7:50 AM Sunday morning.
Beep. Flash. Silence.
Max and I were on our way out the door. He plays in the band and was supposed to be at church by 8:00 AM. Only now our garage door wouldn’t open, because the power was out. I knew there was a way to unhook the chain, but…
“Let’s take Maddie’s car,” I called to Max while searching for her key. “And go out the front,” since fortunately her car was parked in the driveway.
Has anything fritzed out, not worked, run out of steam, let you down this week?
The lights were out at church, too. Which was ironic, since Max plays electric guitar. “Text me if you need me to bring your acoustic,” I said as Max unloaded his instrument from the trunk.
Sundays mean Starbucks. Only when I got there, they were closed!!!! Are they even allowed to be closed? No problem, I’ll make something yummy with the Nespresso. Except it plugs in. My mind raced to Plan C. I’m sure we have a Via instant coffee pack or two in the coffee drawer. I’ll just add hot water from our water dispenser. Except it also requires electricity.
Back at home, we got ready in rooms with blinds wide open as pale morning light strained to streak through the gray February sky. Using phones as flashlights. Brushing teeth in the kitchen. It all worked. Mostly. By the time we got to service at 9:00 AM, the power was back on at church, and praise Jesus, they’d made coffee.
Three days later…. our vacuum is spitting out pine needles and dirt instead of sucking things up. I try to pick up the large pieces of lint and leaves with my fingers. Sigh. Two days after that…our kitchen sink is clogged, glugging up food remnants instead of washing them down. My husband and mom are wrestling with coat hangers and plungers while I wash our dinner dishes in the laundry room utility sink. A power outage, a broken vacuum or a clogged drain are all minor inconveniences, but they remind me be grateful for all that I have, for all the things I take for granted a million times a day.
But sometimes in life the obstacles are greater than a power outage or a broken appliance and slower to solve. We all have days, weeks, seasons where we feel like we’ve run into a brick wall, where things aren’t going as planned, where things we take for granted let us down, and people we depend on aren’t so dependable.
But Jesus? He never lets us down.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
Ironically the Sunday of the power outage our pastor began by asking, “What’s the one thing you can’t live without?” Most of the mismatched, ponytailed and bed-headed congregation that got ready for church in the dark might have been thinking, “power”. But the truth is, we could live without it. I could also live without a vacuum or a sink, although I’d rather not. There seemed to be plenty of Plan Bs and Plan Cs running through my mind without too much thought or planning. But even when everything else is taken away, I have Jesus. And he is all I need.
What have you run out of today? Coffee creamer? Patience?
What isn’t working in your life? Your marriage? Part of your body?
What is it that you depend on that isn’t coming through for you? Your Wi-Fi signal? A friendship?
I promise Jesus is all we need. With Him, we don’t need a plan B or C.
A family member I trusted for years lied to me. Jesus loves me fiercely.
My husband and I lost all of our grandparents. Jesus holds and comforts us.
A friend moved away. Another moved on. Jesus stays loyally right by my side.
I get frustrated with someone I love. Jesus grants me grace and teaches me how to extend it.
How about you? What are you facing? When you get the blame for something you didn’t do, Jesus knows what really happened. When you know what you should do, but it would be way easier to follow the crowd? Jesus says, “I’ll help you.” When your license expires, the light bulb burns out, the battery needs charged, Jesus is running at full capacity. You get another rejection? Somebody subtly puts you down? Jesus does the opposite. He invites you in, again and again.
He never goes out. His door is always open. He never quits on you or me. Even if everything we depend on shuts or breaks down—Jesus is there, shining brightly, standing strong. We don’t have to plug Him in, turn Him on, charge Him up, or figure out how to make His love work. He is always energized and available. He loves, listens, give us strength and courage, brightens our paths and helps us see things more clearly, unconditionally, eternally.
If everything else went out and stopped working. If all the cupboards were bare. Jesus would still be there. We don’t need to strategize or think up alternate routes. We can count on Him. No matter where you feel let down, run down, or depleted today, Jesus is there with you. He will not now, or ever, let you down.
Thunderstorms were predicted all day, but I wanted to go for a walk. I checked the weather for the time with the lowest percentage chance of rain (35% at 8:00 AM). Around eight I peeked outside—not currently raining. This was my chance. I darted out the door and took a lovely walk on a pleasantly warm February morning without the slightest sprinkle. It doesn’t always work that way—thus me selecting my jacket with a hood and carrying an umbrella just in case—but without a plan, without a strategy it’s even harder to avoid the rain.
And just like I have to plan and strategize to avoid rain, I have to plan and strategize how to avoid social comparisons. Because they’re everywhere, and just like thunderstorms we can’t avoid all of them, but we can plan around them, and protect ourselves against them.
What does that look like? For all of us it looks different, because we all have different comparisons that plague us.
There was a season a couple of years back when I had a book series release with a new imprint. It was crazy, awesome, exciting and exhausting. All of the authors were encouraged by our agents and our imprint to constantly be checking sales numbers. We ran a giveaway…did it increase sales? We held a Twitter party…how did that impact sales? Our books were featured on a blog hop…which books’ sales spiked on which days? And, I hate to admit, it wasn’t just the agents and publisher who got addicted to checking our sales numbers, I did too. And it was toxic. Because some days I would feel good about my writing, other days I would feel bad about my writing, and some days I would compare my writing to the other authors who I totally adored. Ick. Ick. And double ick.
Because my writing has nothing to do with sales numbers and everything to do with Jesus. He is the one who gave me words, stories, ideas and opportunities. Jesus calls me to write, and so I write. I try and do my best. I turn over the rest to Him. And He will put the words and stories He gives me into the hands and hearts He needs them to be in. Whether one book was meant to touch just one person’s life in a profound way, or thousands of lives in small ways, He knows and He’ll make it happen. But that’s none of my business. I’m just called to write. For Him.
So, I stopped. I no longer check sales numbers and rankings. They’re there on Amazon. I can peek at them right now if I want to, but I don’t want to. The only time I look is if I’m required to report the numbers for a new proposal or for taxes. This is a way I can intentionally avoid social comparisons.
How about you?
Throwing away your scale? Check, I’ve done that, too.
Resisting searching job opportunities when you’re already happy with your job—because it just shows you what everyone else is making, where they’re living, what their supposed job descriptions are.
Where do you tend to compare yourself that you can avoid?
Is there someone you need to unfollow on social media, because every time you see their posts you get a little jealous, or feel a little smaller? Is there a person you need to hang out with less, because every time you’re with them you wish you were more like them, or because they make you feel inadequate?
We can’t avoid all social comparisons. I’ll go to a meeting and the girl next to me will have the most gorgeous pair of boots, and I’ll second guess my own boots and covet hers. A mom at a basketball game will tell me about how she’s been spending a lot of time on Pinterest and cooking all these new, delicious meals for her family. And I’ll start wishing I had time to go on Pinterest, let alone cook new, delicious meals for my family, and end up feeling guilty that I don’t. When these things come up, there’s no way to avoid them, but we can protect ourselves against them. We need to put on our virtual hoods and put up our spiritual umbrellas. We need to go back to reminding ourselves who we are—that we are loved by God. That He doesn’t care about our boots or bruschetta. We need to take Paul’s words to the Corinthians to heart:
We are each given specific gifts and talents and situations by God to glorify God. We’re not supposed to have the same sales numbers, job description, family room or menu as anyone else. We’re supposed to rock what we’ve got, and rock it for God’s glory.
So when we can avoid comparisons, lets do it.
For all of us it’s different. But the storms of social comparisons will come. Let’s be intentional about sidestepping the storms when possible, and arming ourselves with the umbrella of truth that we were created to inspire awe so we can stay relatively dry when the rains starts falling.
A powerful February gust shakes the over 100-year old towering trees in my back yard. I watch them as they waver like drunken sailors. It’s mind blowing how such seemingly stable oaks and maples can sway so violently. The wind settles, but it takes the trees a moment to dig into their stabilizing roots and halt their motion. They tremble and wave their branches once more, then finally settle back into their stations.
Me, too, I whisper to the trees. Me, too.
And I start to sway. My self-image is deeply rooted in the fact that Jesus loves me, and this keeps me from being blown across the street or falling down, but I do stagger.
I dive back into my to-do list, but I feel jittery, like I’d chosen a second coffee instead of that tea. I push off the feeling of inadequacy, shoving it aside, so I don’t have to deal with it, acting like none of those things bother me, because I know they’re not supposed to. But that leaves me feeling unsettled and unable to focus. No matter what project I begin, I can’t shake the lingering pit in my stomach that something is off. I’m like one of those trees waving back and forth, out of character, and not how I’m intended to be.
How to get back to normal?
I have a tendency to avoid conflict, but it really is important for me to address it. So I start the inner dialogue about what truly has me irked. I gloss over surface annoyances and finally get to the root of the problems—the button pushed, the label attached, the part of me that feels like it hasn’t measured up. There. At least I know what I’m dealing with. The name calling inside my head saying, “not good enough” has been quieted. Because I know better. And so do you. Now, the wind has stopped, but I’m still swaying a bit. Ever been there?
I need to dig my roots deeper, back into the nutrient rich soil of God. I start praying. I tell Him how I know it’s ridiculous, how I know it shouldn’t bother me, but that it does all the same. And together we unravel what happened and how it made me feel. God sets me straight. My self worth has zero to do with my ability to make a reservation or balance a hot beverage. The real issue isn’t with the needy friend, but with my feeling that I need to solve their problems and how I feel inadequate when I can’t make things right. The button pusher is so busy manning their switchboard; they don’t realize how I tick, or what I even value. And a criticism from my past has long since expired. The same holds true for you, with whatever ways you feel you’re not measuring up.
Talk to Jesus. Let Him remind you what truly matters, who you truly are.
We are more than conquerors. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. We are to be strong and courageous. We’ve been left with peace. Our hearts are not to be troubled.
As I talk with God, He reminds me I don’t need to prove myself, and that my worth is not based on my worldly performance. He helps ground me and reminds me I am not a failure because I don’t solve all problems, avoid all accidents, have all the right words, and a myriad of magic tricks up my sleeve. Jesus tells me over and over that I am loved, that I am His, and that that is more than enough.
And once again, I stand tall, extend my branches, and breathe deeply.
Whatever is making you waver today, talk to Jesus about it. Reach your roots deep into Him. He will hold us firm on the promise of His love.
I am in the midst of so many different stories.
I’m currently reading three different books for pleasure, information, and content. I’m also binge watching The Gilmore Girls with my oldest. My youngest is reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even though he’s a proficient reader every couple of days we snuggle up on the couch and read some out loud together. My thirteen-year old and I are trying to consume as much Fixer Upper as possible. And my fifteen-year old has recommended his favorite book of all time for me to read. I love it. All of it.
But I can’t possibly maintain full engagement in all of these stories. So…I’m skimming the commentary I’m reading, picking up and putting down my other books when a spare moment arises, and catching intermittent episodes and chapters with my kids. But jumping in and out of stories without knowing how they begin and end can be frustrating and confusing. If I miss Chipper and JoJo making a shack look chic I’ll still be okay diving into the next episode. But I need caught up on who Rory Gilmore is dating and who Count Olaf is currently disguised as… or I’ll be a little lost.
My faith story also has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in order for me to know where I am, to be caught up with what Jesus is doing for me, on what my faith even means, I need to be aware of all of the stages of this beautiful story.
The middle is easy, at least to see what’s going on. That’s where I am. Daily messing up, celebrating, stumbling, laughing, and falling short. In desperate need of God’s perfect grace. And at the same time, joyful, peaceful and fulfilled, because even though I certainly haven’t earned it (not possible), Jesus offers me His constant love.
The beginning? It doesn’t start with me. I need to go back to Season 1, Episode 1 to get a handle on the plot. Your story starts here too. Way back in chapter one it says:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. --Genesis 1:27
Got that? God created all of us in His image! I’m hooked. You? That means no matter what you saw when you looked in the mirror today, you reflect the greatness of God. It means God could have made you look like anything, but He chose to make you exactly how you are, so you could reflect a piece of Him in some uniquely, awesome way. He loves you that much! Thinks you’re that special. So intentionally created you.
Skim ahead to the New Testament or Part Two. Jesus says, “I know there’s so much pressure to be perfect—and it’s hard. But you don’t have to be perfect for me. I love you for who you are, and I’m going to take all of that yuck—the regret, the shame, the nervousness—and I’m going to nail it to that cross with me." This is the climax of my story (and yours if you choose it). The part we can’t miss. Because Jesus did two things for our stories that no villain can ever steal:
1. Proved how loved we are.
2. Gave us grace, so we never have to prove ourselves again. Ever.
Lastly, the ending. I’m not a girl who jumps ahead, who reads the final pages of a mystery to see who did it before discovering all the clues, but in the case of my faith story I find it critical. It reminds me of when my kids were tiny and we’d watch any Disney movie, and the mom would die in the first eight seconds. I’d push pause, hold my kids and say, “It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.” I need this too. Because on the days when I get stuck in a rut, or discouraged, or frightened, when I feel like I’m not enough, God tells me, “It’s okay. It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.”
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”--Revelation 21:2-4
Talk about happily ever after.
So when I am worried about something one of my sweet children is dealing with or an illness of a dear friend, when I question my validity, when my stomach is in knots trying to decipher how to handle a controversial situation, I go back to the beginning and ending of my story. And I’m reminded that I was beautifully created by the Master Creator, on purpose, for His purpose. And…I know that His love conquers all. That He will wipe every tear. There will be no more pain. Then no matter what page I’m on in my life, whether it looks thrilling or bleak or fantastic, I know who I am and where I’m going. I know that I am loved. That my life has meaning. And that makes me want to keep turning page after page.
Two nights ago my husband woke in the middle of the night because our power went out. I know, who needs power to sleep? He does. Because when the electricity went out, so did his fan, and the silence woke him. Go figure. He walked around the house with his phone flashlight shining, trying to solve for the outage. He later got back in bed, rolled around, sighed, and eventually fell back to sleep.
I’m no better. Last night I woke up because there was such a strong scent in our bedroom I worried there must actually be a skunk in our bed. Thankfully, there was not. But the skunk in the woods outside our window must have had some turbo-powered perfume. I sat there in the dark pondering the probability of a skunk getting in our house, climbing the stairs and snuggling in, after awhile got a glass of water, crawled back in bed, rolled over, tugged the covers, prayed silently and concentrated on relaxing and falling back asleep. I eventually succeeded.
Our lives are filled with interruptions—things that disrupt our regularly scheduled programming. Whether that’s the addition of something (a pungent odor) or the subtraction of something (white noise). We are interrupted by the buzz of a text or a car cutting in front of us. Our work is impeded when we can’t get a signal and dinner is delayed when we accidentally set the oven at the wrong temp or spill the spices while measuring them into tiny spoons.
In all these circumstances, we eventually put down our phones, pull into a parking spot, tap into the 4G network and pull the lasagna out of the oven. But it takes patience, concentration and focus.
The same is true when our true reflections get interrupted, disrupted, disturbed. We can go around knowing full well we are created by God, that He loves us, that we have a God-given purpose in life, and then like a rock being thrown into a still pond, something comes along that causes ripples in who we see ourselves to be. We get a rejection letter. Our best friend bails. We get in an argument with our spouse or sibling, or get blamed for someone else’s mistake. We let someone we care about down. The coach benches us. Our friends do something without us. Someone casts a snide comment our way. We lose our balance in a yoga pose or our way on a bike ride. Some days we just plain lose our way and our balance—no exercise required.
And when that happens, we have to get back to who we are, that we are Christ’s masterpieces (Eph 2:10) that we are wonderfully made to inspire awe (Psalm 139:14), and we need to do it with patience and focus. We might need to get up from where we are and move around a bit, get a new view on things, shine some light on them. We might need to hydrate with living water (Jesus), wrap ourselves in the cover of God’s love and pray. We need to turn back to our Bibles and fill up on the truths that God loves us. He’ll give us courage and strength. We have nothing to fear with Him on our side. Jesus offers us peace. He is our hope, light and way.
We need to go hang out with the special people who remind us of these truths, who love us for exactly who we are. We need to do the things God created us to do—the things we’re good at, eat our favorite foods, wear our favorite clothes, listen to our favorite bands, and talk to God over and over again until we remember, until we fall back into our rhythms and find the blissful peace of knowing we are beautiful, we are priceless, our lives have meaning.
And even when it feels like nobody else knows or notices, God is there loving us—in the middle of the day, in the middle of the traffic jam, the disappointment, the self doubt and even in the middle of the darkest nights. It just takes a little focus, concentration, and turning it over, but soon we can tune out the interruptions and settle back into knowing we have value and worth, because we are loved by God. We can once again embrace our true reflections.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
I devour books like chocolate. I love them and all of the potential pressed between their pages. I got three new books for Christmas and cannot wait to dive in. My kids all got new books, too, and I’m eyeing them like a hawk, chomping at the bit to read their new books (as soon as they’ve read them, of course). But before I immerse myself in new adventures, I want to reflect on some of my favorite reads of 2016. I’ve gotten to the point where there are just too many books I want to read to waste my time reading ones that aren’t doing it for me. As a result I put down over a dozen books after getting fifty or so pages in this year. But because I put down those books, I was able to enjoy these great books below (plus many more). Here are a few of my favs from 2016 in no order at all. If you’re bookish too, I’d love to connect on Goodreads and we can share all the books we read together.
Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Sigh. This book took me to France, which always makes my heart pound and my soul swirl. But All the Light is so much more, it is one of those books that lingers, that comes back to you time and time again. It is a book I won’t forget, but instead will fall into the realm of my all-time favorite books. Doerr’s novel is the gorgeous intertwining of the stories of a blind French girl and a German orphan boy during World War II. Doerr is an articulate, bright and exquisite storyteller zooming in with careful descriptions, creating tension and developing a multi-layered plot. I read it at the beginning of the year, and months later many scenes still resonate in my mind. I loved All the Light so deeply, I also read Doerr’s memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, this year and have another one of his novels sitting in my “to read” stack.
Young Adult: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun made my Best Books of 2015 list. I’m always slightly hesitant to read a second book by an author I love…will it measure up? I never had a moment to consider being disappointed by The Sky is Everywhere, because it immediately sucked me in, grabbed my insides and swept me into the story of two sisters, loss, love and self-discovery. I might have held my breath from the first sentence until I finished the last page of this sensory overload of color and emotions. Nelson writes so explosively raw. Her integration of music and art into story are exquisite. Her character development is purely authentic. I’m already chomping for the release of her next book.
Potter: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
If the New York Times could create a new category for their best-seller lists, because of the popularity of Harry Potter, then I figure I can also create a category around this beloved series. It wasn’t necessarily that The Cursed Child was Rowling’s best (it wasn’t), it was just that I missed Harry, Ron and Hermione so much. I longed to hear more about them and Hogwarts and the Whomping Willow. Once I got into the screenplay format of Cursed I was once again immersed in the Wizarding World. A lovely fix for my imagination.
Nonfiction: Unashamed by Christine Caine
My husband bought me Unashamed after we attended the Catalyst Conference where Caine was one of the speakers. I loved her straight forward, no nonsense declarations of her past, how she’s handled her insecurities, and how she reminds readers that God loves us and is waiting to change everything for good. Her writing is candid and natural, friendly, not preachy. Every time I picked up Unashamed it was like listening to a motivational, spiritual talk encouraging me to let go and let God take the reins of my life and steer me to amazing opportunities. Christine seemed to be jumping off the pages, nodding her head, taking my hand, saying, "Yes, this is available to you.” The voice of her book was so genuine. This is the first book I've read of Caine’s, but it won't be my last.
How to: How to Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
A must have for any creative. Austin Kleon’s stick figures, simple bullet points and fun square formatted handbook is packed with ideas on how to spark your creativity. One of my sweet writer friends bought it for me, and in turn, I bought a handful of copies for some special creative people in my life. If you don't follow him on Instagram, yet, start. His whimsy will get your creative juices flowing.
For Kids: Faith, Hope, Love Devotional by Amy Parker
Although written for the younger set, this devotional is an excellent catalyst for my ten-year old and I to interact and discuss who he sees God to be and how he sees Him working in his life. Each day has a Bible verse about faith, hope, or love, a paragraph or two describing what those words mean, how they apply to a kid today, and a couple of questions to make kids (and grown-ups) think with room to write and draw. Where else could my son tell me the things that amaze him about God are “hearts, nerves, veins and the brain…I mean that He made all of those things and made them work like that.” Hard to argue. It is all pretty stinking amazing. As my son and I go through this book together, I’m learning more about him and about God. Great conversation and idea starter for you and the young ones in your life.
Enough of my opinions. Your turn. I want to hear what your favorite books in 2016 were? I want to add them to my list.
We love to be in the know.
We stay up later than we should turning the pages of a good mystery, because we want the next clue. We binge watch a series on Netflix, because we can’t stand not knowing what happens in the next episode. And in our lives, we’re even more eager to find out how things are going to turn out. We want to know who we’ll marry, and what our next job looks like, and if we’ll get in, and what the test results are going to say, what our 2017 is going to look like. And, we want to know NOW. But God tells us, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
And because He’s God, and He’s always had it, and He’s helped us and saved us and fixed us and rerouted us time and time again for the good, He expects us to be able to trust Him, and we sort of do, but inside we want the whole picture, and we sound a bit like Veruca Salt as we sing, “I want it now!”
But God asks us to have faith—in Him, in His perfect plans for us. That’s hard sometimes, right? Especially when we’re in challenging places, uncertain places, downright scary places.
Why am I here, God?
I want out now!
Okay, I prayed about it, how about now?
We are so impatient. We want it all, the next clue, the next episode, the next email, the next referral, the next deposit in our bank accounts…and we want it now.
We’re like little kids playing Mother-May-I.
God says, “Take three baby steps forward.”
We roll our eyes and ask, “Baby steps? How will I ever get there taking baby steps?”
God whispers, Have faith. You need to tread slowly here, so you don’t get hurt, so you understand the process. That’s why the steps are small.
God says, “Take one giant step backwards.”
We throw our hands in the air and scream at Him, “Backwards! I’m trying to move forward here. That way. Ahead!” As if He doesn’t know. Even though He’s God. And clearly He’s aware of the situation.
God sighs and thinks, I’m going to teach you something really cool back there. Give you a brilliant perspective. I might even have someone special you’re supposed to meet ‘back there’ that will make ‘up there’ much more pleasurable. Have a little faith.
And then, just when we feel like we’re trudging along, baby steps and backwards steps and going nowhere, God says, “Take ten giant leaps forward!” And we bound towards our goal and it’s even more glorious than we imagined and way better than we deserve.
Does anything look bleak for you right now? Is this time of year tough? Does it look like there’s no way out? Have you given up on something? Do you think God may have given up on you? Or are you praying earnestly, trusting that God has a plan? How’s your faith life?
Jesus offers us freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. —Galatians 5:1
But are we willing to walk through this life on His terms?
With total trust? Complete faith?
Taking one obedient step at a time?
Because when we do, the doors will be opened. And we will be set free!
Jesus rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a blazing fire that instantly torched the guards throwing them in the flames. God protected Daniel from a pit full of famished lions. Jesus rescued Lazarus from the dead, His disciples from the storm, and Peter from prison. Today, as we embark on a new year, Jesus reminds us once again, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
I don’t know what you’re leaving behind in 2016 or what you’re facing in 2017, but I do know that God is with you, walking by your side, guiding your steps forward and backward and sideways and even the moments when it’s necessary to stand absolutely still. I know that God has beautiful plans for you, and that He will orchestrate them magnificently. As you plan out your calendar and/or your finances, write down your goals, choose your word for the year, don’t forget to have a little faith.
Advent is all about preparing for Christmas. Are you preparing for anything? Advent is an expectant waiting. Are you waiting for anything?
Are you waiting to see if you got the job, if your check cleared, the results of a pregnancy test, a blood test, your midterm grades, if you got into your first choice? Are you checking your email constantly?
When you pass the class, get the second interview, get the meeting there is relief and there is joy. But the joy of Christmas is so much richer, so much more, because nothing can dampen it, because it lasts. Because even in the midst of joyful occurrences there will also be days when you lose the game or your job, when the test results scare the pants off of you, when your dryer breaks and you have four kids and more laundry hanging on chairs around your house than imaginable (oh, did I write that? Well, yeah, that happened this week) and it’s harder to find the joy. Some days it’s near impossible to find joy, especially if Christmas means missing someone you love or facing something or someone you don’t feel capable of facing.
But the joy of Christmas is available. It’s real. It’s accessible, no matter what the circumstances. How do we get that kind of joy? What kind of joy is that? It’s the joy the angel told the shepherds about on the very first Christmas.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”—Luke 2:10
The shepherds? Well, they wouldn’t have been the most educated or the most refined guys in town. We would probably call their lives a “rough existence”. They hiked around on steep hills all day, fought off scary predators like wolves, and slept on the ground with a herd of animals, no matter what the weather. There wouldn’t be anything glamorous about shepherding. They didn’t get to wear snazzy clothes, live in fancy homes or hang out with the in crowd. They were most likely exhausted and smelly. But they were waiting for something. The prophets had told them for hundreds of years of the anointed one, the Messiah, who would be born of the lineage of David in Bethlehem, live in both Egypt and in Nazareth, and who would save the world, who would save them. The angel came to the shepherds, who were possibly run down by the day-in-day-out of shepherding, but who were waiting for something—something big. Because the joy the angel spoke of wasn’t just for the pretty and the connected, it wasn’t just for the people with gorgeous Insta pictures and stunning kitchens. It was for the gritty, the grimy, the grumpy, and even the Grinches.
The angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” Good news. Haven’t seen that in a while on my newsfeed. Would you like to hear some? Aren’t we about ready for some GOOD news? Great joy? Not average joy or temporary joy or ‘bring a flashing smile to your face’ joy, but great joy. Where do we sign up? Could it possibly be intended for people like us?
Yes. Because the angel said the joy was for ALL of the people. That’s me and that’s you no matter what our status is, where we’re headed in 2017, or where we’ve been in 2016.
That joy is Jesus. That joy is that God so loved the world he sent his only son to save us. And his son said, “Yes! I want to do that! I love them so much; I’ll do anything for them. Yes, I understand it will be painful, grueling, shameful, unbearable, but yes, I love them that much. I’ll take it all for them, so they can feel grace, so they can comprehend love, so they can feel peace, so they can know joy.”
Christmas is a celebration that Jesus said ‘yes’. That He came down to earth as He and God had planned all along. Even though the stakes were high—the highest. But it is more. Christmas is the celebration that the little baby who was born in Bethlehem, that fulfilled the prophecies from the past several hundreds of years, also took our shame and guilt and pain, so we could be free to live the beautiful life God intended for us all along.
That’s the kind of joy that no bad news can steal from you. That’s the kind of joy, when you know it down to your core that nothing can dampen. That’s the kind of joy that makes you sing and dance and marvel that anything could feel that good, that glorious. That is unspeakable joy.
Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!
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