Our family is new to the cross country scene. Our four kids have been involved in soccer--lots and lots of soccer, flag football, theatre, ballet, track, as well as very brief stints in gymnastics, karate, and baseball, but none of them had ever run XC until now. Our youngest started high school in August and joined the school’s cross country team back in June. He’s been practicing for months, building up his mileage, increasing his speed and endurance, and making quality friends.
The morning of our first meet my husband and I weren’t really sure what to expect. We’d been told to wear comfortable shoes, because you end up darting from one spot to another to watch different parts of the race, which sounded fun. We drove to the address, parked, got out of our car and it felt more like a festival than a competition. Toby Mac was blaring from a sound system, “It’s never too late to get back up again.” Teams had tents with signs. Food trucks had parked along the perimeter, and the intoxicating smells of kettle corn and empanadas filled the air.
It was fun and festive. The whole space vibrated with energy.
Here are some things we learned about cross country that we think Jesus would love:
Doing Your Best is a Win
Hundreds of athletes run in a cross country meet. Yes, there is a first place winner, but very few of the athletes have their eye on that prize. They’re all actually running with the goal to beat their PR--personal record. They’re not comparing themselves to the other runners. They’re just trying to do their personal best--to take what God gave them and use it to the best of their ability. The world needs more of this. Yes please and now. The Apostle Paul instructs us to live like this in Galatians 5:26
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
What if we all did this? Stopped wishing we had as many followers as her, the job title of him, or the family of them. And instead, took what God gave us and used it to our fullest, ran our best original race. Think of all the freedom to live out our callings and all the amazing things that would ensue.
Everybody cheers for everybody
It doesn’t matter what team your kid is on or how fast they do or don’t run, other people from other teams cheer for them. Which, really? They’re cheering for my boy? Insert all the emojis. This takes place at the starting line when all the fans cheer loudly for all the runners. And it also happens throughout the three point one mile course as spectators sprint to different spots along the route to cheer on athletes as they progress.
At our first stop along the yellow tape marking the course, we met a man who told us his daughter was running in the next race. He cheered and clapped as each athlete ran past. I repeat, his daughter was not even in this race. This was the boys race! At the two mile marker a group of varsity runners who had already completed their race gathered along a bend in the route cheering, “You’ve got this! Keep it up! Keep it up!” Yes, to their JV teammates, but also to all the other athletes passing by.
This is beautiful. And it’s Biblical! Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We’re supposed to cheer each other on! We’re supposed to encourage each other! This is what living in Christ looks like.
There are snacks at the end
As the runners cross the finish line they immediately head toward their team’s tent which is laden with sandwiches, protein bars, and fruit. The Propel and Gatorade flow freely. They can get seconds or thirds or fourths, and eat their fill. Jesus would love this! Celebrating with food was Jesus’ jam. In fact his very first miracle was at a wedding feast--turning water into wine (John 2:1-10). Throughout the Gospels (the four Biblical books that serve as the biography of Jesus’ life) we find Jesus eating with his friends and people in the community (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 7:36, Luke 10:38-40, Luke 11:37, Luke 14:1, John 12:2-3, John 21:12-13). We also see Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts (Mark 14:12-26, John 2:23, John 5:1, John 13:1). Jesus loved sharing food while hanging out with others.
So, yeah, cross country meets are awesome. Because they mirror some ways God wants us to be living. He wants us to stop comparing ourselves to others. He wants us to use the gifts He’s given us to the best of our ability on any given day. God wants us to cheer for one another along the way. And God also wants us to share meals with one another--to eat and laugh and swap stories and encourage one another.
I’m up for the challenge. You?
Not to compete in a cross country meet. But to keep running our races--the one God put in front of us, specifically--one full of doing our best, loving one another, both feeling encouraged and encouraging others, and of course with yummy snacks involved. On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!
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It’s raining. Heavy drops pelt our wood deck just off our family room. I hear water rolling down the roof and trickling down the smooth glass of the windows. The sound fills our momentarily quiet house, as two kids are at the rec center, one’s playing video games, and one is showering. The swooshing, dripping, pattering sounds like a symphony of various water instruments all playing their parts, together forming a gorgeous gift to my ears. That is, if I listen. Because earlier, when I was sending someone’s Christmas list to Grandma, making a reservation for dinner, and booking a haircut for my son, while filling my water bottle, I didn’t hear it. It was raining then, just like it is now, but I missed the beauty of it. Somewhere in my head I acknowledged the weather, but I wasn’t listening.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Jesus asked his disciples after telling them about the sower who scattered seed on various kinds of soil. This exact phrase is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so I feel like it’s important, a verbatim quote. So am I really listening? Are we? And when I look at the story Jesus had just told about some seed taking sprout, and other seed not so much, I realize how important it is to listen to Him, because I want His seeds to grow in my life, to flourish, to produce fruit. But is His voice what I tune my ears to, or do I allow the noise of the world to drown Jesus out.
Because life is noisy. And when it’s not, when it’s silent, we get antsy, and seek to fill the quiet. If no one’s talking in the car, we flip on the radio or plug in ear buds. If we’re standing in line we tap our phone screens filling our brain with visual noise, quotes and scores, snaps and stories. One friend I love has multiple televisions on throughout her house, so her rooms don’t feel “too quiet.” What if instead, we grabbed those pockets of silence as opportunities to hear God? When we fill our days with so much sound, are we able to hear God above the noise? Am I even trying to?
Yes! Of course I want to hear God. And I am trying to. So, I get out my Bible and journal in the mornings. And I read and I write and I pray. But I often get distracted. Because the dryer buzzes, and the UPS man rings the doorbell, and someone asks if I’ve seen their keys, and I get a text, and now that I’m on my phone... Instagram. Plus I remember I still want to send a card to a new friend who wasn’t on our list last year, and wrap those cozy sweats I got one of the cousins, and order one more thing from Amazon, and get the chicken out of the freezer now so it has time to thaw. And then the Bible verse that was resonating, the thought I was about to jot down, that thing God and I were talking about escapes me. And I try to go back to where I was.
Sometimes I step back in the flow of my conversation with God, but sometimes I don’t, because now I don’t have time, and I’ll return to it later. Or will I? Sometimes God and I have a fantastic chat in the mornings, but by three in the afternoon it’s nowhere on my radar, or some mornings I go through the motions, but my brain is on all the other things and nothing seems to stick. But I want it to. I want to know what Jesus has to say. About my marriage. About my kids. About my writing. About all of the things. So, am I listening? Are you?
In the last week my daughter had a piano recital, my youngest son had his Fine Arts night, and my older son played guitar in church. So much beautiful music to hear. My daughter, who hasn’t played since she was little, practiced her song over and over, and was a bit nervous to play in front of all those people for her exam grade in piano class. I prayed that she’d do her best, that she’d be confident in her playing. And she slid onto that bench and pounded out “All of Me,” on the keys filling the theatre with beautiful chords. I held my breath the entire time. It was lovely. My youngest warned us his bell for the bell song was “bigger than his head,” and thus difficult to ring. He also warned, “Don’t look at me, because, I’ll mess up.” But I couldn’t help but look, and pray his bell would ring, and he’d actually enjoy the experience. Sure enough, he lifted that giant brass bell, and the notes rang clear and loud. During worship on Sunday my ears honed in on the electric guitar, because when my son plays I want to hear his part. I peeked at him up there in his plaid flannel, and prayed he’d use his talents to glorify God. The notes from his instrument filled my ears and my heart with joy.
I was listening. Extra hard. Because these are my kids. And I love them. And I’m proud of them, that they played their songs all in with their various levels of interest and talent. This is how God listens to us—completely tuned in. We’re His kids, and He loves us, and He’s proud of us, in all of our unique skillsets both when we do the things we love and the things we’re assigned. If the God of the Universe is paying so much attention to every note we play, are we listening to Him?
Wow. I’m trying. But not always as intently as I’d like to. I make excuses, but I didn’t make excuses when my kids were playing, and God doesn’t make excuses when I’m talking to Him. So, for me, I realize it’s time to ditch the distractions and get back to being full-on focused on Jesus.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” —Matthew 13:16-17 MSG
Jesus gave us the ears and the opportunities to hear Him—what a gift! So, are we listening, really listening, like we’d focus on our kids in a concert, or our favorite part of our favorite Christmas song, or the funniest line from Elf? Because Jesus is listening to us. And He has so much to tell us, so much love to share with us. He tells us we’re chosen. We’re holy. We’re loved. We’re His. If only we’ll listen.
The rain has stopped now. A bird chirps out my window, insistent and shrill. I hear it, because I’ve put myself in a quiet place, where I can hear better. It’s a reminder to me, to set myself up well to hear Jesus. To temporarily tune out all of the other noise each morning, to take advantage of moments of silence throughout my day, to hone into the beautiful melody of love and forgiveness and joy and courage and strength Jesus sings to me, to all of us. It’s my all-time favorite song. And I want to listen to it, really listen.
Oh my. So many pairs of pink soccer socks! All the soccer moms were asked to sign up for different tasks for the team this year—concessions, ball girls, etc. It was obvious to me the slot I needed to fill was to organize the “Kick Cancer” games, because breast cancer tugs at my heart. My grandmother and aunt both lost their lives to the disease. And although I never met my grandmother, and barely knew my aunt, their battles and their courage will always be a page of my story.
We got permission from the athletic commissioner to “break uniform” and have the kids wear pink socks on their game days as a symbol of their support and to raise awareness. But for some reason I never imagined a box with seventy-five pairs of soccer socks on my porch. Thank you UPS man.
I also never imagined how God would remind me of His behind-the-scenes goodness through the process.
In the midst of planning, I was chatting with the representative from Pink Ribbon Girls who provides FREE direct services such as meals, housecleaning, transportation and peer support to families in our area battling breast and women’s reproductive cancer. You guys, they do such great work, check them out pronto! The rep was telling me how they had recently been working at a car show selling raffle tickets to benefit their organization. I’m not sure of the details, but she mentioned it was 98 degrees. She went on to say they’d been sitting there in the intense heat for what seemed like for-ever and hadn’t sold a ticket. The volunteers started looking at each other and asking what in the world they were doing there. And then a woman approached.
The woman shared with the volunteers how she had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, and therefore curious about what Pink Ribbon Girls was all about, and by the way, she had no idea how she was going to get to her treatments. There and then the volunteers got to tell the woman about all of the free services they offer to people like her, including rides to appointments. What? They got the lady signed up on the spot and encouraged her with stories of women they personally knew who had also been diagnosed with Stage 4, but had kicked cancer. Their day hadn’t been about raffle tickets at all. It had been about loving on this woman. God used them bigger and better than they could have imagined.
This is how God always works. He doesn’t just think outside of the box. God thinks outside of the dimension. I think we live in 3-D, and He lives in 7-D, or probably more like 7X70-D. We can’t begin to wrap our minds around what He has in store, how He’s going to use us, what He’s doing behind the scenes. These women signed up to sell raffle tickets at a car show. God used them to offer hope to one of the very women they long to serve. God is using you, too. Whether you can see it or not. Let's just say God ties pink ribbons way better than we do.
Are you working part time at the job you wish was full time? God is using you there and now on purpose.
Are you sending out resumes like it’s your job, yet you’re still unemployed? God is at work.
Are you gritting your teeth every time you pass your seemingly unbearable boss? God is behind the scenes here.
Are you waiting to hear back, refreshing your phone every six minutes, and until you do hear you feel like everything is in limbo? It’s not. God is working in one of those other dimensions you don’t see.
The teams sold a load of t-shirts, raised a nice chunk of change for Pink Ribbon Girls, and got involved in the cause. All great things. But God did and is doing so much more. My mom (whose mother and sister are the ones we lost to breast cancer) just happened to be able to visit us the night of this week’s game. Pure blessing that we could share this together. Guess what? As it turns out, we don’t actually control our calendars. God does. I met the sweetest lady from Pink Ribbon Girls who I swear I will adore forever. Because I worked hard to get the “right” volunteer? Nope. Because God knew that she and I would hit it off and matched us to work at this thing together. Y’all it was a soccer game, but hurting women in our area will be served just how God knows they need it most, because God can use a t-shirt or a soccer game to show His amazing grace. And as if He hadn’t proved to me how BIG and ALMIGHTY He is already, my sweet Savior wrapped up the evening in a giant pink ribbon.
God is bigger than you or me. He’s bigger than a raffle or a Kick Cancer event. Yeah, He’s even bigger than cancer. Way bigger. And stronger, too. Whatever that thing is He’s called you to do, He’s in it, He’s making things happen, better things than you could plan out in your planner. Trust in Him and His ways. And watch Him turn raffle tickets into outreach, socks into love, and so very much more.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9
Tomorrow is a new day, filled with endless possibilities for how God might flip something mundane in your life into something marvelous. I don’t know what’s on your calendar. For me, it’s my annual mammogram—ladies, if you haven’t gotten yours, schedule it today. I don’t know what else is on God’s planner tomorrow, no way of knowing what He’s up to, but I’m so excited to see it, so excited to see how He’ll invite me into the process. Because I know His ways and thoughts are way higher than mine, or yours, or our favorite podcaster’s or preacher’s. Listen to Him. Trust in Jesus. He will use you. And it will be more beautiful than all the pink ribbons in the world.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
When I was ten a new family moved in behind us that also had a ten-year old girl. Our moms decided we should walk to school together. The girl, Jamie, became my best friend. We played Legos, and Kick-the-Can. We ate dinner and slept over at each other’s houses on a rotating basis. We rode bikes, splashed at the pool, danced to David Bowie, helped each other pick out homecoming dresses, visited each other at college, were in each other’s weddings, and still to this day, Jamie gets me on a secret special level—because she’s known me for so long, knows so much of my backstory.
When we were little, along with climbing trees, I loved to read and write stories. Jamie loved to draw. These things seemed as normal as any of our other activities. But actually our passions for these things were specific to our characters—things woven into our very beings.
Jamie recently came by my house for lunch. While my oldest grabbed a snack, Jamie asked her about college and her major and the question college kids often get asked, “What do you want to do when you get out?” Also known as, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a very popular question this time of year with all the graduations going on. My daughter talked about her goals, dreams, and plans to get there.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” Jamie said emphatically, then turned to me.
“Did you always want to be a writer?”
“Always.” I nodded.
When we were young I knew Jamie was talented at art. Every drawing, pastel, or craft she did was amazing. When we were in high school she painted me a beautiful picture of ballerinas for my birthday. And she knew I was a bookworm, always reading. I geeked out about English class. These things have always been innate to us. What is that thing that tugs at your heart—that has always been a part of you?
In high school, I effortlessly confided in Jamie about my crushes and the family drama I would never want anyone else to know about, but somehow I hesitated when it came to sharing my writing aspirations. For me, it just sounded so outlandish—that I would want to become a writer—because who does that? Who gets to do that? So I followed a predictable path with a mission invisible to the outside world brewing inside my heart. Jamie, always being the braver one, declared an art major. We both graduated college, and ironically landed in sales jobs.
But guess what? Today, Jamie is an artist. Like a legit paints gorgeous abstracts of swirling color and sells her canvases with impressive price tags to homes all over the country.
And I am a writer.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11
God had always planned it this way—equipped us to enact the very desires of our heart from the get go. He has plans for you, too. And they are as beautiful as one of Jamie’s paintings.
They say the thing you most want to be when you’re little, is most likely what you’re supposed to be when you grow up—set aside things like being Dora. (Yes, one of my daughters wanted to be Dora) This thing that you’ve always loved, looked forward to, somehow had a knack for, got energized from doing is the very thing God planted in your heart to do—to do well—to do often. When we’re young we haven’t heard yet that we are too short, too tall, live in the wrong place, that only guys do that, that we need to know someone, or we aren’t good enough at math to ever be able to do “that thing.” All we understand is that we love doing that thing, and we happen to be pretty decent at it.
As Viktor Frankl said, “We don’t invent our missions. We detect them.” They’re already in there! Embedded in us by our Creator. And our hearts lean that way instinctively. Our missions were so clear and obvious early on. What lights you up? That should be the first clue on your detecting journey as to what you are called to do. Did you ever tell anyone? Did you ever pursue that passion? It’s not to late. Not now. Not ever. To find it, and more importantly, to do it!
Sure, Jamie and I both had to work at our dreams. It takes commitment of time, energy, and money. Making dreams into realities requires support networks. We both happen to have fabulous husbands who cheer us on in our pursuits, but support could also come from a friend, coach, parent, mentor, an artist group, teammate, or classmate. It also takes thick skin. I can’t speak for Jamie, but I get way more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses.’ But it’s easier to invest in endeavors when you’re passionate about them, because you sense you were made for it, that God made you for it.
So take everything you can—each experience, lesson, place you’re put, absorb it all; use it towards your mission in life. The marketing, product positioning, and promoting Jamie and I learned in sales jobs now come in super handy when she pitches paintings to a gallery, or when I pitch manuscripts to an editor. Nothing you’ve done up to this point is a waste of time. You get to use it all, towards what you’re supposed to be doing. God will use all of it.
What did you want to be when you were little? Are you doing it? What’s stopping you? What can you use from where you have been to help you do that thing you were built to do?
God created you distinctly from every other human for a beautiful purpose. He poured all kinds of talents and loves and cravings and preferences into you. He assembled them all together when He made you. They’re all still there. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly to do that thing or pursue that dream. Share it with someone you trust today. Start living your God-given mission! You’ll feel alive and vibrant when you do. You are the only one who can paint that picture, write that song, coach that team, run that program, teach that class, raise money for that cause, fight for that piece of legislation. God’s hoping you’ll accept His invitation to do the good work He created you to do. When you say, ‘yes,’ not only will you thrive, but the world will be a better place.
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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.
My oldest daughter is about to graduate. When she was tiny, it seemed I had all the time in the world—to teach her how to walk, talk, read and ride a bike. But when I wasn’t looking someone hyperwound the hands on our clocks. Time is ticking at breathtaking speeds, and I feel there is so much I want her to know before she leaves home. Yes, I want to make sure she can cook a meal from scratch and maneuver through security at the airport, but just like potty training, she’ll eventually figure those things out. There are four ideas, however, I want her to fully grasp—things I want to sear into her being, so she’ll never forget.
1. You are beautiful.
I tell you all the time, but you shake your head. You are beautiful. Far more than you know. Inside and out. When I look at you I am amazed by how your eyes shine when you’re passionate about something. I see the arch of your eyebrows and how your dimple appears when you laugh and marvel at how masterfully God assembled all of your parts, in just the right proportions, to fit together so beautifully. I want you to truly grasp your beauty. I don’t ever want you to look in the mirror and see anything but a girl who was perfectly crafted by the Master Craftsman. Psalm 139:14 reads; I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. That word “remarkably” translates from the Greek, “to inspire awe”. That’s what you do—inspire awe.
2. You are strong.
As your mom, I’d like to protect you from all hardships. But life doesn’t work that way. You have already faced more decisions, losses, pain, and trials than I wish you would have to deal with in your lifetime. But you have made it through them all. Sometimes it has taken talks, tears, and even screams. Sometimes you’ve had to be alone—to do the things that help you make sense of things. But you’ve always done it. And God has always been beside you, helping you through. He always will be. You are strong, because you are strengthened by God. That means you can get through anything that comes your way.
I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me. --Philippians 4:13
3. God has perfect plans for you.
Next year you’ll live in a new place surrounded by new people. You’ll be at a new school on a new team. But God has prepared you. He has led you to this place. You are fully equipped to do this, to take the next steps, to discover more about yourself and what God has in store for you. There might be some bumps, some tough days, but your days will also be packed with wonderful, new experiences and opportunities. And God will be guiding you through every single one. So there is nothing to fear. Think of all the essays written, applications sent, coaches played for, and campuses visited that brought you here. Your destination is not an accident. And because God led you to this specific place at this specific time, it will be glorious. God has your future, a phenomenal one, in store for you.
“For I know the plans I have for you" —this is the Lord's declaration— “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” —Jeremiah 29:11
4. You are loved.
This is the most important one. Truly, if I only got to whisper one thing into your ear before you set out on your great adventure it is this, “You. Are. Loved.” Your family and God love you more than you can ever imagine. Beyond the limits of human thought. I am cheering for you. I can’t wait to hear about all of your triumphs. On days, when you’re down, I’m here to listen and support you. When you get the “A” or the “F”, when you win or lose, when you score the winning goal or sit the bench, when you make a new friend or if someone makes you feel small, when the sun shines or when the rain pours, I’m here for you, loving you full out. And so is God. There is nothing you can ever do that could stop God or me from loving you as much as we do in this moment—completely.
I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love. —Ephesians 3:17-18
Of course four things aren’t enough. There will never be enough words or time to share everything with my little (well, big) girl that I wish I could. But if she knows how loved she is, and that God will be forever at her side, well then, she’ll be equipped to face anything and everything she encounters.
I was at a musical the other night and at the first joke I heard a deep, hearty laugh from somewhere behind me. I smiled. It was the kind of laugh that made me think of a grandfather, although I barely knew mine, or of Santa Claus. It was someone’s laugh who wasn’t concerned if anyone else thought that line was funny, who could have cared less how loud or quiet his laugh was, who was comfortable in the art of being entertained, and completely ready to sit back and enjoy the show. It was a lovely, welcome sound.
A few moments later I heard it again. This guy and his deep down from his belly laughter was fresh air in a stuffy theatre. He was at the high school’s production of Annie, and he was there to listen to the actors say their lines, pay attention to the performance, and savor every moment of the show.
Was I paying full attention? Allowing the fun to wash over me?
Am I that engaged in my life—listening to every line, savoring every moment, breathing in the spring air, tasting zesty tacos on Tuesday nights, laughing out loud? Or am I rushing around, shoving down bites, distracted, thinking about somewhere other than where I am, worried about what other people are doing, about how I’m going to get my to-do list done, criticizing when others make mistakes?
The man’s laughter was contagious. Because he was so comfortable cracking up, it gave others free license to join in. He got the crowd more engaged, laughing harder, which turned up the actors’ games as they played it up all that much more for the crowd. One man’s laughter made all of the jokes funnier, all of the inferences more clever, all of the performers better at their craft.
I don’t know who this man was, but I know I want to be more like him. I want to laugh out loud, and not just as an LOL abbreviation on a text, but so loud that others can hear me, that they might even join in, or at least smile. I want to chuckle, chortle, and snort and enjoy each and every moment of this amazing life. I want to gripe less and giggle more. Are you with me?
Loosen up a little today. Allow something silly to tickle your funny bone. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Laugh and laugh and laugh some more until you get others to join in—until you create a chain reaction of joy.
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.
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