I read some amazing books last year—too many to mention. Piles of books I picked up from the library and treasured copies I treated myself to from book stores, stories my kids read, digital books on my Kindle, and my new favorite, audiobooks on Hoopla (because I spend so much time in the car, this is a brilliant way to consume more books while passing the miles). I certainly can’t narrow it down to one favorite read, but here are a handful that resonated deeply.
Best Classic: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I love when my kids are assigned to read a classic I’ve never read before. This gives me the nudge to pick up a book I’ve been meaning to get to for ages. Fahrenheit 451 is brilliant and frightening. How Bradbury knew we’d all be walking around with earbuds when he wrote this book in 1953 astounds me. He predicted our screen-addictions the year before color televisions were even available for sale—it’s almost spooky. But he nailed it. And then stretched it. And then warns us against being hooked on programming and images and structures by taking us into a horrifying dystopian world where creativity and imagination are extinguished and complacency and sameness is not only encouraged but required. If you haven’t read this classic yet, make it a burning priority.
Best Novel: Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Okay, so I’m totally biased on this one, I love Paris and books, so when I found a title on my library’s “Lucky Day” shelf that contained both of those words I knew the shelf didn’t lie. Paris by the Book has strong references to both Madeline, the picture book character by Ludwig Bemelmans and The Red Balloon, a movie, we seemed to watch while sitting on the cold gym floor at least twice a year in elementary school, the click, click of the film reel spinning while the images of the little boy with his balloon flashed across the far wall. This gorgeous novel is a mystery of sorts, about a husband who goes missing, and his wife and daughters’ search for him. But it’s also a book about being a mom, and figuring out who you are, and declaring what matters most, and being brave when you’re dealt a bad hand. And it’s about Paris—melt in your mouth baguettes, pungent cheeses, quaint cafes, and nostalgia that catches something deep from your memories. And of course it’s about books—stacks of stories, pages of emotions and sagas and information. This book was so good for my soul, and just writing this makes me want to set it in my “to read” pile again for 2019.
Best Nonfiction: Everybody Always by Bob Goff
When Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” People wanted to know:
Easy responses, but hard to live out. Goff is hilarious and heart felt, and his stories are brilliant, relatable, honest, and make me crack up and tear up at the exact same time. I underlined more than half this book and could use every sentence I marked as a mantra or directive for my life. Yup, we’re supposed to love everybody always. Such a challenge, because Goff reminds us this includes the “really creepy” people and the days when we’re running late or have a migraine. But that’s how Jesus loved the world. Everybody always. And I want to live like Jesus. This book helps me remember how to live out that challenge.
Best Memoir: Remember God by Annie F. Downs
I’ve read it twice since it released in October, recommended it to several friends, and gave it as Christmas gifts to my kids’ teachers. Annie F. Downs is one of my favorite modern authors. In Remember God Annie takes the reader through the past year of her life—a year of ups and downs, a year of knowing God is real, but trying to figure out if God is kind. Annie is honest with her doubts, her lows, her struggles, and open with her love, joy, and excitement. Reading Remember God makes you feel like you’re having an ongoing conversation with a dear friend about the promises you know God has made and yet the wrestling in your heart about when and how He’s going to deliver. Annie asks good questions. Of herself, and in turn, of the reader. She’ll make you laugh out loud, and then dive deep into your soul to search for something you’ve been hiding there. If you don’t have any of her books yet, start with this one, then go back and read the rest.
Best Picture Book: This is the Day by Amy Parker
God created this day, He made it for you. And He filled it with things just for you to do!
The opening pages of this priceless book set the stage for all of the amazing possibilities for the day ahead. Such a great way to remind littles (and the big people who read to them) of Psalm 118:24, that God has learning, opportunities, and joy available to all of us each and every day. The illustrations are adorable, the layout is perfect for asking kids questions and having them point out what they see, the rhymes are catchy and darling, all while still being packed with valuable truth. And, there’s even a version in Spanish, so much fun.
Best Book for Creatives: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I grew up with Meg, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who. Wrinkle in Time was one of many Madeleine L’Engle books on my bookshelf when I was young. At the time I had no idea she wrote nonfiction. I’d never contemplated what a “Christian author” was. And I was clueless at how prolific she was. As an adult, I want to devour everything she’s written, because L’Engle was a woman ahead of her time, a powerful author, married to a famous actor, a Brit living stateside, a mother, grandmother, sought after speaker around the world, when a time when women were “supposed” to be wearing aprons. But L’Engle wasn’t into stereotypes. She was into being the best versions of ourselves God created us to be. And in Walking on Water, she proclaims that because God made us, we have power and capabilities and talents we don’t even try to imagine. For anyone who has ever wanted to create anything—a poem, a cake, a hip-hop beat, this book exquisitely wraps human creativity into our identity with our Creator. I read it over the course of the year, reading a few pages at a time and allowing them to marinate in my soul. Thinking over those phrases, ideas, and allowing them to sink in. A few days later I’d take on another beautiful morsel to savor until I sadly came to the end. This is a book I will turn to again and again in my life for its inspiration and truth.
As I said, these are just some standouts from piles of great books I indulged in this past year. To see what else I read, connect with me on Goodreads.
What about you? What were your favorite reads of 2018, and what’s on your to read list for the new year?
Comment on the website, so we can all exchange book ideas!
My husband is reading a book called Rooted by Banning Liebscher. I’ve seen it lying on the steps, the coffee table, in his hands. I like the sound of the word, rooted, as if it describes itself. I picture green roots of a plant diving deep into rich soil and calling out, “Roooooooo-ted,” as they descend. As a writer I’m drawn to words. And this one keeps flashing across my radar.
I have dozens of pages marked in my Bible with brass book tabs, scraps of paper, colorful sticky notes, stiff prayer cards, whatever I can find when I come across something that stirs me so deeply I need to get back to it. The other day I flipped to a passage in Isaiah, and a piece of paper marked the page prior to the one I was reading. Out of curiosity, I turned back to see what was so profound on that page, and noticed the marker—a small square sheet of paper promoting VBS from our previous church. On the back in lime green ink I’d written “Rooted,” in thicker, swirlier letters at the top to serve as a heading. Really? Rooted? From a few years back. Hmmm.
And the next day, a coffee date with a girlfriend. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but we both speak, write, and teach for Jesus, plus we’re both soccer moms, so there is never a shortage of things to talk about. And as we were praying she spoke the word rooted over our lives and our relationships with God. There it was again standing out from all the other words as if in all-bold caps.
Okay, God, I’m listening.
On the dawn of a new year I don’t make resolutions. I used to, but they don’t serve me and my personality well, so instead I choose a word, or actually God chooses it for me—one to cling to for the year. And, well, yes, this year’s is clearly ROOTED. I know it’s a word that could pop up into multiple conversations, maybe-ish. But every time I heard “rooted” it seems to be highlighted, illuminated, like this word is an important one. Priscilla Shirer describes the Greek word, rhema, as the times when God’s words leap out of the page at you, when you truly hear God’s word being spoken directly to you. I knew rooted was one of these rhema moments for me early in December and went ahead and wrote it on the gold-framed slate a dear friend gave me that sits on my bookshelves, so I would remember. If God was giving me this word already, it didn’t seem like I should wait until January 1 to proclaim it. Rooted is something I need.
I need to be so rooted in who Jesus is and how He loves me, so I don’t sway. So I don’t crumble when I get rejections. Newsflash, writers get rejections, scads of them, over stories we’ve poured ourselves into, into stories I feel God has given me to write. And handfuls of rejections can hurt, and damage one’s self esteem. Are you in a position where you experience rejection? Then you get it. But when I write for Jesus and His glory, and stay rooted in that, then it doesn’t matter if my words get turned down, because Jesus never asked me to get my stories accepted, just to write them. Same for whatever He’s calling you, to do. Jesus calls you to the input, not the output. And when we dig down deep into that truth, then the shame or disappointment from someone passing on something we’ve worked at fades, because we remember who we did the work for. Jesus. Not them.
I need to stay rooted in who I am in Jesus, and what He did for me, so when I get acceptances I remember who gave me the stories and the words and the opportunities, who orchestrated all of the pieces so perfectly, that my agent would send my work on the specific day to the particular editor who was open to this kind of story and was able to convince their publishing board, and editorial board, and marketing team, that they should also buy into this specific manuscript. Only God could do all of that. I never could. And therefore all the glory from success goes to Him. Are things going your way? Have you had some success? Guess who got you there. Oh how I want to stay rooted in that, realizing all that Jesus does for me, knowing my stability comes from Him, seeking more and more nourishment from Him for more assignments He’ll give me by allowing my roots to dive deeper into the Lord.
I need to stay rooted in Jesus, so when one of my kids is in a funk and doesn’t want to talk to anyone, including me, I don’t feel like a worthless mom. I also won’t feel like a failure when I can’t solve my kid’s problems for them, or help them with their trigonometry (math hurts my head) or because I forgot to send in the $5 for the raffle basket or when only half of the family likes what I made for dinner. Because I’m not a failure. I’m a child of God. And so are you. But it’s easy to be blown sideways by the circumstances of life.
So, in 2019, I want to stay rooted. Rooted in Jesus. In His love. In His grace. In His forgiveness. In the identity He’s given me. Will you join me? Spread out your toes and imagine sinking them into soil, warm from the sun. Imagine when you feel shaky or uncertain that you can maintain stability by digging deeper, grounding yourself in the dark earth. Consider when you feel in control, like you nailed that project and hustled well, that if you wiggle your ankles and burrow down a few inches you’ll realize where your strength came from and while you’re at it you’ll absorb some additional nutrients of the dirt –calcium, magnesium, potassium to strengthen, calm, and regulate you to keep you going, keep you centered in whatever lies ahead.
Jesus provides us everything we need. He is our living water. The bread of life. He has overcome the world. Yes, I want to root myself in Him, realizing without Jesus, I have nothing to anchor myself in, nowhere to grow. But with Him, everything makes sense, and grows both up towards the bright sunlight and down into the cool, soothing dirt.
Is God whispering a word or phrase or instruction repeatedly in your ear? Does something appear to be highlighted or standing out to you for 2019? What is it? I’d love to hear.
I was having coffee with my friend, Beth, trying to get caught up on all of the things. She asked, “So, what kinds of New Year’s resolutions did you make?”
I looked her straight in they eye, defied society and said, “I didn’t make any.”
“No way,” she replied. “You seem like such the type.”
I am such the type. Beth knows me well.
I am a girl of lists and schedules. In fact I don’t know anyone who likes to “know the plan” more than I do, or who gets more ruffled when “the plan changes.” In a life where I wear many hats, juggle many schedules, mother four and a half kids (I lovingly refer to my husband as #fifthchild) there is so much to tend to each day and week. So much of it would fall through the cracks if I wasn’t diligent about the family calendar App—figuring out who will get a ride when, where, and with who.
But this great quality of mine, this one of making sure things get done—that my husband and I take time to date, that my writing assignment is turned in, that the forms are signed and submitted, is also a coping mechanism that can become a problem. They say our best trait is often our worst trait. See, when I feel like things are out of control, I have a quick fix for that. I can plan, and in doing so, control all of the hourglasses, clocks, and timers, or so I pretend.
My second semester of college was a time when things felt out of my control. I had pledged a sorority. My roommate had not. Instead she got super involved in a great student org. All of our plans to be besties and do everything together got fragmented by my obligations and her obligations and all the places they did NOT overlap. My high school boyfriend and I decided to “see other people.” All of our plans to live happily ever after evaporated. The novelty of college had rubbed off. Classes were hard. New friendships were hard. I felt I had no control over the events and circumstances around me. In attempts to cope with the unknown I started scheduling my days—writing out the hourly details on a piece of skinny paper and clipping it to my planner—so I could “control” the big picture and the details. Not like, oh tomorrow I’ll study at the library in the evening. But like freaky, insane girl:
8:00-8:30 eat breakfast
8:30-8:45 room, grab books, walk to class
10:00 stop by sorority, hang out with girls
11:00 write letters to Little Sis and Bridget
12:00 eat lunch
12:45 Change for aerobics.
1:00 aerobics …for every freaking half hour and hour mark of the day.
I stuck to it like glue. Oh, that’s not the time I had scheduled to visit with friends, too bad, guess I won’t visit with them. Oh, I don’t have that much homework tonight. I still scheduled three hours to study, so I’ll stay at the library and read ahead, go over the notes again. All the showers are taken. Guess I’ll stand here in the gross dorm bathroom until someone gets out, because this is the time I’d scheduled to shower. Give me a rule, even one I wrote for myself, and I’ll keep it. It’s amazing I advanced to sophomore year without being put in the nuthouse.
Planning is great. And I applaud everyone with resolutions, goals, lists for the New Year. My problem is, if I make a resolution I’ll be so sickly strict about it. Walk 15 miles each week? Come Saturday night I’ll be walking circles in my kitchen instead of snuggled on the couch with my kids watching a great movie, because I need to hit that goal. Read three books a month? No one might hear from me the 28th through 30th. All phone calls and coffee dates canceled, because people, I have a goal to meet. Spend 15 minutes with Jesus at lunchtime everyday? God could be telling me something super important, but oh, look at the time, fifteen minutes is up. Next.
I can’t stand it, but I’m a legalist. This kills me, because Jesus warned us not to be. He got on the Pharisees every single day about being so uptight about rule following. I took ballet my entire growing up years where we pointed our toes constantly. Not surprisingly being flex comes hard for me.
There is zero wrong with having a plan, setting goals, chasing dreams. These are all amazing things; fabulous ways to make great use of the time God has given us. And I do have some dreams and goals for the year. I’m just not writing them down or saying them out loud. Instead I’m talking every day to Jesus about them. Okay, see, I can’t do that, because if let’s say, next Wednesday I focus all of my prayer time on one of my kids I’ll feel like I slipped on the every-day-dream-and-goal-prayer. Let’s try again. I’m talking to Jesus about my dreams and goals this year. Lots. Often. Also, I’m asking Him how I can use my time to glorify Him, asking Him what inputs I should tackle, trusting Him with the outputs. Living expectantly of what He’ll do. At least this is my aim.
When we live strictly within the confines of our calendars and to-do lists and even resolutions there is mock safety of having a plan, a false sense of security that we have everything under control. We don’t. We can be so constricted and unavailable to the miracles Jesus can work when we plan it all out. If we instead focus on Him, we’ll be blown away! His plans and ideas are always so much more fantastic than anything we could think up or plan on our own.
God told Moses to spread his arms over the Red Sea and it would part (Exodus 14:16). Probably not in Moses’ planner for the day. But Moses spread out his arms, and that Sea split in two, allowing the Israelites to escape Pharaoh and his powerful army.
Jesus told the disciples who had put in an incredibly long work day, who felt like they were banging their heads against the wall, catching zero fish for hours on end, wives waiting at home, muscles aching, sweat dripping in their eyes, to cast out their nets one more time. After the whistle had blown. After they were spent. But the disciples listened to Jesus, went off the plan, and voila, their nets were bursting with fish (Luke 5).
I have no idea what Jesus has in store for my life this year or for yours. Because walking on dry land through a sea and catching netfulls of fish where there were none is beyond my brainstorming or even wildest dreams. This is the whole point. God’s ways are phenomenal, unpredictable and take-our-breath-away fantastic.
Some of you may need goals and plans and lists or else nothing will ever get accomplished. Super. Some of you may have resolutions, because there are bad habits that need to be kicked, and healthier plans that need to step in to gear. I applaud you. For you, resolutions might be the impetus to get started, try again, think bigger, get focused. Bravo! You, go! I’m excited for and proud of you for focusing on bigger and better things. But for me, I know I end up using these good things as a means for me to attempt to control things. My resolutions end up controlling me. I don’t want them to, because God is actually the one in control, and I long to hand it all over to Him.
I plan on talking to Jesus tons this year, leaning into His truths, and His ways. Will you join me? I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
I was digging around with my mascara wand along the edges of the tube mining for clumpy dregs for about three weeks longer than I should have. As soon as I threw away the old one and opened a new tube it was like someone had reinvented mascara all together. It was smooth and coated my eyelashes effortlessly in one swoop instead of about ten tries. My lashes stayed black all day long. It was amazing.
The razor in my shower was no different. Every time I reached for it I thought, “Eh, I should probably get a new one out.” But I was already in the shower, and needed to shave then, and didn’t feel like I had time to get out, splash down the hall to get a new one, and commence showering again. By the time I’d get out of the shower, my brain had gone eight jillion other directions and I’d completely forgotten about the razor. But yesterday I picked up my razor, and it had rust on it. Game changer.
My disgust of the rusty razor made me clear out all kinds of things I’d kept way past their usefulness—socks with holes, the stretched out t-shirt, ALL of our CDs, because, Spotify. I played tug of war with myself, because I love all of this music, but I don't need the CD's to hear any of these songs. It was time to let go. It made me wonder what else I’ve been holding onto in my life, beyond things. What had I been okay with keeping that was barely getting by, somehow making do, or even though it was dangerous or useless simply hanging onto, because it seemed easier to keep then to trash?
These thoughts filled my brain on the way to coffee with a friend. Over steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness we shared stories, laughter, and prayers. Near the end of our visit she leaned over and said, “There is one thing I’d really like you to pray about for me. I don’t want to be, but I am so bitter about,” and she named something that had gone upside down in her life. “I hate that I care. It’s so stupid. I know it’s not of God. I need to let this go. It’s a thorn in my side.” I heard the confession tumble out of my dear friend’s mouth. But as she spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the thorn of bitterness in my side, the thing I’ve been holding onto for way toooooo long.
I spat my confession right back at her. The words tasted like venom. Why would I hold so much yuck in my heart? Why did I care what a certain person said, how they passed, when they failed, where they went, or with who? What good did it do anyone? When Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us, this certainly wasn’t what He had in mind. It was embarrassing to admit I was harboring all of these icky feelings, but it was easier with a friend who understood. We grabbed each other’s hands and prayed on the spot that we could turn over the entire mess to God, that He would remove the thorns in our sides we’d been holding onto. It was such a relief. And although, I know we both have a lot of work to do to completely let go, immediately there was a sense of freedom.
With a new year, I want to clean out more than my toiletries and sock drawer. I want to clean out my heart. This year, I’ll be praying for my friend and I to let go of our bitterness, to turn it over to God, let Him be the judge, allow us to love and offer grace. What have you been holding onto—a grudge, a grievance, a regret? Has it been easier to keep it than to let it go? Are you afraid what will happen if you pull out that thorn? Has it been more convenient to keep being angry, sad, worried, or avoiding something or someone then splashing down the hall and replacing those feelings with fresh ones?
The thing about new razors is that they’re much kinder to the skin than rusty ones. Fresh mascara works better, clumps less, and doesn’t make my eyes itch. Why did I wait to change them out? The same is true with past arguments and disappointments. When we trade them out for fresh outlooks, grace, and embracing what we have and where we are, we’re safer, we function better, and we feel better. Why did we ever hold onto all of those things in the first place?
I’m planning on making 2018 the year to pull out my thorn. How about you? Will you join me?
I picture us grasping our thorns and yanking them from our sides. It will probably hurt, it might even bleed, but then our aches can finally heal. Whew. Once those thorns are out, I imagine us handing them over to the God who loves us. I picture Jesus getting out the Neosporin, rubbing it gently on our sides, picking out cute Band-Aids with polka dots or Poke Mon, whatever your thing is, and kissing our hurts. I picture Jesus showing us the scar on His side where He was pierced for us and saying, “I understand your pain. I love you. You’ll feel better now.” And then I’m pretty sure we’ll walk into the New Year breathing cleaner air, relieved of past harm, hurt, and mistakes. Sigh. I feel better already. Praying you do, too.
Happy New Year.
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
We love to be in the know.
We stay up later than we should turning the pages of a good mystery, because we want the next clue. We binge watch a series on Netflix, because we can’t stand not knowing what happens in the next episode. And in our lives, we’re even more eager to find out how things are going to turn out. We want to know who we’ll marry, and what our next job looks like, and if we’ll get in, and what the test results are going to say, what our 2017 is going to look like. And, we want to know NOW. But God tells us, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
And because He’s God, and He’s always had it, and He’s helped us and saved us and fixed us and rerouted us time and time again for the good, He expects us to be able to trust Him, and we sort of do, but inside we want the whole picture, and we sound a bit like Veruca Salt as we sing, “I want it now!”
But God asks us to have faith—in Him, in His perfect plans for us. That’s hard sometimes, right? Especially when we’re in challenging places, uncertain places, downright scary places.
Why am I here, God?
I want out now!
Okay, I prayed about it, how about now?
We are so impatient. We want it all, the next clue, the next episode, the next email, the next referral, the next deposit in our bank accounts…and we want it now.
We’re like little kids playing Mother-May-I.
God says, “Take three baby steps forward.”
We roll our eyes and ask, “Baby steps? How will I ever get there taking baby steps?”
God whispers, Have faith. You need to tread slowly here, so you don’t get hurt, so you understand the process. That’s why the steps are small.
God says, “Take one giant step backwards.”
We throw our hands in the air and scream at Him, “Backwards! I’m trying to move forward here. That way. Ahead!” As if He doesn’t know. Even though He’s God. And clearly He’s aware of the situation.
God sighs and thinks, I’m going to teach you something really cool back there. Give you a brilliant perspective. I might even have someone special you’re supposed to meet ‘back there’ that will make ‘up there’ much more pleasurable. Have a little faith.
And then, just when we feel like we’re trudging along, baby steps and backwards steps and going nowhere, God says, “Take ten giant leaps forward!” And we bound towards our goal and it’s even more glorious than we imagined and way better than we deserve.
Does anything look bleak for you right now? Is this time of year tough? Does it look like there’s no way out? Have you given up on something? Do you think God may have given up on you? Or are you praying earnestly, trusting that God has a plan? How’s your faith life?
Jesus offers us freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. —Galatians 5:1
But are we willing to walk through this life on His terms?
With total trust? Complete faith?
Taking one obedient step at a time?
Because when we do, the doors will be opened. And we will be set free!
Jesus rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a blazing fire that instantly torched the guards throwing them in the flames. God protected Daniel from a pit full of famished lions. Jesus rescued Lazarus from the dead, His disciples from the storm, and Peter from prison. Today, as we embark on a new year, Jesus reminds us once again, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
I don’t know what you’re leaving behind in 2016 or what you’re facing in 2017, but I do know that God is with you, walking by your side, guiding your steps forward and backward and sideways and even the moments when it’s necessary to stand absolutely still. I know that God has beautiful plans for you, and that He will orchestrate them magnificently. As you plan out your calendar and/or your finances, write down your goals, choose your word for the year, don’t forget to have a little faith.
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?
As one year ends and another begins, I am the girl who looks at my “to read pile” with excitement over the possibility of all of the stories and characters and insights waiting for me to uncover in the pages on my nightstand. But I am also, always, looking for new titles that will change and grow and educate and challenge and entertain me. So, if you’re anything like me, if you’re searching for that next great read, I thought I’d share my favorites in a large range of genres I read in 2015 in hopes you’ll share your favorites with me too. In no particular order these were my favorites across a wide range of genres:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I’ve spent most of my life pounding on the backs of wardrobes and leaning into brick columns in train stations in hopes of stumbling upon Narnia or Hogwarts. Now, I sense I'll be scanning neighboring fields at night, hoping in my deepest hopes that the Night Circus has set up in my town, and that I may have the pleasure of experiencing its magic. This book is one of the most captivating novels I've read in a long time. It captures beauty and motion and flavors and textures so vividly I'd like to crawl into the pages. I believe what The Night Circus offers is something like a glimpse of heaven, a place where the kittens are fluffier, the caramel more delectable, the acrobats perfectly balanced and the bonfires brighter than our every day life on earth. A place where we feel more like our actual selves than we have ever felt before.
The Plans I Have for You by Amy Parker
The Plans I Have For You is one of those rare gems, which is more than a picture book—it is a life book. Leave it on your coffee table and this book will capture the attention of young readers time and time again as they enjoy the rhymes, find new details in the beautiful illustrations, and find hope and courage in the fact that God has plans for them, big plans, special plans. But this book will also captivate the adults reading the story, as it reminds us just how personal and important the work God has planned for each of us. Reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's Oh The Places You'll Go, but with deeper meaning and truth. Bonus: a devotional and journal to accompany The Plans I Have For You just released!
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
My twelve-year old daughter, Mallory, picked up this book at the library this summer and devoured it in two days. She insisted (against her brothers' protests) that it be our next "read aloud". After two pages we were all completely absorbed in this authentically raw and beautiful story of a foster child. Needless to say, as we reached the climax, I was sobbing so hard, my son, Max, had to remove the book from my soggy self and read the rest out loud for us. So touching and true -- filled with lessons of life and love and the importance of having someone believe in you. This is the best middle grade novel I've read in years!
For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
A friend in Nashville gave me this book right when it released. Only a couple pages in I was laughing uncontrollably. A few pages later and my eyes were wet with emotion. Yet other chapter in had me nodding at profound truths of faith. This is the first book I've read by Jen Hatmaker and not able to wait to read more, I ordered a copy of her book, 7, while cruising Amazon for Christmas gifts and am about 1/3 of the way in. Her writing style made me feel like she and I were old friends, hanging out on her porch and talking about everything from the fashion police, to trying to feed a house full of kids, to what we read in our Bibles that morning. Hatmaker's writing is hilarious and authentic. I found myself reading sections out loud to anyone who would listen.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
What an exquisite book—a beautiful portrayal of two sisters and their lifetime searching for love and purpose. On a historical level, The Nightingale exposes the brutal and trying conditions the French people endured during WWII. As a Francophile I devoured every French countryside and phrase. I’m ashamed to admit, I had no idea the trauma the French women experienced during World War 2, as their cities were looted, their food was rationed, their safety was at risk, and soldiers took over their homesteads and places of work. Hannah's elegant writing was beautiful and made me incredibly grateful for so many things I daily take for granted. I would recommend this book to everyone.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This story is electrifying, raw, honest, emotional, and sensory overloaded. It’s a book about twins and family and art and self-expression and grief and getting in and out of our shells and self-discovery. The colors ooze out of the pages, the distinct personalities of the original characters are perfectly executed, the intertwining and shifting of these characters is brilliant! I absolutely loved loved loved Jandy Nelson's exquisite, gorgeous, stirring writing and can't wait to read her other book!
The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer
I’m blessed to have a compassionate, diverse, faithful group of women from my church that I get to do Bible studies with on Wednesday mornings throughout the school year. This year, my favorite study was The Armor of God. Shirer takes ten verses from the book of Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-19) and creates an entire study about how we can utilize the armor God has provided for us to fight the enemy and stand strong throughout life’s battles. This study came at the exact right time for me. I had some life issues I was wrestling, and The Armor of God reminded me that God has already won. I need to stand firm in this truth, take up my shield of faith, dig my feet into the peace He offers and pray, pray, pray.
Okay. Your turn. I want to hear what your favorite books you read last year were? I need to put together a new pile.
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.
I was recently tagged on Facebook to share fourteen random things about me. I thought it would be much more fun and relevant (considering the recent cold and snow) to share random ways I’m staying warm.
1. Wearing fuzzy socks 24/7
2. Keeping my heated seat on high in my car
3. Drinking coffee, well I do that everyday, but still important.
4. Sporting nail polish in bright spring colors to chase away some of the gray. I’m wearing Green With Envy as I type this.
5. When laundry comes out of the dryer I heap all of those cozy clothes on top of my lap and fold them from this position. Try it. It’s lovely.
6. Wearing layers – tank, shirt, sweater, scarf, as many as I can pile on
7. Making soup for dinner.
8. Building snowmen. Sledding. Going for runs out there (only if it’s above 20 degrees). But, doing something outside to embrace the beauty of snowflakes and breathing in the crisp, pristine air.
9. Coating my lips in C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Tint. It keeps them from getting chapped in the dry air, and the mint infusion is fun and sparky.
10. Drinking hot water during the day. Whether to drink it and allow the heat to seep down my throat or simply to wrap my fingers around the warm mug.
11. Roasting marshmallows in the fireplace – warm and yummy
12. Turning on the space heater in my writing nook.
13. Piling the goose down comforter on top of my other covers.
14. Cozying up with a good book or The Good Book and being thankful for snow days.
How about you? How are you keeping warm?
Laura L. Smith