A year ago I hadn’t even heard of the Museum of the Bible (ohmygosh who’s been to this incredible interactive museum in Washington, DC?). Today, not only am I itching to take a fieldtrip there, but I’m also excited to announce the release of this book I wrote for them--The Curious Kids Guide to Heroes and Villains in the Bible. A beautiful set of God-directed circumstances allowed me to write this book with my co-author, the brilliant theologian, Doug Powell. I pray Jesus will use it to teach curious kiddos and curious grown-ups how amazing His love and grace is.
For this writing project God enrolled me in Bible 101. I pored over page after page of books like 1 and 2 Chronicles and Job—books I rarely wade any further than ankle deep. Let’s just say I got soaking wet in the Word, which was incredible. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, I also got to be doused with a wealth of Biblical knowledge from my co-author. So after all that reading, and learning here was my biggest takeaway. Ready?
It’s going to sound a lot like The Breakfast Club. Remember the letter at the end to the principal, Mr. Vernon?
We’re all heroes and villains. Each and every one of us.
We’re all created by God—given unique talents and gifts from our Creator. If we’re followers of Jesus we’re handed God’s armor to protect us (Ephesians 6) and have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) planted inside us. Which enables us all to be good guys. If we want to be.
But God also gives us free will. And we exercise it liberally. Which leads to some of our bad guy tendencies. After spending time in the stories of over ninety historical folks, it’s easy to see how, where, and why so many of them slipped. And unfortunately, how I falter in some of the same ways.
King Saul was doing great, until he tried to do things his way instead of God’s way. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to take the wheel. Mine’s in the air.
Pontius Pilate was this close to letting Jesus off the hook, but then he worried about what people would think. Ugh. How often do we worry about what someone else thinks? About even something small like if our family will like the dinner we cooked?
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but he got frustrated when Jesus didn’t do things the way Judas wanted Him to—overturn the corrupt government. Ever wish God would do things differently—hurry up with this, make this cost or hurt less, change your circumstances? Yeah. Me, too.
This is starting to look bleak. But not really. Because if we take a peek at the lives of the heroes of the Bible, they were also a hot mess. David stole his friend’s wife. Peter pretended he didn’t know Jesus. The Apostle Paul murdered Christians, to name a few. How did those guys end up as heroes? They turned back to God. And God ALWAYS welcomes His children back with open arms. No matter how villainous we've been. This is amazing news!
We will mess up. We have days (or weeks, or even years) when we feel like villains (or other people might feel like we’re villains). But as long as we go back to Jesus, lay our sins down at the foot of the cross; and allow Him to love us? We get to be heroes. We get to trade in our black hats and wear the white ones. Because as the prophet, Isaiah reminds us, If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. —Isaiah 1:18-19 MSG
This is worth celebrating! Jesus intentionally came down to earth to live among us, to die for us, so all our sins could be removed once and for all, so we could be heroes.
I don’t know about you, but in the final scene, I want to end up wearing the white hat, not the black one. So, I’m going to work on keeping my eyes on Jesus, on day after day turning back to Him. Will you join me?
In 2014 my friend, Amy, was driving through Cincinnati on her way to Columbus, so we met up for mochas and chocolate croissants at Panera. We’re both writers, so as we sipped our frothy coffees and nibbled on buttery pastries, we also brainstormed projects. At the time, I had a handful of novels published, but hadn’t dabbled in any nonfiction.
“I think you should write a devotional,” Amy said.
I nodded, wrote in my journal with the water-colored flowers on the front “Devotional?” But something in me pushed away her idea, made excuses. I had zero qualifications. I read devotionals, you know the books like Jesus Calling where you get a one-pager of inspiration for the day, but had never written one. I was working on a new novel, with a plot and a character I adored.
Amy elaborated on possibilities and potential formats. I listened, and absorbed, but didn’t act. Although, the idea stuck with me. A few days later, I scribbled this in fast, messy handwriting in the margin of the Bible study I was working through (Gideon by Priscilla Shirer): Should I take Amy’s advice and write a devotional? Have my blogs been leading up to this?
In the weeks following, I finessed my novel, and pitched it to editors. One publishing house showed a lot of interest. The editor there championed my proposal through two rounds of board meetings, and then in the third and final round my manuscript got turned down.
One month later, the same editor unexpectedly reached out to me. She was looking for an author to write a devotional and wondered if I’d be interested. God closed one door and opened another. Just like that. A door He’d already cracked slightly ajar by having Amy plant that seed of an idea in my head two years prior. The editor contacted me in October 2016. And today, February 5, 2019 my first devotional, 5-Minute Devotions for Girls releases. It’s craziness. It’s how God works.
Every good and perfect gift comes from above. —James 1:17
Fun fact: that novel? It still hasn’t found a home. I’m sharing all of this to say; maybe someone is planting an idea in your head today that is actually a seed from God. Maybe someone is telling you, “no,” today, but that “no” is building the foundation for an even better “yes”. Maybe something you know God has called you to do is taking longer than you ever imagined (Amy’s and my conversation was almost five years ago!) or down a road that looks completely different than the one you’d mapped out. God is at work. His ideas sometimes feel or sound a little out there. They usually are. His timeline looks completely different than ours. In fact, His isn’t even a line. The way we envision something is typically just a flat, colorless version of the multi-faceted prism He has in mind.
So hang in there. Wait. Be patient. Be obedient. Listen to Him and the things He’s whispering to you. Do what God asks. Seek Him. Love Him. He’s God, so He can work out all the other stuff, the important stuff, the details we don’t even know exist, let alone how they need tended to. And I promise, you’ll be amazed, and bowled over by His good and perfect gifts.
I read some amazing books last year—too many to mention. Piles of books I picked up from the library and treasured copies I treated myself to from book stores, stories my kids read, digital books on my Kindle, and my new favorite, audiobooks on Hoopla (because I spend so much time in the car, this is a brilliant way to consume more books while passing the miles). I certainly can’t narrow it down to one favorite read, but here are a handful that resonated deeply.
Best Classic: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I love when my kids are assigned to read a classic I’ve never read before. This gives me the nudge to pick up a book I’ve been meaning to get to for ages. Fahrenheit 451 is brilliant and frightening. How Bradbury knew we’d all be walking around with earbuds when he wrote this book in 1953 astounds me. He predicted our screen-addictions the year before color televisions were even available for sale—it’s almost spooky. But he nailed it. And then stretched it. And then warns us against being hooked on programming and images and structures by taking us into a horrifying dystopian world where creativity and imagination are extinguished and complacency and sameness is not only encouraged but required. If you haven’t read this classic yet, make it a burning priority.
Best Novel: Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan
Okay, so I’m totally biased on this one, I love Paris and books, so when I found a title on my library’s “Lucky Day” shelf that contained both of those words I knew the shelf didn’t lie. Paris by the Book has strong references to both Madeline, the picture book character by Ludwig Bemelmans and The Red Balloon, a movie, we seemed to watch while sitting on the cold gym floor at least twice a year in elementary school, the click, click of the film reel spinning while the images of the little boy with his balloon flashed across the far wall. This gorgeous novel is a mystery of sorts, about a husband who goes missing, and his wife and daughters’ search for him. But it’s also a book about being a mom, and figuring out who you are, and declaring what matters most, and being brave when you’re dealt a bad hand. And it’s about Paris—melt in your mouth baguettes, pungent cheeses, quaint cafes, and nostalgia that catches something deep from your memories. And of course it’s about books—stacks of stories, pages of emotions and sagas and information. This book was so good for my soul, and just writing this makes me want to set it in my “to read” pile again for 2019.
Best Nonfiction: Everybody Always by Bob Goff
When Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” People wanted to know:
Easy responses, but hard to live out. Goff is hilarious and heart felt, and his stories are brilliant, relatable, honest, and make me crack up and tear up at the exact same time. I underlined more than half this book and could use every sentence I marked as a mantra or directive for my life. Yup, we’re supposed to love everybody always. Such a challenge, because Goff reminds us this includes the “really creepy” people and the days when we’re running late or have a migraine. But that’s how Jesus loved the world. Everybody always. And I want to live like Jesus. This book helps me remember how to live out that challenge.
Best Memoir: Remember God by Annie F. Downs
I’ve read it twice since it released in October, recommended it to several friends, and gave it as Christmas gifts to my kids’ teachers. Annie F. Downs is one of my favorite modern authors. In Remember God Annie takes the reader through the past year of her life—a year of ups and downs, a year of knowing God is real, but trying to figure out if God is kind. Annie is honest with her doubts, her lows, her struggles, and open with her love, joy, and excitement. Reading Remember God makes you feel like you’re having an ongoing conversation with a dear friend about the promises you know God has made and yet the wrestling in your heart about when and how He’s going to deliver. Annie asks good questions. Of herself, and in turn, of the reader. She’ll make you laugh out loud, and then dive deep into your soul to search for something you’ve been hiding there. If you don’t have any of her books yet, start with this one, then go back and read the rest.
Best Picture Book: This is the Day by Amy Parker
God created this day, He made it for you. And He filled it with things just for you to do!
The opening pages of this priceless book set the stage for all of the amazing possibilities for the day ahead. Such a great way to remind littles (and the big people who read to them) of Psalm 118:24, that God has learning, opportunities, and joy available to all of us each and every day. The illustrations are adorable, the layout is perfect for asking kids questions and having them point out what they see, the rhymes are catchy and darling, all while still being packed with valuable truth. And, there’s even a version in Spanish, so much fun.
Best Book for Creatives: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
I grew up with Meg, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who. Wrinkle in Time was one of many Madeleine L’Engle books on my bookshelf when I was young. At the time I had no idea she wrote nonfiction. I’d never contemplated what a “Christian author” was. And I was clueless at how prolific she was. As an adult, I want to devour everything she’s written, because L’Engle was a woman ahead of her time, a powerful author, married to a famous actor, a Brit living stateside, a mother, grandmother, sought after speaker around the world, when a time when women were “supposed” to be wearing aprons. But L’Engle wasn’t into stereotypes. She was into being the best versions of ourselves God created us to be. And in Walking on Water, she proclaims that because God made us, we have power and capabilities and talents we don’t even try to imagine. For anyone who has ever wanted to create anything—a poem, a cake, a hip-hop beat, this book exquisitely wraps human creativity into our identity with our Creator. I read it over the course of the year, reading a few pages at a time and allowing them to marinate in my soul. Thinking over those phrases, ideas, and allowing them to sink in. A few days later I’d take on another beautiful morsel to savor until I sadly came to the end. This is a book I will turn to again and again in my life for its inspiration and truth.
As I said, these are just some standouts from piles of great books I indulged in this past year. To see what else I read, connect with me on Goodreads.
What about you? What were your favorite reads of 2018, and what’s on your to read list for the new year?
Comment on the website, so we can all exchange book ideas!
The songs “Little Known Facts” from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown totally cracks me up. Lucy goes around sharing her “wealth of knowledge” with her little brother, Linus. Some of Lucy’s fun facts include that snow comes up from the ground, that bugs make grass grow, and that you can tell how old a tree is by counting its leaves.
This song is hilarious when watching the show or listening to the soundtrack. And although still funny, it’s a tad bit scary to imagine a real big sister imparting this kind of knowledge on her younger siblings, and downright frightening when we consider being misled by unreliable sources.
And there are so very many sources out there! I love to learn, so I want to gobble up all the info. I download heaps of books on Hoopla, listening to them as I drive home from dropping off one of my kids at practice or while I go for a run. I’m hooked on some phenomenal podcasts—I can listen to a sermon from Upper Room in Dallas or a conversation with author Annie F. Downs, anytime I’m headed out of town or just running errands. I can get almost any book I want delivered to my house in two days thanks to Amazon Prime, not to mention the stacks of reads I check out from the library. Oh, plus the daily devotionals and blogs that land in my inbox. Love! Love! Love! All of the resources.
But have you ever been listening to someone or reading something and thought…hmmm…that just doesn’t sound right? I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think bugs really tug on blades of grass to make them grow. You tilt your head to the side or scrunch your lips, because something feels off. The problem is every one of the writers and speakers and bloggers and podcasters and preachers we read or listen to are human. And so although they are experts in their field, have years of experience, and/or love Jesus, they are flawed. Just like me. So their message might be perfectly well intentioned, but they could still be wrong, or maybe right for them, but so not right for me or for you. How do we tell? How do we measure the validity of the content we consume?
Of course that depends on what you’re trying to find out. If you’re searching for delicious gluten free recipes, go to someone who is actually gluten free and has to both cook this food and eat it. If they’ve never tried preparing that dish, or don’t actually have to substitute those muffins for standard bakery muffins, they probably shouldn’t be your source. If you’re searching for the best product for your hair ask your stylist—they know your hair better than the marketers at Pantene or L’Oreal ever will.
But how about when you want to make sure you’re understanding God, God’s will, Jesus, the teachings of Scripture? How can you be certain you’re getting the right content?
There are many brilliant Bible scholars, preachers, and researchers. But there is only one ultimate truth source. The Bible. Our Bibles are God-breathed, so they will always reveal truth.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15-17
If a preacher says a certain kind of person isn’t welcome at church, or that any specific people group is unworthy or hopeless, and that makes you scratch your head, turn to your Bible. Check out where Jesus loves on the sinners, sick, and psychotic. It turns out Jesus calls all of us His treasures, His precious children, every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, or where we don’t measure up according to worldly standards. That should clear that up. If a pastor or teacher condemns one kind of activity or promotes another—go to your Bible, check it out. Ask them where in the Bible they got their info—if they can’t answer, that’s a problem. You get the idea.
I love the sweet, earthy smell of leaves—the rustle of them as I rake them into mounds. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of counting leaves to see how old a tree is. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a hecka lot of ridiculousness out there these days. Social media and websites are a blessing, but there are no filters or requirements on what anyone can and will say online. God gave us an incredible gift when He gave us the Bible. He handed us His living word, a way for us to always be able to hear Him, no matter how noisy our lives seem to be. He gave us a way to always find Him, always decipher truth, if only we’ll open up the pages and dive in.
During this month of gratitude, I am so extremely thankful for the Bible—for the words, promises, history, prayers, guidance, and hope it contains. I am thankful for truth—true north, the ultimate compass. What verse, story, or person from the Bible are you most thankful? Comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram as part of our #thankfulnessproject. This way we can share with each other brilliant glimpses of God’s truth.
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
I’ve been reading the book of Luke this summer. It’s packed with familiar stories—shepherds, a manger, the Good Samaritan. I love going back through the pages and seeing what Jesus did, how He handled situations, what His attitude was, and specifically this summer I’m trying to focus on what Jesus said, because as a word lover I’m thinking the words Jesus spoke are a pretty fantastic way to learn more about Him.
One of my favorite passages is when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Luke 9). Now, keep in mind there were five thousand men plus women and children, so the crowd exceeded ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand folks. In this passage this giant crowd has come to listen to Jesus teach. Near the end of the day everyone is getting a little fussy, tired, and downright hungry.
What’s for dinner is a question my family asks on repeat. I think through what we’ve eaten recently, peek in the pantry, consider everyone’s schedules—who has soccer, meetings, sleepovers, etc. Who is even going to be eating this meal? Just when I think of something that meets our family’s dietary needs (all of the allergies live here) that most of my people will actually consume, I realize I need cilantro and gluten free wraps if I’m going to pull this together. Another trip to Kroger and perhaps also the farmer’s market and I’m good to go, at least for tonight. But thousands of hungry folks on a hillside? Yikes! Where to start? Sure, their “pantry” held five loaves of bread and two fish, but that wouldn’t make my crew happy, let alone fill them. And there are only six Smiths. The disciples point out this problem to Jesus, suggesting they send everyone out to the closest farms and villages, so the people can grab a bite to eat and stock up on snacks. That’s what the disciples say, but Jesus responds, “You feed them.”
Wait. Wha-at? Yeah, Jesus asks them to do it. When we see a problem, He also asks us to act. Jesus seems to throw His hands up at the disciples and say, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!” He says the same to us.
I have a relationship that’s rugged. I can pray about it all day long, but at the end of the day, Jesus says, “You make the phone call. Don’t wait on the other person.” I argue, “They’re challenging to talk to. It’s not always easy or pleasant.” Jesus nods. Mmm-hmm, then hands me the phone and says, “It’s not going to dial itself.” A friend asks for prayer. Jesus elbows me and says, “Go ahead. Pray.” “Um, now?” I ask. He reminds me that it makes way more sense to pray specifically for my friend’s need with my friend right now rather then telling them politely I’ll pray and then possibly forgetting and possibly tagging it onto a run-on prayer sentence a day or two later. I dream of speaking at an event at a certain church. I Google the church, check out all their fantastic resources, wish I knew someone who could introduce me to the right people, and yeah, Jesus says, “Reach out and set up a meeting.” Wait. Wha-at? What if they don’t respond? What if they don’t want me? Jesus has zero time for that nonsense. He never argues, just urges me again, “You do it.”
It’s not that Jesus is hanging us out to dry, that He’s lazy, or uninterested in helping. Quite the contrary. With the feeding the hungry crowd situation the disciples’ jaws are still hanging open in disbelief, that Jesus, the miracle-working Messiah, thinks they should feed the crowd, when He pipes in. “Listen. Get the crowd to sit in groups. Then Jesus takes the few barley loaves and tilapia, prays over the food, and hands it to the disciples. It’s Jesus who steps in with a plan. It’s Jesus who performs a miracle by blessing the small amount of food, so it can feed the masses. But the disciples have to do the work. They have to physically organize the crowd. Get them to settle down, sit down, and hang tight. Then they have to walk around to thousands of hungry folks and serve them dinner. The disciples have to take part of it, so they can fully understand what is going on, how incredible the whole thing is. They get to see the look on the faces of the hungry crowd as they relax and take a break, the smiles from the kiddos, the relief from the mamas. They got to marvel as they put their hand in the basket time and time again and every time more food keeps coming out.
Same with us. Jesus wants us to do the work. He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. He’ll bless the work if it’s for Him. He’ll give us a plan, a place to start. He’ll pray over the situation with us. And then He’ll say, “Get moving.” Because He wants us to be a part of it, He wants us to get in on it, marvel at what He does and how He works.
If you want that mountain moved, yes pray for it, yes have faith that God will move it, but you also better start lifting weights, invest in one heck of a shovel, and start moving that dirt. Create a website. Send the message. Attend the event. Audition. Introduce yourself. Show up. Raise your hand. Suggest the idea. And then get ready to be blown away. That hungry crowd? After they’d all eaten until they were full, no skimping, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Twelve baskets. Of extras.
I’m not promising all rainbows and roses here, although that is the way I like to roll. Just because I send in a book proposal, doesn’t mean I get a book contract. But if I don’t do the work—write the proposal, make the changes my agent suggests, incorporate the feedback we get back from editors, I’ll never get that next book deal. And more importantly I won’t learn what Jesus wants to teach me. It probably took a while to settle that giant crowd into groups. Just because you work out, doesn’t mean you’ll win the race. Just because you apply for the job, does not mean you’ll get it. But when it’s the right deal, the right race, the right job, where Jesus wants to make a change and simultaneously grow us, we will get all those things and bonus baskets to boot. The job guy won’t come knocking on your door. It will be up to you to put together your resume, check out the requirements, apply, follow up with a call or email, get dressed up and cleaned up and put together for the interview. Then let Jesus bless it and dole it out, the way only He can.
Whatever thing you see needs fixing, started, initiated, changed today? Go do it. You feed them. Yes, YOU. And be blown away by not only how Jesus blesses and works, but in all the abundance of extras He’ll provide.
Last week I went to the annual Christian Book Association convention in Nashville. The event was at the Opryland Hotel. Which is so crazy cool. It’s like Disneyland in a hotel. Well, without the rides and characters. But there are waterfalls – in the hotel. And a whole section called, “The Delta,” because it looks like New Orleans, complete with lampposts and wrought iron balconies. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and two separate Starbucks (there might be more, but I saw two) within the hotel. It really is insane. And extremely easy to get lost in. Especially if you’re directionally challenged, like myself.
One of the huge benefits of traveling to Nashville for me is visiting with my sweetheart friend, Amy. I walked her to the place in the convention center (which is part of the hotel) where her book signing was taking place. Side note—oh my, check out her newest book, Night Night Sleepytown, so adorable! Then I turned around to head toward the entrance of the hotel, so I could grab an Uber to a meeting I had across town. Except where the heck did they hide the entrance? I walked down one set of blue-carpeted stairs, turned down a hallway with white doors, but didn’t have any sense of certainty to where I was going. I asked a group of women wearing name badges and none of them knew where the entrance was either. I tried another hall and spotted the back of a worker in uniform walking off into the distance.
“Excuse me,” I called. Please let him have heard me.
He turned. “Are you lost?” He asked in a beautiful, lolling accent.
“To be honest, completely lost.” I answered. “Do you know where the Cascade Lobby is?”
“Yes,” he smiled and started walking. I followed. “My first two weeks here, I couldn’t find anything,” he confessed.
“But now, you’re a pro?” I asked.
He laughed and kept walking. Soon we arrived at a crossroads where I assumed he would point me toward the exit. I paused.
“You know where you’re going?” He asked.
“No.” I answered. Because not one thing looked familiar. “But I don’t want to take you away from whatever you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you so much,” I sputtered.
We continued for ten minutes. Yes, it took that long to get to the lobby, so we had time to chat. I learned he was from the Dominican Republic. He thinks Nashville is “cool”, but misses home. He plans to go back and finish University, then return to Nashville. One thing my new friend said hit so hard. He was saying something about a training session he had that was near, “Where I found you.” As if he had found me. Even though I was the one who was lost, desperately searching for a way out. Even though I was the one who was so excited when I saw him, when I found him. Or so I thought. But of course what my new friend said was true, he found me and put me back on course. I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness and patience. Man, I’m sure he had a lot of work to keep that hotel running, but he acted as if he had nothing else to do, but walk me along.
Guys, this is what Jesus does!
I’m walking around confused, headed the wrong way, worried about this, stressed about that, putting too much importance on this thing, and not paying enough attention to that thing. I’m looking for answers, but don’t know where to start. I head up those stairs, and down that hallway. And ask the wrong people for advice. Then Jesus finds me. And He patiently, gently, takes all the time in the world to escort me back to where I need to go, as if He has nothing else to do, even though He’s fairly busy caring for the world.
Jesus gave them another parable:
“There once was a woman who had ten valuable silver coins. When she lost one of them, she swept her entire house, diligently searching every corner of her house for that one lost coin. When she finally found it, she gathered all her friends and neighbors for a celebration, telling them, ‘Come and celebrate with me! I had lost my precious silver coin, but now I’ve found it.’ Luke 15:8-10
I ordered my Uber, walked outside, and almost immediately my phone rang. My Uber driver was here, “Just to the left,” he said. I walked left. Two colorful taxis, one with turquoise and yellow markings, and another—a checkered cab, except it was bright green instead of yellow and looked like it might take you to the Emerald City were parked along the curb. I saw two pick-up trucks and a hotel shuttle. I did not see the Honda Sienna that Uber said was my ride. As I looked around confused my driver gently spoke to me, “I see you. No, not there,” he said. “Keep walking left.” I took a few more steps away from the entrance, not seeing any cars at all, but he kept coaxing me. “You’re closer. I see you.” Just as I was about to say, “I don’t’ see you.” I did see him. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed all in white with a big smile on his face, waving.
What? How did he know I was the “Laura” who called for a ride? There were multiple women milling around outside the entrance. I’d never had an Uber driver get out of his car to find me before. Why did he do that? Above and beyond. But once again, so soon after the last time, I was the one who was lost, and once again I’d been found.
In our lives we are the ones who need to be repeatedly found by Jesus. Because we keep getting lost. We get lost in the idea that we need to achieve a certain pace, or do things like our moms did, or be in charge of that person’s happiness, when what we’re really supposed to be doing is loving Jesus, and letting Him love us back and guide our steps. Because when we do—all the other stuff falls into place. I don’t mean it gets wrapped up in a bow. I mean it lands in its proper position, where God can use it best. And every time we go off the tracks, Jesus comes and finds us. Sometimes we’ll walk right past Him. Because we’re not looking for Him. Or because we’re looking the wrong way. Or thinking He’ll show up with a different solution. But He is there. And when we listen and keep walking left, even though it feels like we’re going rogue, there He is, waving, speaking in a kind voice, getting us to where we need to be—to get out, to move forward, to head to our next destination.
Wherever you feel lost in this season of life—at a loss for words, a loss of funds, a loss of direction, a loss of hope—Jesus is looking for you. And when you allow Him to find you, He’ll smile and wave and say, “I see you. I found you.” Who knows? He might even say it in an awesome island
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
My daughter came downstairs, her long, thick hair still wet from the shower. It had been a long day. She had one of those tired headaches that can only be solved with sleep, but she was staring down a 6:00 AM alarm waking her for school the next morning. She looked at me with giant blue eyes and held out her brush. “Could you please brush my hair? Really gently? I can’t do it softly enough myself.” This resonated so deeply. Do you wish someone would be gentle? Are you maybe not even able to be soft enough with yourself?
I’ve been blessed in the last couple of weeks to visit with some brilliant, gorgeous, strong women, who are basically rocking the socks off the world. But underneath the surface, these friends seem exhausted, run down. They’re juggling work, family, health, and the enigma of getting it all done, getting it all done well, and succeeding at this juggling act all of the time. One of my friends recently landed her dream job. But the dream job required a move and she’s exerting large amounts of effort trying to settle into her new space, meeting new friends, figuring out where to do anything—like get an oil change, and proving herself in this dream job. She’s with the opportunity, but starting fresh takes extra time and energy—more than normal. And she’s worn out.
Another friend is a sales rep and they’ve had a change in their product line. In good ways, but also in learn new and different strategies; reinvent the process kind of ways. Plus she has a medical issue. On top of her kids, marriage, house and groceries. And she’s slightly frazzled. Yet another friend has this huge, brilliant idea to create something new and exciting. This plan won’t pop into being by itself. It takes extra hours, extra mental capacity, on top of my friend’s current carpools, current exercise routine, current commitments. And she’s pumped up about this big beautiful idea God gave her, but trying to do it all—well it’s overwhelming.
And I’m praying for all of my friends in their busyness, praying for peace, and moments where they can slow down and find things that they can let go of. I’m praying for all these friends as I’m cramming writing time into every spare minute of the day, because my manuscript is due to my publisher in a week. My son has play practice? I’m there. With five resource books and my laptop spread across a row of seats in the theatre. My daughter has gymnastics. Same. It’s Saturday? Cool. I’ll set the alarm early and respond to the comments from my project manager until my cuties wake up. And, in the meantime….I'm still hustling to get it all done. Prep for Bible study. Write notes for my kids’ lunches. Log a few miles at the gym. Keep up with the mystical clothes hamper that is miraculously always full. How does it do that?
I LOVE doing all these things. I love my family. I love to write. I love Bible study. I’m doing these things today, just like I did them yesterday, and last week, because that’s what I do. I get the stuff I want to do done.
But my husband had to sit me down, and take the figurative brush out of my hands. His words were wise, but they felt sharp: You can’t do it all?
Hmm, I thought. Why not?
Husband: You are on deadline. This is not your normal. For the next week, let go a little.
My friends are swamped, but me? I’ve got this. Right? Let go? Of what? Not my kids. Not this sweet man talking to me. And the writing, well I kind of signed a contract. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m good.
Husband: Let’s order pizza tonight. Let the kids make dinner one night. What else is easy? Let’s do that.
Me: Okay, fine. I like pizza. Sounds good for tonight. I’m so agreeable. Problem solved. Moving on.
Husband: I’ll pick the kids up from school tomorrow.
Me: But you have work. I was fine with the pizza thing, but that’s plenty of help, thank you very much.
Husband: I know, but I can grab the kids. Not every day, but tomorrow. It gives you an extra hour.
Me: Silent, but insides screaming, I’ll do it. I’ve got this. I can do this. I can make it work. Because I want to. Because I can find a way. Because I hate letting people down.
But Brett is not suggesting, he’s telling, and he never tells me what to do. I must be manifesting the symptoms I see in my friends, that look behind the eyes, that I’ve got this, but it’s hard and any minute I might slip. It took courage and love for Brett to speak this to me. I glue my lips together and try to listen. I nod. It’s like God has grabbed me and is making me lie down. And these blunt words? They actually sound like gentleness, sound a lot like grace.
I needed someone to be gentle with me, and I didn’t even know it. I saw it in my friends, but not in myself. How about you? Do you wish you could be treated gently right now? Are you incapable of being soft enough with yourself?
The good news? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures. Meaning, when we’re burning the candle at both ends, staying up too late and remedying this routine with too much coffee the next morning (anyone?), Jesus says, “Stop. Lie down. Rest.”
He leads us beside still waters. Sigh. Did somebody say still?
Take a deep breath. Look at your to do list. What can you erase or delete? What are you trying to do, because you expect you to do it, even though maybe no one else expects it, or maybe someone else could do it just as easily? Can it be delegated? Can it wait a week? Is there someone you could ask for help? Could you pay someone to watch the kids for an hour or two, or to clean the house this one time, or even pay the $5 for Clicklist to do the grocery shopping for you? You don’t have to answer every text, call, and email as they pop on your screen. You don’t have to do it all. Period.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Be gentle with yourself. I know there is so much to do, great stuff, important stuff, deadline stuff. But you don’t have to do all of it. And when you can’t even be gentle with yourself, Jesus will be. He’ll soak warm sunshine into your skin, provide a moment where for some reason the house is quiet, or maybe He’ll have your spouse or friend or coworker unexpectedly tell you, “I’ll do this thing. I’ll make this call. I’ll write this note, so you don’t have to.” Accept the grace. Lie down. Don’t fill that still moment with another to-do. Fill it with Jesus. Hand him your hairbrush or your to-do list or your expectations, and allow Him to gently restore your soul.
Gheesh. I’m done with winter. There is so much cold and snow and slush and gray in Ohio. My skin is so dry from the constant blowing of the heater. I want to roll down the windows in my car. I want to see a daffodil. I want to play outside. But it’s only February. And there’s a way to go until springtime blooms, or so the groundhog said. So, I have two choices:
I’m picking B. Because I live in Ohio. I love it here. I love how close my husband and I live to our moms. I love the four seasons. I love the idyllic college town we live in. I love that due to all this wintry weather my kids had last Wednesday off school for a snow day. And, this is where God put us. So clearly where God put us. Every time we consider even looking anywhere else, God presses us deeper into place. So I have no room to gripe. God is so good to put me here, even in February.
God will delight us if we look for it. Case in point, I was folding laundry, which is super glamorous, and my youngest was looking out the window. He said, “Mom, look a blue jay.” I came to the window and my breath caught. “Wow. That’s not a blue jay. That’s a bluebird. A bluebird of happiness.” I don’t know how I know bluebirds are harbingers of happiness. It’s just one of those things I know. I remember my mom saying the words, ‘bluebird of happiness,’ but not where or when or why. Yet, each time I see one, I feel happiness, somewhere deep. It’s like God reminding me, “I bring joy. I bring it everywhere. Even in a vibrant little bird.”
What is gray in your life today? Your commute? Your statistics class? The dishes piled up in your sink? A relationship? Can you spot a bluebird—a spot of happiness amidst the clouds?
Are you seeking beautiful moments or waiting for them to hit you over the head? I’m in the middle of reading Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs. If you haven’t read it, go Amazon Prime yourself a copy or grab it from the library—so good. And Annie is reminding me every day to look for lovely. Everywhere. So, after seeing the bluebird I went on a quest and found beauty. Even in the most unexpected places.
After too many hours bent over my laptop researching Old Testament prophets, I decided I needed to get out and clear my head. I pulled on my mittens, popped in my earbuds, and set out. One by one the tightly wound thoughts in my head began to unravel to the rhythm of my feet crunching along the snow-covered sidewalk. And then I saw this little guy. He didn’t skitter or scamper as squirrels are prone to do, but just sat there looking at me as curiously as I was looking at him. He was perfect. His little bright squirrel eyes, how intently he was holding his acorn. His speckled fur. Look at what God made!
Two days later, my husband brought me home a gorgeous bouquet of tulips. For no reason. It wasn’t Valentine’s. They looked like a big bunch of springtime, but it was their smell that made me swoon. One sniff of the pink blooms filled my nose with sunshine, fresh mown grass, and April raindrops.
Driving my son to play rehearsal he asked to listen to the soundtrack for his show. I handed him my phone and told him to find it on Spotify. From my car speakers “Come on Eileen” and “Love Shack” sang to me like high school serenades. My head bopped and I may or may not have taken my hands off the wheel to snap my fingers along with Dexy Midnight Runner’s, “Ta-lu-ry-aye” and to point to my boy in the backseat and call out, “Hurry up and bring your jukebox money!” along with the guy from the B52s.
Brown butter sauce from a vendor at Findlay Market turned my bag of boiled pasta into a rich, savory delicacy worthy of a fine Italian restaurant. The richness of morning coffee. A warm, solid hug from my daughter. A thunderstorm whose cadence was in tune with the beat of my heart. Cabin socks cozy and soft on my feet. And then yesterday? A seventy-two degree day surprise smack in the middle of February. My crocuses peeked out their purple heads to see the sun. And last night, a sky full of the brightest stars. Orion and Cassiopeia shining clearly for all to see. The partial moon in a smile shape like the glowing grin left by the Cheshire Cat. Just because God is good. Just because He loves to delight us.
Yes, there is horror in the news. Yes people I love are suffering—from disease and divorce. My hometown of Westerville, Ohio was hit with tragedy. I know you have struggles too, dark spots, storms, fears, pain. But God is good. He is so very good. And He loves us more than we’ll ever be able to grasp. Jesus died on the cross for us as the ultimate expression of that love. But God also peppers our days with beauty and flavors and songs and smiles to remind us time and time again that the sun rises each morning after darkness and spring always comes after winter.
Look around. Go on a quest for beauty. Let me know what you find. You’ll be blown away by God's love and mercy every morning once you intentionally seek it.
Laura L. Smith