Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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I love burying my toes in warm, wet sand and letting foamy waves splash over them again and again. Sounds nice about now, doesn’t’ it?
But since it’s January and I live in the middle of a frozen corn field, not at the beach, I’m more than content to bury myself under a fleecy blanket and cozy up with a steaming mug of peppermint tea.
I also love burying myself in the pages of a new book, lost in the words and stories and lessons that lie within.
This word, “bury,” is a strange one. It sounds exactly like a completely different word, berry, a juicy fruit. It can mean to dig a hole and throw something in and cover it in soil never to be seen again, or it can be used in the ways I’ve described above. I heard this word recently, loud and clear, and I heard it straight from God.
I was bundled up in hat and gloves walking a brisk pace around our neighborhood. I’d been writing and was taking a break to clear my head and stretch my legs. I was thinking through an article I was working on, praying for one of my kids, then another, then all of them, and trying to remember what I needed at the grocery. A typical day in the life of my brain. I had some questions. Some for myself. Most of them for God. And then I heard Him, distinct and clear, “If you bury yourself in Me, I will give you what you need.”
This shouldn’t have been a revelation, because it mirrors almost exactly one of my favorite verses, something my husband and I had read at our wedding:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Seek God first. Bury myself in Him. And then goodness and life come my way. I know this. But I don’t always live like it. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle and deadlines and dishes, sometimes I lose sight of it. But on this day, it resonated so deeply and brought me so much comfort. We’re in a new year, a new century actually (Happy New Year and welcome to the new Roaring Twenties!), and it is filled with so much promise and potential. I have a child headed off to college this year, another to play soccer overseas, yet another on a mission trip, and the youngest is prepping for a big audition. I’m traveling somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going, my husband and I will celebrate a milestone anniversary. I’m working on a proposal for my agent for a new book idea I’m giddy about. I have another book launching this year (more on that soon). But none of these things have worth, if I’m not seeking Jesus first, if I’m not buried in Jesus, like my toes in the sand, or my body in a blanket, or my mind in a book—completely wrapped up in, immersed, covered.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.
Colossians 3:14-15 NLT
Ahhh. Yes, please. These words from Paul to the Colossians are exactly how I picture being buried in Jesus. I want to be bound in perfect harmony and have peace rule my heart. Those are some lovely goals for 2020. This is what He offers. There’s no guarantee on how any of the things I’m expecting this year will play out, or what surprises will come my way. There will most likely be some setbacks, bad days, exhaustion, illness, stress, and sorrow. There will also be joy, adventure, opportunities, and conversations. And I know as long as I am buried in Jesus, I will have harmony and peace in the midst of it all. I will have everything I need. So, my word for this year is “bury.”
(Want to hear about 2019’s word? Click here.)
Yes, this is the promise God whispered to me on my walk. But He promises it to everyone who believes in Him, and He promises it every day.
So here we are. All dressed up in Christ, buried in Him, like the softest blanket or the most riveting novel. There are lots of things we do and don’t want. Lots of things we can resolve to accomplish and put on our calendars and bucket lists for this year. But me? The one thing I want to cling to this year is Jesus. No matter what comes my way, good or bad, I want to be buried in Him.
Do you have a word for the year? Comment here, I’d love to hear about it.
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Ivy League schools only accept students with insanely high ACT scores. Only the first 1000 shoppers on Black Friday get the free fleece blanket with purchase. You can only vote if you’re 18 years old or older. Only people who are verified by Instagram get a blue checkmark. Who can get in on Jesus’ promises? Everyone.
That doesn’t’ seem possible. Not with all the qualifiers and regulations put on everything else. But Jesus says so Himself. The Bible says it over and over again. Heck, just in the book of John, it’s the song that’s on repeat. Jesus’ love is for everyone.
Everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. —John 3:15
Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. —John 3: 36
To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. —John 1:12
All. Everyone. Anyone.
This is not an exclusive club. You don’t need to be a certain age, race, gender, speak a certain language, attend a specific church, or any church, for that matter. You don’t need the right grades, resume, upbringing, status, perfect timing, or number of followers to get in. All you have to do is believe. In Him. The One who created everything in the first place. And then we’ll never be hungry or thirsty…meaning that emptiness inside, that void we’re always trying to fill—will be overflowing with the warmth and comfort of Jesus’ unending love and His amazing grace.
To enjoy the free life Jesus offers, we just have to believe in Him. It’s that simple. If we believe He is the Son of God, then all the things Jesus promises—peace, joy, freedom, forgiveness, grace, comfort, healing, and most of all that we are fully and completely loved for exactly who we are, are available to everyone, including you and me. Even if we don’t think we could possibly deserve it, that they couldn’t possibly apply to us because of something in our past, or because of our darkest secret, or because of a current desperate situation. But hope, love and light are just one thought away.
“Anyone who believes in me will live even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. —John 11:25-26
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Jesus was pretty clear about it. Anyone. Everyone. Whoever. So, what’s keeping you from Him today? What’s keeping you from believing? You don’t have to have the right outfit, specific credentials, know a certain prayer, or have memorized a verse. You don’t even need the right words. It’s as simple as saying something like: Jesus, I believe in you. I know I don’t have it all right. I never will. I know I mess up. Every day. But I look at You, and the love in Your eyes, and the way Your presence calms storms, the way Your power healed lepers, and blind folks, and cast out demons. I want that. I want love and peace and healing and a fresh start. I believe.
Maybe you could say it like that, but you don’t have to. All you need are three syllables, “I believe,” and mean it. Living a life with Jesus is truly simple. A lot simpler than most of the things we’re trying to do each day. And so much more glorious. This life filled with excitement and peace at the same time, with the ability to know we’re a hot mess, and yet fully loved, this life filled with passion and purpose and joy it’s a heartbeat away. Are you ready to step into it? Do you believe? Because that’s all it takes.
If you have questions about this free life or about Jesus …please message me. I’d love to chat more.
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By 8:45 a line snaked out the door of the old warehouse. The doors opened at 9:00 for the 10:00 event. No, the first 100 visitors didn’t receive free t-shirts, bobble heads, or even coffee. No one was autographing anything. There wasn’t a big screen. This wasn’t a sporting event or a concert. This was a church service my son, Max, and I attended while we were in Dallas last weekend.
When the music began folks danced and cheered. Kids crawled and skipped. What was going on? You’d think Jesus, Himself, was in the sanctuary. That’s kind of the point. Everyone there was so excited to sing to Jesus, worship Jesus, talk to Jesus, learn about Jesus, they couldn’t wait to get inside. He does tell us where two or more are gathered, He is there in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Wowza—you could feel Jesus there in our midst. And it was a-ma-zing!
The prophet, Isaiah, foretold who Jesus would be and what He would do. That He would replace our mourning with joy and our despair with praise. But do we approach life like that? Full of joy and praise? Like Jesus is with us and He can change our lives?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. --Isaiah 61:1-3
I LOVE my home church, but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t wait outside for them to open the doors Sunday morning. Why not?
When was the last time you lined up for church, giddy to get in the door? And if it’s been a while…why is that? There is so much joy in Jesus! The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians (and us) to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
What are some things you get all amped up for, rush to get there?
Personally, I’ll wait in line to get coffee any day of the week. I’ll leave early. Perhaps place a mobile order. Plan it into my timeline. Because I am excited to get coffee—to taste the rich, bold flavor, inhale the thick, inviting aroma, feel the warm cup in my hands and the caffeine kick in, making me more alert. It brings me joy to think about my morning brew, order it (or whip one up at home), and take that first sip (and all the sips that follow).
What will you stand in line for, leave early for, make extra time for? Maybe to get a good parking spot, to beat traffic, to have time to chat with friends before the work or school day begins, or perhaps for bragging rights that you were the First One There. Why is it so easy, natural, or important to get to thatplace early? Are we as excited to get to our Bibles or to church? Are we rejoicing in the Lord like that?
Whatever it is we plan ahead for with anticipation, Jesus is infinitely better. Jesus is more satisfying than the richest, frothiest, most chocolaty mocha, revives our spirits and our souls, and is the positively BEST person to hang out with ever.
Maybe you’re not feeling the joy or the excitement at your church. Sadly, some churches have lost it. But the problem doesn’t lie solely on the Church. Part of the problem is us. Do we open our Bibles in anticipation or obligation? Do we open them at all? Do we attend a small group or study out of habit, because we think we should? Or because we can’t wait to learn more about Jesus, talk more about Jesus? Are we chomping at the bit to get to church? Or is church some place we go when we feel like it, if we feel like it, and sometimes even when we’re there, we slide in late, scoot out early and keep checking our phones (and I don’t mean the Bible App) while we’re there.
Imagine if Jesus stood at the doors greeting you. How early would you get there to hug Him? Ask Him some questions? Bow at His feet? Just look into His eyes? Treat your Bible study, small group, gathering, or church like that. Because Jesus lives in us and loves to show off when we seek Him. Why not go into our gatherings truly expecting to find Jesus there? Because, I promise He will show up.
If you’re not feeling the joy of Jesus in your current situation, why not be the one to change that—to create the joy. As Kelly Krenzel, founder of Hope Bloomssays in her TedTalk, “Sometimes to feel joy, you must first give it away to others.” We can be the change. We can be the catalyst to take something routine or rote and remind others that Jesus is there in our midst. That’s something to get pumped up about!
Why not bring doughnuts or carrot sticks, coffee, or bottled waters, for before, during, or after, depending on the setting. Heck, at my church a farmer puts out a bin of tomatoes or peppers from his field for anyone who wants them as we exit the building. There’s something so generous, unexpected, and fun about free produce freshly picked—it creates joy. Are you lacking music where you go? Take your portable speaker, cue up some hymns or brand new worship tunes or Christian rap, whatever, and play it in the background as people gather or mingle. Not appropriate for your gathering? That’s okay. Is there a piano? Do you play? Music not the right move? Then hug someone. Say, “hello,” to a stranger. Make a funny face at a toddler. Exude joy and watch it multiply! Whoever you touch with happiness will pass it on, and the excitement will build.
The sight of folks lining up to go to church brought pure happiness to my heart. It stirred something in me. The excitement in the room on Sunday was contagious. I wanted more of it. I pray all of you can feel that anticipation and hope of how Jesus is on the move, of what it feels like to hang out with Him. And I pray as you enter sanctuaries of any shape, size, or style to gather with one or one thousand brothers and sisters in Christ this week that you will bring joy with you, and like starting the wave at a sporting event, you will build the momentum, so that others can feel the joy that is Jesus.
“Would you like a pain au chocolat?” We asked my mom when she arrived at our apartment in Paris.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
“We just got them from the bakery. They’re still warm.”
She peeked at the white paper bag brimming with pastries, but shook her head. “No, really.”
I’m not sure what prompted Mom to turn down the flaky croissants stuffed with chunks of dark, rich chocolate. Maybe it was the calorie count or the fat grams. Maybe she’d eaten something on the plane already. But this was special. She was in France. And these were fresh-from-the-oven French delicacies.
“You should at least try a piece of one,” my son, Max, coaxed.
“Okay, maybe one bite.”
A few nights later, I received an email inviting me to go to Israel. Instantly my mind flooded with the memory of my childhood pastor describing his trip to the Holy Land from the pulpit, and my ten-year old mind being blown. You could actually go to the places from the Bible? That was an option? You could see where Jesus was buried? You could dip your toes in the Sea of Galilee? I’d longed to go ever since. I sighed—what an incredible opportunity. What an honor to be invited. My very next thought? Of course I won’t go.
Because it costs a lot of money? I hadn’t asked how much.
Because it means leaving my family for a week? I hadn’t asked if they minded. Because I don’t deserve this kind of gift—it seems too lavish for me to experience? I hadn’t asked God what His thoughts were.
I sounded like my mom with that pastry. Oh yes, that’s marvelous. I would really enjoy it. But, nah, I won’t partake.
Have you ever done this?
Given a quick “no.” to something good, something you want, something right in front of you? I’m not talking about eating the entire blueberry cobbler, buying every pair of cute sandals at TJ Maxx, or going out with the girls (or guys) every time someone sends a group text. We have limits on our resources. It’s important to set priorities and to exercise self-control. But sometimes, God gives us presents, simply because He’s an incredible Father and wants to delight us. Think of it like God wanting to take us out for ice cream, not because it’s our birthday, or because we got an A on our report card, but because it brings Him joy to make us smile.
When God asks if we’d like to go to Graeter’s? Do we answer, “Yes please!” and grab our flip-flops? Or do we primly shake our heads.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. —Ephesians 3:19 NLT
I’m guilty of turning down some of the ice cream cones God offers. In my practical “get things done, take care of the fam, make sure everything is running smoothly” mentality, I sometimes lose sight of how extravagant God’s love is. It might feel like I don’t deserve it, but not necessarily to Jesus. He is over the top and loves us accordingly. He piles heaps of blessings on us like putting someone in our lives who loves us for who we are, financially providing the means to pay a bill, a parking spot up front on a day when we need the extra four minutes, or a hug from a friend when we’re feeling down.
Are you receiving these gifts? Why or why not?
If you think they’re “too much” or not for you, have you asked God what His thoughts are?
After chatting with my Mom about her flight and train into the city, I glanced at her plate. All that remained were a few buttery crumbs of pastry.
I grinned, thrilled she had allowed herself to enjoy the treat we’d selected from specifically for her. “Good thing you had that bite,” I teased.
“It was just so delicious, I ended up eating the whole thing.”
Pain au chocolats are indulgent. We don’t need them. But they are also scrumptious. Not to eat every day, but while on a family trip to France, definitely.
Mom savored each morsel.
And after some long, deep conversations with God, I said, “yes,” to the trip to Israel.
What is Jesus offering you today?
He offers all of us peace, rescue, strength, courage, and salvation. Are you taking Him on those big, beautiful gifts wrapped in shiny bows?
Jesus also has special, unique gifts He offers us, too—trips to Israel and French pastries included. Are you accepting these gifts? Maybe it’s a job you haven’t bothered applying for, because you don’t know if they’d hire you. Or maybe you haven’t gone to that event, meeting, club, because you’re not sure how you’ll fit in. Or maybe you haven’t spoken up because you’re uncertain how they’ll respond. If this is you, I urge you to look inward and ask why you’re so quick to turn these potential gifts down. Ask God His opinion. I find He likes us to go ahead and open the presents He’s wrapped for us. They don’t do much good sitting there taped shut.
You are worthy of every spiritual blessing. God says so. Go ahead—tug on the bow. I can’t wait to see what you unwrap!
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On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
If you just stumbled onto us, you can start today and always go back to the previous days later (or not, that’s fine, too). This is a FREE 30-day devotional to dive into how much God loves you, and to discover what that means for your life. If you haven’t downloaded your free copy yet, just leave a comment, and I'll get you added. Share with friends. The more the merrier.
My daughter and I stirred up a box of Funfetti cake mix, spooned blobs of batter into our cake pop cooker, and closed the lid like a waffle iron. After a couple of minutes we had golden brown balls of cake. Once cooled, we dipped them in white chocolate, drew faces with a black frosting pen, and added mini marshmallows for ears. Voila! Adorable polar bear cake pops! They were delicious, which surprised me, because although I have a crazy sweet tooth, I’m not a fan of white cake or white chocolate (did you know white chocolate doesn’t even contain cacao? Please!).
I’m a real chocolate girl—the darker and richer the better. But these? They tasted like something I knew, something almost magical, but what? Then mid-bite of maybe my sixth cake pop, I remembered. Our polar bears tasted like the fancy petite fours one of my dad’s clients gave us when I was a girl. I remember being amazed anyone could construct such a tiny cake, layer it with raspberry filling, cover it so evenly, and even put a flourish—a candy flower or swirl on top. Those petite fours seemed like magical food baked for royalty in a fairytale.
Our cake pops were far from the designer petite fours from my youth, yet the power of taste took me back to them. Sure, the cake pops were yummy, but the fact that they reminded me of something marvelous made them even better. I think God does this for us all the time—gives us a split second reminder of something grander—of heaven. It lasts only a moment, and it’s hard to place why that thing resonates so deeply, but God hands us a glimpse, a little preview, a taste of eternity.
We might smell Queen Anne’s lace in a summer field. The aroma is so sweet and thick, it seems our noses can’t even handle the fragrance. Or maybe we’ll spot a bluebird spreading its wings and revealing a jewel tone almost too rich for our eyes to gaze upon. The most mesmerizing sunsets, the most robust pasta sauce, the loveliest of melodies—all just foreshadowing of the glory we’ll experience in heaven.
If these are the things we experience on earth, can you imagine the magnitude of heaven? It makes me want to keep all of my senses on high alert, to truly drink in the beauty of this world, and ponder for a moment how glorious our futures will be. Our true reflection is one of royalty, invited to a feast more delicious than frosted petite fours, gazing, and experiencing beauty with the true King forever more.
List some of your favorite sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
Can you imagine how much more incredible heaven will be if these are only previews?
Take a moment to thank God for the free samples He gives you of what is to come.
The Ohio winter has been cold, gray, windy, dreary and long. Yes, we’ve had a few unexpected warm spells (global weirding we call it at our house), but on St. Patrick’s Day as we swirled peppermint buttercream on freshly baked green cupcakes, snowflakes flitted past our kitchen window. Snow. In mid-March.
But today, even though it’s still only a high of 40 degrees, the sun is bursting, blanketing my neighborhood in a golden glow. And these rays of sunshine make all the difference.
At least they do for me.
The sun instantly switches my perspective from survival mode of staying warm, logging miles, checking off lists…
to enjoyment mode—savoring the warmth prickling my skin, beaming at crocuses peeking up their violet heads from their slumber, and giggling at a squirrel chattering on the telephone wire overhead. God is so good and so abundant. He always is. But somehow I see it more clearly in the sunlight.
Similarly praise is a breakthrough switching our minds from worries, concerns, struggles and fears, to all the glorious ways God surrounds us with His warm, golden love. It’s like an on/off switch that literally changes our perspectives.
It’s not complicated. It begins with one simple thank you to God. Thank you, Jesus, for the daffodil stalks poking out of the earth like sharp, green spears.
And almost as soon as we utter the words of gratitude, we find another thank you follows quickly on the first one’s tail. Because thank you also, God, that I don’t have to plant daffodils every year. It’s miraculous how they not only return on their own, but multiply like blooms of sunshine scattered throughout our yard.
And then comes another. Thank you, Jesus for the text from a friend who’s praying for me, for the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker on that branch with his stunningly scarlet head, for the laughter bursting from my husband and son as they shoot the Nerf basketball into the hoop on the laundry room door.
The praise pulls us away from the what-if worries for tomorrow and the if-only-things-had-been-different reservations from the past. Praise pulls us into the present—shining light onto what God has for us, right before our eyes. The things we can thank Jesus for were always there. They are just easier to see when we illuminate our lives with gratitude.
It can be difficult on an emotionally gloomy day to eek out praise—on days when clouds of concern darken our skies, when gratitude doesn’t come naturally, when thank yous aren’t bubbling from our lips. On these days we need to be intentional. Because there’s always something to be grateful for. Something. Think. What is it?
Even in a hospital room we can thank God for intelligent doctors, scientific breakthroughs, modern sanitization, a call from a caring family member. Even when someone disappoints us, we can thank God for an umbrella on a rainy day, a rich frothy latte, a warm hand holding ours.
And once we start with the tiniest of thank yous, a ripple effect occurs. We begin to find more things to thank God for, and then more. All of a sudden we find ourselves less concerned about the troubles we’re tackling, and instead acutely aware of how loved we are by a glorious Creator.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever. --Psalm 136:1
So what can you thank God for today? You can start small. You can start simple, but start. List one thing.
Can you get to ten?
And as we focus on His goodness, His enduring love, we begin to feel the breakthrough. The bad stuff fades and doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore. The warmth of God’s love changes our perspective and helps us remember who we truly are—the ones God loves, the people He’s fighting for, radiant in the light of His Son.
Due to crazy schedules and me skimming too fast through one too many emails my youngest and I pulled up to his school for basketball tryouts the other night. “Hmm,” I said. “I wonder why there aren’t any cars here.”
“Yeah, kind of strange,” he answered. “We are kinda early.”
I checked my phone. “Six minutes early.”
We got out of the car walked to the door, and you already know the scenario, the door was locked. No one was there.
I texted another mom and scrolled through emails. Pretty sure I did this simultaneously, which might be how we’d ended up here in the first place. Yes, there was a coach’s meeting tonight. No, there weren’t tryouts. Yes, there were tryouts for an elite team at a different place tonight, but those were not the tryouts we were trying to attend. Total mom fail. Although my son shrugged it off as we got back in our car, I knew he’d gotten mentally and emotionally ready for tryouts. There’s an adrenaline surge of excitement and nervousness no matter your skill level or what you’re auditioning for. It was a chilly evening and he’d had to change into basketball clothes and ride to the next town for absolutely nothing. When we got home he said, “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Ummm. “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter. “Do you think I would have left you at the tryouts I thought you had, but weren’t real?”
He laughed, too. “No. But thanks for coming straight home, and for taking me in the first place.”
This kid is too much. He is honestly the most grateful person I know. This has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with the kind spirit God has placed inside of him. This is the same boy who has said, “Thank you for letting me make dinner tonight.” As in him. Cooking for our family. And then thanking me. No lie. He oozes gratitude. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the happiest people I know.
Does thankfulness equal joy?
There’s research that makes it sound like that’s true. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, wanted to know why some people were content with their lives, while others were not. She conducted thousands of interviews trying to discover what makes a wholehearted person. “Wholehearted living,” she says, “is about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” These people had joy.
Do you know what she found? Every single person who made it to her “wholehearted” list practices gratitude on a regular basis. Meaning, they don’t just say, “thank you” when the barista hands them their pumpkin spiced latte, but they daily, intentionally, take time to mentally note things they can be thankful for.
I think Brene is pretty rockstar, if you haven’t watched her Ted Talks or read her books, do that and soon, but there’s a source I deem much higher than Brene, higher than any other source, the Bible. And the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
As we enter into November and pumpkin pies and pilgrims, are we focused on which family we’ll see when and what dish we need to prepare for Thanksgiving, or are we actually taking time to be thankful?
My son has to practice basketball. Dribbling and shooting aren’t part of his daily life, unless he intentionally goes out to the garage, grabs the ball, and takes time to practice. No one else in our family plays this game. So for Maguire, this means motivating himself, dribbling up and down our cul de sac when it’s chilly outside, shooting over and over when there’s no one else to play with. The same is true for gratitude. We aren’t going to just “be thankful” unless we intentionally set aside time or habits that enable us to appreciate all we have.
Where do we start? A lot of people say grace or a prayer before they eat. Do you do this? Before every meal? Even a Starbucks scone on the fly? Even at a business dinner with clients? You could start by thanking God for every single meal, regardless, for having food, any food, when so many people in the world are literally starving, for crunchy apples the colors of fall leaves, and warm, hearty soup on a chilly day. It’s an easy place to start.
How about as a family with daily prayers? Could you all go around and say one thing you’re thankful for? Before you start your day? Before you go to bed? Both? This holds you all accountable to one another. At least once a day, even the grumpiest family member with the lousiest stuff going on can practice finding something they’re thankful for. And when we say it out loud, “Thank you God for cozy blankets or a stunning sunrise this morning,” all of a sudden, we realize we truly are grateful.
A thankful list or journal is a brilliant way, for all you planner-obsessed, list-making, color-coded folks out there (raises hand). Create a separate journal or pad of paper where you write down at least five things, or ten things, or twenty, up to you, you’re grateful for each day. Make the time consistent—when the kids get on the bus, when you arrive in the office, when you park your car in the parking lot, but before you get out—whatever time of day you can both make it fit into your schedule and it will help mentally prepare you for what’s next.
Maybe none of these ideas make sense for you, but your morning drive time would be ideal, or your lunch break, or you’d like to put up a sticky note on your mirror each day with something you’re thankful for, or change your screen saver to “Give thanks in all circumstances!” so that every time you pick up your phone, you’re reminded to thank God for something. You don’t have to limit yourself to being grateful at these set times, but scheduled times, just like brushing your teeth before you go to bed, makes it part of your routine.
Today, I’m sick. I don’t know what hit me, but I feel like my head is in a way too tight helmet and like I could sleep until Christmas. But I am so grateful. Grateful my kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, so I don’t have to worry about their basic needs. Grateful my husband brought a rich, chocolate muffin and steaming, coffee up to me in my bed. Thankful for vitamin C packets that give my immune system a boost. Grateful I could sleep in and wear sweats, because there is only one place I had to be all day, you guessed it, actual basketball tryouts.
Throughout November, I’m going to provide a place for us to practice gratitude together for anyone who’d like to get into this habit. It is proven to bring us joy, and more importantly to please God. I’ll use #thankfulnessproject to organize the posts. I’d love for you to check out my Facebook and Instagram daily to join in. But let’s start right now. What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
Gheesh. I’m done with winter. There is so much cold and snow and slush and gray in Ohio. My skin is so dry from the constant blowing of the heater. I want to roll down the windows in my car. I want to see a daffodil. I want to play outside. But it’s only February. And there’s a way to go until springtime blooms, or so the groundhog said. So, I have two choices:
I’m picking B. Because I live in Ohio. I love it here. I love how close my husband and I live to our moms. I love the four seasons. I love the idyllic college town we live in. I love that due to all this wintry weather my kids had last Wednesday off school for a snow day. And, this is where God put us. So clearly where God put us. Every time we consider even looking anywhere else, God presses us deeper into place. So I have no room to gripe. God is so good to put me here, even in February.
God will delight us if we look for it. Case in point, I was folding laundry, which is super glamorous, and my youngest was looking out the window. He said, “Mom, look a blue jay.” I came to the window and my breath caught. “Wow. That’s not a blue jay. That’s a bluebird. A bluebird of happiness.” I don’t know how I know bluebirds are harbingers of happiness. It’s just one of those things I know. I remember my mom saying the words, ‘bluebird of happiness,’ but not where or when or why. Yet, each time I see one, I feel happiness, somewhere deep. It’s like God reminding me, “I bring joy. I bring it everywhere. Even in a vibrant little bird.”
What is gray in your life today? Your commute? Your statistics class? The dishes piled up in your sink? A relationship? Can you spot a bluebird—a spot of happiness amidst the clouds?
Are you seeking beautiful moments or waiting for them to hit you over the head? I’m in the middle of reading Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs. If you haven’t read it, go Amazon Prime yourself a copy or grab it from the library—so good. And Annie is reminding me every day to look for lovely. Everywhere. So, after seeing the bluebird I went on a quest and found beauty. Even in the most unexpected places.
After too many hours bent over my laptop researching Old Testament prophets, I decided I needed to get out and clear my head. I pulled on my mittens, popped in my earbuds, and set out. One by one the tightly wound thoughts in my head began to unravel to the rhythm of my feet crunching along the snow-covered sidewalk. And then I saw this little guy. He didn’t skitter or scamper as squirrels are prone to do, but just sat there looking at me as curiously as I was looking at him. He was perfect. His little bright squirrel eyes, how intently he was holding his acorn. His speckled fur. Look at what God made!
Two days later, my husband brought me home a gorgeous bouquet of tulips. For no reason. It wasn’t Valentine’s. They looked like a big bunch of springtime, but it was their smell that made me swoon. One sniff of the pink blooms filled my nose with sunshine, fresh mown grass, and April raindrops.
Driving my son to play rehearsal he asked to listen to the soundtrack for his show. I handed him my phone and told him to find it on Spotify. From my car speakers “Come on Eileen” and “Love Shack” sang to me like high school serenades. My head bopped and I may or may not have taken my hands off the wheel to snap my fingers along with Dexy Midnight Runner’s, “Ta-lu-ry-aye” and to point to my boy in the backseat and call out, “Hurry up and bring your jukebox money!” along with the guy from the B52s.
Brown butter sauce from a vendor at Findlay Market turned my bag of boiled pasta into a rich, savory delicacy worthy of a fine Italian restaurant. The richness of morning coffee. A warm, solid hug from my daughter. A thunderstorm whose cadence was in tune with the beat of my heart. Cabin socks cozy and soft on my feet. And then yesterday? A seventy-two degree day surprise smack in the middle of February. My crocuses peeked out their purple heads to see the sun. And last night, a sky full of the brightest stars. Orion and Cassiopeia shining clearly for all to see. The partial moon in a smile shape like the glowing grin left by the Cheshire Cat. Just because God is good. Just because He loves to delight us.
Yes, there is horror in the news. Yes people I love are suffering—from disease and divorce. My hometown of Westerville, Ohio was hit with tragedy. I know you have struggles too, dark spots, storms, fears, pain. But God is good. He is so very good. And He loves us more than we’ll ever be able to grasp. Jesus died on the cross for us as the ultimate expression of that love. But God also peppers our days with beauty and flavors and songs and smiles to remind us time and time again that the sun rises each morning after darkness and spring always comes after winter.
Look around. Go on a quest for beauty. Let me know what you find. You’ll be blown away by God's love and mercy every morning once you intentionally seek it.
Laura L. Smith