Listen, I’m not a food blogger or an expert in any way about being a hostess. But I do love the holidays and over the years I’ve experienced some crazy, stressful Thanksgivings traveling with infants and toddlers, trying to fit in feedings and naps and keep everyone with food allergies safe. I’ve been in a kitchen with half a dozen grown women running around frantically twenty minutes 'till mealtime with oven doors flying open, knives wielded, people snapping at each other, and everyone’s tension escalating everyone else’s stress. I bet you have some stories to share as well.
I’ve also experienced more relaxing Thanksgivings where it didn’t seem to matter what time we ate or that we forgot one of the side dishes in the fridge. When cooking was a team effort full of laughter and tasting as we stirred and chopped. When I felt God’s love tangibly in the room and my heart was truly thankful. And although some of the stresses of Turkey Day can’t be avoided or even expected, there are things we can proactively do to make this year’s Thanksgiving the best version of itself.
Not in a selfish “this is how I want it” way, but in a “this is how God made me and I’m going to embrace myself” way.
Our culture is all about the picture perfect Thanksgiving, the kind Chip and JoJo would orchestrate in a home they designed with food prepared from Jo’s cookbook. Your friends, acquaintances, television, and social media will share a thousand and eight new recipes you’ll want to try this year, some adorable, simple decorations you can make for less than $9/each, and comfortable, casual, yet awesome outfits you should definitely be wearing.
All these things are great.
New recipes are fun.
Decor feels festive.
And I do love a cute outfit.
But hear me and hear me loudly, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS!
If you love to cook–chef up your favorites. Spend a couple days leading up to Thursday making those homemade rolls with the dough that needs to rise overnight and browning the flour for the gravy (it’s a thing–a family tradition on my dad’s side). If you’re attending a large gathering, sign up to bring multiple dishes.
If you don’t like to cook. Don’t.
Delegate the cooking. Order a fully-cooked turkey, bagged salad, and instant mashed potatoes from Kroger. Or offer to wash the dishes or entertain the kids to allow someone else the freedom to be in the kitchen. Or buy scrumptious bagels, fresh fruit and coffee from a local cafe for breakfast.
Same holds true for decorating or running in the local race or participating in the annual family Turkey Bowl. If you love to decorate, go all out. If you don’t. Light a candle that smells like Fall Leaves or an Autumn Walk or Pumpkin Spice and call it a day. If you’re a runner, run. If not, give a polite pass, or participate in the walking portion of the race. If you love football, bring your gym shoes to participate in the family game. If not, cheer on the sidelines.
You get the idea. God made you love cooking or great with kids or with a passion to make things spotless or provided you extra money in your account. Use the gifts He gave you and don’t wear yourself out trying to be someone you’re not. You’ll have more fun, be less exhausted, and make the contribution you specifically were designed to contribute, allowing others to make theirs.
If you need to go to bed early, be honest and say, “I love you all, but I really need to call it a night.” If being around alcohol or nuts or something else is potentially harmful for you don’t serve them or politely ask your host ahead of time if these items could be avoided. If you are traveling and your day ends better with a piece of chocolate or the sound of a portable fan or begins better with a specific coffee creamer –bring those things with you. If you need a moment or ten by yourself, graciously excuse yourself to go to your room or take a walk or whatever you need to do to be able to breathe deeply, whisper a prayer, gather yourself. You don’t have to be “on” the whole weekend.
It sounds so simple, right? But have you prayed about your Thanksgiving? Have you asked God to make it enjoyable? Have you asked Him to help you find peace? Have you asked Him how you can make it simpler? Or how you could make it simpler or more enjoyable for someone else? Have you asked Jesus to help you get along with the person you always seem to struggle with?
God is available 24/7 and wants to hear everything you’re excited or worried or disappointed about or overwhelmed by this Turkey Day. Bring it all to Him. He loves you. He is with you. He is for you. And He only wants goodness for you.
By praying you’ll be able to process your thoughts and concerns, share your burdens with someone who really cares (Jesus), and entrust the very best advocate to help your Thanksgiving be better than you imagined.
his is what the holiday is all about.
We’re told to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This doesn’t mean we have to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN them. Holidays can be hard sometimes. We might be missing someone or the travel or the hosting might feel overwhelming in our current season. We might be coming into Thanksgiving sick or exhausted. But God still has goodness for us. Despite our circumstances.
If we’re worn out, we can thank God for a cozy quilt or a morning where we can sleep in. If we’re missing someone we can thank God for our lovely memories with them. If we’re struggling with dietary restrictions, we can thank God that someone was so intentional and made gluten free stuffing or pie. If we have to be with someone who pushes our buttons we can thank God for someone else in the room who makes us laugh. We can thank God for watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or getting to see our aunt that we only see once a year or kids who are singing silly turkey songs or outlining their hands and turning the drawings into turkeys.
When we give thanks dopamine and serotonin are released in our brains–happy chemicals. Giving thanks brings us joy. God knew this all along, that’s why He instructed us to give thanks in all circumstances. Because no matter what our circumstances, He wants us to experience joy.
I can’t promise your Thanksgiving will be perfect or easy. But if you embrace how God created you, take care of yourself, pray, and give thanks to God, your Thanksgiving will be the best possible Thanksgiving it can be this year.
And speaking of being thankful, I’m thankful for all of YOU for reading and joining me as we tear down the lies of this world together so we can more fully live in Jesus’ truth. Happy Thanksgiving!
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There are so many things simmering in the lives of some ladies around me, and I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with them. One friend is planning a huge event. Another had someone come up to her out of the blue and say, “God has something really exciting for you!” Another friend’s company downsized, which means she no longer has her old job, but it creates an opportunity for her to explore her options and find something that better suits her and her skillset. Another friend is in seminary. One just got accepted to the Boston Marathon!
God is on the move in these womens’ lives. And sometimes, for a moment I get jealous. All the things they’re up to sound so cool and awesome and gorgeous and fun and fulfilling.
But you know what? God is on the move in my life. And He’s on the move in your life, too!
What are you excited about or hopeful for right now? What’s on your calendar? Your mind? Your wish list? Do you have a dream job or dream city? Do you feel motivated to hone a craft or learn a new skill? Have you registered for a class or a club? Did somebody mention they had a great idea they want to share with you or someone they want you to meet? Did you get an email or read an article that intrigued you and you want to find out more? Have you started something?
God has goodness for you. He loves you and He gets things started, things that are good for us.
Now listen, that doesn’t mean the moment you get the idea all the awesomeness is going to be instant or easy. It’s usually not. It’s typically a journey. But God will walk with you every step of the way.
Personally, God dropped an idea in my lap that I could never do without Him. It’s something new and awesome that He’s asked me to create and invite other people into. I’m super excited and God has flooded me with ideas, but there is work to be done, patience to be had, and trust in Jesus I need to cling to. This holds true for all my friends and their exciting new things, too. They’ll have to work and train and study and manage their time. They’ll have to be patient and trust in Jesus. That’s part of the journey to goodness. Whatever journey you’re on, the same holds true for you, too.
I opened my Bible the other day (and FYI no matter what you think of Deuteronomy it is part of the Living Word of God, and that means that God has some really good stuff for us on its pages). This is what it said:
See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21).
God gave YOU an idea or put YOU in a place or started YOU on a journey or introduced YOU to someone. Because He has something for you. And it’s going to be so good. He’s urging you to claim it. And He doesn’t want you to be afraid or discouraged as you go.
Later in Deuteronomy this land is described as:
Indeed a good land (Deuteronomy 1:25).
A good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking (Deuteronomy 8:7-9).
Sign me up!
This sounds better than Disneyland or Aruba, even.
God has ALL this for ALL of us (yup, you and me!).
Even if you feel stuck, far from glamorous, like you’re starting all over again, are struggling, or fighting something that seems way bigger than you.
The Israelites had been living in the wilderness for forty years, which yes, felt like they were stuck and also far from glamorous. As the Israelites approached this new, good land they were exhausted from wandering in the desert for decades and overwhelmed. Like, “How could we possibly start all over again?” And oh yeah, the people who currently lived in the land were giants. How could a crew of weary travelers take them down?
But God kept reassuring the Israelites that this land was theirs for the taking.
He would secure it for them.
There was nothing to worry about.
And He tells you and me the same thing:
God will cross over ahead of you to scout things out and put things in motion. He will fight for you against the giants that seem to be between you and your promised land. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. No matter what anyone says or how long it’s taking or what inconveniences or roadblocks pop up, the Lord your God is going ahead of you and will fight for you.
This good land is waiting for you. Don’t give up. Keep going. Keep praying. Keep trusting Jesus. The land God has for you is indeed a good land.
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Did you know there are two locations for Manchester University in Indiana?
Neither did we.
So we plugged Manchester U (not the futbol club) into our map app and drove two hours and forty-five minutes to cheer our daughter on in her college soccer game. About five minutes away from campus my husband asked if I could specifically type in the soccer field, because sometimes locating the field in the middle of a campus can be tricky. As I typed three addresses starting with Manchester University popped up within a mile of our location and another one came up forty-five minutes away. Wait! What? There are two locations for the same school?
I quickly checked my FindMy app to see where our girl was. Not five minutes but forty-five minutes away – at the other location for Manchester University. We quickly rerouted.
Needless to say, my husband and I arrived late to the game, but just in time to see our girl’s team score the only goal of the game, and therefore the winning goal. It was a spectacular fall day all warm sunshine and golden leaves. My husband and I went for a short stroll at halftime stretching our legs and watched an exciting second half in its entirety. We got to hug and congratulate our daughter after her game, telling her how proud we were of her. Plus Brett and I got to spend over six hours together on a fall Saturday–bonus! In the car we listened to a sermon and some worship music, shared stories, ate the pj&j’s and crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market I’d packed as our lunch. We stopped and got chocolate covered pretzels at a gas station for the ride home. Also we laughed. A lot.
The day was definitely not how we planned it. It was stressful, not gonna lie, when we realized we’d driven to the wrong place, that after all our planning and leaving early and being in the car we were going to miss the first part of the game. The air in the car was tense as we raced to the second location of Manchester University. But it ended up being a spectacular day. Not because of anything my husband and I did. But because God is good.
Sometimes in life we go the wrong way. We get off course. We think we’re supposed to take that job, move to that city, work on that project, volunteer for that committee, join that club, only to figure out that actually that’s not where God wants us to be or how we’ll best thrive.
The good news? God will always let us know when we’re off course. Always steer us back to where we should be headed. Because He wants goodness for us.
This is how God always operates.
God told Jonah the prophet to go to Nineveh but he didn’t want to, so Jonah headed the opposite direction. When this didn’t work out so well, God caused a storm to toss around the boat Jonah was running away on. Jonah knew the storm was God’s way of saying, “You’re going the wrong way.” Feeling guilty, Jonah actually had the other folks on board throw him overboard to save themselves. They complied. The storm ceased. The boat was saved. And Jonah got swallowed by a big fish where he stayed for three very smelly days. Jonah prayed and the fish spit him out on dry land.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.-Jonah 3:1-3
Good thinking, Jonah.
Jonah went the wrong way.
God stopped him. Saved him. And got Jonah back on track.
The prophet Isaiah sums it up like this:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
See, God wants us to go the right way in big things and little things. He wants us to walk towards life, hope, joy, grace, peace, and redemption. And God loves us so much He doesn’t try to force His agenda on us, but lets us choose every single day. And sometimes we choose wrong. Some days it’s because we’re stubborn like Jonah, and want our own way. Other days we’re confused or misled or truly don’t have any idea that, for example, Manchester University has two locations. But because God is so good, He steps in and gives us the chance to get back on track again and again.
God also uses our missteps and turns them into good things (in Jonah’s case the other people on the boat who originally worshiped false gods ended up praying to, worshiping, and making promises to the One True God–not a bad outcome).
God always wants us at the right game, the right city, with the right people to make the right choices. He is such a good and loving father that He’ll nudge and prompt and when we go the wrong way redirect and give us a fresh start. So we might end up in Nineveh or a random town in Indiana, but if we ask Him, our Good Father will tell us which way to walk. And when we listen? Things change. We end up in the right places with the right people doing the right things–things that make us whole and feel loved and find purpose. His kingdom prevails. Goodness and mercy abound.
So let’s ask God before we move today. Let’s choose to the best of our ability to go where He sends us. If we aren’t certain, then let’s start moving and ask God to turn us around if we’re going the wrong way.
Which way will you go today? I hope you don’t end up at the wrong site of a University in Indiana or even worse the belly of a giant fish. But remember, if you do mess up, you can call out to Jesus and better than any map app, He will redirect your steps.
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I’m not much of a sports fan, and baseball is lower than some other sports on my list. But, my husband loves the Reds, my son enjoys adventures, and we recently were given free tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game…in the Executive Suite.
What is the Executive Suite you ask? I wondered, too. It’s a giant air conditioned room (which came in super handy on the 98 degree day we attended the game) with leather seats and a buffet of food and buckets full of beverages on ice. The back wall is completely glass giving you a perfect view of the third base line. And if you feel like watching the game old school, you simply walk out the opening and sit in some of the partitioned off padded stadium seats that are also part of the suite. It was very bougie and above my pay grade. And I did absolutely nothing to deserve entrance into such a fancy space.
My husband’s department at the university had rented the suite, and my son and I were admitted because we were Brett’s guests. Brett got to go, because his employer invited all the employees to come. Not the best employees or the ones who had been there the longest or the ones who achieved something. All of them were invited. All of them could bring their families. All of them received the special wristbands entitling them to the suite and all the goodies and comforts and privileges within its doors.
This is exactly what the kingdom of God is like.
God invites ALL of us in. Not for anything we’ve said or done, but all of us get the invite. If we accept the invitation, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for the forgiveness of our sins, then we get wristbands that gain us free admittance into God’s kingdom with loads of unearned privileges. We are considered royal, holy, and chosen (1 Peter 2:9)–not because of our achievements or our ranking or how “good” of a person we are. Nope. Just because we belong to Jesus. We’re granted access to abundant living (John 10:10), amazing grace (2 Corinthians 12:9), endless love (John 3:16), peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and inexplicable joy (Psalm 16:11). Not because we have a huge following or could afford it or we’re just that gorgeous or likable or smart or strong. Not because we have on the coolest outfit or drink our greens or do our sit-ups. Nope.
God created the kingdom.
Jesus paid for our ticket.
They, along with the Holy Spirit, invited us.
And all this abundance comes free with admittance to God’s executive suite.
If we decide to follow Jesus, we have 100% unlimited access to the King whenever we like. He’s there hanging out in the suite ready to chat with us about whatever, whenever. We don’t have to set up an appointment or go through His assistant. We have the security, not of some dude with a badge, but of God’s entire angel army on hand to protect us if danger closes in. We don’t have to worry about what we’ll eat or drink (I mean ballpark snacks are pricey) because He is the bread of life and living water that will quench our thirst–satisfy our cravings–exceedingly better than any all-you-can-eat buffet or soda fountain (John 6:35).
It’s all there waiting for us–a full life, green pastures, goodness and love, still waters (Psalm 23). But we have to say yes. We have to accept Jesus’ invitation to this abundant living. My husband, son, and I didn’t have to go to that Reds game. We could have stayed home on the couch, not driven downtown, not given hours and hours of our Sunday to the excursion, but then we would have missed out on such a cool, extravagant experience.
You and I have the choice also. God gives us free will. We can decide. We can sit at home and watch the game on our flat screen. Or we can step into a life of VIP treatment–an abundant life with the best view and all the benefits that His kingdom wristband entitles us to. Again, not because of our actions, but simply because God loves you and me and wants goodness for us. Not just on a random Sunday, but everyday.
Will you accept His invite?
(If you have questions on what that means or looks like–shoot me a message. I’d love to answer any questions on how to accept Jesus and start living a kingdom life today!)
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I’ve popped into three different stores over the last week that all had fall and Halloween decorations on display. Listen, I LOVE fall, but …wait a minute! Where did summer go?
Do you remember how your summer started? What you were feeling? Praying for? Hoping for?
We don’t have to start buying pumpkin spice everything (although you can if you like). We can intentionally push pause and take a look at how summer went down before we fast forward into fall.
Can you picture the start of your summer? Mine looked like this–with both my life and dining room packed with good things and chaotic messy things too. Why did my dining room look like this? All summer long? Because I have college kids who I adore. And our dining room acted as a storage unit for their college things. It made for a summer full of joy and love and clutter.
What were you thinking and experiencing back in late May or early June?
Summer was also pretty upside down around here. We had a pipe leak that flooded our kitchen which has now been basically gutted. We also needed a new roof and our air conditioning was broken all summer long. So people slept wherever it felt the coolest on any particular day and we had workers plus their dog on our roof and inside our house.
What took you by surprise this summer?
And summer was amazing. We ate ice cream and painted pottery and went to the beach and played cards. We went on walks and runs and the athletes in our crew did crazy workouts. We cooked yummy food and ate dinners on the porch as the setting sun streamed through the trees. We watched movies and had great conversations and laughed so very much. Big decisions were made in our family. Some powerful experiences took place. Prayers were prayed. And we created some really great stories we’ll probably be telling for years to come.
What were your favorite parts of summer?
Jesus taught me so much this summer.
He answered specific prayers I’d been praying for months.
He asked me to let go of trying to control some things (including having a floor or cabinets).
He reminded me that the little things are so little. And the big things like love, peace, and joy–they’re what matter most, and also what He provides in abundance.
My dining room is now empty. The kids have gone back to school. Yes, I miss them like crazy (see the last blog), but I’m also excited about fall–the soccer games and Cross Country meets, some new projects I’m working on (can’t wait to share soon), apples and pumpkins and all the fall things. With this shift in seasons and schedules there will be new things I have to figure out. New prayers I’ll pray. New things God will want me to learn.
But before I dive in, I want to pause.
And reflect on what Jesus taught me over the summer. It was all too good to skim past. I don’t want to forget.
Here are some questions to contemplate before we dive into fall:
So here’s to the shift into fall, to new beginnings, colorful leaves AND to holding fast to who God is, how He so faithfully loves us, and what He’s taught us. Here’s to remembering all that Jesus did for and taught us over the summer AND to keeping our eyes open to what He wants to show us about His love and goodness as our schedules, needs, demands, and hopes once again shift.
What did God teach you this summer?
How can I be praying for you as you enter into fall?
I’d love to hear.
Some other things I learned this summer came through incredible conversations with over a dozen awesome Christian women in my What Women Can Do series. If you missed it, you can check out those convos here.
Also…just in time for fall I’m offering 10 Minutes for 10 Days–a quick, FREE, and easy Bible study geared to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully in this new season. If you’ve gone through this with me before, please join in again. It’s a great refresher to get rid of some of the clutter in our lives and minds to make more room for Jesus. And if you’re new here–welcome! I’m so excited for you to join in! The study starts September 4 Invite some friends, your small group, Bible study, sister, or do it solo.
To sign up to get your FREE 10-day Devotional click here (PDF will be delivered via email on September 1)
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We moved our 22-year old son to Michigan this week. He was on a ministry tour most of this summer, but up until this week he has always lived in Oxford where we live. We move our 19-year old daughter back to college tomorrow. Also, our baby starts his junior year of high school tomorrow. Friends, I need so much right now. I need prayers and I need Kleenex. I may or may not have said out loud, “I need chocolate.” But what I really need is Jesus.
As I’ve chatted with other friends over the last couple of weeks, they all need things too. For some, money is tight and an unexpected bill showed up and they need some finances to go exactly right. For others their body isn’t working the way they want it to work. They need healing and patience with themselves. Other women I’ve chatted with need discernment. They have opportunities and options and ideas and want to do the right thing. Other friends have mentioned they need more time, someone to answer the phone so they can make headway on an issue, a chance to catch their breath, help with a relationship. But honestly, what they all need is the same thing I need and the same thing you need, too–Jesus.
How can I be so sure one guy is the end all solution to all our needs? Well, Psalm 23 tells us, The Lord is my shepherd, I have EVERYTHING I need. So when we let Jesus shepherd us, we truly have everything we need. Sound kind of general? Or to good to be true? Still not sure how that applies to your specific situation?
Let’s take a look at what we need, who Jesus is, and how those line up.
Need peace? Stressed out? Anxious?
Jesus is the Prince of Peace and His peace surpasses all understanding.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
Need protection? Scared? Vulnerable?
Jesus is our protector
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior (2 Samuel 22:2-3).”
Need comforting? Sad? Maybe even heart broken?
Jesus is our comforter.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort (1 Corinthians 1:3).
Need provision? Out of time or money or resources?
Jesus is our provider.
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Need a friend? Lonely?
Jesus promises to always be there for you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Not sure where to go or what to do?
Jesus will direct your steps.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:6).
I don’t know where you need to put these verses to remember. I don’t know which one will resonate with you most today. But write it out. Make it your screen saver. Look it up in your Bible and underline it. Pray it out loud. This is truth.
I’m reminded of that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when there’s a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan. One woman says her husband hasn’t worked in months. Another person has doctor bills. Everyone needs money for different reasons and seemingly out of nowhere Mary shows up holding a wad of cash and shouts, “How much do you need?”
Miraculously, it seems, each person’s need is met by the money in Mary’s hand. The clock strikes. The bank closes. And there are even a couple of dollars left over. It didn’t run out. That’s just what a fictional newlywed can do (Mary is awesome by the way) but think of how much incredibly more Jesus is capable of. He has everything in His hands that you and I need, an abundance of it. It won’t run out.
Sure, there will still be days we need Kleenex and doctors and chocolate and time and our paycheck to clear. But with Jesus’ mighty, awesome, powerful, holy, eternal self on our side? Who can be against us? And why should we fear? Jesus is everything we need.
Free Bible Study....
I LOVE the trails by our house. It’s where I run and listen to worship music and clear my head. It’s where I meet friends for long walks and even longer chats. But recently I put on my running shoes, stretched my muscles, drove over to the trails, and found a giant orange “Trails Closed” sign. Obviously this was not my plan. And I am a girl who really likes to stick to her plan. As disappointing as it was that my agenda was no longer an option, there were other options.
I’m very good at getting lost and very poor at navigating directions of any kind. But I do love the woods. So I gave the road less traveled a try. Robert Frost would be so proud.
In the twisty trail through the woods I ran across quaint wooden bridges, emerged out into the open and passed a field of spectacular wildflowers. Back in the woods I ran around giant stumps and past streams that provided a soothing soundtrack of rushing water. Most of the time I didn’t know where I was or how far I’d gone or how fast I was running–things runners tend to track, but it didn’t matter, because it was an adventure in itself, the discovery of what’s next, and oh, look at that–it’s all so very beautiful.
I’m excited to return to my normal trail. But my new path will stay in my rotation. I have to watch my step on the new route, because there are roots and rocks and ridges. I run slower on this trail, due to all the watching of my steps. But it’s quiet and peaceful and calming and restorative. I’m so grateful I was forced to find it. Which is great, and I’m sure you’re all very happy for me for finding a lovely place to explore the woods nearby, but that’s not the point.
The point is that we often have a preferred way, a plan in our pocket, the way we want things to go, and when we don’t get that option we might get frustrated or feel put out or even freak out depending on the situation. But God always has goodness for us. On the path we pick AND on the one we don’t.
Often our preference is valid because it works better for us. We’ve chosen to go to that church, work place, or school, because it’s good for our soul, makes us happy, fills a need or serves us or someone we care about well. We develop ways of loading and unloading the dishwasher, routes to work or school, a specific system to schedule our days, weeks, months, and years with certain rhythms, priorities, calendars or apps because those things work for us, please us, or are simply convenient. And that’s great. The more we learn about ourselves and what God has for us in this season, the more we should chase after those things that bring us closer to Him, help us live out our callings, and are good for our physical, spiritual, and mental health.
And also…sometimes God has new things for us to discover, new people He wants us to meet, new ways of doing things that could be even better, or better for now, or something unexpected that could help or grow us. Sometimes He has streams and Black-eyed Susans and slatted bridges waiting for us that we didn’t even know existed.
And other times, we plain won’t get our preferences. Little things happen like storms knocking the power out or traffic backing up a road. We work within a group and somebody has to carry the gear and take out the trash and pay the bills, even if that’s not our preference. We’re at someone else’s place and they don’t do things like we do, yet we know we should respect their rules, routines, and recipes. Big things happen too. Churches shut down. Someone else’s idea gets picked. Another person’s choice impacts us in a challenging way. We don’t get the job or assignment or contract or position or grant or scholarship we applied for. We lose someone or something we love. The person we were counting on bails. And back to the smaller things…trails get closed. Just saying.
And in these times–both the big and small ways things don’t go our way–God has goodness for us.
The last verse of Psalm 23 declares “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came so that we can have an abundant life. There is goodness for you and me all our days. There is abundance for us when we follow Jesus. Whether that’s where we planned to go or where the alternate route takes us. Whether it’s our first or last choice. There is goodness. There is abundance. Around every turn or bend when we walk through this life with Jesus.
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While on vacation our family went to Mellow Mushroom for trivia night and their delicious pizza (I love the Great White with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and ricotta). The Trivia Master asked questions about Taylor Swift, what kind of car Knight Rider drove, the ingredients in soy sauce, how high fleas can jump, and so many more. I knew the answers to some questions like: Who sang “Chain of Fools”? Aretha Franklin. And some I had zero idea like: Who was the first president to live in the White House?
But I didn’t have to know about the White House, because my 17-year old son is a history buff and loves presidents. He whipped John Adams out of his brain faster than kids jump in the pool when the lifeguard blows their whistle signaling adult swim is over. I also didn’t need to know about baseball or bones because my mom, daughters, and husband knew all kinds of trivia I was clueless about. And when none of us knew the answers, we laughed at the ridiculously obscure questions and made silly guesses. It didn’t all depend on me. I wasn’t fully responsible. No one expected me to have all the answers. Because I had a team.
The same holds true for life. You don’t have to have all the answers, run damage control, sort through the emotions, or do all the work by yourself. God never intended for us to do life alone. As soon as God finished making the first human, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Then God immediately made Eve, so Adam wouldn’t have to do life solo. God knew from the get go we are better together.
We wrestle with decisions all by ourselves not wanting to inconvenience or worry the people around us. We start something new and hesitate to share our ideas or dreams, because we don’t want to be critiqued or dismissed. We try to do all the things for all the people without asking for help, because we don’t want to let anyone down. Or maybe we just like things done our way. Or maybe we’re plain stubborn. We keep our mental health struggles to ourselves, because we worry what others might think, or because we don’t want to be a burden. We try to figure things out solo, because surely we’re clever enough to do so or we don’t want to appear weak or less than. But what if someone could give us helpful tips or lend a hand or carry some of our load or be a safe place to process? It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.
We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a recent report as something that’s “damaging the health of individuals and our society.” The report goes on to state, "Relationships help our overall well-being, and lead to healthier and more fulfilled and productive lives.” Being alone increases our risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and stroke. As God was saying, “It’s not good for people to be alone.”
Listen, I’m an introvert, so doing things solo is my natural tendency. And I’m a writer, so my job largely consists of stringing words together on my laptop–by myself. So, I need to be intentional about not isolating. I have to schedule walks and coffee dates with friends. I have to make an effort to blurt feelings and ideas out around the table or on the phone with people I love and trust. And when I share what’s on my mind, what I’m excited about, what I’m struggling with, what I’m dreaming and scheming and praying about with close, trusted friends or family, I’m a better version of myself. I get support and insights and ideas. I’m asked great questions, given wise suggestions, and feel seen and heard. People pray for me and check back to see how things are going. I receive love. And it’s beautiful. You can have all this too!
What’s going on in your life? What are you most excited about? Struggling the most with? What’s your first thought when you wake up? The thing that’s keeping you up at night? The thing you’re praying your heart out about?
Does anyone know about it?
Try inviting someone you trust, someone who loves Jesus and will keep you pointed toward Him into what’s occupying your time, heart, and mind. Ask for help if you need it or get it off your chest or explain that you just really need someone to listen. It will do wonders.
God has always intended us to share our lives. Friendship appears over and over in the Bible as a way people got through some extremely high highs and low lows. King David had his best friend Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples. We weren’t meant to do life alone. We’re better off when we share the struggles, triumphs, and even random ideas of our lives with others. Who knows, if you do, you might even win at trivia.
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My husband ordered a piece of cinnamon bread at our local coffee shop. The barista kindly asked, “Which do you prefer– an edge piece or a middle piece?” It struck me as such a kind and intentional thing to ask and I told her so.
“It matters, you know?” she said. “I find that edge people take their edges very seriously.”
“I get it,” I nodded. “I way prefer a middle piece and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a piece from the edge.”
The girl in front of me with the slicked back ponytail and cute faded jeans smiled at me. “I also love a middle piece. It feels so much fresher that way.”
“Agreed!” I nodded.
How about you? Would you rather have a piece of coffee cake, or better yet a brownie, from the edge of a pan or from the middle of the pan?
Here’s the lie–one kind of person is better than the other. Sure, I want a middle piece every single time and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a brownie from the edge of the pan. My preferences are part of me and that’s great.
But the truth is that doesn’t make me any better or worse than my husband who likes the crunchy edge piece. Because Jesus made both middle and edge people on purpose and absolutely adores us all.
Sounds silly when we’re talking about our favorite pieces of cake, but it gets a bit blurry when we talk about other character traits that Jesus just as intentionally put in me and in you.
Jesus made people who are bold and confrontational as well as people who are timid and gentle.
Jesus made people who need to verbally process everything out loud and people who need to run everything through their brain prior to speaking.
Jesus made some of us who prefer to be with all their people at once and others of us who prefer one-on-one time with their favorite folks.
Jesus created and adores walkers and runners, coffee and tea drinkers, emotional and composed people, early birds and night owls, republicans and democrats, country music and classical music composers, artists, and listeners, fast talkers and slow speakers, sports and symphony fans, meat eaters and vegetarians, debaters and peace makers, and He loves each and every one of us.
Some of these are harder for us to believe and live out than others. Sometimes we automatically think less of him or her because they fit into one of these categories. Sometimes we think less of ourselves because we label ourselves as one of these things and wish we were different.
But Jesus made YOU in His image. He delights in YOU. He calls YOU His masterpiece.
He also made “them” in His image. He delights in “them”. He calls “them” His masterpieces.
Jesus tells us, “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is one of HIs top two out of all the commands.
Are we loving ourselves?
My first challenge to you and me this week is to look ourselves in the mirror each morning and each night and say, “I love you. I love that… (and say something you love about yourself–that you snort when you laugh, cannot stand still if you hear good music, make remarkably good guacamole, etc. ). Say something different each day.
Challenge number two (are you ready?): Each night let’s say one thing we like about somebody who bugged us that day. I know. I know. They really drove you crazy, but remember God still loves them as fiercely and unconditionally as He loves you.
And after all, somebody has to eat the edge AND the middle pieces or else we’d end up throwing away so many brownies. Which would be a tragedy.
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There’s something fishy about the Italian village of Monterosso, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”) nestled along the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. The cerulean water, breathtaking views, picturesque hiking trails, lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and postcard perfect town comprised of candy-colored buildings makes it one of my favorite places in the world. I’m not the only one who loves Monterosso. The secret is out and this tiny town (population 1,400) now teems with tourists from around the world. Another thing I love about Monterosso is it never tries to be something that it’s not and it never forgets who it is, what it has, and what its strong suit is. It never looks to the right or left and says, “I wish I was more like Venice or Florence.”
Can we say the same?
Monterosso is a fishing village through and through situated in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it fully rocks its fishy-ness.
Long before tourists flooded the train station, fishermen and their families lived in this coastal town dating back to the year 683 when people living in the hills descended to the seashore to escape barbarians. The people caught the local fish and built a life. They hiked trails or took boats to get between the neighboring villages. Today fishermen still fish daily. Every restaurant we saw serves freshly caught fish, as well as foods prepared with the olives and lemons abundant on the hills. If you google top things to do in prominent Italian cities like Rome or Milan you’ll find churches and statues topping all the lists. But Monterosso doesn’t promote tours to Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, the beautiful black and white striped Gothic church built in the 1200s, or Il Gigante, the incredible sculpture of a giant carved into the rock at the very far end of the beach (although they’re both worth a look).
No, if you search for what to do in Monterosso you’ll be directed to the things that make Monterosso unique–hike the gorgeous trails and take boat rides in the azure water. The cafes and shops aren’t decorated with pictures of famous people who have stopped by or glitzy beach scenes, but everywhere everywhere everywhere there are fish. Monterosso owns who it is.
Who were you created to be?
Are you living in your God-given identity, or trying to be like or comparing yourself to somebody else?
What do you have available to you?
What’s your strong suit?
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and trying new things. I highly encourage both. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of praying and dreaming through something totally new. But as we dream, let’s keep in mind who God created us to be, what He’s given us, and where He’s put us. It actually helps make our dreams a reality, a reality where God walks beside us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Who did God create you to be?
What do you love doing? What are you great at? Make a list of those things–everything. What music makes you dance, what books can you not put down, what would you do with one hour of free time, what was your favorite subject in school, what’s your favorite food, who makes you laugh, what would you do with a million dollars or three weeks without responsibilities? Brainstorm. Dream. What lights you up?
What’s available to you?
The people of Monterosso have fish, lemons, olives, water, and scenic trails at their fingertips.
How about you? Has your family owned a small farm for ages? You could grow vegetables to feed your community or transform the property into a special event venue. If your workplace has a sound system, could you borrow it to start your own podcast or record the music you’re writing?
Where do you live?
In a cold or hot climate? What part of the country? What are the needs of your community? I live in a college town with brick, ivy, college students, classrooms, a large population of academics, incredible speakers and events, and all the shops and restaurants that cater to these young people. How about you? If you live in a big city you probably have public transport, skyscrapers, large crowds, an fine arts scene, and professional sports. Is your city famous for barbecue or live music or its annual sunflower festival? How do you fit into those things? Do any of those opportunities enable you to rent a booth, offer a class, share the Gospel, create a tour, lead a study, feed the hungry, or give a performance utilizing your gifts and skills?
What’s your strong suit?
Are you great at numbers or words? Do you have a keen sense of direction or an eye for details or design? Do you communicate especially well with kids or senior citizens? Can you make exceptionally tasty fish tacos or mouth-watering muffins or super cool tie-dyed t-shirts or water tight contracts or create codes?
Jesus is so intentional. He’s numbered every hair on your head. He goes before and behind you. He knit you very specifically together in your mother’s womb. He had designs on you for glorious living before you were even born. This means all those things you love to do, all those things you’re actually pretty good at, that come easily to you, even the places and spaces where Jesus has put you–they’re all part of His divine plan–there is goodness for you there, you can thrive and help others thrive, too!
Spend some time this week not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Instead journal, pray, talk to trusted Godly friends about what you like to do, what you’re great at, what resources and opportunities are around you, what you dream of doing, how that all fits into your calling and see what comes of it. There’s nothing fishy about it, just purpose, fullness, and joy waiting to be discovered.
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Laura L. Smith