and get up and doodle around on Facebook. Not because her words made me think of a friend I needed to touch base with, but because I wasn’t ready to face what these words meant to me.
“In that painful space, we have a choice: punish those who hurt us through control, or lay our hurt at the feet of the One who understands. Our task shouldn’t be punishing the villains in our lives, but enlarging the God who heals us from all wounds.” Mary De Muth
Most of us are familiar with the Star Wars story. In the final episode Luke Skywalker faces his father, Darth Vader. Darth used to be a powerful Jedi fighting for good in the galaxy. Greed for power turned him into an evil leader using “the force” for wickedness. Luke has reason to be angry. Vader’s boss, Emperor Palpatine, urges Luke while watching this confrontation in Return of the Jedi, “Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.”
Sounds like someone else I know. Someone nagging in my head, urging me to cave to anger to make bad choices, hoping I’ll turn away from Christ, the force, which brings me life and love. I find solace and strength in Luke Skywalker’s response.
“Never. I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, your highness. I am a Jedi.” Luke lowers his blade and chooses love.
Do I have the strength to say it?
“Never. I’ll never turn to the dark side. Satan – you’ve failed. I am a Christian.”
Wow. That feels good. Just typing it here with you today. If you’re feeling gutsy say it out loud.
In Holly Starr’s song, I Love You Anyway, she sings, “There will be times I remember the things that you’ve done to me. But I will choose love and forgive you for everything.”
Words to live by. Choose love.
May God’s force be with you.
Laura L. Smith