Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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“Would you like a pain au chocolat?” We asked my mom when she arrived at our apartment in Paris.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
“We just got them from the bakery. They’re still warm.”
She peeked at the white paper bag brimming with pastries, but shook her head. “No, really.”
I’m not sure what prompted Mom to turn down the flaky croissants stuffed with chunks of dark, rich chocolate. Maybe it was the calorie count or the fat grams. Maybe she’d eaten something on the plane already. But this was special. She was in France. And these were fresh-from-the-oven French delicacies.
“You should at least try a piece of one,” my son, Max, coaxed.
“Okay, maybe one bite.”
A few nights later, I received an email inviting me to go to Israel. Instantly my mind flooded with the memory of my childhood pastor describing his trip to the Holy Land from the pulpit, and my ten-year old mind being blown. You could actually go to the places from the Bible? That was an option? You could see where Jesus was buried? You could dip your toes in the Sea of Galilee? I’d longed to go ever since. I sighed—what an incredible opportunity. What an honor to be invited. My very next thought? Of course I won’t go.
Because it costs a lot of money? I hadn’t asked how much.
Because it means leaving my family for a week? I hadn’t asked if they minded. Because I don’t deserve this kind of gift—it seems too lavish for me to experience? I hadn’t asked God what His thoughts were.
I sounded like my mom with that pastry. Oh yes, that’s marvelous. I would really enjoy it. But, nah, I won’t partake.
Have you ever done this?
Given a quick “no.” to something good, something you want, something right in front of you? I’m not talking about eating the entire blueberry cobbler, buying every pair of cute sandals at TJ Maxx, or going out with the girls (or guys) every time someone sends a group text. We have limits on our resources. It’s important to set priorities and to exercise self-control. But sometimes, God gives us presents, simply because He’s an incredible Father and wants to delight us. Think of it like God wanting to take us out for ice cream, not because it’s our birthday, or because we got an A on our report card, but because it brings Him joy to make us smile.
When God asks if we’d like to go to Graeter’s? Do we answer, “Yes please!” and grab our flip-flops? Or do we primly shake our heads.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. —Ephesians 3:19 NLT
I’m guilty of turning down some of the ice cream cones God offers. In my practical “get things done, take care of the fam, make sure everything is running smoothly” mentality, I sometimes lose sight of how extravagant God’s love is. It might feel like I don’t deserve it, but not necessarily to Jesus. He is over the top and loves us accordingly. He piles heaps of blessings on us like putting someone in our lives who loves us for who we are, financially providing the means to pay a bill, a parking spot up front on a day when we need the extra four minutes, or a hug from a friend when we’re feeling down.
Are you receiving these gifts? Why or why not?
If you think they’re “too much” or not for you, have you asked God what His thoughts are?
After chatting with my Mom about her flight and train into the city, I glanced at her plate. All that remained were a few buttery crumbs of pastry.
I grinned, thrilled she had allowed herself to enjoy the treat we’d selected from specifically for her. “Good thing you had that bite,” I teased.
“It was just so delicious, I ended up eating the whole thing.”
Pain au chocolats are indulgent. We don’t need them. But they are also scrumptious. Not to eat every day, but while on a family trip to France, definitely.
Mom savored each morsel.
And after some long, deep conversations with God, I said, “yes,” to the trip to Israel.
What is Jesus offering you today?
He offers all of us peace, rescue, strength, courage, and salvation. Are you taking Him on those big, beautiful gifts wrapped in shiny bows?
Jesus also has special, unique gifts He offers us, too—trips to Israel and French pastries included. Are you accepting these gifts? Maybe it’s a job you haven’t bothered applying for, because you don’t know if they’d hire you. Or maybe you haven’t gone to that event, meeting, club, because you’re not sure how you’ll fit in. Or maybe you haven’t spoken up because you’re uncertain how they’ll respond. If this is you, I urge you to look inward and ask why you’re so quick to turn these potential gifts down. Ask God His opinion. I find He likes us to go ahead and open the presents He’s wrapped for us. They don’t do much good sitting there taped shut.
You are worthy of every spiritual blessing. God says so. Go ahead—tug on the bow. I can’t wait to see what you unwrap!
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On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
If you just stumbled onto us, you can start today and always go back to the previous days later (or not, that’s fine, too). This is a FREE 30-day devotional to dive into how much God loves you, and to discover what that means for your life. If you haven’t downloaded your free copy yet, just leave a comment, and I'll get you added. Share with friends. The more the merrier.
My daughter and I stirred up a box of Funfetti cake mix, spooned blobs of batter into our cake pop cooker, and closed the lid like a waffle iron. After a couple of minutes we had golden brown balls of cake. Once cooled, we dipped them in white chocolate, drew faces with a black frosting pen, and added mini marshmallows for ears. Voila! Adorable polar bear cake pops! They were delicious, which surprised me, because although I have a crazy sweet tooth, I’m not a fan of white cake or white chocolate (did you know white chocolate doesn’t even contain cacao? Please!).
I’m a real chocolate girl—the darker and richer the better. But these? They tasted like something I knew, something almost magical, but what? Then mid-bite of maybe my sixth cake pop, I remembered. Our polar bears tasted like the fancy petite fours one of my dad’s clients gave us when I was a girl. I remember being amazed anyone could construct such a tiny cake, layer it with raspberry filling, cover it so evenly, and even put a flourish—a candy flower or swirl on top. Those petite fours seemed like magical food baked for royalty in a fairytale.
Our cake pops were far from the designer petite fours from my youth, yet the power of taste took me back to them. Sure, the cake pops were yummy, but the fact that they reminded me of something marvelous made them even better. I think God does this for us all the time—gives us a split second reminder of something grander—of heaven. It lasts only a moment, and it’s hard to place why that thing resonates so deeply, but God hands us a glimpse, a little preview, a taste of eternity.
We might smell Queen Anne’s lace in a summer field. The aroma is so sweet and thick, it seems our noses can’t even handle the fragrance. Or maybe we’ll spot a bluebird spreading its wings and revealing a jewel tone almost too rich for our eyes to gaze upon. The most mesmerizing sunsets, the most robust pasta sauce, the loveliest of melodies—all just foreshadowing of the glory we’ll experience in heaven.
If these are the things we experience on earth, can you imagine the magnitude of heaven? It makes me want to keep all of my senses on high alert, to truly drink in the beauty of this world, and ponder for a moment how glorious our futures will be. Our true reflection is one of royalty, invited to a feast more delicious than frosted petite fours, gazing, and experiencing beauty with the true King forever more.
List some of your favorite sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
Can you imagine how much more incredible heaven will be if these are only previews?
Take a moment to thank God for the free samples He gives you of what is to come.
My daughter and I had to weave our way through an Easter carnival in the middle of the town square to get to Scoops. The festivities included a jumpy house, sand art, an outdoor viewing of Hop, and of course photos with the Easter Bunny. We made our way through toddlers and parents and into the ice cream parlor where we proceeded to order bowls of gooey peanut butter brownie and rich coffee toffee ice cream. As we sat down to a table to enjoy our cool, creamy treats the Easter Bunny entered the shop. I was primarily focused on my daughter, but couldn’t help being a little startled when the Easter Bunny took off her costume head, and there was the face of a normal looking mom with a white, furry, bunny body. Of course I knew she was in a suit, but all of a sudden she wasn’t at all what she seemed.
Later that night in our hotel room, we could hear the people in the room next to us. Clearly. Too clearly. They were reading someone’s text and complaining loudly about the person who sent it. My daughter and I wished they would pipe down, but I was also sad for the person who sent the text. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have wanted it to be read aloud (and who knew the audience would also include us?). I’m also certain they wouldn’t have wanted to be talked about like that. The receiver of the text went on to share how she’d responded, which was way different than what she was shouting through hotel room doors. She wasn’t being consistent. In the privacy of her hotel room, her mask came off, revealing a different side of her.
Unfortunately, we’re all like this sometimes. We tend to wear certain faces for certain people—to appear stronger, braver, smarter, more put together, like we can handle it, like we’re okay or cool (even if we’re not). We sometimes say one thing, but feel completely different about it. Sometimes we act differently when we’re alone, then when we’re out in public, or speak differently when we’re with one group compared to how we speak when we’re with another.
But Jesus? Jesus is exactly who He says He is. He is always the same. He wears no masks and speaks no lies. He is always honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always.
As we’re midway through Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), I’m reading about Jesus in those final days of His life on earth. When He rode into town on a donkey and people waved palm branches at Him, Jesus was all these things (Mark 11:7-10). On that day everyone recognized Him as king—powerful, wise, and holy. But Jesus knew He was riding into town to rescue everyone. He knew what was ahead, and He did it anyway, because He is consistently strong, true, brave, and loving.
When Jesus overturned the tables at the temple, yes, He was angry (Mark 11:15-17). But only because He loves God the Father and His people, and He saw that the people were making a mess of things. Just like a parent snatches matches out of the hands of a toddler, using a firm voice, Jesus removed the danger from His children. Because He loves them. Because in wisdom He knows better. Because He’s never afraid to stand up for what is right.
When the religious officials belittled and questioned Jesus (Matthew 26:62-64), Jesus initially bit His tongue. He is holy, the Creator of all and didn’t have to come up with a snide comment or answer questions He didn’t want to. As High King of Heaven, He has both the wisdom and the authority to remain silent if He chooses. And when Jesus decided to speak, He declared with full authority that He will be ‘seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.’
On the cross Jesus was still King of Kings, still loving us, still bravely there to rescue us, not because He had to, but because He wanted to (Luke 23:26-49). This is who our Lord is. Never changing. Always faithful. We never have to worry about Jesus taking off a mask, about being different than who He says He is. If Jesus tells us something this morning, or if He said it over 2000 years ago, we can know it is 100% true. Jesus won’t change His mind, or say something different when He’s hanging out with someone else. He’ll never turn on us or let us down.
Jesus? He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. —Hebrews 13:8. He is honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always. Let’s marinate ourselves in who our Savior is this Holy Week as we remember how He died on the cross to save us. Because He loves us and He wants us with Him always.
God loves us. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the jumble of our lives that we won’t even allow Him to remind us. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Will you let God and the people He put in your life love you?
The other day one of my kids woke with a massive headache. They had an important presentation at school ahead of them. They felt awful and were unsure of how they could navigate the presentation through their pain, but they had to go. They needed to be there. I laid out a grab-and-go breakfast, knowing not eating amplifies headaches. I found Advil and Tylenol to tackle the headache from both sides. I placed the capsules in the hand of my sweet child. But they were hurting and stressed, which made it difficult to focus on the help in front of them. They felt frozen by pain and worry, unable to put the medicine or breakfast in their mouth. I only share this, because I saw so much of my own frequent shutdowns and refusal to accept God's help in their struggle.
I unfortunately do this all the time.
“Need any help?” my husband asks as I hustle around the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table before someone needs to sprint out the door for practice or rehearsal.
“No!” I snarl. Which is not the kindest way to respond to someone offering assistance. But I’m in a mode, and a mood. And I fear if I slow down to even explain to Brett what needs to be done, I won’t complete my task in time. So instead of trusting and accepting the love God offers via my husband, I continue in a snit. I miss out on a chance to realize the beauty in the fact that God is tender enough to notice me making dinner and to offer me free kitchen staff.
I’ll get edits on something I’ve written, and stubbornly think, nah, it makes perfect sense how I wrote it. Which is clearly not true, or the person editing wouldn’t have questioned what I was trying to say. God gives me wisdom via a colleague to improve the work I do for Him. Why do I ever resist accepting these insightful suggestions?
Someone-who-hurt-me’s name comes up in conversation, and all I want to do is make a snide remark. But I hear God whisper, Let it go. Speaking negative things makes you hang onto bitterness, which only ends up hurting you. It also sets a bad example for those around you. My Good, Good Father is trying to protect me from inflicting pain on myself. Yet, I want to say the snarky thing, so I say it anyway. And then get a pit in my stomach.
Can you relate?
I knew within fifteen minutes of ingesting the acetaminophen and ibuprofen my child’s pain would be minimized. I also knew the longer they worried, the less time they’d have to get ready for school. This would make them more stressed. And the whole thing would continue to spiral. Easier to see when it’s happening to someone else. But I couldn’t shove medicine down their throat. And I couldn’t force feed them breakfast or dress them. I love my child and had tools to help—medicine, food, and a plan. They couldn’t accept any of it. They ended up darting out the door hungry and in a frazzled mess.
Ugh. How many times do we do this with the help God offers? Shake our heads, wallow in our pain, and refuse to accept the gift of love He’s basically placed in our palms. We don’t mean to. My kiddo didn’t mean to. They wanted to feel better, but they were overwhelmed. By all of it. I want to feel better, too—less stressed, better at my trade, and less bitter. But when we get overwhelmed, we tend to shut down. And in shutting our hands, we make it nearly impossible to receive God’s gifts.
Jesus came down to earth to love us. He died on the cross to love us. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us to—you guessed it—love us. That’s a lot of love. So why are we resisting it?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:37-39 NIV
Tomorrow is a day dedicated to expressing love. I hope your day is full of those yummy-red-chewy-cherry hearts, rich Dove chocolates, laughter with the people dear to you, and warm, comforting hugs. But no matter if it is or is not, I know that you are loved by your Creator, by the Creator of all the things, by the King of kings. There’s not a single way you can mess up that will make Jesus love you less. There’s not a single thing you need to do to make Jesus love you more. He loves you fully and completely. Right now. As is.
He offers grace and joy and forgiveness and hope. Will you receive it? Open your hands. Open your heart. And let His unending glorious love flood in.
The other night I was totally in the mood to bake. I got my youngest in on the endeavor and after a quick scan of the cupboards we confirmed we had all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. With M&M’s. Because why skimp? Life is short.
I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since high school. How many hundreds of batches over the years? I have no idea. We creamed the butter and the sugars and added eggs. We made sure to take a good whiff of vanilla, because the sweet, thick vapor honestly soothes me. Next came the dry ingredients, and finally the chocolate. Don’t worry we both sampled the chocolate chips AND the M&M’s. I like the dough better than the cookies and cannot resist a spoonful before I plop sticky mounds onto the pans.
But…hmm. Something tasted off. I took another taste, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the dough—it wasn’t sour or rotten or anything—it just wasn’t right, and as a dough connoisseur I could tell. I had my son try it. He thought it was fine, so we baked the cookies and allowed the house to fill with the warmth and scent of chocolate chippers. Hot out of the oven the cookies tasted fine, more than fine, delicious—rich and gooey. But something still wasn’t right with the dough. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until I was cleaning up and took one last little lick. It tasted like it had a hint of banana in it. And for the record there are zero bananas in my secret recipe.
I thought through this puzzle as I sloshed the sponge along the sides of the bowl. And then it dawned on me. One of the sticks of butter had been resting on a slightly mushy banana on the door of my fridge. And bananas have this mysterious quality that their flavor permeates everything they’re near. Ever notice that? Put a banana in a lunch box and the entire lunch will taste like bananas, even the ham and cheese sandwich. I use bananas in cooking all of the time. I substitute them for cooking oil in baked goods. Mushy bananas make excellent binders in muffin, pancake, and waffle batters. You can read about my banana waffles here if you want. I’ll throw them into any of those concoctions without hesitating. But for some reason, not an actual banana, but just the proximity of one to a single ingredient in my cookie dough infused the entire bowl with the flavor.
Is there anything in your life that’s slightly off? It might not be totally wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. An activity you’re engaged in, someone you’re hanging out with, that habit that is making the whole bowl of batter of your life taste not quite right. I couldn’t extract the flavor of banana from my cookie dough. But we can make an effort to limit and eliminate the things in our lives that are shifting things off balance.
We can say, “no.” We can choose to not answer that person’s text who always makes us feel small or not sit next to the person who brings out our negative side at the game. We can refuse to watch that show even if our whole family is watching it. We can leave the room if it does something strange to us, makes us a little off, nudges us in the wrong direction. We can turn off our phones. Even if we might miss a hilarious text. We can put our phone in another room, so we’re not distracted or consumed by that tiny screen if it’s becoming a problem. We can choose to exercise somehow today—walk or shoot hoops with our kids or even play tag. We can select something good for us on the menu (that might be good for our body, soul, or mood, depending on what’s best for today.) We can speak up someplace where we’ve remained silent, but something tells us we shouldn’t hold our tongues any longer.
Take a look at your life? Is there anything that’s throwing you out of line of the glorious plans Jesus has for you? Of His perfect love for you? Anything that clearly contradicts the Bible, and you’ve kind of been blowing it off or rationalizing, but probably shouldn’t be? Something seemingly as benign as a banana holding hands with a stick of butter? We all have these things, and God wants to help us get back on our feet with each and every one of them. He doesn’t want us to go it alone. He’ll equip us with the opportunities and endurance and patience we need. We just need to ask for help.
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. —Psalm 94:18-19
My cookies ended up being fine, but the dough never even tempted me to a second, or third, or tenth bite. Which is super weird. Whatever tastes a little off today, even if you can’t detect why or how, turn it over to God. Take the time to think talk over with Him what’s wrong and why. He’ll support you. He’ll comfort you. He wants to renew your hope. God wants you to stand strong. He’ll give you the tools to get back on track. Heck He might even give you some M&M’s.
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
This fall I started teaching a new Bible study, at a new place, with a group of women I’d never met before. I had a case of first-day-of-school excitement and nervousness so real I wondered if I should buy myself a new lunchbox and glue stick.
To prepare for the first session I:
Five minutes later a squirrel was running around the church. No lie. A squirrel! The pastor, who I’m sure was impressed with the new girl they picked to lead Bible study, and I scurried around for several minutes eventually shooing the little guy out.
The DVD player worked. We drank coffee. The ladies were awesome. When it was over, everyone left except one girl who helped me make sure the doors were locked and the alarm was set. I hopped in my car, checked my messages, and started to back out. Only, there was another woman coming out of the church with her littles. A woman who I thought had already left, but apparently was changing someone’s diaper. A woman who I had locked in the church. When she opened the door, yup, you guessed it, the alarm went off.
I had to call the pastor and beg him to drive back to the church to turn off the alarm system before the cops came (as if I hadn’t already dazzled him with my competency). But I got this great opportunity to get to know both the girl I locked out and the girl who helped me. I hadn’t known their names two hours prior, and now we stood in the parking lot chatting and laughing with the alarm blaring in the background.
The next week I arrived early. Only through a miscommunication of mine, the church was locked. And I didn’t have a key. There were a dozen women, many with toddlers, two babysitters, a locked church and me. I was rocking this new gig. But you know what? It was also a stunningly gorgeous autumn day. And picnic tables had been set up in front of the church. Tables that aren’t always there, but today were. And the church has a fantastic toddler-safe playground. I sent the kids with the sitters to play on the playground and the ladies and I set up shop at those picnic tables. We had such meaningful conversation.
The third week all of the gourmet chocolates I’d stashed in my bag to put out for the girls had melted into one gooey glob. Guess what? Bible study that day? Still grand.
Moral of the story? No matter how much I prepared, I could not secure the outcome of Bible Study. No matter how much I prepare for anything I can’t control the outcomes. Just the inputs. I can’t. You can’t. We aren’t supposed to. We weren’t meant to. And even if we think we can or try our hardest or prepare in all of the best ways we know how, we aren’t in control. But thankfully, God is.
Yes, since I agreed to lead this group I should come prepared. That’s a common courtesy. But I also need to accept that I’m not in control of “how well Bible study goes” or what women get out of it, or what these awesome ladies learn. God is.
When we do our jobs, care for our family, serve our organizations, teams, or churches, parent our kids, love our spouses, we should do our best. We should prepare, because that’s kind and respectful and caring. Because we would want others to do the same for us. Because Jesus loves us so perfectly. But in the end, the outcomes are in God’s hands.
If you have a tryout or an audition, play your hardest, strive to hit the high notes, work on memorizing your lines. If you have an assignment, read the material, think through it well, answer to the best of your ability. If you’re planning a party, buy and/or cook yummy food, check to make sure you have napkins and cups. If you have a deadline, arrange your schedule to allow enough time to get the work done. But don’t forget to pray over it. Put your work and your efforts, which on any given day could be stellar or less than stellar, in the hands of the Almighty who is always spot on and eternally at His best. And then trust Him.
How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? —Galatians 3:2 MSG
Last week during the video for Bible study, Jennie Allen said something like this (I’m paraphrasing, because when I take notes, I quote what I like and emphasize what I feel God is trying to tell me—so this is what I jotted down), “This has never been about my competency. It’s only about my love for Jesus and His love for me.”
No matter what you’re working at today know that, absolutely, you should give it your best. Because God made you. Because He’s given you this opportunity. Because He’s gifted you in ways to serve Him through this. Do the things you know how to do—the things you can control. Prepare in the ways you know how to prepare. But remember, it is not about your competency. It never was. It’s about your love for Jesus and His love for you. So, whisper a prayer over the situation—your interview, upcoming move, surgery, or evaluation. Then trust our God who is greater, who knows exactly what we need before we ever ask, who loves us, and is fighting for us, and is on our side. Trust the God who has more than everything we could ever need to accomplish what needs to be done. When we come to the end of ourselves we find God there waiting to complete the good work He has begun in us.
When it’s all said and done, don’t forget to marvel at what He does with our meager offerings—squirrels, alarms, melted chocolates. He takes these things and turns them into friendships, abundance and grace. This is what Jesus offers. Do your best today, but don’t worry about your competency. Instead focus on His love.
Put out your hands. Imagine something you adore is in those hands—beautiful, delicate shells you’ve gathered on the beach or maybe sweet, colorful M&M’s. Now close one hand into a fist. And leave the other one palm up and open.
With your closed hand, you’ll ensure you get to keep your treasure. No one can take it. It can’t get knocked out. But you know what? If someone spots a perfect purple scallop or finds twelve more candies in the bottom of the bag, they can’t give them to you. They can’t permeate your clinched fingers. Now imagine not shells or M&M’s but God’s blessings in your palms. Do you want to keep your hands open to what He puts in or takes out. Or do you want to hold tight to what you know and to what you want to keep?*
Because this is life, isn’t it? We want to hold on tightly to the things that are important to us—our jobs, our money, our time, our homes, our space, our family. We want to be able to control it and keep it and have it available for when we need it. We’re fearful the things we hold dear will get knocked out of our grip. But when we clutch too tightly, we risk never seeing what it would be like if something was added. We also have it backwards. Because all those things that are “ours” are actually His. We wouldn’t have any of them without God. God is the giver of all. If we have a roof over our heads, someone to hug, air in our lungs, a meal in front of us, it is because God is good, and He has showered us with gifts.
We love these gifts God gives us. And then we beg God to let us keep what we love. But do we ask Jesus what He thinks would be best now, in this stage of life, in this time and place? If we could be doing more for His kingdom if we let go a little bit of that and maybe added a pinch of that?
I’m learning that the letting go is when we actually fly. When you get the nerve to walk to the edge of the diving board, and not clutch it with your toes, but release yourself into the air, you feel the freedom of flying and then the thrill of plunging into cool water. Could you do a belly smack? Sure. Is it possible you’ll get water up your nose. Very. But are those things worth the exhilaration of the moment you’re in the air, and the one after that when you’re under water? Absolutely.
The day this blog goes live is the day I take my oldest daughter to college. Talk about having to learn to let go. Yikes! But there is such beauty in an open handed approach. For 18 years I’ve held my daughter in my hand. I’ve loosened my grip a little bit with each passing year—from sending her off to preschool, to letting her go on her first sleepover away from home, to later handing her a phone and then car keys, and now this…
And with each letting go there is uneasiness, uncertainty. How will it go? Will she have fun? Will she be safe? Will she be nervous? All legit questions. But the better ones are these: Who will she meet? What will she learn? How will she grow? What will she discover? Because it is in the opening of our hands, that God can clean out the things inhibiting us, stifling us, keeping us back, or maybe even hurting us to make room for Him to pour in His blessings.
Right now as I type this I hear the squeaky peep cheep of baby birds. One of our screens is ripped at the corner. It looks like a little flap. A mama bird has snuck under that flap and built the safest nest possible for her babies. Their nest rests in the corner of a windowsill with its very own door. Can you believe God? He had those babies hatch right as I’m packing up my baby girl. And today? They're learning how to fly! I get to observe first hand the beauty and glory of those fledglings learning how to flap their tiny wings and leave their nest. How sweet and personal is our God? Why would I ever question the way He does anything?
It is in the letting go that we learn to experience the thrill and pure joy of flying—whether that’s our own flight, or the soaring of something we’ve created, something we’ve built, or someone we love. It is in the letting go, that God can fill up our hands, hearts and lives with unexpected blessings. And then, with His help, we can soar.
*thanks to my friend, Diane, who shared with me a sermon she heard on living open handed for God that helped inspire this post
There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
Laura L. Smith