As I was walking out the door my husband joked, “Are you sure you know how to use the ATM?”
I laughed. Because it was actually funny. My husband frequents the ATM, and I rarely go because I use my little silver plastic rectangle instead of cash almost everywhere.
But I was on an adulting roll, you know despite all the days you’re not, there are some days you’re in the groove, so I set out to run the errands that had been accumulating--batteries to be recycled at the hardware store, library books that needed returned, a package that needed to go to the post office, and the visit to the ATM, because there was a rare instance when cash was necessary.
I was checking things off the list, feeling organized and in control. I parked uptown right next to the ATM, inserted my card and...the machine seized it. It gave me some message communicating that it was taking my card, but I was so surprised I’m not really sure what it said. Umm...what? Why?
And so, I drove to the actual bank and went inside, filled out a little slip of paper requesting a withdrawal, stood in line, then got the cash I needed. I also told the teller about my card. She checked my account and was surprised, because our balance supported the transaction. Then she started laughing. “It says you haven’t used that card in over two years?!”
“Sounds about right. I never need cash. And my husband always gets it.”
The teller was trying to be kind, but was obviously amused and confused that I’d gone over 700 days without using my card and all of a sudden wanted to use it today. The machine was programmed to consider this suspicious activity and yanked the card.
But the thing that struck me most was this. If we reach out to God, if we pray, if we call out His name for help, if we open our Bibles, He never ever says, “Ummm. No. It’s been too long. You haven’t prayed in over two years. Sorry, we’re just going to end this conversation now. It looks suspicious, so I’m going to disconnect the call.”
Nope. That’s not how God operates. He says, "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you."--Hebrews 13:5. He’s so opposite of this world. It is refreshing. And stunning. And lovely.
If you’ve never spoken one word to God, He’s ready to talk to you today. You don’t need to apply for an account, register a card, have the correct credentials, make a certain amount of deposits in your account, or wait for approval. If you haven’t spoken to Jesus in years, He’s ready to talk to you today. You don’t have to drive to your local branch (church), fill out some papers, or stand in line. He’ll talk to you wherever you’re currently standing, sitting, or going.
Banks should be cautious about who is taking money out of accounts, and I’m grateful that mine has security around my account. But God is never cautious about us. He created us, so He literally knows every thought in our heads and every cell in our bodies. We haven’t hidden anything from Him. Not that scar on the bottom of our foot or on our heart. Not that lie we told or the excuse we made. And we don’t have to. He loves us. Period. Forever. He loved us when He created us, and He loves us still today. No matter what’s transpired in the interim.
Don’t forget to sign up for the Perfectly Imperfect Christian Parenting Conference with over 40 speakers (including me, Bob Goff, Candace Camerson Bure, Jess Connolly, Paul Tripp, and Jon Tyson) all sharing 15-20 minute talks on how to refocus, refine, and be ready in our parenting. The conference is officially April 23-24, but with your $49 pass you’ll get access to all of the videos for 60 days. Sign up here!
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These daffodils. They truly blow me away. There are countless bunches of them bursting in bright yellow all over my back yard. I didn’t plant a single one of them. I have never once watered, weeded, or fertilized them. And yet every single year they push up through the ground and flourish. They even miraculously multiply. All by themselves.
This is how Jesus operates.
Jesus reminds us that it’s not OUR work that gets things done, but His. Now, disclaimer, Jesus does ask us to work. We’ve talked about that here on the blog--for example, just last week and here in 2019. God commissioned mankind to “tend and watch over the garden (Genesis 2:15).” Clearly, we’re no longer in the Garden of Eden, but anything that consists of tending or watching over this world counts. Cutting someone’s hair is “tending” to a person who lives on this earth. Teaching someone a new skill or concept is “tending” to the knowledge of someone on this earth. Studying wave charts or babysitting or managing accounts or parenting all count as “watching over” things on this earth. God assigns us work. However…it is not all up to us. Never was. Never will be.
When a crowd of around 20,000 people who were listening to Jesus teach got hungry, Philip said, “Even if we WORKED for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:7. Another disciple named Andrew found a boy with two fish and five loaves. Jesus took that and not only fed the masses, but there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Andrew had to find the boy. He had to do some work, but it wasn’t up to Andrew to feed the crowd that would fill a soccer stadium. That’s where Jesus stepped in.
A bit later in verse 28 when the crowd asks, ““What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
The work we’re supposed to do is to believe in Jesus, and let that flow into all of our work--into the dishes and deadlines and debit card statements. We do the things we’re supposed to, like find a boy with his lunchbox, and then believe that Jesus is who He says He is, and let Him feed the crowd.
When Peter was asked if Jesus would pay his taxes, Jesus gave Peter some work to do.
“Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.”
Peter was a fisherman. That was his job. Jesus told him to go catch a fish. And then to open its mouth. If Peter did the work, if Peter would believe, Jesus would do the miracle.
Jesus followed up with, “Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:27.
Again Jesus asks the disciples to do a task, trust Him, and He’ll provide the miracle. “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Luke 19:30-31
The disciples had to walk to the next village. They had to look for the colt. They had to give a certain answer, untie the colt and bring it back. It took awhile. It required physical effort. It might have made the disciples uncomfortable or nervous to grab a large animal and use as their explanation, “The Lord needs it.” Wouldn’t it look like they were stealing? What if the owner doubted them? But they believed Jesus when He said this would all work out. They did the assignment and things went down exactly how Jesus said they would. The owner let them walk away with that colt. Why? Because Jesus does miracles.
And that drops us off on Palm Sunday as Jesus rides that donkey into Jerusalem knowing full well the miracle of all miracle He’s about to perform--the one where He dies on a cross, but comes back to life. For this one, all He asks is for us to believe.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.--John 3:36
Kind of like those daffodils.
It doesn’t matter if I water them or not. It doesn’t matter if I weed around them or put up some kind of cage to keep critters from nibbling. They come back to life every spring.
What is it you’re trying super hard to bring to life right now?
Where do you feel like you don’t have enough food or resources or dollars or clout?
Do you believe Jesus can change that? Do you believe He's working? When He asks you to do something, do you believe it's for a reason?
Jesus can feed you in abundance, provide more than you ever imagined, pull money out of a fish, and His word is the only endorsement you need to untie that donkey. To live in His love, to experience His grace, all you have to do is believe He is who He says He is. He did all the work for you.
Easter is coming. And with it new life. Whatever feels dead in your life, like it could use a makeover or redo or revival, that’s Jesus’ jam. He’s all about second chances and bringing things out of the grave. Do what He asks you, whether that’s catching a fish or going into town or running some numbers or making a call or doing some research or trying one more time, and then wait for it--His miracle is coming.
True Reflections, a 30-day devotional diving into our true, amazing identity in Christ starts Monday, April 5. If you already signed up for the FREE digital version it will arrive in your inbox on Saturday, April 3. Print copies have been mailed out, but it’s not too late to join the fun! If you haven’t signed up yet, but still want to click here*
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*If you signed up for the True Reflections devotional FREE digital copies will arrive in your inbox on Saturday, April 3. If you haven’t signed up yet, but still want to click here*
A year ago as the cast of Hamilton sings, “the world turned upside down.”
First my son and daughter’s high school business plan competition in Columbus was canceled. Then my daughter’s soccer tournament in Tennessee was called off. Next, I got a frantic call from my oldest saying she and all the other students were being sent home from her college campus immediately. Soon my packed calendar was emptied and our family who is usually going every direction and back again was together within the confines of our home.
I’m sure you have similar stories.
Prior to all the cancellations, I was in a rut. In a lot of areas in my life. I’ve talked about some of them before here and here, but even though I’m a writer, and use creativity in my work on a daily basis, my creativity seemed stunted when I stepped away from my laptop.
With six people’s taste buds and multiple food allergies, planning safe meals that everyone enjoys is a trick and a half, and I was letting it get the better of me. Not to mention, we were often on a time crunch to have dinner ready between school, practices, meetings, and rehearsals. I had a couple of full proof meals--tacos and gluten free pasta, but that was about it. I was as sick of making them as my family was of eating them.
But when last March gave us some extra time on our hands my kids sparked my creativity. Could they help plan the meals? Sure. Could we make the homemade tomato recipe they found on TikTok? We can try. Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a giant charcuterie board? Absolutely it would be fun! And so, I rediscovered how therapeutic cooking is for me.
When I stopped thinking of dinner as another task I needed to complete and instead took my time chopping and simmering, stirring and measuring it became soothing. Even better was when one of my kids joined me in the kitchen--smashing avocados for guacamole or kneading pizza dough. Their interest in the process made it more interesting to me. Their company in the kitchen--absolutely priceless. The flavors of melted brie dripping with honey and smells of garlic and onion simmering in olive oil revived my senses. I felt like Remy in Ratatouille savoring the experience instead of going through the motions. And the tangible product of creating a delicious meal for the family while transitioning from “go” mode to “relax” mode in the early evenings became something I looked forward to. Our schedules are rapidly picking back up again, but I want to find ways to continue this. Maybe not every night, but more nights.
I also rediscovered painting--not walls, but journals, Bibles, blank notecards, just creating beauty on blank spaces. In school I opted into extra art classes. I’m also the girl who could spend hours in a museum gazing at the imaginative creations of great artists. But I hadn’t painted anything since the kiddos were tiny and we’d pull out the watercolors. Getting the paints back out has been therapeutic.
It makes sense. The first time I ever baked chocolate chip cookies with my mom I was amazed I could cream butter and sift flour to make my favorite food (and eat spoonfuls of delectable dough in the process). The first time I dipped my fingers in thick, cool finger paints (I can still smell the waxy scent of the red, yellow, and blue), I was amazed how streaks of color transformed the white paper. God put these things in me when He created me. It was me that got away from them, that got too busy to play.
Think back to things that have always made you happy, the ways you “played” when you were younger. Riding bikes? Doing puzzles? When was the last time you did that thing?
I’ve heard it said that if you work with your mind you should rest with your hands and vice versa. I’m a writer, which is all words in my head, so this theory holds true as I find measuring teaspoons of cinnamon or dipping brushes and swirling colors restful and restorative.
Using your hands could mean sewing a skirt, rebuilding an engine, tiling your bathroom, or getting out a box of Crayolas and creating aliens with a cute preschooler. My friends who work with their hands--nurses who deliver babies, interior designers who lug couches across rooms--they find rest reading nonfiction books, listening to podcasts, playing games like Clue, Chess, or Risk-- things that tap into their brilliant headspace.
God worked. He wants us to do the same. And God rested. And, yup, He wants us to do the same.
Do you rest? Or are you always on the go?
Do you practice this principle of switching your processing from your mind to hands or hands to mind?
Do you incorporate playtime into your life?
If so, what brings you joy and rest, renews your body, refreshes your soul?
Find your things or rediscover ones that have been in you all along. Those things you loved to do once upon a time, Jesus put in you when He created you. And Jesus tells us that He’ll teach us how to live a free and light life--one filled with unforced rhythms of grace.
“Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” --Matthew 11:29-30 MSG
Jesus does this because He wants to awaken our senses of smell with intoxicating vanilla, invigorate us with laughter and revive us with bright cobalt blues. But we have to be willing to put down our work. We have to be willing to pause and rest and play and pray. And when Jesus shows us a fabulous way to live life more freely, we need to step into it.
Set aside some time this week to play. Talk to Jesus about some ways to intentionally do something (scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix are fine, but not what we’re talking about here). Do something that restores you, that helps build a rhythm of grace into your life. Let me know how it goes!
Me? I plan on painting a chair or two and making homemade pizza dough.
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Our first full day at the beach my husband and I went for a run. It was sunny. But the wind was fierce. And we were running straight into it. The 25-30 mph winds assaulted my eyes and whipped across my face. The loose grains of sand were visibly being blown across the beach, white and ethereal, like ghosts speeding across the surface. I felt like I was running on a treadmill, moving my body, but getting nowhere. Instinctively I glanced right, as if over there it would be easier going. But the ocean was choppy. The waves wild. I was safer on land.
My husband in all his kindness pointed ahead. “Look, I can see where we turn around. Those blue roofs. Can you see them?”
Brett meant this landmark as, “Good news, the end is in sight.”
But to me, the end looked unreachable.
How would I ever make it to there?
The answer? One intentional step at a time.
The metaphor wasn’t lost on me. There are seasons in life that feel like this. Seasons of betrayal, addiction, sorrow, pain, disease and loss. They are real. And they are hard. Each step takes tremendous effort. We’re desperately trying to catch our breaths and feel like we’re up against the impossible. Like there’s no way around, only forward. The goal, although just ahead, feels unattainable.
We’re not the only ones who have felt like this.
The great prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4 tells God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”
Hagar, Abraham’s slave and concubine, was pregnant, alone, and on the run in Genesis 16.
Esther’s people were about to be eliminated in a mass genocide.
In Luke 8 we meet a woman who had been bleeding continuously for twelve years, spent every dime on medical treatments to no avail, and was publicly considered “unclean,” an outcast.
All of them were running against incredibly fierce winds.
Our mighty, faithful God, cared for Elijah, and reminded the prophet how much He loved him, speaking to Elijah in a still, small voice.
Even though Hagar was on the bottom rung of society God came to her, found her, and spoke to her, letting her know she was seen and that she mattered.
God empowered Esther to save her entire nation.
And Jesus not only healed the bleeding woman, but called her His daughter.
God was always with those folks in the Bible. Every moment of their journeys. But when they felt like they couldn’t take one more step, Jesus flooded His children with His love and power in a way they couldn’t miss. Jesus will do this for us, too. When we think we can’t take one more step, He’ll change everything.
God promises: “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15.
Normally when we hit the halfway point of a run, my husband and I simply do an about face and keep going, but when we reached the buildings with the blue roofs I turned around, away from the wind, halted, and gasped for air. I bent over. And exhaled and inhaled and breathed deeply again. I needed a moment to acknowledge that I’d made it. Not on my own, but with God talking to me the entire time. Sure, it was just a run. On the beach no less. But God’s voice in my head was strong. I got you this far, He said. I always will. No matter what winds you head into. I will protect you wherever you go. I will not leave you.
The second half of the run was the easiest I remember. With the wind at our backs, propelling us forward I barely had to exude any effort at all. No matter what you’re facing today, no matter what wind you’re running against, God is with you in these exhausting, trying steps where you feel like you’re going backwards. You might not see or feel Him, but it is actually the Lord who is keeping you going. He promises to stay and to protect you through it all. And the end truly is in sight. You’re so close to being able to turn around where the wind will be at your back. God will be with you then, too. Propelling you toward the warmth of the sun and the soothing splash of waves.
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Liberated. This is how one of you described how you felt after going through our 10 Minutes for 10 Days journey together. Refreshed. Restored. Energized. Peaceful. Are other adjectives you all used. These are words we’d all like to feel more of, aren’t they?
Ten minutes sometimes sounds like such an easy add in to our days. Sure, I have ten minutes. And sometimes like we couldn’t possibly find them. Because we’re running late and have a zillion things to do and are exhausted. But it’s all about what those ten minutes entail, right? If the ten minutes piles things on to your to-do list and adds another level of stress--no thanks. But if ten minutes liberates you? Then yes, please.
If you participated in the 10 Minutes for 10 Days free devotional you’ve been doing this. You’ve been taking ten minutes a day to change the world and refresh your souls. And the collective impact has been incredible. If you haven’t gotten your free devotional yet, just click here.
On the first day we had hundreds of us praying for ten minute chunks of time. Some of you prayed for ten full minutes about the mountain that’s been standing in your way. You took it to God and asked for His help and He chipped away some rocks and chunks of earth of that mountain. Or maybe God gave you a glimpse of a way around that massive roadblock. Or perhaps God gave you some gear that will make your climb more feasible. Some of you went through your family members one by one and prayed for them. You prayed for an end to the pandemic, for unity in our nation, and for a cure for cancer. Some of you sat unable to form words, but let God into your heart--your pain and hopes and fears. And all of it was beautiful. God heard every single word and understood every single heart’s cry.
Hundreds of you gave away $10 to worthy causes and people in need. You literally took ground for the kingdom, fixing broken issues and passing out hope in the shape of ten dollar bills.
One day you worshipped--praising Jesus for His goodness and glory and power and faithfulness. I pray this calmed your heart and centered your soul. But can you also imagine how heaven was jamming to all that praise? How the angels were dancing?
You got rid of things--belongings, accounts you follow, the distraction of your phone (for a little while at least). With less clutter in your life you’re now better positioned to hear God, to see Him move, to feel His presence. You got back to creation and breathed in God’s goodness. You gave thanks and read your Bibles.
For those of you who follow a traditional liturgical church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which are the 40 days leading up to Easter. Forty days is significant in the Bible. It’s how long it rained on Noah and his ark full of animals before God let the sun shine in the sky and painted that dazzling rainbow. Moses spent forty days with God in the desert while God wrote out the 10 Commandments on stone tablets. Elijah traveled for forty days to get to Mount Sinai where he would hear God’s still, small voice. It’s how long Jesus spent in the desert in deep communion with God the Father before His famous showdown with the devil. Forty days prepares our hearts.
If you like to spend this season reflecting, maybe pick one of the things we did over the last ten days--pray, worship, or get outside and spend some alone time with Jesus for ten minutes, make a gratitude list, unclutter--choose one and make it your daily Lenten practice. Or start on Day 1 and go through the study four more times. These practices aren’t things you must do, they aren’t requirements, they’re tools to get you closer to your Maker.
Whether you’re a Lent observer or not, I pray you got/will get closer to Christ through this devotional. I pray you heard/will hear His sweet voice reminding you how much He loves you and that He’ll never leave you. If you didn’t get your copy yet, just click here. You can start today.
After Lent, the day after Easter, I have another FREE devotional we can go through together. Stay tuned for the details.
For now, exhale the stress of the world and breathe in Christ’s perfect peace that surpasses all understanding.
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A year and a half ago I was in Monet's actual garden mesmerized by these water lilies. It was so beautiful, so peaceful. I wanted to linger and breathe in that feeling, keep it with me. But life is busy, right?
Fast forward to a year ago. Away from the garden, back in the routine. Life was hectic. I had headaches all the time, because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I loved all the things I was doing and all the people I was serving, but my calendar was scary full and I had no idea how to make it less so. I was cramming everything into the tiniest of moments trying to fit it all in. God shook me up and taught me a thing or two. If you've beeen reading this blog, you've witnessed part of this journey--some of the beautiful surprises God gave me, some of the challenges I faced, some of the books I read and adventures I went on, some of the feelings I felt. I'm still learning. God keeps working on my heart showing me ways to more frequently breathe in the beautiful life He offers, and hold onto it longer. I don't want to forget what I've experienced and learned. I want to reinforce what's important and eliminate the things that get in the way of living this incredible life God has painted for us. I wrote a FREE 10-day study as a way for us to learn together. It starts Friday, February 5. And I'd love for you to go through it with me.
10 Minutes for 10 Days is a quick and easy way to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully. There’s nothing hard or original here. Just some easy steps that Jesus modeled for us to cleanse our lives of some of the things getting in the way of feeling Christ’s peace.
I’m going to go through it with you, because I need to be aware of the noise and the silence in my life--the things God calls me to produce and create and get done and the ways He invites me to put them down.
We’ll spend ten minutes for ten days simplifying our lives in order to better connect with God. Each day's practice is as simple as pausing at a beautiful painting, lingering outside to inhale the scent of lilies, or praying for someone as they pull out of the driveway instead of immediately grabbing our phones. This is your journey with Jesus. Listen to Him as you go.
Invite a friend or two or three. Forward to your Bible study, book club, sisters, small group, prayer chain. It's FREE. No strings. If you click on the button below, I'll send you the free PDF. If you already subscribe to the blog, I'll send you a copy on Thursday. You can download and print and scribble in it, or use your own journal and access the digital copy each day. I'll also be popping on Instagram each of the ten days (except Sundays, because I fast from social media on Sundays) to chat about that day's practice and to check in to see how you're doing. I'll post these in my stories, and drop them in the 10-Minute Highlights, in case you missed them.
Are you ready to join me? You're just a click away.
I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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There’s something powerful about the written word. In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of 2020, I read some spectacular books. Despite what was going on in the world, nothing could take away from what had already been penned on the pages. There were also several books that I began to read, even read 60-70 pages of, and then put down. Because the stack of things I want to read is l-o-n-g, and life is short, and I’d rather spend it reading the really good ones, not the so-so ones. So, today I’m sharing some of my favorites in hopes of pointing you to reads that are truly worth your time.
The Lost Vintage by Amy Mah
You had me at France. Amy Mah interweaves two stories--one of a woman who travels back to her roots in Burgundy, France in hopes of perfecting her wine palate, so she can pass the Master of Wine exam. Another of a girl growing up on the same land during World War 2. Both girls are faced with enormous decisions that will impact their family’s reputation, safety and integrity. The Lost Vintage is historical fiction, exposing atrocities and struggles of the Nazi occupation I wasn’t aware of. It is also a mystery revolving around valuable wine grown and bottled on the family’s land that disappeared during the occupation. Plus, it’s a romance, of people, and of a heritage. It’s exactly the kind of story that allows you to both learn of another time and appreciate how others fought for freedom and human dignity, as well as one that takes you away to the dreamy French countryside. And since we can’t travel to France right now, this is the next best thing.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a magical tale of books and stories and secret lands you dream of, and when you least expect it, enter. I fell in love with Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus (which was on my best books of 2015 list) and was thrilled to see she’d released a new title. The Starless Sea is filled with twists, turns and intricate plotting. It makes you want to flip back a few chapters to catch a clue you might have missed and read the whole thing in its entirety again as soon as you’ve finished. As much as I’ve always wanted to receive a letter written on parchment and sealed with wax inviting me to Hogwarts, I now find myself fiddling with doorknobs, wondering, “what if?” Morgenstern’s descriptions are breathtaking, making you taste caramel or cinnamon in your mouth or feeling thick velvet under your fingertips as you read. It’s a story of longing, self-discovery, friendship, love, and fighting for what matters most at all costs.
BEST PICTURE BOOKS
My kiddos have outgrown snuggling up on my lap to read picture books, but there is still something magical about the pages of a picture book.The combination of gorgeous illustrations and lyrical text transport the reader (that’s us) into a dreamworld or a sillyworld or an adventureworld or a world where we can learn something new. Both Lullaby Prayer by Tammy Bundy and God is Hope by Amy Parker invite us into something lovely and bright. These books remind us of God’s love, hope, and grace, which were so needed this past year (and every year). Yes, these are great messages for the littles in our life, but they are also beautiful truths for us grown-ups to remember.
BEST NONFICTION BOOKS
As a Christian author, I tend to read a lot of books in the nonfiction Christian genre, specifically books for women. Women of the Bible Speak Out by Marlo Schalesky was fresh and powerful. Schalesky dives deep into many of the women you may have heard of from the Bible--Bathsheba, Hagar, Mary Magdalene, etc. and shows how even when they were marginalized, afflicted and mistreated because of their gender, God was with them. Always. Women of the Bible Speak Out gives voice to these historic women and what they went through, but it also gives voice to modern women who have either said #metoo or felt the effects of it ripple through their lives. A beautiful reminder of how our loving God has always seen, loved, respected and elevated women--even when the world does not.
BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
Are you exhausted?
I was when I started reading this book just as the world was shutting down last March. My calendar had practices, games, rehearsals, and tournaments on every single day--and that was just for our kids, let alone my own commitments, deadlines, and meetings. I was running from here to there and never getting quite enough sleep or feeling like I’d fully enjoyed completing a task, because as soon as I finished one, I had to rush off to the next. Comer’s deep dive into the statistics, history and evolution of our busyness, overtired, overworked, over packed schedules is terrifying. And then, this book becomes incredibly freeing. Comer invites readers to challenge social norms by reducing commitments and finding rest for our bodies, minds and souls. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
Sabbath rest is not something new, but it is a beautiful part of God’s design that He invites each and every one of us into. Comer gives practical ways to slow down and breathe life more deeply. What a perfect way to dive into 2021!
What were your favorite reads of this past year? Let me know in the comments, because I’m starting my new pile of “to read” books for 2021.
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
“Your electric will be out for most of the day.” The man with the frizzy brown beard and bright yellow hard hat standing at my front door told me almost verbatim what the woman from the electric company had said over the phone yesterday.
It was a sunny day and remarkably warm for November. I planned ahead, charged my phone and laptop, and worked by a window in the family room where there would be more light. But it was ridiculous how many times I tried to use electricity anyway.
I flipped a light switch. Tried to open the garage door. Glanced at the clock on the oven about four thousand times to see what time it was. Popped my coffee mug in the microwave to heat up my morning mocha. And laughed at myself every single time when nothing happened.
What if we depended on God like we depended on electricity? What if every time we went to plug in, turn on, crank up, reheat, or log on we reached out to Jesus?
Because He is the light of the world. He came down over 2000 years ago on that first Christmas to bring us light.
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. —John 1:4-5 NLT
A week and a half later, our power went out again. And then again just a couple of days ago. Between the six of us Smiths all at home there were countless calls and Zooms we were supposed to be on for school and work. Someone took a shower in the dark. Make that a cold shower. Someone couldn’t print the worksheet they needed to attend the online class they hoped they’d be able to attend if we regained power allowing us to regain Internet. And somebody hadn’t made their coffee yet. Yikes!
These days without power were hard. They weren’t impossible. They were doable, but they were not living my best life. Whether I saw it coming or not, a day without my power source was not as hot, cold, fresh, flowing, fruitful or efficient. The same is true if we’re living our days without Jesus. Sure, we might get through. But we won’t get all the fullness that’s available. Days will be harder, much harder, if we’re not hanging out with Him.
There’s a restored pioneer cabin near our home. I pass it on my runs. I love the historical context, a home that connects me to the past of my community. But, there is not a single time I run by, that I look at the fireplace inside and think, “Gee, I wish I could cook every meal over one of those.” Or that I envy the “bed warmer” filled with hot rocks they slid between their covers so they wouldn’t freeze at night. I’m grateful for my warm room and bed. I want my food to stay fresh in the fridge. I enjoy the freedom of being able to cook whatever I was planning on for my family for dinner--even if that’s just boiling pasta, I want to be able to boil it without fear of burning myself. As a writer I rely on my laptop which requires electricity. I’m dependent on the power that charges my home.
I’m even more grateful for and completely reliant on the ultimate power source, Jesus, who powers my heart, mind, soul, and life. He guides my steps, holds me up when I am weary, calms my brain, stops my thoughts from spiraling, and reminds me that I matter. I cannot imagine a day without Him. And I don’t have to, because ever since the Light of the World came into the world, His power has been and always will be available for everyone.
How do we stay tapped into Christ, His promises, and the life He offers? It’s as easy as flipping on the lights on our Christmas trees. We just need to reach out to Him. Before the call or doctor’s appointment. In the morning before I get out of bed I’ll pray over the thing that will put pressure on me, that I’m uber excited about, or that could be a potential challenge for the day. I’ll shoot a text to some of my most trusted prayer partners and ask them to pray for me, too. I’ll open my Bible to specific passages that speak truth to me over these situations. I might read Ephesians 6 out loud about putting on the armor of God to prepare me for whatever battles I have coming my way. I might read Scripture about who I am in God if I’m in a situation where I’m doubting my value or abilities (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9). I’ll journal or go on a walk or sit in a quiet place, and just be still and let God quiet my heart and mind. Then I’m able to handle that thing with a peaceful, courageous heart, one that trusts God is with me.
There will also be times that hit us out of left field. Where we’re not prepared and didn’t see something scary or stressful or sad coming and we haven’t even had our coffee yet (Kidding. Kind of). How do we cope? Jesus is the ultimate power source. He never flames out, flickers or glitches. Jesus is constant. Whether we’re prepared or not, His light still shines. The darkness can’t extinguish it. You can call out to Him as the car spins out of control, when the doctor calls, when someone confronts you, when the email lights up your screen. You can pray on the spot, out loud, in your head, whatever. It can be long and thought out, or you can just call out His name, “Jesus!” and He will be there with and for you.
Life with Jesus is richer. Both the good days and the hard times, because when we tap into Jesus, we’re reminded we are loved. We experience peace. We are flooded with hope. We’re reminded that He is with us, and promises to never leave us, so actually we’re not alone, and don’t have to walk through our day on our own. This is why we celebrate Christmas. The Light of the World, the ultimate power source came down to earth to light up our days, make them more complete, and be with us, Emmanuel.
So plug in this Christmas. And every day afterwards. To the life source that will never go out.
To plug into how Jesus’ light can empower and strengthen us grab a copy of Laura’s new book, How Sweet the Sound
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
From the very first jingle of bells I get excited. I can’t help smiling. It literally turns on a happy switch inside my brain and heart. One day I’m raking leaves, focused on a deadline, and trying not to be late to pick up one of my kids, and the next I hear those bells and I’m instantly transformed from a mom-in-motion to a Christmas elf. I want to bake all the cookies, decorate a tree right this very minute, light a pine-scented candle and order matching polar bear pajamas for the fam.
The catalog of Christmas music can do everything from make me giggle “6 White Boomers”, tear up “Silent Night”, or belt it out at the top of my lungs “Let it Snow.” But mostly for me it sets the mood for the holiday celebrating that Jesus chose to come down to earth to be with us. It is the soundtrack of my season. I play it while I shop, cook, and wrap. It evokes so many memories--of the kids caroling with their cousins when they were little, of them singing in their preschool Christmas programs, of candlelit Christmas eve services at church growing up. But Christmas music does more than just put us in a good mood or a nostalgic state of mind.
There’s power in it.
In 1984 Bob Geldof, front man for the Boomtown Rats, organized a group of the most famous British and Irish musicians to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” His goal was to raise money and awareness for a famine in Ethiopia. Geldof’s song raised over $24 million dollars! From one song. Recorded in one day and released a week later. Why? Because there is power in music. There is power in us using our place here on earth (whether we’re a stay-at-home mom, an accountant, or a member of Duran Duran) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, because Jesus asked us to (Matthew 25:34-39). There is power in people coming together to be light to this world.
Seventy years earlier, on December 24, 1914 soldiers in Europe were in the fray of World War. Over a million lives had already been lost. Deep in the muddy trenches a group of British soldiers saw lights and then heard their German enemies not firing guns, but singing “Stille Nacht,” which we know as “Silent Night.” The British soldiers joined in in their own language, both sides singing of the night Jesus came to bring peace on earth. And for that night, there was. Soldiers on both sides shook hands, exchanged their meager possessions--chocolate and cigarettes--as gifts and even played a game of soccer. There was a ceasefire in the midst of a bloody warzone. People loving their neighbors. I’m certain it made Jesus smile.
Christmas music can be super fun, but it can also be powerful. The old Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night” and “Away in the Manger” take us back to that very first moment when Jesus entered the earth. When He said, “Yes, I’ll leave heaven, step off my throne, put down my crown and royal robes and humble myself as a baby, and as a carpenter from Nazareth. I’ll do all of this to be with my children, the incredible individuals I created (that’s you and me). Not only do I want to be with them for a little while, but I want to be with them forever. So, while I’m down there, I’ll sacrifice myself for them. But it starts right now, in this most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people--an unwed couple and a manger. Yeah. It’s going to be perfect.”
And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.” May the glory of Christ Jesus and the peace He offers be with you this Christmas season and always.
I'd love to hear. What’s your favorite Christmas song?
To dive deeper into how music can inspire and empower us today grab a copy of my new book, How Sweet the Sound
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
Laura L. Smith