“One of the girls in the class has her own cupcake business. One of the boys takes apart computers and puts them back together. One girl did research on the effects of mental health and sports. Another guy loved playing Gaga Ball at camp so much that he researched where the game came from, and then dove into other traditions of that culture.” I was explaining Maguire’s Passion Project, an assignment to research and present on anything you’re passionate about, to my oldest daughter, Maddie.
“What did Maguire do?” she asked.
“He did his on reducing the carbon footprint of his school to neutral by 2040 in a three-phase program.”
“Wow! Who are these cool kids?” Maddie asked on the other end of the phone. “I’m pretty sure no one in my class was that cool at that age.”
“I bet they were. If you guys had this assignment, you would have seen it. I think that’s the point,” I answered. “Everyone is actually cool, super cool, when you see the passions God put in their hearts.”
But often we look at others' coolness and think it outranks ours. It doesn’t.
Sometimes we shy away from sharing the things we’re passionate about, because we fear others will think we’re weird or won’t understand. Or we discount the value of the fact that we’ve perfected a recipe for meringues or that HGTV contacted us about making a pilot about our home business (I swear this happened to one of my friends) or that we play the saxophone or tap maple trees on our property to get actual syrup. But all this stuff is cool and important to building God’s kingdom in a zillion different ways. We need to pursue our passions and use our gifts, because God entrusted them to us to make a difference.
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. -- 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
God created each and every one of us and put all this awesome different stuff inside us----my next door neighbor is a professor who studies what people wore throughout history and how culture and current events affect wardrobe, a friend of ours rides in hot air balloon events several times a year, and my brother, who’s a corporate finance attorney, invented AxePaxe, a case specially designed for guitar accessories. All this is incredibly cool and awesome and creative and adds color and knowledge and perspective and whimsy to the world God created.
What is your gift? How are you using it to show who God is?
When we think of the disciples sometimes we marvel at how cool they must have been--to be invited to spend three years traveling, working and living with Jesus. What special traits did they possess? Well, they were pretty special, just like you and I are. But God thinks we’re all incredibly awesome. In fact, the disciples were all different from one another. Matthew was great at numbers. Simon had zeal. John had child-like faith. Thomas liked to have proof. Some were fishermen. Some weren’t. Some were married. Some single. Some educated. Some not. Jesus called them from numerous towns in a variety of ways. God created each disciple in His image and gave them specific talents that would help build His kingdom. And Jesus knew each disciple had varying traits, strengths, and passions that would make them His very best companions and the perfect people to tell the world about Him. Same with you and me today. The kingdom needs all of us!
So there you have it. You are one of the cool kids. You’re one of God’s chosen people. Not because of your test score or where you live or how you dress. Not because of who you’re connected to or what your title is or how many followers you have. You’re one of the cool kids, simply because God created you. Because He made you in His image and poured all the things He wanted you to have into your mind, heart and body. He intentionally gave you special unique gifts. You lack nothing to do the work God has called you to do. For some of us that’s having a booth at the farmer’s market or maybe doing market research. For others that’s managing funds or organizing fundraisers. You aren’t supposed to be like them or have their passions. You are you.
You have been given something special that shows the world another glimpse of who God is. How are you going to show it off today?
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I listened to videos from a worship conference my son and I attended two years ago (read more about our experience here) instead of one of my playlists while I ran this morning. Yes, I said listening to videos. I’m weird like that. The music at the event was amazing, and Max and I videoed many of the songs. Since all the music was live, our phone recordings are different from the versions of the same songs I have downloaded on Spotify.
“Glorious Day” started playing, and 1:16 minutes into the song Brandon Lake broke into a spontaneous declaration of, “This is my testimony…” Brandon proceeded to contrast the way God had changed his life. Such as, “This is my testimony--from dark to light. This is my testimony--from death to life.” And it got me thinking about where I was two years ago.
Where was I then?
Where am I now?
I don’t mean I was standing in insanely hot August Texas heat eating a-ma-zing tacos with some special zingy seasoning from a food truck while Max and I waited to get into the conference, but the things I was praying for two years ago. The things Max was praying for.
And how God has answered so many of those prayers.
Max was headed into his senior year of high school. Due to injuries he was no longer able to play soccer, which had been his sport the first three years of school. He didn’t know where he wanted to go to college. Or how he would continue with the worship music he was passionate about when he went away to school. At that conference I remember specifically praying for healing of an old, deep family wound and for my writing which seemed to be taking a new direction. I had all kinds of questions about where exactly God wanted it to go.
Fast forward to today. Max’s senior year was by far his favorite year of high school. He tried and loved a new sport and made incredible new friends. Last week he started his sophomore year of college, at a university we’re certain God guided him to. He leads worship both on and off campus in a variety of outlets using his musical gifts to point others to Jesus. The prayers my son prayed throughout that conference. The things he took to Jesus. They’ve been answered in wonderful ways we could have never imagined.
God placed a friend and a conversation in front of me that nudged me to start seeing a Christian counselor. She has helped me heal from my past in ways I didn’t know were possible. I’ve teamed up with an amazing publisher who has provided avenues for me to share about Jesus’ great love for us that I didn’t know existed. I look back to August 2019 Laura and see that as I sang, worshipped, and got down on my knees, the things I was talking to Jesus about? Those things? He heard me. He listened, He cared. He has provided in unfathomable ways.
And today, I write this for two reasons.
I’m not promising everything will look like you think it should.
I doubt it will.
Max’s situation isn’t at all how he had it sketched out.
It’s so much better.
Same with me.
Max and I didn’t even know to pray for some of the things God has provided.
I can’t wait to hear what your testimonies are--how God has moved in your past two years or past two weeks or last two days. Drop a comment--I’d love to praise Jesus with you.
Also drop a comment if you have a prayer request. I’d be honored to pray with you. Because I cannot wait to see where we’ll all be two years from now, sharing our testimonies of how our loving Savior has done so much infinitely more than we could ever hope for or imagine. How He has answered our prayers.
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When the kids were little we went to the pool almost every day of summer. We packed snacks and Pull-Ups and goggles and towels and little plastic pool toys and sunscreen. We played alligator in the shallow end and the kids had contests off the diving board while I judged who made the biggest (or smallest) splash or who made me laugh the hardest as they bounced off the board and into the water.
My kids are big now. And their schedules don’t leave much time for swimming pools. But the other day was hot hot and we decided to go and it was the absolute best time. We still packed snacks, sunscreen, and towels, but I also packed a book, thinking I might read a bit while my teenagers splashed about. But a few minutes after spreading out our striped towels on plastic chairs they asked me if I’d go down the giant slide with them. And who can pass up an offer like that?
We went down once, one at a time as required, each having our own fun while we cheered one another on. As I landed in the pool after my ride down the twists and curves of the yellow chute the kids said:
“You’re supposed to lay down, Mom.”
“You looked like you were on a carriage ride, waving to people passing by.”
“It’s a little slower that way,” I explained.
“Why would you want to go slow?” They were so puzzled.
“It’s more fun when you go fast!” They insisted.
We were already in line to go down again. Another mom was sliding down, also sitting up. I defended myself, “That’s just how moms ride down. Sitting up.”
“But you’re not like other moms,” my daughter insisted.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I’m not.” Because no two moms are the same and for me to even create a category of “other moms” is absurd.
So, when I got to the top, I laid down with my arms and feet crossed, like my kids, exhaled, and enjoyed the ride, laughing most of the way. It was faster, but letting go, leaning back was exhilarating. I stopped trying to go slower and just enjoyed what was in front of me--a cool, slippery, giggly ride on a hot July day.
As I came flying through the chute the force submerged me under water. I bounced back up to the cheers of my kiddos. “Go Mom!”
I try to control my life too much. I try to control my schedule, speed, servings of fruits and vegetables and hours of sleep. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to make sure I get enough sleep--in fact it’s super important. As are eating healthy foods and meeting my deadlines and paying bills on time. But also, I need to trust Jesus and lean back and embrace the fun and adventures He puts in front of me even when they feel slightly scary.
This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.--Psalm 118:23-24
From there we went to the wide green mega slide where we could sit three across and go down together. Next we made a chain with our innertubes and floated along the lazy river. When the bell started ringing signaling the enormous red bucket that fills up with water every fifteen minutes was about to dump, we darted over and sat in the shallow part of the pool, heads tossed back, waiting for the bucket to tip and douse us.
Who needs a book and the security of a lawn chair when there is so much fun to be had?
It made me wonder how often I’ve been clinging to the metaphoric plastic chair? Because security and routine are safe. But they keep us from fully embracing this present moment now. And I don’t want to miss anything Jesus has in store for me. I don’t want to have been “too busy” sticking to my plan that I missed the delights He had in store.
I don’t know what routines or possibly ruts you’re stuck in today. Is there something you’ve been meaning to try but weren’t sure how to make time for? Or were maybe a little scared to attempt it? Or worried you wouldn’t know anyone there? Is your schedule so jam-packed that if Jesus asked you to go down the slide with Him you wouldn’t have the time or energy to go? Are you willing to put down your laptop, phone, book, knitting, crossword puzzle and join in the fun God is making available?
God gives us so many incredible opportunities every day, if only we’ll step into them. I’d love to hear how you’re leaning back into His arms and letting go of your plans to step into His. Drop it in the comments so we can cheer one another on.
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What should you know about Jesus?
Jesus is kind.
Jesus is loving.
Over the last ten days I’ve gone to my home church, attended a church in Nashville (because we were there over the weekend), read a nonfiction Christian book, listened to three sermon podcasts on the book of Revelation, which were recommended to me, prepped and taught a Bible study, watched an episode of The Chosen (a series depicting the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and read the Bible and journaled daily with Jesus. For those of you who are new here, this content is both for my soul--my personal relationship with Jesus and for my job as a Christian author and speaker, so I can better understand and explain Jesus to others. Getting to immerse myself in teachings on the Bible is a huge perk of my vocation for me, since I'm the ultimate booknerd/studynerd. Out of all these readings and sermons I learned a lot, but this is my biggest takeaway--Jesus is kind. Jesus is loving.
It sounds trite, but it. Is. So. True. And because it’s true, it’s a game changer.
At the church services I attended we sang of the goodness of God, how His love is like a sloppy wet kiss, that the God of breakthroughs is on our side. One of the sermons focused on Philippians 4:8 which says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Why? Because Jesus wants lovelines, excellence, truth and nobility for us! For you! For me!
The book I read was all about slowing down to hear the loving voice of Jesus better. The sermons on Revelation honed in on both how loving our God is to give us a zillion and ten chances to follow Him, and that we have an open invite into His glorious kingdom. The Bible study I wrote and taught was all about the joy God offers. The episode of The Chosen shows Jesus look into the eyes of a woman who doesn’t feel noticed, who’s overwhelmed, and He tells her, “I see you. I will take care of you.”
Another woman declares, “Everyone looks down on me.”
And Jesus nods because it’s true. Then He says, “Yes. But the Messiah does not.”
In my daily reading I’ve been in the book of Matthew where Jesus heals a leper and a paralytic, calms the storms, and reassures us that if we follow Him He will give us everything we need.
Page after page in the Bible illustrates how kind and loving Jesus is.
I see this in my own life. I mentioned we went to Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Our purpose was to help my oldest daughter move into her first grown up home. It was, I repeat, Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Which sounded like so much traffic and so many people, but of course worth it, to see my girl.
God knew my heart was a little fragile about my daughter moving away and with immense loving-kindness He padded my weekend with ease and joy and laughter. We experienced no traffic. As in not just no “holiday traffic,” but no traffic traffic. We cruised from state to state to state, and around Music City no problem. We also experienced zero lines going out to eat Fourth of July weekend in this bustling town. We got right in, no reservations, ate pizza and something called cinnamon bites, saw live music (because when in Nashville….), got ripe, juicy blackberries at the farmer’s market, ate a scrumptious brunch at Fido complete with Berry Berry Pancakes (seems to be a berry theme), returned our rental truck in about two minutes, and drove back to Ohio. Again, with no traffic.
It was all so perfect and easy and I felt God’s provision and goodness all over every single piece of our adventure. How good is our God? How personal?
A God who sees a mama trying to gracefully release her baby bird but with an ache in her heart (that’s me) and gives her a no traffic, no lines, get to hug your girl and hold her tight kind of weekend.
Sure, we still live in a world where there is traffic and evil and mosquitos and gossip. But Jesus? He is kind. And He is loving.
And why is this important? Because life can be hard. Because when our product doesn’t launch as well as we’d hoped or when that person hurts us or when we experience loss or when our world feels so divided Jesus sees you and me. Right where we are. In the middle of it all. He looks us in the eyes and loves us in just the way we need it most. And He is kind to us.
Jesus loves you.
Today He loves you.
No matter if you’ve talked to Him ever or not. No matter if you’re currently in a hot mess of lies and mistakes or living your best life. No matter what you think “the church” thinks about you, Jesus isn’t judgy. He is kind and loving. To quote Jesus himself, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”--John 3:17
Jesus loves us by giving us blue skies and fruity, sticky pancakes, and the sound of an acoustic guitar played by a young musician on Music Row strumming his heart out. Jesus is so kind He provides a breeze blowing on a hot July day and the magical sparks of fireworks lighting up the dark summer sky with bright colors.
Jesus loves you. Jesus is kind to you.
Inhale the scent of a knockout rose or better yet lavender growing in a garden. Savor the sweetness of a fresh strawberry or a cool glass of lemonade. Giggle at the splash of a sprinkler or fountain or wave. And thank Jesus for His ever present overpowering love and kindness.
How has Jesus been kind and loving to you today? Drop a comment. I’d love to hear.
This is the part of vacation where most people post a cute picture of their pedicured toes and the ocean beyond. I did give myself a pedicure before we left, in pastel yellow, which felt sunny and beachy, but no one sees my toes during our time at the beach. I wear these gross shoes that my oldest described as “oven mitts for your feet” to sit in the sun or stroll the sand and let the waves crash over my legs.
I take this precaution, because I’m highly allergic to fire ants. And, just like me, they love it here at the beach. I’d rather walk barefoot on the sand and wear fun sandals out to dinner, but I settle for ugly beach shoes and cute sneakers, so I don’t get attacked by a tiny ant and end up in the hospital. On this trip I’ve been marveling at how I’m not in this battle against the ants on my own. My family protects me far better than I do by myself.
Sitting at the pool my daughter grabs her water bottle and starts pouring its contents on the pavement to drown an ant and his pal that have just crawled our way. My husband shines the flashlight from his phone on my feet as we walk back from Rita’s, creamy chocolate frozen custard in hand, ensuring I don’t accidentally step on any anthills.
“Mom, you all right? I saw you rub your leg?” Asks one of my kids.
“Mom, do you have your Epipen?” another asks.
“Mom, I’ll walk around with you away from the ants while we wait for everyone else,” another offers.
And it’s this beautiful thing that makes me feel incredibly loved. Yes, I’m trying to be safe, but it’s not all up to me. The people who love me are taking it upon themselves to have my back, (well, feet) and keep me from harm.
If my wonderful, but human family who has their own worries and concerns does this much for me, can you imagine how much more our Heavenly Father protects us, looks out for us?
It reminds me of the passage in Luke where Jesus is explaining that there are going to be some incredibly hard times for His followers. But He assures the disciples, and us, that He will always look over us.
...every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost--Luke 21:18
EVERY detail of our bodies and souls. How comforting is that?.
Meaning, if you are struggling with bills, a relationship, your mental health, your physical health, it’s not all up to you. God will care for you. Not only does God love you, but He pays attention to every detail of your life, and has all the resources in the world to take care of your needs.
If you trust in Him, He’ll shine His Almighty flashlight to illuminate a safe path for you to walk. He’ll douse oncoming trouble to keep it from crawling your way. He’ll walk with you away from danger and toward safety. He’ll keep you company along the way. He’ll remind you to take your medicine, visit your counselor or doctor, do your exercises. He’ll check in with you--are you okay? He’ll be patient with you as you do your part, whether that’s scouting out the outdoor table to make sure it’s clear of ants or attending a support group or journaling or working the extra shift. But it will never all fall on you. Yes, the fire ants of the world still exist. Some things are dangerous. And we need to do the things we know to do to protect ourselves. Wear our seatbelts or beach shoes, both literally and figuratively. But we don’t have to worry. Because our God is looking out for us at every turn. And through it all Jesus will remind us how very much He loves us.
No matter what happens, God has our back. He’s guarding us with angel armies. He’s stronger than anything that comes our way, and wants us to avoid stepping into a nest of danger. Even if that danger looks like fire ants.
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A year ago as the cast of Hamilton sings, “the world turned upside down.”
First my son and daughter’s high school business plan competition in Columbus was canceled. Then my daughter’s soccer tournament in Tennessee was called off. Next, I got a frantic call from my oldest saying she and all the other students were being sent home from her college campus immediately. Soon my packed calendar was emptied and our family who is usually going every direction and back again was together within the confines of our home.
I’m sure you have similar stories.
Prior to all the cancellations, I was in a rut. In a lot of areas in my life. I’ve talked about some of them before here and here, but even though I’m a writer, and use creativity in my work on a daily basis, my creativity seemed stunted when I stepped away from my laptop.
With six people’s taste buds and multiple food allergies, planning safe meals that everyone enjoys is a trick and a half, and I was letting it get the better of me. Not to mention, we were often on a time crunch to have dinner ready between school, practices, meetings, and rehearsals. I had a couple of full proof meals--tacos and gluten free pasta, but that was about it. I was as sick of making them as my family was of eating them.
But when last March gave us some extra time on our hands my kids sparked my creativity. Could they help plan the meals? Sure. Could we make the homemade tomato recipe they found on TikTok? We can try. Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a giant charcuterie board? Absolutely it would be fun! And so, I rediscovered how therapeutic cooking is for me.
When I stopped thinking of dinner as another task I needed to complete and instead took my time chopping and simmering, stirring and measuring it became soothing. Even better was when one of my kids joined me in the kitchen--smashing avocados for guacamole or kneading pizza dough. Their interest in the process made it more interesting to me. Their company in the kitchen--absolutely priceless. The flavors of melted brie dripping with honey and smells of garlic and onion simmering in olive oil revived my senses. I felt like Remy in Ratatouille savoring the experience instead of going through the motions. And the tangible product of creating a delicious meal for the family while transitioning from “go” mode to “relax” mode in the early evenings became something I looked forward to. Our schedules are rapidly picking back up again, but I want to find ways to continue this. Maybe not every night, but more nights.
I also rediscovered painting--not walls, but journals, Bibles, blank notecards, just creating beauty on blank spaces. In school I opted into extra art classes. I’m also the girl who could spend hours in a museum gazing at the imaginative creations of great artists. But I hadn’t painted anything since the kiddos were tiny and we’d pull out the watercolors. Getting the paints back out has been therapeutic.
It makes sense. The first time I ever baked chocolate chip cookies with my mom I was amazed I could cream butter and sift flour to make my favorite food (and eat spoonfuls of delectable dough in the process). The first time I dipped my fingers in thick, cool finger paints (I can still smell the waxy scent of the red, yellow, and blue), I was amazed how streaks of color transformed the white paper. God put these things in me when He created me. It was me that got away from them, that got too busy to play.
Think back to things that have always made you happy, the ways you “played” when you were younger. Riding bikes? Doing puzzles? When was the last time you did that thing?
I’ve heard it said that if you work with your mind you should rest with your hands and vice versa. I’m a writer, which is all words in my head, so this theory holds true as I find measuring teaspoons of cinnamon or dipping brushes and swirling colors restful and restorative.
Using your hands could mean sewing a skirt, rebuilding an engine, tiling your bathroom, or getting out a box of Crayolas and creating aliens with a cute preschooler. My friends who work with their hands--nurses who deliver babies, interior designers who lug couches across rooms--they find rest reading nonfiction books, listening to podcasts, playing games like Clue, Chess, or Risk-- things that tap into their brilliant headspace.
God worked. He wants us to do the same. And God rested. And, yup, He wants us to do the same.
Do you rest? Or are you always on the go?
Do you practice this principle of switching your processing from your mind to hands or hands to mind?
Do you incorporate playtime into your life?
If so, what brings you joy and rest, renews your body, refreshes your soul?
Find your things or rediscover ones that have been in you all along. Those things you loved to do once upon a time, Jesus put in you when He created you. And Jesus tells us that He’ll teach us how to live a free and light life--one filled with unforced rhythms of grace.
“Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” --Matthew 11:29-30 MSG
Jesus does this because He wants to awaken our senses of smell with intoxicating vanilla, invigorate us with laughter and revive us with bright cobalt blues. But we have to be willing to put down our work. We have to be willing to pause and rest and play and pray. And when Jesus shows us a fabulous way to live life more freely, we need to step into it.
Set aside some time this week to play. Talk to Jesus about some ways to intentionally do something (scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix are fine, but not what we’re talking about here). Do something that restores you, that helps build a rhythm of grace into your life. Let me know how it goes!
Me? I plan on painting a chair or two and making homemade pizza dough.
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I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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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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Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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Laura L. Smith