What Does Jesus Want?
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11
If you’ve ever attended a Christmas Eve service or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas you’ve heard this verse before. The night that Jesus came down from heaven where He had been living since the beginning of time with God the Father and the Holy Spirit this is how it was announced. By an angel. An angel surrounded by the glory of the Lord. Imagine the sky lighting up in the middle of a night without fireworks or a full moon–a wild, crazy, magnificent light that makes your jaw drop open and your knees shake. A lot.
And this announcement didn’t come to the government or royalty or priests or religious scholars. It didn’t come during an election, at a concert, or during a holiday or at the temple. The good news that the Israelites had been praying for and hoping for for centuries –that the Messiah had finally come to save them–was given to a group of shepherds, considered uneducated and unclean, working the night shift in a field with smelly animals.
Here are the bullet points of the news story:
This is the first thing humans besides Jesus’ very own parents, Mary and Joseph, heard about Jesus. This is why Jesus came. This is what Jesus wants. To calm our fears and worries when there are so many things we’re worried about, when anxiety is running rampant. To give us good news in a world where it’s hard and heartbreaking to watch or read the news. To bring us joy, no matter what we’re going through or what our circumstances are or how sad we feel or how deep our depression is. Because this joy is for ALL people, which certainly includes you and me.
Christmas is in three days.
Maybe you’ve checked everything off your list and all that’s left to do is celebrate with people you love. Maybe the people you love aren’t around this year and that’s harder than you knew it would be. Maybe they’re around, but you still need to shop for a few of them and bake for a few others and send one more package and eight more cards and wrap everything. Maybe your bank account or your energy is depleted. Maybe you cannot wait for a new year, a new start, a new situation.
But you guys? There is a loving peace that will calm all our fears, fill us with such incredible goodness, and flood us with joy. His name is Jesus. And He left everything–His throne in heaven with all its glory and privilege–out of love for you and me. He suffered on the cross so that our suffering would end. He rose from the grave, so that we, too, could rise from the things that have nearly killed us.
That’s good news. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. Joy is waiting for us.
The shepherds took the angel up on the invitation to go and find Jesus. The Bible tells us they “hurried off” to find the baby. And once the shepherds had seen him, a baby born in an animals’ feeding trough in a cave, they were so amazed they went around and told everyone what they’d seen and heard. The shepherds didn’t doubt because Mary and Joseph and the setting of it all weren’t what they’d expected. They didn’t doubt when their circumstances didn’t change. Because their lives were changed. Their hearts were changed. The angel was right. This was good news–the best news. The shepherds weren’t afraid any more. They were filled with joy. And they wanted everyone to know that they could experience this too.
Now, it’s up to us. We can stay where we are. Or we can look for Jesus. When we do, we always find joy, peace, love and light. What are we waiting for?
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5 Steps for a Flourishing Fall
I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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How to Bloom this Fall
I do not have a green thumb, or even a green pinkie finger for that matter, but I adore everything that blooms. So each year I give it a go. This spring I bought two large geraniums in pots from our local nursery and placed them on our front porch. They were gorgeous from the get go. Red. Vibrant. Showstoppers.
Until they weren’t.
In July all the blooms turned brown with no new buds in sight. My mom, who 1. was visiting and 2. is a fabulous gardener, instructed me to snip off the dried up blossoms. She’d been telling me for years that this encourages regrowth in plants, so I had tentatively and reluctantly snipped a few dead flowers from my gorgeous geraniums before her visit, but now? If I did that now I’d be left with nothing but stems and leaves. There were zero signs of new life on these plants.
Mom said, “Do it anyway.”
And so I did. And my plants sat and sat. Just green leaves and brown stems.
It’s not just my mom who talks about pruning. Jesus does too.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” -John 15:1-2
Living in Ohio, I don’t see grape vines on the regular, but every day I see my geraniums. And they do the trick to illustrate Jesus’ point. If we’re the branches, we’re the ones who are being pruned, just like my plants on my doorstep. This isn’t a punishment or intended to keep us from living our best life. It’s the opposite. God knows this pruning makes us more fruitful, helps us bloom more abundantly. And I want that. As I head into this fabulous season of fall my heart and soul long to bloom.
But unfortunately, part of the secret to blooming is allowing ourselves to be pruned. Pruning is scientifically proven to help plants grow stronger, be healthier, and you guessed it, produce more blooms and/or fruit. But it involves cutting, letting go, and getting rid of.
I was hesitant to snap off the dead blossoms on my flowers, even though I knew they were deadweight. Afterwards they sat just green, no sign of red for over a month. But this past week my geraniums grew buds out of seemingly dead stems, lots of them. Once again they’re brimming with stunning scarlet flowers, and there are more buds waiting to blossom as if they are starting all over again. The pruning had to happen for my geraniums to thrive.
It’s the same with us. Pruning helps us bloom. And Jesus wants us to blossom. There are things we hold onto–dead and withered parts of us that don’t bring us growth or health or peace or joy, but we hesitate to let go of. For me this includes, but is certainly not limited to some past shame, getting grumpy or hurt when things don’t go my way, and avoiding hard emotions, because, well, they’re hard. I’m sure you have your things, too. Perhaps a bad habit, or a relationship that brings out the worst in you or something that is a really poor use of your time. Maybe it’s something that’s actually toxic or dangerous for you, but it seems hard to give up. But Jesus says if we’ll let Him get rid of those things that hinder our vitality…we’ll bloom.
We’re supposed to let it go. Ouch. Yup. It hurts sometimes. But If we trust Jesus in this pruning process, He says in John 15:5 that we will bear MUCH fruit, not SOME but MUCH. Every single opportunity and healthy relationship in my life, everything blooming God has provided. All the dark times I’ve weathered, all the healing that’s taken place, all the times I’ve been doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things, acting in the wrong ways that I’ve let Jesus prune have produced fruit. What a blessing that our God loves us so much that He wants to help us get rid of anything holding us back from living a full, free, joyful and grace-filled life.
Jesus says there’s more fruit for you and for me.
No matter how much you do or don’t have today. If you feel like a withered stem or the opposite–a vibrant bouquet, Jesus has more for you. All you have to do? Abide in Him, which means spending time with Him, making Him the go-to person you ask for advice, trust with your dreams, lean on when you’re discouraged or sad. Allow Jesus to prune the dead stuff away, the stuff that’s stealing sunlight, the withered leaves that have become a home for pests, the things that jeopardize the healthy parts of your life.
Listen. It’s the end of August. It’s back to school time, or if you’re a sports fan, football or futbol season. The last couple of evenings I’ve even felt a slight chill in the air. Sweaters and pumpkin spice and crunchy apples and hayrides and cozy blankets are just around the corner. But Jesus promises even better than all of that. I want to let go of anything holding me back from the abundant life Jesus offers. I want to step into the fall light, free, and ready to bloom. I know it will take some pruning, some letting go of this or that but it will be so worth it.
You? What in your life could use a little pruning, so you can bloom this fall?
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Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz on display. The shoes are iconic. Even though Dorothy’s charmed slippers were silver in Frank L. Baum’s book, they were changed to a spectacular ruby red for one of the first major motion pictures to be filmed in color. And Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives me goosebumps every time. But I believe this pair of shoes is considered a piece of American History because of Dorothy’s story.
If you recall, Dorothy is a farm girl living in Kansas wishing for a more spectacular life. When a tornado blows through her farm, she gets hit in the head and has a fantastical dream about going to the land of Oz. In Oz she is instructed to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”. It is along this road that Dorothy meets three friends, all of who are critical in figuring out who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, when she should step up, when she needs to ask for help, what she is capable of, what she truly wants, and how to get there.
That’s what we all want--isn’t it? Directions on how to get from where we are to where we hope we’ll be? The right people to help us get there? A better understanding of what our heart’s desires actually are? And once we’ve figured that out, we want to know how to find those heart’s desires--how to act and ask for assistance and use our gifts and rely on others to find them.
Those ruby slippers that walked and danced along the yellow bricks are kept on display, because they are symbolic of our own life’s journeys and the steps we’re taking.
But we don’t need jeweled heels or someone to paint our sidewalks and Instafeeds canary yellow. We have the God of the Universe. The Psalms repeat this refrain to us, of a God who leads the way to a life better than we’ve ever imagined.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he may fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.--Psalm 37:23-24
Our steps are established. So if you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up” or if you’ll ever get married or if you should move or start your own business or retire or stay awhile longer, you can be assured that the God of the Universe has already established your steps. He knows what happens in your next chapter. If you have three choices, God knows how things will go if you pick A, B, or C. Don’t worry, He’s going to guide you along the way, nudging you to select the choice He knows is best for you. Just like Dorothy saw a sign that read, ”I’d turn back if I were you” and met the Scarecrow to help her think through things, God will give you signs and introduce you to wise friends who can help you discern God’s ultimate route for you.
Verse 5 of this same Psalm says, “Give God the right to direct your life,
and as you trust him along the way,
you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” TPT
If we trust Him--God pulls it off perfectly! I love that.
But what if we pick the wrong route? Or don't trust God’s signs or nudges? Unfortunately sometimes I want an answer now, and force-fit a decision into my timetable or parameters. What then? Are we lost in the woods to be locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle forever?
Because our God loves us too much for that.
Even if we choose differently, God holds our hands and helps us get back on track if we’ll let Him. The Psalms remind us of this truth over and over again:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.--Psalm 40:2
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.-Psalm 23:3
When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.-Psalm 118:5
Life throws a lot of questions our way. Some days it feels like we’ll never know if we should accept that offer or turn it down, start dating again or take a break, apply for that position or the other one, keep quiet or speak up? But God has already ordered our steps and wants to lead us in paths of righteousness, put us in spacious places, lift us up, and hold our hands along the way.
So what are we waiting for? What are we worried about? All we have to do to find our heart’s greatest desires is not follow the yellow brick road, but follow Jesus. He’ll lead us to joy, love, grace, and freedom.
For more on the Psalms discover my new book Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms
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The Cat's Pajamas
Well aren’t you the cat’s pajamas? That’s something my grandma would say, but I’m thinking about trying to bring it back. The phrase came from the 1920’s when flappers or anyone considered “stylish or cool” was given the nickname cat (think of the phrase “a cool cat”). And I guess, the cool or stylish person’s pj’s, well they were IT.
Cat’s Pajamas is also the name of a plant that blooms purple in the spring and summer here in Ohio. Two years ago when the world shut down, my girls were stuck at home and looking for ways to earn money, so my husband and I hired them to do our landscaping. The girls named their enterprise Two Sisters Landscaping. They weeded, mulched, mowed, and planted flowers in our yard. They were also responsible for the flowering pots that sit on our front porch. The girls went to Shademakers, our local home and garden store, which is incredible, and came home with Cat’s Pajamas which they planted in those pots.
The violet blooms looked lovely on our front porch. When summer faded to fall and the Cat’s Pajamas withered I replaced them with pots of mums. I’d like to say I did something green-thumbish about the situation but:
Then spring came and I was walking around the back to toss something in our compost heap when I noticed leafy green plants sprouting out of the abandoned pots. The Cat’s Pajamas had returned. Turns out they’re perennials. Who knew? It felt like a miracle. That these flowers my daughters had planted had come back to life. Without anyone watering or tending. Without anyone even looking at them. It felt significant.
So I took the plants out of their pots, dug holes in our flower beds, and gave them new permanent homes in our yard. They bloomed all last spring and summer, then again shriveled in the late fall. But look! They’re coming back to life again! Fresh green growth amidst dried out fronds.
It made me wonder what in my life could use some revitalization? What dried up and turned brown due to circumstances beyond my control like the cold, harsh months of winter? What have I let wither from neglect that could use some watering and sunshine? What felt too hard or like I couldn’t get to it or it simply fell off my radar? What can I bring back? What can I ask Jesus to help me bring back in my life? Because if Jesus can bring some abandoned flowers back to blooming each year, He can certainly do the same for us.
We’re in the midst of Lent, the season leading up to Easter, which means Easter is coming.
For Christians, Easter is the ultimate. It’s the day that Jesus conquered death and sin once and for all, that He erased our mistakes past, present, and future. It’s the day Jesus proved His exorbitant love for us in the most profound way–by giving His life for us. It’s also the day Jesus showed us we can conquer loss, pain, humiliation, devastation, betrayal. He walked out of that grave. And He wants us to walk out of anything dead or desolate in our lives.
When Jesus was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead he told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”--John 11:25-26
Resurrection and life! This is what Jesus offers anyone and everyone who believes. Yes, for eternity, but also for every aspect of our current lives!
What do you love that you’ve stopped doing? Who do you miss seeing? What practices that were really good for you like prayer, exercise, drinking enough water, stretching, reading your Bible have you slipped out of? What feels dry or brittle or shriveled or forgotten that God is calling you to bring back to life?
What if we all decided to be the Cat’s Pajamas? Because wouldn’t we be the coolest cats in town if we did a quick look over our lives and decided to revive laughter or weekly coffee dates with a friend? If we vowed to prune some dead branches and allow ourselves to bloom? Easter epitomizes resurrection and as we walk towards that day on our calendar, we can also walk towards our own resurrections, reviving what needs revived, and stepping into the glorious life-giving life Jesus offers.
I’d love to hear–what would you want to revive in your life?
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Feel the Feelings
I’m not a new year’s resolution girl. But I do find a word or phrase to focus on each year–something God keeps reminding me of, something He’s made quite clear He doesn’t want me to forget. At the beginning of 2021 I felt God telling me to “feel all the feelings.” That phrase seems pretty self explanatory, especially to a girl who cries at movies, cards, and commercials on the regular. But there are some feelings that are hard to feel–that seem like they’d be better off shoved in a drawer or put in the back of a closet where you don’t have to look at them or sort through them. These were the feelings I was afraid of, and the ones God was referring to.
But God followed “feel the feelings” with “I’ll protect you.” He even showed me the phrase Elohim Shomri which means, God my Protector. So, I would understand if I feel the hard stuff, if I address it, if I go “there,” it’s okay. It’s safe. God will protect me.
So on a slate in my office and each new week in my planner I wrote “feel the feelings” and “Elohim Shomri.” I wanted this phrase front and center as I dove into new days and to-do lists and highs and lows. And, as expected, it was a year of all. The. feelings. Our oldest graduated college. And moved to Nashville. To work a job that feels like God handcrafted for her. Which makes me so proud of her, and so grateful and full of joy for the life she’s living, and also I miss her oodles.
Our twenty year old decided to live at home instead of the dorms this year. Which feels like a gift, because it’s an extra year of having our son at home with us. I am so grateful for every hug and conversation I didn’t expect to share with him. But also, he’s twenty. And I want to respect that. And treat him like a grown up. While he’s living under our roof. Which is complicated. Cue more feelings.
My counselor has also helped me sort through some feelings that I’d sealed in figurative boxes and hidden in the basement of myself. I believe it’s super important to tend to our mental health, and mine needed a check up that unearthed more feelings.
And you know what? God has been with me. Every single feeling of the way. In the excitement and joy and the sadness and concern. In the missing of my oldest child, the adapting to new norms with the next oldest child, and in the exploring of my own childhood. God is so faithful. And so loving. And I am so grateful. He is my Elohim Shomri.
And now–Christmas, which is always jam-packed with feelings. Full of memories, family, relationships and reminders. But also full of the reason for the celebration in the first place–that Jesus came to earth to be with us–Emmanuel. And because Jesus is with us (and He promises to be to the ends of the earth), we are free to mourn the loss of those not with us this year and to celebrate the new people in our lives. We can also mourn and celebrate jobs and life situations, new things, and old places, and things we used to be able to do or just learned how to do. Because Jesus, the Christ child who was announced to the world by a host of angels, who radically changed the lives of the shepherds who saw him on that first Christmas, the magi who followed, and every human who ever encountered Him, is here with us. You and me. Today. Around our dinner tables and trees, in our very hearts and souls.
So feel the feelings this Christmas. As the angels first announced to the shepherds, ““Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth.--Luke 2:12-14
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN TWO YEARS?
I listened to videos from a worship conference my son and I attended two years ago (read more about our experience here) instead of one of my playlists while I ran this morning. Yes, I said listening to videos. I’m weird like that. The music at the event was amazing, and Max and I videoed many of the songs. Since all the music was live, our phone recordings are different from the versions of the same songs I have downloaded on Spotify.
“Glorious Day” started playing, and 1:16 minutes into the song Brandon Lake broke into a spontaneous declaration of, “This is my testimony…” Brandon proceeded to contrast the way God had changed his life. Such as, “This is my testimony--from dark to light. This is my testimony--from death to life.” And it got me thinking about where I was two years ago.
Where was I then?
Where am I now?
I don’t mean I was standing in insanely hot August Texas heat eating a-ma-zing tacos with some special zingy seasoning from a food truck while Max and I waited to get into the conference, but the things I was praying for two years ago. The things Max was praying for.
And how God has answered so many of those prayers.
Max was headed into his senior year of high school. Due to injuries he was no longer able to play soccer, which had been his sport the first three years of school. He didn’t know where he wanted to go to college. Or how he would continue with the worship music he was passionate about when he went away to school. At that conference I remember specifically praying for healing of an old, deep family wound and for my writing which seemed to be taking a new direction. I had all kinds of questions about where exactly God wanted it to go.
Fast forward to today. Max’s senior year was by far his favorite year of high school. He tried and loved a new sport and made incredible new friends. Last week he started his sophomore year of college, at a university we’re certain God guided him to. He leads worship both on and off campus in a variety of outlets using his musical gifts to point others to Jesus. The prayers my son prayed throughout that conference. The things he took to Jesus. They’ve been answered in wonderful ways we could have never imagined.
God placed a friend and a conversation in front of me that nudged me to start seeing a Christian counselor. She has helped me heal from my past in ways I didn’t know were possible. I’ve teamed up with an amazing publisher who has provided avenues for me to share about Jesus’ great love for us that I didn’t know existed. I look back to August 2019 Laura and see that as I sang, worshipped, and got down on my knees, the things I was talking to Jesus about? Those things? He heard me. He listened, He cared. He has provided in unfathomable ways.
And today, I write this for two reasons.
I’m not promising everything will look like you think it should.
I doubt it will.
Max’s situation isn’t at all how he had it sketched out.
It’s so much better.
Same with me.
Max and I didn’t even know to pray for some of the things God has provided.
I can’t wait to hear what your testimonies are--how God has moved in your past two years or past two weeks or last two days. Drop a comment--I’d love to praise Jesus with you.
Also drop a comment if you have a prayer request. I’d be honored to pray with you. Because I cannot wait to see where we’ll all be two years from now, sharing our testimonies of how our loving Savior has done so much infinitely more than we could ever hope for or imagine. How He has answered our prayers.
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WHAT GOD TAUGHT ME IN 2020
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 FALL LOOKS DIFFERENT
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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WHEN JESUS ASKS US TO TURN LEFT
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.
Laura L. Smith