I’ve popped into three different stores over the last week that all had fall and Halloween decorations on display. Listen, I LOVE fall, but …wait a minute! Where did summer go?
Do you remember how your summer started? What you were feeling? Praying for? Hoping for?
We don’t have to start buying pumpkin spice everything (although you can if you like). We can intentionally push pause and take a look at how summer went down before we fast forward into fall.
Can you picture the start of your summer? Mine looked like this–with both my life and dining room packed with good things and chaotic messy things too. Why did my dining room look like this? All summer long? Because I have college kids who I adore. And our dining room acted as a storage unit for their college things. It made for a summer full of joy and love and clutter.
What were you thinking and experiencing back in late May or early June?
Summer was also pretty upside down around here. We had a pipe leak that flooded our kitchen which has now been basically gutted. We also needed a new roof and our air conditioning was broken all summer long. So people slept wherever it felt the coolest on any particular day and we had workers plus their dog on our roof and inside our house.
What took you by surprise this summer?
And summer was amazing. We ate ice cream and painted pottery and went to the beach and played cards. We went on walks and runs and the athletes in our crew did crazy workouts. We cooked yummy food and ate dinners on the porch as the setting sun streamed through the trees. We watched movies and had great conversations and laughed so very much. Big decisions were made in our family. Some powerful experiences took place. Prayers were prayed. And we created some really great stories we’ll probably be telling for years to come.
What were your favorite parts of summer?
Jesus taught me so much this summer.
He answered specific prayers I’d been praying for months.
He asked me to let go of trying to control some things (including having a floor or cabinets).
He reminded me that the little things are so little. And the big things like love, peace, and joy–they’re what matter most, and also what He provides in abundance.
My dining room is now empty. The kids have gone back to school. Yes, I miss them like crazy (see the last blog), but I’m also excited about fall–the soccer games and Cross Country meets, some new projects I’m working on (can’t wait to share soon), apples and pumpkins and all the fall things. With this shift in seasons and schedules there will be new things I have to figure out. New prayers I’ll pray. New things God will want me to learn.
But before I dive in, I want to pause.
And reflect on what Jesus taught me over the summer. It was all too good to skim past. I don’t want to forget.
Here are some questions to contemplate before we dive into fall:
So here’s to the shift into fall, to new beginnings, colorful leaves AND to holding fast to who God is, how He so faithfully loves us, and what He’s taught us. Here’s to remembering all that Jesus did for and taught us over the summer AND to keeping our eyes open to what He wants to show us about His love and goodness as our schedules, needs, demands, and hopes once again shift.
What did God teach you this summer?
How can I be praying for you as you enter into fall?
I’d love to hear.
Some other things I learned this summer came through incredible conversations with over a dozen awesome Christian women in my What Women Can Do series. If you missed it, you can check out those convos here.
Also…just in time for fall I’m offering 10 Minutes for 10 Days–a quick, FREE, and easy Bible study geared to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully in this new season. If you’ve gone through this with me before, please join in again. It’s a great refresher to get rid of some of the clutter in our lives and minds to make more room for Jesus. And if you’re new here–welcome! I’m so excited for you to join in! The study starts September 4 Invite some friends, your small group, Bible study, sister, or do it solo.
To sign up to get your FREE 10-day Devotional click here (PDF will be delivered via email on September 1)
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I LOVE the trails by our house. It’s where I run and listen to worship music and clear my head. It’s where I meet friends for long walks and even longer chats. But recently I put on my running shoes, stretched my muscles, drove over to the trails, and found a giant orange “Trails Closed” sign. Obviously this was not my plan. And I am a girl who really likes to stick to her plan. As disappointing as it was that my agenda was no longer an option, there were other options.
I’m very good at getting lost and very poor at navigating directions of any kind. But I do love the woods. So I gave the road less traveled a try. Robert Frost would be so proud.
In the twisty trail through the woods I ran across quaint wooden bridges, emerged out into the open and passed a field of spectacular wildflowers. Back in the woods I ran around giant stumps and past streams that provided a soothing soundtrack of rushing water. Most of the time I didn’t know where I was or how far I’d gone or how fast I was running–things runners tend to track, but it didn’t matter, because it was an adventure in itself, the discovery of what’s next, and oh, look at that–it’s all so very beautiful.
I’m excited to return to my normal trail. But my new path will stay in my rotation. I have to watch my step on the new route, because there are roots and rocks and ridges. I run slower on this trail, due to all the watching of my steps. But it’s quiet and peaceful and calming and restorative. I’m so grateful I was forced to find it. Which is great, and I’m sure you’re all very happy for me for finding a lovely place to explore the woods nearby, but that’s not the point.
The point is that we often have a preferred way, a plan in our pocket, the way we want things to go, and when we don’t get that option we might get frustrated or feel put out or even freak out depending on the situation. But God always has goodness for us. On the path we pick AND on the one we don’t.
Often our preference is valid because it works better for us. We’ve chosen to go to that church, work place, or school, because it’s good for our soul, makes us happy, fills a need or serves us or someone we care about well. We develop ways of loading and unloading the dishwasher, routes to work or school, a specific system to schedule our days, weeks, months, and years with certain rhythms, priorities, calendars or apps because those things work for us, please us, or are simply convenient. And that’s great. The more we learn about ourselves and what God has for us in this season, the more we should chase after those things that bring us closer to Him, help us live out our callings, and are good for our physical, spiritual, and mental health.
And also…sometimes God has new things for us to discover, new people He wants us to meet, new ways of doing things that could be even better, or better for now, or something unexpected that could help or grow us. Sometimes He has streams and Black-eyed Susans and slatted bridges waiting for us that we didn’t even know existed.
And other times, we plain won’t get our preferences. Little things happen like storms knocking the power out or traffic backing up a road. We work within a group and somebody has to carry the gear and take out the trash and pay the bills, even if that’s not our preference. We’re at someone else’s place and they don’t do things like we do, yet we know we should respect their rules, routines, and recipes. Big things happen too. Churches shut down. Someone else’s idea gets picked. Another person’s choice impacts us in a challenging way. We don’t get the job or assignment or contract or position or grant or scholarship we applied for. We lose someone or something we love. The person we were counting on bails. And back to the smaller things…trails get closed. Just saying.
And in these times–both the big and small ways things don’t go our way–God has goodness for us.
The last verse of Psalm 23 declares “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came so that we can have an abundant life. There is goodness for you and me all our days. There is abundance for us when we follow Jesus. Whether that’s where we planned to go or where the alternate route takes us. Whether it’s our first or last choice. There is goodness. There is abundance. Around every turn or bend when we walk through this life with Jesus.
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We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be Wonder Woman, gold bracelets and all. She was amazing–smart, resourceful, brave, and powerful. These days as I watch Marvel movies with my son I admire the strength and courage of Black Widow and Captain Marvel. Those ladies are cool. It’s the same idea. These women have super powers that make them strong and confident, that enable them to take down whatever bad things come their way. But here’s the thing.
So do you and I.
Our super powers make us mightier than any superhero. We have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. And that power isn’t timid. It can’t just do little things. It is w-i-l-d! The Bible tries to explain the power of the Holy Spirit over and over.
Like here in the Old Testament:
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25
You and I can laugh without fear of the future. Not because we’re indifferent, or don’t care, but because we know we have the power of Jesus in us. Whatever we’re facing, whatever comes our way, we don’t have to be afraid of it. We have a strength that comes not from deep within ourselves, but from the God of the universe. We can say what needs to be said, battle the bad, and fight for cures. We never have to stoop to talking behind someone’s back or making someone else feel small. We can stand strong with dignity. Once again, not because that’s easy. Because dang it’s hard to bite my tongue sometimes. But because the power of the Holy Spirit lives in us and if we tap into it, we can garner up the self control to walk in dignity while taking down the villains.
And here in the New Testament where Paul prays that we may know:
His (God’s) incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:18-21
Wait a second. That was a mouthful and I don’t want us to miss anything. Let’s take a deeper look. The power that God put in us is incomparable. So whoever you consider powerful–a world leader, a professional athlete, a CEO– the power in you is more than theirs. Beyond compare. So whoever or whatever makes you uncomfortable, is being unkind, is making things difficult–they are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit living in you.
Next, this verse says the power in you and me is the same mighty strength that raised Jesus from the dead and put Him on the throne above everything–every power and authority, every moment in time. This power lives in me and you. Raised from the dead power!!! Authoritative power! Royal power! We are so freaking mighty!
But I don’t always act like it.
There are days and situations when I’ll think to myself:
This conversation is going to be hard.
What if I do it wrong?
What if I don’t have enough time to get it done?
What if it doesn’t work?
I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
What if I’m a nuisance?
What if they think I’m crazy?
How can I avoid this uncomfortable situation?
This feels like a lot of work, a lot of steps, like something I’ve never done before.
I don’t even know where to start.
And in that moment, where our inner critic, and sometimes the enemy, tries to tell us we’re not enough, not competent, not connected, not capable, we have a choice. We can cower or avoid or blame or pick up our phones to distract ourselves from even thinking about our struggle. Or, we can tap into the Holy Spirit. Hold our heads up high. Take the first step. Stand up for what’s right. Tell someone we don’t appreciate their derogatory comments. Walk through the door. Walk out the door. Take a deep breath. Apologize. Tell the truth, even if it makes us look less than spectacular. Make the call. Send the proposal or resume. Try one more time.
You don’t need a gold lasso or an invisible jet. You and me–our super power is a gift from the Creator of everything. Our power can be as gentle as a lamb or as fierce as a lion. It can feel like inner peace or a whipping wind. It’s there. Ready to use when the evil of the world comes our way. To protect the innocent (sometimes that’s us), seek truth and justice, fight the good fight, do things for God’s glory, and put things right.
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When the kids were little we went to the pool almost every day of summer. We packed snacks and Pull-Ups and goggles and towels and little plastic pool toys and sunscreen. We played alligator in the shallow end and the kids had contests off the diving board while I judged who made the biggest (or smallest) splash or who made me laugh the hardest as they bounced off the board and into the water.
My kids are big now. And their schedules don’t leave much time for swimming pools. But the other day was hot hot and we decided to go and it was the absolute best time. We still packed snacks, sunscreen, and towels, but I also packed a book, thinking I might read a bit while my teenagers splashed about. But a few minutes after spreading out our striped towels on plastic chairs they asked me if I’d go down the giant slide with them. And who can pass up an offer like that?
We went down once, one at a time as required, each having our own fun while we cheered one another on. As I landed in the pool after my ride down the twists and curves of the yellow chute the kids said:
“You’re supposed to lay down, Mom.”
“You looked like you were on a carriage ride, waving to people passing by.”
“It’s a little slower that way,” I explained.
“Why would you want to go slow?” They were so puzzled.
“It’s more fun when you go fast!” They insisted.
We were already in line to go down again. Another mom was sliding down, also sitting up. I defended myself, “That’s just how moms ride down. Sitting up.”
“But you’re not like other moms,” my daughter insisted.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I’m not.” Because no two moms are the same and for me to even create a category of “other moms” is absurd.
So, when I got to the top, I laid down with my arms and feet crossed, like my kids, exhaled, and enjoyed the ride, laughing most of the way. It was faster, but letting go, leaning back was exhilarating. I stopped trying to go slower and just enjoyed what was in front of me--a cool, slippery, giggly ride on a hot July day.
As I came flying through the chute the force submerged me under water. I bounced back up to the cheers of my kiddos. “Go Mom!”
I try to control my life too much. I try to control my schedule, speed, servings of fruits and vegetables and hours of sleep. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to make sure I get enough sleep--in fact it’s super important. As are eating healthy foods and meeting my deadlines and paying bills on time. But also, I need to trust Jesus and lean back and embrace the fun and adventures He puts in front of me even when they feel slightly scary.
This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.--Psalm 118:23-24
From there we went to the wide green mega slide where we could sit three across and go down together. Next we made a chain with our innertubes and floated along the lazy river. When the bell started ringing signaling the enormous red bucket that fills up with water every fifteen minutes was about to dump, we darted over and sat in the shallow part of the pool, heads tossed back, waiting for the bucket to tip and douse us.
Who needs a book and the security of a lawn chair when there is so much fun to be had?
It made me wonder how often I’ve been clinging to the metaphoric plastic chair? Because security and routine are safe. But they keep us from fully embracing this present moment now. And I don’t want to miss anything Jesus has in store for me. I don’t want to have been “too busy” sticking to my plan that I missed the delights He had in store.
I don’t know what routines or possibly ruts you’re stuck in today. Is there something you’ve been meaning to try but weren’t sure how to make time for? Or were maybe a little scared to attempt it? Or worried you wouldn’t know anyone there? Is your schedule so jam-packed that if Jesus asked you to go down the slide with Him you wouldn’t have the time or energy to go? Are you willing to put down your laptop, phone, book, knitting, crossword puzzle and join in the fun God is making available?
God gives us so many incredible opportunities every day, if only we’ll step into them. I’d love to hear how you’re leaning back into His arms and letting go of your plans to step into His. Drop it in the comments so we can cheer one another on.
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“There are extra doses of the vaccine at the middle school. Why don’t you swing by the house, drop Maguire off, and head over there?” my husband called with the breaking news while I was driving my youngest home from school.
“What?” I had so many questions.
“Chris called and said he got in line without an appointment, and just got vaccinated. They expire if no one uses them, so they hand out the extras. There’s a form, but I just filled it out for you.”
“Wow. Okay. Thanks. I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”
I dropped off Maguire and headed to the middle school. It was a gorgeous spring day--sunnier and warmer than it should have been for March. There were a handful of people in line in front of me outside, plus however many were inside the doors, and I didn’t have to be anywhere, except eventually back home to make dinner. The hitch? This location was administering the Moderna vaccine, which there is absolutely nothing wrong with and is a wonderful option for most people. However, it is the one vaccine of the three currently available on the market in the U.S. that had caused a very small number of anaphylactic reactions to people who had previous anaphylactic conditions. I fall into that previous condition category.
If you’re not familiar with it (and I hope you don’t have to be), anaphylaxis is when your body full-on rejects a substance that you’re severely allergic to and goes into attack mode when this substance enters your body--think bee stings or peanuts. Your blood pressure crashes and your tongue or throat may swell up. Within minutes it could take your life. It’s basically terrifying.
My body probably wouldn’t shut down if I got the Moderna. It was just a possibility, a slim one, but still. As I stood in the sunshine letting the warmth soak into my skin, I thanked God for the gorgeous day, but I also asked Him what He wanted to do. Is this safe, God? If you want me to get the vaccine today, please let me get it. If for some reason it doesn’t make sense, if it might be dangerous for me, please let them not have enough. I trust You. I’m praying for Your protection.
Knowing God was in control, I was content with either outcome.
The line grew behind me. Folks checked their watches and phones. Eventually, the man in charge came out and continued a count he’d begun inside. “Four, five, six… ” He pointed to the woman in front of me. “Twelve! You’re the last dose.” Then he looked at me and the others behind me. “Sorry, folks. We’ll run out right here. Come back next week. We’ll have more.”
The person in front of me would receive the last dose. I was grateful she’d get hers. She seemed kind from our brief interaction. She’d been there first. And I was suddenly relieved with not getting mine. Because really, the person right in front of me? Interesting, God….
Fast forward to a few weeks later when I was able to schedule an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine, the one that to date hadn’t caused any allergic reactions. The place I was able to get a slot was our local hospital. Which was also interesting. Because as scary as anaphylaxis is looming over my life, if it was going to happen, a hospital seemed to be the best possible place.
The whole operation was first rate. A friendly greeter, an efficient check-in, multiple vaccine administrators. I was told to go into the chapel. The chapel? Oh yeah, hospitals typically have those, but I hadn’t considered it an option. I saw people in front of me getting their shots in this room. But the chapel was three steps away and complete with pastel stained glass.
“Hi, I’m Laura, I’ll be administering your vaccine today.”
Her name was my name, too (are you singing?).
Laura was great. She did her job, gave me a Band-Aid, and directed me to a seat to wait thirty minutes (yup, allergy girls get longer wait times just to be safe), and then packed up her things and left as her replacement took her chair. I was the last person Laura vaccinated that day.
I’d prayed for God’s protection. I’d asked Him to be in control of when and where I got the vaccine. And He answered my prayers so beautifully.
A “no,” in line for the Moderna.
An appointment for the Pfizer.
At a hospital.
In the chapel.
With a nurse named Laura.
It’s so much. And so typical of God. To be so personal, intentional, and caring.
When we pray, He answers. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:9-10 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." When we ask Him relevant questions (not if we should make tacos or stromboli for dinner or which pair of shoes to wear, unless something hinges on one of those decisions) God wants us to hear His answer. He’ll open some doors and close others. God will point us in the right direction again and again to show us the correct path. He’ll protect us and give us the reassurance we personally need. And then He’ll throw in something super special to show off. Like a stained glass window or a nurse who shares our name. This is who our God is.
Are you worried about something today? Trying to decide between this and that? Not sure what the safest or healthiest or most fulfilling path would be? Ask our Heavenly Father. Take it to Him. He loves you and cares for you abundantly. When we ask, He’ll answer. When we seek, we’ll find. And when we knock on God’s door. He always always answers.
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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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There’s a trail near my house with twists and turns, where it splits and you have to go one way or another, and although I have zero sense of direction and get lost in a store, I never get lost on this trail. Because it has signs telling me where to go.
I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going ahead of time. I like to know that I’ll drive about twenty minutes before I take the exit and that the school is three miles past the turn. I want to hear the Cookie Monster voice on Waze (he makes me laugh every time) tell me, “In 18 miles exit left.” But this trail isn’t like that. The signs are right where you turn. I can’t plan, in half a mile I’ll take the left fork of the trail. I just run and when there’s a split up ahead I look for the sign and go the direction it tells me to. And I’ve never once gotten lost.
This is how God works.
We want to know what’s up ahead, how much farther? When will the pandemic end? What will this fall look like? Who will our roommates be? Will we get a job when we graduate? Where? How much will our starting salary be? What will it take for racism to be a thing of the past? Will we get married? To who? How long from now? Will we get accepted to that program? Invited to that event? How many kids will we have? Should we adopt?”
And Jesus says, “Trust me.”
He says, “Keep running until you get to the fork in the road. When you get there I’ll let you know exactly which way to go. And when you get to the next split in your path, I’ll tell you where you need to go then. You don’t need to know ahead of time. I’ll let you know in perfect time, at the exact time that you need to know.”
Right. But still we like to know. Don’t we? I do!
I believe if we search down deep, the reason we want to know all the details is because we don’t fully trust that:
1. God is in control
2. God’s plans are perfect.
If we did, we’d be just fine to keep running along and wait for Him to say, “Turn here. That’s the man I want you to meet. Email that person—they are the key to your dream job. When you’re twenty-seven. On the third try. At the second left.”
And even though I LOVE a plan I’m 100% content running without knowing the next part. Because I’ve run this trail before. And I know I can trust the signs. I know they never let me down.
I’ve also run with God before. I know God has never let me down. Have there been moments in my life I haven’t understood? Yeah. Have there been times when I’ve wished for different outcomes? Sure. But later on, I almost always thank Him for how He orchestrated something better than I knew at the time. Oh, that relationship didn’t work out, because I was supposed to meet and marry Brett. Even though it took me a long time to get pregnant, that was because I’m supposed to have the kids I have. Oh, I didn’t even get a second interview? That’s because that wasn’t actually a job where I would thrive.
So, like the signs on my trail, I want to trust Jesus. Yes, I still wish I knew how things will look in the fall, what will be open, what won’t, what to expect. But I’m trusting God will put up the sign in bold, easy to read letters when we get to that point in the trail. He doesn’t want us to get lost or go down a dangerous fork in the road. Our Heavenly Father only wants the very best for us. He wants us to find our way. The best way. In fact, He even calls Himself the Way. I’m pretty sure He’ll show us which way to go.
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The trail near our house is a little torn up. It’s been raining a lot, because April showers were working hard to bring us May flowers, and then May had an identity crisis and thought it was April. The storms washed away parts of the trail and left puddles in other spots. It’s a bit of an obstacle course, and although I love everything about running on the trails, I have to watch my step, so I don’t turn an ankle or go down.
Part way in the dirt trail becomes a smooth paved one, and I can concentrate less on the terrain and more on the shape of the clouds and the smell of honeysuckle and fresh mown grass. My favorite spot on the run is the covered bridge that signals I’m halfway done. There’s something beautiful and nostalgic about the bridge and my feet make a lovely percussion sound when they pound against the planks. I love the idea of running while suspended over a stream. But today, my toe caught on one of those uneven boards and I lost my balance. I wiped out skinning my knee and ripping open my hand.
I’m fine. Nothing a Band-Aid, some Neosporin, and a few days won’t heal, but it reminded me how vulnerable I am. How vulnerable we all are.
I knew I had to pay extra attention on the bumpy, rocky portion of my course. I was alert. Just like there are parts of our days and lives when we need to keep our antennae up—maybe around the person who we don’t fully trust or driving at night during a thunderstorm, or how tenderly we need to handle a newborn. But it was on the stretch of my run where I felt safe and free and peaceful that I fell. Just like in life. Sometimes it’s when I’m cruising along on autopilot that I stumble.
I think COVID-19 has shown most of us that we’re more vulnerable than we thought. That even though everything was plugging along like clockwork, we’re still vulnerable. We’re at risk for losing dollars we thought would be deposited in our accounts. We’re at risk for losing events we were looking forward to. We’re at risk for germs and viruses that can infect our lungs. But I’ve also become acutely aware in my vulnerability how faithful our God is. The virus shut down shops, but all the flowers still bloomed wide open. The virus halted regularly scheduled classes, meetings, church services, but God continues to show up during Google Hangout Bible studies, Facebook live women’s conferences, church on YouTube. Unemployment is up, but so is giving and outreach and generosity.
Are these changes preferred? Some yes. Some maybe not. Some for sure no. But even when we’re vulnerable, Jesus is not. He is steady and alive and on the move and keeps on showing up. Jesus has conquered sin and death and fear. He is love and light and life.
So we’re vulnerable. We always have been. We’re human. Our bodies get sick and scraped. We have seasons of financial success and seasons where we’re pinching pennies. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever taken a tumble while on a run. And I’m guessing it won’t be my last. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. Every step I make doesn’t have to be calculated, precise, and perfect, because God’s are. It’s alright that we’re vulnerable, and that sometimes we fall, because Jesus walks beside us, picks us up when we fall, cleans out our wounds, and if we let Him get close enough with His almighty Neosporin and peroxide, heals us.
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I went rogue last week. I drove around with the tag on my car expired. Crazy, right? But I am a rule follower, and I did not like it. I watched my speedometer like my life depended on it. I overpaid the parking meter when I ran inside Kofenya to grab a coffee. My eyes spent more time on my rearview mirror than on the road. I was antsy and edgy, and it was no way to live.
People talk about wishing they didn’t have any rules, about living wild and free. But I don’t buy in to it working that way. No rules, aka driving with an expired license plate and risking a ticket is no fun at all. I felt nervous. I didn’t feel free. I felt caged in.
But today? Today I have my new plate. After two visits to the BMV (don’t get me started) I’m legal to drive on the roads. And guess what? I feel free. As. A. Bird. If I veer a couple miles over the speed limit I’m not concerned. I’ll park in any spot I choose—I don’t care who sees me. I’ve got music playing and I’m singing along. I’m not looking over my shoulder. I’m not worried. I’ve passed three cops in the last five minutes and didn’t even wince (I might wonder why so many police were out in such a small area, but I won’t worry). I have nothing to prove and nothing to hide from.
This is what it’s like to live in obedience to Jesus. Nothing to prove. Nothing to hide from. Free.
Sure, God gave us all free choice from the get-go. We can choose to go rogue on any issue and follow our whims whenever we choose. And He will still loves us. We can decide if we want to call all the shots or trust Him to guide our decisions. The first, the “on-our-own way” is like telling the government, “I’m not going to have a valid license plate. I don’t like being told what to do. It’s not convenient to go to the BMV. I can’t stand waiting in line. Plus, I’d rather hold onto that cash than spend it on a rectangular piece of metal, thank you very much. And, what are the actual odds of a police officer noticing my expired plate, and then pulling me over? They have bigger fish to fry. There are much bigger crimes. I’ll chance it. Sure, we can choose this alternative. And then we can drive around like we’re paranoid, not enjoying the ride, thinking we need to be sneaky and stealth. Putting additional pressure on ourselves. And risking a pricey fine that could have been avoided. Or in terms of real life, we can fear like we’ll be called out for our past, doubt our worth when we don’t measure up to some worldly expectation, and feel small when we don’t know what someone else is talking about.
OR… we can decide if we want to walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus, listen to Him, and follow His perfect advice—we can simply get that metaphorical license plate. Yes, some days Jesus will ask us to do something inconvenient. Yes, sometimes it will cost us time or money. Sometimes we’ll have to wait. But when we follow Jesus, we can drive around town head held high, owning the fact that we are His sons and daughters. We don’t have to look over our shoulders because of that thing we’re trying to quit or the way we feel inside or the night from our past we wish we could change. Jesus is already clued in. We don’t have to hide anything from Him. He sees us, knows, us, and fully loves us just the same. Jesus has already forgiven all our mistakes past, present, and future. Will we make a bad decision, say something out of anger, slip back into a bad habit, choose the easy way out? We will. For sure mess up. But Jesus will be there, not with sirens wailing and lights flashing, but with a hand to help us up and point us back in the right direction.
Driving with a legitimate license plate isn’t constraining—it’s freeing. It allows me to drive the roads I want to take, to get where I need to be on time, without the potential delay of being pulled over or the unbudgeted cost of a ticket or the angst of worry.
Riding through life with Jesus also isn’t restricting. It’s so incredibly liberating. He offers us love and grace and a better way. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The fruit of the Spirit implants peace in our hearts (Galatians 5:22). When we follow His call, we can turn up the tunes and enjoy the ride, because we know we are fully loved for just who we are, that we have the King of kings on our side, and that we are on a road filled with joy and freedom.
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Laura L. Smith