Kelly Clarkson said on a recent episode of The Voice, “2020 has been a trash can!” She’s not the only one claiming 2020 has been a disaster. You don’t need me to tell you about the global pandemic, systemic racism, wildfires, hurricanes, and a doozy of an election year. Scroll through your social media feed. Click on your most trusted news source. Eavesdrop on the people near you. Oh wait, we shouldn’t be close enough to be able to eavesdrop, should we? A friend recently mentioned she just wanted to hear some good news, any good news. I understand what she meant. And yes, this year has been fraught with turmoil. But there is good news. His name is Jesus.
And as far as news goes, Jesus tells us:
Your faith has made you well. Mark 5:34
Go in peace. Mark 5:34
Your suffering is over. Mark 5:34
Don’t be afraid. Mark 5:36
Just have faith. Mark 5:36
Little girl, get up! Mark 5:41
And that’s on one page of the Bible in only a span of six verses.
I know phrases like, “Just have faith,” can sound trite when we’re in the midst of a real-life crisis. But can we look at these words in their original context a minute?
There was a woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve entire years. This is the woman Jesus tells, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
Her crisis sounds pretty real to me. She was losing blood, for years. Bleeding in her day and age made you “unclean” and since she always was, she was always “unclean” and thus a social outcast. Imagine being quarantined for twelve years. I thought two weeks was rough. She’d spent all her money trying to get medical help and none of it worked. She was at the end of her rope. But she reached out to Jesus. That was it. Reached out to Him, stretched out her hand and she was instantly healed. He offered her peace and ended her suffering. Are we reaching out to Jesus in our trials...or just complaining?
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To the man whose daughter had just died--unimaginable, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” Simple, but not easy. In fact, harder than I can fathom. But then Jesus goes to the man’s house, walks in the little girl’s room, takes her hand, and says, “Talitha koum (little girl, get up!). And. She. Does. She was dead. But she stands up, walks around, and Jesus even makes sure she gets a snack. So, if you feel exhausted and simply done, but Jesus asked you to get up--would you?
Our God? He’s a God of miracles. He’s a God of healing. He’s the Prince of Peace. And that is super good news. Not just in a trite, make a cute phrase on a mug or social media post way, but in the midst of tragedy He will step in and change your life kind of way.
I’m fully aware that the Bible was written thousands of years ago. But I’m also fully aware that God carefully curated the historic events, people, and occurrences that made it to the pages of Scripture. And these two (the woman and the girl), are here so we know, when we’ve been struggling for over a decade, when we seem to be out of options, when the thing most dear to us seems to be gone, Jesus can flood our lives with peace, joy, and hope. All we have to do is reach out and get up.
Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. Colossians 1:27 MSG
No matter what’s going on in your world, in the world. Christ is in you. Right now. Today. Amidst the chaos, the shutdowns, the election. The Prince of Peace. The One who brought a little girl back to life. The One who was raised back to life. The One who Created the World. The One who died for you. He’s in you, with you, closer than your breath. You get to shine God’s glory. Right where you are—in your office, on your next social media post, when you wake your kids up in the morning, as you stand in line at your favorite coffee shop, or help your spouse find their keys. As you try to figure out online schooling or Zoom, as you’re quarantining, planning a Thanksgiving that’s smaller than you’d hoped, God’s glory—the kind that raises the dead and heals chronic ailments and is the embodiment of peace—that’s in you. Inhale it deeply. Exhale the gunk of the world straight into that garbage can.
In the midst of bad news and biased news and erroneous news there is very very good news. And His name is Jesus. The world might be calling 2020 rubbish. But Jesus is calling it yet another opportunity to love you more than you can imagine.
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I was driving behind a college student riding a Lime scooter the other day who jumped off in the middle of the sidewalk and started running. Yes, part of the beauty of these motorized rental scooters is as soon as you’re at work, home, your friends’ apartment, favorite coffee shop, or whatever you set the scooter to the ground. Lime has trackers, gathers the two-wheeled wonders at the end of the day and redistributes them at key places people can utilize them the following day. But this girl didn’t exactly look like she’d gotten to where she was going. I’m guessing she ran out of her prepaid limit. As the scooter hit the pavement it hit me that so often, we treat God like this.
We pick Him up when we’re in the mood or use Him when we need help getting somewhere, then when we feel better about ourselves or our situation, have gotten as far as we want, or have invested as much as we wanted to in our relationship with Jesus we drop Him to the ground. Boom!
This could mean spending time with Jesus in the morning and then living our lives however we want the rest of the day without regard to truly loving our neighbors or ourselves.
Or praying in times of crisis but patting ourselves on the back when our life seems to be going well.
Maybe we do all our Bible study homework or sing at church, but at home have an addiction we’re not willing to turn over to the Lord.
Or we tell someone we’re praying for them and never do.
Or say we trust Jesus and then positively freaking out when things don’t go as planned.
Any of these hit home?
Most of us are guilty of at least one if not several of these. Not because we’re bad people, but because we’re people. And, well, people aren’t perfect.
But thankfully Jesus is. And the kicker? Our perfect King and Savior wants to be in a relationship with you and me, no matter how late we’re running or how many times we’ve crashed to the pavement.
Still we treat Jesus like a rented ride, and that’s not how healthy relationships work. Healthy relationships possess what psychologists call the three C’s—communication, compromise and commitment.
1. Are we communicating with Jesus on a regular basis?
Do we take time to talk to Him? The spiritual word for this is prayer, but it’s really just talking to Jesus like you would to your best friend. This means telling Him what’s on your mind today, what you’re excited about, what you’d like to accomplish, who you’re mad at and why, what you’re worried or stressed about, how you’re feeling physically, spiritually, emotionally. And also listening, because communication is a two-way street.
You can do this by reading the Bible, this is God’s living Word, so reading it is listening to Jesus speak. Not sure where to start? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all actually have Jesus’ words to the world—sometimes even in red print. And the letters to the early churches like; Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, etc. are all instructions for the early church on what being a Christian means.
Listening to Jesus also means sitting still and being quiet, asking Him a question like, “How do I handle this person I struggle with? What should I say to them? Not say to them?” or “I’m wondering if adding this thing into my schedule is the best use of my time, what do You think?” And then sitting in stillness and allowing the Lord time to respond.
2. Are we compromising—giving up some of our preferences for His?
Will we bite our tongue even though we really want to complain? We know Jesus urges us to love our neighbor. He doesn’t want us to trash talk them, so will we, or won’t we? Will we tell the cashier they gave us too much change, even though the money is already in our hands? Will we set down that thing we know is bad for us when God asks us too? Even though we’re craving it? All of these are us comprising our preferences for His. And, as it turns out, God’s choices for us are always best, because He is 100% pure goodness and light.
3. Commitment—are we committed to Jesus?
Do we take time from our days to spend with the Lord—in prayer, silence, listening to or singing worship music, reading the Bible, meeting with other Christians for support in our faith journeys? Are we committed to do this on a regular basis? Daily is ideal. Daily kissing my hubby, sharing a meal with him, going on a walk with him, etc. are ideal for our relationship. There are days when conflicting schedules mean we have to miss. But we still touch base on those days—text, call, or even when Brett had to take a trip to Nepal, we emailed each other because the ten-hour forty-five-minute time change was crazy hard. But we made an effort to communicate. We were committed.
Same goes with our relationship with Jesus. If we’re committed to Him, we’ll daily want to sit with our Bibles and pray, but on crazy days, we’ll make exceptions and pray on the airplane or while driving a car full of middle schoolers to practice or in the shower. We might let the audio feature on the Bible App read us a passage or listen to some great Mav City tunes while getting dressed. No matter our schedules, we need to make it a point to touch base with the Lord every day.
So, are we in a relationship with Jesus? Or are we dropping Him to the ground like a scooter we don’t need right this minute? Because He’s the best friend we could ever ask for. He loves us for exactly who we are. Always listens. Always keeps His promises. Never stands us up or lets us down. He’s always on the side of good. Life with Jesus is always exhilarating, so hop on, commit, compromise, and communicate and enjoy the most amazing ride of your life.
“If we’re not living in the present right now, well then…” my friend, Beth said, raising her eyebrows at all the ways quarantine has meant not being able to plan ahead for tomorrow or next week or July, because we have no idea what will be open or what will be safe or what things will look like.
Interestingly enough she said it on a day we hadn’t seen each other since before shut down, at least ten prior. Yes, we’d traded texts, calls and emails, but in person? Uh uh. Did I mention we were supposed to have taken a trip to Israel together in the midst of all this shelter in place? Instead, I hadn’t even seen her face, unless you count on Instagram.
Her son asked if he could go see the horses that day and she thought, Yeah, let’s savor this sunny day. Meanwhile at my house, I finished editing a chapter and wanted to breathe in some fresh air on the trails. And so I went. None of those details were coincidences. And here Beth and I were standing on the same trail at the same time, as if God knew how much we would benefit from seeing each other. Oh, right. He did. God planned all of it—the horses, the timing, the ideas. For this particular moment.
The sun warmed our skin. The birds twittered in the branches. Beth and I, from a distance, got caught up on our kids, writing, mental health, the state of our world and what God was whispering to us. If either Beth or I had been feeling like we needed to get another thirty minutes of work done or another load of laundry thrown in, we would have missed it. But we didn’t. Because we both decided to embrace the day and God’s calling.
The present, as it turns out, is all we have, and it’s pretty amazing.
I’m not the first person to come to this conclusion. John Mark Comer states in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.
Or as the Psalmist says almost identically but a bit more succinctly, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” Psalm 118:24
So the question is, what are you doing with your present? What am I doing with mine? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to learn more about? What sounds delicious for dinner? What book have you been meaning to read?
Have you been hoping to spend more time with your kids? Pull out a deck of cards or dust off your bikes. Have you been thinking you’d like to start working out? Do a dozen jumping jacks or push ups or burpees or sit ups. Been meaning to start reading the Bible. Put this blog down, open up your Bible or Bible App and go to John 1 and read the first five verses. Meditate on them. Has something been on your mind? Tell someone. Stand up for something. Support the cause. Ask for help. Are you trusting God in this day and following where He’s leading?
Will you get everything you’ve ever wanted to do completed today? Of course not. Will you end racism, cure COVID-19, build that beach house, travel to Greece, ummm maybe not today. But…today you can start. You can do something.
You can watch, read or listen to media created by black artists and thought leaders. You can wear a mask and wash your hands. You can put aside some extra change, listen to that podcast, do some research, reach out to that friend. Today is packed with possibilities. This is the day the Lord has made. This random Wednesday in June when the world has been closed, but is slowly opening back up. This day when we’re wearing masks and standing apart and systemic racism is breaking our hearts and life does not look like last summer or the one before.
Looking for ideas to embrace this day, the present? Jesus tells us, “Follow me. Love your neighbor. Go and tell the world about me. Be of good cheer. Feed the poor. Come away with me. Pray with me. Drop your nets. Do not fear. Shine your light. Those are some pretty great places to start.
We get to choose if we’ll embrace this day. If we’ll obey when we feel Jesus nudging us. If we’ll get out of the house if He asks us. If we’ll call or text the person He places in our mind or heart. If we’ll contemplate what He has in store what He wants us to say. If we’ll try some of these things Jesus instructs us to do, if we’ll trust Him, and get excited about His perfect plans, if we’ll rejoice in this day, be glad in it. Or…if we’ll complain, mope, try grinding it out by ourselves, numb all our feelings with distractions, and wish things were different.
This is the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24). So what are you going to do with it?
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I just unfollowed thirty -one people on Instagram and unsubscribed from 45 email lists. Sure, I’ve cleaned out some drawers during this shelter-in-place period, but I’m also cleaning out my electronic life, allowing some margin that in the long run will hopefully give me more moments to pause to savor what’s in front of me, so I can tend to the more important tasks at hand—whether that’s turning in a chapter, laughing on the sofa with my family, or being still with God.
The people I unfollowed weren’t toxic or mean. They were just distractions. Like the woman who posts gorgeous pictures of food and often has beautiful videos of her whipping together scrumptious meals. I frequently watch them, oohing and ahhing at how delicious and healthy that meal looks. Oh, and look, it’s gluten free. I should file it away. Add the key ingredients to my grocery list. Make it for dinner next week. But I don’t. I’ve never once made one of her recipes. So why do I watch her videos and scroll through her posts?
I also unfollowed a musician I heard once and loved her sound, but most of her posts are pictures of her with a new hairdo or wild eyeliner, and although pretty, have nothing to do with my life. I don’t know her. I don’t gain anything by seeing that she died her hair pink this week. And so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her—zip, she’s gone.
The unsubscribes? From clothing companies I’ve shopped from, but certainly don’t need daily reminders (translate temptations) to click on their site or spend money on their clothes. If I’m in the market for a cool new jacket or a snazzy pair of sandals, I know how to find them. Open Table? You’re so helpful when making a reservation. However, I don’t need to hear from you every single day. Bandsintown? I LOVE music and concerts, but I honestly scroll through the shows you send me and waste another couple of minutes that I always wish I had come the end of a day. If only I had a few more minutes to re-read this paragraph, play a hand of cards with the kids, close my eyes and just listen to the Lord. Oh, yeah, I did, but I wasted it daydreaming of concerts and restaurants in the morning when my brain was fresh. Dang it.
We talk about decluttering our homes—fewer pairs of jeans means fewer to choose from when we get dressed, fewer dollars spent, less crowded shelves, less chance of wadded up chaos and overflowing piles. Getting rid of bras that don’t fit or that their elastic has given out means I don’t have to root through all the bad ones every morning. But our electronic lives are also cluttered. When I open my laptop in the morning to write I usually have a dozen or so emails waiting for me. A couple are important. Some are “subscribes.” And even if I delete all of them, I still take the moment to think, “Free People? I don’t need any sundresses right now. Delete.” It takes a second. But it takes a second every day. And each of the similar emails also takes a second every day. And, for every ten, maybe I click on one. What is new on Netflix?
These aren’t bad or dangerous uses of my time, because gazing at funky apparel makes me happy inside and if Netflix added back all the Harry Potter movies I’d want to know. It’s just not the best use of my time. If I want to click on Free People’s website or on the Netflix App I can. But then I’m choosing. It’s intentional. Instead of having the distraction imposed on me. See the difference?
I want to do the work Jesus has set out for me today. And tomorrow and the next day after that. I want to be focused and live well for Him. I want to spend time with Jesus not rush through my prayers or time reading my Bible. I want to exhale in the middle of the day with Him, and not feel like “I don’t have time.”
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. --1 Corinthians 12:6-7 MSG
Jesus doesn’t get mad at me when I learn a new recipe or watch a music video. He delights when we are delighted. But He also calls each of us to specific work for the kingdom. And He asks us to do it well. And He loves it when we spend time with Him. I for one, do this much better, when I’m not going down rabbit trails of outfits I might someday wear or meals I might, but probably won’t, one day cook. So, I’m spring cleaning my mental space.
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. --Titus 3:8-9 MSG
Want to join me? Let’s put our feet down. Let’s avoid mindless, pointless scrolling. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.
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With all our time at home, we’ve been playing a lot of games. You? Clue is a fam favorite and when you play, the first thing you do is choose your character. I always choose Miss Scarlet. When it’s your turn you roll the dice, hopefully land in a room, and proceed to make some more choices. Who will you accuse? With what weapon? And as the game progresses your choices, along with some luck and deciphering, determine the winner of the game.
Today you and I get to choose. We don’t get to choose our health. We don’t get to choose where we’ll go (because, well….). But we do get to choose how we’ll let these quarantines and lockdowns affect us.
We can choose to move our bodies, because we’re still allowed outside for a walk or run or to toss a frisbee, walk a dog, shoot hoops, or hike through the woods. We can choose to eat healthy, because we have time to cook and the place we’re still allowed to go is the grocery. We can choose to love an actual neighbor in the neighborhood, by waving across the street, asking if they need anything. Sharing from our grocery delivery. We can choose to love our “neighbor” by writing a note (yes, on paper and putting it in the mail) calling someone (yes, on the phone) who lives alone or who we miss or who God has put on our hearts. We can choose to learn something new or hone that skill, because we have a zillion free podcasts plus YouTube at our fingertips, and again, we have time. We can choose to spend time with the Lord every day, because He’s here, right this moment, right by our side. He loves us. And He is the source of our strength, peace, joy, hope, and courage. All the excuses we used before as to why we couldn’t squeeze any time in our Bibles or in prayer have evaporated.
We can choose to keep going. Not give up on Bible study or that meeting we were supposed to have or even that coffee date just because we can’t meet in person. How about meeting and chatting via Google Hangout or Zoom or Houseparty?
We can choose our mood. I'm not talking about ignoring the pain or loss. Those are important emotions to process.
But we have the choice to grump and moan and complain about the inconveniences--"my investments are tanking!” “everything’s closed!” or choose to count our blessings—the grocery is still open, we have food, praise God! It’s sunny! It’s getting warm out! Thank you, Jesus, that this happened not in January when it was too cold, but now, in the spring so we can go outside and get a change of scenery and hear the twittering of the birds and take in the puffy white blossoms bursting on the Bradford pear trees. Thank you, Lord, for technology so I can still watch my church livestream, listen to music, download free e-books from the library, and do a silly Tik-Tok in the living room with my kids.
We can choose to be afraid in the midst of all this uncertainty. Or we can choose to listen to Jesus who told us on repeat, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Worry about nothing. I will be with you always.”
We won’t always get it right and it’s not easy. We’re still either finding ourselves in close quarters day after day with the people we live with or finding ourselves alone for longer periods of time if we live alone. The grocery doesn’t have everything on our lists. A lot of us are tight on cash. There are people we care about on our hearts. This is not normal for any of us. And that can cause us to grumble or feel a little boxed in or on edge. And that’s natural. It’s okay. We’re adjusting.
But, see, God has always given us free choice, from the very beginning of time, and we can pick all the sweet, juicy fruit He’s given us access to, or we can try to go for the one He said is off limits (which at a time like this is the grumbling, the giving up, the state of fear).
Today I choose Christ. I choose the fruits of the Spirit that are ready and available to all of us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’ll slip and mess up, and make a poor choice, and snap at one of my kids, or not communicate well, or wish things were different, but then I pray I’ll choose to come back to who God is—good and kind and powerful and faithful—and rest in the choice to love and trust Him.
Because whether we choose to trust Jesus or not, He is in control. And He is inherently good. So, yeah, that’s where I’m choosing to focus today. Will you join me?
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My oldest son started running track, and although he had gym shoes, they weren’t good running shoes. Let’s just say he selected them because they sport the colors and logo of his favorite football team. But when you run competitively you need shoes designed for running, to protect yourself from injury and pain, and to maximize your speed. So we made a visit to Fleet Feet, a specialty running shoe store.
A woman with bright blue chalk all over her palms greeted us, asked how she could help, then excused herself for a moment to wash her hands. When she returned, she did all her fancy foot magic, measuring, scanning, watching my son walk around the store barefoot. As she laced up a shoe on his left foot, I noticed a slanty script running up her forearm. I’m always fascinated by tattoos and the stories they tell about their owners. I tried to make out the words but couldn’t. Should I ask? I felt extremely curious, like this was something I needed to know.
“What’s your tattoo say?”
As my son stood to walk around in the shoes, she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the black ink. “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay,” she said almost dreamlike.
“From Ruth?” I asked, but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed lost in thought.
She ran her coral lacquered fingernail over the cross that punctuated the end of the phrase. “It’s from a song we sing at the church I go to, and kind of about everything I’m going through right now.”
“I know that song,” I said.
My son returned from his lap, so we went back to discussing fit and comfort of shoes.
At the checkout she asked if we were in her computer system. I mentioned my husband probably was. The worker asked his name.
“Brett Smith,” I answered.
She looked up wide-eyed. “That’s my name. I mean, that was my name. Smith is my old last name. I’m Brett.”
We stared at each other for a moment, marveling at this information.
“That’s wild,” I finally said.
“Yeah. Crazy.” She shook her head and finished ringing us out.
Ask her what she needs prayer for. God nudged me.
I looked around the store. No one else was there. Where had the other worker gone? Where were the two other customers who were there when we arrived?
Just ask her, I heard God whisper.
“So, Brett,” I said. “Is there something I can pray about for you?
She immediately nodded. “Yes. I’m going through an awful divorce. That’s why Smith used to be my last name.”
“Can I pray now?” I didn’t want to freak her out.
Her eyes pleaded, ‘yes,’ and her words echoed, “Yeah, that would be great.”
And there at the checkout of a fancy running shoe store I prayed for a woman I didn’t know, but who for a while shared the same name as my husband. I prayed that she would know down to her core that her identity rests in Christ. Not in a man. Or in a last name. Or in a relational status. But in Jesus. Who will always love her for exactly who she is, never leave her, and remain always faithful.
Leaving the store, I felt loved and refreshed as if someone had prayed over me. I was reminded how fully loved I am by Jesus (you are too). Because that’s what it feels like when we live in obedience.
God took my son and I to that specific store during that specific shift for that specific woman. God arranged all those details. He nudged me to ask about her tattoo, but I could have decided it felt weird or intrusive. I wanted to tell her about the passage in Ruth that those verses came from, that the song was written from, because I’m a Bible nerd and I love the book of Ruth. But I felt God telling me to hush. What if I hadn’t mentioned my husband’s name? What if when God leaned in and said, “Go ahead, ask her,” I’d refused?
God did all the heavy lifting. I just had to utter a few words. But in doing so, I felt energized and renewed in the hope of Jesus, like there was purpose to my steps and my life, because there is. For all of us. I was reminded of God’s vastness in knowing all of our needs, and at the same time His beautiful attention to the details of our lives.
Yes, I want to go where God tells me to go. And I want to stay when He tells me to stay. Because when I do, when I choose to follow Him, the things of this world fade a bit, and I catch glimpses of glory. I want to go wherever He tells me to go, because His voice is the sweetest sound I know.
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Growing up, I attempted to read every book in our house. When I ran out of books, I’d comb my parents’ shelves for anything new. Hardback copies of The Great Gatsby and The Pelican Brief got plucked from the wooden shelves in our family room by my eager hands and devoured in days. Books still sweep me away to faraway lands and times, challenge me to fresh ways of thinking, fill my head with new knowledge and insights, and give me the gift of pure entertainment. A bad book feels like a waste of time, but a good one? An absolute treasure. Some of my favorite reads from 2019 include:
Goodbye Paris by Anstey Harris
It wouldn’t be a year if I didn’t read a book or two set in my favorite city. In this beautiful book Harris' descriptions make you feel as if you're the one plucking the taught strings of an antique cello or strolling down the cobblestone lane of an arrondissement. Goodbye Paris is an impactful story woven together with music and craftmanship reminding us to believe the truth instead of what we hope to be the truth, and then standing up for it.
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
I packed this book on our trip to France, because it was small and slipped easily into my travel bag. I read it in a couple of nights. Then my son read it. When we got back to the States, we proceeded to devour all the Mitch Albom books we hadn’t read yet.
“There’s a reason God limits our days.”
“To make each one priceless.”
Yes. Priceless. Each and every day. That quote sums up why I loved The Time Keeper. It is a beautiful reminder of how precious each day is, and to live it to its fullest.
Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew by Carolyn Custis James
As a Bible loving, Bible studying, Bible teaching kind of girl, I got truly geeked out about this title. James provided well-researched, important and fresh insights into some important women of influence in the Bible (like Noah's wife and Hagar) and shared how their stories can inspire and impact our actions today.
Best Audio Books: The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan.
I’ve added this category, because in my opinion, fun books make fabulous audiobooks. Entertaining stories can make a long car ride fly by or motivate me to run a little further to hear what happens on a day my legs are lethargic. Set on the Scottish Island of Mure, The Summer Seaside Kitchen series includes; The Café by the Sea, The Endless Beach, andChristmas on the Island. All three were a delight to listen to (warning: Christmas on the Island has one detailed sex scene I felt completely unnecessary. Love the option to fast forward.). The narrator, with her lilting Scottish accent, draws you into Flora Mackenzie’s family, career in London, romance, and the struggle to discern which of these things are most important and why. Gorgeous descriptions of the pure, clear sea and the picturesque island are the backdrop for well-developed characters you want to cheer for. Mouthwatering details of buttery scones hot from the oven and homemade cheeses melting on warm, flavorful oatcakes made me want to spend hours baking (and eating baked goods). These aren’t the most profound stories I’ve ever read, but they’re not supposed to be. They are lovely sweet novels and a treat to listen to.
Best Children’s Book: God is With Us by Amy Parker
This gorgeous board book reminds littles and their caretakers of the beautiful truth that God is with us. Right here. Right now. The second book in this series, God is Love, just released, and is just as lovely. Grab one for the cutest tot you know and hand it to them for Valentine’s Day.
Best Book of 2019: Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
This was my favorite read of 2019. The incredible life of Joy Davidman captivated me. Joy was a strong independent woman, mother, and brilliant author in the 1940’s—not an easy gig for a woman in those days. Her writings and questions about God inspired her to write a letter to C.S. Lewis. The two became pen pals, and then so much more. Reading the story of Joy fighting for her sons, her dignity, her health, and her dreams was energizing and moving. Not to mention several passages are like strolling through Oxford and conversing with Lewis himself about everything from the 10 Commandments to Narnia. My favorite quote from Joy is, “What in the world would ever become of us if we should grow brave enough to believe EVERYTHING Jesus said was true?”
What if? What if we dove into 2020 believing that we are Christ’s masterpieces, His chosen people, His treasure, His royal priesthood? What a beautiful question to ponder.
Comment below to share what your favorite reads of 2019 were and/or what’s on your reading list for 2020.
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I’m sorry, are you busy? In the middle of something?
Maybe tying that ribbon just right and if you move your finger the whole thing will fall apart? Or getting the crushed candy canes to stick to the rich, chocolatey fudge while it’s still gooey? Or finishing up the report that’s due before you take a few days off for Christmas? Or clicking “add to cart” before the last remaining pair of boots gets snatched up?
What if someone told you Jesus was just down the street? Right now! Even though you’re in the middle of doing something. Would you believe them? Would you leave your undertaking? Despite the consequences? How would you react?
Because over 2000 years ago there was a group of guys doing their job, a job they couldn’t cut out early from, one where they weren’t allowed to leave their posts, when an angel showed up and said, “Guess what? I have something incredible to tell you! The Messiah, the One you’ve been waiting for, the One all of Scripture points to, He was just born! Just down the road, in town.”
We read the familiar passage from Luke 2 about angels and shepherds and think, well of course, I’d run straight to where Jesus was, because I love Jesus, I want to be near Jesus. Who wouldn’t go?
But would you? Would I?
If I’m washing a dish or pulling something from the oven or typing out the perfect sentence, I usually won’t interrupt my task to answer a text or call. I wait until I’ve accomplished the thing I was in the middle of and then respond. And if it rolled over into voicemail. That’s fine. I can call them back. How many times a day do we say, “Just a minute,” “Let me finish sending this text,” or “Hang on a second”?
But if it was Jesus calling or texting or asking a question, if Jesus Himself was down the street, would we put down our to-dos to listen or seek Him? Or would we finish our things up real fast first?
Which takes me back to the shepherds. It must have been crazy freaky when an angel appeared to them. It was so frightening the first thing the angel said was, “Don’t be afraid.” And then this wild-looking heavenly host told those shepherds the Savior of the World had been born. Oh, and yeah, He was a baby.
People had been talking about the Messiah for ages. The shepherds probably thought or said something like this:
Dang, now? It’s not the best time.
We’re kind of in the middle of something.
I’m fortunate to even have this job.
I can’t afford to just abandon the sheep, can I? I could get fired. The sheep could get lost or eaten by wolves.
Maybe we can go tomorrow?
Or take turns, do it in shifts?
But, the Messiah! Really?
Wait! Did that angel say He was a baby?
The shepherds never imagined the Messiah would come as a baby. They thought Jesus would be a great king. He was. But the shepherds most likely pictured royal robes, and a golden crown encrusted with jewels, and a war horse, and a mighty sword. Not a baby in a barn. Still:
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. —Luke 2:15-18 MSG
They ran. They went as fast as they could.
Are we doing the same? Are we running towards Jesus? If we feel prompted to pray or open our Bibles or listen to a worship song, do we do it? Or do we think to ourselves, in a minute, when I’m done eating, after I get my workout in, as soon as this episode is over?
Jesus is right here. Right now.
We don’t have to wait for centuries like the folks in the Old Testament. We don’t even have to head into town, down that hill, around the bend, to get to the manger where He lay like the shepherds did. All we have to do is say His name. Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we “have time” or “are done”. We can wake a few minutes earlier, watch less Netflix, or put down Zillow and pick up our Bibles and get into the Word. We can also pray while we wrap or bake or fold the clothes. We can listen to the Bible being read to us out loud on the Bible App or listen to a worship song on the way to pick up the groceries or the kids. You can put down this blog and talk to Jesus right this minute. In fact, please do.
Are we running to Jesus, or are we too busy?
Our twenty-first century Christmas might fill our calendars and planners with concerts, parties, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santas. But the first Christmas brought Jesus to us. Changed everything. Heaven came down to earth. To save you and me. What are we waiting for? Let’s run to Him! And like the shepherds let's tell everyone what we’ve seen.
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A friend recently asked, “How do I connect with God when I feel distant from Him?”
My answer popped out, “You talk to Him.”
This isn’t a complete answer, and it might seem too simplistic, or maybe feel awkward to talk to someone you don’t sense is there, but this is where we start—talking to Jesus. It’s never about Jesus leaving us, because He simply doesn’t do that. Jesus told the disciples as He ascended into heaven, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
Always. To the very end.
So, it has nothing to do with where Jesus is. He’s with us. Always. To the end. It’s about how we’re hearing Him. Sometimes when we can’t hear His voice, it’s because we’re not even talking to Him, not inviting Him into our conversations. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not expecting Jesus to answer. And sometimes it’s because there’s so much garbage and pain between us and Him, His voice is muffled under all the things we’re muddling through.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you’re spending Thanksgiving with your family, and two of your family members aren’t exactly getting along. You’re worried about how to be nice to both, without upsetting either. You can already sense the tension, and you:
If you took any of these approaches, you might hear Jesus, but you might not. You barely asked and didn’t listen. If you had this same type of conversation with your best friend, you probably wouldn’t have heard much from them either. Jesus wants to hear from you. He loves you. He made you. He also loves and created those family members who are a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if you have even more issues than they do, or if you haven’t prayed recently or ever. Jesus is right there, with you, always, to the end. He wants to help, but we need to let Him. If we don’t turn over our issues and concerns to Jesus, we’re going to struggle to hear Him.
What if instead, you talked to Jesus like He was your best friend, because He wants to be, and just poured it all out, and let Him know all your feelings and worries, and how you long for the right words, and how you wish your family would be nice to each other. Even if you don’t sense Him, Jesus is there. Nodding and understanding. You might find yourself taking a deep breath, because Jesus offers peace. You might feel an idea of something you could initiate bubble up in your head—don’t friendly family football games seem to unite everybody? Hmmm. Or you might get a tangible response—a strong feeling of comfort, an uncanny ability to bite your tongue when they’re arguing, just the right words to ease the tension at just the right time. This is what hearing Jesus sometimes sounds like.
What worries, hopes, and fears are you clinging to? What concerns are spinning through your mind so fast, you can’t see or hear Jesus in the melee? An upcoming interview? A relationship? A health issue? One by one take your concerns to Jesus. Talk to Him about them. Go back to Him tomorrow. And the next day. Grab your Bible and read it before, during, or after you talk to Jesus. It is the Living Word of God. He will use those words to speak to you. Sit in silence and ask Him for peace, answers, energy, insights, healing, ideas, or patience.
Life can be complicated, so how do you get through all the muck and back to Jesus? Hand Him your problems, one by one. He wants to hear them.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39
Jesus is there while you’re stuffing your turkey and stuffing your mouth with creamy, spicy pumpkin pie. Pass the Cool Whip please. He’s there when you’re trying to be patient with the cantankerous family member or attempting to herd the kids into the van or standing in line on Black Friday. He’s there in the big stuff and the little stuff and all the in-betweens.
There might be a lot of junk clogging your ears. There might be so many worries on your list that it’ll take you a while to empty them out of your pockets at Jesus’ feet. But as you do, you’ll start to hear Him again, feel Him again. You’ll realize you weren’t ever separated from Him. He was always there.
What do you do when you can’t feel Jesus? Go to Him. Over and over. He promises to be with you to the end of the earth, so act like you believe that truth, like you know He’s there even when you can’t “see” Him.
Let go of all the stuff that’s in the way. Jesus is always there, always has been, and always will be. That is something to be incredibly thankful for.
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Sitting on an extremely squishy couch at our local coffee shop, I sipped my dark roast with a friend who just returned to the States after an assignment abroad. Her overseas work situation was toxic. Unstable leadership, corrupt organization, degrading toward women…. the whole thing left her feeling exhausted and beaten down. She knew she had to get out, so she planned and prayed, strategized and dug into her Bible, talked with her husband and got down on her knees. Our faithful God heard her prayers and helped her rise out of the situation. Some of the rules which tied her to a longer contract were simply discarded by her organization. A mentor came in at just the right moment with wise words, helping her negotiate her departure.
I got up from the cushy couch, hugged my friend, darted out of Kofenya into a cold autumn rain, returning home to my cozy house just in time for a call with another friend I hadn’t talked to in 18 years. She had a doozie of a story to share, about how she had literally been on her death bed, and our faithful God healed her. She’s now pain-free, off her meds, and doing wild things like traveling to California to cheer on her son in a frisbee golf tournament. The statistics say she shouldn’t be here with us. But she is. Because our God heals.
Jesus is still a healer and a door opener, helping us out of dark situations. Our Savior never stopped doing miracles. He still does them today. Big ones and little ones. In the Bible Jesus healed the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus. She was dead, and Jesus told her to get up.
I hear Jesus saying this to us today, Talitha koum. Little girl, I say to you, get up!”
I hear Him saying it to us from the work situations we know we shouldn’t be in, from relationships that are stifling us, from illness that have been holding us down, from fears, and doubts, and inhibitions, and shame, and worries and comparisons. Little girl. Get up!
He (Jesus) took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.—Mark 5:41-42.
I bet they were astonished. They thought the girl was dead. And one sentence from Jesus, one tug of her hand, and she was walking around. The specific account of Jesus raising this twelve-year old girl from the dead was so important three of the Gospel writers share it in detail (Mark 5, Matthew 9 and Luke 8). Do you feel spent, exhausted, out of options? Jesus wants to pull you up. But here’s the thing…He tells us He’ll provide the healing, but we’re going to need to get up.
This girl wasn’t the only person Jesus told to get up. Jesus told this lame man to stand and walk. Jesus could have floated the man to his feet, but He wanted this disabled man to play an active part in His revival.
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!—John 5:8-9
After Jesus ascended to heaven and instructed the disciples to spread the Good News, the disciples were doing miracles in Jesus’ name. They followed Jesus’ example, by reminding the folks they healed through the Holy Spirit, that they got to play a part in the healing process. They had to choose to stand or take that first step.
Peter said… “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”
Then Peter took the lame man by the hand and pulled him to his feet. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankle bones were healed and strengthened so that he came up with a leap, stood there a moment and began walking! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.—Acts 3:6-8
The same holds true for us. Jesus offers us a life without the pressures of that stressful job we know isn’t good for us, but we have to be willing to walk away from it when He provides an exit. He’s offering us a life free of the criticism from that toxic person in our lives, but we have to stand up and say we don’t like to be treated like that, leave the room when the person goes into harmful mode, not take their calls. He’s offering us the financial resources to pay our bills, but we might have to step up and take a part time job or walk away from Starbucks or Netflix to reduce our expenses. Jesus offers healing, but He asks us to get up. Not because He can’t do it on His own. Not because He needs our help. But because He wants us to want it. He wants us to choose this free life He offers.
Life with Jesus looks different for all of us. But for all of us He offers hope and healing. He offers better, above where we are now. He reaches out His hand, and says, “Little girl, get up!” Will you take it? Will you stand?
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Laura L. Smith