One of the highlights of living in a small college town is the Fourth of July.
There’s a penny carnival, where most of the booth operators don’t even collect the copper coins clutched in the children’s hands to play bean bag toss, get their face painted or bounce in bare feet in the inflatable jumpy house. Dum Dums and Tootsie Rolls clatter on the brick-paved street as library workers, firefighters and the mayor toss candy to the kids lining the curbs.
On scorching July evenings as our entire town gathers at the park, we eat icy-cold snow cones with generous pumps of sweet, sticky flavored cherry or blue raspberry syrup, and we’re certain to bump into everyone from former teachers to co-workers to friends our kids played with when they were toddlers. We’ve waved sparklers with colleagues from Canada and played pick-up soccer games with my husband’s international students from North Africa.
But of course the coup de grace, the main stage event is the fireworks.
“That one looks like a jellyfish!”
“Oooh, I like that one!”
“The kind that shoots up like a rocket then has brightly colored fizzles is my favorite.”
Pop pop pop!
“No the green ones that change color to pink, those are my favorite. Oh, I can’t decide. They’re all my favorite.”
And we are. In awe. Starry-eyed and goosebumpy, like kids on Christmas morning, of the colorful explosions glimmering against the dark, night sky.
These sparks of light and celebration signify the freedom of our country, but they signify something more—possibility, hope, beauty.
Fireworks broken down are man made packets of gunpowder and fire with metal salts, such as sodium nitrate of calcium chloride, mixed in to emit different colors. So how much more can we be in awe of God, the creator of vibrant sunsets, roaring waterfalls, rainbow dotted fields of wildflowers, who does His work, not in a lab but with His imagination and magnificence? God makes our hearts beat, our spines tingle, our eyes tear up with emotion. Have you taken time today to sit still and be in awe of Him?
I love the fireworks. I gaze completely content, undistracted, feeling fizzy inside when I watch them each year, like time has stopped and the world is filled with wonder, and I can do anything. Of course I am even more amazed by the way God loves me, blesses me and provides for me, and I am in awe of Him. Completely. Every day. But I don’t stop my life, pull up a chair, give Him my undivided attention and shout out, “Wow!” nearly often enough. Do you?
My favorite part about baking chocolate chip cookies isn’t sliding the finished product off the cookie sheet with a spatula. It isn’t even eating a warm cookie from the oven, although that is grand. No, my favorite part about making my favorite food is the process.
I love sniffing the vanilla from the jar, and letting the sweet, relaxing scent fill my nose. I love the magic of creaming butter and sugar and having the two become one substance. I love eating a handful of chocolate chips as I go. I’m amazed that things that taste as bitter as baking soda or as bland as flour can combine together to make delicious dough. And yes, for the record, I do like eating the dough more than the baked cookies.
So why oh why do I worry about how many copies one of my books has sold during a promotion? Why do I care how many goals one of my children scores in their soccer game? Why do I add up in my head how many cents I saved with my coupons at the grocery? Why does it matter how many people hearted my post on Instagram?
Why do I get caught up in end results?
I laugh as I write this, because I know why. I love to write, and hope my books sell enough that publishers will want to publish my future manuscripts. I love my children and long for them to feel fulfilled. I want to be a good steward of the family budget. I like to be liked. Don’t we all?
I don’t know what end results big or small loom over your head today, but I do know God has them already planned and already taken care of.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 26:33 ESV
And knowing that He’s got me covered, that He’s got us covered should give us all a bit of breathing room. A chance to step away from the end results and enjoy the process. For me, that means delighting in constructing a conversation between two of my characters. How will they react to one another? Will one of them look away? What will go on inside of their heads? It means cheering from the sidelines for my kids and smiling when I put a box of their favorite cereal in the grocery cart. What does it mean for you? What end results are you hanging on to today, maybe even stressing about, perhaps being anxious about? Let them go.
Savor the process, the place God has put you today. Are you job searching? Think of the all the possibilities. Treat each interview as a chance to get to know someone interesting, to brighten their day, to learn something new. Is it your eighth snow day in a row? Play more games, watch more movies, maybe even bake some cookies and eat the dough. Because when else do you have time to do these things?
Yes, end results matter. But God already has them covered. So enjoy this day He has given you.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
What process do you plan on enjoying today?
Yesterday my husband and I took the day off.
It wasn’t a snow day.
It wasn’t a sick day.
It wasn’t some obscure bank holiday.
But we took it off anyway.
Because we need to slow down.
I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure you feel incredibly relaxed and rested and haven’t done anything in so long; you often tell people you are idle and your time is unoccupied. Right?
If you nodded your head then I haven’t chatted with you in a lonnnggg time. I can’t remember the last time anyone responded to me about all the free time they have. It’s all about busyness, achievement, enriching, accomplishing, isn’t it? Even snails these days are zipping around racecourses and going viral. Or so the kids’ movie, Turbo, depicts. That snail is fast!
And all of those things are good. Grand even. Until they become too important. Until we forget to take time for others, for ourselves, for God.
Even Jesus, Son of God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World, took time off. He would wake up early in the morning or take off late at night by himself, not to check scores, or statuses or headlines. Not to file one more report, or do one more set of sit-ups or tidy up one more room. But to go up the mountain, or out of the way and pray.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16 NIV
Jesus also took time to share meals with the disciples. We don’t have any scripture passages depicting Jesus eating lunch at His desk while working on His next sermon or scratching on pieces of parchment during meals and handing them to messengers to deliver in the middle of dinner with His disciples. But we have several passages where Jesus is dining with them, talking with them, listening to them, showing them love, and teaching them about the Father. In fact his last interaction with his disciples was a meal, the last supper. And His one of Jesus’ first interactions with his friends after His resurrection was breakfast.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12 NIV
So yesterday I dropped the kids off at school, grabbed a few groceries, and picked up supplies one of them needed for a project. Then I headed home. By 8:30 AM my husband and I were sitting in the family room, not at the table, not near one of our desks, not in the front seat of the car headed somewhere, but on the soft, cushy couches in our family room with the sunshine streaming in through the windows. We sat and talked for hours. About things we’ve been reading, and sermons we’ve listened to, and what God’s been teaching us. We talked about a trip we’d like to take and the state of our hearts and concerns on our minds and the blessing of our marriage. At some point we milled in and out of the kitchen, came back to the family room with our plates of sandwiches and fruit and watched a movie together. In the middle of the day. On a Tuesday. We even figured out how to work Netflix by ourselves, without any of the kids to help us. Score!
And then we went for a walk. Yes, it was twenty-two degrees outside. Yes, I was dressed in running clothes, because I’d planned to get in a strenuous workout. But, instead, we stretched our legs, inhaled crisp air, reflected on how bright azure the sky was, and exercised our souls.
And then it was time. Time to get the kids, and work on homework, and make dinner, and answer email, and run a load of laundry, but I did it more refreshed. More aware of how God is working on me. More grateful for the world I live in, my incredible husband, my amazing children. I know I can’t take every day off. And neither can my husband. But I know I need to take more of them.
It’s easy to let the demands of life fill my calendar and dominate my thoughts. It takes effort to slow down and unwind and intentionally set my phone somewhere I can’t reach it. But the effort is so rewarding. Because it allows God to restore my soul.
David got it right in the 23 Psalm (and my friend, Holly Starr, sings it so beautifully above)
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Let God lead you to still places, lie down, rest. Let Him restore your soul.
When was the last time you slowed down? Truly took a day off? Maybe it’s time to pull out the crammed calendar and schedule one.
Having lunch with a couple of friends the other day we got chatting about pumpkin carving. They could take it or leave it. Me? I can’t imagine October without it. The anticipation from my kids of what face they’ll make this year. The ripe scent when my knife makes its first deep cut into pumpkin flesh. The chatter of six voices sharing markers and spoons and toothpicks and comparing the insides, faces and progress of each other’s creations. The smooth, slimy feel of seeds as I pick them out of the sticky pulp. The way the lids fit perfectly back on their jagged jack-o-lantern jars. The salty, earthy flavor of seeds freshly roasted. And yes, someone always gets slimed.
I’m a holiday tradition girl. Traditions do something inside of me, tickling my senses, marking years and memories, solidifying who I am and who I’m with and the glorious blessing of being alive.
My other fall traditions include, but are not limited to; a family hayride, ordering foamy soaps, candles and hand sanitizers with scents like Pumpkin Cupcake and Crisp Fall Morning and placing them in our bathrooms, on our counters, tucking them in backpacks and pockets. Multiple visits to our local farmer’s market, Butterfields, for crisp apples and a run through the straw maze.
Filling and refilling the candy dish on the counter with candy corn. Baking and eating pumpkin bread and apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. Watching It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with our whole family piled together on the couch. Drinking Pumpkin Lattes on Saturday morning.
What are some of your fall traditions?
It’s Addicting, my latest novel, the third in the Status Updates series releases July 14! That’s only THREE days away! HOORAY! Claire, Kat, Palmer, Hannah, and I have been itching to tell you what coffee drinks their sipping in their sophomore year of college, and now, we can’t wait any longer.
Because I’m so excited about the release, I’m going to give away an autographed copy of It’s Complicated, an autographed copy of It’s Over and an autographed copy of the brand new,It’s Addicting.
This is how it’s going to work. We’re going to do a countdown. Today’s day THREE. So today, we’re counting down our favorite coffee shop addictions.
We say it all the time right? But the only thing I'm truly addicted to is Christ!
For the contest: All you have to do to enter is comment and tell me one of your addictions AND share the link on one of your social media sites. You can comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and share any of those ways as well. You can enter once each day of the countdown (limited to five total entries per person), and at the end of the five days, on release day, July 14, I’ll pick three winners – one for each title—via Randomizer.
Today is coffee house addiction day, so tell me what your favorite order is.
Me? I’m currently addicted to venti iced coffees with mocha and nonfat milk. So cool, sweet and refreshing on hot summer days with a kick of caffeine. A fabulous way to start my days. How about you? What's your coffee addiction?
My local library has a summer reading program. My kids' school is trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for most hours read in the summer, no lie. High schools have assigned reads ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Fault in Our Stars, sigh. And me, I have my usual stack of delectable books that I can not wait to dive into. In fact, I already have. My stack appears random to a passerby, but to those who really know me, each title makes sense at some level or another. I was at the beach last week, translation, "Let The Summer Reading Begin." I read Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life - loved it! And then totally changed it up with C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters - blew my mind, had a copy from the library, need to get my own copy, so I can underline it like crazy! Next in my pile are Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, Seeing Through Stones by Rajdeep Paulus and Pulitzer Prize winner, Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
If you're still adding to your stack, Playlist Fiction has an a-ma-zing deal for you this week! Five phenomenal young adult titles for only $5! Actually slightly less, they're only 99 cents each! What? It's true. So, fill up your Kindle or phone, or iPad, or whatever device you read on with these great titles from ground-breaking young adult authors Laura Anderson Kurk, Rajdeep Paulus, Jennifer Murgia and Stephanie Morrill. And, oh yeah! My book, It's Complicated is only 99 cents this week too!
How about you? Any suggestions for my summer reading pile? What's on your summer reading list?
Be still? I've got to be kidding. Right? You are winding down the school year and all of the projects and games and recitals and concerts and awards ceremonies that go with it. You have places to go and people to say and quotes to tweet and pictures to post. You have books to read and miles to run. I know, believe me. But listen for just a minute.
I just got back from a trip to the coast of California. Every year, my husband and I turn off our phones, go somewhere beautiful, and concentrate on our marriage and turn our focus towards God. It's amazing what a little silence will do for the soul. Pretty incredible how clearly I can hear God's voice when I turn off all of the noise of daily life. You don't have to go to California to hear Him, just someplace lovely, someplace quiet, someplace where you can find peace.
He has so much to say, that God of ours. Messages for me and for you. Reminders of how much He loves us, that He's always right by our side, that He will never leave us, will always cheer for us and has created the most perfect plans just for us. Can you hear Him?
Find somewhere peaceful. I know it's hard, but do it.
Turn off your phone.
What is God telling you today? You'll never know unless you take time to be still.
Where is your favorite place to listen to Him?
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?
With the end of summer and the start of fall, there seem to be an overwhelming number of picnics and cookouts. Celebrating everything from team victories, to pool closings, Labor Day and new school years. All of them have one thing in common. Food.
Food is something my family loves.
But we have issues.
You see, both of my sons are gluten free, one of my daughters and my youngest son both have nut allergies and my oldest daughter and I don’t eat red meat. Talk about high maintenance! We’re picky and hard to feed, for various reasons, but mainly, so we can all stay healthy and safe.
We recently attended a cookout that was lovely. Our entire family had fun playing corn hole and chatting with friends, but we came home HUNGRY. How could that be? Because of our dietary needs, there wasn’t much for any of us to eat that was “safe”. When we got home, and I scoured the fridge for something to serve, I couldn’t help laughing and thinking this is exactly how it is living life in this world as a Christian.
We go about enjoying this life, attending school, work, sporting events, concerts, and yes, even cookouts, with everybody else. But we’re pickier, and sometimes can’t take part in what everyone else is consuming. I mean we could, but we’d end up not feeling well, off balanced, nauseous, or out of sorts. The cafeteria line of life is full of tempting choices; music and movies, magazines and word choice, what we say about others, how we treat others, how we treat and talk about ourselves. Some of these dishes are tasty – like gossip, but leave a bad aftertaste. Some of them, like listening to Toby Mac (instead of Drake) are like dark chocolate – hard to believe it’s good for you, so delish. And others are more like carrots, not the most popular choice, but crunchy and good for the way we see things. What if we all filled our plates with these choices everyday?
Don’t get me wrong. Christians don’t need to fast through life, but we do need to be picky as we go through the buffet line, for our own safety.
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 1 Peter 1:13-16 MSG
Sometimes this is awkward. Sometimes it’s downright difficult. It's usually uncomfortable. “How would you like your burger cooked?” is a difficult question to answer if you’re vegetarian. You don’t want to offend the host. Yet, you know the hamburger goes against your values.
How about this one…
“You have got to try the brownies, they are the best thing ever!”
You want the brownie. It’s gooey and chocolatey. You’re sick of having to pass up on all the “good stuff” because you’re gluten free, and even sicker of having to tell everyone you’re gluten free. But you know if you eat it you’ll have stomach cramps for days.
When we’re at the picnic of life, what should we do when someone says, “You have got to see Hangover 7, here I burned a copy for you.”? How do we react when a friend suggests to eat at the back table in the dining hall, so Katelyn, the clingy girl can’t find you?
As Christians we are encouraged to take the things that are good for us, and leave the things that aren’t in their serving dishes and crock pots. If that means leaving the party a little hungry, that’s okay. We can always go home and find something that satisfies our cravings. Christ will fill us up with love, strength and courage--all of the things that make us truly fulfilled.
What’s your favorite cookout food?
Celebrate EVERYLOVE heart on Starbucks coupon
I got this coupon from Starbucks last week and I keep carrying it around with me. Not because I want a Mocha, well actually I do, but because I love the idea of celebrating EVERYLOVE.
I know on Valentine’s Day we lean towards the romantic kind of love. But love is such a loaded word there are actually five distinct words for “love” in Greek.
I love God, my husband, my children, writing, in that order. But I love so many things. My list could ramble on like L.L. Cool J. introducing the Grammys. I love baking chocolate chip cookies and speaking French. I love listening to acoustic guitar and running in the rain. I love sipping dark roast coffee, wearing stacks of clanking silver bracelets and wiggling my toes on a sandy beach. And of course, I love you. I love you because the words of a writer are meaningless without someone to read them. So as is my tradition dear readers, I give you my annual Valentine’s gift – a recipe for something sweet and lovely that will hopefully make you smile.
CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE SQUARES
1 (20 oz.) package Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough (for a gluten free version, prepare one package Betty Croker GF chocolate chip cookie mix according to directions, but do not put on pan or bake - yet)
3 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese
½ cup heavy cream
1-cup Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips (save the rest of the bag for snacking)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 10x15” pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam)
3. Press cookie dough into pan and spread to cover
4. Bake 8 minutes
5. While baking cookie dough, mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs and cream in a bowl for about 5 minutes on medium speed with electric mixer.
6. When cookie crust is baked, spread with cream cheese mixture and bake 25 minutes longer.
7. Cool to room temperature.
8. Melt chocolate chips in microwave and drizzle with fork across top of dessert.
9. Refrigerate for at least four hours to set.
10. Share, eat, serve, and smile.
What’s something you love?
Laura L. Smith