“Is everyone okay?” My mom called down the hallway.
A loud crash, as if a bunk bed had caved into itself and tumbled to the floor, rang throughout my mom’s mountain house. Mom rushed toward the noise. I was a half step behind.
A serviceman had been walking the eaves of the attic space and stepped off a beam, literally putting his foot through the drywall of the upper story’s floor, which was also the laundry room’s ceiling. When you’re in an attic the beams are the only sturdy flooring. He was doing his job. Going about his work. But one step off the path he was supposed to be on, and, well, his foot came through the ceiling.
An hour or so later we went down the mountain to the resort where the bridge that has connected the tennis and basketball courts with the beach for as long as I can remember was wiped out. Caution tape haphazardly strung on the remaining wooden posts warned us not to step where there is no longer any footing. A flood came through earlier this spring and strong torrents of rushing water claimed the bridge as its own.
Dang. We have to be careful where we walk.
And I sense this in my current season. I hear God calling me to new things, great things, things I had better watch my step as I move forward, so that I stay on the sturdy beams He’s set before me to walk on, so that I don’t stumble or fall on this journey by trying to do things my own way—off roading from His route. I sense this as one of my sons considers where he’ll go to college. I know God has a plan for him with a strong, secure pathway. I want him to choose that path, not one that is wobbly or unstable.
Gosh, just in the last few days in my life, a friend got fired after giving years of loyal service to his organization, another friend’s mom got a horrible health diagnosis, and another family has been turned inside out by something completely unexpected. These are just people I know. How do we stand strong when the torrents of life blow around us?
How do we avoid putting our feet through the floor or having the bridge go out beneath us? How do we walk strong and fast and secure both in the glorious new opportunities of life and when the storms hit?
As I stand and stare at the beautiful Smoky mountains, ridge after ridge of magnificent landforms, I can’t help but feel Jesus reminding me of the words He spoke to a crowd gathered around Him on a mountain one day.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” –Matthew 7:24-27
Some days everything looks totally fine, wonderful even, but if we try to venture where we aren’t intended to go we could fall into danger. Some days rain drizzles and soaks our lives. Streams rise. Winds blow and beat against us.
But Jesus is steady and secure. No misstep can throw Him off course. No unexpected event can knock Him down. No natural disaster or flood of emotions or insults or bills can wear Him down. He is solid impermeable, unshakable rock. Yes, please, I want to build my foundation on Him.
I don’t need a hammer and nails. Thanks goodness! Picture hanging is about as handy as I get. All I have to do is hang out with Him. Talk to Jesus and share my praises and problems. Listen to His sweet, tender voice. Let the sun soak my skin and the breeze brush across my face and be still in Christ’s love allowing Him to shape my life.
What’s going on in your life today? Are you in a peaceful place? A time of excitement and growth? Or are you just holding on for dear life? In any and all of these circumstances you need a place to stand. Stand on Jesus. He loves you so deeply. His strong arms will hold you tight when you’re wobbly, hold your burden when your hands feel too full, and cheer for you when you’re in your groove. No matter what kind of life-weather comes your way, Jesus is unshakable. And He’s on your side. Why not build your life in Him?
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
Last week I went to the annual Christian Book Association convention in Nashville. The event was at the Opryland Hotel. Which is so crazy cool. It’s like Disneyland in a hotel. Well, without the rides and characters. But there are waterfalls – in the hotel. And a whole section called, “The Delta,” because it looks like New Orleans, complete with lampposts and wrought iron balconies. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and two separate Starbucks (there might be more, but I saw two) within the hotel. It really is insane. And extremely easy to get lost in. Especially if you’re directionally challenged, like myself.
One of the huge benefits of traveling to Nashville for me is visiting with my sweetheart friend, Amy. I walked her to the place in the convention center (which is part of the hotel) where her book signing was taking place. Side note—oh my, check out her newest book, Night Night Sleepytown, so adorable! Then I turned around to head toward the entrance of the hotel, so I could grab an Uber to a meeting I had across town. Except where the heck did they hide the entrance? I walked down one set of blue-carpeted stairs, turned down a hallway with white doors, but didn’t have any sense of certainty to where I was going. I asked a group of women wearing name badges and none of them knew where the entrance was either. I tried another hall and spotted the back of a worker in uniform walking off into the distance.
“Excuse me,” I called. Please let him have heard me.
He turned. “Are you lost?” He asked in a beautiful, lolling accent.
“To be honest, completely lost.” I answered. “Do you know where the Cascade Lobby is?”
“Yes,” he smiled and started walking. I followed. “My first two weeks here, I couldn’t find anything,” he confessed.
“But now, you’re a pro?” I asked.
He laughed and kept walking. Soon we arrived at a crossroads where I assumed he would point me toward the exit. I paused.
“You know where you’re going?” He asked.
“No.” I answered. Because not one thing looked familiar. “But I don’t want to take you away from whatever you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you so much,” I sputtered.
We continued for ten minutes. Yes, it took that long to get to the lobby, so we had time to chat. I learned he was from the Dominican Republic. He thinks Nashville is “cool”, but misses home. He plans to go back and finish University, then return to Nashville. One thing my new friend said hit so hard. He was saying something about a training session he had that was near, “Where I found you.” As if he had found me. Even though I was the one who was lost, desperately searching for a way out. Even though I was the one who was so excited when I saw him, when I found him. Or so I thought. But of course what my new friend said was true, he found me and put me back on course. I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness and patience. Man, I’m sure he had a lot of work to keep that hotel running, but he acted as if he had nothing else to do, but walk me along.
Guys, this is what Jesus does!
I’m walking around confused, headed the wrong way, worried about this, stressed about that, putting too much importance on this thing, and not paying enough attention to that thing. I’m looking for answers, but don’t know where to start. I head up those stairs, and down that hallway. And ask the wrong people for advice. Then Jesus finds me. And He patiently, gently, takes all the time in the world to escort me back to where I need to go, as if He has nothing else to do, even though He’s fairly busy caring for the world.
Jesus gave them another parable:
“There once was a woman who had ten valuable silver coins. When she lost one of them, she swept her entire house, diligently searching every corner of her house for that one lost coin. When she finally found it, she gathered all her friends and neighbors for a celebration, telling them, ‘Come and celebrate with me! I had lost my precious silver coin, but now I’ve found it.’ Luke 15:8-10
I ordered my Uber, walked outside, and almost immediately my phone rang. My Uber driver was here, “Just to the left,” he said. I walked left. Two colorful taxis, one with turquoise and yellow markings, and another—a checkered cab, except it was bright green instead of yellow and looked like it might take you to the Emerald City were parked along the curb. I saw two pick-up trucks and a hotel shuttle. I did not see the Honda Sienna that Uber said was my ride. As I looked around confused my driver gently spoke to me, “I see you. No, not there,” he said. “Keep walking left.” I took a few more steps away from the entrance, not seeing any cars at all, but he kept coaxing me. “You’re closer. I see you.” Just as I was about to say, “I don’t’ see you.” I did see him. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed all in white with a big smile on his face, waving.
What? How did he know I was the “Laura” who called for a ride? There were multiple women milling around outside the entrance. I’d never had an Uber driver get out of his car to find me before. Why did he do that? Above and beyond. But once again, so soon after the last time, I was the one who was lost, and once again I’d been found.
In our lives we are the ones who need to be repeatedly found by Jesus. Because we keep getting lost. We get lost in the idea that we need to achieve a certain pace, or do things like our moms did, or be in charge of that person’s happiness, when what we’re really supposed to be doing is loving Jesus, and letting Him love us back and guide our steps. Because when we do—all the other stuff falls into place. I don’t mean it gets wrapped up in a bow. I mean it lands in its proper position, where God can use it best. And every time we go off the tracks, Jesus comes and finds us. Sometimes we’ll walk right past Him. Because we’re not looking for Him. Or because we’re looking the wrong way. Or thinking He’ll show up with a different solution. But He is there. And when we listen and keep walking left, even though it feels like we’re going rogue, there He is, waving, speaking in a kind voice, getting us to where we need to be—to get out, to move forward, to head to our next destination.
Wherever you feel lost in this season of life—at a loss for words, a loss of funds, a loss of direction, a loss of hope—Jesus is looking for you. And when you allow Him to find you, He’ll smile and wave and say, “I see you. I found you.” Who knows? He might even say it in an awesome island
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
Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
My husband and I recently snuck away to Monterosso, a small Italian fishing village. In my eyes, it is the most beautiful place on earth. Monterosso is an adorable water-colored village nestled along the coast, protected by jagged cliffs and connected by trains and trails to four other neighboring towns that together comprise the Cinque Terre (five lands).
A train ride from one town to another lasts approximately three minutes. But if you travel by foot, the hikes take between two to three hours. The trails climb up from the centers of the towns through vineyards and past waterfalls to high peaks. They level out offering countless views of the aqua blue Ligurian Sea, then wind back down into the next adorable village. Each trail is unique—one is predominantly stairs, another slanty and muddy, some narrow, some broad, but they all promise to work your leg muscles, provide you with spectacular vistas, and guide you along the way via red and white trail markers.
Okay, I’m laughing as I type. Because the trail markers, well, they’re not like the street signs this Ohio girl is accustomed to. They are basically hand painted stripes that could show up on a rock, a tree, a signpost, or any seemingly random interval the trailblazer decided to paint them. So let’s just say as my husband and I hiked our way through the Cinque Terre, we took more than a few wrong turns at Albuquerque.
But the markers were always there, albeit sometimes hidden. And when we felt extremely uncertain and unsure, we could hone in, focus, and eventually find another set of red and white stripes—on a fence, on a wall—reminding us where to go, to keep us headed in the right direction.
Step after step, bend after bend, the twists of the trails reminded me of the journeys of life. The times I’m walking along, enjoying the sunshine, when all of a sudden I have to watch my step, hold on to the rail, because things went wonky, and if I’m not careful I could slip or fall or twist myself into a dangerous place—somewhere I shouldn’t be. The gratefulness when I regain my footing, when I successfully maneuver through a tight spot, and even when after stumbling, I’m able to stand back up, brush myself off, assess the scrapes and scratches, and say, “I’m okay.” The times I’m exhausted, out of breath, but I keep going, one step after another, and then out of the blue I’m rewarded for obediently moving forward by one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen—vibrant indigo Morning Glories blooming inexplicably out of rocks, rows of vines intricately twisted lush with grapes, whispery silver leaves on a shady olive tree, the sea as far as my eyes can focus. There’s also the awe of viewing something I’ve never seen before just when I least expect it.
And of course, like life, there are all of the splits in the trail—the should I go up or down, turn left or right places. I have so many friends facing forks in their roads—should they move? Stay put? Change jobs? Who should they room with? If they’re supposed to go, where should they go? What classes should they take? What should they give up in order to have time for the thing they’ve been called to? How will they pay for it?
How about you? Any questions on your heart—decisions you’re trying to make? Turns in your life journey?
On our Italian hikes the signs seemed irregular to me, not where I would have put them, not how I would have marked things, but they were there. And when we are not sure what our next steps in life should be, when we can’t “see the signs” they are also there. We just have to focus, intentionally hone in, because we all have someone to help us along the way. Jesus says, “I am the way.” Which sure is reassuring when we’re lost, confused, misguided, or the backs of our legs are cramping.
I know Jesus is the way. I am confident He will lead my steps and show me where to go. Only sometimes when I’m at the fork in the road, looking left and right I don’t hear Him, can’t tell which way He wants me to go. Usually, because I’m looking in the wrong places in the wrong ways and muffling His voice with the noise of the world. So I get frazzled and flustered and frustrated. My heart beats too fast, and I worry that I’m lost. Should I be in the middle of someone’s lemon grove (yes that happened)? It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s one thing on a vacation hike, but in real life when we feel lost and confused what are we supposed to do? Take a deep breath, remind ourselves that He is with us, that He will never forsake us (similar to reminding myself someone has marked this trail. I have seen the markers. There will be more). And take a few steps forward.
For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
And if after five minutes of hiking, or five months of praying we still feel unsettled, well then, it’s usually time to get a sip of water, maybe nibble on a granola bar from our backpacks, and circle back, to the last time we turned, to where the path split, when we last made a choice. When I’m in the wrong place and actually take time to retrace my steps, it usually becomes quite clear where I went wrong.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. —Hebrews 13:5
And sure enough when I go back to where I veered, there is one of those crazy sets of stripes. Red and white. Red, like Christ’s blood that He shed to save us from all of our mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns. And white like how pure and clean we are now, because of His love. With signs like that, we can be assured we’re on the right track. We just need to seek His direction, go where He leads us, then take in the views.
For me in hiking (and in life), the thrill is not in reaching the destination at the end of the journey—no the joy is in the discovery, in the learning, in the overcoming the challenges, in the surprises I could have never imagined, but that God delights me with along the way.
Where are you headed today? Follow the markers God has put out for you and delight in the journey.
“That is not pollution on top of the water!” Our boat driver emphatically pointed.
Not that we had claimed it was pollution. Not that we had even really noticed. My husband and I were too captivated by the stunning views of the Italian coastline—cliffs colliding with aqua blue water. But as we looked where Marco pointed, there was a film of sorts on top of the azure surface. And yes, some people might have considered this residue pollution—something ugly and toxic.
Before we could ask, our captain continued to defend his homeland in flawless English, beautifully accentuated by his Italian accent, “They are jellyfish. They come to the surface once a year to mate.”
“Do they sting?” I asked instinctively, because:
1. I’ve been stung by a jelly before and ouch
2. I was amazed by the thousands of tiny amoeba-shaped fish he was pointing to, floating on the surface that together formed what looked like a floating cloud.
3. I’m not that strong at math, but all those jellyfish x stinging potential = dangerous in my book.
“No,” he laughed, as if my question was ludicrous. Clearly nothing in the Ligurian Sea was dangerous. First pollution. Now stings. These poor jellies were getting a bad rap.
“See?” Our captain scooped his hand into the water and pulled out a gorgeous translucent blue sea creature. “See his fin, like this?” He pointed. “It comes up only during mating season, so the fish can float to the surface and sail with the wind. When mating is over the sail disappears, and he floats back down to the bottom of the sea to live.” He lowered the little guy back into the water to sail with his friends.
Its scientific name is Velella velella, but most people call them “by the wind sailors.” How cool that they come equipped with their very own sails!
These jellyfish reminded me that I’m often quick to judge—others, myself. I mistake something harmless as pollution, worry about a nonexistent sting, yet there is so much potential and beauty woven into all of our DNA. I wonder if I'm capable--equipped for the challenges I sometimes face. But if God can give a jellyfish a sail just so she/he can mate, if He designs these tiny boneless creatures that exquisitely, think how much more thought He put into us, how much more intentionally He placed every feature we have right where it is, in the exact size and shape that it is, for a very specific purpose.
Wolves run in packs and cattle live in herds. But did you know a swarm of jellyfish is called a bloom? I love that. This congregation of transparent swimmers, so beautiful, so well equipped by their Creator, when they come together they bloom.
The same God who chiseled cliffs, who added aqua to his palette and dipped it in the ocean, the same God who invented cobalt swimmers complete with sails, beautifully created each of us. Which means we must be pretty phenomenal. And we must have whatever it is we need to charge ahead with His plans for us. With that knowledge, we can sail boldly and confidently wherever God sends us today ready and waiting to bloom.
I’ve been going to the North Carolina Mountains since I was in eighth grade. My mom says she built the house there, because she fell in love with the scenery. Which I get, because the view from that little lake community nestled in the midst of the Blue Ridge peaks is breathtaking. But for me there’s another pull—in our crazy, whirlwind, hectic, busy, overscheduled lives I’m drawn to the simplicity of the mountain house as if by a magnetic force.
No one has practice in the mountains. Or rehearsal. Or meetings. Or homework. The majority of the time our phones read “No Service.” In the mountains I don’t wear jewelry or perfume or eyeliner. Everything I need for the week fits into a small duffle bag. Mostly I wear my hair in a braid.
We play outside all day—going on mountain runs, playing Putt Putt and scrambling after tiny lizards, watching their colors change as they land on a leaf or skitter onto mulch. The kids shoot hoops and play soccer tennis. My mom and I talk for hours. When we head inside it’s for home cooked meals, Scrabble and movies (this is a no streaming zone). Three of us finished the books we brought with us and dove into new ones.
I’m not saying I could do this all of the time. I wouldn’t even want to. For one thing I’d miss Starbucks, the Internet, and lipstick too much. My kids would go through withdrawal from their soccer teams and bins of Legos. But for a week here and there it’s so lovely to unplug and slow down. To not be a slave to email or texts or social media, because it’s too hard to even check them with a wayward signal. To never look at the clock, because there’s nowhere to be. To eat when we’re hungry and sleep until I wake. And when I do wake it’s to the sound of birds warming up their vocal chords in song and church bells echoing through the valley instead of the ringtone du jour I’ve set for my alarm. I walk out onto the deck, breathe in the mountain air, and open up my Bible to just talk to God until someone else rises or the urge to make a pot of coffee in the Mr. Coffee overtakes me. For me, spring break with my mom and kids is a refreshing reset from the scampering of day to day.
But I do love day to day. I love the things I do, the places I go, the things I’m responsible for. It’s just that sometimes, the amount of them, the intensity of them, the urgency of them, the fullness of them? They wear me down and stress me out. So inserting a week of Sabbath does my body and soul good.
As I re-enter reality it’s key for me to remember to take deep breaths, to admire the views, to slow down and savor even in the midst of the busyness.
When was the last time you took a real rest? How do you slow down? Where is your peaceful place? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear. Let’s work together to try and find that still, quiet place this week. And when we do, let's breathe peace in and exhale it out to the world around us.
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?
Laura L. Smith