I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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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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Here’s the thing. COVID-19 stinks. It’s taking people’s lives, putting folks at risk, depriving people of income, robbing students of their experiences, stealing people’s interactions and activities, and creating uncertainty to name a few of its negative effects.
But God is good. So inherently good. And His character is unchanging. So, God sees a bad thing, this terrible virus, and He figures out a way to use it for some good stuff. This is who our God is.
So, we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives. Romans 8:28
I’ve read and listened to so much quality content about finding time to slow down, to be still, to breathe deeply, to listen to God, to stop striving, to take Sabbath. And as I read and listened, I agreed in my head, Yes! What a great idea! But these great ideas take a ton of intentionality. Over the past year I’ve gotten better at taking Sabbath, but I’ve been fighting obstacles and interruptions to do so. Even with a Sunday slow down, the rest of life in general pre COVID-19 was overstuffed and supersized. Every square on our white board calendar in the kitchen was full. In a world where games, practices, and rehearsals are scheduled every night of the week, it was tricky to gather our family together around the dinner table. Most meals were more grab-and-go or eat-at-your-own schedule—things like tacos.
Sundays aren’t sacred to the general public so out of town tournaments and meets were standard Sunday fare, putting a wrench on our family, and maybe yours too, attending church together. Personally, our overscheduled, exhausted Smith family’s typical weekend was titled “divide and conquer” as my husband and I went different directions to support and cheer on our kids in their activities. This life is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one—a full and vibrant one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s life. I’m thrilled my kids get the opportunities they have. I’m grateful for their dedicated coaches and directors, their encouraging teammates and casts. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children step in and use the talents God’s gifted them. I’m thankful for a husband who is such a fantastic dad engaged with the kids and willing to help with all the things. But the kids were tired, and we were tired. We were.
But over the last week and a half, like it or not, we’ve been at home. As I’m sure you’ve noticed everything is cancelled, and we have been forced to slow down. Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
I see Him doing all kinds of beautiful things.
The gorgeous canals in Venice, Italy are clearer than when I had the privilege of visiting ten years ago, clearer than they’ve been for a very long time. No boats or barges running along the water has cleared up the typically cloudy waterways so much so that you can see the fish where vaporetti usually zoom.Carbon dioxide emissions in China have dropped 25% since January. Again, God hates to see the sick, the infections, the financial struggles, but I notice Yahweh taking this awful thing and using it as an opportunity to give His world a spring cleaning.
People are reaching out. Giving what they have to offer. Loving their neighbors. Just like Jesus asked us to. Professional athletes are donating their salaries to arena workers. Fitness instructors like those at Root Yoga and Apps, like the FaithFit project, are offering free virtual workouts. Superstar musicians like Kelly Clarksonand John Legend are singing from home, creating free live performances, on their social feeds for their fans.
We don’t know how this is all going to pan out. But I do know that Jesus is still on the throne. That God is still good. And that He is on our side. As we all continue to shift our patterns, schedules, and expectations due to the effects of the coronavirus, I’m grateful that Christ is the solid rock I stand on. The world is not the same today as it was last week or the week before. But Jesus is. And He is good. And He is taking what He can from this pandemic and using it to orchestrate some good.
Let’s keep our eyes on Him, keep our feet planted in Him. Because Jesus is fully and completely good, we can all take an exhale. What He told the disciples just prior to His crucifixion, He tells us today, In the world there will be tribulation. But be of good cheer. I will overcome the world! John 16:33. God is fully aware of the horrible thing COVID-19 is, but be of good cheer. Jesus will find ways to make some good out of the mess, and even better, He'll overcome it.
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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My husband and I were in Dayton the night of the shooting. Being in the same city as the tragedy shook me deeply. And made me feel helpless. Because let’s be honest, I am ill equipped to stop a gunman or heal bullet wounds. I’m guessing you were also rattled by the recent shootings. Some days it feels like the world is upside down and there is nothing we can do. Like our part isn’t enough. Couldn’t make a difference. But that’s not true.
All of our parts matter. Every word we speak and action we take. God nudges me to remind this person that they’re awesome and puts you in a situation where you can share with someone in need, and through us God wonderfully and intricately loves, strengthens, heals, and empowers His world. Out of all the teachings in the Bible, Jesus named two as being the most important: 1. Love God with all our hearts. 2. Love our neighbors.So by loving our neighbors we are doing something really important, truly meaningful. And often it’s the little things that mean the most. After all, our neighbors don’t have to be people in some far off country. Quite often, our neighbors are simply, well, our neighbors.
Just this past week:
These are little things, but I was showered with love in unexpected places at unexpected times. All these actions from others made a difference to me, made my day brighter, my mood lighter, and as a result I was (hopefully) more agreeable to be around and was able to share a bit of that light wherever I went. None of these were giant things, but they all mattered to me.
God might ask you to give your neighbor’s child a ride to volleyball so they can work late, allowing them a chance to earn the extra dollars they need to pay a bill. Which keeps them out of debt. Reduces their stress. Allows them to be calmer, and therefore a better parent and spouse. Look what you did!
That same neighbor might later prepare you a meal when you’re on crutches and have no idea how you’re going to hobble around the grocery or prepare anything to eat. They not only provided you nutrition to start healing, but also alleviated your worry. Wouldn’t that make a difference to you?
Sometimes God calls us to donate money, time, and resources to important causes that show love to our neighbors. Sometimes we’re called to run a race that raises awareness, volunteer for prison ministry, or go on a mission trip. But often, it’s as simple as rolling a neighbor’s trashcans back to their garage, hugging someone tight who’s had a rough day, or tossing some clinking coins in a tip jar. We all have parts to play in loving God’s kingdom. And they all matter.
I overheard this conversation at a coffee shop the other day:
“You are beautiful. Not like Stacey. But in this really cool, weird, unique way. Everyone wants to hang out with you.”
“Thank you. That means a lot,” answered another voice.
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I was closing up my computer anyway, and this conversation was captivating. The two young women continued to encourage one another as I slid my laptop, journal, and phone into my bag. I couldn’t help but glance at them as I exited the shop. I leaned in as I passed and said, “Hey, what you two are doing is beautiful. Keep building each other up.”
Neither of them were purifying drinking water, ending poverty, curing cancer, or ending violence. But they were making a difference. Right here in Southwest Ohio over frothy fruity smoothies. They were reminding each other why they mattered, strengthening each other for whatever comes their way next. I’m guessing both young women left feeling brighter and lighter, more equipped to handle their problems, and more grateful for the goodness in their life.
Some days the news leaves me speechless. But when I focus on the light of Jesus and His eternal love, I have hope. If I pass on a ray of my hope and you share a glimmer of yours, together we can make this world brighter. I urge you to look around. I will too. One great way to love God with all our hearts is by simply loving the person right next to us.
Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
Laura L. Smith