Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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I want my kids to stay home and not return to school. I want the evenings to stay long, the air to stay warm, and to all sit around on the screened-in-porch laughing and talking with a soundtrack of crickets playing in the background.
What do you want right now? The starting position? The starring role? A different relationship status?
In Disney’s The Princess FrogTiana and Prince Naveen show up at Mama Odie’s with green skin, sticky, pink tongues, and covered in mucous. They want to be turned back into humans. But Mama Odie cautions the two “frogs” against striving for what they want, and instead digging deeper to discover what they need. Hmmm.Maybe I should do the same.
Summer forever sounds good and glorious in my mind, but God is way wiser than Mama Odie or me. He knows my kids need to go back to school. If they didn’t their soccer seasons would never commence, they wouldn’t have the conversations that will grow, challenge, and inspire them, play the music orchestrated for them, or audition for the roles they’re itching to act in. If my kids stayed home I would never complete the book I’m working on. If it stayed summer the leaves wouldn’t turn vibrant orange and deep scarlet, the apples wouldn’t ripen, crisp and tart, and we’d never get sweet, frothy Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. Tragic.
Can you picture a year without fall? What would I be forfeiting if I got what I want? We think we know what we want, but God knows better what we need.
How can I be so sure? Experience, for one thing. If all the relationships I’d wanted to work out had, I wouldn’t have married my incredible, loving husband. If we’d been able to purchase the house we wanted to buy when we moved back to Ohio, we wouldn’t have enjoyed our home for the last eighteen years. If my company had granted me the part-time position I wanted after having my first baby, I wouldn’t have pursued writing. And that’s just a sampling of the times God knew way better than I did what was best for me.
I also know God is wiser and more capable than me from reading scripture:
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of His power. – Job 37:5
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty. —Job 37:22-23
This glorious, great, dazzling, powerful, Almighty God of ours knows what He’s doing and has the power to make it happen. He loves us more than we can hope or fathom. Shouldn’t we trust Him to take care of our needs?
What do you want?
What do you need?
Because they’re not always the same thing. I see this as a parent. My kids want to stay up later—which means they’ll be exhausted the next day. They want giant bowls of ice cream, which are tasty in the moment. But if they only ate ice cream, they’d get cavities and face some health issues. Mama Odie suggests to the two frogs who want to return to human form, to consider where happiness comes from before they make a wish. How do we dig deeper?
By praying. It’s that simple. Talk to Jesus. Tell Him you’re worn out, excited, nervous, sad, tired of waiting, not sure what to do next. Tell Him your hopes and dreams—what you want. He already knows exactly what’s on your heart. But He also knows exactly what will fill you with joy, help you thrive, and saturate you with peace. Yes, we all want things. But why not turn those wants into conversations. Then take time to listen to what God whispers, walk away from the doors He shuts, peek through the windows He opens, act upon His nudges, and trust Him in the process.
Our God is glorious. And He loves you so much. He might not give you everything you “want.” But He will provide you with everything you need, plus more than you could ever imagine.
My youngest is into gardening. I promise he didn’t get it from me. But he’s currently growing tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and watermelon radishes. I helped him gather pots and shovels, then marveled at how patiently and meticulously he buried tiny seeds in the soil. I would have tossed them in, shoved some dirt on top, and wiped my hands of the whole process. But that’s not how he operates. Not in this arena. Maguire gathered fertile soil from our compost and sprinkled it on top of his seeds. He gently mists his plants daily and peeks on their progress. This is what we do with things we truly desire to grow.
Maguire can’t plant everything. We don’t have enough yard, or sunlight in our yard, or enough time for that. Some things would never grow here in Ohio, like orange trees or camellias, even if he gave those seeds all of his attention. It’s also not the best time of year to plant everything. Pansies should be planted in the spring. Marigolds in the fall. What are you trying to grow? Is it the right time? Is it even yours to cultivate?
I’m not really talking about plants. Are you trying to grow your bangs, your biceps, your bank account? Maybe you’re trying to grow your understanding of a new computer code, a different culture or subculture than yours, the city you got transferred to, an aspect of your personality, someone you care about. Do you talk about wishing you were better at something, more disciplined? Me? I’m trying to grow so many things! I want to learn and discover and improve. I want to speak French better, and understand the book of Ephesians more fully (#Biblenerd) and increase my upper body strength, to name a few. But there are only so many hours in each day. Some of these things I am growing. I see little sprouts or even stalks. Others not so much.
So which things do we nurture? And which things do we decide to plant in another season? Which things do we let someone else plant all together?
I think it takes a little self-exploration and a whole lot of time with Jesus. Make a list of your wants, needs, and curiosities. Circle or highlight the things you’d really like to cultivate. Write out next to them why they’re important to you. If you can’t verbalize why they’re important, they might not actually be. Take this list to Jesus. Flat out ask Him, “What do You want me to learn? What areas of my life do You want me to fertilize, nurture, water? What do You want me to let go of or delegate? How do You want me to spend my time?”
And when you hear from Him, when He nudges you or whispers (or sometimes shouts), when Scripture keeps pointing you to the same item on your list, when a conversation with a friend (who had no idea what you were praying about) mentions how good you’d be at this thing or invites you to a class on that other thing on your list what is your response? Are you watering those seeds or leaving them to fend for themselves?
Summer is a great time to start. It is the turning of the page, a new season. Even if your work schedule stays exactly the same, the days just feel different. And with this shift, it’s a wonderful time to say, “I’m going to grow this thing!” Then find a way to do it. Order the book, take the class, download the podcasts, schedule the sessions.
If you water the seeds Jesus gives you today with His love for you, your garden will grow. Probably not at all at once. And not every seed you plant will make it. But if you do the things Jesus calls you to do, nourish those things, devote time to them, leave the things He’s designed for others to do or maybe for you to work on in a different season, and dig your roots deep down into Him, God’s love will keep you strong and enable you to flourish in the soil where He’s planted you, growing things to sustain and delight, to build the kingdom. So, let’s get planting!
Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
My Uncle Ray (who wasn’t really an uncle, but actually my mom’s cousin) introduced me to fishing when I was about four. He was a farmer and had a pond on his property stocked with rainbow trout. Ray treated me like the Princess of Fishing, telling me what a great job I was doing, making a point of telling my mom when I was in close earshot, “Laura could make a fine fisherwoman.” At the time I had no idea how much of the work Ray did or what a “stocked” pond even meant, I just knew that he taught me how to put a worm on a hook, cast a line, and reel in a beautiful iridescent trout I could be proud of.
A handful of years later our family went to Florida for spring break and stayed with my actual uncle, Lowell. He took us out deep-sea fishing on his boat. I got so seasick I spent most of the day lying down in the cabin, but despite my nausea a gigantic barracuda bit on “my” line. Of course my uncle, my dad, and everyone else on board had to reel the big boy in, but still somehow, it felt like mine.
With those limited experiences I am hardly a fisherwoman, but when our family heads to the beach for summer vacation we always buy crab nets, string, and chicken backs for bait from either Walmart or the local hardware store and venture out to the pier posing as the crew of the Deadliest Catch for an afternoon. It’s something my husband did when he was a kid, and he’s carried on the tradition with our four kids and me.
Some years we catch scads of blue crabs. One year we didn’t catch a single one. Some spots or nets seem to be more productive than others as they dangle from the pier. Some years one of our kids will seem to catch the mother lode while others repeatedly pull up their nets empty except for the bait, exclaiming, “I caught chicken!” We’ve had expeditions where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, sweat pouring down our backs and dripping from our brows. This year it was sunny, then rained so hard it sent us under a shelter, only to turn sunny again a few minutes later.
Jesus hung out with fishermen and talked about fishing all of the time. I figure if He spent His time in boats with nets, there’s probably something to learn there. My takeaway from trying to figure out how to catch fish, or crab, is that it mirrors my journey in life.
First, no matter where I’m headed, I need someone to help me—a guide who’s gone before. I would have never even known where to fish, let alone what to bring, or how to use the rods, nets, hooks, etc. if it weren’t for my Uncle Ray, Uncle Lowell, and my husband leading me to the fishing spots and coaching me on how to hold, cast, and reel. In my life, I need Jesus. I can’t start an adventure, a new endeavor, assignment, job, relationship, or experiment without Him. Jesus knows the best places for us to go, and how we should get there. He knows when we need stocked ponds, and when we’re ready for deep waters. He equips us with the tools we’ll need to face whatever lays ahead and teaches us how to use them. He gently explains the best course of action along the way, and cheers for us when we get the catch.
Second, I need to be patient. Sometimes the things I’m after, the goals I set, the roads I set out on seem to take forever to obtain, achieve, or traverse. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, just maybe, on some things I want I’ll never get, because I’m supposed to be doing something else with someone else somewhere else. Being patient could mean standing for an hour or day or month or year without so much as a nibble on my line. It could mean sending out another application or submission, running one more lap, biting my tongue one more time, praying another prayer, going to one more audition, inviting her again, rehearsing one more time. But mainly it means trusting Jesus, that He’s in control, that He knows what’s best, that He’ll move things forward, or sideways if necessary, (and it will be like a snap of the fingers for Him) when it’s time, when we’re ready, when it makes sense for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. Sometimes the waiting, the trying again, builds the character we need to be able to take the next step or the next.
Third, I never know how things are going to go down. Some days everything goes swimmingly (sorry, couldn’t resist). Some days I’ll question why I’m out there, standing in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Some days I’ll feel queasy and others my nets will fill effortlessly. Some days I’ll catch exactly what I’m looking for, and others my nets will pull up the most random, brilliant treasures—like when my youngest pulled up a horseshoe crab too heavy for him to lift or when I caught a hermit crab, curled up inside his shell. But every day, Jesus is up to great things, kingdom building things. He always has something to teach us. When things are rough and challenging, it reminds us to be dependent on Him and His power and His grace. That we’re not going to get through unless we lean on Him, take shelter in Him, slather Him on like sunscreen to save us from being burned. When things come easily, we’re reminded of how great our God is, that He can move mountains, or fill nets, despite the circumstances. There are people He’ll have us meet walking down the boardwalk of life that need a smile or a hug, or maybe they’ll explain something in a way we never heard before, or they’ll become our new best friend. There are times when we’ll have zero idea what Jesus is up to, but we’ll sense it’s cool, amazing— like the day this week when I hadn’t caught a crab, but I pulled up a brilliantly striped zebra fish, flapping in my net.
I don’t know what your life adventure looks like. But I do know if you let Jesus guide you, if you’re patient with His perfect timing, and if you can let go of how you think things should go, then you’ll be in for an incredible adventure.
After a night of catching no fish at all, Jesus told his disciples:
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it there, and they were unable to haul it in because of the great number of fish. —John 21:6
Do you know what I’d really like?
For school to be out.
For summer to be here.
To be on the beach. With my family. On a warm, breezy day. With an iced coffee. And perhaps a chocolate croissant.
You know where I am? Ohio. Where spring is having an identity crisis. Where it’s too chilly to consume any ice, especially in my morning dark roast. Where my kids are at practice. And one is at college. And we’re all trying to grind it out until summer magically appears on our calendars. I think of all the things that need to get done between now and the end of the school year—forms, assemblies, applications, schedules, field trips, celebrations, checks, envelopes, emails, and definitely a slew of soccer games.
My mind fusses over these things, and guess what God shows me—the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, which mainly revolves around a giant construction project, words I usually gloss over. But God wants me to hear it. Maybe He wants you to hear too. There’s a connection. Hang with me Fixer Upper fans. King Solomon built the most stunning temple ever—cedar and gold totally out trump shiplap. But the Babylonians destroyed the temple. Years later a guy named Nehemiah was working for the King of Babylon and asked if he could take some guys he knew and rebuild his hometown—a kind of precursor to Chip Gaines. The king agreed, so Nehemiah road tripped with some friends back to Jerusalem. There was so much work to do—the city wall, the temple, Jerusalem was a mess. They just wanted it to be finished—to snap their fingers and have everything be in place for the big reveal. But that clearly wasn’t happening. Where to start?
I feel this way, too! There’s so much to do. Everything’s a mess. I just want it all to be in place. You? Where do we start?
Nehemiah came up with a plan—you do this, you do that. And the priests? Each one was instructed to repair the section immediately across from his own house. Neh 3:28. This tampered down bickering over who would do what. It also made the construction more efficient, because you just woke up and got to work. Zero commute. This seemingly overwhelming project was completed by hand in only 52 days.
So, if Nehemiah came up with a great plan on how to delegate work, I’m pretty sure God has an even clearer understanding of what needs to get done and who should do it. Because I’m slightly dense at times, God puts the work He needs me to do right in front of me. Meaning God has put amazing, exciting, interesting things on my path today. Right before my very eyes. Yours, too.
God says, “There is so much kingdom work to do—an article to learn from, trees heavy with blossoms to marvel at, family members hastily shuffling to activities to look in the eye and tell them they are loved, neighbors to grab garbage cans or mail for, kids in a carpool or coworkers that we can truly listen to, reminding them that they matter, sandals to pull out of hibernation, cupcakes to bake and sweet frosting to lick off the spoon, an envelope for the office to draw a smiley face on, because who knows—it might make someone smile. Some days it feels like a lot.” God reassures, “But don’t worry. I have a plan. I know exactly what everyone needs to do. Let’s get going. I’ll tell you where to start.”
As I glance at what’s in front of me I see this blog I get to write, because God has blessed me with a space to speak my mind, free, and unfettered from restrictions, guidelines, or editorial direction. No one else is going to write it. God reminds me. I put these experiences, thoughts, and ideas on your specific heart. So I write what’s right in front of me.
I have an upcoming date with my husband at a delicious Italian restaurant guaranteed to have simmering garlic and fresh-baked bread. I can’t wait to let the flavors dance on my tongue, to get dressed up and go out with my lifetime boyfriend. Have fun! God insists. You always wanted a guy who truly loves you. Guess what? He’s right in front of you. Don’t be afraid to wear the red lipstick. Flirt even.
I’m involved in a wonderful Bible study with an awesome group of ladies. Each week we dive into God’s word, figure out all the ways we need more Jesus, remind each other how loved we are, and share tears, laughter, and mouth-watering muffins. We take a hiatus in the summer. I will miss them and their support. Savor it now, while it’s in front of you. God urges.
I get to cheer on my kids outdoors in the sunshine. They have solid coaches who care about their character and development. The spring soccer season is intensely condensed, but over in a flash. Why not embrace the smell of fresh-mown grass and sweet and salty Kettlecorn popping in giant vats, the energy of kids sprinting and passing balls, the excitement of the crowd. God passes me a folding chair and my water bottle.
The things God has put in front of you are probably completely different--a class to teach, an exam to pass, a trip to pack for, a marathon to run. Do those things. Do them. well. Life is good, no grand, exactly how it is, today, if we acknowledge it. There is work to do. Wonderful work. Plenty. Right in front of me. Right in front of you. Right where God put it. Right where God put us. Why would we desire or crave or covet anything else?
I don’t need to wish away the school year, or pine for summer. I don’t have to worry about when or if I’ll get the next writing project. I don’t have to hope for a cleaning fairy to sweep through my house, or question how long until it hits eighty degrees. God calls us to embrace exactly what’s in front of us today. Because guess who put it there? And guess who equipped us to handle it?
What is in front of you?
Who are the people in your dorm, apartment, home, class, workshop? What can you learn from them? What are the questions you want to ask? Events you want to attend? Take one step forward, to what’s right in front of you, and get going. You’ll be amazed how God will use you, and how gratifying it will be. That’s truly what the big reveal is. Not how beautiful the finished project is, but how stunning the work in progress can be.
..if you’d like more reminders about how much God loves you throughout the week, follow me on:
I positively love the beautiful little college town we live in. But this summer it has been attacked by the construction army. I cannot turn right out of or park in my neighborhood. One of the three main roads going through our small town has been closed all summer, and the route leading south out of town to where all of our soccer practices take place has been limited to one lane since June.
The crews are frantically trying to finish up. The college students and their parents will arrive in two weeks, and unless roads are open and running they won’t know which way to go.
For me, it’s been slightly inconvenient, but not a huge deal. I’ve had to plan my trips. How to get from here to there? is the question I keep asking myself. And since I’ve lived in Oxford for sixteen years I do know where to go. I know I can go a mile north out of my way, cruise parallel to the road I want to take, head back south a mile and end up on my normal route. I know that even though it’s near impossible to get to one of the houses we carpool with for soccer, there is a parking lot both families can get to as a meeting point. I know this, not because I’m a good driver. I’m not. Not because I have a good sense of direction. I might have the worst. I know this, because I’ve spent enough time here to know my town.
My life is undergoing a little bit of construction too.
How about yours?
My oldest daughter is going off to college. My oldest son is learning to drive. Both of which create all kinds of letting go, releasing, and reacclimating. There’s also some roadwork within our extended family—health issues, relationship problems. We all go through changes, some of them more painful than others. My issues are minor—a lane closure, no edge lines. I’m sure many of you have the same or much worse—barricaded sections of your life, some roads permanently altered, some bridges torn down. I’m sorry times are difficult. Please know I’m praying for you.
So how do we get around when our normal routes are shut down? When we have to change the way we do things or get places? When the roads of life are harder or impossible to travel? Not by ourselves. Because frankly, I’m not wise enough to have all the answers, strong enough to walk through all the hard stuff, or patient enough to get from A to B by myself. But with Jesus, I can do all that. And so can you.
By knowing Jesus so well that even when we have no idea where to turn, we can trust Him to show us which way to go. By knowing how much He loves us and cares for us and walks with us that we know we’re never alone. By knowing how strong and capable He is, how He can literally move mountains or anything else in our life that needs moved. By knowing Jesus is for us, fighting for us, that He wants us to come out safe and sound.
The more I read the Bible, the better I understand what Jesus is capable of, how immense He is, and how much grace He extends. The more time I spend talking with Him, the more I feel the power of His love, the guidance of His hand, the reassurance of His presence. And then all of a sudden, maneuvering through life construction is more manageable.
The construction in Oxford will be winding down soon. Over the next two weeks cones, barricades, and strong workers in orange vests will disappear. The locals will sigh in relief. The students and their families will marvel at the pretty brick streets, the freshly painted lines, and the lovely planters lining the roads. And for a while, driving around here will feel simple. But next summer there will be new projects to make sure our town remains picturesque. I’ll be ready. Because by then, I’ll have had yet another year to learn my way around this place.
And in my life and yours, some things will work themselves out, others will go away. But some will flare up and expand. There will be new bumps and trials we’ll go through and experience. And the better we know Jesus, the better we’ll be able to navigate through all of them.
Laura L. Smith