The Ohio winter has been cold, gray, windy, dreary and long. Yes, we’ve had a few unexpected warm spells (global weirding we call it at our house), but on St. Patrick’s Day as we swirled peppermint buttercream on freshly baked green cupcakes, snowflakes flitted past our kitchen window. Snow. In mid-March.
But today, even though it’s still only a high of 40 degrees, the sun is bursting, blanketing my neighborhood in a golden glow. And these rays of sunshine make all the difference.
At least they do for me.
The sun instantly switches my perspective from survival mode of staying warm, logging miles, checking off lists…
to enjoyment mode—savoring the warmth prickling my skin, beaming at crocuses peeking up their violet heads from their slumber, and giggling at a squirrel chattering on the telephone wire overhead. God is so good and so abundant. He always is. But somehow I see it more clearly in the sunlight.
Similarly praise is a breakthrough switching our minds from worries, concerns, struggles and fears, to all the glorious ways God surrounds us with His warm, golden love. It’s like an on/off switch that literally changes our perspectives.
It’s not complicated. It begins with one simple thank you to God. Thank you, Jesus, for the daffodil stalks poking out of the earth like sharp, green spears.
And almost as soon as we utter the words of gratitude, we find another thank you follows quickly on the first one’s tail. Because thank you also, God, that I don’t have to plant daffodils every year. It’s miraculous how they not only return on their own, but multiply like blooms of sunshine scattered throughout our yard.
And then comes another. Thank you, Jesus for the text from a friend who’s praying for me, for the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker on that branch with his stunningly scarlet head, for the laughter bursting from my husband and son as they shoot the Nerf basketball into the hoop on the laundry room door.
The praise pulls us away from the what-if worries for tomorrow and the if-only-things-had-been-different reservations from the past. Praise pulls us into the present—shining light onto what God has for us, right before our eyes. The things we can thank Jesus for were always there. They are just easier to see when we illuminate our lives with gratitude.
It can be difficult on an emotionally gloomy day to eek out praise—on days when clouds of concern darken our skies, when gratitude doesn’t come naturally, when thank yous aren’t bubbling from our lips. On these days we need to be intentional. Because there’s always something to be grateful for. Something. Think. What is it?
Even in a hospital room we can thank God for intelligent doctors, scientific breakthroughs, modern sanitization, a call from a caring family member. Even when someone disappoints us, we can thank God for an umbrella on a rainy day, a rich frothy latte, a warm hand holding ours.
And once we start with the tiniest of thank yous, a ripple effect occurs. We begin to find more things to thank God for, and then more. All of a sudden we find ourselves less concerned about the troubles we’re tackling, and instead acutely aware of how loved we are by a glorious Creator.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever. --Psalm 136:1
So what can you thank God for today? You can start small. You can start simple, but start. List one thing.
Can you get to ten?
And as we focus on His goodness, His enduring love, we begin to feel the breakthrough. The bad stuff fades and doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore. The warmth of God’s love changes our perspective and helps us remember who we truly are—the ones God loves, the people He’s fighting for, radiant in the light of His Son.
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
I have always loved getting packages. When Brett and I got married the gifts flowed in—delicate crystal wine glasses and fluffy yellow towels from our registry, all new, all ours, all symbolic of setting up a new household, a new life together. Each time the UPS man rang the bell; I scampered to the door, as eager to open the brown cardboard boxes from Macy’s or Williams Sonoma as if they were ornate treasure chests. After living in a myriad of apartments, sleeping on futons and using the mismatched forks and hand-me-down skillet my mom had donated to my cupboards, I was in awe that all these lovely items were for us—that we could eat off these matching plates and cook pasta in brand new Calphalon pans with lids that fit.
The packages poured in again when we had babies—people we knew from college and work and growing up—all lavishing us with adorable sleepers with fuzzy feet, cuddly blankets dotted with yellow and green puppy dogs, and rhyming Boynton board books. How could we possibly be recipients of all this cuteness? We were the ones blessed with little miracles on the way. Certainly we didn’t deserve all of these gifts, too!
Now, with Amazon Prime, packages appear seemingly daily. Just this week I ordered lavender seeds, a scrubber brush to clean the showers, a case of Italian flour, and a book one of my kids needs to read over the summer for school (yes! you can still get books on Amazon). They all came in separate boxes (the environmentalist in me is screaming, but that’s a rant for another blog). As I pulled the boxes in off the porch it dawned on me that the brown cardboard now seems so normal. When the gifts from our wedding registry showed up it felt like Christmas every time—what was in the box? Who was it from? Wow! We’d never owned anything so nice, not that we could call ours. But now? I mean, crackers and jumper cables. Not so exciting. I even get entitled when something takes more than two days, because hello? Prime.
I started wondering how I’m responding to the packages God delivers to me? Am I opening them with anticipation? Or tossing them aside, into the bin with the other scrub brushes, along the shelves with the other groceries, taking it for granted when I use them, because I feel entitled that they should be there? Am I thrilled when packages from God show up, or am I all, “I prayed about it two days ago. Where the heck is it?”
Yesterday I walked out front to dump our dehumidifier bucket full of Ohio humidity on our flowers—this is about as advanced as I get in my gardening. And, there was a package on the porch. I didn’t even remember ordering anything. Had I? Instinctively I brought it inside and grabbed my scissors, because we do get so many brown boxes on our porch. My husband’s birthday was in a couple of days, my son’s is in two weeks. The box could be a package for one of them. Of maybe it was the swimsuit top I ordered for my daughter. But before I cut in, I was prompted to pause and read the label. Curious to see the package’s origins I discovered it wasn’t for me, or anyone in our home at all. The box was actually addressed to our neighbors a few blocks away—same numerals on their address, same neighborhood, different street. It made me wonder if I’m figuratively trying to open packages meant for other people. Wishing a destiny or current situation different than the one God has gifted me. The one He knows is best for me.
Because God does deliver packages on the porches of our lives every single day—conversations with strangers and friends that teach us something or remind us of something important or open our eyes, tangy barbeque sauce, sweet, juicy watermelon, cool pool water on scorching hot summer days, tiny baby deer with white speckled backs peeking through the trees, a fluffy squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk, a phone call or Bitmoji from a friend that makes you laugh out loud, the solid warmth of a hug from someone you love—all gifts. Are we opening them with anticipation, excitement, gratitude? Amazed that we could be so lucky to receive such packages? That God would deliver them to our doorsteps? Or do we take them for granted?
Are we so grumpy about the packages that haven’t come yet, the things we want, the things we feel we deserve that we’re like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, belting out, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” Are there things we prayed about two days ago that we wish God would hurry up and Prime them to our porch. Are we so busy eyeing our neighbors brown boxes—jobs, wardrobes, achievements, homes, families, meals, vacations, abs, that we wish we could open them for ourselves, totally missing the packages God has piled up specifically for us to enjoy?
I don’t know what your day holds. But I promise God will deliver at least one wonderful package to you, if not many. It might be exactly what you hoped for, or something you didn’t even know existed. Keep your eyes open! Take a moment to notice the pink streaks of sky in the sunrise, the tomato deepening from green to red on the vine, the uninhibited laughter of a child splashing in a fountain, to really look into someone’s eyes. Consider the job opportunity, the house that’s for sale, the trip someone invited you on—could these maybe be a special delivery from God? Open up the packages of today with new lenses aware of the beauty God has surrounded you with. Be amazed that He has handpicked this present for you and sent it to your address—to make you smile, to make you understand you are loved, that even though you don’t deserve it, He wants you to have it.
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
I am a horrible singer, but I love music, so I sing all the time anyway. I’m constantly adding songs to my Spotify playlists. One of my kids will play something that I positively need or the worship band at church will sing something I have to add to my library. When I add new songs, I find myself playing them on repeat, singing them again and again, as they do the magic that music does to me, tugging at my heart, pulling my feet to step and sway, making me feel lighter, more alive. Psalm 96 begins by instructing us to, “Sing to the Lord a new song.”
It got me wondering what my current song to the Lord is, what playlist I am automatically clicking on, and if it needs to be freshened up. I thought through my days—praises to God for my husband and kids. Pleas to God for friends and family with ailments and needs. Thanks to God before meals, as the new days dawn, as the tired days tug at my eyelids. Good songs I sing to God. At least I think they are. But new ones? Could I use some? Could you?
This past week I’ve been reading Psalm 96 over and over asking God, “How do you want me to change my tune? What new song would you like me to sing?”
Remember how big I am, I hear Him say as I gaze upward at impossibly tall trees reaching toward brilliant blue sky on my back porch. Remember how faithful I am He whispers as I go for a walk with my youngest, listening to him chatter about the Skittles his team won reviewing terms for vocabulary and about the clues to the crime in the novel he’s reading—voice animated, blue eyes flashing excitement. This boy who has overcome a hole in his heart and a life-threatening peanut allergy in his handful of years on earth, who God has literally saved over and over. Believe how complete I am, God nudges, as I glimpse a stunning sunrise in the morning and am captivated by a breath-taking sunset in the same day, murals painted across the sky, the ultimate performance-art-piece bookending my waking hours.
As I question what’s next, as my prayers are peppered with ‘please help us figure out this, transition into that, discern what to do about this’…God says, “I hear you. I love it when you share with Me what’s on your heart. I love you. I promise to care for you and your family in ways you can’t comprehend. But, would you add another song to your library?” God asks. “One of trust—because of how great I am, because of how faithful I am, because of how ultimate I am. Just savor this, and I think you’ll find everything else will fall into place.”
And for a moment I understand. The God who created all of this—each tulip perfectly shaped and steeped in bright colors teetering on fragile stems, each sip of coffee brewed from water running through dried beans and metamorphosing into morning nectar, each laugh ringing through the air like tiny chimes, the God who has answered prayer after prayer, the God who is with me when I wake welcoming me with my first glimpse of morning light and lulling me to rest as my weary head hits the pillow each night. This God is to be fully trusted, counted on, relied on. Because He is infinite, glorious, loving, caring, brilliant, and unstoppable.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. Psalm 96:4
When I meditate on these truths I know that Jesus loves the people I love even more deeply than I do, and therefore He has their best interests in mind. I know that God has plans to grow His kingdom, to grow me, and therefore He will guide me down the paths He wants me to take. I know He is in control, that God has the power to light up the sky with stars or sunshine or rainbows or snowflakes. That He can make giant oaks grow from tiny brown seeds wearing patterned caps. That He can freeze time or speed it up. Jesus can do anything and everything. This makes my worries, my anxieties disappear.
Yes, I will continue to talk to Him about all of the things I’m grateful for and concerned about, the things that scare me, shake me, make me cry and the ones that make me dance, grin, and giggle. Because our Heavenly Father is so sweet and caring, He wants to know, wants to talk about it. But I will also add a song of praise to Him to my prayer playlist. For being Him. Because when I do, everything else comes into a better perspective, a more rhythmic beat, a more beautiful melody.
Laura L. Smith