I do not have a green thumb, or even a green pinkie finger for that matter, but I adore everything that blooms. So each year I give it a go. This spring I bought two large geraniums in pots from our local nursery and placed them on our front porch. They were gorgeous from the get go. Red. Vibrant. Showstoppers.
Until they weren’t.
In July all the blooms turned brown with no new buds in sight. My mom, who 1. was visiting and 2. is a fabulous gardener, instructed me to snip off the dried up blossoms. She’d been telling me for years that this encourages regrowth in plants, so I had tentatively and reluctantly snipped a few dead flowers from my gorgeous geraniums before her visit, but now? If I did that now I’d be left with nothing but stems and leaves. There were zero signs of new life on these plants.
Mom said, “Do it anyway.”
And so I did. And my plants sat and sat. Just green leaves and brown stems.
It’s not just my mom who talks about pruning. Jesus does too.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” -John 15:1-2
Living in Ohio, I don’t see grape vines on the regular, but every day I see my geraniums. And they do the trick to illustrate Jesus’ point. If we’re the branches, we’re the ones who are being pruned, just like my plants on my doorstep. This isn’t a punishment or intended to keep us from living our best life. It’s the opposite. God knows this pruning makes us more fruitful, helps us bloom more abundantly. And I want that. As I head into this fabulous season of fall my heart and soul long to bloom.
But unfortunately, part of the secret to blooming is allowing ourselves to be pruned. Pruning is scientifically proven to help plants grow stronger, be healthier, and you guessed it, produce more blooms and/or fruit. But it involves cutting, letting go, and getting rid of.
I was hesitant to snap off the dead blossoms on my flowers, even though I knew they were deadweight. Afterwards they sat just green, no sign of red for over a month. But this past week my geraniums grew buds out of seemingly dead stems, lots of them. Once again they’re brimming with stunning scarlet flowers, and there are more buds waiting to blossom as if they are starting all over again. The pruning had to happen for my geraniums to thrive.
It’s the same with us. Pruning helps us bloom. And Jesus wants us to blossom. There are things we hold onto–dead and withered parts of us that don’t bring us growth or health or peace or joy, but we hesitate to let go of. For me this includes, but is certainly not limited to some past shame, getting grumpy or hurt when things don’t go my way, and avoiding hard emotions, because, well, they’re hard. I’m sure you have your things, too. Perhaps a bad habit, or a relationship that brings out the worst in you or something that is a really poor use of your time. Maybe it’s something that’s actually toxic or dangerous for you, but it seems hard to give up. But Jesus says if we’ll let Him get rid of those things that hinder our vitality…we’ll bloom.
We’re supposed to let it go. Ouch. Yup. It hurts sometimes. But If we trust Jesus in this pruning process, He says in John 15:5 that we will bear MUCH fruit, not SOME but MUCH. Every single opportunity and healthy relationship in my life, everything blooming God has provided. All the dark times I’ve weathered, all the healing that’s taken place, all the times I’ve been doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things, acting in the wrong ways that I’ve let Jesus prune have produced fruit. What a blessing that our God loves us so much that He wants to help us get rid of anything holding us back from living a full, free, joyful and grace-filled life.
Jesus says there’s more fruit for you and for me.
No matter how much you do or don’t have today. If you feel like a withered stem or the opposite–a vibrant bouquet, Jesus has more for you. All you have to do? Abide in Him, which means spending time with Him, making Him the go-to person you ask for advice, trust with your dreams, lean on when you’re discouraged or sad. Allow Jesus to prune the dead stuff away, the stuff that’s stealing sunlight, the withered leaves that have become a home for pests, the things that jeopardize the healthy parts of your life.
Listen. It’s the end of August. It’s back to school time, or if you’re a sports fan, football or futbol season. The last couple of evenings I’ve even felt a slight chill in the air. Sweaters and pumpkin spice and crunchy apples and hayrides and cozy blankets are just around the corner. But Jesus promises even better than all of that. I want to let go of anything holding me back from the abundant life Jesus offers. I want to step into the fall light, free, and ready to bloom. I know it will take some pruning, some letting go of this or that but it will be so worth it.
You? What in your life could use a little pruning, so you can bloom this fall?
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I was talking to another woman about social media–how we love it and how it can also be the worst–all the comparisons. On social media we only see everyone else’s best selves–their best outfit, best meal they cooked, best room they decorated, best craft they did with their kids, best life hack. Nobody shows us that the day they painted their nails the pretty lavender color there was literally nothing for dinner in their house and someone ate cereal and someone else had leftovers and someone else just ate a bowl of ice cream. Nobody shows us that the night they made a yummy dinner their junk drawer was so jammed it wouldn’t close or under their bed was a war zone or the flowers they planted all died or that they got in a fight with one of their family members while cooking that photo-shopped dinner. Nope, we just see her best this and their best that and his best thingamagig and assume that everyone else out there is killing it in every area of their lives.
But the truth is we all have overflowing junk drawers, scrounge around for meals sometimes, and have ants. Okay, maybe not everyone has ants. But I did last week. Hundreds of itty bitty ants all over our cupboard, crawling around a single rogue piece of caramel corn that escaped its bag. Oh yeah, and all over the open pack of gluten free Oreos. The ants were climbing over cans of beans and bottles of olive oil and boxes of microwave popcorn and those little packets of strawberry jam that were left over from two years ago. My husband and I emptied the pantry item by item. He grabbed a can of bug spray and started spraying, because GROSS! And then we had this realization that all that poisonous bug spray was now coating the shelves where we store food. So, today I’m showing you reality. The reality that everything that was in our pantry is now on our counter. And has been for four days. Why?
Because this is real life. Everyone has something going on beneath the surface. It could be a broken relationship, an addiction, exhaustion, financial struggles, or even possibly ants.
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus (thankfully!). A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to Jesus (Luke 8:43). People with demons came to Jesus (Mary Magdalene, we see your transformed self!). A paralyzed man came to Jesus (Luke 5:18). Jesus ate dinner with a table full of what the religious leaders called, “scum” (Luke 5:30). None of them cleaned themselves up first or put a filter on their lives. And… Jesus loved them all.
Jesus said, “God blesses you when you're poor, when you’re hungry, when you weep, when people hate and exclude and mock and curse you (Luke 6:20-22).” None of those things look good on social media or make for great small talk.
Yet, when you can’t pay your bills, you didn’t make dinner–all week, you’re sad, overwhelmed, feel rejected, or left out, Jesus says God blesses you.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is yours.
You will be satisfied.
You will laugh.
When you can’t decide what to do, when you gave into an impulse, when someone said something nasty about you, when you said something you regret? Jesus loves you. He wants to make everything new. Jesus stopped that woman’s bleeding and made that lame man walk. Jesus sat down at the table with all those people the religious people said were riff raff. This changed the way they saw themselves, showed them they were worth eating with, talking to, being with–the King of the Universe said so Himself. And the poor, hungry, sad, and hated people? Jesus said they would be satisfied.
Sure, sometimes Jesus asks you to do something in this process. That woman had to make her way through a crowd. The lame man’s friends had to take him up on a roof, remove roof tiles, and lower him into the room on a mat where Jesus was. These things were risky. They took bravery. They took intentionality. But they were so worth it for the healing.
What might Jesus be asking you to do? He’s not asking you to get all cleaned up for Him, but Jesus wants you to seek Him, reach out to Him, move any obstacles out of the way so you can read the Bible and talk to Him, so you can discover or re-encounter His wild, extravagant love for you. Maybe Jesus wants you to take a breath, get some rest, be still so He can remind you who you are–His beloved, treasured daughter or son.
During what we’ll call the “ant crisis” would not have been what I would have considered the ideal time to have someone over for dinner. Our house smelled like Raid. That lone piece of caramel corn was smothered in dead ants and still on the shelf of the pantry, because I was too grossed out to pick it up. Plus the whole all our food on the countertop thing. But Jesus could have cared less. He’d say, “Hey, let’s sit on the floor and eat sandwiches and chat. How are you? What’s on your mind?” Jesus is never judging us. He just wants to be with us.
When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, you realize you don’t need their approval, you don’t need to achieve all the things. Those comparisons and ideals have been taking up space in your life (like four kinds of sauce you thought you might use sometime and never did so now they’ve all expired). And when you wipe down the surfaces of your life and strip off the need to achieve or false notion that you should look or act like “her” (or proverbial shelf liner) and replace it with new, everything feels fresher, better (like a cupboard that got pared down and reorganized). When we slow down, make time, and rest in Jesus, there is always peace and love to be found.
This is what Jesus wants for us–not perfection or filtered photos, but healing, fulfillment, and laughter. Coming to Him is as easy as closing your eyes and saying His name. Join me?
Jesus, I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t care what she or he is doing. I just want to be with you. Please help me see how I can get closer to the truth of who I am in You–even if it means braving a crowd, climbing a roof, or airing out a cupboard. Please help me drink in the freedom, joy, and fulfillment You alone offer. Amen!
If you’re looking for a way to start reading your Bible, to spend more time with Jesus, but not really sure how or where to start, I wrote a FREE guide. You can download it here.
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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My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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I burnt myself with a curling iron. It’s so stupid. Brett and I actually had plans both nights of the weekend, like going out plans, and not just to soccer games. So I thought I’d fancify myself up. Clearly, I’m out of practice.
I felt the burn when it happened—searing hot. Ouch, like mmmm, no appropriate words available. But I was mid-curl, and had to finish, and get the kiddos all settled before we headed out, so I kept twirling and curling. I peeked at my wrist and couldn’t even see where I’d burned it, although it stung like crazy! Throughout the evening I kept glancing at the painful spot on my hand radiating heat, but there was still no mark. I told myself I was making a big deal about nothing.
The next day, the burn still hurt and the area was slightly pink, but you could only tell if you looked. Really hard. The third day, everyone I saw asked what happened to my hand. It was so weird. I felt my skin burn the moment the hot iron touched my hand, but it didn’t leave a mark for days. Not to gross you out, but a week and a half later I still have a giant scab that hurts and itches. I’m fairly certain it will scar, leaving a permanent reminder of a dumb mistake that didn’t even reveal itself until after the fact.
I think this is how emotional burns work.
When somebody says something cruel, treats us like we’re less than, when we’re shamed or belittled or betrayed or let down, when we experience loss, we feel it instantly. But we’re usually busy, and don’t want to reveal that the comment or action hurt us, because you know, we’re strong and resilient. Right? So we keep on going, moving, smiling, nodding, twirling. The next day it still hurts, but the damage isn’t visible. After time the pain of the emotional burn is less front and center, but it begins to manifest itself in unexpected ways. We might struggle with sleeping, or speaking up, or getting up and trying again. We might be unsure of how to move forward or back out of a relationship. We may over compensate, give a little attitude, or withdraw.
And eventually we’re left with a scar. And that scar tissue is sensitive and doesn’t do well in the sunlight and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.
I have some of these scars. I bet you do, too. Emotional hurts that I tried to plow through, but that left their permanent mark on me.
I’m so grateful for a Savior that lived a life where He felt physical and emotional pain. He was physically flogged, nailed, and pierced. If you saw the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, you get the picture. Jesus’ friends betrayed him, denied him, gave up on him. He was always being misunderstood. So, Jesus empathizes about those scars, those hurts we have deep inside. Better yet, He knows how to heal them.
You all, I’ve tried self-help on these emotional wounds. It’s not a bad thing—it just doesn’t completely heal. Jesus does. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the light. Show Him where you hurt. Tell Him about it. Jesus understands your pain. He loves you in spite of it, and because of it. Jesus is a healer. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus says, “tell John, The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleaned, the deaf here, the dead are raised.” He longs to heal your burns.
Those scars, they may always be a part of you—marks of what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown—but the pain that caused them? Jesus longs to take it away. Hand it over to Him, and let Him spread the cool, soothing aloe of His love wherever you’ve been burned. The healing process can begin immediately. All you have to do is ask Him.
I was digging around with my mascara wand along the edges of the tube mining for clumpy dregs for about three weeks longer than I should have. As soon as I threw away the old one and opened a new tube it was like someone had reinvented mascara all together. It was smooth and coated my eyelashes effortlessly in one swoop instead of about ten tries. My lashes stayed black all day long. It was amazing.
The razor in my shower was no different. Every time I reached for it I thought, “Eh, I should probably get a new one out.” But I was already in the shower, and needed to shave then, and didn’t feel like I had time to get out, splash down the hall to get a new one, and commence showering again. By the time I’d get out of the shower, my brain had gone eight jillion other directions and I’d completely forgotten about the razor. But yesterday I picked up my razor, and it had rust on it. Game changer.
My disgust of the rusty razor made me clear out all kinds of things I’d kept way past their usefulness—socks with holes, the stretched out t-shirt, ALL of our CDs, because, Spotify. I played tug of war with myself, because I love all of this music, but I don't need the CD's to hear any of these songs. It was time to let go. It made me wonder what else I’ve been holding onto in my life, beyond things. What had I been okay with keeping that was barely getting by, somehow making do, or even though it was dangerous or useless simply hanging onto, because it seemed easier to keep then to trash?
These thoughts filled my brain on the way to coffee with a friend. Over steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness we shared stories, laughter, and prayers. Near the end of our visit she leaned over and said, “There is one thing I’d really like you to pray about for me. I don’t want to be, but I am so bitter about,” and she named something that had gone upside down in her life. “I hate that I care. It’s so stupid. I know it’s not of God. I need to let this go. It’s a thorn in my side.” I heard the confession tumble out of my dear friend’s mouth. But as she spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the thorn of bitterness in my side, the thing I’ve been holding onto for way toooooo long.
I spat my confession right back at her. The words tasted like venom. Why would I hold so much yuck in my heart? Why did I care what a certain person said, how they passed, when they failed, where they went, or with who? What good did it do anyone? When Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us, this certainly wasn’t what He had in mind. It was embarrassing to admit I was harboring all of these icky feelings, but it was easier with a friend who understood. We grabbed each other’s hands and prayed on the spot that we could turn over the entire mess to God, that He would remove the thorns in our sides we’d been holding onto. It was such a relief. And although, I know we both have a lot of work to do to completely let go, immediately there was a sense of freedom.
With a new year, I want to clean out more than my toiletries and sock drawer. I want to clean out my heart. This year, I’ll be praying for my friend and I to let go of our bitterness, to turn it over to God, let Him be the judge, allow us to love and offer grace. What have you been holding onto—a grudge, a grievance, a regret? Has it been easier to keep it than to let it go? Are you afraid what will happen if you pull out that thorn? Has it been more convenient to keep being angry, sad, worried, or avoiding something or someone then splashing down the hall and replacing those feelings with fresh ones?
The thing about new razors is that they’re much kinder to the skin than rusty ones. Fresh mascara works better, clumps less, and doesn’t make my eyes itch. Why did I wait to change them out? The same is true with past arguments and disappointments. When we trade them out for fresh outlooks, grace, and embracing what we have and where we are, we’re safer, we function better, and we feel better. Why did we ever hold onto all of those things in the first place?
I’m planning on making 2018 the year to pull out my thorn. How about you? Will you join me?
I picture us grasping our thorns and yanking them from our sides. It will probably hurt, it might even bleed, but then our aches can finally heal. Whew. Once those thorns are out, I imagine us handing them over to the God who loves us. I picture Jesus getting out the Neosporin, rubbing it gently on our sides, picking out cute Band-Aids with polka dots or Poke Mon, whatever your thing is, and kissing our hurts. I picture Jesus showing us the scar on His side where He was pierced for us and saying, “I understand your pain. I love you. You’ll feel better now.” And then I’m pretty sure we’ll walk into the New Year breathing cleaner air, relieved of past harm, hurt, and mistakes. Sigh. I feel better already. Praying you do, too.
Happy New Year.
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Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day—one day I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it…goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was. And now, nothing can touch me. ~Miguel
How does a gang member in Los Angeles find his goodness? Racial tension is ugly. Gang violence is ugly. Drugs are ugly. Los Angeles County is home to over 1100 active gangs comprising over 86,000 people. According to the LAPD, in the last three years over 16,400 violent crimes were attributed to gangs in the City of Angels. How can someone possibly find his or her worth in the midst of this?
Miguel found his beauty thanks to Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles who didn’t look at the drugs, or the crimes, or the violence, he didn’t look at the different ethnicities, or the rap sheets of his parishioners, but he looked at them as humans—as humans who were struggling to find and believe in their true value. Boyle saw a way to help gang members like Miguel find the true beauty not only in themselves, but in each other. He knew if the teens could start fresh, get a high school diploma, get a job, they could break cycles of poverty, be less reliant on the drug trade; begin to understand that they had skills and gifts. When Fr. Greg, or as his friends call him, “G”, talked to these teens, they wanted to go to school. But the schools wouldn’t take them, not with their records, their backgrounds. So, Boyle created a school for them.
And when they graduated who would hire them? As Boyle explained when I saw him speak in Cincinnati, “Surprisingly there wasn’t much of a job market for ex convicts.” Insert laughter of the crowd here. But again, the barriers of society didn’t stop G. He put on his entrepreneur hat and started his own company, Homeboy Bakery. Its purpose is “to create an environment that provides training, work experience and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side.” Side by side? As in teaching people who have been raised to hate one another to appreciate each another, to respect one another. Boyle challenged listeners during his talk, “We belong to each other. How do we bridge the gap?” He continued to explain his motivation to bring these gang members together and to give them purpose, “What Jesus took seriously was inclusion and acceptance.” Good point.
Did it work? You bet. Not only did Homeboy Bakery take off, but it was the catalyst for Homeboy Industries, which now includes multiple businesses. It is recognized as the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the world. The jobs, the opportunities, the new life Homeboy Industries has given the poor, marginalized, desperate gang population in L.A. blows me away. But what blows me away even more is story after story about how people who hated each other now love each other. Fr. Greg told one story about “homies” who just a few months ago were shooting bullets at each other, and now they’re shooting texts at one another”. He told more tales of individuals who had always despised each other who are now not only working side by side, but calling each other “brother” and “friend”. A miracle? Not really. Because this is how Jesus always envisioned things. Treating each other as we would like to be treated. But is it easy? Are we doing a good job at keeping the Golden Rule?
How did Fr. Greg do it? He saw these individuals for the beautiful creations they were made to be. He recognized their true beauty. He proclaims, “It is our job to hold the mirror up, tell people they are exactly what God had in mind when He made them, and watch people grow into that truth.”
What if we took a lesson from Father Greg, sought beauty in all humans, realized we all have potential, we all have talents, we all deserve to be loved? How can I hold up a mirror for someone else today? How can you? Show someone who they truly are, that they are exactly what God intended when He made them? We can start with ourselves. Go find a mirror, gaze into it, and say out loud, “You are exactly what God had in mind when He made you.” And we can watch ourselves grow into our own true beautiful reflections. Then we can point others towards the mirror, and let beautiful ripple effects take over.
It started a few Mondays ago. I was grabbing the trashcans when something large and red and plastic caught my eye—a cracked toddler “baseball” bat. Since no one had played with it in years, I grabbed it and shoved it in our mammoth garbage can. Just a few feet from the broken bat was a toy lawn mower. Our youngest is nine. He'd have to hunch way over to reach the tiny push handle. I grabbed its soiled little self and pitched it too. Oh, and the Care Bear knee pads my seventeen-year old wore when she was learning how to ride a bike, a Frisbee with a chunk missing and two flat, size three soccer balls. And even though I was rolling two industrial sized rubbish containers to the curb I felt lighter than I had moments ago when I was empty handed. It felt great to get rid of all that crap. It was all so big and useless and taking up space.
The next Monday a woman in my yoga class approached me as we were rolling up our mats and explained she was doing a shoe drive. “Do you happen to have any outgrown shoes you could donate?” She came to the right lady. I went home and happily stuffed a shopping bag with outgrown, worn gym shoes. I topped it off with dress shoes that were sported for only one Easter or Christmas. The next time I went to yoga, I happily handed over my bag, feeling like I had handed over some of my burdens—the last minute rush of helping someone find their shoes before church, the chore of straightening the constantly haphazard shoe rack, the inconvenience of tripping over someone’s cleats. Fewer shoes equal less clutter.
I was on a roll. The next Monday I had a plan of attack, I liked the pattern of decluttering that was taking place on Mondays, and I wanted to keep it going. This time of year the feeling is especially top of mind as I think of all we have, all the shopping I'm doing, all of the stuff that will flow in the door at Christmas. I grabbed one of those plastic grocery bags (the ones I feel so guilty about the bagger putting two food items in when I forget my reusable bags) and pulled open the “everything drawer.” Make that one of our “everything drawers”, the one dedicated to small, miscellaneous toys. I placed inside one plastic Dora, three bouncy balls, a singular bean bag, a light up shamrock yoyo, a tie-dyed duck and several other "treasures", tied the handle of the bag, took it out and fed it to the hungry trash can eagerly awaiting its snack.
The next Monday, no lie, I got an email from a fellow soccer mom asking for donations of sweatshirts for the homeless. Her son was doing a clothing drive for his school. I was so on it. If we have too many of something in our house, it’s sweatshirts. It felt wonderful handing her that garbage bag full of warm, cozy hoodies for people who would otherwise be freezing this winter. I wish I could say that was the only buzz, but there was also the thrill of getting rid of more stuff. Lessening. Unloading.
You see there’s way too much stuff in my house, in my garage, IN MY LIFE. Bob Goff, author of Love Does, gives something up every Thursday. Well, my new mantra is to get rid of something every Monday.
But there’s also too much stuff in my head, on my heart, on my to-do list. And I need to declutter these areas in my life too. They are blurring my true reflection, getting in the way, blocking who I am and who I’m supposed to be. So I’ve decided to not only to get rid of a tangible something on Mondays, but also an intangible. I need to politely respond, "no," to the email asking me to stuff goodie bags, although it sounds like a blast, but I know I have a conflict. I also need to delete the email begging for coaches for the school basketball team, even though they are desperate for a volunteer, because I don't have time. Also, I cannot dribble. I need to toss the hundreds of “what if” scenarios my crazy brain plays out in a week…. "What if my daughter goes to that college seven hours away? What if my book proposal gets rejected? What if I run into that someone I was secretly trying to avoid?” All of those maybes aren’t worth fretting unless they actually happen.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4: 6-7 NIV
Which brings me back to today. I need to throw away a reoccurring fear I have in my life, knowing that God has conquered it once and for all, that there’s no need to go back to that frightened place, because God has rescued me from it.
Whew. It. Is. A. Process.
Just like clearing my house of all the junk we’ve accumulated after living here for fourteen years is a process. My garage and drawers and shelves are still full, but they’re getting a little cleaner, a little more manageable, bit-by-bit, week-by-week. And so is my heart. By turning over my concerns and worries and fears and time to God, and letting Him take over, bit by bit, day by day, my head and my heart and my calendar (wouldn't you like to free up some time this Christmas season?) are a little more manageable, a little less crowded too.
So, Monday’s coming up, and I’ve gotta figure out what I’m going to clear out. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but I know it will make more space in my home and in my heart.
What about you? Anything you need to clear out? You can start unloading now, by commenting below.
Have you ever seen the musical “State Fair?” The show revolves around a family’s adventures while attending the Iowa State Fair. One of the songs is “Driving At Night”. It’s classic Rogers and Hammerstein.
It was only fitting that when I was traveling home from Iowa, where they do take their State Fair seriously, I would be “driving at night”. For the record, I’m not that strong a driver. Add a delayed flight landing at midnight and some dark country roads, and I’m in trouble. This is one of my weaknesses I am very aware of. So, as I was on my second flight I 1. Closed my eyes, knowing any rest I could get would help me stay awake on my drive home and 2. As I let the hum of the jets lull me, started praying.
I prayed I would stay alert despite being exhausted. I thanked God my flight wasn’t cancelled, because at one point the gate check attendant had speculated it would be. I prayed I would drive safely and be able to see clearly, even though I’m slightly night blind and have zero depth perception. I prayed God would protect me and get me home to my family. An hour later the screech of the wheels signaled our landing and we rolled into our gate.
The airport that late was eerily vacant. I cruised out of the terminal, straight to my car, and onto the well-marked highway. Fantastic start. Fifteen minutes into my drive, construction cones merged the highway into one lane. A road crew was hard at work. Brilliant to do the work at night when there are fewer drivers. Less brilliant if you’re one of those drivers.
The crew was repainting the centerlines of the road, thus cones encroached into the only open lane. It was so tight, I passed piles of cones scattered across the road on three different occasions -- places where other drivers didn’t stay in their confined lane. As I focused on staying between the lines, dazzling lights blinded me. The bright glare from the paint trucks was like someone flashing their brights directly into my eyes. I slowed down and dove back into prayer. I was nervous someone would come flying onto my tail at any second, ticked at my snail pace.
But they didn’t. Not once during the twenty miles of construction did someone tailgate me as I crept along at 40 mph to avoid hitting cones, or worse, the rail. Not once did I hit either of my barriers. Not once did my eyes droop or panic arise.
Instead, I drove mile after mile, spotting my exit, breathing a sigh of relief to be out of the construction zone, but knowing curvy, unlit farm roads awaited me. Still a calm, determinedness filled me. I sat up straight, kept my eyes on the road and prayed.
And God was with me. Clearly. Most of you probably wouldn’t have had any problems. Most of you can probably judge how far things are away from you, don’t mind driving, and aren’t marginalized by driving at night. But I am. I could not have done this alone. But I didn’t have to. I pulled into my garage a little over an hour later, without scratches or anxiety.
Driving at night, despite how catchy the song is, scares the daylights out of me, literally. But God never left my side. He lit my way, and ushered me home safely.
He can do the same for you. So wherever you’re headed this weekend literally or figuratively, know He is right by your side.
Is anyone road tripping for fall break? Any road blocks in your way you can hand over to God?
Laura L. Smith