Wise men. Kings. Magi. The story of these men amazes me. But as with anyone, what truly blows me away is not what they did, but what God did through them.
What do we know about these majestic gift bearers? We refer to them as kings. They were revered like kings and wealthy like kings. They dressed and traveled like kings, but truthfully, they were of the scholarly order of Magi. This means they were highly educated men in the field of astrology, revered in their towns. When they came and spoke, large crowds gathered. Their nuggets of wisdom would have been tweeted and retweeted and posted and pinned.
We depict them as a trio. But the Bible only states three gifts; it doesn’t mention how many people brought them. Who’s to say a few of them didn’t go in on the gold? It was pretty pricey, after all. We’ve even assigned names to them; Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, which if your going to give great men names, why not give them great names?
These magi left their families and friends and the communities that looked up to them to travel for what scholars say took up to two years. They invested riches to hire the caravan necessary to tend to their animals, prepare their meals and travel with them. They didn’t have a map. They didn’t even have Siri to tell them to turn left at the third sand dune. That’s one heck of a road trip. All to see a new king, they’d never even met.
Their faith is awe-inspiring.
But as I said, it’s not what the magi did that blows me away, but what God did through them.
1000 years before they tied their saddlebags on their camels, the Psalmist in Psalm 72:10 -11 wrote: May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
And 700 years before they gift-wrapped the frankincense with the perfect bow, the prophet Isaiah wrote in 60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
That means God had it all planned out. Down to the most intricate detail. He knew where the wise men needed to come from, where they would be going, what they would need to pack and how they would get there. All they had to do was follow the star.
This is so mind boggling; because it means God does the same thing for you and for me. Centuries before we were born He had created plans for us. Not just any plans, but plans to prosper. Like the prophet Jeremiah says.
What lies ahead for you in 2014? What uncertainties lay in your heart? Are you freaking out about how you did on exams? Trying to decide what to major in? Wondering if you’ll start in your next game? Are you in a relationship and wondering if it’s time to take it to a higher level, or maybe to end it all together? Are you not in a relationship and wondering if you’ll ever find a soul mate? Maybe you’re moving and frightened of the unknown? Or panicked about an internship or job search?
No worries. God’s got this. All of it.
And not just the big picture stuff, but all of the intricate details.
He’s had it all planned out for hundreds of years. He knows where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you and how you’ll get there. He’ll even give you all of the resources you need to make the journey.
All you have to do is follow the star.
The star that is Christ Jesus.
Today's guest post is by Jennifer Maggio, author of the new book Peace and the Single Mom. Her story blows me away and is a beautiful testament, that no matter where you are, no matter how much you wish you were somewhere else or someone else, there is hope. God has a beautiful plan for you. He's not finished with you yet.
And as a bonus of having Jennifer guest post here, we'll give away a copy of her new book. Just leave a comment on a way God has shown you He's not finished with you yet below for a chance to enter the drawing. And now, here's Jennifer's story.
I would love to tell you I had a “normal” childhood – whatever that is – but I didn’t. I didn’t frolic in the snow, drink hot cocoa, and enjoy snuggles with my parents on the sofa as we watched our favorite television program. Truth is, most of my childhood and teen years were spent in utter chaos.
My mother was killed when I was just a baby. Consequently, I was raised by my dad who used alcohol and women to mask the pain of losing my mother so unexpectedly. My dad married a total of six times, not including girlfriends in between the marriages. (Yep, you read that right!) I spent years suffering through sexual and physical abuse at the hands of many. My dad was not one of those abusers. He lived in a cloud for years, devastated by the pain he had endured.
Although I graduated high school valedictorian and class president (and was probably considered an overachiever by most), I became pregnant at only seventeen years old. I was desperate for someone to love me. I was desperate to have this hole in my heart filled. Maybe this new baby would create a bond between his father and me that would give me my “happily ever after.” As you may have guessed, it didn’t. I was a teen mom who had two children by the time I was nineteen. I was severely abused, chasing after a dead-end relationship that would have never worked. I lived in government housing using food stamps and welfare to help make ends meet with my low-paying job. I felt hopeless.
It was in my darkest hour that I found God. I hadn’t attended church in years, but my life was so dark, so lonely…maybe the church could help me. I made a decision to give the church thing a try again. I started attending regularly with my two small children. God slowly began to transform my heart. He healed the old wounds that had left me broken and bitter. He mended a heart that no longer chased after the temporary happiness this world offers. I finally had the strength to leave my old life behind. My Heavenly Father transformed my life, inside and out.
(as I read Jennifer's guest blog here, I can't help but sing Brandon Heath's song, "Wait and See" in my head. In case you are too, here you go ~Laura L. Smith)
Okay, sorry for the interruption. Now back to Jennifer --
Today, I spend my days encouraging single moms that they can make it. They can overcome. They can press through and press on. I work with youth to encourage sexual purity. I encourage hurting women with the love that only Jesus brings. I never thought I could be used by God for anything. When I was a kid, I just wanted to be normal. But God has shown me that none of us were called to be normal. We were called to be an extraordinary light for His glory.
Jennifer Maggio is the award-winning author of four books, including her latest release Peace and the Single Mom: 50 Moments of Calm in the Chaos. Her story has been featured in countless media venues. She is the founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a global nonprofit committed to empowering single mothers. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com.
Don't forget to leave a comment below about how God has given you hope for a chance to win an autographed copy of Peace & The Single Mom.
DOWNLOAD THE DRAMA TO WIN THIS SUMMER BEACH BAG LOADED WITH GOODIES
During the month of July, Enter to win this fabulous beach bag blast by doing any of the following:
1. Download any Playlist Fiction title (Between These Lines, Glass Girl, It's Complicated, It's Over, Perfect Glass, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet or Swimming Through Clouds) and email us the receipt
2. Create a Pinterest board for Playlist Fiction and email us the link
3. Scan our book info and email us a few sentences on which Playlist character you'd like to meet most and why
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Enter as many times as you like from July 1-July 31. Just email us your name, email address and one of the four ways to enter listed above at email@example.com . Winner will be selected through www.randomizer.org. Winner will be selected and notified via email the first week of August 2013. One grand prize winner will receive one Tommy Hilfiger water resistant beach bag; a matching towel; a Rove 20 oz. reusable travel tumbler with nontoxic, reusable cubes; a purple Playlist ice cube tray; and a pink journal to record and reflect on your own summer stories. $115 estimated value. All items are pictured. No substitutions. Restricted to U.S. residents.
Tingling all over with the announcement of the second book in my Status Updates series, It's Over, releasing April 19!
HOW CAN YOU MOVE ON WHEN IT'S OVER?
When four college roommates lose pieces of their lives, the pain isolates and the tension rises. Emotions are hard to hide and even harder to tackle. How can the girls move forward, when there is so much pain in letting go? Together, Claire, Kat, Palmer and Hannah learn to lean on God and each other, and through it all they learn loss is a part of life.
"In It's Over, Laura L. Smith confirms the truth we've been told that we are never alone in the midst of heartache and struggle. In fact, she takes us to a place where we not only get to see, but feel deeply the truth of the fact that every single one of us has a story. Every single one of has experienced pain. But more importantly, that every single one of us has great hope. Laura L. Smith's writing strikes a deep chord in my heart. It makes sense. It's real--and in my opinion, that transparency makes all the difference." ~Holly Starr, Christian recording artist
"Laura Smith speaks for the broken. With a voice that’s warm and true, Laura gives words to those rendered speechless by issues that high school and college girls should never have to deal with—but so many of them do. In writing that’s raw, relevant, and real, Smith goes where few authors dare to go: straight into the heart of today’s young woman."
~Amy Parker, bestselling author of Courageous Teens
"YA author, Laura L. Smith crafts another story that will appeal to all girls, because no one is untouched by heartache in all its forms. The grace Smith extends the four girls in It's Over will touch readers in deep ways, as they follow these characters through some of the worst parts of life. Best of all, they'll cheer when the girls lean on one another and find ways to be thankful in everything. This is a fantastic read, one that will resonate with teens, college girls and their mothers."
~Laura Kurk, author of Glass Girl
I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Where did you go today? What did you wear? What did you take with you?
I started the day with yoga. Wearing my comfy gray yoga pants and stretchy gray and black tank, I grabbed my mat, my rec center ID, my hot pink water bottle and slid on my flip-flops.
After a trip home for a quickie shower and a wardrobe change into a black sundress and a zillion bracelets, my next stop was a writing session at my local coffee shop, Kofenya. I packed my MacBook, extension cord, cell phone, wallet and of course my coffee cup for the excursion.
This afternoon I’ll head to the pool. I’ll need to slip on a bikini, pack my sunscreen (both spray and Neutrogena face formula), a towel, my Kindle, my U2 cap (to prevent sun damage), my straw cup full of H20 and a snack.
We, as a society, carry around so much stuff. And it’s even more fun when we get to carry it around in cute bags!
But Jesus challenges us to do something different. He sent the disciples out on their life’s work with a walking stick and the clothes and shoes they already had on.
These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Mark 6: 8-9 NIV
I’ve changed shoes three times today! IS His call to all of us exactly the same?
Not exactly, but kind of.
He might call you to teach or nurture or share a smile. You might be called to sing or paint or score or hug or listen or lead or follow.
He has a plan for you.
But do we need all this baggage we carry around to live out this plan?
Jesus still calls us to spread His word – every day, everywhere we go – whether that’s shopping or hanging out with friends or going to class or working out with our team or working or spending time with family. He calls us to be His light. So what do we need to bring?
That’s the easy one.
If I forget my sunscreen, I can sit under the shelter when I’m not in the pool. If I wear a normal t-shirt to yoga I’ll still be able to do my best downward dog. If I forget my travel cup at the coffee shop, they have mugs.
So where are you going today? Where has Jesus called you to go?
I’d love to hear about it. And don’t forget to pack the most important thing – Jesus.
You have it all taken care of, right?
You have a date with the Big Man scheduled in your Blackberry on recurring for every day. You have a regular prayer time, a routine for reading the Word, a group you meet with either on Sundays or during the week to talk about your relationship with Jesus.
It’s like clockwork. Until you go on summer vacation. And we all know vacation is a temporary thing, but time away from the Lord is bad any way you slice it. And sometimes, on vacation is when you need Him the most.
So, how do you keep up with your relationship with God when you’re on the road, at camp, at a relative’s house or as distant from real life as a foreign country? When everything about your normal schedule is out of whack, how do you stay in sync with Jesus?
In today’s electronic age it’s easier than ever before. You have a Smartphone. You have a laptop or access to a computer at your aunt’s house or hotel lobby. You have a sense of adventure. You’re all set.
Bible reading is a piece of cake online with www.biblegateway.com. You can look up any chapter or verse in almost any translation. Don’t have access to a computer? There’s an App for that – YouVersion – The Bible App – touts more translations than you’ll ever be able to read, bookmarks your spot for you, and has a search engine to help you find any chapter or verse on demand.
Churches are everywhere. So, it’s not your home church. So, it’s a little different. It’s still a group of Christians gathering together to proclaim God’s word, sing His praises and pray to Him. Find one with beautiful stained glass or an interesting history. Focus on the cross and the music and the readings for this week. If you’re out of the country, a church service in another language can still be amazingly spiritual and uplifting. The architecture and history of ancient European churches create a sense of awe, and help you realize how important God has been to generations upon generations.
Now, that you have the actual Word at your fingertips and at least a Sunday service to attend, how do you supplement it with discussion, advice, inspiration? There are so many cool opportunities on the web! Encounter Magazine has The Scene that takes a current event and tackles its relationship to scripture each week. You can download it at http://encounterface2face.com/category/the-scene/ and work through it personally. There are hundreds of churches that have podcasts of their sermons and inspirational speakers have podcasts for more online immersion in Jesus. Find one that meets your needs – male, female, sister, brother, athlete, musician, artist, dancer, bookworm, outgoing, shy, highschooler, homeschooler on-your-way-to-collegegoer -- there’s a website, a blog, a speaker on the internet who speaks directly to your heart via Jesus. Find them on your favorite search engine, plug in and make it part of your day.
You don’t have to stop with scripture and sermons. Download your favorite Christian tunes onto your iPod and an inspirational read onto your Kindle app, iBooks or e-reader for further immersion.
Just like at home where you had a set time of day, you need to commit to a daily date with God on the road. Do you wake up before the rest of the family or stay up past the rest of your crew – this alone time is perfect for you to hang out with Jesus. If your travels give you a little down time every day after lunch, make it then. Do you schedule a daily run? How about right before or after that workout?
But remember wherever you are, your Creator is there within your heart. He’s ready to chat, listen, comfort, encourage or just hang out whether you’re at home or on the road. Jesus wants to be your best friend wherever you go. So, even when you’re in new surroundings, you can still surround yourself with the Lord.
Where are you traveling this summer?
How do you like to incorporate your spirituality with your travels?
It’s vacation time! How many pairs of shoes are too many? Flip-flops? Running shoes? Heels? How can you feel good, look good and enjoy your time at the beach all in one small suitcase?
1. Leave your flat iron, curling iron and hair dryer at home. At the beach ponytails reign, caps are cute and windblown messy tresses constitute as coveted “beach hair”.
2. Skip the eyeliner, eye shadow and blush. It’ll just run in the sun and pool anyway. You’re number one cosmetic here is sunscreen. I’m loving the Neutrogena Clear Face SPF 55 for my face – it goes on smooth and creamy and any high SPF spray to cover my body. A little waterproof mascara and lip-gloss compliment your sun-kissed glow better than any of the must have new products.
3. Forget about labels. It doesn’t matter if your swimsuit is from the hand-me-down sack or from Saks. Everyone has one, and after being on vacation over a week I have not seen a single duplicate swimsuit – not one. Wear your favorite color, style, something you feel comfortable in, but leave comparisons behind.
4. I’m crazy about bracelets. I love the way they clink against each other and the way they tumble down my wrists. But on vacation I just brought one – a silver and black bangle made by a Guatemalan woman out of pop-tops and cord. I brought one pair of earrings – smooth, silver hoops, and one necklace – a heavy, funky silver cross. All of these pieces match everything I’ve packed. They all express my look. But instead of fumbling for the earrings that best match my outfit or the necklace that hangs just right, I’m already out the door singing along with the acoustic guitarist to “Brown-Eyed Girl”.
5. I find great joy in putting together outfits and accessorizing them with the right belt or scarf. But on vacation I have what I have – one suitcase with a small combination of mix and match pieces I’ll wear over and over. Without all the choices, I get ready quickly, feeling good about myself because I packed my favorite staples; jean shorts, a hot pink sundress, a funky black and white mini and a handful of soft black tanks, white tees, a black hoodie plus one silky scarf that matches all of it.
The beach makeover teaches us we don’t need all that stuff – all that primping and fussing and shifting through our closets. Less is more. When I get to the basics, I remember that God created me as I am. He wants me to present myself well, but he doesn’t want me fussing endlessly with my “look”. Neither do I – not when there are grainy sand castles to build, foamy waves to ride, sweet frothy frappuccinos to sip, golden sunsets to marvel, miracles to discover and laughter to share.
The ultimate beach makeover isn’t spending time changing me, but being more comfortable with who I am, so I can enjoy God’s creation.
How can you spend less time stressing about your appearance and more time savoring life today?
Pulling into our neighborhood after another adventure, this time to North Carolina for a mountaintop spring break, I felt myself ease back into the driver’s seat, release my grip on the steering wheel and audibly sigh. The trip was a lovely escape from calendars and clocks, but there is always something soothing about returning home.
Everything was as we left it – even the load of darks in the dryer (apparently they didn’t fold themselves while I was gone). Once back inside, the unpacking began -- the transition from vacation to reality. Traveling is a passion of mine. The more treks I take -- both in actual voyages and on the road of life, I realize how important this final step is. As much as there is anticipation and excitement in the packing for a trip, there is therapy and peace in the unpacking.
Pillows back on beds, iPods back in docks, jackets back on hooks. As each item is transported from car to home, it carries a story with it -- tales of the bunk beds the pillows rested on, the tune that became the theme song of the trip, the day it started out chilly, but we ended up building sand castles on the beach.
What happens to you in a day or week or month or year? Who did you meet? What did you learn? Who did you disagree with? Who pleasantly surprised you? What was the strangest thing you experienced? The funniest? Who are you worried about? What are you praying for?
From the time we leave our homes in the mornings to the time we return in the evenings, even if the only place we go is to our virtual office, we collect stories. At the end of it all, it’s necessary to unpack. After all, what good are stories if they’re never told?
Unlike unpacking a roller bag, to unpack our lives, we need a partner. This could be a parent, roommate, best friend, boy/girlfriend, teacher, coach -- whoever’s a good listener. For me, the unpacking is always with my husband. Some days we dump the contents of our daily suitcase in heaps, rattling off event after encounter in one run-on sentence. Other days we remove one item from our suitcases at a time, sharing one meeting, a new place we discovered, a confrontation, piece by piece. Some nights we take turns unpacking items from our mental luggage back and forth like a tennis match of show and tell. And there are times, due to urgency; it’s necessary for just one of us to unpack a steamer trunk of a day. The other’s carry on can wait.
And just as it’s satisfying to have my faded jeans back in my wardrobe, my clunky, silver bracelets back in their drawer and my favorite black boots back on their rack, it’s gratifying to share with my hubby about the route I took on my morning run, a quote from the book I’m reading and the phone call I had with one of our moms.
Life is a journey. You need to pack to get ready for each adventure, town and port along the way. But you also need to take time to unpack your bag, look at where you’ve been, how it will effect where you’re going and every once in a while do some laundry.
Who helps you unpack the stories of your life?
Laura L. Smith