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.
I’ve been reading the book of Luke this summer. It’s packed with familiar stories—shepherds, a manger, the Good Samaritan. I love going back through the pages and seeing what Jesus did, how He handled situations, what His attitude was, and specifically this summer I’m trying to focus on what Jesus said, because as a word lover I’m thinking the words Jesus spoke are a pretty fantastic way to learn more about Him.
One of my favorite passages is when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Luke 9). Now, keep in mind there were five thousand men plus women and children, so the crowd exceeded ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand folks. In this passage this giant crowd has come to listen to Jesus teach. Near the end of the day everyone is getting a little fussy, tired, and downright hungry.
What’s for dinner is a question my family asks on repeat. I think through what we’ve eaten recently, peek in the pantry, consider everyone’s schedules—who has soccer, meetings, sleepovers, etc. Who is even going to be eating this meal? Just when I think of something that meets our family’s dietary needs (all of the allergies live here) that most of my people will actually consume, I realize I need cilantro and gluten free wraps if I’m going to pull this together. Another trip to Kroger and perhaps also the farmer’s market and I’m good to go, at least for tonight. But thousands of hungry folks on a hillside? Yikes! Where to start? Sure, their “pantry” held five loaves of bread and two fish, but that wouldn’t make my crew happy, let alone fill them. And there are only six Smiths. The disciples point out this problem to Jesus, suggesting they send everyone out to the closest farms and villages, so the people can grab a bite to eat and stock up on snacks. That’s what the disciples say, but Jesus responds, “You feed them.”
Wait. Wha-at? Yeah, Jesus asks them to do it. When we see a problem, He also asks us to act. Jesus seems to throw His hands up at the disciples and say, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!” He says the same to us.
I have a relationship that’s rugged. I can pray about it all day long, but at the end of the day, Jesus says, “You make the phone call. Don’t wait on the other person.” I argue, “They’re challenging to talk to. It’s not always easy or pleasant.” Jesus nods. Mmm-hmm, then hands me the phone and says, “It’s not going to dial itself.” A friend asks for prayer. Jesus elbows me and says, “Go ahead. Pray.” “Um, now?” I ask. He reminds me that it makes way more sense to pray specifically for my friend’s need with my friend right now rather then telling them politely I’ll pray and then possibly forgetting and possibly tagging it onto a run-on prayer sentence a day or two later. I dream of speaking at an event at a certain church. I Google the church, check out all their fantastic resources, wish I knew someone who could introduce me to the right people, and yeah, Jesus says, “Reach out and set up a meeting.” Wait. Wha-at? What if they don’t respond? What if they don’t want me? Jesus has zero time for that nonsense. He never argues, just urges me again, “You do it.”
It’s not that Jesus is hanging us out to dry, that He’s lazy, or uninterested in helping. Quite the contrary. With the feeding the hungry crowd situation the disciples’ jaws are still hanging open in disbelief, that Jesus, the miracle-working Messiah, thinks they should feed the crowd, when He pipes in. “Listen. Get the crowd to sit in groups. Then Jesus takes the few barley loaves and tilapia, prays over the food, and hands it to the disciples. It’s Jesus who steps in with a plan. It’s Jesus who performs a miracle by blessing the small amount of food, so it can feed the masses. But the disciples have to do the work. They have to physically organize the crowd. Get them to settle down, sit down, and hang tight. Then they have to walk around to thousands of hungry folks and serve them dinner. The disciples have to take part of it, so they can fully understand what is going on, how incredible the whole thing is. They get to see the look on the faces of the hungry crowd as they relax and take a break, the smiles from the kiddos, the relief from the mamas. They got to marvel as they put their hand in the basket time and time again and every time more food keeps coming out.
Same with us. Jesus wants us to do the work. He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. He’ll bless the work if it’s for Him. He’ll give us a plan, a place to start. He’ll pray over the situation with us. And then He’ll say, “Get moving.” Because He wants us to be a part of it, He wants us to get in on it, marvel at what He does and how He works.
If you want that mountain moved, yes pray for it, yes have faith that God will move it, but you also better start lifting weights, invest in one heck of a shovel, and start moving that dirt. Create a website. Send the message. Attend the event. Audition. Introduce yourself. Show up. Raise your hand. Suggest the idea. And then get ready to be blown away. That hungry crowd? After they’d all eaten until they were full, no skimping, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Twelve baskets. Of extras.
I’m not promising all rainbows and roses here, although that is the way I like to roll. Just because I send in a book proposal, doesn’t mean I get a book contract. But if I don’t do the work—write the proposal, make the changes my agent suggests, incorporate the feedback we get back from editors, I’ll never get that next book deal. And more importantly I won’t learn what Jesus wants to teach me. It probably took a while to settle that giant crowd into groups. Just because you work out, doesn’t mean you’ll win the race. Just because you apply for the job, does not mean you’ll get it. But when it’s the right deal, the right race, the right job, where Jesus wants to make a change and simultaneously grow us, we will get all those things and bonus baskets to boot. The job guy won’t come knocking on your door. It will be up to you to put together your resume, check out the requirements, apply, follow up with a call or email, get dressed up and cleaned up and put together for the interview. Then let Jesus bless it and dole it out, the way only He can.
Whatever thing you see needs fixing, started, initiated, changed today? Go do it. You feed them. Yes, YOU. And be blown away by not only how Jesus blesses and works, but in all the abundance of extras He’ll provide.
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
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.
There was a time when I had an 8, 5, 3 and 1 year old. I remember pushing the double car cart at the grocery overflowing with kids. People stopped me all the time and said, “You sure have your hands full!”
“Full of love,” I’d respond, because a) my kids were listening to every word and b) it was 100% true.
When my husband, our four kids, and me are together our hearts are full of love. It’s amazing—hilarious, story pouring over story, laughter layering over laughter, card games, movie nights, adventures, ice cream runs, prayers, music, discussions, inside jokes and so very much love. Being all together is fantastic. It escalates our fun, excitement and energy. We grow from one another’s insights and experiences. As my kids get older (too big to push in the car cart) they have more places they need and want to be. I treasure the nights we’re all in one place.
But I also treasure the rare one-on-one time. When I get one of the kiddos alone and we go on a walk, run errands, grab a meal, or have a private conversation, it’s priceless. Because this time is more personal. It’s in this alone space that I hear their favorite songs, watch their favorite shows, hear about the things bouncing around in their brains—everything from music producers to World War II battles. This is where some of the important things on their minds and hearts come out. This is where it’s easiest to share.
This is how God wants to hang out with us, too. In big groups and in more intimate space.
God loves it when we gather to learn about Him and His grace, to ask questions about Him, to share stories about how Jesus guides and loves on or fights for us, to sing to Him, to praise Him. There is something tangible, electric in this space. A group of people can be everything from a giant conference to a couple of women drinking coffee with their Bibles open. It could be a weekly church service or a one-time event. But when people gather together to know or worship Jesus, there’s a passion of shared experience, an opportunity to learn something we couldn’t learn on our own, the gift of hearing how God has worked in someone else’s life, the knowledge someone else brings to the game, the buzz of a cluster of people all praising God.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20
But Jesus also loves one on one time with us. Even Jesus would go off by himself to pray. Sure, God knows everything on our hearts, understands what we need before we need it, but He loves when we talk to Him about it. God knows we have questions. He surely doesn’t expect humans to understand the vastness of the Creator of the Universe. So, God is thrilled when we come to Him with questions, and when we seek knowledge about Him in the Bible. One on one time looks different for each of us on any given day. Just like individual time with one of my kids could be baking cookies or sitting on the porch listening to a thunderstorm together, alone time with God can be reading a plan on our Bible Apps, falling down on our knees in a quiet room, or having a conversation with Jesus in our heads as we walk through the grocery. But in that space, that quiet personal place, there is the opportunity for God to show us something that applies specifically to us—a gift He’s given us to use, a person He wants us to reach out to, something He wants us to stop worrying about, a reminder that He loves and accepts us unconditionally.
But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray. —Luke 5:16
Relationships are unpredictable, messy, lovely things. Whether they’re with God or with a family member.
We can’t plan on lightning bolts, revelations and goosebumps every time we attend Bible study or say a prayer. Sometimes I get an hour in the car with one of my kids, and they fall asleep. Which is totally fine, because what they needed most was rest. Some days I’ll read my Bible, and be like, ‘okay, that battle was interesting. Next.’ But that’s fine, too, because God will teach me something through it. He always does. We can’t be guaranteed that all interactions will be life changing. But we can be guaranteed that when we show up to a relationship, when we make the effort, when we’re open to learning and sharing and communicating, that the relationship always grows.
How’s your relationship with God? Mine? Beautiful some days. On others it can use a hecka lot of work. But no matter how I’m doing, no matter how you’re doing, God is waiting with open arms. There aren’t many relationships like that. God takes us how we are, whenever we come to Him. Whether it’s with a big group at a planned event, or if we call out to Him in the middle of the night, His love is available and abundant. It’s unlike any other relationship we’ll ever experience.
Seek God this week. In big and small places. Learn and share with others what you’re struggling with and what God’s doing for you. Talk to Him alone, and see what Jesus reveals to you.
The more ways and times you seek Him, the more your hands and heart will be full. Of love.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
Do you remember in Dead Poet’s Society when Robin Williams’ character challenges his students to stand on their desks, “because we need to constantly look at things in a different way”? I didn't stand on top of a desk, but I did sleep in my daughter’s bottom bunk for a week. And I truly gained a fresh perspective.
My husband was sick, like wiped out. I love him very much. But I know if I catch whatever he has, the whole family will go down. To help me avoid his germs, my younger daughter made herself a nest of sleeping bags and pillows on her floor and insisted I take her bed. This gracious act of selfless love was so touching and so much like what Jesus calls us to do. It gave me an elevated appreciation of her giving spirit. Who knew sleeping in the bottom bunk, which is definitely not my usual routine, would help me see more clearly the love of not only this daughter, but of my whole family? This new perspective helped me see their true reflections more vividly.
The whole husband being down to the count thing heightened my realization of how much he contributes to our family life. I hope I always appreciate the ways my husband pitches in, but wow, when all of a sudden he can’t help get the kids to practice, or find the missing stuffed panda bear because he really needs to rest—it is in these moments that I am in awe of how much I rely on him on a daily basis and of how selflessly he loves me and our kids. I am also blown away by all of the single moms out there who do everything all by themselves every day. You ladies are awesome!
One night mid-week I noticed our refrigerator was leaking all over the floor as one daughter walked in the front door from soccer practice AND at the exact same moment a support board on my youngest’s bunk bed snapped—while he was sleeping in it. No lie. My fourteen-year old son, keenly aware of the absence of Dad and the insanity of the moment, said, “Mom I’ll take care of the bed (and his startled and alarmed younger brother), so you can take care of this.” He motioned to the soggy puddle spreading across our floor. I cannot tell you how grateful I was. Or how mature my boy looked to me. My little guy is no longer little. He stepped up in incredible ways without being asked, prodded, or bribed. The view of him from the kitchen floor was stunning. Like totally makes my eyes tear up proud of the young gentleman he is growing into.
Instead of our usual splitting up the evening shifts running the family shuttle to soccer fields, weight rooms, and band practice I was flying solo on taxi duty. I love this time with my kids getting them where they need to be, where they love to be. But I also love the evening routine at home—relaying stories about our days, getting ready for the morning ahead, reading books to the younger crowd and tucking them in. I love that my youngest still wants me to lay him down. But he stepped up too. While I was pretending to be an Uber driver each night, he showered, put on his pajamas, packed his lunch, brushed his teeth, read to himself, and crawled under his covers—by himself. Without a single complaint. Just a request that I kiss him when I got home. And as I kissed his sweet, sleepy cheek each night, I saw even more clearly how beautifully my youngest is growing into the person God created him to be.
There seemed to be more to do each day than in a normal week, because there was. And when I finally crawled under my own covers, well, my daughter’s polka dot covers in her bunk, I was exhausted. But despite my to-do list, every evening I still beat my oldest to bed. I know, because she sleeps in the top bunk. She is a hard worker, one of the hardest, but from the view in the bottom bunk, I witnessed her climb the ladder to the bed above me each night later than she would have liked, because she was busy helping her friends, doing extra training for her sport, grinding through hours of homework without a grumble. In the mornings, I’d comment, “You were up late.” And she’d grin and shrug without the hint of a grumble, “I’m fine.” Not only did I have a more vivid view of how intensely my daughter puts her all into everything she does, but also of how graciously she takes on her responsibilities.
I love my family, dearly. Every day I think they are awesome. But a week in a different bed was like getting a new prescription for my glasses. It showed me more acutely and crisply what treasures they all are.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Sometimes it takes getting outside of our normal routines, our normal spots and approaches to see the beauty in our life and the people in it. Just like hanging out with Jesus gives us a whole new life, letting the past be the past, and allowing each new day to brim with opportunities for love and grace.
Are you stuck in a rut? Going through the motions of getting from here to there, of getting through the day? Taking anything for granted? Try finding a different perspective. You can climb on a desk if you like. I recommend sleeping in a bunk bed. But maybe it just means changing where you set up your laptop or where you go on a walk. Maybe it means choosing a different seat in class, a different spot to unroll your yoga mat, or a change up in the table you eat at in the cafeteria. But I challenge you to find a different view this week. You just might be amazed by how blessed you are.
I act entitled. All. Of. The. Time.
I am so not proud of this fact, but it is true.
For example, I “need” Starbucks daily or I get cranky. I literally plan out my morning on how and when I’m going to get it. Even if it makes me late. Even if it’s inconvenient. I also “need” a handful of chocolate chips after lunch and dinner. Only dark chocolate will do. Preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Of course, other chocolate makes a great substitute—brownies, chocolate cake, etc. And if they’re not available, I feel a little off kilter, a little growly. Do I sound like a crack addict? Yikes! I also feel completely entitled to buy that funky bracelet and that adorable dress, I mean they’re on sale, and did I mention how cute they are?
What do you "need"? That bottle of nail polish? A bottle of wine? To run another lap? Watch just one more episode of Friends? Read another chapter? Check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram real quick? A certain brand of athletic shorts or yoga pants?
I’ve been semi-aware of this behavior, but not really concerned, because lots of other people like Starbucks and chocolate and shopping, too. Right? But recently, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I was truly convicted. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chocolate or Starbucks or great fashion finds, thank goodness. These are all gifts from God to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there is something wrong when I feel I deserve those things—that I need them.
So, to get myself back in line, I went on a strange sort of fast for the month of January. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, given up something for Lent, or fasted in any other kind of way, we’re kindred spirits. This wasn’t about eating less; this was about being less entitled, more appreciative, more aware of how God has already taken care of all my needs. I decided I would take on three areas.
First, I ate only the following foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and seafood. Which I really didn’t think would be a big deal considering I eat oatmeal almost every morning, followed by lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, and I don’t eat red meat. But do you see the glaring omission of chocolate? Still. I thought this would be easy peasy. Until Day Two of the fast when after a Saturday jam-packed with kids’ basketball games and birthday parties all over Southwest Ohio, we tumbled back home around 6:00 PM and my husband, Brett, suggested we order pizza. It sounded heavenly. All I wanted to do was put on my jams, eat pizza, and curl up with the kids and watch a movie.
But that whole grain thing reared its head. I Googled our local pizza chain, and lo and behold they had a whole-wheat crust. Who knew? I’d never been so happy to see a whole grain. So I ordered my own little personal whole-wheat pie with spinach and tomatoes. And I was extremely grateful for it. Surprisingly, even when my daughter ate our favorite deep dish in front of me, I wasn’t envious. I was just so thankful I had the option to eat pizza.
Second, I gave up Starbucks. Yep. Cold turkey. And me, and my Keurig and my Nespresso (I told you I was entitled) spent a lot of time together in January. I successfully used up a multitude of various brands and flavors of coffee pods I’d stashed in the house without having to purchase a single one. My son, Max, is an amazing barista, and made me some delicious mochas and lattes with the Nespresso. On the two coffee dates I'd scheduled, I suggested the local coffee shop, Kofenya, which is amazing, and savored every drop of the java they brewed me. Note to self, I can get better about buying local. Yes, there were Monday mornings when I missed Starbucks like crazy. But every morning, honestly, I was so grateful for coffee—for it’s warmth, and aroma, and flavor, and yeah, the caffeine. And as I sipped my home brew, I thanked Jesus for being the ultimate waker-upper, my perfect source of energy.
Third, I gave up shopping. I only allowed myself to buy food, beverages and household basics (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, shampoo--the boring stuff). We went on our annual family field trip to the mall to exchange ill-fitting Christmas gifts, and I exchanged both my yoga pants and jeans for better sizes. But contrary to tradition, I did not buy a single amazing, spectacular January clearance item. Not the Gap t-shirts for only $4, because I always need another black t-shirt, and another white one. Not that really cute top in the window of Francesca’s that was 70% off. Not even the socks at American Eagle, which they were virtually giving away. And although it took great restraint to not take any of those steals to the register, I came home feeling lighter. My closet is already packed. I didn’t need any of those items. I actually saved myself from having to root through more clothes to find “the right” items later. It felt oddly good. For the rest of the month I deleted every single email from a retailer wooing me with their “biggest ever” clearance events and steered clear of Target, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, because why tempt myself like that? And each time I had the urge to just click on that message, browse that website, pop into that boutique, I tried to remember to thank Jesus for His ultimate coverage, for being more fulfilling than a shopping buzz.
Was I perfect on my fast? No way. You want the dirt? Here’s just a sample.
There was the time Brett brought me home a gorgeous single serving carrot cake from Panera. “It’s whole grain,” he told me.
I looked at him.
“It is,” he said. “I asked them.”
He was clearly lying. But he also went out of his way to go inside a Panera, order me a treat mid-way through my fast, even one that contained a vegetable, and looked brown, like whole grains tend to. I savored every morsel, appreciating his gesture of love and that miracle of a cake. I enjoyed half of it that day, and saved the other half for the next day, instead of gorging it down in one swallow, or thinking, “gee, I wish this was a brownie.” It was so phenomenally delicious. I was learning from this fast—when I don’t expect a dessert or feel like I’m entitled to one, I can appreciate the ones I get so much more fully.
A similar thing happened while in Texas. My sweetheart of a host took me out to lunch at an adorable spot called Nostalgia. “The best part of this place,” she smiled, “are the desserts. They come with your lunch.” I inwardly panicked. I didn’t want to break my fast. I’d been so good. But the thing I was learning most from fasting was being grateful for what I had. Being grateful for a store brand dark roast pod in my Keurig, because it was coffee, and I had the pleasure of drinking it. Being grateful for fresh fruits and organic Greek yogurt, because they are delicious and sweet and good for me, and because I always have food on my table and in my stomach. And, so, I made the game time decision to be grateful here too. The Hummingbird Cake contained pineapple and bananas, leaning itself towards the fruit category. Each and every bite of this cake I’d never even heard of before was delicious. And don’t get me started on the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. On this day, I was so grateful (after over 20 days of no desserts, well except the carrot cake) for a dessert. And yes, I ate peach cobbler with my same lovely friend that night, because, well, when in Texas.
There was the time when my mom made stuffed peppers with white rice. Agh! White rice isn’t a whole grain. Some of you are thinking I’m totally nuts here, but I am such a rule follower (too much of a rule keeper, too stringent, too much of the time). Add that with entitlement to my list of many flaws. Only brown rice counted on my self-induced fast. But this fast was all about being more appreciative. And not valuing a home-cooked meal from Mom, well that’s plain ridiculous. So, I counted every delicious bite, every grain of rice as sheer gift.
There was also the time, when I bought myself a sweatshirt. I wrestled with the idea. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to buy myself anything. I hadn’t even bought my kiddos anything this month. Not one cute notepad or t-shirt. But this sweatshirt helped fund the amazing event I was speaking at, Project Beautiful, bringing hundreds of girls together to remind them of their true beauty. And it reads, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made across it’s soft, cozy self. These words are what I long to share with everyone I meet—that they were created by God to inspire awe, that He created them wonderfully. And so, the decision to purchase was intentional, not entitled, and felt very right.
By the third time we’d ordered pizza in January, Brett finally ventured to try a bite of mine. Our whole family was gathered around the dinner table swapping stories and laughing when Brett exclaimed, “This..really is…very bad!” and spit out his bite. Which of course led to hysterics. My girls were curious, so they tried it too, only to prod, “How can you eat that, Mom?” “It is really gross! You don’t like it do you?”
And it was strange. I was so grateful each time we ordered pizza that I didn’t have to make another run to the grocery in the bitter January air, think about “what was for dinner,” cook, or clean, that I’d never considered the subpar flavor. All I had to do was hang out with my family and eat pizza. And that tasted pretty good to me.
My fast is officially over. I’m interested to see how it will change me. If I will be less entitled, more grateful, more giving. I pray I will be. I also pray I'll turn to Jesus more--for me to turn to my worldly fixes to fill my voids less. Because Jesus is sweeter than chocolate, more revitalizing than caffeine, and quite frankly, as my friend Holly Starr sings, He's "Everything I Need". Because when I decide that I “need” this and I “need” that, I’m truly not the best version of myself. But when I am grateful for the food I have, the roof over my head, the clothes in my closet, my loving family, well then, I can see my true reflection much more clearly.
How about you? Anything you “need” on a daily basis? Have you ever fasted before? How did it work for you? Let me know in the Comments below.
“You can do it!”
“That’s right, you’ve got this!”
“If you pull up your shoulders you’ll last longer.”
“Wow, you are doing so great!”
“Keep your chin up, it makes it easier.”
“If you can hang on for ten more seconds you’ll break your record.”
“You are so strong!”
This is what I heard as I walked past the climbing wall at the rec center the other day.
And this is what I saw.
An elementary-aged boy, hanging with two small, sweaty hands from rock holds, while his climbing team and coaches sat in a semi-circle on the floor around him, cheering him on.
This image has stuck with me for days.
I would love for people to shout these encouragements to me. All day. Every day. I mean, talk about inspiration. Really, what if we all did this for each other in life? Because there are days, times, trials, seasons of life that are downright tough, when we feel ourselves slipping, when we ache from trying, when we’re not sure if we can hang on for even a moment more. Currently, I have friends who are trying to sell their house, trying to get a job, battling depression, trying to get pregnant, discerning if they should marry their boyfriend or not, fighting cancer, and praying for their wayward child. And you, what are you trying to get through? How are you trying to hang on?
Because even when we have great days, successes, and promotions, and celebrations, there will always be a tough situation in our future, or one we’ve put off, or pushed aside, for now. And when it arises, we’ll be desperately trying to hang on with all our might.
What if there were people around us shouting, “You can do this!” “You’ve got this!” “You’re strong!”
What if we shouted this at each other, when we saw a friend or a stranger struggling? What if we reminded them that they have a God who loves them, who created them, who will never forsake them, who will be with them always, even to the end of the world?
You should have seen that kid’s smile when he came down from the wall after beating his record, after clearly hanging on longer than he imagined he could. He was beaming.
Is there anyone you know who’s just hanging on today? What can you do to cheer them on?
I woke up on the ninth, or was it tenth, snow day in a row to the sound of feet scurrying around downstairs. Recognizing the speed and lightness of the foot steps as my youngest; I hurried downstairs to see what he was up to.
Maguire was standing on top of a stack of books stacked on top of our step stool surveying the kitchen counter littered with bowls, bottles, bananas and the iPad.
“Good morning, sweetie,” I said, trying really hard not to freak out about what might be breaking or burning, “whatcha doing?”
“Making banana bread,” he answered with a smile and a small flash of eight-year old pride.
“Wow! That’s awesome. Did you find a recipe?” I scanned the counter for a cookbook or piece of paper.
“Yep.” He nodded, pointing to the iPad.
Sure enough on the screen was a recipe for gluten free banana bread Maguire had Googled. He’d also apparently found the ingredients listed, including measuring cups and had started portioning them into a giant glass bowl. I was impressed.
Slightly less panicked, only slightly, because I wasn’t sure what exactly he’d poured into the bow, I took a deep breath and said, “You are so sweet to make breakfast for everyone. Did you find everything alright?”
“Mmm hmm. It says it takes 45 minutes to bake.” He nodded.
He’d read the recipe all the way through before starting? Impressive.
“I couldn’t find the baking soda, but then I remembered I had some in my science kit, so I got it out,” he continued.
That explained the Ziploc baggie with the white envelope from his science kit, labeled “baking soda”.
“Very resourceful.” I applauded.
“And, I wasn’t sure what vanilla extract was, but then I figured out that must mean vanilla.”
“It sure does.” I was the one nodding now.
“Can I crack the eggs?” Maguire asked.
“Sure.” I leaned over the iPad and scanned the ingredients. “It says we need four eggs.”
“I know. I got them out,” he pointed to the four eggs lying behind the large bowl.
We all ate large portions of warm, sweet banana bread laced with melted chocolate chips that morning. It was gluten free and nut free just like our family’s allergies demand. It was delicious and perfect on a stay-at-home, snowed in kind of morning. All because a little boy decided he wanted to make it for his family, and he wasn’t going to let the fact that he couldn’t reach the flour and the sugar even with the stepstool stop him. Nope, he piled some thick books on top of that to get him where he needed to go. He wasn’t going to let the fact that he didn’t know what a baking soda box looked like or where we kept it stop him. Nope, Maguire went into his reserves. He didn’t let the fact that he was eight, that he’d never baked anything by himself or that he was the only one awake stop him. He didn’t let anything get in his way.
How about you?
What’s in your way today?
What’s stopping you?
If you took a look around, might you find something to prop you up a little higher so you can reach your goal? Or, if you seem to be struggling to find or attain something, maybe you could find an alternative source of a key ingredient to accomplish your goal?
I’m not saying be unsafe (my son was responsible enough to not have turned the over on yet, he knew he had to wait for someone bigger to do that), but I am saying be brave. Put on your adventure cap. And don’t let obstacles stop you from baking up something amazing!
Laura L. Smith