My daughter folded herself forward in the passenger seat, tugged her church top off, and swiftly wiggled her way into a t-shirt. She could sit upright to pull her thick, fuzzy sweatshirt over her head, but it was still quite a feat with the seatbelt and all. I won’t try to describe the dance moves she had to execute to pull off her skinny jeans, so she could slip on her joggers. But she had to do it. She was going straight from church to a cool volunteer opportunity to play with some kids in need. There wasn’t time to go home, or even grab a moment in the church bathroom to change. The top and jeans were perfect for church. The sweats were ideal for where my girl was going. The change was necessary. As were the less than ideal circumstances for making the switch. But it was worth it. She got to both attend church and play tag with kiddos.
This moment of squirming and giggles in the car matches a series of questions God keeps asking me: Where have I had you? Where am I taking you? What needs to change to walk into this new space?
My first clue was in December. A friend asked, “What can I pray about for you?”
Words came from nowhere. “I feel a shift coming. I don’t know what it is, but I really feel like God is preparing me for a change. Could you pray that I stay focused on Him and His plans, throughout that change?”
What just happened? What shift? What change? I hadn’t felt any of this until the words escaped my mouth. As my friend climbed out of my car, I had to sit a minute to catch my breath. I felt like I’d been bowled over. God, what are you planning? What’s changing? I want to hold tight to You in this!
Is anything changing in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A new expense? A new routine? Does the ground feel like it’s moving under your feet?
Another day. Another friend. Same crazy questions and ideas from God. As we circled the indoor track, gym shoes rhythmically thumping the rubber surface, our unplanned conversation orbited from where we’ve been to where we’re headed and what that means.
In my Bible study we’re studying Jonah. Jonah was a prophet living in Israel, delivering messages from God to the Hebrew people. Until God gave Jonah a new assignment, “Get up and go to Nineveh.” Jonah had been at one post, Israel. But he was being sent to a new one five hundred miles away. And it changed everything. Um, God, I don’t want to go to Nineveh. But I also don’t want to end up in the slimy, smelly belly of a big fish. I’m listening. What changes do you have in mind?
And even though I’m in a Bible study about Jonah, God keeps pointing me back to Ephesians. Specifically 2:10 God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. And chapter 4:1 I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. Hmmm. Work I had better be doing. Work He’s gotten me ready to do. Work I best be running after. But if I’m running, don’t I need to take off these cute boots and put on my Nike Zooms?
What is God calling you to today? How is it different than what He had you doing before? What changes might you need to make? What discomfort or inconvenience might you have to endure? How will you intentionally walk (better yet run) onto this road He’s calling you to travel?
My youngest was on the court in the last two minutes of his game. My phone vibrated. Can Maguire spend the night? We were twenty minutes from home and five minutes from his friend’s house. The ideal scenario would be to drop Maguire at the friend’s immediately following the game. Only he was in his uniform and didn’t have a pillow, toothbrush, etc.
After the buzzer I chatted with my boy. Yes, he wanted to go to his friend’s. Yes, he would even skip home, a shower, and his own covers. I sent Maguire into the restroom where he pulled off his uniform and tugged on the sweats he’d worn over his jersey and shorts on the way to the game. And although he wasn’t fresh, he was comfortable enough to snuggle on a friend’s couch with a borrowed blanket for the night. He’d been playing basketball. But it was time to hang with his buddy. To go from one to the next meant something had to give. He had to change. He also had to give up some comfort, but it was worth it.
Here it is again. This change in direction and the necessary action to make it happen. God doesn’t promise us it will be easy. But He promises it will be glorious and extravagant (Ephesians 1:19). That seems worth a little discomfort. That feels like it will be worthwhile to do without some of the security blankets I’ve been holding. But it’s still a bit scary, eyeing that new unfamiliar road. But also, so very exciting.
Today, in a new stage of life, where my kids are older and intriguing assignments are knocking at my door, what’s best for my family, best for me, best for this work God has called me into? I’m not sure, and I don’t how it will all play out. But I’m feeling the need to tug off my previous outfit, and put on something more appropriate for the next season.
What is this new attire? I haven’t found it in my closet yet. But with this coming shift, I know I’ll need to let go of control, and say, “no,” to some things. I’ll need to enlist help and be flexible as I learn what a day in the life of this new season for Laura looks like. And I’ll need to accept that there will be bumps during the transition. Changing outfits while riding in a car can be tricky. Certainly less than ideal. But the end result is worth it.
The coolest part? God is with me on my journey and with you wherever He’s taking you. He doesn’t ask us to go out there and do it alone. He says to join Him in the work He does. Join Him. Yes, please. There’s no one I’d rather walk through life with than the One who loves me, believes in me, encourages me, holds me, comforts me, and cheers for me just for trying. Because what God really wants isn’t a best-selling novel from me or a full-ride scholarship, trophy, or promotion from you.
What He really wants is for us to join Him. That’s all. To walk through life with Him. To trust Him when He says He creates us for cool stuff and wants us to do it, because it will be amazing, and because He can shower us and the world with His love and grace while we do this work He’s put in front of us together.
So, let’s get going. Ready? Set? Go!
Due to crazy schedules and me skimming too fast through one too many emails my youngest and I pulled up to his school for basketball tryouts the other night. “Hmm,” I said. “I wonder why there aren’t any cars here.”
“Yeah, kind of strange,” he answered. “We are kinda early.”
I checked my phone. “Six minutes early.”
We got out of the car walked to the door, and you already know the scenario, the door was locked. No one was there.
I texted another mom and scrolled through emails. Pretty sure I did this simultaneously, which might be how we’d ended up here in the first place. Yes, there was a coach’s meeting tonight. No, there weren’t tryouts. Yes, there were tryouts for an elite team at a different place tonight, but those were not the tryouts we were trying to attend. Total mom fail. Although my son shrugged it off as we got back in our car, I knew he’d gotten mentally and emotionally ready for tryouts. There’s an adrenaline surge of excitement and nervousness no matter your skill level or what you’re auditioning for. It was a chilly evening and he’d had to change into basketball clothes and ride to the next town for absolutely nothing. When we got home he said, “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Ummm. “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter. “Do you think I would have left you at the tryouts I thought you had, but weren’t real?”
He laughed, too. “No. But thanks for coming straight home, and for taking me in the first place.”
This kid is too much. He is honestly the most grateful person I know. This has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with the kind spirit God has placed inside of him. This is the same boy who has said, “Thank you for letting me make dinner tonight.” As in him. Cooking for our family. And then thanking me. No lie. He oozes gratitude. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the happiest people I know.
Does thankfulness equal joy?
There’s research that makes it sound like that’s true. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, wanted to know why some people were content with their lives, while others were not. She conducted thousands of interviews trying to discover what makes a wholehearted person. “Wholehearted living,” she says, “is about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” These people had joy.
Do you know what she found? Every single person who made it to her “wholehearted” list practices gratitude on a regular basis. Meaning, they don’t just say, “thank you” when the barista hands them their pumpkin spiced latte, but they daily, intentionally, take time to mentally note things they can be thankful for.
I think Brene is pretty rockstar, if you haven’t watched her Ted Talks or read her books, do that and soon, but there’s a source I deem much higher than Brene, higher than any other source, the Bible. And the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
As we enter into November and pumpkin pies and pilgrims, are we focused on which family we’ll see when and what dish we need to prepare for Thanksgiving, or are we actually taking time to be thankful?
My son has to practice basketball. Dribbling and shooting aren’t part of his daily life, unless he intentionally goes out to the garage, grabs the ball, and takes time to practice. No one else in our family plays this game. So for Maguire, this means motivating himself, dribbling up and down our cul de sac when it’s chilly outside, shooting over and over when there’s no one else to play with. The same is true for gratitude. We aren’t going to just “be thankful” unless we intentionally set aside time or habits that enable us to appreciate all we have.
Where do we start? A lot of people say grace or a prayer before they eat. Do you do this? Before every meal? Even a Starbucks scone on the fly? Even at a business dinner with clients? You could start by thanking God for every single meal, regardless, for having food, any food, when so many people in the world are literally starving, for crunchy apples the colors of fall leaves, and warm, hearty soup on a chilly day. It’s an easy place to start.
How about as a family with daily prayers? Could you all go around and say one thing you’re thankful for? Before you start your day? Before you go to bed? Both? This holds you all accountable to one another. At least once a day, even the grumpiest family member with the lousiest stuff going on can practice finding something they’re thankful for. And when we say it out loud, “Thank you God for cozy blankets or a stunning sunrise this morning,” all of a sudden, we realize we truly are grateful.
A thankful list or journal is a brilliant way, for all you planner-obsessed, list-making, color-coded folks out there (raises hand). Create a separate journal or pad of paper where you write down at least five things, or ten things, or twenty, up to you, you’re grateful for each day. Make the time consistent—when the kids get on the bus, when you arrive in the office, when you park your car in the parking lot, but before you get out—whatever time of day you can both make it fit into your schedule and it will help mentally prepare you for what’s next.
Maybe none of these ideas make sense for you, but your morning drive time would be ideal, or your lunch break, or you’d like to put up a sticky note on your mirror each day with something you’re thankful for, or change your screen saver to “Give thanks in all circumstances!” so that every time you pick up your phone, you’re reminded to thank God for something. You don’t have to limit yourself to being grateful at these set times, but scheduled times, just like brushing your teeth before you go to bed, makes it part of your routine.
Today, I’m sick. I don’t know what hit me, but I feel like my head is in a way too tight helmet and like I could sleep until Christmas. But I am so grateful. Grateful my kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, so I don’t have to worry about their basic needs. Grateful my husband brought a rich, chocolate muffin and steaming, coffee up to me in my bed. Thankful for vitamin C packets that give my immune system a boost. Grateful I could sleep in and wear sweats, because there is only one place I had to be all day, you guessed it, actual basketball tryouts.
Throughout November, I’m going to provide a place for us to practice gratitude together for anyone who’d like to get into this habit. It is proven to bring us joy, and more importantly to please God. I’ll use #thankfulnessproject to organize the posts. I’d love for you to check out my Facebook and Instagram daily to join in. But let’s start right now. What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
Yes, I “know” Jesus is aware of all the things, that He sees everything, but as the band and crowd sang along with Vertical Worship at the Outcry Tour on Tuesday night, God washed a truer perspective over me.
“I stand in awe, You're the God over all I know.” A simple lyric that penetrated.
I envisioned God walking me through the rooms of our house as if I was house hunting. “And here’s the kitchen…” But instead of pointing out my new subway tile, He showed me myself flying around trying to put this away, chop that, clean up this, and get dinner in the oven in time for someone to eat before practice—frenzied and snippy. Then radiant light poured over the dirty cup and the overflowing garbage. God reminded me when I think, “Doesn’t anybody notice this isn’t recyclable? Doesn’t anyone see the toaster needs put away?” God says, “I notice. I see. And it’s okay if it’s not perfect. If it’s not all in place or done in order or even done. I love you. Let me grace shine here.”
This calms everything. Because I’m not in this by myself. I’m not a better or worse mom or wife if the silverware drawer is organized or if there are fingerprints on the fridge. And I don’t have to do it on my own. Neither do you. God is in each and every detail—the God over all we know. He sees the things that drive us crazy and shines warmth onto these places. He sees ALL of it. He doesn’t let a single aspect of our lives go unnoticed.
Where are you feeling frazzled? God is with you in that place—running late to practice or a meeting, studying for exams, pacing around the family room in the middle of the night with a wailing infant. Let His grace shine here.
Next, God guided me to the door leading to our garage. He didn’t point out my kids’ artwork or comment on their Nerf hoop. Instead, He said, “This is the coming and going place.”
Most of our family greetings are sweet—full of hugs and “I love yous,” but some are strained. Someone’s had a crummy day and needs to vent about everything. Someone else is tired and not in the mood to be barraged with questions when they walk in the door. One of us needs a hug. Another cannot fathom anyone touching them right now. God allowed me to see His golden light shining on these situations. His presence encircling all members of our family—the ones who want to be left alone, the ones who need to chat, all the emotions that ensue. God whispered, “It’s always like this. I’m always here. You just don’t always see it. Don’t push. Don’t worry. I love each person in your family. Let Me guide the conversations and the greetings. I am with you all.”
Sigh. I love my husband and kids so much. But sometimes my love for them turns into me trying too hard to love them. God gave me a permission slip to step back. To not have to resolve every problem. To allow room for Him to do His glorious thing. Who do you love? Who do you live with? Are there ever rough spots in that relationship? A quarrel? A miscommunication? A frustration? God is there—loving you both. Knowing exactly what you both need. Make room for Him.
I followed God upstairs as He entered my writing nook. I saw my laptop, to-do list, pile of reference books, journal, dual coasters—one for coffee, one for water, and a smattering of pens, headphones and a stray Eos. Beams of light shot from every nook and cranny. “This is My space,” He said. “Everything you do in here should be for Me and My glory. Don’t worry about deadlines, rejections, what your next project will be, or when you’ll find out about it. Just come in here expectant of what I’ll do. Come in here to serve Me.”
Okay, wow. I know this. I know I write for Jesus, but I also know I stress over it. Too much. God reminded me not to worry, but instead just to work. What kind of work do you do? Homework? Housework? Running giant companies work? Yardwork? What kind of work would you like to do? What are you waiting to hear back about? God knows about all of it. Every single detail. And He’s working them all together for good. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer before you commence your next task or assignment. Turn it over to Him.
God showed me all this during one song. Granted worship songs are lengthy, but still. Today I am clinging to that vision. Trying to keep my eyes open and aware that He truly is everywhere shining light into each detail. God understands when we have a headache, when we’re tired, when we’re overwhelmed, and He offers peace. God appreciates that we get confused, unsure what to do next or how to react, and He offers assurance that He knows exactly what’s going on and if we let Him, He’ll make things clear. God realizes you and your roommate or sibling or spouse are at odds. He loves you and that other person. Pray for Him to step into the conversations and the misunderstandings. Pray for Him to smooth things over where you simply cannot.
Our God is in ALL things. He is the God over all we know. All of our comings in, goings out, daily routines and grinds. God not only knows all of it, He can make it better. Allow Him to shine His love like warm sunlight into all of the rooms—literal and figurative of your life. Allow Him to do what only God can do. He’s the God over ALL we know.
There’s something that lures even this non-sporty girl to the NCAA tournament. In the process of 67 games there are so many beautiful stories—countless surprises, nail-biters, overtimes, upsets, and tearful moments surged by both “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Monday night was the grand finale of the tournament, and for me there was not one, but five shining moments that stood out exemplifying what being the best versions of ourselves, embracing our true beauty, looks like.
1. Even though everyone was convinced they would lose, Middle Tennessee State University (a 15 seed), believed they could beat Michigan State (a 2 seed). They not only imagined the unthinkable, but MTSU went out there and played their hearts out, making their dream a reality winning 90-81. This is only the 8th time in NCAA history this kind of upset has happened. It wasn’t a fluke or a tight ending. MTSU—the underdog, the predicted loser, the presumed weaker link—outplayed the team that many, including March Madness authority, Dick Vitale, thought would win the entire tournament. As Michigan State’s coach, Izzo, said after the game, “We got beat by a team that played better than us today. There were no bad calls. Nobody missed a free throw that would have saved the day. We just kind of got beat.” I do feel badly for Michigan State, but MTSU reminded us that we all have potential, that we all have God-given talents, and we are called to use them to the best of our abilities, even when things look bleak. MTSU exemplified hope to all of us underdogs fighting our own giants, showing us that even when the world doesn’t believe in us, God does.
Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. Samuel 17:49-50 NKJV
2. Typically when we think about March Madness, we’re not thinking about the music, but Pitt’s band showed us not only how important a fight song can be, but more importantly how to live out the Golden Rule. Pitt’s band heard Weber State’s band would be unable to attend their game—Weber would be without anyone to musically cheer them on. Knowing the importance of a band and a fight song for moral support, Pitt’s band stayed in town after their own team was defeated earlier in the day to play for Weber State. Not only did they stay, but they ditched their own outfits for Weber State spirit wear, learned, and played Weber State’s fight song as enthusiastically as if it were their own. The Pitt band could have gone home. They could have been bitter about their loss. They could have shown zero interest in learning another random team’s song. But instead they exhibited how beautiful it is to love your neighbor as yourself. This class act was a reminder to all of us to do unto others, and that is beautiful music to everyone’s ears.
And Jesus answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:11
3. Another example of being the best versions of ourselves, living to the full potential of our true beauty was given to us by a young man named Angel. After winning the game against Wichita State, scoring a career high of 28 points, and advancing his team to the Sweet 16, Angel Rodrigues, the University of Miami’s point guard was asked by a CBS reporter what he thought about the praise his coach gave him. Angel responded, “Well first, let me give all the praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Here is his big chance to take a bow, to pat himself on the back, to revel in the glow of stardom, but Angel humbly points the spotlight back to Jesus. What a beautiful example to sports fans everywhere. What if we all did that? What if every time we got a compliment, achieved a goal, conquered a problem, or overcame a struggle we first, before anything else, publicly gave all the praise to Jesus? What a beautiful reminder of where our identities, our true reflections come from. No wonder his name is Angel.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
4. When the Virginia Cavaliers (a one seed) lost to the Syracuse Orangemen (a ten seed), you might have predicted something ugly might ensue from the UVA side of the bench, but instead, their coach, Tony Bennett, exhibited the truest beauty. As Bennett watched the 16 point lead his team had established disappear, he never yelled. Not once. He knew his boys were playing hard, doing their best. After the game the press wanted to interview the coach of the losing team who many (*cough* including me) had slated to win the tournament. When asked what he would say to his team, Bennett, replied he had an old church song ringing in his ears, “’Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’” He continued, “There will be some weeping and some pain for some nights because of this, but absolutely, joy will come in the morning for these guys, “ Bennett said. “For what they’ve established for our program, where they’ve taken us—what they’ve done for me – joy is coming. My guys are disappointed tonight, but they’ll look back and see what they accomplished, that what they did was amazing.”Did I mention this game took place on Easter? What a beautiful message to remind us all that even though basketball is pretty addicting in the spring, something even more important is taking place. That just as things looked bleak and dark for the world on the original Good Friday, God was at work, there would be joy in the morning. For all of us. That no matter what we’re going through right now, today, you and I, Jesus loves us. He’s cheering for us. And that message of amazing grace is the most beautiful thing I know.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 NKJV
5. Only in the Big Dance could a tango between two brothers create such a beautiful finale to the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, Nate Britt from UNC played against his adopted brother, Kris Jenkins, who by the way made the winning shot for Villanova to win it all. Nate and Kris met playing AAU ball together as youngsters, but due to extreme challenges in Kris Jenkins’ family, the Britts not only took him under their wings, into their homes, but legally adopted him. Kris says about the Britts, “They accepted me for who I was and elevated me as a person and made me better. It's something that I'm always thankful for. I thank God for it every day." In the past few days the Britts traveled back and forth from Philadelphia, to Louisville to Houston in order to see both of their sons play. And the brothers? Both of them were there to cheer the other one on in their final four wins prior to their match up Monday night. Kris Jenkins experienced family trauma (separation of parents, death of a sibling), struggled academically, and ten years ago was placed in a family that was not his own. His story could have been one of desolation and defeat. But a family who loved him as if he were their own, the nurturing of the Britt parents and of his brother, Nate, strengthened, enabled and inspired Kris to go to college, play the game he loves and make the shot that was heard around the world.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this.” John 15:12-13
How about you? Did you notice anyone exuding true beauty during the tournament? I’d love to hear your highlights. Leave them in the comments below.
Laura L. Smith