Here’s the thing. COVID-19 stinks. It’s taking people’s lives, putting folks at risk, depriving people of income, robbing students of their experiences, stealing people’s interactions and activities, and creating uncertainty to name a few of its negative effects.
But God is good. So inherently good. And His character is unchanging. So, God sees a bad thing, this terrible virus, and He figures out a way to use it for some good stuff. This is who our God is.
So, we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives. Romans 8:28
I’ve read and listened to so much quality content about finding time to slow down, to be still, to breathe deeply, to listen to God, to stop striving, to take Sabbath. And as I read and listened, I agreed in my head, Yes! What a great idea! But these great ideas take a ton of intentionality. Over the past year I’ve gotten better at taking Sabbath, but I’ve been fighting obstacles and interruptions to do so. Even with a Sunday slow down, the rest of life in general pre COVID-19 was overstuffed and supersized. Every square on our white board calendar in the kitchen was full. In a world where games, practices, and rehearsals are scheduled every night of the week, it was tricky to gather our family together around the dinner table. Most meals were more grab-and-go or eat-at-your-own schedule—things like tacos.
Sundays aren’t sacred to the general public so out of town tournaments and meets were standard Sunday fare, putting a wrench on our family, and maybe yours too, attending church together. Personally, our overscheduled, exhausted Smith family’s typical weekend was titled “divide and conquer” as my husband and I went different directions to support and cheer on our kids in their activities. This life is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one—a full and vibrant one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s life. I’m thrilled my kids get the opportunities they have. I’m grateful for their dedicated coaches and directors, their encouraging teammates and casts. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children step in and use the talents God’s gifted them. I’m thankful for a husband who is such a fantastic dad engaged with the kids and willing to help with all the things. But the kids were tired, and we were tired. We were.
But over the last week and a half, like it or not, we’ve been at home. As I’m sure you’ve noticed everything is cancelled, and we have been forced to slow down. Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
I see Him doing all kinds of beautiful things.
The gorgeous canals in Venice, Italy are clearer than when I had the privilege of visiting ten years ago, clearer than they’ve been for a very long time. No boats or barges running along the water has cleared up the typically cloudy waterways so much so that you can see the fish where vaporetti usually zoom.Carbon dioxide emissions in China have dropped 25% since January. Again, God hates to see the sick, the infections, the financial struggles, but I notice Yahweh taking this awful thing and using it as an opportunity to give His world a spring cleaning.
People are reaching out. Giving what they have to offer. Loving their neighbors. Just like Jesus asked us to. Professional athletes are donating their salaries to arena workers. Fitness instructors like those at Root Yoga and Apps, like the FaithFit project, are offering free virtual workouts. Superstar musicians like Kelly Clarksonand John Legend are singing from home, creating free live performances, on their social feeds for their fans.
We don’t know how this is all going to pan out. But I do know that Jesus is still on the throne. That God is still good. And that He is on our side. As we all continue to shift our patterns, schedules, and expectations due to the effects of the coronavirus, I’m grateful that Christ is the solid rock I stand on. The world is not the same today as it was last week or the week before. But Jesus is. And He is good. And He is taking what He can from this pandemic and using it to orchestrate some good.
Let’s keep our eyes on Him, keep our feet planted in Him. Because Jesus is fully and completely good, we can all take an exhale. What He told the disciples just prior to His crucifixion, He tells us today, In the world there will be tribulation. But be of good cheer. I will overcome the world! John 16:33. God is fully aware of the horrible thing COVID-19 is, but be of good cheer. Jesus will find ways to make some good out of the mess, and even better, He'll overcome it.
“You don’t play golf? Why not?”
Umm… I’ve never considered it.
“You don’t like steak?” Pause. “You’re kidding. Who doesn’t like steak?”
Nope. Not kidding. I’m more of a pasta and salad girl.
“Are you a Bengals fan?”
I’m not big into football.
Have you ever felt like this? Like you failed the interview? Like there’s no way you would be invited back? Like you didn’t quite fit in?
Just moments into my first Thanksgiving with the Smith family I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit into my own skin. It seemed like the Smiths all did and liked things that I didn’t do or like, or had never even considered liking, and therefore, I didn’t belong. But I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted by this family. Brett and I were engaged, and I was going to marry into this clan and hopefully spend decades of Thanksgivings with them. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted them to think I was worthy of Brett, and of wearing their last name. But I felt like I was failing.
This wasn’t the only place I felt pressure to prove myself. I tried to establish my self-worth at work, with friends, and in our first neighborhood filled with young families. When we had a baby, I wanted to prove I could be a good mom—to Brett, to both of our mothers, to the other women pushing strollers and planning play dates.
But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He invites us to a life of freedom—freedom to thrive by embracing who He created us to be, not who we think we should be, or who the world tells us we "should" be.
I have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Don’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG
We don’t need to please anyone?
We don’t need to fit into anyone’s patterns?
It’s not about what we’re doing—where we went to school, what sport we play, or if we don't play sports at all, if we’re breast feeding or not or for how long, what color our couch is, if we buy organic, almond or store brand milk, how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. None of it matters—grades, weight, relationship status, mortgage payment.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re called to work hard and well in the life and vocation God called us to and placed us in. From the beginning God designed Adam and Eve to cultivate the world. This isn’t about plopping down on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, because it “doesn’t matter what I do.” But it is about not measuring ourselves by worldly standards or comparing ourselves to others.
God is creating something totally new—a free life. And He’s inviting us into it. Which requires action. We have to R.S.V.P.—accept His invitation. And when we say, “yes, I want that,” our life becomes the very best party—spending time with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit remind us who we are—His beautiful daughters and sons specifically and uniquely designed stitch by stitch, cell by cell. And the celebration never ends.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. 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. —Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
You are an original, one-of-a-kind wonder, who doesn’t have to prove yourself. If God created you to be a night owl, awesome. Use your evenings to crank out your to do list and sing worship songs. If He made you an early bird, super. Read your Bible first thing and then go for a walk or run or send all your emails before anyone else wakes up. If God put in you the desire to create delicious meals out of fresh ingredients, fabulous. Shop at the farmer’s market. Watch the Food Network. Set aside time in your schedule to cook and let the simmering scents tickle your nose. More of a take-out girl? Also, great. Grab yummy refrigerated raviolis or rotisserie chickens for quick, tasty meals and use the time others spend cooking to do the things God created you to do. And do them well.
Thankfully, the Smiths did accept me. And love me. And invite me into their family. But I got turned down by several colleges I applied to, wasn’t invited back to multiple sororities during recruitment in college, had boyfriends break up with me, and have been turned down by dozens of publishers who don’t feel my writing is a fit for their brand. I get rejected all the time. We all do. But Jesus always accepts us just the way we are, because that’s how He intended us to be. And His opinion is the One that holds the most weight. Because He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.
If we want this kind of life, one where who we are is who we’re supposed to be, all we have to do is accept how much Jesus loves us. Truly accept this truth down to our bones. Sure, I have so much more to learn about Jesus, but one thing I understand is that living with Him is the freest I’ve ever felt. When I read the Bible and talk to Jesus—when I choose this life of the Spirit—I am empowered, because I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has plans to prosper me, that He calls me His masterpiece. It gives me permission to enter any room or situation and understand that I am who He made me to be, and that is never something to hide or be ashamed of. It is always enough.
Do I stumble? Sure. Do I feel awkward and insecure? Yup. Does my brain jump on the crazy train and make me start to doubt if I belong, if I’m able, if I’m qualified? Of course. But when I feel my feet sliding down that slippery slope, I reach out for Jesus’ hand waiting for me. I grab my Bible or start praying or get off social media or start playing worship music or text someone to pray for me or simply say the name of my rescuer out loud, “Jesus”. And it brings me back to who I am. His.
Because I want to live in the truth of who He made me to be, marinate in it. Stay in it. Do you crave this kind of freedom?
It is available. A rescue from an old way of life and an invitation into a new glorious one. God’s plan is that we all experience this rescue (Galatians 1:5). We don’t have to earn it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we have to do is take Jesus’ hand and step into freedom.
My oldest son started running track, and although he had gym shoes, they weren’t good running shoes. Let’s just say he selected them because they sport the colors and logo of his favorite football team. But when you run competitively you need shoes designed for running, to protect yourself from injury and pain, and to maximize your speed. So we made a visit to Fleet Feet, a specialty running shoe store.
A woman with bright blue chalk all over her palms greeted us, asked how she could help, then excused herself for a moment to wash her hands. When she returned, she did all her fancy foot magic, measuring, scanning, watching my son walk around the store barefoot. As she laced up a shoe on his left foot, I noticed a slanty script running up her forearm. I’m always fascinated by tattoos and the stories they tell about their owners. I tried to make out the words but couldn’t. Should I ask? I felt extremely curious, like this was something I needed to know.
“What’s your tattoo say?”
As my son stood to walk around in the shoes, she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the black ink. “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay,” she said almost dreamlike.
“From Ruth?” I asked, but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed lost in thought.
She ran her coral lacquered fingernail over the cross that punctuated the end of the phrase. “It’s from a song we sing at the church I go to, and kind of about everything I’m going through right now.”
“I know that song,” I said.
My son returned from his lap, so we went back to discussing fit and comfort of shoes.
At the checkout she asked if we were in her computer system. I mentioned my husband probably was. The worker asked his name.
“Brett Smith,” I answered.
She looked up wide-eyed. “That’s my name. I mean, that was my name. Smith is my old last name. I’m Brett.”
We stared at each other for a moment, marveling at this information.
“That’s wild,” I finally said.
“Yeah. Crazy.” She shook her head and finished ringing us out.
Ask her what she needs prayer for. God nudged me.
I looked around the store. No one else was there. Where had the other worker gone? Where were the two other customers who were there when we arrived?
Just ask her, I heard God whisper.
“So, Brett,” I said. “Is there something I can pray about for you?
She immediately nodded. “Yes. I’m going through an awful divorce. That’s why Smith used to be my last name.”
“Can I pray now?” I didn’t want to freak her out.
Her eyes pleaded, ‘yes,’ and her words echoed, “Yeah, that would be great.”
And there at the checkout of a fancy running shoe store I prayed for a woman I didn’t know, but who for a while shared the same name as my husband. I prayed that she would know down to her core that her identity rests in Christ. Not in a man. Or in a last name. Or in a relational status. But in Jesus. Who will always love her for exactly who she is, never leave her, and remain always faithful.
Leaving the store, I felt loved and refreshed as if someone had prayed over me. I was reminded how fully loved I am by Jesus (you are too). Because that’s what it feels like when we live in obedience.
God took my son and I to that specific store during that specific shift for that specific woman. God arranged all those details. He nudged me to ask about her tattoo, but I could have decided it felt weird or intrusive. I wanted to tell her about the passage in Ruth that those verses came from, that the song was written from, because I’m a Bible nerd and I love the book of Ruth. But I felt God telling me to hush. What if I hadn’t mentioned my husband’s name? What if when God leaned in and said, “Go ahead, ask her,” I’d refused?
God did all the heavy lifting. I just had to utter a few words. But in doing so, I felt energized and renewed in the hope of Jesus, like there was purpose to my steps and my life, because there is. For all of us. I was reminded of God’s vastness in knowing all of our needs, and at the same time His beautiful attention to the details of our lives.
Yes, I want to go where God tells me to go. And I want to stay when He tells me to stay. Because when I do, when I choose to follow Him, the things of this world fade a bit, and I catch glimpses of glory. I want to go wherever He tells me to go, because His voice is the sweetest sound I know.
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I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger and dear friend, Tamara Bundy. Tammy and I both have four kids (two girls and two boys each), husbands who work at Miami University, a love for coffee, books and Jesus, and a passion to write stories. Tammy’s newest title releases January 14, and in the blog this week she writes about something God taught her while writing Pixie Pushes On and she's giving away a free copy of her book (keep reading for details).
Only God could turn a trip to the hospital into an uplifting trip down memory lane. My dad had been in the hospital with, yet another case of pneumonia caused by his compromised lungs due to his Inclusion Body Myositis. We had gotten used to this rotation of hospital stays–at least as much as one can get used to it. But no matter how used to it you pretend to be, sitting with someone you love in a hospital room, while they are hooked up to beeping machines, looking older than you remember them to be, is hard.
My mom and dad both grew up on farms during the 1940’s, but they moved to the city when they got married. Because I grew up a city-kid, I remember being amazed at the farm stories they told—stories about my dad driving tractors as soon as he could see over the steering wheel. Stories of my mom’s favorite lamb, Buster. When it came time to write my second middle grade novel, I knew I wanted it to take place in that setting –and I knew it would have a lamb named Buster.
As I added the fictional elements to the story –such as my main character’s sister having polio, I wanted to ground it in more realities of my parents’ childhoods. That’s when I realized how poorly I’d been listening all those years. Sure, I’d heard their basic stories –but when you’re growing up, you assume you’ll have your parents (and their stories) your whole life. You imagine you’ll always be able to ask them important (and unimportant) things.
My parents lived in Columbus and my family lived two hours away in Cincinnati. Our moments of being in the same room at the same time were few. That day in the hospital was a moment I knew God put in front of me. And so, on that winter day, with my worried mom stationed beside Dad, who didn’t want the attention on him, I tried to distract them. I told them about the new book I was writing. And then, in that scary hospital room I asked my mom and dad to tell me about when they were children.
I wanted their day-to day details of life on the farm. What did they have for lunch at school? How did they get to school? Did they have bathrooms? Electricity? These were all questions that younger-me never bothered to ask, but older-me not only wanted to take the time, but also desperately wanted to slow it down.
Then, amidst the din of the machines helping my dad breathe, another sound blissfully prevailed. This sound of youthful stories of milking cows, gathering eggs, tending gardens. Mom and Dad were no longer 80-something-year-old’s watching their lives slip away. My mom became, again, the ten-year-old chasing the fuzzy little lamb she bottle-fed. My dad, once more, was in fifth grade having to eat the cold, slimy fried-egg sandwich he didn’t like, but had to eat because, as my grandma told him, “If the chickens are laying eggs, we’re eating eggs.”
My parents remembered. They talked and talked. I swear, they even giggled. If possible, they physically grew younger in front of me. And I wrote down every exquisite detail I could manage through the happy tears gathering in my eyes.
My dad passed away not long after that treasured afternoon.
On January 14, the book I was writing, Pixie Pushes On releases from Nancy Paulsen Books. And yes, I am thrilled to have readers meet Pixie, her Granddaddy, Grandma, Sissy, Daddy –and her lamb named Buster. But most of all, I am filled with joy that if I look closely between the lines of this story, I can see traces of my parents’ childhoods. And within those pages, they will stay young forever.
My dad wouldn’t mind that attention at all. I imagine he would even say, “That’s fine and dandy.”
(click here to listen to the song "Fine and Dandy" written and performed by Tamara's kids a.k.a. The Bundys, in honor of Tamara's dad)
If you are blessed to have older people in your life – ask them about their childhoods, their special memories. You don’t have to be writing a book. You just have to ask. And then listen. Listen as the years melt away. Listen to their stories. Maybe you’ll even decide to write some of the memories down.
It’s never too late. Start today, start now. Ask God to guide you. Afterall, He managed to turn a hospital trip into an uplifting trip down memory lane, leaving me with a precious memory that is, indeed, one for the books.
To win an autographed copy of Tammy’s Pixie Pushes On leave a comment in the comment section below of the blog. One winner will be selected by number randomizer on January 13. Open to continental U.S. residents only.
Tamara Bundy is a children’s book author as well as the author of several non-fiction inspirational books. A former columnist for the Cincinnati Post, she currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Miami University. You can follow her on all social media platforms as well as at www.tamarabundy.com
My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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“Why? Just why?” My daughter asked as she entered the kitchen and slid a purple folder into her backpack.
“Why, what?” I asked.
“That coat. Just why?”
Before I could answer, my son appeared and sidled over to where I’d set out his steaming cinnamon oatmeal. “What is that coat?” He asked.
So, my kids weren’t crazy about the coat, but me? I was. I’d seen the coat in an uptown shop’s window one morning before the store opened and fell in love. I called the store later, something I never do, hoping I could afford it. The price was just under what my gift card total was. Clearly, this was meant to be. They only had one in each size.
“Could you hold it for me?” I might have begged.
The worker apologetically explained because of the holidays they could not. So, I dropped what I was doing, drove to the shop, hoped they still had it in my size. They did. Hoped it would fit well. It did. I handed over my gift card and drove away with the fluffy coat nestled in a lovely pale green bag.
When my kids (who apparently don’t understand how cute the coat is) left for school the morning I first wore the coat, I headed to our coffee shop and saw two gals I knew sitting near the door. Before I could finish saying, “Good morning,” they both complimented the coat. At last, people who understood my style. I greatly appreciated their comments, because I do love this black fuzzy coat decorated with red roses, but their appreciation did not make me like the coat more. I loved it. Period. No matter what anyone else said or thought. With or without anyone’s approval.
Why am I rambling about a coat? Because this is how Jesus loves us. Period. No matter what anyone else thinks. With or without anyone else’s approval. Jesus sees us in the window (okay, going about our daily lives), hopes today will be the day we talk to Him, trust Him, turn over that thing to Him, and then Jesus does anything to get near to us. It doesn’t matter what Jesus is doing, He’ll make time to get close. He’s not holding out until we’re on the sale rack or hoping He has time to bump into us or fit us into His schedule later. If someone else makes fun of us or adores us, it doesn’t change the way Jesus sees us. He loves us. As we are. And for the record, His love is substantially stronger than my coat obsession.
Just like my coat was created by the manufacturer, If By Sea, we were all created by the Creator of the Universe, crafted uniquely and beautifully by Him. Like the roses on my coat, we all have distinct purposes based on the one-of-a-kind mix of skills, talents, perceptions, ways of communicating, insights, etc. that God knitted together into the fabric of our being. I was made like this. You were made like this.
And so, on days when people look at us and shake their heads. On days when people question your decisions and ask, “Why would you wear that? Study that? Go there? Hang out with them? Like that song? Be involved in that activity? Have that opinion? Use your time in that way?” Please know that Jesus thinks you’re remarkable. He loves when you do the things He created you to do and when you delight in the things He created you to delight in. If you’re outdoorsy, Jesus gets excited when you go for a hike in the woods. If you’re crafty He loves when you wield a glue gun. You don’t have to justify yourself to Jesus. He’s already done way more than make a phone call, or drive to a shop for you. He came to this earth over 2000 years ago as a baby in a manger, lived the life of a man, and died a painful death on a cross to dissolve your sins and offer you a life of freedom. That’s how much He loves you.
You were created in the image of God. Therefore, you are gorgeous. And packed with purpose. And nothing anyone says, no matter how anyone treats you, can take your fabulousness from you. It’s innate. Whenever you walk into a room, hold your head up high. Be confident in who you are. Wear it well. I do love my coat, but Jesus loves you infinitely more.
In this first week of advent, a tradition in the Christian church to prepare for Christmas, we celebrate hope. Jesus offers us so much hope, and His hope is that today you will accept His love and wrap it around you. His love is beautiful and warm, fits perfectly, and will never go out of style.
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A friend recently asked, “How do I connect with God when I feel distant from Him?”
My answer popped out, “You talk to Him.”
This isn’t a complete answer, and it might seem too simplistic, or maybe feel awkward to talk to someone you don’t sense is there, but this is where we start—talking to Jesus. It’s never about Jesus leaving us, because He simply doesn’t do that. Jesus told the disciples as He ascended into heaven, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
Always. To the very end.
So, it has nothing to do with where Jesus is. He’s with us. Always. To the end. It’s about how we’re hearing Him. Sometimes when we can’t hear His voice, it’s because we’re not even talking to Him, not inviting Him into our conversations. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not expecting Jesus to answer. And sometimes it’s because there’s so much garbage and pain between us and Him, His voice is muffled under all the things we’re muddling through.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you’re spending Thanksgiving with your family, and two of your family members aren’t exactly getting along. You’re worried about how to be nice to both, without upsetting either. You can already sense the tension, and you:
If you took any of these approaches, you might hear Jesus, but you might not. You barely asked and didn’t listen. If you had this same type of conversation with your best friend, you probably wouldn’t have heard much from them either. Jesus wants to hear from you. He loves you. He made you. He also loves and created those family members who are a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if you have even more issues than they do, or if you haven’t prayed recently or ever. Jesus is right there, with you, always, to the end. He wants to help, but we need to let Him. If we don’t turn over our issues and concerns to Jesus, we’re going to struggle to hear Him.
What if instead, you talked to Jesus like He was your best friend, because He wants to be, and just poured it all out, and let Him know all your feelings and worries, and how you long for the right words, and how you wish your family would be nice to each other. Even if you don’t sense Him, Jesus is there. Nodding and understanding. You might find yourself taking a deep breath, because Jesus offers peace. You might feel an idea of something you could initiate bubble up in your head—don’t friendly family football games seem to unite everybody? Hmmm. Or you might get a tangible response—a strong feeling of comfort, an uncanny ability to bite your tongue when they’re arguing, just the right words to ease the tension at just the right time. This is what hearing Jesus sometimes sounds like.
What worries, hopes, and fears are you clinging to? What concerns are spinning through your mind so fast, you can’t see or hear Jesus in the melee? An upcoming interview? A relationship? A health issue? One by one take your concerns to Jesus. Talk to Him about them. Go back to Him tomorrow. And the next day. Grab your Bible and read it before, during, or after you talk to Jesus. It is the Living Word of God. He will use those words to speak to you. Sit in silence and ask Him for peace, answers, energy, insights, healing, ideas, or patience.
Life can be complicated, so how do you get through all the muck and back to Jesus? Hand Him your problems, one by one. He wants to hear them.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39
Jesus is there while you’re stuffing your turkey and stuffing your mouth with creamy, spicy pumpkin pie. Pass the Cool Whip please. He’s there when you’re trying to be patient with the cantankerous family member or attempting to herd the kids into the van or standing in line on Black Friday. He’s there in the big stuff and the little stuff and all the in-betweens.
There might be a lot of junk clogging your ears. There might be so many worries on your list that it’ll take you a while to empty them out of your pockets at Jesus’ feet. But as you do, you’ll start to hear Him again, feel Him again. You’ll realize you weren’t ever separated from Him. He was always there.
What do you do when you can’t feel Jesus? Go to Him. Over and over. He promises to be with you to the end of the earth, so act like you believe that truth, like you know He’s there even when you can’t “see” Him.
Let go of all the stuff that’s in the way. Jesus is always there, always has been, and always will be. That is something to be incredibly thankful for.
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I’d received three rejections in three days on a proposal for a new book my agent was pitching for me. The first one, I thought, “Oh well, God has a better plan.” The second, I thought, “Even though they’re not taking my book, the editor’s feedback was encouraging.” The third? My first and only thought for quite a while was: Ugh.
The publishing industry is packed with NOs. It’s part of the gig. Some publishing houses already have full lists, a similar idea in the works, specific requirements they’re currently looking for that I, or this particular book, don’t meet. I try not to take these “no thank yous” personally. But three in three days was a lot to deflect.
I felt like this door might be shutting. It felt like ALL the doors were actually slamming shut.
God, you wanted me to write this book, right? Then, why so many turndowns?
God remained sturdy. He always does. Trust me,I felt Him, respond.
Which is not the answer I wanted, because I wanted to know the details.Wherewill this book land? When? Willit find a publisher at all? If not, whatdo You want me to do with it, Lord? But God’s answer was, of course, complete.
Trust Jesus. Because Jesus is the One gave me the idea for the book in the first place, because He always knows what’s right and best for me, for you, for us.
I chatted with Jesus for a long while, asking Him to help me let go of my expectations, and trust Him more. I asked Him to shake off the lies that my writing wasn’t enough, and the inevitable follow up lie, that I wasn’t enough. I thanked Him for the privilege of being able to write for Him. I thanked Him for knowing even before He asked me to write this book how and when He would use it. He washed calmness over me. He reminded me I was His and loved. Feeling more centered and peaceful I got back to my day,
I grabbed some almond milk out of the fridge to top off my coffee, but the refrigerator door didn’t seal. I pushed it more tightly the second time. I ran out to my car to put a new pack of gum in my console, but when I tried to close it, the lid bounced back up like a broken jack-in-the-box. A-ha! My aux cord needed to be maneuvered. Going from the garage back inside took me through the laundry room, so I grabbed a load from the dryer, but the laundry room door wouldn’t shut. A backpack jutting out from its peg near the door was the culprit. After folding the clothes I carried some dish towels to the kitchen and slid them in their drawer—only an oven mitt stubbornly blocked the way. Again, I moved things around to slide the drawer shut. Upstairs, I placed some of my husband’s black t-shirts in our closet, only, you guessed it, the door caught on something as I went to shut it.
I got frustrated and may have uttered out loud, “Why won’t you shut, you stinking door?”
Everything I tried to close wouldn’t. Too many things to be natural or normal. I needed to stop, breathe, and consider what Jesus was saying. In that moment of stillness by the closet I heard Him say, “I’m not closing your doors, Laura. I’m keeping them open.” Cue tears.
Jesus sees us. He knows us. He loves us. And He cares so much about our every move. He heard me talking to Him, and saw me stand up more settled, but not fully. He saw me folding laundry and putting away towels. Jesus understood I want to trust Him completely with my writing and everything else, but my human heart struggles. I’m impatient and emotional. And He speaks to me, and to you, too, with constant little reminders—the tiniest details right where we are, as simple as a stuck door (or several) to give us sweet encouragement.
I don’t know what Jesus intends to happen with my manuscript. It could be months before I hear back from all the publishers my agent pitched. It might become a bestseller or not get published at all. I don’t know how Jesus is going to use this thing He asked me to write, but I do know He will use it. Because He called me to write it. Sometimes it feels so easy when Christ calls us to something new—the excitement, the possibilities, the novelty of it all. But somewhere in the midst of the work, of walking around our proverbial walls of Jericho the fifth time around we lose hope or worry. Jesus reminded me that He’s with me, that He didn’t ditch me mid-way through this project, that He knows exactly what’s going on, and just wanted to tell me no matter how things appear, He’s keeping doors open.
Yes, sometimes Jesus shuts doors—when they lead us the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time. If you’re uncertain if Jesus wants you to move forward or change lanes or turn around, ask Him, He’ll tell you. But when God calls us to something, when He sparks something in us, He brings it to completion. He wouldn’t pack you full of a talent, plop you in a certain place, introduce you to that person, or light you up with an idea, and then just stomp it out. No, our God finishes what He starts. Not just always how we imagine.
What has God asked you to do for Him? Are you believing the lies that it’s too hard, you’re not capable of seeing it through, or nobody likes your idea? Are you tired? Discouraged? Because nothing is too hard for Jesus. He’s capable of seeing any project through to the end. And if He gave you the idea, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter. Trust Him and His call. And when the time is right, Jesus, like a perfect gentleman, will hold the right door, the one He’s been planning for you all along, wide open for you to walk through. I’m sure of it.
I told my son, Max, we could go somewhere crazy, fun to celebrate his senior year. Max plans to go into worship ministry, so I wasn’t surprised when he chose the Heaven Come Conferencein Dallas this past weekend. I bought conference tickets, booked flights, and reserved a rental car. I mapped out where the event was and scouted out a convenient hotel. I wanted to plan the perfect trip—make it special and memorable for my boy. Apparently God also wanted to treat Max. Everywhere we turned we were blown away by the inexplicable goodness of God.
The conference was virtually nonstop worship music and phenomenal preaching. That alone would have made for an incredible trip. The tickets were open seating, so we had no idea where we’d be able to sit. But once each session began, ushers allowed anyone to move toward the stage. Okay. All of a sudden God handed Max and I had front row tickets. We knew we were going to miss the final session, but hoped we could see Dante Bowelead worship, and I really wanted to hear Christine Cainespeak. Don’t worry. God scheduled for us to see both of them.
Why did we skip the last session? My oldest daughter, who has never been to Texas, just happened to be playing two soccer games this same weekend in Dallas. Oh, and check out the sunset God doodled in the sky that night. It was insane.
Every single thing seemed to click like that. It was like we kept winning the lottery. Only better. Because we felt God’s presence. I’d be driving along on unfamiliar highways with multiple levels of twisted ramps that resembled the highways built around the Zax in that Dr. Seuss book, and need to get over five lanes. Yikes! But no problem. There was no one behind me, and I could easily scoot sideways across the highway. Which happens to me never.
While in the merchandise shop Max spotted a worship leader he admires from a church in Dallas. What? Why was he here? Selling t-shirts? I have no idea, but we got so many hugs from this guy we lost count. Walking through the lobby, we spotted another accomplished worship leader just hanging out in his flannel. Max got to chat songwriting and worship with him as if they were old friends.
It wasn’t just us. This was happening left and right around us. Friday there was a tremendous storm in Dallas that closed the airport. It took place while we were inside, so we never had to drive in it, stand in it, or even get wet. But it did stop the Friday night speaker from flying in. No worries. John Bevere, who had preached the night before couldn’t get out, so although not on the schedule, he came back and preached his guts out, in a way that moved possibly every one of the 6,000 people in attendance.
I’m leaving out a dozen other blessings—milkshakes in our parking lot, Starbucks in our lobby, an exit out of the parking lot opened right before our eyes, the free autographed poster we got handed, the fastest rental car check out and return I’ve ever experienced, and the loveliest people everywhere we turned.
Conference over, but still in Dallas, we headed to church Sunday morning. On the way Max mentioned one of his favorite worship leaders is Sean Feucht. As we waited for service to begin, in walks Sean. Yes, he’d been part of our conference, but it was totally unrelated to this church. He lives in California. Oh, and he was the guest preacher that morning. Get out!
For all the things I wanted to plan for my son, I couldn’t have prearranged any of this. There is not one thing I could have done on my own to ensure he could speak one-on-one to leaders who would encourage him to pursue his passion, that we would be in the perfect places at perfect times, or get platinum treatment with general admission tickets. But God could. And did. It’s how He operates.
Sure, I have days where I feel the opposite is true. Where it feels like everything goes wrong. I wake up with a migraine, one of my kids and I have a spat before they leave for school, and I can’t find my phone. Or keys. When I finally get everything rounded up I start my car, and realize I don’t have my bags for the grocery. And even though I’ve only allotted twenty minutes to dart into the store before I get to Bible study, my fuel light is on. Argh! But the thing is, God is with us on those days, too. He’s reminding us to grab our phone and bags before we leave. He’s whispering in our ears to slow down, take a deep breath that He loves us and is with us. The delay to find our keys or stop for gas might enable us to bump into that perfect person or keep us from getting into a fender bender. We rarely see all of the beautiful details God is orchestrating. But He always is. Do we have our eyes open?
You see, just like I want my kids’ lives to be filled with love and joy, God wants that for them (and us) even more! God is a good good Father, and He loves us perfectly. He is working everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He’s planning V.I.P. treatments, doors to open, people for us to meet at places and times we could never expect or concoct on our own.
This sometimes means breakups with the wrong person, because they weren’t right for us, not getting one job to find a better one, losing a lease, because God has a roommate that will help us cling to Jesus set up in a different apartment, or a place that will save us money, or where we’ll literally be able to sleep better at night. We can’t see all of His glorious ways. But we can trust that He is on the move.
Being at a conference where we were focused on Jesus, Max and I had our eyes wide open to God’s blessings. Not surprisingly, this made it easy to identify gift upon gift upon gift from the Lord. But the blessings are always there. Even in our storms, God is watering dry ground, preparing it for new growth. We just need to keep our hearts and eyes open. Where do you see Jesus blessing you today? Take a moment to thank Him for His abundant presence and presents.
“What are you taking a picture of?” my husband asked.
“I’m just going to touch them,” I said over my shoulder. I was drawn to the most beautiful willow on the other side of the street with wispy branches arching high and dropping low to the ground. After crossing the street and running my fingers through whispery leaves and vine like branches I pulled my phone from my back pocket and snapped a few pics. Which to most people would seem pretty strange, but it didn’t faze my husband.
“We both knew you were going to take pictures.”
“I just planned on touching it,” I said. “I can’t resist willows.”
Brett grinned. “And?”
“And once I touched it I needed a picture,” I conceded.
Brett held out his arms and hugged my ridiculous self—the goofball who takes pictures of trees in random people’s yards. “We both knew you were going to take a picture. I just knew first,” he said.
I am a dork. There’s no question about it. My husband knows all of my weird, quirky, nerdy behavior, and loves me not only despite it, but sometimes even because of it. I am blessed by him, no doubt. But this isn’t just how Brett sees me. This is how Jesus—the Creator of the Universe, the King of the World sees all of us!
He knows we can’t hear very well, can’t help talking strangers next to us in line, feel the need to wash our feet twice every time we shower, or require a pillow on our ear in order to fall asleep. Jesus knows all of these things about us, because He specifically designed us this way. And instead of being bothered when we yank an itchy t-shirt off our body as soon as it touches our skin, Jesus grins, and makes a softer tee more visible in our drawer.
Early in his ministry Jesus was headed toward Galilee. There was a man named Nathanael who Jesus wanted as one of his disciples. Jesus hadn’t officially been introduced, but being part of the Trinity and all, had actually been in on the creation of Nathanael. Jesus knew him inside and out.
When Jesus saw him (Nathanael) coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet!--John 1:47-50
In this short interchange we see that:
We spend so much time apologizing for and hiding our quirks. Why? We get nervous wondering what others will think. Why?
Jesus looks at us and says, “I love your crooked smile—it puts people at ease. Your fun laugh brings joy to a room. The fact that you count everything makes those around you aware of how much they actually have. Your quiet nature relaxes those around you. The way you can’t sit still when you hear music gets folks minds off their problems and onto the possibilities of singing or dancing—of finding joy.”
When we need a minute to collect our thoughts or because we’re meticulous about tucking in our shirt or to take a deep breath or because we are unsettled if we don’t wipe off the counter, Jesus doesn’t get frustrated or impatient. He leans back, smiles, and when we’re good to go says, “Ready?”
The disciples were worried about what people would think when Jesus sent them out to spread the good news. Jesus reassured them:
What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated. You’re worth more than a million canaries. —Matthew 10:30
Wow! I have a hecka lot of hairs on this head. And He numbers all of them? How amazing that this is how specifically and thoroughly our God loves us. He knows every single detail about us. And just as we cringe and think--Every single detail? Because there are a few details I’d rather nobody knew. Jesus follows up. He says, “I know every detail about you, and by knowing all of those details, I consider you worth more than a million canaries.”
So be yourself—your actual self—today. Be silly or serious, fast or slow, calm or crazy. Bring yourself to the game, the meeting, the coffee date, the class, and know that you are exactly who God created you to be. He sees you under your fig tree or crossing the street to touch a willow tree or researching your family tree or pulling your favorite sandals off your shoetree, and He says, “That one—I want to hang out with her.”
Laura L. Smith