There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
There was a time when I had an 8, 5, 3 and 1 year old. I remember pushing the double car cart at the grocery overflowing with kids. People stopped me all the time and said, “You sure have your hands full!”
“Full of love,” I’d respond, because a) my kids were listening to every word and b) it was 100% true.
When my husband, our four kids, and me are together our hearts are full of love. It’s amazing—hilarious, story pouring over story, laughter layering over laughter, card games, movie nights, adventures, ice cream runs, prayers, music, discussions, inside jokes and so very much love. Being all together is fantastic. It escalates our fun, excitement and energy. We grow from one another’s insights and experiences. As my kids get older (too big to push in the car cart) they have more places they need and want to be. I treasure the nights we’re all in one place.
But I also treasure the rare one-on-one time. When I get one of the kiddos alone and we go on a walk, run errands, grab a meal, or have a private conversation, it’s priceless. Because this time is more personal. It’s in this alone space that I hear their favorite songs, watch their favorite shows, hear about the things bouncing around in their brains—everything from music producers to World War II battles. This is where some of the important things on their minds and hearts come out. This is where it’s easiest to share.
This is how God wants to hang out with us, too. In big groups and in more intimate space.
God loves it when we gather to learn about Him and His grace, to ask questions about Him, to share stories about how Jesus guides and loves on or fights for us, to sing to Him, to praise Him. There is something tangible, electric in this space. A group of people can be everything from a giant conference to a couple of women drinking coffee with their Bibles open. It could be a weekly church service or a one-time event. But when people gather together to know or worship Jesus, there’s a passion of shared experience, an opportunity to learn something we couldn’t learn on our own, the gift of hearing how God has worked in someone else’s life, the knowledge someone else brings to the game, the buzz of a cluster of people all praising God.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20
But Jesus also loves one on one time with us. Even Jesus would go off by himself to pray. Sure, God knows everything on our hearts, understands what we need before we need it, but He loves when we talk to Him about it. God knows we have questions. He surely doesn’t expect humans to understand the vastness of the Creator of the Universe. So, God is thrilled when we come to Him with questions, and when we seek knowledge about Him in the Bible. One on one time looks different for each of us on any given day. Just like individual time with one of my kids could be baking cookies or sitting on the porch listening to a thunderstorm together, alone time with God can be reading a plan on our Bible Apps, falling down on our knees in a quiet room, or having a conversation with Jesus in our heads as we walk through the grocery. But in that space, that quiet personal place, there is the opportunity for God to show us something that applies specifically to us—a gift He’s given us to use, a person He wants us to reach out to, something He wants us to stop worrying about, a reminder that He loves and accepts us unconditionally.
But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray. —Luke 5:16
Relationships are unpredictable, messy, lovely things. Whether they’re with God or with a family member.
We can’t plan on lightning bolts, revelations and goosebumps every time we attend Bible study or say a prayer. Sometimes I get an hour in the car with one of my kids, and they fall asleep. Which is totally fine, because what they needed most was rest. Some days I’ll read my Bible, and be like, ‘okay, that battle was interesting. Next.’ But that’s fine, too, because God will teach me something through it. He always does. We can’t be guaranteed that all interactions will be life changing. But we can be guaranteed that when we show up to a relationship, when we make the effort, when we’re open to learning and sharing and communicating, that the relationship always grows.
How’s your relationship with God? Mine? Beautiful some days. On others it can use a hecka lot of work. But no matter how I’m doing, no matter how you’re doing, God is waiting with open arms. There aren’t many relationships like that. God takes us how we are, whenever we come to Him. Whether it’s with a big group at a planned event, or if we call out to Him in the middle of the night, His love is available and abundant. It’s unlike any other relationship we’ll ever experience.
Seek God this week. In big and small places. Learn and share with others what you’re struggling with and what God’s doing for you. Talk to Him alone, and see what Jesus reveals to you.
The more ways and times you seek Him, the more your hands and heart will be full. Of love.
Seven new planets were discovered orbiting around a star named Trappist-1 last week! Seven! They’re about the size of earth, and we didn’t even know they existed!
Closer to home, this Amaryllis grew out of a bulb in the middle of winter in my own house. It’s not quite as remarkable as the planet thing, but considering any plant I come in contact with withers at my touch, it’s pretty amazing. (I’m like the Freeze Miser without ice).
And the God who created these stunning blooms, literally unfathomable when you look at the brown onion-like bulb they spring from, and our solar system packed with all those stars and planets (apparently way more than we could ever imagine) He created us, too.
Some days it’s easy to go around doing our thing. Rolling over, tapping our alarms, checking our phones, brushing our teeth, driving to school, work, spin class, and before we know it we’re washing up the dinner dishes, sliding on pajamas and crashing into our pillows, so engrained in our routines that we don’t notice. That we don’t notice the daffodils are poking up their heads, the people we love most have something behind their eyes, something on their minds, the song on the radio is the one we kept hearing at the beach, the scent of our soap smells like Grandma’s pies, that some time during the day God used us in some incredible way, that God created us for unbelievably phenomenal work.
Yes, I’m still a bit amazed by this whole planet thing, and I’ve pointed out the flower on our counter to my kids about 94 times each, but I also stand in awe of the way one of my girlfriends sings like a rock star, when I can’t carry a tune, how my mom makes meals for every neighbor and friend she knows when I struggle to get dinner on the table for my own family, how another friend can walk in a room and effortlessly remake the space with her instincts for color and layouts, when I’m just hoping to get around to the dusting. I’m not saying that I wish I had those gifts, sure they’d be nice, but this is not a jealous rant, just a moment to observe how many incredibly awesome and irreplaceable people God has created. To pause. And be in awe of how He uniquely gifts each of us.
And as I see the beauty in each of the women I get to hang out with, it reminds me that God created me to do specific work as well. Just like He created some of you to teach a certain skill, to listen to somebody’s problem, to mediate another disagreement, to create delicious cupcakes, to make people laugh, or to block the other team from scoring. What did He create you to do?
Don’t go through today without noticing.
Without observing the beauty in each of the individuals around you.
Without realizing the potential within yourself.
What amazing skills and talents do your friends and family members possess? Compliment them. Remind them. Encourage them, in case they haven’t detected their talents for themselves, in case they’re about to give up.
What do you do well? What comes naturally, something you might take for granted, that the people around you marvel at? Thank God for the ability to sing, run, analyze, listen, navigate, tell jokes, be patient, think outside the box, be silly, cook, make a difference. Thank Him for making you you. Now go out and shine like a planet, bloom like a flower, and knock the socks off the world.
When I’m at the beach I wear these heinous shoes all day, every day. They are the dorkiest item of apparel I own, but I wouldn’t even consider walking through the sand without them.
As soon as my feet hit the boardwalk leading from the condo to the beach, my family parts like the Red Sea, and I take off sprinting past them, sometimes with the pool bag flapping at my side, until I am ankle deep in ocean. I look ridiculous. I know I do. I look like I’m being chased by a Land Shark. People probably joke at dinner about the crazy lady they saw running by herself onto the beach, speculating about what motivated me to act like a maniac. But I do not care.
See, I’m allergic to fire ants, and not just like “achoo” or “dang I got a rash” but like” jab me with my Epipen and rush me to the hospital ASAP.” So to avoid these little buggers who live in hot, sandy places, I cover my feet and keep them in the wet sand where the ants are less likely to bite. And it is worth the ugly shoes and the strange antics to stay safe. Every single step of the way.
I’m sure there are many other things I do that seem strange or counter cultural to someone observing, but I do them for self-preservation. You probably do too. At dessert while out to eat with some girlfriends recently, one friend offered another friend a bite of her brownie. She answered, “No thanks. It looks so good, but I’d have to pay for it for a week.” She is gluten free and knows the wheat in baked goods attacks her body. The bite of rich, chocolaty brownie, although oh so yummy, just isn’t worth it for her. I have another girlfriend who needs her sleep. NEEDS IT. Like no one else I’ve ever met. She wakes up, takes her kids to school in the mornings and goes back to bed for another hour or so every school day. As a result every minute she’s awake she is more energetic, more productive, and happier. It is what she needs to be healthy and in a good place. And so no matter what everyone else does or thinks she should do, she deliberately gets her sleep.
It’s not always convenient to do the thing that’s best for you. But it’s essential to do it anyway.
The most significant thing I do each day to keep me grounded, safe, full of joy, and in the right frame of mind is to read the Bible. Most mornings I am on the fly—attempting to sneak a jog in before it’s sweltering hot, trying to get one of my kids on time to an early morning soccer game, hoping to get a bit of writing in before the rest of my family wakes up. And then there are the days when I am just sooo sleepy. But regardless of how handy or opportune, deliberately starting my day in the Word keeps me anchored to who I am.
So before I pull my covers off, I reach under my bed, pull out my Bible and my journal and see what God has in store for me for the day at hand. My morning time with my Bible:
There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 MSG
Just like my awful pink beach shoes keep me safe from seemingly harmless insects that are life-threatening to me, beginning my day immersed in the Word of God protects me against seemingly innocent insults, rejections, comments, stresses and tensions, and reminds me I am wholly and completely loved and accepted, just as I am. And this reward is so fulfilling that I am always glad I woke up early, took the time, or waited to get started on something else. Always.
How about you? What seemingly countercultural or inconvenient things do you do to keep yourself grounded, safe, happy and shining your true reflection?
Last week my husband was complaining of headaches.
Last week I kept looking in the mirror and thinking I looked pasty, like strangely pale.
Turns out he was making himself his usual two shots of espresso each morning, but he was using the decaf. Ouch!
Turns out, the new bottle of foundation I bought was two shades lighter than I normally get. Ew!
Brett had fooled himself into thinking his dose of caffeine would wake him up, and I was tricking myself into believing my make-up would even out my skin tone. It was unintentional, but it was our faults, because we weren’t looking hard enough at the truth. We were in too much of a hurry, too much of a routine, felt like we had it all under control, when clearly we did not. But the result of all of our self-imposed hoodwinking was both of our heads were messed up. Gheesh! You’d think we could count on ourselves!
But we are guilty of self-imposed unintentional deception. We tell ourselves lies. All the time.
“If I just lost five pounds.”
“If I just had a job lined up.”
“If I just played for that team.”
“If I just got this deal.”
“If I just looked like/sounded like/performed like her.”
And the result of lying to ourselves about our worth—that we would be better off if we were different—is much more damaging than a headache or looking ghostly. We tell ourselves we’re not enough. And when we do that, we take away from the beautiful creations God made us to be.
Why do we deceive ourselves? Why do we fall into the routines of life, rushing around in a hurry without taking the time to open our eyes and examine the truth?
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted. 1 Peter 2:9-10
We are chosen by God. Chosen for high work. Chosen to be holy. He loved us so much He died for us. He must love us, immensely, if He was willing to die for us. To Christ we matter. To Him we have value. To Him we are not something to be rejected. He has already accepted us, fully. Why would we ever tell ourselves otherwise?
I mean the world tricks us plenty. You’d be happier if you drank this beer, wore these yoga pants, had this hairstyle, etc. The world cajoles us into thinking we have to look or act a certain way, that we need a prom date or an SUV, that we need to live in a certain neighborhood or have a certain relationship status to be content. The world makes us believe who we are and what we do is not enough.
God tells us the opposite. God loves us for who we are, exactly who we are. He doesn’t care how many miles we logged, how many points we scored, which income bracket we fall into, or if we check married, single, divorced, or widow on our tax returns. He just loves us. For us. Because He made us. Exactly how we are.
It’s time to discard both the lies the world is telling us today, and the ways we’re deceiving ourselves. We need to take time to focus on how excellently formed and marvelously functioning we truly are, exactly as we are. We need to run with this truth, embrace and own it, without ever worrying about how we measure up or compare to someone else, because that’s just messing up our pretty priceless heads. We need to instead just go ahead and be what we were made to be, our own true beautiful reflections.
Are you rushing around believing what’s in front of you, because it’s there, because it’s easy? Are you conning yourself into how you can be energized or how you can feel beautiful? Or are you taking time to examine the truth? The truth that God loves you. Are you deceiving yourself today? Telling yourself you’re not enough? Telling yourself you fall short? That if you just did (fill in the blank) you'd be better? Take a breath. Open your eyes. Wider. Look at what’s really going on. Examine who you truly are. Because you are more than enough for the one true King, therefore, you are enough.
So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. Romans 12:6
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
Brett’s aunt was turning 75 and her husband was throwing a surprise party to celebrate. We had a million and eight excuses not to go. Brett had just had hand surgery. I was on the fifteenth day of fighting a sinus infection and the snot was winning. The party was an hour away from home. On a weeknight. The night before the kids’ last day of school before Christmas break.
But Brett’s aunt was turning 75! So, despite obstacles and inconveniences we paid the very small price of attending—a little time, a little planning, a little more energy than we had in the reserves. And it was glorious. There was lobster. AND cake.
But even better than the lobster and cake was a room full of people celebrating a woman who has lived life large. Aunt Linda was a flight attendant who has traveled the world from China to Germany to Paris back to California and Ohio again. She actually made a deal with Monte Hall on the original Let’s Make a Deal show. She worked as a waitress in the Playboy club in the 70’s and has stories about Hugh Hefner that would make your eyes pop. She has lived. And this gathering of neighbors, family and friends was a testament to her verve and vitality.
What if we’d stayed home? Called in sick? Everyone would have understood. No one would have been mad at us. But we would have missed it.
Jesus invites us to a feast too, in Matthew 22:1-3 “God’s kingdom,” he (Jesus) said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!
Why wouldn’t the invited guests come? I mean who wouldn’t come to a wedding banquet of a king? (Cough). Perhaps the person who had the sinus infection? Or the four kids who needed to pack lunches, and bring in a treat, and a gift for their teachers the next day? Just saying. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us that easily.
“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. Mt 22:4-7
I mean, we have work to do, right? Driveways to shovel, dishes to wash, tests to study for, clients to serve, reports to finish, emails to send, things to sell, volunteer hours we’ve signed up for. But what are we missing when we tend to our to-do lists instead of God’s invitations? How many times do I reply to God’s invitations, “Yeah, God, that would be nice, but I’m really busy.”? It would be great if I listened intently to the story my daughter is telling about gym class, or to grab coffee with that special friend, but I have to get dinner on the table and have deadlines to meet. They’ll understand. Now is not convenient. It might not even be feasible.
At the end of the day, or week, or year, or our lives, will we find peace that our home was spotless? Will we pride ourselves in having perfect attendance at our Paddle matches? Or will we savor the stories, the time together the feasts God laid out for us? That might include a move, a new position, changing majors, switching teams. These invitations could take some consideration, definitely some prayer, to make sure they’re from God, but if they are, can you imagine the party we might miss if we say no? And these invitations, these are just hors d’oeuvres. The biggest invitation from God of all, the one to hang out with Him, to be in relationship with Him. Well, that’s a feast. And I don’t want to have made any excuses that would make me miss it.
I’m a big proponent of saying, “no” to things. The last thing any of us needs right now is more things on our plate. But how about living our lives large, by saying “no” to the unimportant, trivial things, and RSVPing “Yes!” to God’s invitations. Because when we drop the things we think are “so important” to show up to God’s table, we will be blown away by delicacies like lobster and cake, and laughter and relationships and love.
Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. Matthew 22: 8-10
We’re all invited. Everyone in town. The good. The bad. Regardless. So, yes, that includes me and you. All of us. No matter where we stand today. No matter what we have or haven’t done. This is a New Year’s party we don’t want to miss! Ring in 2016 by accepting God’s invitation. This is the year we can live larger than ever.
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
One of the highlights of living in a small college town is the Fourth of July.
There’s a penny carnival, where most of the booth operators don’t even collect the copper coins clutched in the children’s hands to play bean bag toss, get their face painted or bounce in bare feet in the inflatable jumpy house. Dum Dums and Tootsie Rolls clatter on the brick-paved street as library workers, firefighters and the mayor toss candy to the kids lining the curbs.
On scorching July evenings as our entire town gathers at the park, we eat icy-cold snow cones with generous pumps of sweet, sticky flavored cherry or blue raspberry syrup, and we’re certain to bump into everyone from former teachers to co-workers to friends our kids played with when they were toddlers. We’ve waved sparklers with colleagues from Canada and played pick-up soccer games with my husband’s international students from North Africa.
But of course the coup de grace, the main stage event is the fireworks.
“That one looks like a jellyfish!”
“Oooh, I like that one!”
“The kind that shoots up like a rocket then has brightly colored fizzles is my favorite.”
Pop pop pop!
“No the green ones that change color to pink, those are my favorite. Oh, I can’t decide. They’re all my favorite.”
And we are. In awe. Starry-eyed and goosebumpy, like kids on Christmas morning, of the colorful explosions glimmering against the dark, night sky.
These sparks of light and celebration signify the freedom of our country, but they signify something more—possibility, hope, beauty.
Fireworks broken down are man made packets of gunpowder and fire with metal salts, such as sodium nitrate of calcium chloride, mixed in to emit different colors. So how much more can we be in awe of God, the creator of vibrant sunsets, roaring waterfalls, rainbow dotted fields of wildflowers, who does His work, not in a lab but with His imagination and magnificence? God makes our hearts beat, our spines tingle, our eyes tear up with emotion. Have you taken time today to sit still and be in awe of Him?
I love the fireworks. I gaze completely content, undistracted, feeling fizzy inside when I watch them each year, like time has stopped and the world is filled with wonder, and I can do anything. Of course I am even more amazed by the way God loves me, blesses me and provides for me, and I am in awe of Him. Completely. Every day. But I don’t stop my life, pull up a chair, give Him my undivided attention and shout out, “Wow!” nearly often enough. Do you?
Are you hearing things clearly?
Are you hearing God clearly?
Earwax is a normal, healthy self-cleaning agent to actually protect our ear canals, except when there’s too much, except when it clogs our ear canals, because then we can experience hearing loss.
Is anything clogging your ears today?
Q-tips, not something we talk about everyday, but we all use them, right? The Q-tip website touts their many uses; lovely lips, flawless nails, crafts, pet care (that one had me stumped), but we all know why they were invented (even though doctors say we’re not supposed to use them for this purpose any more)—to remove ear wax.
Most of the time I feel I’m pretty in tune with God. We talk every day.
But there are other days, bad days, when I allow the world to clog my ears. When I let the world’s measures and expectations take that earwax that was meant to protect me and cram it in my ear canal until I can no longer hear God’s beautiful promises.
It’s difficult to hear through the earwax of the world.
And so, enter Q-tips. I know, I’ll repeat myself; we’re not supposed to use them anymore, but how about spiritual Q-tips? What do you use to clean out the gunk and the lies of this world, to hear God better?
Some spiritual Q-tips:
· Open the Bible and read. Let God’s promises and truths sink in.
· Find a quiet place and ask for God’s peace, His direction. Then wait to actually sense a response, or at least to feel and acknowledge His presence
· On the go? Tune your radio or earbuds to Christian music or a podcast or a sermon, something that inspires you, fills you with Biblical truths and centers you back with Jesus
· Hang out with or reach out to Godly friends. You’ll be amazed by the light they can cast on something you’re struggling with
What matters most is that Jesus loves us! We need to be reminded of that. We need to clean out our ears, so we can hear it loud and clear!
Apparently, the Q in Q-tip stands for quality. My friend, Amy Parker, once said in referring to God’s truths, “Quality truth is powerful.”
Clean out your ears and let the powerful quality truth that you are God's beloved pour in like a symphony today.
What ways do you use to spiritually clean out your ears?
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