7:50 AM Sunday morning.
Beep. Flash. Silence.
Max and I were on our way out the door. He plays in the band and was supposed to be at church by 8:00 AM. Only now our garage door wouldn’t open, because the power was out. I knew there was a way to unhook the chain, but…
“Let’s take Maddie’s car,” I called to Max while searching for her key. “And go out the front,” since fortunately her car was parked in the driveway.
Has anything fritzed out, not worked, run out of steam, let you down this week?
The lights were out at church, too. Which was ironic, since Max plays electric guitar. “Text me if you need me to bring your acoustic,” I said as Max unloaded his instrument from the trunk.
Sundays mean Starbucks. Only when I got there, they were closed!!!! Are they even allowed to be closed? No problem, I’ll make something yummy with the Nespresso. Except it plugs in. My mind raced to Plan C. I’m sure we have a Via instant coffee pack or two in the coffee drawer. I’ll just add hot water from our water dispenser. Except it also requires electricity.
Back at home, we got ready in rooms with blinds wide open as pale morning light strained to streak through the gray February sky. Using phones as flashlights. Brushing teeth in the kitchen. It all worked. Mostly. By the time we got to service at 9:00 AM, the power was back on at church, and praise Jesus, they’d made coffee.
Three days later…. our vacuum is spitting out pine needles and dirt instead of sucking things up. I try to pick up the large pieces of lint and leaves with my fingers. Sigh. Two days after that…our kitchen sink is clogged, glugging up food remnants instead of washing them down. My husband and mom are wrestling with coat hangers and plungers while I wash our dinner dishes in the laundry room utility sink. A power outage, a broken vacuum or a clogged drain are all minor inconveniences, but they remind me be grateful for all that I have, for all the things I take for granted a million times a day.
But sometimes in life the obstacles are greater than a power outage or a broken appliance and slower to solve. We all have days, weeks, seasons where we feel like we’ve run into a brick wall, where things aren’t going as planned, where things we take for granted let us down, and people we depend on aren’t so dependable.
But Jesus? He never lets us down.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
Ironically the Sunday of the power outage our pastor began by asking, “What’s the one thing you can’t live without?” Most of the mismatched, ponytailed and bed-headed congregation that got ready for church in the dark might have been thinking, “power”. But the truth is, we could live without it. I could also live without a vacuum or a sink, although I’d rather not. There seemed to be plenty of Plan Bs and Plan Cs running through my mind without too much thought or planning. But even when everything else is taken away, I have Jesus. And he is all I need.
What have you run out of today? Coffee creamer? Patience?
What isn’t working in your life? Your marriage? Part of your body?
What is it that you depend on that isn’t coming through for you? Your Wi-Fi signal? A friendship?
I promise Jesus is all we need. With Him, we don’t need a plan B or C.
A family member I trusted for years lied to me. Jesus loves me fiercely.
My husband and I lost all of our grandparents. Jesus holds and comforts us.
A friend moved away. Another moved on. Jesus stays loyally right by my side.
I get frustrated with someone I love. Jesus grants me grace and teaches me how to extend it.
How about you? What are you facing? When you get the blame for something you didn’t do, Jesus knows what really happened. When you know what you should do, but it would be way easier to follow the crowd? Jesus says, “I’ll help you.” When your license expires, the light bulb burns out, the battery needs charged, Jesus is running at full capacity. You get another rejection? Somebody subtly puts you down? Jesus does the opposite. He invites you in, again and again.
He never goes out. His door is always open. He never quits on you or me. Even if everything we depend on shuts or breaks down—Jesus is there, shining brightly, standing strong. We don’t have to plug Him in, turn Him on, charge Him up, or figure out how to make His love work. He is always energized and available. He loves, listens, give us strength and courage, brightens our paths and helps us see things more clearly, unconditionally, eternally.
If everything else went out and stopped working. If all the cupboards were bare. Jesus would still be there. We don’t need to strategize or think up alternate routes. We can count on Him. No matter where you feel let down, run down, or depleted today, Jesus is there with you. He will not now, or ever, let you down.
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?
Envision a push up. Get down on the floor if you need to. Do one fast.
Down. Up. Done.
Now do one s-l-o-w-l-y. Dddooowwnn and then back uuupppp. Harder right?
My yoga instructor was talking about how when we hold a pose we actually work our muscles more intensely than if we go in and out of a pose quickly. She asked if we knew why that was. “Because otherwise we cheat ourselves,” I answered. And I didn’t want her to think I was cutting corners throughout class, so I followed up with, “we don’t mean to, but we do.”
And it got me thinking about so many aspects of my life where I don’t mean to cheat myself, but I do.
I grab a handful of chocolate chips, because I love them, but I shove them in my mouth as I’m on my way out the door, and don’t really allow myself to savor the richness of them, the way the dark cacao sets off the slightly sweet from the cane sugar. What if I ate one, and then another, and then a few minutes later one more?
There are hugs I pull back from too quickly from my kids, because we’re in a rush to get to school, to practice, to bed. What if I held on tighter? Longer?
As soon as my coffee is in hand, I chug the first sip, eager for my morning caffeine. What if I took a deep breath first, inhaled the intoxicating aroma of roasted beans?
There are days I rush into Bible study, sliding into my seat as our discussion begins, and slip back out as quickly as possible after the final “amen” without pausing to absorb something I’ve learned or to consider a question someone asked. What if I got there early? Intentionally stayed put for a full five minutes after everyone else stands up and let it all soak in?
What if I held the poses of life longer?
How about you? Are you texting during a movie and missing beautiful lines that would make you weep? Typing an email while on the phone with someone else so you can get more done, but missing an idea the person you’re talking to is trying to share? Skimming through the book for book club just to get to the end without savoring the depth of the characters or a description of a breathtaking blue jay? Are we going through the motions so quickly that we’re cheating ourselves of the moments that nourish our bodies, stir our hearts, inspire our souls, and challenge our minds?
Are our mouths open? Are our eyes open? Are we allowing ourselves to be wowed and changed and loved by God?
I don’t want to cheat myself of any of those things. No. I want to taste every morsel of chocolate, breathe in every snuggle, smell every cup of coffee, learn as much as I can, understand better, grow stronger and more aware, be more in tune, and less tuned out. This week is the perfect week to challenge myself to this. There are apples to be tasted, leaves to crunch underfoot, a visit with my mom to enjoy, soccer games to cheer at, a date with my husband to flirt with him, a pot of pumpkin chili to prepare, and the music of my son playing in the worship band to listen to. I don’t want to miss a single beat or bite or breath. Will you join me? In tasting and seeing the goodness God has prepared for us?
What do you have in store this week and how can you savor it?
There’s been a lot of chatter about the article in Time, Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?
I have a lot of friends who cringe at the word “princess”, who smirk at the mention of “Prince Charming”, but me, I grew up wishing I was Cinderella. It’s not that I had a wicked stepmother. My mom is the most generous, loving, giving woman I’ve ever met. But the idea of scrawny, nerdy me with ribs poking out, giant glasses and a propensity to bump into and trip over everything in sight possibly having someone fall in love with me? Well that sounded too good to be true, but awfully nice to dream about.
Disney princesses are not evil. They’re fantasy. And, I find them quite inspiring. Some of the princesses in question were originally published in a book in 1812 by the brothers Grimm. Disney’s Snow White released back in 1937. If you’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these classic tales, take a moment to consider other media put out in those years and how women were depicted; consider the culture they were released in. But if there is anything in a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, that goes against your beliefs or values, you have a choice. You get to choose if you or your family watches. And once you make that choice, you have a responsibility to act upon that choice. Parents, you can’t just pop in the DVD and disappear. You need to watch these movies with your kids and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, the lessons learned. There are some kick butt princesses out there—Merida from Brave, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Rapunzel from Tangled with her frying pan as a weapon and her decision to chop her locks and go brunette. These girls are way more recent than 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and much stronger and independent, as well. You might be sick of hearing “Let it Go,” but Elsa wanted nothing to do with a prince. She was fighting the battle of trying to please others, of her own self-doubts and insecurities. And her sister, Anna, learned that the real man of her dreams was not the apparently charming royalty, but the somewhat clumsy, singing-to-reindeer, ice merchant guy who loves her for who she is. Not bad lessons, these. Even older classics like Cinderella impress the value of good friends (Jacques and Gus), the idea we should never give up, and the concept of an amazing man rescuing us, which sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And that is someone to put my hope in.
The truth is, parents are responsible for guiding their children through all of their media choices, not just Belle and Ariel. And as we grow older, we are also responsible for our own media consumption. Fifteen minutes into The Wolf of Wallstreet as an adult and I had to turn it off. Maybe you loved it. Leo is an amazing actor and Scorsese one of the best filmmakers. But I couldn’t stomach the demoralization and objectification of women in the opening scenes. To me those fifteen minutes were capable of way more damage to a girl’s perception of what she’s supposed to look like and how she’s supposed to be treated than a lifetime of watching Beauty and the Beast. Ask yourself if you were more affected by reading a Disney picture book about Pocahontas every day after Kindergarten or 50 Shades of Gray as an adult? As a writer, I am a proponent of freedom of speech and of artistic expression. Artists should use their God-given gift of creativity to express themselves, to entertain, to make a statement. It is up to us to decide what media we feel is safe for our families and ourselves to consume. And that decision is personal and individual.
If Cinderella’s not your girl, you might like Mulan, the story of a young Chinese woman who becomes one of the greatest warriors in the Asian empire. Just like we have the right to freedom of speech in America, we also have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely for yourself and your family. If the media you’re consuming hardens your heart, goes against your core values, is something you turn off or shut down when someone else enters the room, reconsider. Choose music that inspires you and makes you dance. Choose shows that make you laugh, give you goosebumps, or teach you something new. Choose books that make you think and cry and hope and dream. Choose movies that do the same. And whether you’re selecting media for your children or for yourself be intentional about your choices.
I grew up longing for a Prince Charming, hoping one day The Perfect Guy would sweep me off my feet and change everything. After countless unhealthy relationships I was blessed to marry the man of my dreams, but my awesome husband can’t be perfect. He’s human after all. But there is a Perfect Guy for me, and for you, but that guy, is Jesus. That idea imprinted on me as a girl dreaming of being Cinderella, that someday, somehow, someone would rescue me, was real. Someone would. Someone did. I just didn’t understand my Prince was the Prince of Peace. I certainly don’t blame Disney for my misunderstanding. If anything it cemented my desire to be rescued, so when Jesus did rescue me, I craved it, I grabbed His hand and let Him take me away from my old life and into my new.
What are your thoughts on princesses old and new and how they shape our views? Do you have a favorite princess?
I am blessed by the incredible gift of a loving mother in my life, and blessed by the honor and privilege of being a mom to four fantastic kids. So this Mother’s Day, I reflect on the honor and privilege of this thing God invented called motherhood. He created moms to give us a sneak peek of His love for us. Envision a movie trailer highlighting a new film—that’s how the love of moms helps us understand the love of God.
Imagine five short scenes in the trailer, each giving us a preview of God’s love for us.
Scene One: Healing
The eye-witnessed accounts of Jesus healing the infirmed fill the pages of the New Testament. Jesus enabled the blind to see, the lame to walk, the lepers skin afflictions to clear up. And the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years? She reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’s garment and her hemorrhaging immediately stopped.
Moms give us a sneak peek at God’s healing touch by having Band-Aids on hand for a cut or a scrape, and by knowing how to kiss a boo-boo and make it feel better. Moms can wield Epi-pens and Insulin pumps like trained ninjas. And this time of year moms are doling out Claritin and Zyrtec like it’s nobody’s business. Moms heal us, just like Jesus healed people, because they love us.
Scene Two: Feeding
Jesus understood that humans get hungry, that we need food for energy and nourishment. And so He fed us.
One day He was speaking to a crowd of 5000 men (plus the women and children who came along). He knew at the end of the day that the crowd was HUN-GRY. The thing on all of their minds was when and where could they grab something to eat. And so, Jesus gathered up the few fish and pieces of bread people had with them, blessed the food, multiplied it, passed it out, and miraculously fed everyone until they were not only full, but there were baskets of leftovers.
Moms feed their crowds, too. As a mother of four I can’t count how many times a week I hear, “What’s for snack?” “What’s for dinner?” and my personal favorite, “Do we have any food?” Really?!
Moms stock the pantry with the perfect items to pack in lunches and to pull out for snacks when friends come over. They can somehow forage ingredients in a seemingly empty fridge to create a pasta or salad for dinner, to refuel and reenergize her children.
Scene Three: Listening
Jesus knew people long to be heard—that there are some days when we just want someone to listen. And so, He listened to Mary and Martha when they were grieving their brother, Lazarus. Jesus stopped what He was doing when He sensed the centurion who had an injured soldier really needed to talk. Jesus even knew a corrupt tax collector, who was just trying to catch a glimpse of him, actually needed someone to listen. So, Jesus called Zacchaeus down from his perch in a tree, and said, “Let’s go back to your house…and talk.”
Moms also know their kids want to be heard—that some days they just need someone to listen. Moms listen to what happened in the cafeteria and at practice. Moms listen to stories about the cute jeans their daughter saw at the mall and the cute girl their son saw at the game. I call my own mom several times a week, because I know she’ll listen to things that nobody else wants to hear about. Moms want to listen to all of it, because they care about us so deeply.
Scene Four: Praying
Jesus prayed for others and with others. Sometimes He went off by himself to pray alone. He prayed before meals, prayed for God’s direction, and gave praise. He even taught us how to pray by teaching us the Lord’s Prayer.
Moms mirror this love incredibly. Although there are many times when moms feel overwhelmed, inadequate, stressed and tired we pray for our kids’ happiness, health and futures, because all we want what’s best for our families.
Fifth and final scene: Love
The greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Jesus said loving is the most important. Moms, you love your kids beautifully. You save the last brownie for your kids and watch the movies they want to watch (even if it means watching Camp Rock 2 for the 19th time). You love your children if they win or lose, pass or fail. Moms long for their kids to have the best friends, the healthiest lungs and the happiest hearts.
Moms, there are no boxes to check or points to earn. You already love exquisitely.
Moms thank you for:
Healing us physically and emotionally
Feeding our tummies and our souls
Listening to us in our ups and downs
Praying for us all of the time, even when we don’t know we need prayer.
And mostly for loving us.
Because the model of love you exhibit us gives us a sneak peek at the perfect love Jesus offers.
How does your mom reflect Jesus's love? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment below.
Laura L. Smith