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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Last spring, we were driving down the back road we take to our kids’ schools to discover it was completely closed. The city decided to do something about the flooding that frequently occurred during heavy rainfall. They shut down the road and began tearing down the old bridge, which spans a creek, so they could construct a replacement bridge. The sign simply stated Bridge Out .63 miles away. It didn’t suggest alternate routes. There wasn’t anywhere to turn, but back. All this would be great for the future. Whenever that was. Which was another area of concern, because the sign didn’t say for how long. For now we couldn’t get from Point A to Point B.
Unless we found a new route.
A different course would mean change, no longer driving by rote on familiar roads on sleepy school mornings. It would also mean a few more minutes in each direction, a less direct route. But with a bit of navigation we found a series of roads that would get us from our home to the schools and back again.
The first time we saw the sign we were startled, thrown off. We had to do a U-turn and backtrack. We were later than expected to school that day. For days, we had to mentally think through our morning and afternoon routines and deliberately change our patterns. Eventually I mapped a path that worked for me. My husband went a little different way, one he preferred. And my son found a slight variation that he liked best. Sure, we had days where we forgot about the road closure, but soon we developed new routes and habits.
This happens on roads, but it also happens in life. Doors slam shut. People leave. We’re told, “no.” And the way we did things, or the way we thought we would do things is no longer an option.
Where in your life do you feel like the road is torn up? The bridge closed? Is there something or someone that has changed how you need to approach things? Rerouted your direction? Change can be disruptive. Not knowing can be unsettling.
But only if we have zero idea how things will turn out. And if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re not in that position. Granted, we might not know if we’ll find a job in that city or if the event will be a success or if we’ll get accepted. We might not know how long this life construction project will take. We might have to spend time trying this route, then that one—exploring which one feels safest, gets us where we need to go most efficiently, or has the best coffee shop along the way. We might not understand how all the details are being organized or why, but we should understand that Jesus has us covered. That He is working for good. So, although we don’t know the details, we can find peace and assurance that things will work out exactly as they should.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. –Romans 8:26-28 MSG
Bridges come and go. But Jesus? He is constant, faithful, and reliable. And when we don’t know which way to go He is the Way! He gives us the Holy Spirit to pray for us. He sees our waiting, expectant selves and stays with us, working out every single detail for good. So, why do we worry when roads close or bridges go out?
Sure, initially it’s jarring. This is where I was going. This is how I thought God wanted me get there. But, okay, it’s not anymore. Or maybe just not for right now. So what’s next?
Ask Jesus which way He wants you to go. If you don’t have the words you can picture the situation in your mind and utter the word, “help!” Or tell Him what you’re confused or frustrated about. Get it off your chest and rest in His presence. Ask Jesus to map an alternate route for you, then actually listen to what He says. If you’re not hearing anything—think through some options—lay those out before the Lord. See if you feel Him nudging you one way or another. If not, start trying the ones that feel in keeping with how He taught us to live and love. All the time trusting that Jesus is wearing His Almighty hardhat, and He’s busy at work on the construction.
Some roads get permanently shut down. I’ve seen overpasses demolished and completely replaced when engineers came up with better ramps, curves, angles, and distribution of traffic. But some bridges get rebuilt. For us, this was the case. This beautiful, wide, high bridge, with a smoother curve, allowing for much safer turns is now open to the public, including my family. It’s a gift to us, as our round trips to school and back once again became almost daily traverses.
But even if your proverbial bridge is blown up, you can trust Jesus has a better way, a more glorious route for you to take. Sometimes we have to wait. Or retrain our patterns. Sometimes we need to learn different ways of going about our lives or accept new paths altogether. But whatever the case, replacements, improvements, or complete reroutes--we can count on Jesus to work every detail out for good.
I told my son, Max, we could go somewhere crazy, fun to celebrate his senior year. Max plans to go into worship ministry, so I wasn’t surprised when he chose the Heaven Come Conferencein Dallas this past weekend. I bought conference tickets, booked flights, and reserved a rental car. I mapped out where the event was and scouted out a convenient hotel. I wanted to plan the perfect trip—make it special and memorable for my boy. Apparently God also wanted to treat Max. Everywhere we turned we were blown away by the inexplicable goodness of God.
The conference was virtually nonstop worship music and phenomenal preaching. That alone would have made for an incredible trip. The tickets were open seating, so we had no idea where we’d be able to sit. But once each session began, ushers allowed anyone to move toward the stage. Okay. All of a sudden God handed Max and I had front row tickets. We knew we were going to miss the final session, but hoped we could see Dante Bowelead worship, and I really wanted to hear Christine Cainespeak. Don’t worry. God scheduled for us to see both of them.
Why did we skip the last session? My oldest daughter, who has never been to Texas, just happened to be playing two soccer games this same weekend in Dallas. Oh, and check out the sunset God doodled in the sky that night. It was insane.
Every single thing seemed to click like that. It was like we kept winning the lottery. Only better. Because we felt God’s presence. I’d be driving along on unfamiliar highways with multiple levels of twisted ramps that resembled the highways built around the Zax in that Dr. Seuss book, and need to get over five lanes. Yikes! But no problem. There was no one behind me, and I could easily scoot sideways across the highway. Which happens to me never.
While in the merchandise shop Max spotted a worship leader he admires from a church in Dallas. What? Why was he here? Selling t-shirts? I have no idea, but we got so many hugs from this guy we lost count. Walking through the lobby, we spotted another accomplished worship leader just hanging out in his flannel. Max got to chat songwriting and worship with him as if they were old friends.
It wasn’t just us. This was happening left and right around us. Friday there was a tremendous storm in Dallas that closed the airport. It took place while we were inside, so we never had to drive in it, stand in it, or even get wet. But it did stop the Friday night speaker from flying in. No worries. John Bevere, who had preached the night before couldn’t get out, so although not on the schedule, he came back and preached his guts out, in a way that moved possibly every one of the 6,000 people in attendance.
I’m leaving out a dozen other blessings—milkshakes in our parking lot, Starbucks in our lobby, an exit out of the parking lot opened right before our eyes, the free autographed poster we got handed, the fastest rental car check out and return I’ve ever experienced, and the loveliest people everywhere we turned.
Conference over, but still in Dallas, we headed to church Sunday morning. On the way Max mentioned one of his favorite worship leaders is Sean Feucht. As we waited for service to begin, in walks Sean. Yes, he’d been part of our conference, but it was totally unrelated to this church. He lives in California. Oh, and he was the guest preacher that morning. Get out!
For all the things I wanted to plan for my son, I couldn’t have prearranged any of this. There is not one thing I could have done on my own to ensure he could speak one-on-one to leaders who would encourage him to pursue his passion, that we would be in the perfect places at perfect times, or get platinum treatment with general admission tickets. But God could. And did. It’s how He operates.
Sure, I have days where I feel the opposite is true. Where it feels like everything goes wrong. I wake up with a migraine, one of my kids and I have a spat before they leave for school, and I can’t find my phone. Or keys. When I finally get everything rounded up I start my car, and realize I don’t have my bags for the grocery. And even though I’ve only allotted twenty minutes to dart into the store before I get to Bible study, my fuel light is on. Argh! But the thing is, God is with us on those days, too. He’s reminding us to grab our phone and bags before we leave. He’s whispering in our ears to slow down, take a deep breath that He loves us and is with us. The delay to find our keys or stop for gas might enable us to bump into that perfect person or keep us from getting into a fender bender. We rarely see all of the beautiful details God is orchestrating. But He always is. Do we have our eyes open?
You see, just like I want my kids’ lives to be filled with love and joy, God wants that for them (and us) even more! God is a good good Father, and He loves us perfectly. He is working everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He’s planning V.I.P. treatments, doors to open, people for us to meet at places and times we could never expect or concoct on our own.
This sometimes means breakups with the wrong person, because they weren’t right for us, not getting one job to find a better one, losing a lease, because God has a roommate that will help us cling to Jesus set up in a different apartment, or a place that will save us money, or where we’ll literally be able to sleep better at night. We can’t see all of His glorious ways. But we can trust that He is on the move.
Being at a conference where we were focused on Jesus, Max and I had our eyes wide open to God’s blessings. Not surprisingly, this made it easy to identify gift upon gift upon gift from the Lord. But the blessings are always there. Even in our storms, God is watering dry ground, preparing it for new growth. We just need to keep our hearts and eyes open. Where do you see Jesus blessing you today? Take a moment to thank Him for His abundant presence and presents.
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.
On winter days in high school if I wanted to see on the way to school, which I did, I needed to exit my house five minutes earlier, turn on my ignition, blast the front and rear defrosters to hot and high, and start the back and forth motions with my plastic scraper against my windows. Because every night winter frost decorated my windshield with delicate, icy crystals. Although I griped about standing outside in below freezing weather, the crisp air actually did wonders to wake me. And the effort was worth it, because the combination of my scraping and the car blowing warmth on the glass, cleared the windows, and I could drive safely and confidently to school (well sort of confidently…I’m not that strong a driver).
I see this in my life, too. Each morning I wake to an alarm, and barely take time to yawn before diving into what needs to be accomplished in the next forty-five minutes—fix five breakfasts, dole out vitamins, get out lunch boxes, write and insert notes, and double check everyone has what they need (the $1 for an out of uniform day, the friend’s jacket left at our house). Nothing hard, but a lot of moving parts for a short amount of time. My brain cranks on rapid fire and starts to stress, worry, and fuss--one of my kids seems down, are they okay? Why can’t I find my wallet? Where did I put it? Dang, we’re out of milk, which means I need to go to the store today, even though I was just there last night. Why didn’t I remember?
Crystals of concern begin to cover the windshield of my faith. By the time my kids head out to school, my head is cluttered and has limited visibility. Does this happen to you? Is there a time of day that’s crazy, where there is so much juggling you lose sight of love, peace, and patience?
We need to scrape it all off, so we can see Jesus again. So, we can see how much He loves us, has perfect plans for us, and promises to always stay at our sides, so we can see our true reflections. In the silence after my kids scurry, I pull out my Bible and journal, read and write until my mental windshield is clear again, until I’m ready to put my foot to the pedal and truly start my day. Because it’s only by starting with Jesus, that we have a clearer view of who we are, where we are going, and what truly matters.
Do you have any crystals cluttering the windshield of your faith? What are they?
What can you do this morning to scrape them off, before driving into your day?
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
This week my gorgeous friend, Shena, is stepping in and guest blogging. Shena is a wife and mom who is breaking into a calling of discipleship and teaching. She hopes always to chase the beauty of obedience and to stir a generation to see God's kindness. Shena and I could sit for hours drinking coffee, talking about Jesus, and discussing books. After reading her inspiring words check her out here: ShenaAshcraft.com and follow her here: instagram.com/shenaashcraft/
Take it Shena....
There are twelve miles of wide-open road between my house and my church. Speed limit 45. Along that route, there's a bend in the road where I click the Jeep's cruise control down a few miles per hour to match the limit posted on the sign. In that bend, I can assume there will be a county Sherriff's deputy tucked in among the brush and rubble of an abandoned restaurant. He might be running radar or filing paperwork. Either way, his presence slows me down. The black and gold colors remind me of what I already know: The speed limit's 45, Shena! Slow. your. roll.
By the time I cross paths with Mr. Sherriff's Deputy, I'm all ten-and-two, eyes-on-the-road, doin'-the-speed-limit. Thank you very much. Because I know he's there. I know he's checking my obedience. And, hello, I don't want to get a ticket on my way to CHURCH!
Whether I'm going to a mid-week Bible study or Sunday Church Day, I get to church ticket-free (so far). And I get there fast. Because I love it. I crave church. I'm better because of it. I'm not better in the ten-and-two-driving-past-the-deputy sense of the word. I'm certainly not what some would call "better behaved"; because something about church and God's word and gathering with these folks makes me feisty, and energetic, and a bit unbridled. Actually, I think church makes me more like me. More like the me God created.
Recently, my church hosted a mid-week worship and prayer night. I was there alone. My husband and son were not flanking my sides as they do on Sundays. (I feel God so purely when the three of us worship together.) But that evening I was solo. And late. And the band was passionately quiet, singing "Do it Again." The reality of the lyrics settled into my heart. "Your promise still stands. Great is Your faithfulness. I'm still in Your hands. This is my confidence, You've never failed me yet." Thank you, Jesus, for your faithfulness.
The song ended and we were prompted to pray with the people we came with. Or, in my case, the other late-comers seated behind me--two lovely mamas whom I adore. We chatted and hugged and uncharacteristically went to our knees. Kneeling in a triangle, holding each others' hands, we prayed. I listened to the honey-sweet testimony of a child healed from infection. We prayed thanksgiving. I heard the heart-aching plea for God to show himself as kind and near. We prayed for revelation. I shared how good and clear God had been in answering my prayers. We prayed nothing. I couldn't speak.
After the service, sitting in my car preparing for the 12-mile drive home, I realized my heart had been stirred. My faith had grown. Testimonies and vulnerabilities and encouragements. These things had grown me. It's not the first time. It happens frequently. Meeting like that, in a building where other Jesus-followers are meeting, moves my introverted feet forward in my faith.
In Hebrews 10, the author describes how life changed for God's people once Jesus came. When Jesus died on the cross, he cleared away our sins (all of them!) and then laid a path for us to draw up close to God. Then the author says, basically (my paraphrase), "Do it. Draw near and hold onto hope!" Then in verses 24 and 25 he says: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
How kind of this friend of the Hebrews to say, "Hey, don't you forget about each other. Think about how you can support and encourage and love your fellow Christians to love better and act better. Let them do the same for you. And, by the way, you can only do this well if you're seeing them, meeting with them."
That is what I witnessed that evening at church and many days before and since! The closeness of meeting together stirred me up and spurred me on toward love and right actions. Other days, friends have come alongside to straighten my path, post a speed limit, gently call me out of my disobedience (or more likely my disbelief).
Years ago I traveled that stretch of going-to-church road to spend time studying the book of Hebrews with a woman whose example I admired greatly. One conversation wound about, per usual, from Bible study-ing to wife-ing, to mom-ing. Our chat landed on the little hurts I was letting fester. And over hot tea and honey, knees pulled up on the couch, she told me (and these are my words of her gentle reprimand) I was wrong and impulsive in my reactions to small offenses. She pointed me to Scripture that said I should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" because "human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires." (James 1:19-20) She encouraged me to spend the next week studying and praying about what God has to say about covering minor offenses in love.
God did a sweet, chiseling work in that "meeting together" with a woman wiser and bolder than I. He used her to tell me to slow down, to know God's truth, and act in obedience. Then He planted that time she and I spent together in my memory. It became the kinder, less intimidating deputy reminding of what I already knew: Slow to anger, Shena! Choose love.
In growing closer to God, I can study alone. I can hear the voice of God in His scriptures. I can feel His presence through prayer. But I travel the distance to meet together because, as a believer, I am placed on both sides of the Hebrews 10 passage. I meet to be encouraged and to offer encouragement. To be stirred and to stir. I need to hear and I need to say, "Be encouraged, grow your faith. And, Girl, sometimes, slow. your. roll."
Who are your "meet together" folks? Can you sense the position you fill when you meet together with other believers? I pray you can. Do you know there's a gap left when you don't? I pray you'll step into it.
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
I’ve been through enough spring soccer seasons by now to expect two things—inclimate weather and parking challenges. So there was no surprise as I pulled into a park along with a herd of SUV’s decorated with various soccer club stickers on Sunday and parking was, well, non existent.
I dropped my daughter and her friend near their field. I was thrilled when not too far down I spied a space wide enough I could pull into, despite my pathetic parking skills. Miraculously no one was coming the other way, so I was even able to back in allowing for a chance to escape after the game. Sure, it was on a slant. But there was a line of cars parked on the same hill. Certainly they all wouldn’t have parked here if it would be an issue. You see where this is going.
Immediately my brain asked, “Should I stay? Should I try to move? But where would I go? How long would it take to get out? I’d have to maneuver through the throng of tournament traffic in hopes of finding another space, if I could even find one. It might be a twenty minute walk from the field.” So I got out, locked the car, and grabbed my umbrella. Because it was pouring.
I found my way to the sidelines. Soon the refs blew their shrill whistles. The girls ran, passed, shot. The rain pelted harder. Voices couldn’t be heard over the wind. Fans withdrew to the bubbles of their umbrellas. My mind tried to focus on the game, but was unsettled. I was going to have to get help. I would need to find a man, maybe two, to push my vehicle up that slope. What if when I stepped on the gas my car flew up the hill so fast it hit another car?
The downpour turned to hail. The wind blew over team tents, folding chairs, and I swear I saw Ms. Gulch fly by on her bike. It was surreal. Why were all these people standing outside in a storm? We all know it’s best to seek shelter in this kind of weather. Why were the girls still playing? And bless their hearts, they were playing full out. And what was I going to do about my car? I stood halted in a bad situation, feeling helpless to change or fix it. I felt frozen.
I like to be able to fix things, do things, help people. I wanted the girls to be warm. I wanted the wind to be still and the rain to stop. I wanted to be able to pull my car right out when the game was over, yes for me, but also for the girls, for the other cars around, so I wouldn’t cause a ruckus, so I wouldn’t have to ask anyone for help.
But that’s not how life works. We don’t get all the things we want. Things don’t always go our way. Sometimes we’re caught in a storm. Sometimes we can’t control part or any of our circumstances. We need help. All of us. Even when we don’t know exactly what we need or how to ask for it. And when we’re stuck, the only option is to cry out to Jesus. Because you know what I like to do? Everything. You know what I can do without Jesus. Nothing.
The game felt like it was in slow motion. Suddenly horns blew, echoing through the air. It took a minute for them to register. The players sprinted off the fields and took cover under a small picnic shelter. Shivering parents smushed under the lone tent that hadn’t been upturned by the wind.
One dad asked, “Is that your car on that steep incline?”
“Uh, yeah,” I half-laughed. “Not good. I am so going to need help.”
“Which car?” another dad asked. Someone explained to him. “We’ll get you out,” he nodded.
And just like that I had a crew of angels. It hadn’t been hard to ask. It hadn’t been worth the worry that had been needling my brain for forty-five minutes. Although I wasn’t out yet.
Thankfully, the game ended up being called due to the storm. As soon as we got the official word I spoke up, “You guys ready to give a girl a hand?” No joke, a group of men, took my key, followed me to my car, and went to work. They treated me with the care and respect they would have given their own wives. Two men I’d never seen before, who were dads from other teams, joined in. It wasn’t easy. But it was an adventure. Tires hissing and spinning. Mud flying. Car slipping. Everyone having to run out of the way. And then. It was on the road, free, safe, and clear because of nothing I’d done, except ask.
I am so grateful to all these lovely men who stepped up to help me, even though they had zero obligation to do so. They didn’t expect me to go push their cars in return. They didn’t write out IOUs for rides for their daughters or gift certificates to Soccer Village. They just helped.
You all, this is how a relationship with Jesus works. I’m a mess who can’t park a car, who parks in the stupidest spot, who stresses about it. And then I ask for help. Because there’s truly no other way. And the words come easier than I imagine. And Jesus, says, “I’ll get you out of this.” Sure, I might get a little muddy in the process. I might have to wait and trust while the car grinds and the outcome looks uncertain. But when Jesus is behind the wheel, the result is never in question. It’s always in the best hands. And suddenly, due to nothing I’ve done on my own, I’m on track again, facing front, ready to move forward. I don’t have to pay anything. There’s not anything expected of me. I am filled with gratitude.
This is my daily life. There is no other choice, but to call out to Jesus. Because without Him, I’m a helpless girl spinning my wheels and flinging mud. Will you join me? Call out to Him today. He loves you so much. And is just waiting to help you get going.
I positively love the beautiful little college town we live in. But this summer it has been attacked by the construction army. I cannot turn right out of or park in my neighborhood. One of the three main roads going through our small town has been closed all summer, and the route leading south out of town to where all of our soccer practices take place has been limited to one lane since June.
The crews are frantically trying to finish up. The college students and their parents will arrive in two weeks, and unless roads are open and running they won’t know which way to go.
For me, it’s been slightly inconvenient, but not a huge deal. I’ve had to plan my trips. How to get from here to there? is the question I keep asking myself. And since I’ve lived in Oxford for sixteen years I do know where to go. I know I can go a mile north out of my way, cruise parallel to the road I want to take, head back south a mile and end up on my normal route. I know that even though it’s near impossible to get to one of the houses we carpool with for soccer, there is a parking lot both families can get to as a meeting point. I know this, not because I’m a good driver. I’m not. Not because I have a good sense of direction. I might have the worst. I know this, because I’ve spent enough time here to know my town.
My life is undergoing a little bit of construction too.
How about yours?
My oldest daughter is going off to college. My oldest son is learning to drive. Both of which create all kinds of letting go, releasing, and reacclimating. There’s also some roadwork within our extended family—health issues, relationship problems. We all go through changes, some of them more painful than others. My issues are minor—a lane closure, no edge lines. I’m sure many of you have the same or much worse—barricaded sections of your life, some roads permanently altered, some bridges torn down. I’m sorry times are difficult. Please know I’m praying for you.
So how do we get around when our normal routes are shut down? When we have to change the way we do things or get places? When the roads of life are harder or impossible to travel? Not by ourselves. Because frankly, I’m not wise enough to have all the answers, strong enough to walk through all the hard stuff, or patient enough to get from A to B by myself. But with Jesus, I can do all that. And so can you.
By knowing Jesus so well that even when we have no idea where to turn, we can trust Him to show us which way to go. By knowing how much He loves us and cares for us and walks with us that we know we’re never alone. By knowing how strong and capable He is, how He can literally move mountains or anything else in our life that needs moved. By knowing Jesus is for us, fighting for us, that He wants us to come out safe and sound.
The more I read the Bible, the better I understand what Jesus is capable of, how immense He is, and how much grace He extends. The more time I spend talking with Him, the more I feel the power of His love, the guidance of His hand, the reassurance of His presence. And then all of a sudden, maneuvering through life construction is more manageable.
The construction in Oxford will be winding down soon. Over the next two weeks cones, barricades, and strong workers in orange vests will disappear. The locals will sigh in relief. The students and their families will marvel at the pretty brick streets, the freshly painted lines, and the lovely planters lining the roads. And for a while, driving around here will feel simple. But next summer there will be new projects to make sure our town remains picturesque. I’ll be ready. Because by then, I’ll have had yet another year to learn my way around this place.
And in my life and yours, some things will work themselves out, others will go away. But some will flare up and expand. There will be new bumps and trials we’ll go through and experience. And the better we know Jesus, the better we’ll be able to navigate through all of them.
Pulling out of the small parking lot after consuming the most ridiculous cappuccinos (so large, they were served in bowls) and an incredible brunch at Marche, my dear friend, Amy, and I couldn’t help but notice the head, shoulders and torso of a man emerging from a dumpster. Bedraggled and unshaven, he leaned over and rummaged around the trash searching for…something.
The decadent crêpe I’d just demolished, laced with apricots and dark chocolate, felt heavy in my stomach. My heart felt even heavier in my chest.
“What’s he looking for?” Amy asked, “food?”
“Probably,” I sighed, “so sad.”
“So sad,” she echoed, while clicking on her blinker and turning down the narrow alleyway. I’m not from Nashville, and even if I was, I have no sense of direction, so I allowed my mind to pray for the man while Amy drove. But only for about a minute and a half, because then she pulled into a minimart, shoved her car into park, and shouted to me, as she jumped out of her running car, “Be back in a minute.”
She could have needed Advil or gum; maybe she needed to pick up something for her boys. As promised she was back in in less than sixty seconds with a bag, but it wasn’t full of sundries. It was jammed with food. For the man.
“You’re amazing,” I said to her, as she turned back towards the dumpster.
“He was hungry. I had a couple of dollars,” she said. “It won’t fix anything, but at least he won’t be hungry today.”
When the dumpster came back into view, the man had vacated. But he hadn’t gone far. We spotted him pushing his abandoned grocery cart filled with smashed aluminum cans. Amy rolled down the window, and the man spoke first, “Just collecting my cans,” as if we chatted all the time and he was just giving us an update. Amy handed him the bag, told him to have a great day, and we drove off, just like that. You should have seen the beautiful smile on his weathered face. Amy was wrong. It had fixed something, maybe not his cycle of poverty, or his need for sustainable income, but it had changed his perspective of himself.
For a moment on a Wednesday in October, my friend showed this man his true reflection, not in a mirror, but in a bag of peanuts and crackers. She showed him he was noticed, he was worthy, that he deserved brunch just as much as we did, and that he didn’t deserve to have to rummage through a trash heap to find it or to gather enough cans to finance it. She showed him that somebody cared.
And in showing this man his true reflection, Amy’s true beauty played a beautiful melody throughout Music City, her own beautiful reflection beaming bright.
In one of my favorite childhood shows, Fraggle Rock, the Fraggles sought insight from Marjory the Trash Heap. “I’m orange peels, I’m coffee grounds, I’m wisdom!” she proclaimed.
On this day, I also found unexpected wisdom from a trash heap. I’m not sure if the man was knee deep in orange peels, but I’m pretty sure after experiencing the cappuccinos at Marche that there were coffee grounds. Because my sweet friend Amy could see that this man was a beautiful creation in Christ, she was able to remind him that he was. And in so doing, in offering love, she showed the world what true beauty looks like.
Do you remember Fraggle Rock? Do you remember any of the wisdom from the Trash Heap? Do you know someone whose true reflection shines? Let me know about them. I’d love to highlight them on my blog.
Laura L. Smith