My oldest son started running track, and although he had gym shoes, they weren’t good running shoes. Let’s just say he selected them because they sport the colors and logo of his favorite football team. But when you run competitively you need shoes designed for running, to protect yourself from injury and pain, and to maximize your speed. So we made a visit to Fleet Feet, a specialty running shoe store.
A woman with bright blue chalk all over her palms greeted us, asked how she could help, then excused herself for a moment to wash her hands. When she returned, she did all her fancy foot magic, measuring, scanning, watching my son walk around the store barefoot. As she laced up a shoe on his left foot, I noticed a slanty script running up her forearm. I’m always fascinated by tattoos and the stories they tell about their owners. I tried to make out the words but couldn’t. Should I ask? I felt extremely curious, like this was something I needed to know.
“What’s your tattoo say?”
As my son stood to walk around in the shoes, she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the black ink. “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay,” she said almost dreamlike.
“From Ruth?” I asked, but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed lost in thought.
She ran her coral lacquered fingernail over the cross that punctuated the end of the phrase. “It’s from a song we sing at the church I go to, and kind of about everything I’m going through right now.”
“I know that song,” I said.
My son returned from his lap, so we went back to discussing fit and comfort of shoes.
At the checkout she asked if we were in her computer system. I mentioned my husband probably was. The worker asked his name.
“Brett Smith,” I answered.
She looked up wide-eyed. “That’s my name. I mean, that was my name. Smith is my old last name. I’m Brett.”
We stared at each other for a moment, marveling at this information.
“That’s wild,” I finally said.
“Yeah. Crazy.” She shook her head and finished ringing us out.
Ask her what she needs prayer for. God nudged me.
I looked around the store. No one else was there. Where had the other worker gone? Where were the two other customers who were there when we arrived?
Just ask her, I heard God whisper.
“So, Brett,” I said. “Is there something I can pray about for you?
She immediately nodded. “Yes. I’m going through an awful divorce. That’s why Smith used to be my last name.”
“Can I pray now?” I didn’t want to freak her out.
Her eyes pleaded, ‘yes,’ and her words echoed, “Yeah, that would be great.”
And there at the checkout of a fancy running shoe store I prayed for a woman I didn’t know, but who for a while shared the same name as my husband. I prayed that she would know down to her core that her identity rests in Christ. Not in a man. Or in a last name. Or in a relational status. But in Jesus. Who will always love her for exactly who she is, never leave her, and remain always faithful.
Leaving the store, I felt loved and refreshed as if someone had prayed over me. I was reminded how fully loved I am by Jesus (you are too). Because that’s what it feels like when we live in obedience.
God took my son and I to that specific store during that specific shift for that specific woman. God arranged all those details. He nudged me to ask about her tattoo, but I could have decided it felt weird or intrusive. I wanted to tell her about the passage in Ruth that those verses came from, that the song was written from, because I’m a Bible nerd and I love the book of Ruth. But I felt God telling me to hush. What if I hadn’t mentioned my husband’s name? What if when God leaned in and said, “Go ahead, ask her,” I’d refused?
God did all the heavy lifting. I just had to utter a few words. But in doing so, I felt energized and renewed in the hope of Jesus, like there was purpose to my steps and my life, because there is. For all of us. I was reminded of God’s vastness in knowing all of our needs, and at the same time His beautiful attention to the details of our lives.
Yes, I want to go where God tells me to go. And I want to stay when He tells me to stay. Because when I do, when I choose to follow Him, the things of this world fade a bit, and I catch glimpses of glory. I want to go wherever He tells me to go, because His voice is the sweetest sound I know.
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I’m sorry, are you busy? In the middle of something?
Maybe tying that ribbon just right and if you move your finger the whole thing will fall apart? Or getting the crushed candy canes to stick to the rich, chocolatey fudge while it’s still gooey? Or finishing up the report that’s due before you take a few days off for Christmas? Or clicking “add to cart” before the last remaining pair of boots gets snatched up?
What if someone told you Jesus was just down the street? Right now! Even though you’re in the middle of doing something. Would you believe them? Would you leave your undertaking? Despite the consequences? How would you react?
Because over 2000 years ago there was a group of guys doing their job, a job they couldn’t cut out early from, one where they weren’t allowed to leave their posts, when an angel showed up and said, “Guess what? I have something incredible to tell you! The Messiah, the One you’ve been waiting for, the One all of Scripture points to, He was just born! Just down the road, in town.”
We read the familiar passage from Luke 2 about angels and shepherds and think, well of course, I’d run straight to where Jesus was, because I love Jesus, I want to be near Jesus. Who wouldn’t go?
But would you? Would I?
If I’m washing a dish or pulling something from the oven or typing out the perfect sentence, I usually won’t interrupt my task to answer a text or call. I wait until I’ve accomplished the thing I was in the middle of and then respond. And if it rolled over into voicemail. That’s fine. I can call them back. How many times a day do we say, “Just a minute,” “Let me finish sending this text,” or “Hang on a second”?
But if it was Jesus calling or texting or asking a question, if Jesus Himself was down the street, would we put down our to-dos to listen or seek Him? Or would we finish our things up real fast first?
Which takes me back to the shepherds. It must have been crazy freaky when an angel appeared to them. It was so frightening the first thing the angel said was, “Don’t be afraid.” And then this wild-looking heavenly host told those shepherds the Savior of the World had been born. Oh, and yeah, He was a baby.
People had been talking about the Messiah for ages. The shepherds probably thought or said something like this:
Dang, now? It’s not the best time.
We’re kind of in the middle of something.
I’m fortunate to even have this job.
I can’t afford to just abandon the sheep, can I? I could get fired. The sheep could get lost or eaten by wolves.
Maybe we can go tomorrow?
Or take turns, do it in shifts?
But, the Messiah! Really?
Wait! Did that angel say He was a baby?
The shepherds never imagined the Messiah would come as a baby. They thought Jesus would be a great king. He was. But the shepherds most likely pictured royal robes, and a golden crown encrusted with jewels, and a war horse, and a mighty sword. Not a baby in a barn. Still:
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. —Luke 2:15-18 MSG
They ran. They went as fast as they could.
Are we doing the same? Are we running towards Jesus? If we feel prompted to pray or open our Bibles or listen to a worship song, do we do it? Or do we think to ourselves, in a minute, when I’m done eating, after I get my workout in, as soon as this episode is over?
Jesus is right here. Right now.
We don’t have to wait for centuries like the folks in the Old Testament. We don’t even have to head into town, down that hill, around the bend, to get to the manger where He lay like the shepherds did. All we have to do is say His name. Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we “have time” or “are done”. We can wake a few minutes earlier, watch less Netflix, or put down Zillow and pick up our Bibles and get into the Word. We can also pray while we wrap or bake or fold the clothes. We can listen to the Bible being read to us out loud on the Bible App or listen to a worship song on the way to pick up the groceries or the kids. You can put down this blog and talk to Jesus right this minute. In fact, please do.
Are we running to Jesus, or are we too busy?
Our twenty-first century Christmas might fill our calendars and planners with concerts, parties, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santas. But the first Christmas brought Jesus to us. Changed everything. Heaven came down to earth. To save you and me. What are we waiting for? Let’s run to Him! And like the shepherds let's tell everyone what we’ve seen.
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Cerulean sky. Vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. A cool breeze filled with the smoky scent of a neighbor’s fireplace tickled my nose. The setting for my run was ideal, yet I felt weak and out of breath. Coming to a hill I slowed to a walk. Almost immediately a friend’s face popped into my head who’s a marathon runner. She told me in the hardest parts of a race if you just keep running—push past the hard part--you find your groove. Alright, Laura, I told myself, get going. I increased my speed. But it was hard. Unusually so. Next month I’d be running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and this current thing my legs and lungs were doing would not do.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. When did I become such a bad runner? Why can’t I go for a simple jog at a distance and rate I usually go without huffing and puffing? I’m out of shape. I need to train. I’ll be a bad partner for my husband in the race. I’ll slow him down. I have a daughter who is a college athlete. I’m pathetic.
Regardless of how much shame I felt for not being able to breathe, I had to slow to a walk again. And then it hit me—I’d had my blood drawn an hour ago, which always makes me woozy. And because I was getting my blood drawn, I’d fasted last night and this morning. Afterwards I ate some yogurt and granola, so I thought I was good. But apparently not so much. How long does it take for the body to replace that blood?
I Googled it. The pop-up answer was four to eight weeks. What? No wonder I felt light-headed. I finally gave myself some grace and decided it was A-Okay to walk the rest of my route. When I got home, I researched a bit more. Turns out the four-eight weeks was a bit misleading, but the web consensus was that according to my weight and normal level of physical activity I could work out about five hours after having blood drawn. Hmmm. Not one hour. Weird.
Why was my first instinct to bash myself? Instead of assessing my situation and wondering why two days ago I had a phenomenal run, and today I was struggling, I listed the ways I didn’t measure up. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what I did. Oh, how my brain can take one lie and spin it out of control.
Do you ever do this? Is there any area in your life that the talk in your head sounds like, “You’re not good enough to… get noticed, be in a relationship, earn an “A,” be picked, win the award, get the job, move up the list, have your idea accepted? Because Jesus never talks to us like that. His words are, “You are my masterpiece. You were created in my image. I came down to the world and died on the cross to save you. I love you.”
Will Jesus sometimes put up barriers? Sure. Will He sometimes say, “not now” or “not this” or “not them?” Definitely. Just like God told me to slow down as I ran. Not because Jesus thinks I’m a bad runner or doubts if I’m capable of running the Turkey Trot. Not because He’s shaking His head and wishing I would step up my workouts. But because Jesus saw me get my biometrics test. God knew my body was still recuperating, and if I kept going, I might pass out in the middle of the street, or some such thing. Jesus wasn’t telling me I wasn’t good enough. He was keeping me safe.
Because Jesus NEVER tells us we’re not good enough.
That’s always the enemy’s voice, slithering into any place we might feel doubt, anything that’s important to us, anywhere he thinks he can distract us from the truth of who we are in Christ—treasured, fearfully and wonderfully made, set aside to do good works.
What if when we start to struggle, our default was to ask God, “Hey, what’s going on? Why is this hard? Do you want me to stop? Or do different? Or go the other way?” And if it’s something that’s plain going to be hard (because some things are hard—loss, abuse, health issues both mental and physical, etc.), what if we went to God in these situations and said, “This is freaking hard, please give me the strength, energy, stamina, to get through it. Please help me know when resting makes sense. And when it’s time to push forward again.”
What, then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
God is for us. On our side. Not telling us where we fall short. But cheering us on over the finish line. Yes, He’ll put up some barriers sometimes—to protect us. But our Savior always wants what’s absolutely best for us. Even when we can’t see the whole picture.
The next time you hear “not enough” in your head. Slow down. Catch your breath. Stamp it out. Dismiss it as quickly as it came. Don’t let your default be one of blame or shame. Don’t let the negativity fester or multiply out of control. Because that is never of God. He is for you. He will stand strong to protect you from anything or anyone who tries to go against you, but He will also wave you forward into the glorious plans He has in store for you. Whether you’re completely in stride or feeling faint, Jesus looks at you, and says, “Oh look! There’s one of my kids! I love her so much!”
One of my best friends, Amy, and I have a joke about making dinner. I’ll text her a picture of the rotisserie chicken I grabbed at Kroger and make some humorous comment about secret recipes. She’ll send back a picture of her family-sized Chick-Fil-A bag and reference how she’s “cooking”. One day she messaged, “Are cake pops a meal?” We’re hilarious.
The truth is, life is busy. We’re both mamas. We’re both writers. We’re both trying to hold all the pieces together. And that means some nights the best dinner we can muster up comes in a box or a bag. This of course is absolutely fine, because our people eat a hot meal (or a meal with frosting). But there are other nights, despite our hysterical text stream, where our best dinners involve actually cooking.
Today was a cooking day. My oldest baby is home from college visiting. I wanted to make her favorite dinner—lasagna. I learned long ago from a chef friend that the secret to good food is good ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the meal turns out. So, when I actually take time to make lasagna, I use hand-rolled, fresh mozzarella from Jungle Jim’s, this fabulous market near us. Guys, it’s not even the same substance that comes shredded in a bag. It is so amazing. I also use these tomatoes from Italy. I know. They’re canned tomatoes. Who cares, right? But they’re yummier. They’re sweeter. They just are. They’re not more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, they just taste better. And fresh basil? Sigh. This is my favorite ingredient. It adds a layer of flavor that can’t be replicated.
The better the ingredients, the better the meal. I think this mantra holds true to all parts of our lives.
Which translates into bringing our best games to everything we do, because the more we put into it, the better it will turn out. This is so true. When I prepare before a conference call, thinking through the questions I want to ask and the questions I might be asked. When I pull out my favorite notepad and a brightly-colored pen jotting down some main points prior to the call and taking notes during the call, the conversation is more productive. If I read all the passages, pray, research and journal about them for the Bible study I lead, Tuesday morning conversations at study are more focused and richer. When I get a great night’s sleep, eat healthy, am hydrated, stretch before and after, my morning runs are fantastic, energizing for my body and therapeutic for my mind.
But we all know that’s not always how it goes, is it?
Today Kroger was out of fresh basil. They just didn’t have any. They had this fresh-ish basil in a tub, which is far superior to dried basil in a spice jar, but not the same as fresh-cut leaves from my yard in the summer. Sometimes I’m rushing to my desk for the call, flying through the Bible-study lessons, and my legs feel like lead.
So how do we do this? How do we metaphorically cook with the best ingredients, when they’re not always available?
We look in our pantries, open our fridge, swing by the grocery and bring the best ingredients we have. Whatever that is today. Often this means improvising. That might mean basil in a tub. Or stewed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. It could mean a run that morphs into a stroll to be able to complete my route. It could mean getting to just a little of my Bible every day, the parts I can get to, and if I can’t journal, at least trying to think through some of the questions in our study book in my brain.
It always means praying. Because talking to God about all the things going on is the best ingredient I’ve got up my sleeve—the secret ingredient to save all the recipes, even the ones it looks like I’m burning or flubbing up. Praying over the conference call before the phone rings. Praying on the way to Bible study for God to fill in all the places I’m not prepared, to give me words where I need to speak, and silence when I need to hush. Praying over my children, my interactions with them. Praying over my marriage. Praying over my writing. Praying over all of the things all of the time.
Because the best ingredients available for today’s recipes might be totally different than the best ingredients that will be available tomorrow. We’re never sure how our legs or voices or patience will hold up. We can’t control if someone else is running late or running out or stands us up or if they raise the prices for the things on our list. Some days we come down with the flu or the blues. But we still need to show up. We still need to try. And we still need to sprinkle in the secret spice of prayer. My best tomorrow looks totally different than my best today and it looks completely different than yours on any day. Some days my best is homemade lasagna and others my best is pizza delivered to my doorstep. But when we keep trying, keep giving today the best ingredients we have to offer, praying over all the places we and the world falls short, together, we’ll make the tastiest lasagna. And ultimately we’ll make our world, delicious.
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There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
I went for a run today, listened to my “Run” playlist and came back dripping with sweat. It had been a long time (due to the unseasonably cool weather) since I’d been dripping with sweat, or since I’d listened to music on a run. I’ve been listening to podcasts and books on tapes, which are great, but music? I’ve missed it. It feeds my soul. I realized I’ve been busy doing lots of wonderful things, but some of my favorite things have been packed away with my swimsuits and sundresses. As the cicadas emerge (yikes!) so do lots of other things that make my heart sing.
It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing. Or that I’ve been doing yucky things. Not at all. It’s just I feel a tangible shift as spring sidesteps into summer, from school year, to having the kids home. Yes, my actual daily routine changes, but something about my whole persona swings too.
I live in a college town, so my habitat changes overnight from the buzz of millennials filling the sidewalks and shops wearing back packs and holding coffee cups to almost empty streets, and locals splashing with their kids in the uptown fountains while licking ice cream cones. How does your life change when you turn your calendar to summer? How does your schedule change with longer, hotter days? Do you go from pots of soup to steaks on the grill? From jazz to pop? From evening workouts at the gym to early morning walks outside?
Since I’ve always loved a good research paper (I’m serious. I’m that nerdy girl), the past few months have been fascinating. The work I’ve been doing has called me to learn. I’ve been immersed in studying everything from the layout of Anne Frank’s hideout, to the structure of a biography, to the ropes used on ancient ships, to the Hebrew translation of the word “fear.” I love research. I do. But the little girl who spent countless hours of her childhood hidden in the branches of willow trees transported to Narnia—that part of me—is thrilled to be dipping my toes back in the pools of fiction. Writing nonfiction is thought provoking. And I love to learn, but writing fiction is flowing and creative and unpredictable. I never know what my characters will say or where they’ll end up as they journey to the end of their tale. My mind and my soul delight in the wandering.
I am amazed that God has created so many different pieces of me—even pieces that oppose one another. How can one girl love to discover historical details and adore making things up? How can she like to cuddle under piles of blankets and sit in the sun, allowing the rays to warm her through and through? Well, because God created me to love books—all books, and warmth—however I can get it. And because life changes, because I end up in different places at different times, because I have different assignments and adventures and opportunities and obstacles and challenges and puzzles to solve, I get to tap into the ways God made me and enjoy them in every circumstance. He’s done the same with you—woven varied likes and cravings and interests into your very being. And He loves it when you tap into different parts of them, when you exercise new or dormant muscles.
I’m transitioning from things I love to other things I love—from boots to flip flops, from dark roast to iced coffee, from the darkest of burgundy to the palest pinks and brightest blues on my fingers and toes. I’m grateful for all of them! And they’re all me—parts of me—parts of me that need to be expressed and that blink in joy at the dazzling sunlight when they emerge after hibernating.
So for now, I’ll tuck away my favorite army jackets and close off my beloved fireplace. I’ll stretch my legs and let my mind dance and allow the freedom of summer to infiltrate my very being. And when the leaves start to turn, I’ll be just as excited to pull out my sweaters and scarves.
How about you? Why not make a list of things you love about summertime? I’d love to hear how your schedule switches and how your different God-given passions and joys emerge in the warmer months.
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.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
When I’m at the beach I wear these heinous shoes all day, every day. They are the dorkiest item of apparel I own, but I wouldn’t even consider walking through the sand without them.
As soon as my feet hit the boardwalk leading from the condo to the beach, my family parts like the Red Sea, and I take off sprinting past them, sometimes with the pool bag flapping at my side, until I am ankle deep in ocean. I look ridiculous. I know I do. I look like I’m being chased by a Land Shark. People probably joke at dinner about the crazy lady they saw running by herself onto the beach, speculating about what motivated me to act like a maniac. But I do not care.
See, I’m allergic to fire ants, and not just like “achoo” or “dang I got a rash” but like” jab me with my Epipen and rush me to the hospital ASAP.” So to avoid these little buggers who live in hot, sandy places, I cover my feet and keep them in the wet sand where the ants are less likely to bite. And it is worth the ugly shoes and the strange antics to stay safe. Every single step of the way.
I’m sure there are many other things I do that seem strange or counter cultural to someone observing, but I do them for self-preservation. You probably do too. At dessert while out to eat with some girlfriends recently, one friend offered another friend a bite of her brownie. She answered, “No thanks. It looks so good, but I’d have to pay for it for a week.” She is gluten free and knows the wheat in baked goods attacks her body. The bite of rich, chocolaty brownie, although oh so yummy, just isn’t worth it for her. I have another girlfriend who needs her sleep. NEEDS IT. Like no one else I’ve ever met. She wakes up, takes her kids to school in the mornings and goes back to bed for another hour or so every school day. As a result every minute she’s awake she is more energetic, more productive, and happier. It is what she needs to be healthy and in a good place. And so no matter what everyone else does or thinks she should do, she deliberately gets her sleep.
It’s not always convenient to do the thing that’s best for you. But it’s essential to do it anyway.
The most significant thing I do each day to keep me grounded, safe, full of joy, and in the right frame of mind is to read the Bible. Most mornings I am on the fly—attempting to sneak a jog in before it’s sweltering hot, trying to get one of my kids on time to an early morning soccer game, hoping to get a bit of writing in before the rest of my family wakes up. And then there are the days when I am just sooo sleepy. But regardless of how handy or opportune, deliberately starting my day in the Word keeps me anchored to who I am.
So before I pull my covers off, I reach under my bed, pull out my Bible and my journal and see what God has in store for me for the day at hand. My morning time with my Bible:
There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG
Just like my awful pink beach shoes keep me safe from seemingly harmless insects that are life-threatening to me, beginning my day immersed in the Word of God protects me against seemingly innocent insults, rejections, comments, stresses and tensions, and reminds me I am wholly and completely loved and accepted, just as I am. And this reward is so fulfilling that I am always glad I woke up early, took the time, or waited to get started on something else. Always.
How about you? What seemingly countercultural or inconvenient things do you do to keep yourself grounded, safe, happy and shining your true reflection?
My daughters and I don’t perspire. We sweat.
After an intense summer of ninety-five degree runs, soccer practices, Zumba classes, and training sessions, we collectively created enough sweat and stench to rival the toxins of the local trash heap.
Unfortunately, so had our sports bras. I know they’re made out of some high tech fabrics that maximize comfort and movement during workouts, but that same fancy material seems to be a body odor sponge. Washing them was not doing the trick. They’d come out of the laundry cleaner, but still reeking of sweat. It was time to take some serious action. I tried drying them with fabric softener sheets, even though they’re never supposed to go in the drier. Desperate times call for desperate actions. Sadly, it was a fail. Once the humidity level dropped enough that I could actually walk outside without becoming instantly soaked, I tried drying the sports bras outside to air them out and let them soak in that fresh outdoorsy aroma. No luck. I tried sprinkling loads of laundry with lavender oil. Although the laundry room smelled lovely, the sports bras still came out of the machine putrid. By back-to-school our sports bras were so foul I wasn’t allowing them to be thrown in the hamper, because they were literally stinking up all of the other laundry. It was that bad. Nothing was working. Nothing.
I sat down my daughters and said, “I know our sports bras have all these fabulous colors like teal and hot pink. I know they have cool designs of squiggles and zebra stripes and dots. But I also know they smell to high heaven, and I haven’t been able to figure out a way to make them smell fresh again. I have one solution, but it’s risky. Bleach.”
Not being laundry experts they shrugged and asked, “Why’s that a problem?”
“Bleach is great at deep cleaning, but it literally takes color out of things, so our sports bras might have white spots or pale discolored patches, but come on, who sees them anyway? I think we need to try,” I answered.
They agreed and we ran the experiment. First round of sports bras bleached smelled…fresh. No way! It was true! Could it have been that easy all along?
And so now, the sports bras in question continue to go in with the whites, the towels, the sheets, the undershirts, and the Clorox. So far, none of them have come out faded, but they could at any time. And it would be okay, because we can actually put them on our bodies without cringing.
The same is true for us and our sins. We all sin. We judge someone else while pumping gas because of the way they look or because of the music coming out of their car. We tell a white lie to cover up the fact that we forgot or were running late. We gripe about a co-worker or teacher or coach. We do worse things too, but big or small, often or rare it’s sin. And it stinks!
We can try all kinds of crazy things to cover up our sins—to make them “smell better”. We can tell a great story around them to try to make them more acceptable. We can confess them to a friend to try and air them out. We can promise to work faster, try harder, do more, but the truth is none of our attempts can get the sin out of our lives. That’s right. None of them. Nothing will work to get that stench out of our souls. -- except Jesus.
In the same way Clorox literally pulls stench and stain out of clothing, Jesus pulls sin and all its nasty residue out of us; only He’s way better. He didn’t do it through a potent chemical, but through His blood. By dying on the cross, all of our stinky habits and smelly mistakes were bleached clean forever. Jesus washes us pure and clean any and every time we ask Him.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
“Nothing but the Blood” by Robert Lowry, 1876
Are there any sins stinking up your life? Give them a spin with Jesus, and I promise you’ll feel cleansed.
Laura L. Smith