I could eat fall up by the spoonfuls! The crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market, the sweet creaminess of a pumpkin spiced latte, I even have some “Perfect Autumn” foaming hand soap in my bathroom that smells so amazing, it uplifts my mood every time I wash my hands. You may or may not catch me sniffing my palms a good fifteen minutes later. Cozy sweaters and cute boots, caramel everything! Oh, plus candy corn. But the delightful chill of an autumn morning morphing into the warmth of a sunlit afternoon does more than point me to pumpkin patches, it points me to God.
Have you seen a field packed with gigantic sunflowers all facing the sun? Each one of those sun-shaped blooms has a brown face comprised of 2,000 seeds! And those little seeds in the face of a flower can be snacked on by baseball players, birds, or your brother, turned into cooking oil, or planted, creating the potential for an endless supply of these stunning stalks. Only God could have invented such a sustainable source for birdseed, protein, and bouquets.
If you slice your favorite Gala or Granny Smith sideways as if you were cutting its waistline, you’ll see five seemingly perfect shaped points of a symmetrical star holding the apples seeds. How did this geometric phenomenon end up on the inside of a piece of fruit? I can’t even draw an equally sided star. Only the Master Artist could create something like this. He doesn’t even show it off. He hides it inside your lunchbox.
Leaves change color from bright green to spicy browns, deep reds, earthy oranges, and vibrant yellows. They do this on their own—without anyone painting, tinting, or tie-dying them. Acorns have pointed ends, helping them lodge into the ground to grow a new crop of trees. Corncobs alwayshave an even number of rows of kernels. Birds, who are known for their feeble “bird brains,” sense the coming cold weather is dangerous, and find their way without a GPS or any kind of App whatsoever to warmer climates. The outdoor critters who stay in Ohio grow thicker fur to keep warm in cooler months. I marvel out how intricately God designed every detail of creation. In the fall He seems to show off a little extra.
When I take a few moments to consider this on a cool evening as the Harvest Moon glows almost the moment the sun sets, I can’t help but be grateful for such an intentional and specific God. I can’t help but remember that He also designed me, and the people I love, you, and your special folks, too—each one of us full of beautiful surprises, ways to bear fruit, and the ability to cope in rougher conditions. If He drizzled this much creativity, beauty, and purpose into corncobs, flowers, and the fur of a bunny, God surely poured it into each and every one of His children, as well.
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? —Matthew 6:26
You were as precisely designed as the star inside an apple. Your face is more breathtaking than a sunflower. God cares more about you then the hummingbirds He leads over 4000 miles from Ohio to South America and back again in the spring. Take a moment to drink in God’s gorgeous creation this week—gaze at a golden autumn sunrise, watch a squirrel skitter to and fro with a nut in his mouth, listen to his tiny feet crunch in the leaves, simmer some cider on your stove, and then praise Jesus. Thank Him for His glorious creation, but even more so for the love, care, and detail He tenderly put into you.
The songs “Little Known Facts” from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown totally cracks me up. Lucy goes around sharing her “wealth of knowledge” with her little brother, Linus. Some of Lucy’s fun facts include that snow comes up from the ground, that bugs make grass grow, and that you can tell how old a tree is by counting its leaves.
This song is hilarious when watching the show or listening to the soundtrack. And although still funny, it’s a tad bit scary to imagine a real big sister imparting this kind of knowledge on her younger siblings, and downright frightening when we consider being misled by unreliable sources.
And there are so very many sources out there! I love to learn, so I want to gobble up all the info. I download heaps of books on Hoopla, listening to them as I drive home from dropping off one of my kids at practice or while I go for a run. I’m hooked on some phenomenal podcasts—I can listen to a sermon from Upper Room in Dallas or a conversation with author Annie F. Downs, anytime I’m headed out of town or just running errands. I can get almost any book I want delivered to my house in two days thanks to Amazon Prime, not to mention the stacks of reads I check out from the library. Oh, plus the daily devotionals and blogs that land in my inbox. Love! Love! Love! All of the resources.
But have you ever been listening to someone or reading something and thought…hmmm…that just doesn’t sound right? I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think bugs really tug on blades of grass to make them grow. You tilt your head to the side or scrunch your lips, because something feels off. The problem is every one of the writers and speakers and bloggers and podcasters and preachers we read or listen to are human. And so although they are experts in their field, have years of experience, and/or love Jesus, they are flawed. Just like me. So their message might be perfectly well intentioned, but they could still be wrong, or maybe right for them, but so not right for me or for you. How do we tell? How do we measure the validity of the content we consume?
Of course that depends on what you’re trying to find out. If you’re searching for delicious gluten free recipes, go to someone who is actually gluten free and has to both cook this food and eat it. If they’ve never tried preparing that dish, or don’t actually have to substitute those muffins for standard bakery muffins, they probably shouldn’t be your source. If you’re searching for the best product for your hair ask your stylist—they know your hair better than the marketers at Pantene or L’Oreal ever will.
But how about when you want to make sure you’re understanding God, God’s will, Jesus, the teachings of Scripture? How can you be certain you’re getting the right content?
There are many brilliant Bible scholars, preachers, and researchers. But there is only one ultimate truth source. The Bible. Our Bibles are God-breathed, so they will always reveal truth.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15-17
If a preacher says a certain kind of person isn’t welcome at church, or that any specific people group is unworthy or hopeless, and that makes you scratch your head, turn to your Bible. Check out where Jesus loves on the sinners, sick, and psychotic. It turns out Jesus calls all of us His treasures, His precious children, every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, or where we don’t measure up according to worldly standards. That should clear that up. If a pastor or teacher condemns one kind of activity or promotes another—go to your Bible, check it out. Ask them where in the Bible they got their info—if they can’t answer, that’s a problem. You get the idea.
I love the sweet, earthy smell of leaves—the rustle of them as I rake them into mounds. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of counting leaves to see how old a tree is. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a hecka lot of ridiculousness out there these days. Social media and websites are a blessing, but there are no filters or requirements on what anyone can and will say online. God gave us an incredible gift when He gave us the Bible. He handed us His living word, a way for us to always be able to hear Him, no matter how noisy our lives seem to be. He gave us a way to always find Him, always decipher truth, if only we’ll open up the pages and dive in.
During this month of gratitude, I am so extremely thankful for the Bible—for the words, promises, history, prayers, guidance, and hope it contains. I am thankful for truth—true north, the ultimate compass. What verse, story, or person from the Bible are you most thankful? Comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram as part of our #thankfulnessproject. This way we can share with each other brilliant glimpses of God’s truth.
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?
My youngest had the day off school the other day (teacher workday) and we decided to live it to the fullest. We cuddled up under the giant, red, fuzzy blanket that sits on our couch with hot cocoa (him) and coffee (me) and watched a movie he’d wanted to see. We fit together the pieces of a giant puzzle of the world, and then we headed to the corn maze.
When I’m in a corn maze I feel like I’m in an adventure story, on a mission to find the golden goose or missing clue. Okay, so I’m also dramatic, and live a bit inside my head of fairytales. But I am mystified by corn mazes, not just because they’re the perfect setting for a quest, but also because this destination, which draws people from all over for fall fun is actually just a dead corn field. The farmer grew corn in the summer (knee high by the Fourth of July is the rule in Ohio) and sold thousands of ears of it all summer long. My kids and I husked thick wrappers, and untangled shiny silks. I flash boiled the sweet, golden ears and we ate them slightly salted with watermelon and barbequed chicken all summer long. But summer is over—yikes it got so chilly in a heartbeat—and the corn has been harvested, and it’s time for steaming pots of soup and crisp apples. The farmer could have looked at the brown, dried out stalks, and simply plowed them down, preparing the soil for next year’s planting. He had that choice. Summer was over. Time to move on. But he knows better. He knows that even the stalks had purpose. That none of it has to be wasted.
There’s even more to it than immediately meets the eye. The corn has been harvested, but some dried up ears remain on the brittle stalks. These ears will be gathered and used as feed for the cows all winter long. Wild morning glories have taken seed and used the seemingly expired stalks as a support system, upon which they can grow and bloom, vibrant purple blossoms.
God, along with all of His other royal attributes, is the King of not letting anything be wasted. He looks at us, even when we feel shriveled and like we’ve been picked clean, even when we have no idea how that thing or that person could be used for our story moving forward and says, “Yup, I can use her. I can use him. I can use that class she taught or the one he took. I can use that conversation, that love for drums or jalapeno peppers, that relationship that fizzled. I can use all of that to add fervor, flair, or fun, or maybe to fortify their life.”
He About five years ago I had completed writing a novel and was struggling to find a publisher. A friend arranged for me to meet one of her editor friends, so I could pick his brain on how my book might find a slot in the current industry. The editor was savvy and kind. He gave me solid advice, but unfortunately to this day that novel has never been published. Did God waste this meeting? No. He doesn’t work like that. In January of this year the same editor contacted me and asked me to write two books for him. Two? What? Last week another ministry called saying, the very same guy suggested I might be able to help them with a writing project. What? A lunch over fried green beans, y’all, (apparently it’s a Nashville thing), five years ago did not land my novel a book deal. But it created a relationship that led to future writing adventures. Does that make sense? Of course not to me. But that’s what God is always doing.
What in your life looks like it was or is a waste of time. What are you looking at on your desk or in your planner that makes you just shake your head and ask God, “Why?” It could be a place you moved, an organization you invested in, an endeavor you tried. It might look like a dead end now, but God will use it somehow—for growth or healing, as experiences you can learn from and apply around the next bend of this adventure we call life.
Sometimes you have to circle back to the direction you just came from in a corn maze to actually progress to the finish line. It doesn’t make sense when you’re in the midst of it. It feels like you’re going backwards. But you’re advancing, gaining the steps you need to get where God really wants you to end up. And even when you hit a dead end or literally walk the same row of corn repeatedly, God uses that too. I promise. For my son and I, who were in the corn maze for over an hour—we literally passed the same couple three different times. “Hi. Again.” We laughed more. We told more stories. We experienced more one-on-one time together. We breathed in bigger gulps of brisk autumn air. And it made my mama heart so full and glad. All because we were lost in some dead corn. I’m so grateful for a brilliant, glorious God who always knows better than I do, which way I should go, when, and why.
He chose us in advance. And He makes everything work out according to His plan. —Ephesians 1:11
So, don’t throw up your hands. Take a deep breath. God is with you in this very moment. He sees the work you put in, the avenues you explored, the times you bit your tongue. The day and the day after that when you tried again. He has this giant, phenomenal plan for you, and He’s so excited that you took that step to the left, and that one slightly backwards, because He knows that will lead you to where He’s pointing you. You might see dead, empty stalks. But Jesus sees a phenomenal corn maze, some nourishment for His kingdom, and something wild about to bloom.
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Are you feeling thankful?
Your house may be filled with the aroma of cloves and pumpkin. Maybe the family members you love dearly have already arrived—their footsteps echoing on the floors their laughter filling the house. Or perhaps they’re on their way as you stir the sauce or run the vacuum. But today you might also have an ache that no hot pad, bath, or amount of Advil will soothe. The people you most long to see might not be coming this year. You may have recently had some questions answered, some problems resolved or perhaps a new batch of issues recently sprouted up. The year ahead might suddenly seem exciting, uncertain, or bleak.
But we can all be thankful. Despite our circumstances. Because Jesus hears our praises and our cries. God longs to be with His people. He wants to toast all of the joys and triumphs in our lives with a glass of the finest wine. Jesus wants to heal our wounds, comfort our hurts and answer our prayers. No matter who we will or won’t see over the holidays, Jesus wants to hang out with us and hold us close. In fact, that was one of His favorite things to do while He was on earth.
Jesus celebrated at weddings, invited Himself over to dinner, passed around fish to a giant crowd, broke bread with His disciples, even cooked them breakfast. Jesus longs to spend Thanksgiving with us. No matter how many place settings we’ve put out, no matter if we use our finest china or paper plates, if we’re pouring wine or apple cider or water, Jesus wants to dine with us. He doesn’t care if we make cornbread stuffing from a family recipe, tear open a bag of Pepperidge Farm and add hot water, or if we’re gluten free. Jesus isn’t judging on if we let a cylinder of cranberry jel slide from a can (it is so gross, but I confess I love that stuff) or if you simmered berries over a stove and sprinkled in cinnamon.
Jesus doesn’t stress about the meal or the serving spoons or the weather. He loves to be with us. Because He loves us. And being loved? Isn’t that what we all crave? Having someone who loves us that perfectly, completely and unconditionally—isn’t that the most incredible thing?
Isn’t that the ultimate thing to be thankful for?
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever. —Psalm 118: 28-29
The last time I got my hair done I had some lowlights added. Chlorine from summer pool days, hours of sun shining on my head at soccer fields, plus the highlights only stance I’d taken the last few times I had my hair done, all added up to my tresses looking slightly less honey and a little on the platinum side. It was time. But lowlights seem so counterintuitive. I’m paying to keep the golden glow of my childhood forever, why would I darken the sheen?
Why? Because dark helps us focus on light, illuminates the glow, so it shines even brighter.
The lowlights? They show off the paler strands. The contrast is lovely, somehow richer, and fuller, than a straight up blonde. But in life we tend not to focus on our lowlights, but on our highlights—the signed contract, the win, the award, the cupcakes we frosted to look like adorable pumpkins, the stunning vistas taken during our vacation, when in truth, most of our life is lowlights.
We rarely share scrubbing the toilets before guests arrive, the rewrites and revisions on our papers, the hours of doing flashcards with our kids so they pass that time test, the acne cream we dab on our zits, or the spills and extra trips to the hardware store that went into our latest home improvement project.
This past week, I experienced some lowlights. Didn’t you? Not major ones, but some less than shining moments.
I didn’t post a single one of these events on Instagram. But guess what? In these darker spots is where I turned to Jesus and saw His glory shine so brightly.
When those soccer boys walked off the field, I knew there was nothing I could say to ease their hurt or make them smile. And so I did what I do when I can’t do anything else. I hugged my son tight and prayed. I prayed for him and his team and their sweet hearts, that they would find their worth in Christ and not in goals or wins. That they would find joy in the season instead of pain in its end. I felt God’s love fill me, remind me where my worth was, and felt Him soothing and loving those boys.
I was kicking myself for snipping at my fun-loving daughter. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I let little things go? My stomach in knots, I turned to Jesus and said, “I adore my daughter and can’t stand arguing with her. She is funny and smart and smiley and loving.” And before I even finished listing to God all the things I love about my girl (which clearly, He already knew) I was flooded with all the reasons that young lady is sunshine in my life. All my icky feelings vanished. Next day we had a laughfest baking brownies together. God is so good.
The woodpile? Yeah. Okay, so I am a klutz. My parents sent me to ballet lessons as a girl in hopes I would stop bumping into things. I fell in love with dance, but still bang into stationary objects on a regular basis. I was helping my husband lug a pile of leaves into the woods. My foot got caught. For unknown reasons I refused to let go of the tarp and catch myself. Instead I went down, smack onto a piece of sharp wood and have a nasty four-inch cut across my shin to show for it. You are so glad I didn’t post a photo! Trust me. My husband and daughter came to the rescue. Feeling the way they loved me was priceless. It hurt, sure, but it’s a mere flesh wound. This cut gave me the opportunity to thank God for people who love me, and pray for anyone I know suffering from chronic pain or lingering ailments. My sore leg gave me a fresh perspective on how jam-packed with blessings my life is.
Ever wonder what Jesus’ social media accounts would have looked like? I imagine Peter running His accounts for Him, and Jesus chastising Peter for only showing the highlights. Jesus was all about down and dirty—drawing in the dirt, making paste out of mud, touching lepers who had highly contagious skin disease, talking one on one with the town harlot, chatting with the naked guy named Legion, who liked to cut himself with rocks.
Am I dismissing the lowlights or embracing them? Am I taking time to watch Jesus open my blind eyes with the mud of life? Are you?
What tough stuff did you wade through this week? What mire are you still desperately trying to climb through? Have you turned it over to Jesus? Asked Him to bring light to the darker spaces? To use these hardships to illuminate your life?
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
I am thankful for all of the highlights of my life. So. Very. Grateful. I’ve been blessed with a dreamy husband, four kids whom I adore more than oxygen or chocolate, the sweetest mother, and I get to tell stories for a living. Please! This week I went to the farmer’s market, made apple crisp, had date night with my hubby—all darling photo ops. But I am also blessed by my lowlights—the learning moments, the times I turn to Jesus and say, “Help!” and watch Him turn up every single time, shining His almighty flashlight into my dark places.
Jesus is not afraid of the dark. Instead He uses it to show us how bright He is. Whatever seems murky or muddy this week, hand it over to Him and watch His sunbeams light up your life.
This fall I started teaching a new Bible study, at a new place, with a group of women I’d never met before. I had a case of first-day-of-school excitement and nervousness so real I wondered if I should buy myself a new lunchbox and glue stick.
To prepare for the first session I:
Five minutes later a squirrel was running around the church. No lie. A squirrel! The pastor, who I’m sure was impressed with the new girl they picked to lead Bible study, and I scurried around for several minutes eventually shooing the little guy out.
The DVD player worked. We drank coffee. The ladies were awesome. When it was over, everyone left except one girl who helped me make sure the doors were locked and the alarm was set. I hopped in my car, checked my messages, and started to back out. Only, there was another woman coming out of the church with her littles. A woman who I thought had already left, but apparently was changing someone’s diaper. A woman who I had locked in the church. When she opened the door, yup, you guessed it, the alarm went off.
I had to call the pastor and beg him to drive back to the church to turn off the alarm system before the cops came (as if I hadn’t already dazzled him with my competency). But I got this great opportunity to get to know both the girl I locked out and the girl who helped me. I hadn’t known their names two hours prior, and now we stood in the parking lot chatting and laughing with the alarm blaring in the background.
The next week I arrived early. Only through a miscommunication of mine, the church was locked. And I didn’t have a key. There were a dozen women, many with toddlers, two babysitters, a locked church and me. I was rocking this new gig. But you know what? It was also a stunningly gorgeous autumn day. And picnic tables had been set up in front of the church. Tables that aren’t always there, but today were. And the church has a fantastic toddler-safe playground. I sent the kids with the sitters to play on the playground and the ladies and I set up shop at those picnic tables. We had such meaningful conversation.
The third week all of the gourmet chocolates I’d stashed in my bag to put out for the girls had melted into one gooey glob. Guess what? Bible study that day? Still grand.
Moral of the story? No matter how much I prepared, I could not secure the outcome of Bible Study. No matter how much I prepare for anything I can’t control the outcomes. Just the inputs. I can’t. You can’t. We aren’t supposed to. We weren’t meant to. And even if we think we can or try our hardest or prepare in all of the best ways we know how, we aren’t in control. But thankfully, God is.
Yes, since I agreed to lead this group I should come prepared. That’s a common courtesy. But I also need to accept that I’m not in control of “how well Bible study goes” or what women get out of it, or what these awesome ladies learn. God is.
When we do our jobs, care for our family, serve our organizations, teams, or churches, parent our kids, love our spouses, we should do our best. We should prepare, because that’s kind and respectful and caring. Because we would want others to do the same for us. Because Jesus loves us so perfectly. But in the end, the outcomes are in God’s hands.
If you have a tryout or an audition, play your hardest, strive to hit the high notes, work on memorizing your lines. If you have an assignment, read the material, think through it well, answer to the best of your ability. If you’re planning a party, buy and/or cook yummy food, check to make sure you have napkins and cups. If you have a deadline, arrange your schedule to allow enough time to get the work done. But don’t forget to pray over it. Put your work and your efforts, which on any given day could be stellar or less than stellar, in the hands of the Almighty who is always spot on and eternally at His best. And then trust Him.
How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? —Galatians 3:2 MSG
Last week during the video for Bible study, Jennie Allen said something like this (I’m paraphrasing, because when I take notes, I quote what I like and emphasize what I feel God is trying to tell me—so this is what I jotted down), “This has never been about my competency. It’s only about my love for Jesus and His love for me.”
No matter what you’re working at today know that, absolutely, you should give it your best. Because God made you. Because He’s given you this opportunity. Because He’s gifted you in ways to serve Him through this. Do the things you know how to do—the things you can control. Prepare in the ways you know how to prepare. But remember, it is not about your competency. It never was. It’s about your love for Jesus and His love for you. So, whisper a prayer over the situation—your interview, upcoming move, surgery, or evaluation. Then trust our God who is greater, who knows exactly what we need before we ever ask, who loves us, and is fighting for us, and is on our side. Trust the God who has more than everything we could ever need to accomplish what needs to be done. When we come to the end of ourselves we find God there waiting to complete the good work He has begun in us.
When it’s all said and done, don’t forget to marvel at what He does with our meager offerings—squirrels, alarms, melted chocolates. He takes these things and turns them into friendships, abundance and grace. This is what Jesus offers. Do your best today, but don’t worry about your competency. Instead focus on His love.
My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
Laura L. Smith