No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
I appreciate that the days leading up to Thanksgiving ignite our thankful nature, because I have so much to be thankful for. We get to choose how we look at each and every situation that comes our way. We can dwell on the mishaps and misunderstandings, or we can be in awe of what we have. Which will we choose?
Overall, I see myself as a grateful kind of girl. But although I don’t mean to, I still seem to grumble about something or other most days.
Me? I’m trying to be less grumbly and more grateful.
Do you know the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell? I prefer the remake by the Counting Crows, but the lyrics warn, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got…’til its gone.” I don’t want to take the gifts I have for granted. I don’t want them to slip through my fingers unnoticed or unappreciated. I want to cherish them and savor them and drink them in. November seems to be the perfect time to work on improving my perspective.
My younger daughter had an out of town soccer tournament this past weekend. And although it meant leaving my husband and other three amazing kids for a couple of nights, I was still excited with the prospect of spending two nights visiting with one of my favorite people on the planet (the tournament was near my mom’s) and getting to spend time with my precious girl. Yet, I’ll admit Saturday’s game came a little early, the parking lot was slightly insane, and I was a bit shivery as I wrapped my hands around a coffee cup on the sidelines of a frost-covered field. As the girls warmed up, I asked the coach, who had worked the night shift, not slept, and came straight to coach the girls, “How do you stay awake? Loads of coffee?” He shook his head and laughed. His answer convicted me, “Honestly, the smiles on these girls faces totally energizes me.” Perfect perspective.
Even though I’d started out in the right mindset, I needed reminded to choose grateful over grumbling (thanks, Coach). My mind reset. I stopped inwardly whining and started absorbing God’s blessings, starting with the spectacular sunrise over the fields and the warm cup of coffee my mom had brewed for me. I had a memorable weekend loaded with conversations and walks with my mom and packed with giggles, silly photos, chocolate cake and even a couple of episodes of Fixer Upper with my daughter. The weekend was pure gift.
I’m writing this blog just prior to the election. Emotions about our future president are so thick they are difficult to wade through. But no matter if your candidate won, or the other candidate won we still live in a country where we had the right to vote. Where I, as a woman, had the right to vote. Where a free education is available to all of our children, despite income, race or religion. Where it is safe for our kids to get on a school bus in the morning and to ride it back home to us each afternoon. When I attend my kids’ soccer games, I can sit anywhere I like, wear anything I’m in the mood to wear. When the “National Anthem” is played I’ll get goose bumps contemplating my freedoms. We live in a country where we can still express our opinions without fear, where we can practice our faith without risk of imprisonment, or worse. Are we choosing gratitude?
Yes, life is crazy, and it gets interrupted, and the script doesn’t always go the way I would write it. But God is a much better writer than I am. And I don’t want to miss any of the gifts He has in store. I challenge myself (and you) today not to dwell on what we don’t have, but to focus on all we do have, to be thankful for the vibrant crimson, oranges and gold of leaves and the smoky scent of bonfires, for lungs that breathe in crisp November air, for the people in our lives who make us smile, and for a God who loves us so completely, so personally, that not only did He die for us, but He also provides countless surprises and delights for us each day.
What are you grateful for today?
Ever heard of Nerf Wars? No, they're nothing like Star Wars. Nerf Wars are when teams of teens make a bracket (like you would in any sports tournament). The teams go against their assigned opponents with the goal of hitting more members of the opposing team with Nerf bullets than the opposing team hits of your team by the end of the assigned time. Shot players are out and can no longer shoot. Winning teams advance to the next bracket. It’s like an extended game of dodge ball, only with Nerf guns. Got it?
But as with most games, there’s a lot to be learned by the rules—life lessons. I’ve had the pleasure of spectating and strategizing with my daughter as she partook in this war with her friends, and I’ve learned a few strategies I want to apply to my daily life.
1. Be intentional
There is a thrill, an excitement, and a little bit of anxiety during Nerf Wars, because at any moment you could get shot. It’s all in fun—it’s just a game, so the stakes aren’t high, but still there’s that strange feeling that someone is after you. My daughter had to rethink her daily tasks. She had to be intentional about things she usually did by rote, things she took for granted. She asked if she could park in the garage instead of the driveway, so she could pull her car in, shut the garage door, and never be out in the open where she could get shot. She started conversations with people she hadn’t chatted with before, so she could decipher when and where her opponents were going. She planned new routes home from school in case she was being followed.
I, too, need to be more intentional. There are so many things I habitually do without even thinking about them. I eat the same things for breakfast, read the same blogs, and sit in the same seat at church. What if I approached each day fully aware and intent on expanding my horizons and picking the best routes for my daily life instead of the most familiar ones?
2. Never leave your wingman.
Just like in Top Gun, In Nerf Wars it’s not only important to be in constant communication with your teammates, it’s also critical to have someone with you—a wingman. Maybe your wingman will drive while you roll down the passenger window to shoot an opponent. Maybe, if they’re already out of the game, your wingman will act as a human shield to protect you from oncoming Nerf bullets. Maybe a wingman will help you find someone’s house, or just to keep you company or make you laugh while you’re on a stakeout.
I also need a wingman. We aren’t created to do life alone. We all need people to talk to, to laugh with, to plan with. Some days I need my friends and family to act as human shields, protecting me from unkind words or rejections from the world. I definitely need a small, close circle of people praying for and with me. I hope my wingmen and wingwomen and wingkids never leave my side. I’m reminded how important it is to stand by theirs
3. Stay in the light
I cracked up each night when my daughter called, asking me to turn on all the outside lights. When she pulled up to our house, she wanted a clear view—wanted to see if anyone was waiting to attack her.
I also need to stay in the light. I need to stay where I can see what’s going on, where I can tell the difference between right and wrong. There are places I’ve been and people I’ve been around, that when I’m there or with them, everything starts to get dim, maybe even dark. Where decisions are harder, where lines get blurry. You probably have your darker places, too. But Jesus is light. And when I stay grounded in Him, I can see what’s coming, and not be taken by surprise. I can see things for what they truly are, and act accordingly. When I shine His light on any situation it gets brighter and clearer, and I am immediately less concerned about the unknown.
I don’t know what battles you’re fighting today. I hope they’re just all fun and games, like Nerf Wars. But I know some days the battles are real. When they are, be intentional, keep a wingman close by, and stay in the marvelous light of Jesus.
We were driving down the highway when both of my daughters started cracking up in the backseat. “Look at that lady!” They eventually squeaked and pointed between peals of laughter.
In the van to our right was a woman not just singing by herself in her car, but all out busting a cold move. She was flapping her arms and bopping her head and despite looking a little odd, she also looked like possibly the happiest person on the planet. “That must be her absolute favorite song!” I decided. As we drove past we noticed her license plate read SONGS1. “And,” one of the kids added, “she must really love music.”
Twenty minutes later in our drive as cars wove forward and back, switched lanes and repositioned themselves we were again beside SONGS1. Still her entire upper body was moving and grooving. She was still in an all-out-sing. Clearly she was on to new songs, but it seemed that all songs brought this woman so much pure joy.
What brings you that kind of joy? When was the last time you experienced it?
The other day at the pool, two of my kids were on the basketball court. A little guy, maybe three or four years old, came bounding up to them and proclaimed, “I knew you were playing basketball over here! I am really good at basketball!” He proceeded to swing his arms haphazardly while the ball kind of bounced beside him and the biggest smile in the world shone from his face.
Do you know this kind of uninhibited joy?
Do you sing at the top of your lungs?
Do you start dancing if the music makes your foot tap?
Do you grin from ear to ear, join the game, approach strangers, and bounce the ball just because it’s fun, because it makes you happy? We should. God wants us to.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music
I know there is work to be done. There are bills to be paid, meals to be prepared, practices to drive to, tanks to be filled, and always laundry and more laundry to be put away.
But God calls us to make a joyful noise. Yes, He wants us to be responsible—to do the work set in front of us, but He also wants us to delight in all of the beautiful, marvelous experiences He placed in this world for our pleasure. Driving to work? Call a friend who makes you laugh. Sweeping the floor or exercising? Put on some great tunes and “burst into jubilant music”.
Wear the clothes that make you feel good.
Paint your walls your favorite color.
Eat the foods that make you say, “yum” out loud (think watermelon and corn on the cob from the local farmer’s market).
Have a spontaneous dance party.
Roll your windows down and let your hair blow in the breeze.
Find the things that bring you great joy. Take time for them. Read a chapter by your favorite author. Stop by your favorite bakery. Go for a bike ride on that gorgeous trail by the stream. Make popsicles. Then eat them! (It’s so easy to make popsicles! I made these with the juice at the bottom of a bowl of watermelon we’d devoured, two mushy bananas, and a handful of leftover blueberries. I dropped them all in the blender, whirred them together, poured them in these plastic molds, and popped them in the freezer. The whole process took about four minutes. They are sweet and so very refreshing on a hot humid afternoon).
And by all means shout for joy and bring a gift of laughter to all you do, wherever you go. It will make you feel good inside and out. And maybe someone will look at you and say, “They look like the happiest person in the world.”
On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence
I’d love to hear…what brings you joy? How do you intend to incorporate it into your life this week?
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
Brett’s aunt was turning 75 and her husband was throwing a surprise party to celebrate. We had a million and eight excuses not to go. Brett had just had hand surgery. I was on the fifteenth day of fighting a sinus infection and the snot was winning. The party was an hour away from home. On a weeknight. The night before the kids’ last day of school before Christmas break.
But Brett’s aunt was turning 75! So, despite obstacles and inconveniences we paid the very small price of attending—a little time, a little planning, a little more energy than we had in the reserves. And it was glorious. There was lobster. AND cake.
But even better than the lobster and cake was a room full of people celebrating a woman who has lived life large. Aunt Linda was a flight attendant who has traveled the world from China to Germany to Paris back to California and Ohio again. She actually made a deal with Monte Hall on the original Let’s Make a Deal show. She worked as a waitress in the Playboy club in the 70’s and has stories about Hugh Hefner that would make your eyes pop. She has lived. And this gathering of neighbors, family and friends was a testament to her verve and vitality.
What if we’d stayed home? Called in sick? Everyone would have understood. No one would have been mad at us. But we would have missed it.
Jesus invites us to a feast too, in Matthew 22:1-3 “God’s kingdom,” he (Jesus) said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!
Why wouldn’t the invited guests come? I mean who wouldn’t come to a wedding banquet of a king? (Cough). Perhaps the person who had the sinus infection? Or the four kids who needed to pack lunches, and bring in a treat, and a gift for their teachers the next day? Just saying. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us that easily.
“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. Mt 22:4-7
I mean, we have work to do, right? Driveways to shovel, dishes to wash, tests to study for, clients to serve, reports to finish, emails to send, things to sell, volunteer hours we’ve signed up for. But what are we missing when we tend to our to-do lists instead of God’s invitations? How many times do I reply to God’s invitations, “Yeah, God, that would be nice, but I’m really busy.”? It would be great if I listened intently to the story my daughter is telling about gym class, or to grab coffee with that special friend, but I have to get dinner on the table and have deadlines to meet. They’ll understand. Now is not convenient. It might not even be feasible.
At the end of the day, or week, or year, or our lives, will we find peace that our home was spotless? Will we pride ourselves in having perfect attendance at our Paddle matches? Or will we savor the stories, the time together the feasts God laid out for us? That might include a move, a new position, changing majors, switching teams. These invitations could take some consideration, definitely some prayer, to make sure they’re from God, but if they are, can you imagine the party we might miss if we say no? And these invitations, these are just hors d’oeuvres. The biggest invitation from God of all, the one to hang out with Him, to be in relationship with Him. Well, that’s a feast. And I don’t want to have made any excuses that would make me miss it.
I’m a big proponent of saying, “no” to things. The last thing any of us needs right now is more things on our plate. But how about living our lives large, by saying “no” to the unimportant, trivial things, and RSVPing “Yes!” to God’s invitations. Because when we drop the things we think are “so important” to show up to God’s table, we will be blown away by delicacies like lobster and cake, and laughter and relationships and love.
Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. Matthew 22: 8-10
We’re all invited. Everyone in town. The good. The bad. Regardless. So, yes, that includes me and you. All of us. No matter where we stand today. No matter what we have or haven’t done. This is a New Year’s party we don’t want to miss! Ring in 2016 by accepting God’s invitation. This is the year we can live larger than ever.
We had it all planned out. Our family was all going to be home on a chilly, fall Saturday night. A rarity and a treat. To make the most of the occasion, I made a giant pot of chicken noodle soup. We planned to build a fire in the living room. We picked out a family-friendly movie none of us had seen. I even double-checked it out on my faithful Common Sense Kids Media app. We made sure it was available on Netflix, and hooked up the Wii (to run our Netflix through) in the living room, so we could cuddle, giggle and stay cozy by the fire.
But we had an uncannily warm day for late autumn. Which was gift. We went on a family walk around the neighborhood. The kids tossed the football out front. We raked leaves and savored the sunshine. But at dinnertime, as we gathered in the living room with our bowls of steaming soup, we unanimously agreed we didn’t really need or even want a fire.
We queued up the movie and after the opening song; a squiggly greenish line sabotaged the screen. The TV, which had been glitching in and out, went out out. No problem. We’re a modern American family. We own another television. So, we all gathered our bowls and spoons, our cups and the Wii, and headed into the family room. Ten minutes later we were like Groundhog’s Day, watching the same opening song. But thirty minutes later, my husband and I looked at each other, with the universally recognized “what the heck are we watching?” face. We’d already exchanged this look earlier in the film, but had decided to wait it out. Enough waiting.
I piped up, “So, guys, does anyone actually want to keep watching this?”
No one yelled, “I do, I do!”
But four sets of blue eyes looked at me with expressions saying, “What if we don’t, Mom? Is that okay?”
Again, we decided to change our well laid plans. We clicked stop. Switched to Mr. Bean’s Holiday (which is bizarrely a cult favorite in our house) and laughed so hard, I thought we would all tumble off the sectional.
We had plans. Good plans. We had intentionally scheduled family time—a meal and ambiance and a movie and even a means to watch it. But they did not work out. And we still had a blast. And this is how God’s plans in life often are for us. We plan, we organize, we make lists, and they don’t go as we intended, as we hoped. But the cool thing is God knows way better than you or I what the best plans for us are. The movie night is a tiny example, but what God had in store for us, was even lovelier than what we’d sketched out.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! Ephesians 3:20
Conversely, a few days later we found another rare evening when the six of us were gathered around the dinner table. We were eating waffles for dinner, because it’s fun, and because my picky-eater daughter who rarely enjoys the meal named “dinner” had requested them. I was just placing the syrup on the table, when Brett called from another room, “Honey, can you come here a minute?”
A little flustered that instead of coming to the table, he was summoning me away from the table, I peeked in on him.
“Do you think we should go?” he whispered and pointed to his laptop.
He was pointing to the show times for a family flick we’d all wanted to see. It was playing in one hour, at a theatre 45 minutes from our house. Fandango would not let us pre-purchase tickets, so there was a gamble of getting there and having the show sold out. We hadn’t been to this particular theatre before, so we weren’t exactly sure where it was. “Do you think we can make it?” he asked.
This is where most of the world says, “Heck, yeah!” But me, I am a planner. And my brain starts this litany, “We’re sitting down to waffles. That’s really far. We weren’t planning on going out tonight, more of a stay in kinda night.”
But God knew I needed to marry someone spontaneous, or I would officially be "The Most Boring Person on the Face of This Earth." And so, we woofed down our waffles and went. And without planning ahead, without knowing quite where we were headed, or if we’d even get in, we all sat in cushy fold-down chairs, viewed Hotel Transylvania 2 on the big screen as a family, and laughed, a lot.
We try to plan out our lives, *ahem* at least I try to plan out my life. I make lists, and constantly refer to my calendar App. Intentionality is a great thing. Without agendas and outlines no funds would be raised, no bills would be paid, no holiday meals prepared. But we need to do our part (the planning, the intentionality), and then let God take over. Because God’s plans are bigger. God’s plans are better. Whereas we only see tiny portions of the mural of our lives, He sees the whole thing, our true reflections and our destinies, and therefore, what makes best sense. Whether it’s something as simple as “What’s for dinner?” or something huge, like “Should I move across the country to go to that school or take that job?” God is in control. He made us. He loves us. And therefore He has our best interest in mind. It means letting go of the steering wheel, closing our planners, turning off a bad movie, or rushing unexpectedly out the door to see a new one. But trusting in God will always allow for an amazing adventure to ensue.
Seen any good movies lately?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those days that did NOT go at all how you planned. You know, the kind where you keep asking yourself, “What the what?!!!” A day when you feel like your plans were hacked?
This was yesterday for me.
For those of you who don’t know, I live in a small town, population 25,000. It’s a beautiful, charming, hip, college town, small town with funky boutiques and adorable cafes, but like I said, it’s small. So every now and then, I have to be like Laura Ingalls, climb into my covered wagon and head into TOWN, translation a city with national chains, with a mall. For me, this city is Cincinnati. The shopping area that serves most of my needs is an hour away. Not a huge deal, but definitely a planned trip, not a spontaneous errand. And when I go, I have a list.
So yesterday was a day I’d planned to head to Cincinnati. There was a lovely event planned at my daughter’s school. The length of said event was unknown, but I knew I would have a chunk of time to head down to Cinci, run some big city errands, grab lunch with a friend who lives down there, and get back in time to pick up my kids from school.
The event was over sooner than expected. I hugged my daughter, hopped in my car and headed south. As I parked, I noticed a text from my husband saying, “Visa called, our credit card had been hacked.” He knew I was planning on shopping and wanted to warn me I no longer had access to credit.
No problem. The mall had an ATM.
I grabbed the pair of shoes I’d ordered for my son to wear for Easter from Children’s Place that were too big and headed inside. Only to discover the Children’s Place at the mall had closed.
Okay, so that errand would have to wait for another day.
I redirected myself to the ATM machine and inserted my card. It spit back out at me. I flipped it over and tried again. The machine told me there was an error. I wiped the card off on my jeans and reinserted it. The machine asked me to try again. After ten attempts and starting to feel as conspicuous as if I was trying to print counterfeit money, I walked away. So here I was at the mall with no credit card and about $12 in my wallet an hour and a half before I was supposed to meet my friend.
I texted her and said I was running early, if she was around, but if not, I understood.
She texted back immediately, “I’m running errands in the area, can be there in ten minutes.”
The first thing out of my friend’s mouth after we hugged was, “You know, it’s crazy, this is the only week of the entire month I could have met you for lunch, and the only day I had such a wide window of time. I’m so glad you called, and I’m so glad you were early.”
So we began our visit at 11:00 AM instead of 12:30 PM. We sat in Panera until 1:45 PM. Instead of a quick catch up session with an old friend, I was blessed by a meaningful reconnection with a woman who has been dear to me for over twenty years. If any of my plans had gone according to my schedule, I would have missed out on precious conversation, laughter and kinship.
Did the day go how I planned it?
Did it go even better?
Was I ever in control of my day? Am I ever in control of my life?
But God, who knows my needs more than I do, who understands what’s best for my soul, is always in control, and He never ever hacks me, closes down, rejects my card or is unavailable. He is always free to chat, eager to hear how I’m doing, and full of glorious plans for me, plans I could never orchestrate on my own.
And He feels exactly the same way about you.
The Sprit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. 1 Cor 2:10 MSG
Have you seen God intervening in your schedule this past week to make things better than you could have? Share with me below, I’d love to hear how.
“Do you have “Shake It Up Baby?” a guy asked me one day when I was working my high school job at a record store.
Yup, I said record store. So, you know this story is a major throwback. I didn’t know of a song, “Shake It Up Baby”, but I’m a huge Beatles fan and had just seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was topping the box office. I did some quick calculating in my head (my favorite kind, the kind without numbers) and suggested perhaps he was looking for “Twist and Shout”.
“By the Beatles.”
“The one in Ferris Bueller.”
“Right. Right.” He nodded. “Shake it Up Baby.”
When was the last time you shook things up?
Because when you do, there are always some bubbles.
I’m a routine girl. I run in the morning when the air is cool and crisp and my mind can wander through the day’s events. After my run I dig into my writing. But yesterday after dropping my kids off at school, fully clad in workout clothes, I delayed my run and started writing instead. It was one of those writing sessions where I was focused and in tune and words flowed. They’re not all like that, I promise. But yesterday’s was. Fizz.
Due to a series of late nights I’m way behind on sleep, and I’m a girl who needs her sleep. So in the middle of the day I took an hour-long nap. Ahhhh. Crazy, for me, and with my list of to-do’s it felt irresponsible. But I woke rested and sane, and less grumpy. As a result of being more alert, the remainder of my day was more productive. Foam.
With four kids, part of my day, usually involves a grocery run. We are always out of something. I’d made a list the night before, had it in my purse and didn’t go. Instead, after school I took the kids to the farmer’s market. They ran around the straw maze and ate apples fresh from the orchard while I grabbed the necessities. We got what we needed and it was way more fun. Bubble.
My husband and I try to find a way to “date” every weekend. Sometimes that means going out to dinner. Sometimes our date consists of sitting by the fire chatting while the kids watch a movie in the next room. But between travel and soccer tournaments our weekends have been packed. So last night, Thursday, we had a date. We ate delicious fig and prosciutto pasta with brown butter sauce from the market on our porch and talked and laughed and shared. It was lovely. And it was on a school night. Carbonate.
Maybe you’re the opposite. Maybe you never have a list or a plan or a schedule. And you’re reading along wondering what’s so shaken about any of those occurrences. What if for one day, just one, you made a list before going to the grocery and planned out how you were going to use your day? For you, that might be the shake up you need. Stir.
None of those things are radical, but the small changes to my everyday routine refreshed and revived me. Don’t get me wrong. Routine is how I make things work. I can’t skip my runs and the grocery every day. I can’t take naps everyday and have dates on every school night. Our family unit would start to unravel. But every once in a while, it’s exactly what I need to see things through fresh eyes.
What about you? Have you shaken things up lately?
Have you ever become unexpected friends with someone?
On my first young adult novel, Skinny, I had no idea how the whole editing/publishing process worked. I received an email from a woman named Amy Parker, the editor assigned to my book, saying she had sent me a previous email but hadn’t heard from me, and our deadline was approaching. I was intimidated just by the word editor. And WHAT email? How had I missed it? And deadline? Yikes! How could I have already messed things up?
I typed back with shaking fingers a giant apology, begging to chat on the phone, because I was a rookie and was clueless as to what was expected from me and when. I was anticipating someone firm, hard-edged, in a suit with black glasses. Too many movies, maybe. Instead a comforting, friendly voice packed with Southern charm and smiles filled my ear with reassurances, “no problem,” “plenty of time,” “minor changes,” “no big deal.” My shoulders relaxed. I smiled, too, even laughed, and we completed the project on time (much improved with her edits).
Amy was assigned as editor on my next two novels, Hot and Angry. And through the process we learned about each other—our shared love of coffee, chocolate, Jesus, Jack Johnson, and family. We discovered we both had a passion to share our faiths through the written word: we didn’t want to be pushy, we just longed to be genuine, and we strived for our work to be quality, to stand out.
Because God is God, Amy’s family vacation brought her within an hour of my home. We met for mochas and true confessions. Since then we’ve attended a writer’s conference in California together, she hosted me in her home, her writing brought her back to Ohio, and we’ve chatted on countless Skype sessions waving dictionaries, Bibles, and laughter. God knew I needed Amy Parker in my life. In many ways she helped launch my writing career, because she encouraged me back on that first novel to keep writing the kinds of things I was writing. But way beyond helping with my writing, she’s become one of my dearest friends. Her heart fills the room. Her faith is even bigger. And her passion for others is a result of the enormity of her heart and faith.
One of our visits was when Amy was in Columbus, Ohio. The zoo’s annual Fete, a fundraiser to protect Rwanda, the land of the gorillas, brought her to town, and I got to be her date. Amy introduced me to a man named Frederick. Frederick’s smile is as bright as a full moon on a dark sky. Immediately upon being introduced, he embraced me in a tight hug. He showed me his beautiful, colorful paintings of his homeland, Rwanda. The fete was also helping support Frederick’s foundation, a place where Rwandans disabled by the genocide can find life again, where they are taught life skills, and learn to play sports, and are given food and shelter, and most importantly, hope. Oh, did I tell you Frederick had his arms severed in the aftermath of the genocide?
Yup, that’s Frederick, grinning from ear to ear, helping others, fighting the good fight, even though he was left for dead on the side of the road. Painting bright images, embracing people he’s just met, and riding his bike around the country to raise money to help others, even though he has no hands. And, Amy, with that passion I told you about, has written with Frederick his story. You know what they named it? Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope.
Where are you today? Does something seem too big? Are you unsure? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Defeated?
Hang in there. A friend like Amy Parker is just around the corner. A man like Frederick is changing people’s lives, when he could have given up on his. Read their story. Find hope again.
Laura L. Smith