My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
There was a strange banging and clanking sound coming from our laundry room. I carefully cracked open the door, concerned about what I would see. There was our washing machine spinning uncontrollably, doing the Macarena back and forth to an invisible band. Apparently we own the Samsung model known for exploding. This was not good. At all.
There is something strangely comforting to me about putting a heap of smelly clothes into a machine, and later pulling out a soft, warm, gentle smelling pile. I also oddly find satisfaction in folding the mound into neat, squarish shapes and lining up the clothes in organized bins. Sounds weird, but it’s a tangible reward of turning something disorderly and dirty into something appreciated and useful.
But chaos and not being able to have things as I think they should be, not being able to control them? Not my strong suit. At all. Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that’s spinning out of control? How do you feel about it?
For me, this trivial thing, this silly thing, a broken washing machine, made me feel unbalanced, just like our rocking washer. I couldn’t stop our family from wearing clothes, from sweating in them, or from using towels (believe me, I still wanted them to shower). Not only was our machine out of control, but now the heap of dirty laundry became a separate uncontrollable monster. Kids kept asking, “When will it be fixed?” “When will we get a new washer?”
“I’m working on it,” I replied. I’m really trying, I thought. But even for all the calls, repairmen, forms filled out, web searching and ordering I was stuck, waiting on others. This something I’m supposed to do and couldn’t do, made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up to the invisible mom/wife measuring stick that I’ve created for myself. Which is silly.
It happens to all of us. When meetings get cancelled, kids have temper tantrums, schedules are packed to overflowing, expenses pile up, someone we love is sick, but we don’t have the cure in our Band-Aid box or on the shelf next to the Advil? These things out of our control can make us feel frustrated and helpless. Somewhere along the way we may feel less than, because of something that has nothing to do with us. It’s such a blurring of our true reflections. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He thinks we’re pretty awesome just like we are, even when we’re not in control. Honest.
We don’t need to be in control. In fact we never were.
How’s that for good news?
God is in control. Of everything.
God is in control of the giant things like keeping the earth on its axis and tiny things like equipping ants with antennae so they can communicate with little built in headsets. If He can do all of that, God can certainly take care of anything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done.
It’s not all up to us. It never was. It never will be.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes we don’t’ know what to do, others we can’t do the work we know we’re supposed to do, because of circumstances. But there’s always something we can do—try to reschedule the meeting, offer a cuddle to the disgruntled child, figure out the exact item we’ll buy when the money is available, visit the friend who is sick, and most importantly—talk to God about it. Pray. Then we can trust God with the rest.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. —Philippians 4:6-7
We got a new washer yesterday. I’m back in business. Nine loads (giant loads, mind you), down, several more to go. I already feel better. But I’m certain there will be more things, more intense things, that feel like they’re spinning out of control. But I have hope. You do too, that we don’t need to worry. It doesn’t’ all depend on us (praise Jesus). Out of our control never ever means out of control. We can always count on God, turn everything over to Him. And He truly will take care of all our needs.
Ever feel like everything is in pieces? Like you have no idea if the loose ends will ever be tied up or if they will just keep on unraveling?
I’ve been fortunate to spectate my son rehearsing for the local musical production of Annie, and similarly to our disheveled lives, a show seemingly starts with chaos. Once the show is announced and the cast has been selected there is the first rehearsal—packed with potential, but heavy with an uneasy feeling that this couldn’t possibly come together. Scripts are passed out, a tape played, and soon the partial cast—the group for Act 1—sings hesitantly from their seats straining to find the melody.
Have you ever struggled to find your tune?
Even when we can’t find the notes, even when we can’t see it, God is at work, bringing the pieces together. Step by step a little more of the full picture is revealed, like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled piece by piece to reveal a beautiful landscape. But even as the bits convene, each one creates it’s own obstacles and seems to add a level of uncertainty.
In the production, students move from their seats to the stark stage. More actors appear seemingly out of thin air, interspersing, transforming sheets of paper printed with lines into a story. But just like our lives, there are bumps and hiccups as the actors adjust to the transitions. Dance steps add to the pizazz, but complicate where people stand on stage. Singing needs to be coordinated with the orchestra that has replaced the tape recording.
Wooden beams create the skeleton of a staircase where the stage was bare before. The smell of sawdust lingers heavy in the air, and it’s exciting to imagine the finished set, but also a bit questionable if there will be time to complete it—if it will all fit, if it will stand strong. A live dog coaxed with Milk Bones replaces the imaginary Sandy. Will the dog sit? Stay? Or scramble off the stage like it did tonight?
It’s not that different from our own discernment. One step forward. Two steps back. A turn around and a slide sideways. God keeps adding pieces for us, steps to our staircases, notes to our songs, but we’re not sure how it’s all going to come together, or if it ever will.
When we’re in the middle of it all, sometimes life looks like a wreck, feels off kilter. Some days we’re waiting for the email, the proposal, the acceptance letter, the check to clear, the next step to be visible and in the waiting we feel frantic, antsy, eager to just be doing the next thing. Life around us looks undone, like chaos, like it’s moving, but not necessarily forward and maybe even backwards.
But God is always at work. Always.
He is planning and shuffling and building things behind the scenes. He’s making introductions, connecting old friends, new friends and loose wires, so that when it’s time, that thing He’s planning will be spectacular.
Each musical rehearsal contains a new marvel, as if something has miraculously happened in the dark, empty theatre overnight. There are beds and phones and buckets and plates. Each prop needs to be in its place, used at the right time by the correct actor. Students in sweatshirts and Converse scramble to find their costumes, and then almost magically, are transformed into New Yorkers in the 1920’s. But Annie’s curly red wig is askew. Someone else is missing a scarf. The boy with a solo has a sore throat. The seam on a dress rips. How will this fly?
But then comes the night of the performance. And all of the bits and pieces and loose ends collaborate for one spectacular show. The girl who was hard to hear is crystal clear with her mic. The cumbersome scenery slides on and off stage flawlessly. Everyone remembers the lines they’ve been struggling to recall. And the vase that keeps falling down stands straight and tall.
The waiting can be unnerving if we focus on the unknown. But if we focus on the known it can be exhilarating.
God loves us. Eph 2:3-4
He will never forsake us. Heb 13:5-6
He has perfect plans for us. Jer 29:11
When we focus on these truths we can notice each new prop and how it rounds out our stories. We can appreciate every character God brings into our lives and what we can learn from them. We can appreciate this change of tempo and that breather we get when the scenes switch and the fresh outlook a costume change offers. Then, after a long season of rehearsing and retaking scenes, it’s time for the show, and we can savor what God had done, what He has put together for us.
Just like a school doesn’t put on one play then close the curtains for good, our life is never about one performance. Our days are packed with new seasons, new scripts, new costumes, and new stage directions—new jobs, new relationships, new schools, new homes, new stages of life. And although there will always be a bit of hesitancy when we see the bare theatre and the unfamiliar songs, there can always be excitement and expectancy that God is the ultimate stage manager, director, and producer working all things together for glorious outcomes.
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.
Ever heard of Nerf Wars? No, they're nothing like Star Wars. Nerf Wars are when teams of teens make a bracket (like you would in any sports tournament). The teams go against their assigned opponents with the goal of hitting more members of the opposing team with Nerf bullets than the opposing team hits of your team by the end of the assigned time. Shot players are out and can no longer shoot. Winning teams advance to the next bracket. It’s like an extended game of dodge ball, only with Nerf guns. Got it?
But as with most games, there’s a lot to be learned by the rules—life lessons. I’ve had the pleasure of spectating and strategizing with my daughter as she partook in this war with her friends, and I’ve learned a few strategies I want to apply to my daily life.
1. Be intentional
There is a thrill, an excitement, and a little bit of anxiety during Nerf Wars, because at any moment you could get shot. It’s all in fun—it’s just a game, so the stakes aren’t high, but still there’s that strange feeling that someone is after you. My daughter had to rethink her daily tasks. She had to be intentional about things she usually did by rote, things she took for granted. She asked if she could park in the garage instead of the driveway, so she could pull her car in, shut the garage door, and never be out in the open where she could get shot. She started conversations with people she hadn’t chatted with before, so she could decipher when and where her opponents were going. She planned new routes home from school in case she was being followed.
I, too, need to be more intentional. There are so many things I habitually do without even thinking about them. I eat the same things for breakfast, read the same blogs, and sit in the same seat at church. What if I approached each day fully aware and intent on expanding my horizons and picking the best routes for my daily life instead of the most familiar ones?
2. Never leave your wingman.
Just like in Top Gun, In Nerf Wars it’s not only important to be in constant communication with your teammates, it’s also critical to have someone with you—a wingman. Maybe your wingman will drive while you roll down the passenger window to shoot an opponent. Maybe, if they’re already out of the game, your wingman will act as a human shield to protect you from oncoming Nerf bullets. Maybe a wingman will help you find someone’s house, or just to keep you company or make you laugh while you’re on a stakeout.
I also need a wingman. We aren’t created to do life alone. We all need people to talk to, to laugh with, to plan with. Some days I need my friends and family to act as human shields, protecting me from unkind words or rejections from the world. I definitely need a small, close circle of people praying for and with me. I hope my wingmen and wingwomen and wingkids never leave my side. I’m reminded how important it is to stand by theirs
3. Stay in the light
I cracked up each night when my daughter called, asking me to turn on all the outside lights. When she pulled up to our house, she wanted a clear view—wanted to see if anyone was waiting to attack her.
I also need to stay in the light. I need to stay where I can see what’s going on, where I can tell the difference between right and wrong. There are places I’ve been and people I’ve been around, that when I’m there or with them, everything starts to get dim, maybe even dark. Where decisions are harder, where lines get blurry. You probably have your darker places, too. But Jesus is light. And when I stay grounded in Him, I can see what’s coming, and not be taken by surprise. I can see things for what they truly are, and act accordingly. When I shine His light on any situation it gets brighter and clearer, and I am immediately less concerned about the unknown.
I don’t know what battles you’re fighting today. I hope they’re just all fun and games, like Nerf Wars. But I know some days the battles are real. When they are, be intentional, keep a wingman close by, and stay in the marvelous light of Jesus.
I carry every ounce of stress that ever comes my way in my shoulders. It doesn’t matter if a car nearly hits me or if I forgot to email someone back or if I’m under a serious deadline—it all goes to my shoulders. And after days and weeks and months of every worry burrowing deep into my rotator cuffs, the muscles get tight and sore and oh so very tense. So, once or twice a year I splurge—I mean all out luxury—and get a massage. I pay someone to work out those knots in my shoulders. They rub and roll and dig into my tissue, literally kneading away all of those stresses one by one. Meanwhile this lovely calming music plays in the background, and the scent of fragrant candles wafts through the air. And by the end I feel all floppy, relaxed, and bendy like a giant jellyfish floating back to the parking lot. Ahhh.
But afterwards… I’m still late to a meeting or a game, and I spill milk all over the counter or coffee all down my white shirt. I’ll still get a rejection from an editor, and feel like I don’t have enough time to get to all of the things that need to be done. So, one by one the stresses pile back on my shoulders. The massage is awesome, and offers me extreme peace and relaxation. But only temporarily.
We all crave peace. In the midst of our whirlwind lives, I find it critical to seek peace. Massages are one way. I’ll also go for a walk or read a book or sip some tea or take a yoga class or sit out on my back porch and watch the sun set. I love all of these activities, and they are all healing to me. But at some point the massage is over and so is the walk, it’s time to roll up my yoga mat, my teacup is empty, and the sun has set.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:7
Thankfully there is one type of peace that is eternal—the peace Jesus offers us. Jesus’s peace surpasses all understanding. He offers it to us daily. We just have to tap into it. Just like you need to tap into a maple tree to get its syrup. That means in the midst of chaos saying, “Jesus, please bring me peace. Please help me not snap at my family members, slow down even though I’m running late, not worry about tomorrow, because I trust that you have it under control.”
It’s really hard when all of the balls we’re juggling appear to be on fire. But that breath, that moment of asking, “I have a problem, and I need some help, Your help, God, Your peace,” makes all the difference. It might not get you there on time or help you ace the test, or win the game, but you’ll get where you’re headed in a better state of mind, less flustered and you’ll be less anxious while answering the questions or playing the game, which means you can be more focused on doing your best at the task at hand.
Jesus will dig into your tense spots and knead them out one by one with His absolute, pure, unconditional love. And the peace He offers is easier to attain than an appointment at a spa, lasts a lifetime, and is absolutely free of cost to you. He’s already paid your bill plus the tip.
Peace be with you.
One of our family traditions is summer movie nights. We have four kids. We love movies. Therefore, we watch lots of movies with our kids. But sometimes the kids don’t see eye to eye on their movie pics. The boys love adventure movies. The girls could watch all of the High School Musicals and Camp Rocks over and over again. We try to guide our kids towards healthy media choices. And some movies that are appropriate for my teenagers are less appropriate for my younger kids. This equals lots of compromise.
And compromise can be great. This summer, together, we’ve watched the entire Back to the Future series, and most of the Indiana Jones movies. I even convinced our clan to watch The Little Prince with me, because j’adore Le Petit Prince!
But summer movie nights? Well, this is a coveted night when one child picks the movie they most want to see. The other kids all agree to honor the chosen child on their special night by finding something else to entertain themselves, knowing they will all get their turn. These nights are special, because my husband and I get to curl up on the couch and spend quality time with one of our priceless children. It gives that child a chance to choose, to be in charge, to see the movie they’ve been dying to see. Plus, my husband and I get four of these cozy evenings sprinkled with popcorn. #parentperks
After plowing through the entire Percy Jackson book series this year (twice), Maguire selected The Sea of Monsters, which was super fun, a little scary, plus gave a hilarious nod to Jesus when Mr. D. (a.k.a. Dionysus) while turning wine into water said, “The Christians have a guy who can do this trick backwards. Now that’s a God!” Our God is pretty cool, isn’t He? Not to mention this film is packed full of reminders of how no matter how bad things seem, in the end good does overcome evil. Time and time again. Guaranteed, folks.
Mallory chose Soul Surfer. Somehow I’d never gotten around to watching this true story of a rising teen surfing star who loses her arm in a shark attack. An entire box of Kleenex later, I am now an all-in Bethany Hamilton fan. This woman’s faith through an incredibly dark personal storm blows me away. She doesn’t let losing a limb stop her from competing in a sport where everyone else has two arms. Think you’re up against some obstacles today? Give this flick a view. Here’s how Bethany equates her life to surfing, “When you get caught in the impact zone, you need to get right back up, because you never know what's over the next wave... and if you have faith, anything is possible, anything at all.”
Max picked Concussion. And I was wary. Because I’d heard it was gruesome. I’m also not a huge fan of sports movies. And honestly, I freak out over the number of concussions soccer players get, and I have three kids who love to head ball. But Concussion is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. I recommend all of you watch it. This weekend if possible. This is the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, a genius Nigerian doctor (brilliantly portrayed by Will Smith), who discovers a brain disease, CTE, which affects people with repeated head injuries. Early in the film, Bennett challenges a friend “to be the best version of themselves.” See why I like this guy? Later, Omalu is challenged to adhere to his own advice. He uncovers CTE as not just a disease, but also the potentially fatal disease that has now struck at least 90 NFL players. Needless to say, taking on the NFL is like taking on Big Tobacco. Omalu is called nasty names, loses his job, and is threatened to be deported and killed all in order to “hush up” his discoveries that America’s beloved sport of football is dangerous. But Omalu won’t be silenced. He stands true to the best version of himself without faltering. Bennett’s faith is too strong to cave. The truth that the trauma of repeated blows to the head incurred by playing football is life-threatening is hard to swallow, painful, and dangerous. But again and again Dr. Omalu shares his findings, fights to have them publicized, and implores an NFL official to “tell the truth.” The real Dr. Omalu shares in an interview with Frontline about Jesus’s story of the Good Shepherd going after that one sheep. He says his work is like that, if he can save one athlete—that one sheep, it will all be worth it. I cannot stop thinking about this man and the role model he is for us to stand up for what we believe in.
We haven’t gotten to Maddie’s movie night yet, but we will. And I can’t wait to view her choice, learn from it, pop some corn, and spend some special time with her.
Our summer movie nights give our kids a small glimpse of how special they are to us. But God also uses these films to remind me how special we all are to Him, how He will fight for us, and stand by us, how He will never forsake us, and that no matter what, He will conquer evil.
How about you? What was your favorite movie this summer? Why or how did it impact you?
Just like Robert Fulghum writes that all he needed to know he learned in Kindergarten, I might argue everything I need to know I could glean from Vacation Bible School.
10. Churches don’t have to look a certain way. Ours was transformed to look like a cave for Cave Quest. And it was pretty cool. And maybe we should keep it this way.
9. Leaders should stand out. My daughter proclaimed she looked like a Cheeto and even though they were a bit bright, all the kids could find the leaders in their “leader shirts”. They knew who to ask if they had a question and who to seek if they needed help. If you are a leader of any kind, do your people know it? Is it obvious they can approach you with problems, if they’re confused, if they need guidance? What would it take (minus an orange tee) to let them know?
8. I can hope in Jesus. I can. You can. It doesn’t matter what you are currently facing—will you make the team? Will you get the job? Will you find the right guy? What next? No matter what the outcomes of your uncertainties, Jesus has plans for you, plans to give you hope and for a future Jer 29:11.
7. Cold popsicles on a hot summer day are good for you
6. I get courage from Jesus. Life is scary sometimes. There are test results looming. You’ll have interactions with people who make you feel incapable and small, and unexpected expenses when your checkbook balance is low. On our darkest days, facing tomorrow looks terrifying. But fear is never from God. Yes, when necessary He instills a sense of warning in us, so we can react accordingly. But fear? No. His perfect love casts out fear. So whatever you’re afraid of, hand it over to Him. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6
5. Helping others feels good.
Through World Hope our VBS raised enough money to provide an education for Yeanoh and Samuel, two children from Sierra Leone who have dreams, but can’t afford the education to launch them. To make it interesting there was a contest held to see who could raise more money—the boys or the girls (complete with a pie in the face for the loser). Each night a huge production was made of counting the donations to see who was winning. The concept of helping kids in another part of the world became a thrill. Our kids helped provide these kids with an education, but also learned about a new culture, felt like they’d made new friends, and most importantly discovered they can make a difference. And that’s how helping others feels—gratifying and satisfying.
4. Singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” at the top of your lungs is liberating. It was phenomenal how boldly and proudly the kids at VBS proclaimed their decision to follow Jesus. It’s amazing when I say it out loud, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve decided, no matter where everyone else is heading, I’m following Jesus,” it lessens the stress of decision making, lowers the level of anxiety about what’s next, and just plain feels good.
3. Jesus gives me direction. Speaking of following Him, where is He leading? For all of us it’s different. Every day. Today He might be leading us to be social—to call or visit with a friend old or new. Tomorrow there might be work to be done—loads of it—clients’ questions to answer, dishes to wash, meetings to attend. The next day He might call us to rest, to recharge and renew after a crazy week. But no matter where He’s leading you today, He will always lead you in the right direction. That’s the kind of Good Shepherd He is Psalm 23.
2. Jesus gives me power. Not super powers, like x-ray vision, but He is way more powerful and necessary to me than my phone charger. He gives me strength when I’m exhausted, energy when I’m worn out, and a turbo boost to do what’s right even when it’s harder and takes longer. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength Phil 4:13. And so can you. We just need to plug in.
1. Everyone is miraculously, stunningly beautiful. AKA, you can’t judge a geode by it’s exterior. One night the kids smashed a dull stone with a hammer, revealing gorgeous crystal formations inside. Yes, geodes are packed with spectacular glimmers, but so are we. All of us. Intricate patterns and light catching features that God, our Creator, has formed inside of us.
When we take these VBS lessons and live them out in our lives, when we decide to follow Jesus, and find our hope, power, and direction from Him, then we will reflect His light like prisms—we’ll illuminate our true reflections.
How about you? Any VBS memories or life lessons learned? I'd love to hear in the comments below.
The other day I wanted to wear my white jeans. I went to my closet but couldn’t find them. I started flipping through piles, digging through shelves, and even asked my daughter if maybe, she’d borrowed my white jeans. When she said, “no,” and I still couldn’t find them I got a little frenzied, and in desperation may or may not have thrown all of my jeans on the floor.
Later, calmer, as I refolded my jeans and lined them back on my shelf, I shook my head, because I clearly have too many pairs of jeans. And the thing is if you have too much of something, it weighs you down, gets in your way, and makes it harder to do the things you were made to do.
Too many pairs of jeans meant not being able to find the pair I was looking for. Which were a waste of time and a source of unnecessary stress.
Too much ice cream too fast gives me a brain freeze. Too much sun burns my skin. Too much caffeine makes me jittery. Too many things scheduled into my day stresses me out as I try to do it all and get there on time. But there are more dangerous things too, aren’t there? Too much spending can cause financial strain and debt. Too much time with the wrong people and we can start to lose sense of our true selves.
My heap o’ jeans led to a good old closet cleansing. Yes, all of this excess in the picture—bags upon bags—came out in one day (and I hadn’t even touched three of my kids’ drawers yet). All of this stuff was hampering ease of finding things, decisions about what to wear, making it difficult to shut drawers. It was time to purge. These items can now go where they can do some good – old goalie jerseys to the local soccer program, outgrown school uniforms to younger kids at the school, and clothes we just don’t need to the local community charity. Of course, when I start to get rid of excess it just opens my eyes to how much of it I have, and how much more I need to clean out. But it’s not just my closets that need cleared out.
Is there any excess baggage you’re carrying around? Too many late nights leaving you exhausted? Too many texts from someone who belittles you making you feel small and desperate? Too many episodes of Friends leaving you unproductive? Too many hours stressing about the same job/relationship/fill-in-the-blank over and over again instead of handing it over to God? Too much time on social media making you brain-dead? I know a lot of people focus on spring-cleaning, but there’s no time like the present to get rid of whatever is bogging you down.
When I get rid of excess, I pare down closer to the core of who I am, my true essence, my true reflection. When I purge the things cluttering my life and heart there is less in the way of who God created me to be, and more time and space for me to just be His child.
What about you? What excess do you need to get rid of in your life?
I’m snuggled on the couch with my youngest on a rainy Saturday morning watching Prince Caspian with tears dripping down my cheeks.
Yes, I’m a total Narnia fangirl. Can’t even count how many times I’ve read all of the books by C.S. Lewis or watched the movies, but I am so enamored with these tales because they resonate so strongly with me and my faith journey. And just as Aslan tells Lucy in the story, “Things never happen the same way twice,” I am never hit by these stories of a magical land, and their perfect, untamed ruler, Aslan, the same way twice. This viewing I was deeply challenged about the motivations behind all I do.
In Prince Caspian, High King Peter and his royal siblings have been magically called back to the land of Narnia to help this nation and its people (um, well, citizens) in a dire, dark time. Peter is not only excited to be back in his realm, but also thrilled to be High King once more—to be respected, honored, to have people seek his opinion and listen to his ideas. And we all seek that, respect, honor, self-worth. But Peter gets it wrong. I get it wrong too, day after day.
Peter starts making plans—which way to go, how to attack the enemy, and other kingly type decisions—but he makes them without seeking guidance or direction from Aslan (who represents Jesus in this allegory). And not surprisingly, he and his companions get lost, lose time, resources, troops, and are forced to retreat. Just like when I start making plans—deciding what to do and how to do it, how to strategize my days, my goals, fight my personal battles without consulting Jesus. Guess what happens? Duh. I get lost along the way, distracted, waste time and resources, and end up feeling like a failure.
There is a pivotal point in the movie when Peter’s sister, Susan, asks Peter, “Just who are you doing this for anyway?” Ouch. Clearly this is not Peter at his best. And I had to ask myself, who am I doing life for? Who are you doing your thing for today?
Convicted, Peter changes his tune, slightly. He raises his sword and calls one of my favorite battle cries, “For Narnia!” And he almost gets it, but not quite. Just like when I make a special meal for my family and think, “This is to make my family feel loved and special.” Or when I write an article about true beauty, and think to myself, “this is to help show people how beautiful they are.” I’ve almost got it, but not quite. My family is awesome, and I want them to know it. I do write to spread the word that we are all unique beautiful individuals. You may be folding someone’s laundry so they have clean clothes, or working someone’s shift as a favor to give them some relief, or working late to help a client solve a problem, or maybe you gave up something for Lent, because it helped you with self-control. There are plenty of good causes, good reasons to do what we do, but ultimately there is one that matters more than any of the others.
May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others
Than all the others
“Full Attention” by Jeremy Riddle
There is a turning point in the movie where the final battle is all but lost by Peter and his troops. The enemy is overtaking them in droves. Left with no choice but to attempt to save the lives of the remaining good guys, the Narnians are retreating once more, this time to their fort. But the enemy implodes their fort, their one safe place. There is nowhere left to run. Nowhere left to hide. It is only at this desperate, hopeless place that Peter looks at his companions, nods, and knows exactly what to do. Peter turns around to face the enemy he’d been running from head on, pulls out his sword and changes one word in his call “For Aslan!” He screams and rushes towards the oncoming opponent. This is Peter at his absolute best, bravest, humblest, wisest, kindest—the most brilliant version of himself. Yes, this is the part where tears stream down my face.
And in this exact moment Aslan’s reinforcements, an army of trees, appears, and overtakes the enemy. Doing it for Aslan instead of for himself, or even for the noble cause of his nation is a gamechanger for Peter. Who am I fighting my battles for? For me? For a good cause? Or for Jesus? Why am I so stupidly trying to do things my way, when time and time again God shows up and turns the tables, and knocks down my walls, and clears the way for victory?
When I call out, “For Jesus!” I’m no longer struggling, no longer feeling like not enough. My eyes are opened to unexpected opportunities. I can see myself better for who I am, and what I am called to do. I am more able to see a better version of myself, my true reflection. You can too. It only takes changing one word in our battle cries.
How about you? Who are you working, playing, studying, parenting, living for today?
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