I’ve been praying a lot about it, and instead of goals for this year, God has given me a word – TRUST.
What? I called back to my Maker. A word. One? How can I possibly plan a year with one word? I am an organizer, a planner, a write-it-in-ink in my date book (preferably in colored ink to code the activity) kind of girl. I write out goals, lists of them with separate categories amidst the lists. What should I do with that broken relationship? Should I forgive? Should I reach out? Should I sever it? What about my writing? Should I continue my existing series? Branch out into something new? Focus more time on speaking? To every question I ask, God repeats the same answer again and again, “Trust me. Completely. One step at a time. Trust.”
I can’t help but think of the scene in Frozen where Elsa flees Arendelle. She takes one step on the lake and it freezes solid beneath her foot. She takes another step and the water beneath her second foot also freezes. Knowing the only path for her is forward she decides to run, trusting completely that the lake will freeze beneath her feet, holding her up, every step of the way.
That’s what God is calling me to do. To take one step while He holds me up. Then another, while He freezes untamed waters yet again. I long to see the path, the road, the route highlighted on Google Maps. But that’s not for me to see right now.
How much this scenario reminds me of Peter that night in the boat. Jesus held out His hand to Peter, coaxing Peter to walk on water towards Him, towards safety and light and excitement and joy. And as long as Peter was willing to trust that his next step across the sea would be held up, he walked. As soon as Peter looked down, away from Christ, as soon as he stopped trusting, he sank.
So, my goal for 2014 is to keep my eyes on Christ—to trust Him. And every time I catch myself looking elsewhere, listening to the wrong voices, believing things other than His truth, my goal is to turn my eyes back to Him. If I feel my ankles getting wet, or my calves damp or the hem of my skirt getting splashed, because I’m sinking, my intention is to return my focus to trusting Him, completely, before I go down.
When Elsa truly trusts the power she’s been given, she is able to build staircases in mid air faster than she can climb them. She can create spectacular castles and crystals when she lets go of her fears. I can’t wait to see what God enables me to do when I trust Him.
It’s not going to be easy. I’ll know that if I falter, the icy waters wait just inches below me. They will swirl and whirl and pull me down. But if I trust, fully trust, then I also know it doesn’t matter what’s below me or behind me or before me. It only matters that I do it with Christ. And if I do that, my footing will be secure and my path amazing. Yup, all I need is one word.
What about you? Do you have a word for 2014?
Wise men. Kings. Magi. The story of these men amazes me. But as with anyone, what truly blows me away is not what they did, but what God did through them.
What do we know about these majestic gift bearers? We refer to them as kings. They were revered like kings and wealthy like kings. They dressed and traveled like kings, but truthfully, they were of the scholarly order of Magi. This means they were highly educated men in the field of astrology, revered in their towns. When they came and spoke, large crowds gathered. Their nuggets of wisdom would have been tweeted and retweeted and posted and pinned.
We depict them as a trio. But the Bible only states three gifts; it doesn’t mention how many people brought them. Who’s to say a few of them didn’t go in on the gold? It was pretty pricey, after all. We’ve even assigned names to them; Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, which if your going to give great men names, why not give them great names?
These magi left their families and friends and the communities that looked up to them to travel for what scholars say took up to two years. They invested riches to hire the caravan necessary to tend to their animals, prepare their meals and travel with them. They didn’t have a map. They didn’t even have Siri to tell them to turn left at the third sand dune. That’s one heck of a road trip. All to see a new king, they’d never even met.
Their faith is awe-inspiring.
But as I said, it’s not what the magi did that blows me away, but what God did through them.
1000 years before they tied their saddlebags on their camels, the Psalmist in Psalm 72:10 -11 wrote: May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
And 700 years before they gift-wrapped the frankincense with the perfect bow, the prophet Isaiah wrote in 60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
That means God had it all planned out. Down to the most intricate detail. He knew where the wise men needed to come from, where they would be going, what they would need to pack and how they would get there. All they had to do was follow the star.
This is so mind boggling; because it means God does the same thing for you and for me. Centuries before we were born He had created plans for us. Not just any plans, but plans to prosper. Like the prophet Jeremiah says.
What lies ahead for you in 2014? What uncertainties lay in your heart? Are you freaking out about how you did on exams? Trying to decide what to major in? Wondering if you’ll start in your next game? Are you in a relationship and wondering if it’s time to take it to a higher level, or maybe to end it all together? Are you not in a relationship and wondering if you’ll ever find a soul mate? Maybe you’re moving and frightened of the unknown? Or panicked about an internship or job search?
No worries. God’s got this. All of it.
And not just the big picture stuff, but all of the intricate details.
He’s had it all planned out for hundreds of years. He knows where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you and how you’ll get there. He’ll even give you all of the resources you need to make the journey.
All you have to do is follow the star.
The star that is Christ Jesus.
525, 600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?
“Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT by Jonathon Larson
I first saw RENT in New York City in 2005. I honestly didn’t know anything more about the plot than it was about artists squatting in an empty New York warehouse, and that it was a modern version of the opera, La Boheme, set in Paris. Hello. You had me at Paris. I wasn’t prepared for it to pierce my heart and affect my soul.
I bought the CD and played it nonstop for months. The following year the movie came out. Watched it. Even learned how to play “Seasons of Love” on the piano.
I saw RENT again over the weekend. This time instead of at the Nederlander Theatre seating 1200 people on Broadway, I was on Miami University’s campus at a theatre seating less than 100. Instead of Drew Lachey and Scary Spice (Melanie Brown) in the leads, college students performed the roles of Mark, Mimi, Roger, Maureen, Joanne, Tom Collins and Angel.
And these students with their raw talent and intense passion pierced my heart and affected my soul all over again, probably even more so than when I saw it on Broadway. (If you count crying four times during the performance “affecting”.)
For those of you who haven’t seen RENT. Go do so. Now, preferably. But if that’s not an option, know it is the story of one year in the lives of a group of friends. They face poverty, rejection, love, glory, success, denial, death, joy, fear, comfort and loss. But mainly, they learn how to appreciate the moments.
It’s impossible for me to see RENT and not reflect on the past year of my life. This is something I usually reserve for New Year’s or birthdays, but today it is fresh on my mind, tugging at my heart. In my last 525,600 minutes I lost a father in law, visited the beach, had my oldest child start high school, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, joined a Bible study, published a new series with a new publisher, looked at the sun through a giant telescope, rode a tiny rollercoaster. But my favorite parts of my year haven’t been the big events, they’ve been the moments, the snapshots in time where I’ve discovered something new, felt loved, was inspired. When listing highlights of my year I wouldn’t write ‘going to Paris’, but instead I’d say, my husband recorded the bells ringing from the infamous bell tower of Notre Dame on a sunny afternoon on his phone for me, so I could listen to them over and over. I don’t measure my year in the 500 soccer games I’ve attended. I might be exaggerating. A little. But the magnificent save my son made as goalie on a Penalty Kick against his team is a moment of pure joy I’ll cherish as I reflect on the year.
And in each moment, I know God was with me. Is with me. Is with you. As the song “Seasons of Love,” says “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” He is there. Every hour of every day. Every step of the way. Every conversation. Every breeze, every flavor (I think especially the salty caramel mocha flavors) and handshake and hug.
What are the highlights of your last 525,600 minutes?
When I’m in yoga class standing on one leg with my arms above my head and I wobble, I hear my instructor call out “reset”.
What does reset mean? Merriam Webster defines it as to set again or anew.
We are now almost four weeks into 2013. How’s it going so far? We love to set goals and make resolutions and plan out calendars and workouts and vacations and to do lists when January 1st rolls round. But frequently we set goals and make plans that are out of our reach, below our capabilities or just plain silly. Sometimes we set awesome goals, but find excuses not to attain them. Sometimes life happens and our goals must change.
Goals are important, critical to growth, actually. They’re how we get from here to there, but they are also fluid and need constant revising.
For me, I’ll be celebrating Christmas on Ground Hog’s Day. That wasn’t the plan. It didn’t make any of my lists, but due to family medical emergencies, February is when we can all get together.
I am thrilled, giddy, honored, humbled and blessed to announce the first two books in my latest series will release in April. I didn’t know have this information on January 1. This exciting news changes all of my writing goals for the year. I need to focus on the release of those two titles. I need to shelve rewriting a novel I was working on and instead start writing the third book in this series. All fab stuff, but...
How about you? Has anything happened to change your plans? If you’re an athlete an injury could switch you from developing new skills to rehabilitating. If your family is moving, you might change your focus from organizing your closet to how to decorate your new bedroom. Those 25 sit ups a day might be easier than you thought, or it might turn out it was taking on more than you could handle to assume you could practice your electric keyboard a whole hour every day.
How are you doing? Are you off balance? Have the wrong foot forward? Did something arise in your life that changes everything? Is something easier than you thought challenging you to push yourself harder? Are you facing the wrong direction? Or are you further ahead than planned? It's okay to change your original plan.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!
I’d love to hear how you’re pushing the reset button and starting anew.
“I can begin again.” New Year’s Day by U2
I spent New Year’s Day 2013 soaking in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Barely visible amidst Elvis’ outlandish purple Cadillac with “EP” blazed on every seat cushion, tire and door (no lie), John Lennon’s neon green silk Sergeant Pepper’s uniform and Katy Perry’s memorable peppermint dress were my two favorite artifacts in the multi level, glass pyramid of a museum (a copy of the Louvre in Paris).
My favorites weren’t bright or shiny or glitzy or even psychedelic, like all the items I believe rock stars own and save and cherish. They were small and flat and plain. They were rejection letters.
As a writer I get my share of rejection letters. You might think looking at others’ rejections would be torture. But, actually it’s the opposite. You see, these weren’t random rejection letters written to bands you’ve never heard of like Carl and the Crazies or the Keyboard Lizards, these were rejection letters written to U2.
In 1979 RSO sent a letter to P. Hewson, Bono’s real name, stating the demo tape he mailed “titled U2 is not suitable for us at present". The letter was written on Bono’s 19th birthday. I hope he got a decent cake.
Around the same time Arista Records sent U2 a form rejection letter, the kind they sent to hundreds of bands with just a preprinted signature, and without details of why the band was being turned down.
But those rejections did not make U2 quit. It gave them fodder to begin again. To make another tape, to send it to another label, to try again.
One year later, Island Records signed U2. They went on to become one of the biggest selling bands in the world. Over 7.2 million fans attended U2’s 360 Tour, more than any other fans attending any other tour - ever. U2 has won more Grammy awards than any other band, ever. 22.
But what if Bono and the boys had listened to RSO or Arista? What if they took those rejections as signs they didn’t have what it takes? That they weren’t good enough? That their sound wouldn’t resonate? That they should give up?
What hill are you climbing today? Who’s told you “no” recently? What roadblocks are you encountering?
What if instead of listening to the negativity, you tried one more time – took the SAT or LSAT one more time to improve your score, auditioned for one more play, ran one more race, applied to one more internship or job, sent one more song to a record label?
Hills are rarely easy to climb. Sometimes they reveal themselves as careening mountains.
But the view from the top of the mountain is glorious.
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lift me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
Psalm 40 by King David and revamped by U2 in their song “40”
What new song can you sing today? Where can you begin again?
Remember a time when someone said that to you? It typically happens when you see family you haven’t seen for a while - like over the holidays. How about “you look so grown up!”
And then you get spun around like a sweater off the rack at Nordstrom’s and feel like you’re on display for everyone in the room to examine your growth or grown-upedness. It used to make me uncomfortable with the sudden attention everyone turned to me, make me roll my eyes or look the down. But at some point I stopped growing, physically. And now, it’s rude for someone to say I look older or bigger.
But I hope I haven’t stopped growing. I hope I never will.
In 2013 I want to grow. I want to grow so much it’s visible. I want to grow in my faith and in my writing. I want to speak French more fluently and learn some new healthy, tasty, not overly complicated recipes. I want to learn how to rock a killer headstand in yoga.
How do I start? Well, I just did. I wrote down some goals, some places in my life I want to grow. Next, I need to be more specific. How am I going to amp up my faith? What writing projects do I want to tackle in 2013? When do I want them to be completed? Who do I want to reach through them? How many recipes do I want to learn how to make each month? How much time a week am I able and willing to spend on my passé parfait? By when should I be able to do that headstand, and for how long should I be able to hold the pose?
Now, the action. What can I do today, this week, before Christmas break is over to launch these plans for growing into reality? How about you?
Growing is an integral part of being. It is our way of getting closer to the best versions of ourselves.
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. Philippians 1:6
God will start this work, but it’s our job to keep at it. How about you? Where would you like to grow in 2013? How are you going to tackle it?
Happy New Year! I know the rest of the civilized world celebrates New Year’s on December 31, but December 31 means nothing to me. No major change occurs in my life in January.
The end of August, however, is full of change, excitement and potential. Ever since I was five it meant the beginning of a new school year; a new teacher, classrooms smelling of freshly cleaned desks, the potential of new friends, thick sweaters and stiff jeans hanging in my closet, the smell of sharpened pencils and new markers, more challenging dance steps in ballet, a piano book full of unlocked songs, the mega thick issue of Seventeen laden with the latest fall fashions, blank notebooks waiting to be stickered and doodled upon, and new music to celebrate and imprint this season of my life - the possibilities for the new school year were endless.
They still are. In late August there’s a shift in the weather, in people’s dress (it’s almost boot season – hooray!), in our family’s schedule and routine. There is more structure, are more commitments, are more deadlines, but with those come more productivity, more possibilities and more excitement. And for me, new music.
For every season in my life I have songs associated with it. There’s the New Order and Yaz we jammed to endlessly when I was on dance team.
The deep, mystical lyrics of Michael Stipe (R.E.M.) and Bono (U2) resonated throughout my college years. Songs swaying from beautiful ballads to punchy political protests to boppy dance tunes. It was the stuff introspective, formative college years were made of.
My writing has musical seasons too. Anytime I hear the strings and horns from Les Miserables they remind me of my character, Emma, in Angry. Anytime I hear Todd Agnew’s raspy voice I think of my book Hot, and the main character Lindsey. Jack Johnson reminds me of my friend and editor, Amy, as we both Pandora’d him simultaneously while she edited my book Skinny.
There are songs that take me back to spring breaks and slumber parties and countries I’ve visited and even my wedding. Songs take me back to special friends, family members, trials and triumphs.
Psalm 33:2-3 "Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy."
I’m eager to see the soundtrack God will lay for this school year. I’m currently riveted by bands ranging from Snow Patrol to Toby Mac to the powerful voice and lyrics of Holly Starr. Her songs encourage me to walk strong in God and remember He is always right beside me. This is a message I’ll carry in my virtual backpack as my new year commences.
How about you? What musical memories strum your heartstrings? What songs will be on your playlist this year?
Control. We all want it. We all strive for it. Whether it is
control over what grade we get in a class, what we eat for dinner, what
projects we’ll be assigned at work, how a relationship will work, what channel
we’re watching – we want to be able to call the shots, make the decisions, have
a say in how and why and when.
Today was the first snowfall of the year. I woke up to a majestic
world frosted in pure white icing. With the beauty came the crisp, cold air,
fresh and pure, seemingly cleansing my lungs as I stepped out of the garage and
The drive uptown to fetch my morning coffee usually takes me five
minutes, only three when the college students are gone for Christmas break. But
this morning the roads were slick. Cars inched along the roads, even though the
dusting of snow was barely an inch deep. I drove cautiously, in no hurry,
nothing I had to rush to get to, taking in the spectacular
A few minutes later, venti Italian roast with a shot of chocolate
in hand, I got back in my car. I took a sip of the dark, rich warmth and turned
the key. At the first stop sign my antilock brakes ground and squealed and
crunched under my foot, but my car did not stop. I kept going right through the
stop sign, even though I’d only been cruising at about seven miles an hour.
Thankfully, our college town is all but deserted while the students are away,
and no other cars were in sight.
But, I didn’t stop.
I wanted to stop. I tried to stop. I did all of the things I
normally do to stop. And yet, my car didn’t stop. I was not in control. I
whispered a prayer of thanks that there were no other cars around, that despite
me driving through a stop sign no one was hurt. I then turned off the side
road, back towards the main road, hoping for smoother sailing. But, as I
turned, my car fishtailed, zigging and zagging across both lanes of the small
street. Again, there were no cars in my way. No one was hurt. But, this was
another strong reminder that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.
As a new year begins, I always make a list of goals for the year
– things I plan on working to accomplish in the upcoming 365 days. I know this
is an important exercise. It is critical to be intentional on how I spend my
time or else my time gets spent for me. It is helpful for me to look out twelve
months to see the potential the year has, to think of ways I can stretch my
faith, my mind, my body, my relationships, my writing in the coming year. Just
like I need to have a full tank of gas, air in my tires, directions to where
I’m going and the key to my car to make it go, I need a plan for my life and my
time. I need to drive the speed limit, stay on the right side of the road, and
step on the brake when there is a stop sign, or else there would be accidents.
People would get hurt. There would be danger and chaos.
God wants me to plan and work and strive as if it all depends on
But, sometimes I step on the brake and I don’t stop. Sometimes,
despite my lists and goals and plans, He has something else in mind. He needs me
to remember, that in the end, it all depends on Him.
Laura L. Smith