Listen, I’m not a food blogger or an expert in any way about being a hostess. But I do love the holidays and over the years I’ve experienced some crazy, stressful Thanksgivings traveling with infants and toddlers, trying to fit in feedings and naps and keep everyone with food allergies safe. I’ve been in a kitchen with half a dozen grown women running around frantically twenty minutes 'till mealtime with oven doors flying open, knives wielded, people snapping at each other, and everyone’s tension escalating everyone else’s stress. I bet you have some stories to share as well.
I’ve also experienced more relaxing Thanksgivings where it didn’t seem to matter what time we ate or that we forgot one of the side dishes in the fridge. When cooking was a team effort full of laughter and tasting as we stirred and chopped. When I felt God’s love tangibly in the room and my heart was truly thankful. And although some of the stresses of Turkey Day can’t be avoided or even expected, there are things we can proactively do to make this year’s Thanksgiving the best version of itself.
Not in a selfish “this is how I want it” way, but in a “this is how God made me and I’m going to embrace myself” way.
Our culture is all about the picture perfect Thanksgiving, the kind Chip and JoJo would orchestrate in a home they designed with food prepared from Jo’s cookbook. Your friends, acquaintances, television, and social media will share a thousand and eight new recipes you’ll want to try this year, some adorable, simple decorations you can make for less than $9/each, and comfortable, casual, yet awesome outfits you should definitely be wearing.
All these things are great.
New recipes are fun.
Decor feels festive.
And I do love a cute outfit.
But hear me and hear me loudly, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS!
If you love to cook–chef up your favorites. Spend a couple days leading up to Thursday making those homemade rolls with the dough that needs to rise overnight and browning the flour for the gravy (it’s a thing–a family tradition on my dad’s side). If you’re attending a large gathering, sign up to bring multiple dishes.
If you don’t like to cook. Don’t.
Delegate the cooking. Order a fully-cooked turkey, bagged salad, and instant mashed potatoes from Kroger. Or offer to wash the dishes or entertain the kids to allow someone else the freedom to be in the kitchen. Or buy scrumptious bagels, fresh fruit and coffee from a local cafe for breakfast.
Same holds true for decorating or running in the local race or participating in the annual family Turkey Bowl. If you love to decorate, go all out. If you don’t. Light a candle that smells like Fall Leaves or an Autumn Walk or Pumpkin Spice and call it a day. If you’re a runner, run. If not, give a polite pass, or participate in the walking portion of the race. If you love football, bring your gym shoes to participate in the family game. If not, cheer on the sidelines.
You get the idea. God made you love cooking or great with kids or with a passion to make things spotless or provided you extra money in your account. Use the gifts He gave you and don’t wear yourself out trying to be someone you’re not. You’ll have more fun, be less exhausted, and make the contribution you specifically were designed to contribute, allowing others to make theirs.
If you need to go to bed early, be honest and say, “I love you all, but I really need to call it a night.” If being around alcohol or nuts or something else is potentially harmful for you don’t serve them or politely ask your host ahead of time if these items could be avoided. If you are traveling and your day ends better with a piece of chocolate or the sound of a portable fan or begins better with a specific coffee creamer –bring those things with you. If you need a moment or ten by yourself, graciously excuse yourself to go to your room or take a walk or whatever you need to do to be able to breathe deeply, whisper a prayer, gather yourself. You don’t have to be “on” the whole weekend.
It sounds so simple, right? But have you prayed about your Thanksgiving? Have you asked God to make it enjoyable? Have you asked Him to help you find peace? Have you asked Him how you can make it simpler? Or how you could make it simpler or more enjoyable for someone else? Have you asked Jesus to help you get along with the person you always seem to struggle with?
God is available 24/7 and wants to hear everything you’re excited or worried or disappointed about or overwhelmed by this Turkey Day. Bring it all to Him. He loves you. He is with you. He is for you. And He only wants goodness for you.
By praying you’ll be able to process your thoughts and concerns, share your burdens with someone who really cares (Jesus), and entrust the very best advocate to help your Thanksgiving be better than you imagined.
his is what the holiday is all about.
We’re told to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This doesn’t mean we have to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN them. Holidays can be hard sometimes. We might be missing someone or the travel or the hosting might feel overwhelming in our current season. We might be coming into Thanksgiving sick or exhausted. But God still has goodness for us. Despite our circumstances.
If we’re worn out, we can thank God for a cozy quilt or a morning where we can sleep in. If we’re missing someone we can thank God for our lovely memories with them. If we’re struggling with dietary restrictions, we can thank God that someone was so intentional and made gluten free stuffing or pie. If we have to be with someone who pushes our buttons we can thank God for someone else in the room who makes us laugh. We can thank God for watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or getting to see our aunt that we only see once a year or kids who are singing silly turkey songs or outlining their hands and turning the drawings into turkeys.
When we give thanks dopamine and serotonin are released in our brains–happy chemicals. Giving thanks brings us joy. God knew this all along, that’s why He instructed us to give thanks in all circumstances. Because no matter what our circumstances, He wants us to experience joy.
I can’t promise your Thanksgiving will be perfect or easy. But if you embrace how God created you, take care of yourself, pray, and give thanks to God, your Thanksgiving will be the best possible Thanksgiving it can be this year.
And speaking of being thankful, I’m thankful for all of YOU for reading and joining me as we tear down the lies of this world together so we can more fully live in Jesus’ truth. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Did you know there are two locations for Manchester University in Indiana?
Neither did we.
So we plugged Manchester U (not the futbol club) into our map app and drove two hours and forty-five minutes to cheer our daughter on in her college soccer game. About five minutes away from campus my husband asked if I could specifically type in the soccer field, because sometimes locating the field in the middle of a campus can be tricky. As I typed three addresses starting with Manchester University popped up within a mile of our location and another one came up forty-five minutes away. Wait! What? There are two locations for the same school?
I quickly checked my FindMy app to see where our girl was. Not five minutes but forty-five minutes away – at the other location for Manchester University. We quickly rerouted.
Needless to say, my husband and I arrived late to the game, but just in time to see our girl’s team score the only goal of the game, and therefore the winning goal. It was a spectacular fall day all warm sunshine and golden leaves. My husband and I went for a short stroll at halftime stretching our legs and watched an exciting second half in its entirety. We got to hug and congratulate our daughter after her game, telling her how proud we were of her. Plus Brett and I got to spend over six hours together on a fall Saturday–bonus! In the car we listened to a sermon and some worship music, shared stories, ate the pj&j’s and crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market I’d packed as our lunch. We stopped and got chocolate covered pretzels at a gas station for the ride home. Also we laughed. A lot.
The day was definitely not how we planned it. It was stressful, not gonna lie, when we realized we’d driven to the wrong place, that after all our planning and leaving early and being in the car we were going to miss the first part of the game. The air in the car was tense as we raced to the second location of Manchester University. But it ended up being a spectacular day. Not because of anything my husband and I did. But because God is good.
Sometimes in life we go the wrong way. We get off course. We think we’re supposed to take that job, move to that city, work on that project, volunteer for that committee, join that club, only to figure out that actually that’s not where God wants us to be or how we’ll best thrive.
The good news? God will always let us know when we’re off course. Always steer us back to where we should be headed. Because He wants goodness for us.
This is how God always operates.
God told Jonah the prophet to go to Nineveh but he didn’t want to, so Jonah headed the opposite direction. When this didn’t work out so well, God caused a storm to toss around the boat Jonah was running away on. Jonah knew the storm was God’s way of saying, “You’re going the wrong way.” Feeling guilty, Jonah actually had the other folks on board throw him overboard to save themselves. They complied. The storm ceased. The boat was saved. And Jonah got swallowed by a big fish where he stayed for three very smelly days. Jonah prayed and the fish spit him out on dry land.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.-Jonah 3:1-3
Good thinking, Jonah.
Jonah went the wrong way.
God stopped him. Saved him. And got Jonah back on track.
The prophet Isaiah sums it up like this:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
See, God wants us to go the right way in big things and little things. He wants us to walk towards life, hope, joy, grace, peace, and redemption. And God loves us so much He doesn’t try to force His agenda on us, but lets us choose every single day. And sometimes we choose wrong. Some days it’s because we’re stubborn like Jonah, and want our own way. Other days we’re confused or misled or truly don’t have any idea that, for example, Manchester University has two locations. But because God is so good, He steps in and gives us the chance to get back on track again and again.
God also uses our missteps and turns them into good things (in Jonah’s case the other people on the boat who originally worshiped false gods ended up praying to, worshiping, and making promises to the One True God–not a bad outcome).
God always wants us at the right game, the right city, with the right people to make the right choices. He is such a good and loving father that He’ll nudge and prompt and when we go the wrong way redirect and give us a fresh start. So we might end up in Nineveh or a random town in Indiana, but if we ask Him, our Good Father will tell us which way to walk. And when we listen? Things change. We end up in the right places with the right people doing the right things–things that make us whole and feel loved and find purpose. His kingdom prevails. Goodness and mercy abound.
So let’s ask God before we move today. Let’s choose to the best of our ability to go where He sends us. If we aren’t certain, then let’s start moving and ask God to turn us around if we’re going the wrong way.
Which way will you go today? I hope you don’t end up at the wrong site of a University in Indiana or even worse the belly of a giant fish. But remember, if you do mess up, you can call out to Jesus and better than any map app, He will redirect your steps.
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I’ve popped into three different stores over the last week that all had fall and Halloween decorations on display. Listen, I LOVE fall, but …wait a minute! Where did summer go?
Do you remember how your summer started? What you were feeling? Praying for? Hoping for?
We don’t have to start buying pumpkin spice everything (although you can if you like). We can intentionally push pause and take a look at how summer went down before we fast forward into fall.
Can you picture the start of your summer? Mine looked like this–with both my life and dining room packed with good things and chaotic messy things too. Why did my dining room look like this? All summer long? Because I have college kids who I adore. And our dining room acted as a storage unit for their college things. It made for a summer full of joy and love and clutter.
What were you thinking and experiencing back in late May or early June?
Summer was also pretty upside down around here. We had a pipe leak that flooded our kitchen which has now been basically gutted. We also needed a new roof and our air conditioning was broken all summer long. So people slept wherever it felt the coolest on any particular day and we had workers plus their dog on our roof and inside our house.
What took you by surprise this summer?
And summer was amazing. We ate ice cream and painted pottery and went to the beach and played cards. We went on walks and runs and the athletes in our crew did crazy workouts. We cooked yummy food and ate dinners on the porch as the setting sun streamed through the trees. We watched movies and had great conversations and laughed so very much. Big decisions were made in our family. Some powerful experiences took place. Prayers were prayed. And we created some really great stories we’ll probably be telling for years to come.
What were your favorite parts of summer?
Jesus taught me so much this summer.
He answered specific prayers I’d been praying for months.
He asked me to let go of trying to control some things (including having a floor or cabinets).
He reminded me that the little things are so little. And the big things like love, peace, and joy–they’re what matter most, and also what He provides in abundance.
My dining room is now empty. The kids have gone back to school. Yes, I miss them like crazy (see the last blog), but I’m also excited about fall–the soccer games and Cross Country meets, some new projects I’m working on (can’t wait to share soon), apples and pumpkins and all the fall things. With this shift in seasons and schedules there will be new things I have to figure out. New prayers I’ll pray. New things God will want me to learn.
But before I dive in, I want to pause.
And reflect on what Jesus taught me over the summer. It was all too good to skim past. I don’t want to forget.
Here are some questions to contemplate before we dive into fall:
So here’s to the shift into fall, to new beginnings, colorful leaves AND to holding fast to who God is, how He so faithfully loves us, and what He’s taught us. Here’s to remembering all that Jesus did for and taught us over the summer AND to keeping our eyes open to what He wants to show us about His love and goodness as our schedules, needs, demands, and hopes once again shift.
What did God teach you this summer?
How can I be praying for you as you enter into fall?
I’d love to hear.
Some other things I learned this summer came through incredible conversations with over a dozen awesome Christian women in my What Women Can Do series. If you missed it, you can check out those convos here.
Also…just in time for fall I’m offering 10 Minutes for 10 Days–a quick, FREE, and easy Bible study geared to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully in this new season. If you’ve gone through this with me before, please join in again. It’s a great refresher to get rid of some of the clutter in our lives and minds to make more room for Jesus. And if you’re new here–welcome! I’m so excited for you to join in! The study starts September 4 Invite some friends, your small group, Bible study, sister, or do it solo.
To sign up to get your FREE 10-day Devotional click here (PDF will be delivered via email on September 1)
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We moved our 22-year old son to Michigan this week. He was on a ministry tour most of this summer, but up until this week he has always lived in Oxford where we live. We move our 19-year old daughter back to college tomorrow. Also, our baby starts his junior year of high school tomorrow. Friends, I need so much right now. I need prayers and I need Kleenex. I may or may not have said out loud, “I need chocolate.” But what I really need is Jesus.
As I’ve chatted with other friends over the last couple of weeks, they all need things too. For some, money is tight and an unexpected bill showed up and they need some finances to go exactly right. For others their body isn’t working the way they want it to work. They need healing and patience with themselves. Other women I’ve chatted with need discernment. They have opportunities and options and ideas and want to do the right thing. Other friends have mentioned they need more time, someone to answer the phone so they can make headway on an issue, a chance to catch their breath, help with a relationship. But honestly, what they all need is the same thing I need and the same thing you need, too–Jesus.
How can I be so sure one guy is the end all solution to all our needs? Well, Psalm 23 tells us, The Lord is my shepherd, I have EVERYTHING I need. So when we let Jesus shepherd us, we truly have everything we need. Sound kind of general? Or to good to be true? Still not sure how that applies to your specific situation?
Let’s take a look at what we need, who Jesus is, and how those line up.
Need peace? Stressed out? Anxious?
Jesus is the Prince of Peace and His peace surpasses all understanding.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
Need protection? Scared? Vulnerable?
Jesus is our protector
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior (2 Samuel 22:2-3).”
Need comforting? Sad? Maybe even heart broken?
Jesus is our comforter.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort (1 Corinthians 1:3).
Need provision? Out of time or money or resources?
Jesus is our provider.
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
Need a friend? Lonely?
Jesus promises to always be there for you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Not sure where to go or what to do?
Jesus will direct your steps.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:6).
I don’t know where you need to put these verses to remember. I don’t know which one will resonate with you most today. But write it out. Make it your screen saver. Look it up in your Bible and underline it. Pray it out loud. This is truth.
I’m reminded of that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when there’s a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan. One woman says her husband hasn’t worked in months. Another person has doctor bills. Everyone needs money for different reasons and seemingly out of nowhere Mary shows up holding a wad of cash and shouts, “How much do you need?”
Miraculously, it seems, each person’s need is met by the money in Mary’s hand. The clock strikes. The bank closes. And there are even a couple of dollars left over. It didn’t run out. That’s just what a fictional newlywed can do (Mary is awesome by the way) but think of how much incredibly more Jesus is capable of. He has everything in His hands that you and I need, an abundance of it. It won’t run out.
Sure, there will still be days we need Kleenex and doctors and chocolate and time and our paycheck to clear. But with Jesus’ mighty, awesome, powerful, holy, eternal self on our side? Who can be against us? And why should we fear? Jesus is everything we need.
Free Bible Study....
While on vacation our family went to Mellow Mushroom for trivia night and their delicious pizza (I love the Great White with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and ricotta). The Trivia Master asked questions about Taylor Swift, what kind of car Knight Rider drove, the ingredients in soy sauce, how high fleas can jump, and so many more. I knew the answers to some questions like: Who sang “Chain of Fools”? Aretha Franklin. And some I had zero idea like: Who was the first president to live in the White House?
But I didn’t have to know about the White House, because my 17-year old son is a history buff and loves presidents. He whipped John Adams out of his brain faster than kids jump in the pool when the lifeguard blows their whistle signaling adult swim is over. I also didn’t need to know about baseball or bones because my mom, daughters, and husband knew all kinds of trivia I was clueless about. And when none of us knew the answers, we laughed at the ridiculously obscure questions and made silly guesses. It didn’t all depend on me. I wasn’t fully responsible. No one expected me to have all the answers. Because I had a team.
The same holds true for life. You don’t have to have all the answers, run damage control, sort through the emotions, or do all the work by yourself. God never intended for us to do life alone. As soon as God finished making the first human, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Then God immediately made Eve, so Adam wouldn’t have to do life solo. God knew from the get go we are better together.
We wrestle with decisions all by ourselves not wanting to inconvenience or worry the people around us. We start something new and hesitate to share our ideas or dreams, because we don’t want to be critiqued or dismissed. We try to do all the things for all the people without asking for help, because we don’t want to let anyone down. Or maybe we just like things done our way. Or maybe we’re plain stubborn. We keep our mental health struggles to ourselves, because we worry what others might think, or because we don’t want to be a burden. We try to figure things out solo, because surely we’re clever enough to do so or we don’t want to appear weak or less than. But what if someone could give us helpful tips or lend a hand or carry some of our load or be a safe place to process? It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.
We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a recent report as something that’s “damaging the health of individuals and our society.” The report goes on to state, "Relationships help our overall well-being, and lead to healthier and more fulfilled and productive lives.” Being alone increases our risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and stroke. As God was saying, “It’s not good for people to be alone.”
Listen, I’m an introvert, so doing things solo is my natural tendency. And I’m a writer, so my job largely consists of stringing words together on my laptop–by myself. So, I need to be intentional about not isolating. I have to schedule walks and coffee dates with friends. I have to make an effort to blurt feelings and ideas out around the table or on the phone with people I love and trust. And when I share what’s on my mind, what I’m excited about, what I’m struggling with, what I’m dreaming and scheming and praying about with close, trusted friends or family, I’m a better version of myself. I get support and insights and ideas. I’m asked great questions, given wise suggestions, and feel seen and heard. People pray for me and check back to see how things are going. I receive love. And it’s beautiful. You can have all this too!
What’s going on in your life? What are you most excited about? Struggling the most with? What’s your first thought when you wake up? The thing that’s keeping you up at night? The thing you’re praying your heart out about?
Does anyone know about it?
Try inviting someone you trust, someone who loves Jesus and will keep you pointed toward Him into what’s occupying your time, heart, and mind. Ask for help if you need it or get it off your chest or explain that you just really need someone to listen. It will do wonders.
God has always intended us to share our lives. Friendship appears over and over in the Bible as a way people got through some extremely high highs and low lows. King David had his best friend Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples. We weren’t meant to do life alone. We’re better off when we share the struggles, triumphs, and even random ideas of our lives with others. Who knows, if you do, you might even win at trivia.
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Does someone you care about struggle with their mental health (maybe even you)? If so, how can you help?
Seeking help from a mental health professional is always the best and most important first step. But you can make a difference right now. Where should you start?
1. Take care of their physical needs. Our mental health wobbles when we’re not taking care of ourselves, so basic self care is a great place to start. Are they eating enough? Sleeping enough? Moving their bodies? Are they staying hydrated?
If not, help out how you can. Bring the person you care about a charcuterie tray or a meal or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants. Deliver a goodie bag of their favorite hydrating beverages–La Croix or some other flavored fizzy water or a box of their favorite tea with a jar of local honey. Invite them on a walk or a bike ride or to kick the soccer ball around with you (it is World Cup season, after all). Suggest they get some sleep–go to bed early, take a nap, etc.
Jesus did this. He fed crowds (John 6:5-13). He made sure the disciples were eating and resting (Mark 6:31). He cared about the people around Him and their basic needs. We can too.
2. Be a calming presence. Lean back, breathe deeply and slowly, speak in a calm voice, light a candle, or play some soft music. We live in a loud, hurried world. Show the person you love what peace looks like–that it is available.
Jesus calmed the storms at sea, showing the disciples peace was accessible to them even when they least expected it (Mark 4:35-41). We can also offer the people we care about a glimpse of calm.
3. Check in. When we’re alone is when our thoughts tend to spiral. We worry about the what ifs instead of focusing on the now. When we’re alone is when Satan loves to slither in and whisper lies to us. Make sure you’re not alone and the people you care about aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to. Remind them that they are seen. That they matter.
Jesus made sure the disciples traveled in pairs, not solo (Luke 10:1). Jesus approached people no one else would consider speaking to or even getting near. He didn't want them to feel isolated (John 4:7-27, Matthew 8:1-3). From the get go God knew it wasn't good for people to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We can follow Jesus’ lead and send the text, better yet make the call, even better knock on and open doors to make sure the people we care about are doing okay. If you’re worried about someone’s safety, seek professional help immediately.
4. Pray. There’s just nothing like prayer. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things is just waiting for you to talk to Him. He loves you and every single person on earth so very much. He created us all. He died for us all. He cares about our mental health. Jesus wants to flood us with hope, joy, and peace. When we talk to Jesus, it sets things in motion. Prayer costs nothing. It doesn’t require any knowledge or skill set. All you have to do is start telling Jesus what’s on your mind.
Peter, one of Jesus’ very best friends, tells us: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter saw first hand that Jesus cares so much about you and me, that we can hand over all our troubles and fears and concerns to Him. Ask Jesus to help the people you love(and yourself) with their mental health. I’ll get us started: Dear Jesus, please flood me and ______ with your peace, hope, and love.
5. Grab them a copy of my new book, 5 MInute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health
It releases one week from today! I wrote this book as a way for people to quickly connect with Jesus, and in doing so, also care for their mental health. The short devotions are catered to teens, but early readers are saying, “It’s great for ALL ages, even adults.” Each page has a Bible verse, devotion, and prayer or activity. These books make great stocking stuffers for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, anyone you love. Maybe even sneak an extra in your own stocking.
It’s amazing how many scientific tips for caring for our mental health are Biblical. Jesus loves us so much. He always has our best interest in mind, and cares so much about our mental health. Praying for you, for your mental health, and for the mental health of those you love.
I’m giving away a 5-day 4-night stay in this gorgeous mountain house in hopes it will Restore Your Soul! Keep reading for all the details on how easy it is to enter.
Soul restoration. It’s what Jesus wants for us. It’s what He offers. But often we're worried, tired, stressed or some combo of the above.
How do we make the switch? From frazzled to at peace? From anxious to feeling safe and secure? Mainly by spending time with Jesus and letting Him guide, protect, and love us. I write all about it in my new book, Restore My Soul, which releases on July 5, 2022! You can pre-order your copy here (if you order two copies you can enter the mountain house giveaway–more on that in a minute). Getting away from the hustle and bustle, seeking beauty, taking time to rest, finding a quiet place to talk to Jesus, and slowing down so you can hear Him are all great ways to begin your soul restoration–thus the mountain house giveaway.
Psalm 84 says:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out
For the living God. (vv.1-2)
Do you have a place like this? Where you seek Jesus? Where you cry out to Him and spend time–dwelling or abiding–seeking Him?
My mom’s mountain house is one of those places for me. Staring out at the lake, marveling at the mountains, unplugging, being present. It’s beautiful. I find God here. I’ve been going to these mountains with my family since I was in 8th grade. Brett proposed to me in these mountains. One of our kids took their first steps here. We’ve played cards and gathered near the fireplace on chilly evenings. We’ve lounged on giant rafts floating around the lazy river, played tennis, basketball, and giant Connect Four on steamy summer days. We’ve shared countless meals and stories, celebrated birthdays, Easter and Thanksgiving–all gifts from our glorious God–in these rooms. I’ve sat on the deck with my Bible and soaked in His living word. Plus, the views are spectacular.
But the places God restores us don’t have to be fancy. My closet is also one of my favorite places to seek the Lord. I turn out the lights and close my eyes, so there are literally zero views. I shut out all noise and just talk to Jesus. I might shout out to Him my frustrations, thank Him for all that He’s done, rattle off a list of my concerns, meditate on something I read in the Bible that morning, or sit in silence and simply listen to Him.
And that’s such a cool thing about Jesus! He wants us to come to Him with all our emotions. Our joy and fear, our laughter and anger, our exhaustion and bursts of energy. The Psalms illustrate this for us. The psalmists brought everything to God–the good, bad, and ugly. And God promised to those emotional psalmists to always be faithful, that His love for them would endure forever. Jesus promises the same to you and me–no matter what we’re going through or how we feel.
Join me in the pages of Restore My Soul: the Power and Promise of 30 Psalms as I dive into thirty psalms and explore how relevant they are to our lives today, how these ancient poems and songs show us that no matter what we’re facing our God goes before and behind us. He watches over us and never sleeps. He bends down and picks us up. He wants only goodness and mercy for us. He longs to restore our very souls.
And while you’re picking up a copy of the book, if you grab two YOU CAN ENTER THE MOUNTAIN HOUSE GIVEAWAY! That’s right, the only thing you have to do to enter is purchase two copies of my new book, Restore My Soul wherever books are sold between today and July 12 and submit your receipt here. Make sure you're following me on Facebook or Instagram.
Must be 18 and over to enter. Void where prohibited. U.S. citizens only (sorry international friends). Note: I will never ask for credit card information and will only contact winners via email. Not affiliated with any social media site. One grand prize winner can stay five days and four nights at the pictured mountain house in Lake Lure, NC (30 miles outside of Asheville) and will be randomly selected from all entries. Transportation not included. Grand prize winner must work with property owner to find available dates. Runners up will be randomly selected from all entries for additional prizes including having Laura Zoom into your Bible study or book club. If your prize is being mailed to you, please allow additional time for postal delays.
I was doing fine. I was doing fine. I was doing fine. Until…my barista asked, “How are you doing with graduation happening tonight?”
“Pretty good,” I answered. “I mean graduation is symbolic of my daughter leaving high school and turning the page to what’s next, but really, I just want goodness for her.”
Here’s where I lost it. “I just want so much goodness for her.” Cue all the tears.
My poor barista.
But it’s true. This past week we’ve witnessed and experienced the last church service for my daughter at her high school dedicated to the seniors, Baccalaureate, graduation, and her graduation party. It was a lot to process in one week. A lot of times to get dressed up (Which. I Love.) A lot of programs. A lot of speeches. A lot of times to celebrate Mallory and her friends and all they’ve achieved and the ways they’ve grown. At each event I look around and see my girl, the friends she’s made, choices she’s made, things she’s learned, experiences she’s suffered and grown from, and victories and triumphs she’s accomplished. And my heart is so very full of absolute love for this young lady. I realized as I said those words out loud to my barista that this is exactly what God says of us, His children.
“I just want goodness for them. I just want so much goodness for them.”
We tend to all see God in different ways. And He’s a complex being, for sure, so this is great. He has many aspects (good father, good shepherd, protector, redeemer, comforter, savior, counselor, etc.). But when Jesus summed up His whole mission on earth it was, “I came so they (that’s us) can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of (John 10:10).”
I think of all that I pray for for my kiddos, their hopes and dreams, their relationships, their protection, that they’ll realize how real Jesus is and how real His love is for them. And it’s wild, but God wants all of that for my kids, too. Which means He also wants it for you. And for me. Jesus wants us to have a better life than we can even dream of.
At two of the services this Irish blessing was spoken over the graduating seniors:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
And as Mallory received her diploma and walked past the row where I sat, everything slowed down like a movie. In my mind I saw this blessing playing out for her–a path down a lane lined with wildflowers stretching out before her, a slight breeze blowing her long hair, a golden glow on her face. I could hear the patter of a soft rainfall and felt God’s love thick and tangible, surrounding my daughter.
To everyone reading this–this is what God wants for you! He’s holding you in the palm of His almighty hand. I’m praying it over you as I type it out. Whatever you’re facing today. Wherever you are with your relationship with God. Whatever you believe about yourself or others. No matter what you’re planning or what’s taken you by surprise…
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
My kids love Chex Mix. But one is allergic to gluten which rules out the pretzels and wheat Chex in the classic recipe and another is allergic to nuts, which also rules out the peanuts. But does that stop us? Of course not. We use only corn and rice squares (no wheat), gluten free pretzels, sub out Fritos for peanuts, because they’re also salty and crunchy and nut and gluten free. And my kids devour it! Who said we have to follow the recipe?
And yet, as we walk around in life we get so stuck on the recipes of this world. I remember the social comparisons of parenting when our kiddos were little, the constant questions from other parents. Are your kids taking swim lessons? Enrolled for preschool? Which preschool? Signed up for Little League? Are you taking them to the egg hunt? How about pictures with the Easter Bunny uptown? And if we answered, “no.” The response was, “Ummm..why not?”
None of those are bad questions. I’m sure I asked many-a-parent similar questions. But my kids and your kids don’t have to do all those things, all the same things–especially if it doesn’t make sense for that child or your family. Turns out the common recipe for the average American is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Christians get this pressure, too, unintentionally from well-meaning friends or church members. Did you sign your kids up for vacation Bible school? Are you volunteering at VBS? Are you in a Bible study? Are you mentoring someone on a weekly basis? Again, great questions. All good ideas and activities for some people some of the time, but not if they wear you thin, conflict with something else God is calling you to, or don’t make sense in your current situation.
Jesus wants what’s best for YOU, not what’s best for your neighbor or your cousin or their kids. We see this in John 1 when Jesus is initially gathering some of His disciples.
And so it is with us.
Whoever believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. -John 1:12
Jesus will invite some of us to learn more, to investigate, to come and see. To others He’ll rename us–taking us out of something, and into something totally new. You used to be rejected, Jesus says, “Now you’re loved and accepted. You used to be alone, now He tells you, “I’ll be with you always.” And to others of us, Jesus says, “Hey, I see you. I saw what happened, what you went through, what you’re currently struggling with. I understand. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I love you.” And on any given day or week or season of life, Jesus might do something completely different for us. But it’s definitely not by a standard recipe.
As we walk about our days let’s not be afraid to go a little bit rogue, to swap corn chips for nuts, to say, “no,” to this, or “yes” to that, even if none of our friends or family or neighbors are or aren’t doing it. Let’s keep chatting with Jesus on a daily basis. Let’s walk in the freedom Jesus offers us–freedom to be our true selves, the people He created us to be, not like “him” or “her” or “them” or someone confined to a recipe on the back of a box. Because Jesus offers us so much more.
And…if you’re looking for a fun, free Bible study to do by yourself or with your group this summer, I teamed up with some amazing Bible teachers last year to put together Summer in the Psalms. God welcomes emotional honesty for the gift that it is: a step towards deeper intimacy with Him. In this 5-week study )complete with workbook and videos) we share a few of our favorite psalms and invite you to pray and process with us in God’s presence. Welcome. For free access to the study click HERE.
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I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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Laura L. Smith