This year I rediscovered my love of bookstores. In 2020 almost everything I purchased was online, including groceries. In 2021 I was able to return to places where I could preview my produce before adding it to my cart and try on clothes before taking them home. The kind of shop I most appreciated being able to return to were bookstores. There’s a lovely one in Nashville called Parnassus Books. My daughter and I popped in one day for a look around, which became over an hour of picking up book after book, feeling the different weights of a sturdy hardcover and a handy paperback in our hands. Ogling the covers as if they were candy. Delighting in familiar titles we’d read before and finding so so many books we wanted to read.
New books, new stories to dive into, more things to learn, fresh ways to examine old truths always bring me joy. A trip to a bookstore is therapeutic for my soul, but it is in the actual reading of the books, the turning of the pages, and the processing of the words that the magic happens. I don’t know how many books I read in 2021, because I did a horrible job of noting and reviewing them on my Goodreads account. Oops. But, I know I turned thousands of pages of both fiction and nonfiction. I read the books my kids were reading for school, the books that caught my eye, the books my author friends wrote, the books someone suggested, and books that would help me with my work. I learned and explored and savored them. Below are my favorite reads of 2021. I hope they help you discover a new read for your to-read pile.
The Water Keeper and The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin
These two tied. They are books one and two in the Murphy Shepherd series and I listened to the audio books back to back. Charles Martin has been a favorite of mine for years. His writing is exquisite and soulful. The way he tells hard, meaningful stories and weaves the love of Jesus naturally into the tales always causes me to pause, cry, stop, or pray mid-chapter, and then eagerly return to the story, because I need to know what happens next. If you haven’t read these two yet. Add them to your list. The third one in the series releases in July and I can’t wait to dive in.
Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly
I didn’t think I needed this book. I felt okay with my body. I thought. But then several friends mentioned Jess Connolly’s new book had brought them freedom. I’ve been a fan of Jess and her writing for a while, so I got it. And I read it. And I, too, found freedom. Turns out, most of us have some issues with our bodies–whether that’s a scar or a size or a shape or something our bodies did or didn’t do or could or couldn’t do that brought us shame. Jess reminds us of this truth, “Your body is a good body.” She backs up that truth with the fact that God made it. He made my body and your body and all our bodies to move and laugh and make things. And because God made our bodies–they’re good. It’s simple, but I lose sight of it. Most people I know are frustrated with their bodies in some way. This beautiful reframing of all the good our bodies can do, and all the things God allows us to do with them, like hug someone we love or read or listen to a story, is good not just for our bodies, but also for our souls.
Best Kids Book:
The Grumbles by Amy Parker and Tricia Goyer
The Grumbles makes me giggle. It’s all about a family named the Grumbles who, well, grumbles. I see my own family (and my own grumbling) on the beautifully illustrated pages. Then Grandma Grateful steps in to save the day! (Isn’t the grandma always the hero?) She reminds us all to shine love to others, to be thankful for all we have. This darling story encourages us to stop grumbling, and instead be thankful. When we are, our gratitude is contagious! Sure, the book was written for kids, but this book is a great reminder for all of us to shine Christ’s love and grace and toss our grumbling in the garbage.
Your turn. I’d love to hear your favorite reads of the year, so I can add them to my stack for 2022. Happy New Year! May it be filled with wonderful reads and the incredible love of Christ Jesus.
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I’m not a new year’s resolution girl. But I do find a word or phrase to focus on each year–something God keeps reminding me of, something He’s made quite clear He doesn’t want me to forget. At the beginning of 2021 I felt God telling me to “feel all the feelings.” That phrase seems pretty self explanatory, especially to a girl who cries at movies, cards, and commercials on the regular. But there are some feelings that are hard to feel–that seem like they’d be better off shoved in a drawer or put in the back of a closet where you don’t have to look at them or sort through them. These were the feelings I was afraid of, and the ones God was referring to.
But God followed “feel the feelings” with “I’ll protect you.” He even showed me the phrase Elohim Shomri which means, God my Protector. So, I would understand if I feel the hard stuff, if I address it, if I go “there,” it’s okay. It’s safe. God will protect me.
So on a slate in my office and each new week in my planner I wrote “feel the feelings” and “Elohim Shomri.” I wanted this phrase front and center as I dove into new days and to-do lists and highs and lows. And, as expected, it was a year of all. The. feelings. Our oldest graduated college. And moved to Nashville. To work a job that feels like God handcrafted for her. Which makes me so proud of her, and so grateful and full of joy for the life she’s living, and also I miss her oodles.
Our twenty year old decided to live at home instead of the dorms this year. Which feels like a gift, because it’s an extra year of having our son at home with us. I am so grateful for every hug and conversation I didn’t expect to share with him. But also, he’s twenty. And I want to respect that. And treat him like a grown up. While he’s living under our roof. Which is complicated. Cue more feelings.
My counselor has also helped me sort through some feelings that I’d sealed in figurative boxes and hidden in the basement of myself. I believe it’s super important to tend to our mental health, and mine needed a check up that unearthed more feelings.
And you know what? God has been with me. Every single feeling of the way. In the excitement and joy and the sadness and concern. In the missing of my oldest child, the adapting to new norms with the next oldest child, and in the exploring of my own childhood. God is so faithful. And so loving. And I am so grateful. He is my Elohim Shomri.
And now–Christmas, which is always jam-packed with feelings. Full of memories, family, relationships and reminders. But also full of the reason for the celebration in the first place–that Jesus came to earth to be with us–Emmanuel. And because Jesus is with us (and He promises to be to the ends of the earth), we are free to mourn the loss of those not with us this year and to celebrate the new people in our lives. We can also mourn and celebrate jobs and life situations, new things, and old places, and things we used to be able to do or just learned how to do. Because Jesus, the Christ child who was announced to the world by a host of angels, who radically changed the lives of the shepherds who saw him on that first Christmas, the magi who followed, and every human who ever encountered Him, is here with us. You and me. Today. Around our dinner tables and trees, in our very hearts and souls.
So feel the feelings this Christmas. As the angels first announced to the shepherds, ““Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth.--Luke 2:12-14
I’m deep in edits and on a deadline, so I decided instead of skipping sending you a blog this week, I’d send a free chapter (a Christmas one, of course) from my book How Sweet the Sound. However busy your Christmas routine and year end to-dos have you, I pray you can take a moment to hear the sweet, sweet sound, of our Savior's amazing grace.
“I need You,” my son’s vocal coach’s harmony mingles with my son’s melody. I’m in the other room with a novel I brought to read during his lesson. The pages sit open on my lap, but I’m not reading. I can’t. The song they’re sing- ing, "Whole Heart” by Hillsong United, is too beauti- ful, too magnetic, and pulls me out of my book and into the lyrics. Last week his teacher said to us as we were leaving, “That is such a powerful song. I can’t get it out of my head.”
Did I mention his teacher is not a Christian?
And yet, this song about Jesus restoring our brokenness through His grace is stuck in her head. She’s singing it out loud, over and over. Words about clinging to the rock, about being made whole—an anthem so fitting for this wonderful woman.
Her husband passed away a few years ago. I’m not sure how old she is. In her fifties? Too young to be widowed. Any age is too young to be widowed. And she lives in the beautiful home they built together, teaching music because it’s her passion. She is kind and encouraging and every flavor of loveliness, but she doesn’t know Jesus.
She’s shared with me how much she misses her husband, how difficult it is. And then my son (I’m actually going to assume it was the Spirit prompting my son) picks this song as the piece he wants to work on. A song about Jesus pulling us upright when we’re too weak to stand.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
That’s why I can’t read today—can’t pull myself away from the marvel of a woman learning about Jesus, experiencing who He is, feeling the tug of His love. My eyes are closed. Still a tear leaks out of the right corner and glides down my cheek.
This is what sharing the gospel looks like—beautiful, moving, real. There’s an old spiritual that was passed among the plantations in the South called “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
Jesus calls us to this. His final conversation with the disciples (recorded in Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8) is Jesus instructing them (and now us) to tell the whole world about Him.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NLT)
Telling the whole earth about Jesus, over the hills and everywhere, sounds difficult, especially in our do-it-your-self culture. Where do we start? With whom? When? Under what circumstances?
Heck, even acquiring and writing down the lyrics to “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” was a challenge. The song had been passed along verbally. There was no written record of it. As you can imagine there were several versions being sung. But John Wesley Work Jr. was passionate about collecting and preserving African American spirituals so they could be shared with people everywhere. His desire to distribute these songs proclaiming that God "sent us salvation that blessèd Christmas morn" allows us to sing these hymns and contemplate their messages today.
Collecting scores of unwritten songs composed by the enslaved, verifying words, stanzas, and melodies from the Civil War era seemed unlikely, intimidating, and maybe not super popular with early-twentieth-century American culture. But to John Wesley Work Jr. it made sense. He was a highly educated man, led the church choir, adored Jesus, and loved music. Curating and publishing books featuring the hymns of his ancestors was meaningful. Work included “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” in his second book, Folk Songs of the American Negro.
This was such a natural way for Work to share the gospel.
Similarly, a high school boy sharing how Jesus can change your life with his vocal coach in a college town today also sounds unlikely, intimidating, and a little strange. But, sharing the gospel doesn’t have to feel weird. My son didn’t pull out a tract, recite verses, or tell his teacher a story about the time he accepted Jesus at camp.
Don’t get me wrong. I write Christian content for a living, love memorizing Scripture, and actually accepted Christ at horseback riding camp in junior high.
I’m just saying we overthink this “Go tell the world” thing. We sometimes try too hard. Overanalyze.
Max is taking voice lessons so he can improve his worship leading skills. His teacher asked him what song he’d like to work on. Max suggested this one by Hillsong United. He was just honest about the kind of music he listens to, the kind he sings—worship music. It was normal, natural, unforced. The next thing you know, this lovely lady is singing to Jesus.
I don’t know if his teacher will accept Christ into her heart. But that’s not my job or Max’s. Telling people about Jesus, sharing who He is, that’s our assignment—the Great Commission. John Wesley Work Jr. probably died having no idea how many people came to Christ because of the books of spirituals he published. But his job was to get them in print, get them out there, plant the seeds through songs.
As Max and I walk to the car we hear his teacher's alto trill across the walk declaring how God’s grace holds her. Yes it does, my friend. Grace holds you. Grace holds all of us. Me. Max. You, on the other side of this book. Grace holds you.
What a gorgeous truth.
I am so grateful God allowed Max to share Christ’s grace with his teacher, maybe not on a mountain or in Judea, but on a piano bench in Oxford, Ohio. Because this is what Jesus asks us to do . . . go out and make disciples of all the nations. There’s not a perfect way to do it. You don’t have to have things written out or know all the answers. You just have to walk around loving Jesus. The rest will come naturally. You’ll find your own mountains. And there you can tell others of His love.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 nlt)
If you enjoyed this chapter, you can get the book, How Sweet the Sound in its entirety at booksellers everywhere including Amazon and Our Daily Bread Publishing.
from How Sweet the Sound reprinted with permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. Further distribution of this chapter is prohibited without permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. For permission to use this devotional please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in Nashville. I was blessed to be on a panel at a fabulous writing conference, meet some new author friends, hear some great content, catch up with one of my very best friends in the world, and spend some amazing time with my daughter who moved to Nashville over the summer. Maddie and I shared scrumptious meals, went for an awesome run on a crisp November morning, talked and laughed and giggled, ate Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (think Oreos with candy cane filling) from Trader Joes and tried to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie but fell asleep. It was jam packed and fun and exhilarating.
I cried as I was leaving the house. Because in order to go to Nashville and do all those marvelous things, I had to miss my younger daughter’s soccer tournament in North Carolina and two out of four of my youngest son’s performances of A Christmas Carol where he played both Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley.
You see, there’s only one of me. And even though I would love to be multiple places at once, I can’t. I’m just a person. A well intentioned person, but a person nonetheless. My heart felt like it was being ripped in pieces--one excited, joyful part headed to Nashville for a conference and to be with Maddie and to experience all the awesomeness I described above plus two sad, achy pieces knowing I wouldn’t be able to support two of my other kids in things that really matter to them.
It’s a dilemma many of us face. And as we head into the holidays with Thanksgiving tomorrow and then the full, beautiful Christmas season right on its turkey feathered tail, most of us are trying to do too much. Most of us feel pulled a bit thin. Like there’s not enough of us to do all the things we’re supposed to or would like to do.
But here’s the great, amazing, incredible news.
We don’t have to.
Jesus tell us, ““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”--2 Corinthians 12:9
So, I think I need a time turner or another one of me or eighty four more hours this week or another pair (or two) of hands, and Jesus says, His grace is all we need. Let that sink in. You don’t need anything else. You see, it’s Christ’s grace that whispers to our hearts, “You don’t have to do it all or be all the things. I love you for exactly who you are, even if the house isn’t clean or you fumble on your test or you miss a workout, email or meeting. I love you if you’re tired. I love you if you’re late. I love you if you get carryout or buy something from the store or whip up a box of mac and cheese as the “item you bring to the Thanksgiving meal.”
And that next part? Even though we’re trained by culture to believe we shouldn’t show our weaknesses, Jesus says, those places? The places where we’re lacking--when we don’t know how to handle the conflict with the family member we’re sure to see, when we wish we could visit everyone in our hometown but don’t have the time or energy, when we yell at our kids or burn the pies or our mental or physical health issue flairs up making us incapable of doing anything at all--these are the places Jesus shines. His power is perfect. When we stop trying to be perfect, He can step in and give us the right words, help us bite our tongues, remind us it’s okay to rest and ask for help. When we let our guard down and stop trying to be superheroes we can receive the love, peace, grace, patience, forgiveness and so much more Jesus offers.
For those of you who have been following along on the blog or on my social media, you know over the last month I’ve been on a gratitude journey, intentionally being grateful. As we dive headfirst into Thanksgiving and then Christmas and all the wonderful and multiple things that go with that. I want to continue. And I believe that starts with being grateful for Christ’s grace. That it’s ALL we need. It’s all we need when we bake, shop, wrap, send, prepare, decorate. It’s all we need as we try to juggle our work, volunteering, and other commitments, as well as all the extra things we do from now until year end. Jesus’ power is perfect. Therefore ours doesn’t need to be. Thank goodness, because it can’t be. Never will. But Jesus is so loving and good that He uses His perfect power to fill in all our cracks, tie our loose ends, hold us up and hold us tight. This Thanksgiving (and every day) let’s be thankful for all the blessings God gives us. Let’s start by exhaling and being grateful for His all sufficient grace.
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A year ago I posted this picture of our abandoned looking upstairs hallway with piles of deliveries outside the bedroom doors with the caption: Quarantine Day 7. Four Smiths shut behind closed-doors--studying, playing music, working, writing, Zooming, napping… .trying to keep their germs to themselves. Two Smiths caring for the rest of us--selflessly and lovingly delivering clean laundry, bottled water, meals, and anything else we need to our doors. So grateful for family. For love. For God’s provision and protection. And for hilarious family group chats and Facetimes.
Life has changed a lot since last November. In some ways it feels like the world has changed. Again. All of us are a year older. Some of you might have a different job, different hair color, live in a different place (maybe with different people), have a different relationship or health status. I’m grateful to say the Smiths are not in quarantine. Whew. But God hasn’t changed. He never has. He never will.
I look over that list of things I was grateful for in my quarantine post. And no matter what changes in my life or in this world, I can always be grateful for:
On my last blog I challenged us to begin a “gratitude journey” to help us stay grounded in the good gifts God showers on us. I’ve gotten so many beautiful responses from you all on things you’re grateful for--the fall leaves, a supportive group of friends, waking up in the morning. How about this week we simply turn our gratitude to God, Himself? Take some time to meditate on who He is. On what He does for us. On how He loves us. Take a moment each day to say, “Thank you, God, for being my provider, my protector, with me always, my peace, the perfect Father.” You can write these statements out in your journal or on note cards to tape around your home or work place. You can close your eyes and focus on one of these truths, one of these names of God and how God being with you (or providing, or any of the above) changes everything. You can get down on your knees and proclaim these truths about God’s character out loud (I find this so powerful to drown out the lies and the gunk) or whisper them in your soul.
And when we do, our mindset shifts. It’s harder to feel lonely when we remember God is with us. The stressful things ease up a bit when we focus on the fact that Christ is peace. That thing we’re worried about or downright frightened about is less scary when we proclaim God as our Protector and Provider. Sure, curve balls (like my family catching Covid-19 last November) will come our way, will change the way things look, and might be different from the way we hoped or wanted. But God is still God. He is still all the things He says He is. His names don’t expire or leave or fade or change. Our God is an everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28).
The God who split the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21), defeated a fully armed army that consisted of “too many to count” with only 300 men armed with horns, torches, and clay pots (Judges 8), and who died on the cross because He loves you so fiercely (John 1) is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That fills my heart with gratitude.
What’s your favorite name of God? Let me know, and together we can praise Him for it!
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I walked with a friend and visited a family member yesterday, both of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. They both asked, “How are you? What’s new?” I paused to think, What is new since the last time we chatted? My mind flew to the new school year and all that came with it, then, to all the ways God has taken care of our family. Where to start?
Since the last time I’d seen either of these women we’ve been through a billion transitions, experiences, challenges, and triumphs. I never doubted we’d “make it” through the first nine weeks of the school year, but we did have a lot of unknowns going in. Our oldest daughter moved to a new city. Our college son decided at the last minute to live at home instead of the dorm he’d been planning on moving into. It’s our younger daughter’s senior year, which is a super fun year filled with all the “senior stuff,” but also filled with the expectations of that “stuff,” plus decisions about the future. Our youngest started high school, which is a lot in itself. That’s just a sampling of what we tried to maneuver this fall.
And here we are. Nine weeks later. There have been hiccups, challenges and definitely some drama, but my heart is overflowing with gratitude. God provided my kids with great friends. He’s held them in rough spots and helped them make hard decisions. God has tangibly been with us these past nine weeks. Praise Jesus!
Yes, our family made it through the first quarter of a new school year, but for you reading this, you also made it. You made it to the end of October! Woo hoo! Maybe you made it through the next round of interviews, funding, auditions, payments, applications, trimester, treatments, or tournaments. But we all made it to today! God was with me every step. He was with you, too (whether you knew it or not). Let’s take a sec to thank Him.
How often do we pray for things, and when God answers those prayers just move onto other prayers? I mean, it is a new quarter with a whole new set of choices, situations, and opportunities. When things are going smoothly, do we just enjoy the ride? Or stop to praise God for how He’s minimized the bumps or gotten us over them? I don’t want to gloss over God’s goodness, His faithfulness. I don’t want to forget. I want to take time to let all the ways God loves us sink in.
God is constantly at work in our lives--blessing us with this and providing us with that. It’s important (and Biblical) to pause. Relect. And give thanks. When we do, it’s mind boggling to see all the ways God has been there. Giving thanks reminds us who God is, how He loves us, and that the promises of the Bible--that Jesus will never leave us (Matthew 28:20), has plans for our futures (Jeremiah 29:11), knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)--they’re all true. If we’re intentional about thanking God for knowing what’s best for us and providing exactly what we need, it changes our mindset, it reduces worry. And the next time we face a struggle or challenge, it’s so much easier to recall that God is faithful. What He’s done before, He can do again.
Today I’m so thankful that even though my freshman son had never run on a team before, he thrived and made amazing friends running Cross Country (read more about that blessing here). I’m grateful that despite the kids’ busy schedules, my husband and I still found creative ways to have date nights this fall. I’m blessed beyond belief by my daughter whose awesome personality fills our home with joy and laughter even after a hectic or stressful day. I’m grateful for priceless phone calls and visits with my older daughter who now lives in Tennessee that allow us to stay connected and share life together. I’m filled with gratitude for the precious moments I’ve gotten with my college boy as a result of him living at home. Once I get started I could go on and on.
What are you thankful for today? What has God done to get you here? What has He provided you with? What people has He put in your path? What ways has He delighted you (a bright blue sky? Unexpectedly bumping into a friend? A deer bounding across your path?) Pause right now and thank Him.
God doesn’t need a thank you, but He does ask us to thank Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Why does God ask us to give thanks? Not for Him, but to help us. When we pause to remember God’s goodness, His abundance, His faithfulness, how personal and powerful He is, our future feels less concerning, our fears less scary, our stress level less intense, our mood more joyful. We can exhale and see God’s provision and protection around us. Psychologists have discovered that thankfulness makes people happier, improves our health, helps us build relationships, and deal with adversity. What do you know? God is really onto something. Turns out gratitude is good for us.
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season will you join me on a gratitude journey? I’m planning on daily* posting on Facebook and Instagram something I’m grateful for and tagging it #gratitudejourney. I’m doing this to remind myself of God’s goodness and to embrace this abundant life He’s provided. My prayer is that if we all join in, that not only can we increase our faith and joy, but that we can also increase the faith and joy of those around us. Are you in? Let’s start right now. What are you thankful for?
Our family is new to the cross country scene. Our four kids have been involved in soccer--lots and lots of soccer, flag football, theatre, ballet, track, as well as very brief stints in gymnastics, karate, and baseball, but none of them had ever run XC until now. Our youngest started high school in August and joined the school’s cross country team back in June. He’s been practicing for months, building up his mileage, increasing his speed and endurance, and making quality friends.
The morning of our first meet my husband and I weren’t really sure what to expect. We’d been told to wear comfortable shoes, because you end up darting from one spot to another to watch different parts of the race, which sounded fun. We drove to the address, parked, got out of our car and it felt more like a festival than a competition. Toby Mac was blaring from a sound system, “It’s never too late to get back up again.” Teams had tents with signs. Food trucks had parked along the perimeter, and the intoxicating smells of kettle corn and empanadas filled the air.
It was fun and festive. The whole space vibrated with energy.
Here are some things we learned about cross country that we think Jesus would love:
Doing Your Best is a Win
Hundreds of athletes run in a cross country meet. Yes, there is a first place winner, but very few of the athletes have their eye on that prize. They’re all actually running with the goal to beat their PR--personal record. They’re not comparing themselves to the other runners. They’re just trying to do their personal best--to take what God gave them and use it to the best of their ability. The world needs more of this. Yes please and now. The Apostle Paul instructs us to live like this in Galatians 5:26
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
What if we all did this? Stopped wishing we had as many followers as her, the job title of him, or the family of them. And instead, took what God gave us and used it to our fullest, ran our best original race. Think of all the freedom to live out our callings and all the amazing things that would ensue.
Everybody cheers for everybody
It doesn’t matter what team your kid is on or how fast they do or don’t run, other people from other teams cheer for them. Which, really? They’re cheering for my boy? Insert all the emojis. This takes place at the starting line when all the fans cheer loudly for all the runners. And it also happens throughout the three point one mile course as spectators sprint to different spots along the route to cheer on athletes as they progress.
At our first stop along the yellow tape marking the course, we met a man who told us his daughter was running in the next race. He cheered and clapped as each athlete ran past. I repeat, his daughter was not even in this race. This was the boys race! At the two mile marker a group of varsity runners who had already completed their race gathered along a bend in the route cheering, “You’ve got this! Keep it up! Keep it up!” Yes, to their JV teammates, but also to all the other athletes passing by.
This is beautiful. And it’s Biblical! Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We’re supposed to cheer each other on! We’re supposed to encourage each other! This is what living in Christ looks like.
There are snacks at the end
As the runners cross the finish line they immediately head toward their team’s tent which is laden with sandwiches, protein bars, and fruit. The Propel and Gatorade flow freely. They can get seconds or thirds or fourths, and eat their fill. Jesus would love this! Celebrating with food was Jesus’ jam. In fact his very first miracle was at a wedding feast--turning water into wine (John 2:1-10). Throughout the Gospels (the four Biblical books that serve as the biography of Jesus’ life) we find Jesus eating with his friends and people in the community (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 7:36, Luke 10:38-40, Luke 11:37, Luke 14:1, John 12:2-3, John 21:12-13). We also see Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts (Mark 14:12-26, John 2:23, John 5:1, John 13:1). Jesus loved sharing food while hanging out with others.
So, yeah, cross country meets are awesome. Because they mirror some ways God wants us to be living. He wants us to stop comparing ourselves to others. He wants us to use the gifts He’s given us to the best of our ability on any given day. God wants us to cheer for one another along the way. And God also wants us to share meals with one another--to eat and laugh and swap stories and encourage one another.
I’m up for the challenge. You?
Not to compete in a cross country meet. But to keep running our races--the one God put in front of us, specifically--one full of doing our best, loving one another, both feeling encouraged and encouraging others, and of course with yummy snacks involved. On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!
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“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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Laura L. Smith