Have you seen the movie The Adam Project? Without spoiling anything it’s about a forty-year old pilot who travels back in time in an attempt to save the world from some nasty tyranny. In the process he encounters his twelve-year-old self. Because it’s time travel, there are rules about not interfering with the past, but there are some things that forty-year-old Adam really wants twelve-year-old Adam to know. It’s my birthday today, and I’m feeling reflective. I’m wondering what would I tell twelve-year-old Laura if I could?
What would I tell myself in sixth grade? The girl with the giant glasses and braces and frizzy hair whose Dad had left again? The girl who believed all her friends were prettier and cooler and more interesting than her? The girl who believed her brother was smarter and more talented than her? The girl who loved books and learning and school and ballet, but hated the fact that those things made her brainy and nerdy and not like everyone else?
What would you tell your twelve-year-old self?
Would you believe you?
Gosh, there’s so much I would want to tell junior high Laura (starting with suggesting some curl cream and highlights). I’d tell her that Jesus loved her so much that He would never leave her, even if other people she loved did. I’d tell her that Jesus knew everything that was going on in her life and in her heart, and that it was safe to tell Him anything and everything. He wouldn’t think she was weird or silly or make fun of her. He loved her just how she was. But I don’t know if telling her would actually mess things up, if it would prevent her from some of the things she had to learn by trying, experiencing, crying, failing, getting back up again, and somehow getting through, gaining insight, and growing in the process.
There was an interesting plot twist in The Adam Project, not where the older Adam is talking to the younger Adam, but where their Dad is talking to them. The dad goes on and on saying, “I love you. No, I really love you. I want you to understand how much I love you. I’m so proud of you. I want you to believe me, I love you.” Or something to that effect.
This is the part that did me in.
What is way more valuable than what I would tell my younger self is what God, my Heavenly Dad, my Creator, the One who makes rain fall from the sky and grows plants from the ground would tell me, what He was telling me then, and is telling me now, and is telling you, but that was and is so hard to hold onto in this world of ours.
Jesus would tell twelve-year-old me, and fifty-four-year old me, and my kids, and my friends, and everyone reading this the same thing. He would say, “No matter what other people think of you, or even what you think of you, I love you and chose you even before I made the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
God would go on and on like the dad in that movie saying, “I love you. I made you exactly how you are on purpose and I think you’re really amazing, actually breathtaking. I love that you’re… shy/loud/artistic/athletic/a thinker/a doer/someone who enjoys that kind of music or food or art or books or activities/chatty/quiet/logical/a dreamer… all of it. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I gave my very life for you, because I want to be with you always. I’m never leaving you. No matter what you did or do. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Today I turn fifty-four. This is my present to me and to you. This reminder that the thing Jesus most wants us to know is that He loves us. He tells us over and over again in Scripture and if His words weren’t enough and we had some doubts, He died for us. Talk about all-in love. Walk around like you believe this today. In your conversations and interactions, in your work and your play, when you’re alone or with others, live as if you are fully loved for exactly who you are.
Because you are.
Believe down to your bones not just in a theoretical God, but a living, active Savior who loves you desperately. Your self worth is wrapped in Him and not of this world. Part of me wants to shake twelve-year-old Laura and tell her this. But she eventually learned it. These days I’m trying to hold onto this truth and live it out every day. Join me?
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My Favorite Reads of 2022
I made some progress in my to-read stack this year, but every time I took one book off, more seemed to multiply in its place. Which is wonderful, because bring on ALL the books! I usually give you my “best” books in a couple of categories each January, but it’s so hard to pick “best” when there are so many grand books. So this year, I’m just going to share some of my favorites.
I discovered a new author, Clare Pooley. Her writing is honest and authentic. My daughter loaned me her copy of The Authenticity Project, which I devoured and loved so much I went on to read Pooley’s other novel Iona Iverson’s Rules of Commuting. It was so good I bought a copy for my girl. Both books give glimpses of a variety of individual’s lives that collide under a set of unusual circumstances. Their interactions remind us that everyone has value and deserves to be seen, and that first impressions don’t tell the real story.
I dove into Charles Martin’s third book in his Murphy Shepherd series, The Record Keeper. I raved about the first two last year here ). The Record Keeper was. So. Good. In this trilogy Martin exposes the detestable sex trafficking industry throughout the plot raising awareness of the heinous crimes being committed against young people. But it is the journeys of healing the characters travel that are the gold nuggets here. They remind us that there is hope and redemption for us all. Read these books starting with #1. Allow the stories to roll over you. Breathe them in and believe that the healing grace offered the characters is available for you, too. Because it is.
I'm trying to broaden my Midwestern white girl perspective. Two books that helped this year were I Take My Coffee Black by Tyler Merritt and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The social justice work Bryan Stevenson does and shares in Just Mercy is beautiful, hard, life-changing work. As Rosa Parks told Bryan when they met, "You're going to be tired, tired tired. So you're going to need to be brave, brave, brave."
I learned so much about systemic racism, the prison system, death row, and humanity on these pages. Bryan is so bravely loving His neighbors, taking back ground for God's kingdom, and saving and changing people's lives (Just Mercy is also a powerful movie).
Tyler Merritt is funny, smart, creative, full of faith and warm-hearted. He weaves important, historical information on systemic racism throughout his personal narrative. Merritt honestly steps into hard life situations, but always bounces back to the love and grace of Jesus. Tyler also loves all things Hamilton and almost every genre of music, which is an added bonus. For a glimpse of Tyler’s work watch his YouTube video, “If Only She Knew”
As usual, this year I spent a lot of time reading my favorite book–the Bible. I mostly hung out in the Old Testament (with extra time in the Psalms) but also had an extended stay in Ephesians, plus frequent dips into the Gospels. I read books on faith and Jesus and the Bible. I absolutely loved Shauna Niequist’s I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet. I read more World War II Historical Fiction set in France, like Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah, because, please, I cannot resist. I also enjoyed a couple of fun romances by Betsy St. Amant like All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, because I have a sweet tooth for romance. You can find my reviews on everything I remembered to review on my Goodreads profile.
Other favorites of the year?
Music wise, I listened to Lion by Elevation Worship on repeat. Shows? Our family discovered a new series on Disney Plus, National Treasure: Edge of History we’re all enjoying. My favorite movies of the year were Redeeming Love, the film adaptation of Francine Rivers’ novel about the book of Hosea and ultimately God’s love for each of us, and Top Gun: Maverick, the follow up to the 80’s classic, full of fighting for what’s good and right, never leaving your wing man, plus a little romance sprinkled in. I also got new running shoes–I switched to Hokas and this running girl’s knees are so thankful! And last but not least, my mom got me to try a new mascara. Thrive, which goes on and off differently than any mascara I’ve ever tried, was super weird at first, and now I’m in love. Plus Thrive Causemetics donates money to great causes to help people suffering from domestic abuse, homelessness, cancer, etc. with every purchase. Win win.
How about you? What books, music, shoes, new things did you discover in 2022? What’s on your reading list for 2023? Leave a comment–I’m always looking for more books to add to my stack.
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5 Steps for a Flourishing Fall
I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz on display. The shoes are iconic. Even though Dorothy’s charmed slippers were silver in Frank L. Baum’s book, they were changed to a spectacular ruby red for one of the first major motion pictures to be filmed in color. And Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives me goosebumps every time. But I believe this pair of shoes is considered a piece of American History because of Dorothy’s story.
If you recall, Dorothy is a farm girl living in Kansas wishing for a more spectacular life. When a tornado blows through her farm, she gets hit in the head and has a fantastical dream about going to the land of Oz. In Oz she is instructed to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”. It is along this road that Dorothy meets three friends, all of who are critical in figuring out who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, when she should step up, when she needs to ask for help, what she is capable of, what she truly wants, and how to get there.
That’s what we all want--isn’t it? Directions on how to get from where we are to where we hope we’ll be? The right people to help us get there? A better understanding of what our heart’s desires actually are? And once we’ve figured that out, we want to know how to find those heart’s desires--how to act and ask for assistance and use our gifts and rely on others to find them.
Those ruby slippers that walked and danced along the yellow bricks are kept on display, because they are symbolic of our own life’s journeys and the steps we’re taking.
But we don’t need jeweled heels or someone to paint our sidewalks and Instafeeds canary yellow. We have the God of the Universe. The Psalms repeat this refrain to us, of a God who leads the way to a life better than we’ve ever imagined.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he may fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.--Psalm 37:23-24
Our steps are established. So if you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up” or if you’ll ever get married or if you should move or start your own business or retire or stay awhile longer, you can be assured that the God of the Universe has already established your steps. He knows what happens in your next chapter. If you have three choices, God knows how things will go if you pick A, B, or C. Don’t worry, He’s going to guide you along the way, nudging you to select the choice He knows is best for you. Just like Dorothy saw a sign that read, ”I’d turn back if I were you” and met the Scarecrow to help her think through things, God will give you signs and introduce you to wise friends who can help you discern God’s ultimate route for you.
Verse 5 of this same Psalm says, “Give God the right to direct your life,
and as you trust him along the way,
you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” TPT
If we trust Him--God pulls it off perfectly! I love that.
But what if we pick the wrong route? Or don't trust God’s signs or nudges? Unfortunately sometimes I want an answer now, and force-fit a decision into my timetable or parameters. What then? Are we lost in the woods to be locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle forever?
Because our God loves us too much for that.
Even if we choose differently, God holds our hands and helps us get back on track if we’ll let Him. The Psalms remind us of this truth over and over again:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.--Psalm 40:2
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.-Psalm 23:3
When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.-Psalm 118:5
Life throws a lot of questions our way. Some days it feels like we’ll never know if we should accept that offer or turn it down, start dating again or take a break, apply for that position or the other one, keep quiet or speak up? But God has already ordered our steps and wants to lead us in paths of righteousness, put us in spacious places, lift us up, and hold our hands along the way.
So what are we waiting for? What are we worried about? All we have to do to find our heart’s greatest desires is not follow the yellow brick road, but follow Jesus. He’ll lead us to joy, love, grace, and freedom.
For more on the Psalms discover my new book Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms
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My kids love Chex Mix. But one is allergic to gluten which rules out the pretzels and wheat Chex in the classic recipe and another is allergic to nuts, which also rules out the peanuts. But does that stop us? Of course not. We use only corn and rice squares (no wheat), gluten free pretzels, sub out Fritos for peanuts, because they’re also salty and crunchy and nut and gluten free. And my kids devour it! Who said we have to follow the recipe?
And yet, as we walk around in life we get so stuck on the recipes of this world. I remember the social comparisons of parenting when our kiddos were little, the constant questions from other parents. Are your kids taking swim lessons? Enrolled for preschool? Which preschool? Signed up for Little League? Are you taking them to the egg hunt? How about pictures with the Easter Bunny uptown? And if we answered, “no.” The response was, “Ummm..why not?”
None of those are bad questions. I’m sure I asked many-a-parent similar questions. But my kids and your kids don’t have to do all those things, all the same things–especially if it doesn’t make sense for that child or your family. Turns out the common recipe for the average American is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Christians get this pressure, too, unintentionally from well-meaning friends or church members. Did you sign your kids up for vacation Bible school? Are you volunteering at VBS? Are you in a Bible study? Are you mentoring someone on a weekly basis? Again, great questions. All good ideas and activities for some people some of the time, but not if they wear you thin, conflict with something else God is calling you to, or don’t make sense in your current situation.
Jesus wants what’s best for YOU, not what’s best for your neighbor or your cousin or their kids. We see this in John 1 when Jesus is initially gathering some of His disciples.
And so it is with us.
Whoever believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. -John 1:12
Jesus will invite some of us to learn more, to investigate, to come and see. To others He’ll rename us–taking us out of something, and into something totally new. You used to be rejected, Jesus says, “Now you’re loved and accepted. You used to be alone, now He tells you, “I’ll be with you always.” And to others of us, Jesus says, “Hey, I see you. I saw what happened, what you went through, what you’re currently struggling with. I understand. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I love you.” And on any given day or week or season of life, Jesus might do something completely different for us. But it’s definitely not by a standard recipe.
As we walk about our days let’s not be afraid to go a little bit rogue, to swap corn chips for nuts, to say, “no,” to this, or “yes” to that, even if none of our friends or family or neighbors are or aren’t doing it. Let’s keep chatting with Jesus on a daily basis. Let’s walk in the freedom Jesus offers us–freedom to be our true selves, the people He created us to be, not like “him” or “her” or “them” or someone confined to a recipe on the back of a box. Because Jesus offers us so much more.
And…if you’re looking for a fun, free Bible study to do by yourself or with your group this summer, I teamed up with some amazing Bible teachers last year to put together Summer in the Psalms. God welcomes emotional honesty for the gift that it is: a step towards deeper intimacy with Him. In this 5-week study )complete with workbook and videos) we share a few of our favorite psalms and invite you to pray and process with us in God’s presence. Welcome. For free access to the study click HERE.
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The work of being a writer for me consists of most days sitting in my writing nook and well, writing. I’ll also read and pray and answer emails, but most of it is writing and rewriting and rewriting. For weeks and months. Without anybody else seeing what I’m writing or asking about what I’m writing. With nothing to show the world. The most exciting days are when I get an email from my agent or an editor about a brand new project or a development on a project I’m working on.
I have a book releasing in July which I’m super excited about, but I’ve turned it in and gone through all the edits. My part is mostly complete until launch time. I have a new project that’s due about the same time the book I mentioned releases. I won’t hear from my agent or editor on either book until summer. What’s next is me being disciplined and writing this next book for Jesus. Word by word. Story by story, or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird by Bird.”
But wanting to know the next “what’s next” bubbles up some days. A weird, it’s a new year-ish, should I be revamping my website, dreaming up new projects, planning something else? Maybe. So today I was asking God again, “Is there something else you want me to be doing (this is always a great question to ask)? Is there another project or idea I should be working on for Your kingdom? Do you want me to write a new Bible study? Teach a new Bible study?” And I got that tug inside to check my email, but the tug wasn’t from God. It was from me thinking and from culture reminding me I “needed” to be doing something new. Maybe the answer was waiting for me online? But I sensed God simply answer, “today.” As in, God wants me to do today.
Today. What does God want you to do today?
God reminded me that already this morning there had been a beautiful worship gathering at our home. “I wanted you to open your door for that and be present for it. It didn’t involve books or emails or projects. It involved living today and worshiping Me.” God also reminded me that I’d had coffee with a friend. We’d talked about our faith and jobs and relationships and what we were reading and God’s faithfulness. God told me, “That coffee date was living for Me. Where two or more are gathered I am there. This was something I wanted you to do today.”
What’s on your schedule?
I don’t know what you’re checking your email or texts or actual metal mailbox at the curb for today. An acceptance letter? A job offer? A check? An invitation? A referral? A grade? A result? Those are all super awesome things to look forward to. And God loves for us to get excited about the plans He has for us and the places He’s taking us. And just for the record, He does have ginormous fabulous plans for you! He doesn’t want us to be complacent and just let life happen. However, He also doesn’t want us to waste our time longing for the what ifs, the maybes, and the as soon as…God created this day–THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.
Will you join me?
God reminded me that kingdom work is what we’re doing right now, today– the conversation with your neighbor or roommate or classmate or sister. It’s stopping to praise Jesus for the delicate snowflakes dancing through the air. It’s texting the friend who isn’t feeling well and asking how they’re doing or taking them soup or praying for their healing. It’s bending over to help the person who just dropped something gather up their belongings or paying attention to the two hours of video training for your job or cheering for your teammates or vacuuming so your home will feel clean and safe for whoever walks through your doors. For me, it was that gathering, that coffee, and now it’s writing this blog, sitting down at my desk and typing the words, word by word. Then it’s off to my kids’ indoor track meet and cheering them on. This is all kingdom work. It doesn’t get better than this–than real life–than this beautiful everyday life God gifted us with.
Because this is what we do–God’s children. We walk this earth flooded in His love and try to pass some of the abundance of that love back out to others. It doesn’t have to be BIG and SPLASHY and newsworthy, although sometimes it is and that’s fun, too. We just have to be present. To God. And to what He’s doing. And when we focus on making the most of the class we need to attend or the food we need to prep, when we do it out of love for ourselves or others, then we are doing kingdom work, we are making a difference, we are moving forward. And when something new does come our way, we’re called to step into it the exact same way. By being present. By living that day and that idea and that opportunity to its fullest. One beautiful step at a time.
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Go, Tell it on the Mountain
I’m deep in edits and on a deadline, so I decided instead of skipping sending you a blog this week, I’d send a free chapter (a Christmas one, of course) from my book How Sweet the Sound. However busy your Christmas routine and year end to-dos have you, I pray you can take a moment to hear the sweet, sweet sound, of our Savior's amazing grace.
“I need You,” my son’s vocal coach’s harmony mingles with my son’s melody. I’m in the other room with a novel I brought to read during his lesson. The pages sit open on my lap, but I’m not reading. I can’t. The song they’re sing- ing, "Whole Heart” by Hillsong United, is too beauti- ful, too magnetic, and pulls me out of my book and into the lyrics. Last week his teacher said to us as we were leaving, “That is such a powerful song. I can’t get it out of my head.”
Did I mention his teacher is not a Christian?
And yet, this song about Jesus restoring our brokenness through His grace is stuck in her head. She’s singing it out loud, over and over. Words about clinging to the rock, about being made whole—an anthem so fitting for this wonderful woman.
Her husband passed away a few years ago. I’m not sure how old she is. In her fifties? Too young to be widowed. Any age is too young to be widowed. And she lives in the beautiful home they built together, teaching music because it’s her passion. She is kind and encouraging and every flavor of loveliness, but she doesn’t know Jesus.
She’s shared with me how much she misses her husband, how difficult it is. And then my son (I’m actually going to assume it was the Spirit prompting my son) picks this song as the piece he wants to work on. A song about Jesus pulling us upright when we’re too weak to stand.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
That’s why I can’t read today—can’t pull myself away from the marvel of a woman learning about Jesus, experiencing who He is, feeling the tug of His love. My eyes are closed. Still a tear leaks out of the right corner and glides down my cheek.
This is what sharing the gospel looks like—beautiful, moving, real. There’s an old spiritual that was passed among the plantations in the South called “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
Jesus calls us to this. His final conversation with the disciples (recorded in Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8) is Jesus instructing them (and now us) to tell the whole world about Him.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NLT)
Telling the whole earth about Jesus, over the hills and everywhere, sounds difficult, especially in our do-it-your-self culture. Where do we start? With whom? When? Under what circumstances?
Heck, even acquiring and writing down the lyrics to “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” was a challenge. The song had been passed along verbally. There was no written record of it. As you can imagine there were several versions being sung. But John Wesley Work Jr. was passionate about collecting and preserving African American spirituals so they could be shared with people everywhere. His desire to distribute these songs proclaiming that God "sent us salvation that blessèd Christmas morn" allows us to sing these hymns and contemplate their messages today.
Collecting scores of unwritten songs composed by the enslaved, verifying words, stanzas, and melodies from the Civil War era seemed unlikely, intimidating, and maybe not super popular with early-twentieth-century American culture. But to John Wesley Work Jr. it made sense. He was a highly educated man, led the church choir, adored Jesus, and loved music. Curating and publishing books featuring the hymns of his ancestors was meaningful. Work included “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” in his second book, Folk Songs of the American Negro.
This was such a natural way for Work to share the gospel.
Similarly, a high school boy sharing how Jesus can change your life with his vocal coach in a college town today also sounds unlikely, intimidating, and a little strange. But, sharing the gospel doesn’t have to feel weird. My son didn’t pull out a tract, recite verses, or tell his teacher a story about the time he accepted Jesus at camp.
Don’t get me wrong. I write Christian content for a living, love memorizing Scripture, and actually accepted Christ at horseback riding camp in junior high.
I’m just saying we overthink this “Go tell the world” thing. We sometimes try too hard. Overanalyze.
Max is taking voice lessons so he can improve his worship leading skills. His teacher asked him what song he’d like to work on. Max suggested this one by Hillsong United. He was just honest about the kind of music he listens to, the kind he sings—worship music. It was normal, natural, unforced. The next thing you know, this lovely lady is singing to Jesus.
I don’t know if his teacher will accept Christ into her heart. But that’s not my job or Max’s. Telling people about Jesus, sharing who He is, that’s our assignment—the Great Commission. John Wesley Work Jr. probably died having no idea how many people came to Christ because of the books of spirituals he published. But his job was to get them in print, get them out there, plant the seeds through songs.
As Max and I walk to the car we hear his teacher's alto trill across the walk declaring how God’s grace holds her. Yes it does, my friend. Grace holds you. Grace holds all of us. Me. Max. You, on the other side of this book. Grace holds you.
What a gorgeous truth.
I am so grateful God allowed Max to share Christ’s grace with his teacher, maybe not on a mountain or in Judea, but on a piano bench in Oxford, Ohio. Because this is what Jesus asks us to do . . . go out and make disciples of all the nations. There’s not a perfect way to do it. You don’t have to have things written out or know all the answers. You just have to walk around loving Jesus. The rest will come naturally. You’ll find your own mountains. And there you can tell others of His love.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 nlt)
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Our family is new to the cross country scene. Our four kids have been involved in soccer--lots and lots of soccer, flag football, theatre, ballet, track, as well as very brief stints in gymnastics, karate, and baseball, but none of them had ever run XC until now. Our youngest started high school in August and joined the school’s cross country team back in June. He’s been practicing for months, building up his mileage, increasing his speed and endurance, and making quality friends.
The morning of our first meet my husband and I weren’t really sure what to expect. We’d been told to wear comfortable shoes, because you end up darting from one spot to another to watch different parts of the race, which sounded fun. We drove to the address, parked, got out of our car and it felt more like a festival than a competition. Toby Mac was blaring from a sound system, “It’s never too late to get back up again.” Teams had tents with signs. Food trucks had parked along the perimeter, and the intoxicating smells of kettle corn and empanadas filled the air.
It was fun and festive. The whole space vibrated with energy.
Here are some things we learned about cross country that we think Jesus would love:
Doing Your Best is a Win
Hundreds of athletes run in a cross country meet. Yes, there is a first place winner, but very few of the athletes have their eye on that prize. They’re all actually running with the goal to beat their PR--personal record. They’re not comparing themselves to the other runners. They’re just trying to do their personal best--to take what God gave them and use it to the best of their ability. The world needs more of this. Yes please and now. The Apostle Paul instructs us to live like this in Galatians 5:26
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
What if we all did this? Stopped wishing we had as many followers as her, the job title of him, or the family of them. And instead, took what God gave us and used it to our fullest, ran our best original race. Think of all the freedom to live out our callings and all the amazing things that would ensue.
Everybody cheers for everybody
It doesn’t matter what team your kid is on or how fast they do or don’t run, other people from other teams cheer for them. Which, really? They’re cheering for my boy? Insert all the emojis. This takes place at the starting line when all the fans cheer loudly for all the runners. And it also happens throughout the three point one mile course as spectators sprint to different spots along the route to cheer on athletes as they progress.
At our first stop along the yellow tape marking the course, we met a man who told us his daughter was running in the next race. He cheered and clapped as each athlete ran past. I repeat, his daughter was not even in this race. This was the boys race! At the two mile marker a group of varsity runners who had already completed their race gathered along a bend in the route cheering, “You’ve got this! Keep it up! Keep it up!” Yes, to their JV teammates, but also to all the other athletes passing by.
This is beautiful. And it’s Biblical! Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We’re supposed to cheer each other on! We’re supposed to encourage each other! This is what living in Christ looks like.
There are snacks at the end
As the runners cross the finish line they immediately head toward their team’s tent which is laden with sandwiches, protein bars, and fruit. The Propel and Gatorade flow freely. They can get seconds or thirds or fourths, and eat their fill. Jesus would love this! Celebrating with food was Jesus’ jam. In fact his very first miracle was at a wedding feast--turning water into wine (John 2:1-10). Throughout the Gospels (the four Biblical books that serve as the biography of Jesus’ life) we find Jesus eating with his friends and people in the community (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 7:36, Luke 10:38-40, Luke 11:37, Luke 14:1, John 12:2-3, John 21:12-13). We also see Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts (Mark 14:12-26, John 2:23, John 5:1, John 13:1). Jesus loved sharing food while hanging out with others.
So, yeah, cross country meets are awesome. Because they mirror some ways God wants us to be living. He wants us to stop comparing ourselves to others. He wants us to use the gifts He’s given us to the best of our ability on any given day. God wants us to cheer for one another along the way. And God also wants us to share meals with one another--to eat and laugh and swap stories and encourage one another.
I’m up for the challenge. You?
Not to compete in a cross country meet. But to keep running our races--the one God put in front of us, specifically--one full of doing our best, loving one another, both feeling encouraged and encouraging others, and of course with yummy snacks involved. On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!
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THE COOL KIDS
“One of the girls in the class has her own cupcake business. One of the boys takes apart computers and puts them back together. One girl did research on the effects of mental health and sports. Another guy loved playing Gaga Ball at camp so much that he researched where the game came from, and then dove into other traditions of that culture.” I was explaining Maguire’s Passion Project, an assignment to research and present on anything you’re passionate about, to my oldest daughter, Maddie.
“What did Maguire do?” she asked.
“He did his on reducing the carbon footprint of his school to neutral by 2040 in a three-phase program.”
“Wow! Who are these cool kids?” Maddie asked on the other end of the phone. “I’m pretty sure no one in my class was that cool at that age.”
“I bet they were. If you guys had this assignment, you would have seen it. I think that’s the point,” I answered. “Everyone is actually cool, super cool, when you see the passions God put in their hearts.”
But often we look at others' coolness and think it outranks ours. It doesn’t.
Sometimes we shy away from sharing the things we’re passionate about, because we fear others will think we’re weird or won’t understand. Or we discount the value of the fact that we’ve perfected a recipe for meringues or that HGTV contacted us about making a pilot about our home business (I swear this happened to one of my friends) or that we play the saxophone or tap maple trees on our property to get actual syrup. But all this stuff is cool and important to building God’s kingdom in a zillion different ways. We need to pursue our passions and use our gifts, because God entrusted them to us to make a difference.
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. -- 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
God created each and every one of us and put all this awesome different stuff inside us----my next door neighbor is a professor who studies what people wore throughout history and how culture and current events affect wardrobe, a friend of ours rides in hot air balloon events several times a year, and my brother, who’s a corporate finance attorney, invented AxePaxe, a case specially designed for guitar accessories. All this is incredibly cool and awesome and creative and adds color and knowledge and perspective and whimsy to the world God created.
What is your gift? How are you using it to show who God is?
When we think of the disciples sometimes we marvel at how cool they must have been--to be invited to spend three years traveling, working and living with Jesus. What special traits did they possess? Well, they were pretty special, just like you and I are. But God thinks we’re all incredibly awesome. In fact, the disciples were all different from one another. Matthew was great at numbers. Simon had zeal. John had child-like faith. Thomas liked to have proof. Some were fishermen. Some weren’t. Some were married. Some single. Some educated. Some not. Jesus called them from numerous towns in a variety of ways. God created each disciple in His image and gave them specific talents that would help build His kingdom. And Jesus knew each disciple had varying traits, strengths, and passions that would make them His very best companions and the perfect people to tell the world about Him. Same with you and me today. The kingdom needs all of us!
So there you have it. You are one of the cool kids. You’re one of God’s chosen people. Not because of your test score or where you live or how you dress. Not because of who you’re connected to or what your title is or how many followers you have. You’re one of the cool kids, simply because God created you. Because He made you in His image and poured all the things He wanted you to have into your mind, heart and body. He intentionally gave you special unique gifts. You lack nothing to do the work God has called you to do. For some of us that’s having a booth at the farmer’s market or maybe doing market research. For others that’s managing funds or organizing fundraisers. You aren’t supposed to be like them or have their passions. You are you.
You have been given something special that shows the world another glimpse of who God is. How are you going to show it off today?
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HOW ARE YOU SHOWING UP?
My husband and I passed the members of the college marching band assembling for rehearsal on our run this morning. It transported me for a moment to the sweltering Augusts of high school when my dance team rehearsed daily with the marching band for the upcoming football game halftime shows, sweat stinging our eyes and dripping down our backs. I watched the band members as they gathered, some musicians already on the lined practice field chatting and laughing. A young man with a giant black instrument case strapped to his back crossed the street, probably a tuba player. Another guy off in the distance sprinted toward the field, obviously running a few minutes late, his tiny black case swinging back and forth by his side.
Next, I noticed two band members walking arm in arm up the sidewalk in matching bright blue t-shirts. One had a white cane outstretched in front of them, tap, tapping the pavement. Their bandmate was escorting them to practice--beautiful.
We rounded the bend and darted into a quad of majestic brick dorms trimmed in crisp cream complete with Georgian columns and cream keystones. We heard the cadence before we saw a handful of members of the drumline marching toward us in a row, jamming to their beat, making a grand entrance into their practice. My feet found their beat, and I soon found myself running a bit faster and in time with their music.
As I observed all these musicians and how they chose to show up to their rehearsal, it made me wonder how I’m showing up to things--to the parents’ meeting, to my laptop, to the Zoom call, to church on Sunday. Am I there early, raring to go? Running late? A little stressed and off kilter? Am I taking time to help someone, to think of others, or am I focused on me? Am I sitting on the edge, the fringe, hoping to go unnoticed? Am I using the skills God gave me, rocking what I’ve got? Am I motivating or inspiring others? Or going through the motions?
So often I just go where I’m supposed to go and engage by instinct when I’m there. But God has given us each gifts and passions and a purpose. He calls us to be intentional with our lives, to live them to the fullest. I know that. But sometimes I forget. Thankfully, He gave us the Bible packed with reminders.
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
Before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
See that-- you were set apart. By the God of the Universe. Before you were even born!
“You must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” Jeremiah 1:7-8
God is sending you to the places on your planner or Google calendar. He has things for you to do and say there. No need to be nervous about what others will think, or how they’ll react. God promises to be with you and protect you.
Well, that flips everything upside down, doesn’t it?
The parents’ meeting I attended yesterday, I literally stood by myself (I’m such an introvert), talked to the lovely woman who came over to say, “hi,” paid attention to the info, and left. Which was fine and effective. But did I act as if I were set apart? As if I were on a mission from God? Ummm...no.
I didn’t pray before I went. I didn’t ask God what He wanted me to do there. I didn’t consider that there was something for me there besides some facts and handouts.
Guess what? I have another parents meeting coming up, because ‘tis the season. I’m already asking God how He wants me to show up to that one. But life is more than parents meeting (thankfully). Personally, my life shifts considerably as the kids head back to school. How does God want me to show up for the new routine, for fall in general? I’ve been invited to be part of a panel at an upcoming conference--how does God want me to show up for that? I’m going to visit my oldest daughter soon--how does God want me to show up for that? My husband and I have a date scheduled later this week. How does God want me to show up for that?
That’s my calendar. What’s on yours? What do you have in front of you this week--a walk with a friend? A practice? Meeting? Class? Driving carpool? Interview? Long shift at work? Audition?
The night before or the morning of or at least before you fly out the door, take a deep breath, ask Jesus how He wants you to show up. Take a minute. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Listen to what He says. He might ask you to speak up. Or place someone on your mind to sit next to, ask how they’re doing, inquire if there’s a way you could help them. God might whisper a song you could listen to that would put you in a better mood, more ready for what you’re about to face. He might remind you to eat breakfast, so you’ll have physical energy or nudge you to buy a box of doughnuts or bake a batch of muffins to share. Sometimes He’ll remind us to bite our tongues, not make a fuss--just do our part. Sometimes He’ll ask us not to go at all, but instead to rest or tend to something that’s actually more important.
Whatever you’re facing, wherever you’re going God has set you apart. He’ll be with you. He’ll protect you. There’s comfort in that. Relief. Excitement.
Where are you headed this week and how do you plan to show up? I’d love to hear.
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Laura L. Smith