God loves us. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the jumble of our lives that we won’t even allow Him to remind us. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Will you let God and the people He put in your life love you?
The other day one of my kids woke with a massive headache. They had an important presentation at school ahead of them. They felt awful and were unsure of how they could navigate the presentation through their pain, but they had to go. They needed to be there. I laid out a grab-and-go breakfast, knowing not eating amplifies headaches. I found Advil and Tylenol to tackle the headache from both sides. I placed the capsules in the hand of my sweet child. But they were hurting and stressed, which made it difficult to focus on the help in front of them. They felt frozen by pain and worry, unable to put the medicine or breakfast in their mouth. I only share this, because I saw so much of my own frequent shutdowns and refusal to accept God's help in their struggle.
I unfortunately do this all the time.
“Need any help?” my husband asks as I hustle around the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table before someone needs to sprint out the door for practice or rehearsal.
“No!” I snarl. Which is not the kindest way to respond to someone offering assistance. But I’m in a mode, and a mood. And I fear if I slow down to even explain to Brett what needs to be done, I won’t complete my task in time. So instead of trusting and accepting the love God offers via my husband, I continue in a snit. I miss out on a chance to realize the beauty in the fact that God is tender enough to notice me making dinner and to offer me free kitchen staff.
I’ll get edits on something I’ve written, and stubbornly think, nah, it makes perfect sense how I wrote it. Which is clearly not true, or the person editing wouldn’t have questioned what I was trying to say. God gives me wisdom via a colleague to improve the work I do for Him. Why do I ever resist accepting these insightful suggestions?
Someone-who-hurt-me’s name comes up in conversation, and all I want to do is make a snide remark. But I hear God whisper, Let it go. Speaking negative things makes you hang onto bitterness, which only ends up hurting you. It also sets a bad example for those around you. My Good, Good Father is trying to protect me from inflicting pain on myself. Yet, I want to say the snarky thing, so I say it anyway. And then get a pit in my stomach.
Can you relate?
I knew within fifteen minutes of ingesting the acetaminophen and ibuprofen my child’s pain would be minimized. I also knew the longer they worried, the less time they’d have to get ready for school. This would make them more stressed. And the whole thing would continue to spiral. Easier to see when it’s happening to someone else. But I couldn’t shove medicine down their throat. And I couldn’t force feed them breakfast or dress them. I love my child and had tools to help—medicine, food, and a plan. They couldn’t accept any of it. They ended up darting out the door hungry and in a frazzled mess.
Ugh. How many times do we do this with the help God offers? Shake our heads, wallow in our pain, and refuse to accept the gift of love He’s basically placed in our palms. We don’t mean to. My kiddo didn’t mean to. They wanted to feel better, but they were overwhelmed. By all of it. I want to feel better, too—less stressed, better at my trade, and less bitter. But when we get overwhelmed, we tend to shut down. And in shutting our hands, we make it nearly impossible to receive God’s gifts.
Jesus came down to earth to love us. He died on the cross to love us. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us to—you guessed it—love us. That’s a lot of love. So why are we resisting it?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] 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 8:37-39 NIV
Tomorrow is a day dedicated to expressing love. I hope your day is full of those yummy-red-chewy-cherry hearts, rich Dove chocolates, laughter with the people dear to you, and warm, comforting hugs. But no matter if it is or is not, I know that you are loved by your Creator, by the Creator of all the things, by the King of kings. There’s not a single way you can mess up that will make Jesus love you less. There’s not a single thing you need to do to make Jesus love you more. He loves you fully and completely. Right now. As is.
He offers grace and joy and forgiveness and hope. Will you receive it? Open your hands. Open your heart. And let His unending glorious love flood in.
How was your Christmas?
Did you see the people you wanted to see?
Did you get that thing you most wanted under the tree?
Partake in your usual traditions—view the light show? Watch The Nutcracker? Attend the concert? Give the silliest present in the gift exchange?
Or are you feeling unsatisfied?
Maybe you’re full of sugar cookies topped with creamy frosting and sweet sprinkles, and memories and hugs, but now it’s over. Now what?
Or maybe it was amazing, but you’re tired. And you have a house to clean, a fridge to restock, a shopping bag full of returns and exchanges to make, plus thank you notes to write.
Or maybe Christmas at your house is hard, because of that one family member, yikes, or bitterness or jealousy or past regrets or painful memories or the unexpected tragedy and you really want to move on.
I am a Christmas fanatic. I love all of it—the songs (I’ve been listening since November 1), the baking, the decorating, the crisp scent of pine, the sharp taste of peppermint, the warm glow of candles, the Christmas movies that make me laugh (Home Alone) and cry (It’s a Wonderful Life). Yes, I adore Christmas—every millisecond of it, but I ate too much. And stayed up later than my body likes to. And I love my family so fully I might burst, but this introvert girl needs a little alone time. And sure, there are moments over the holidays that are a struggle—when family members bicker, when someone’s feelings are hurt, when a gift goes awry, or the memory of someone no longer with you leaves an ache in your heart. But Christmas isn’t something we’re supposed to rate with a five star system like the last book we read (Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg ****) or movie we watched (Incredibles 2 also ****). Christmas is something that happened one time, one night over 2000 years ago that changed the world, changed everything, changed me, and if you know Jesus changed you, too, forever.
We celebrate this phenomenal event every year despite our budgets or states of mind. It’s such a huge deal we get together with all of our favorite people and decorate evergreens—because they symbolize the everlasting life Jesus gives us, exchange gifts—because He is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and drink eggnog—because I have no idea why. Important things should be celebrated, remembered, reflected upon. But this important event wasn’t a one and done—like your last birthday, anniversary, or semester. Jesus was born as a baby (okay, that part only happened once), but He did it to shower His love on us for always.
Jesus loved the world. That’s what He did. That’s who He is—love. And this all-powerful King, Lord of Lords who personifies love, loves you.
When you’re questioning yourself—asking did your brother even like his present, was the turkey a little dry, what did Uncle Lester even mean by his comment, could I have changed that, or fixed that, or saved them? Remember that Jesus loves you, then as the carol, “Old Holy Night,” describes your soul will remember its worth. It’s not about the outcomes. Jesus’ love—that’s what Christmas is all about.
Peter, who hung out with Jesus nonstop during the three years Jesus preached, healed, and taught on earth says it this way:
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people. —1 Peter 2:9-10
Chosen. Us? For high callings? To be holy people? Dang. It’s hard to feel anything but grateful and honored in the midst of these positions we’ve been appointed to.
You’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls. —1 Peter 2:35
When we feel helpless, or like no one notices us or appreciates us or understands us, we can remember that Jesus named us. He named us His prized possessions. He’s keeping us for good things. Jesus is our shepherd, the one who feeds, cares for, provides, and protects our very souls.
So, I don’t know how Christmas impacted you for the good or bad. Maybe you still have two more rounds of unruly relatives to “celebrate” with. But no matter how many stars you’d give this Christmas, it’s important to realize all of the festivities were created solely as a way to remember THE first Christmas and all the love Jesus brought for us then, for always. When we sink into the truth that He loves us, that He names us and chooses us, then our souls truly know their worth.
We no longer evaluate ourselves on how the appetizers turned out or how the presents were wrapped. We no longer let those painful memories or snide comments hijack what Christmas means. We no longer feel the need to prove ourselves. Because Jesus chose to come down to earth. Chose to live among us. Chose to die for me and for you, because He chose to love us.
Whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. John 1:11 MSG
All we have to do is chose Him. And then Jesus will show us who we truly are, allow us to glimpse our value, our worth, fashion us into our true selves, our child-of-God selves. So, as you reflect on Christmas, reflect on that truth. That God wants to be with you, loves you. Not just on Christmas, but every day. And that is something that truly deserves to be celebrated!
It’s raining. Heavy drops pelt our wood deck just off our family room. I hear water rolling down the roof and trickling down the smooth glass of the windows. The sound fills our momentarily quiet house, as two kids are at the rec center, one’s playing video games, and one is showering. The swooshing, dripping, pattering sounds like a symphony of various water instruments all playing their parts, together forming a gorgeous gift to my ears. That is, if I listen. Because earlier, when I was sending someone’s Christmas list to Grandma, making a reservation for dinner, and booking a haircut for my son, while filling my water bottle, I didn’t hear it. It was raining then, just like it is now, but I missed the beauty of it. Somewhere in my head I acknowledged the weather, but I wasn’t listening.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Jesus asked his disciples after telling them about the sower who scattered seed on various kinds of soil. This exact phrase is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so I feel like it’s important, a verbatim quote. So am I really listening? Are we? And when I look at the story Jesus had just told about some seed taking sprout, and other seed not so much, I realize how important it is to listen to Him, because I want His seeds to grow in my life, to flourish, to produce fruit. But is His voice what I tune my ears to, or do I allow the noise of the world to drown Jesus out.
Because life is noisy. And when it’s not, when it’s silent, we get antsy, and seek to fill the quiet. If no one’s talking in the car, we flip on the radio or plug in ear buds. If we’re standing in line we tap our phone screens filling our brain with visual noise, quotes and scores, snaps and stories. One friend I love has multiple televisions on throughout her house, so her rooms don’t feel “too quiet.” What if instead, we grabbed those pockets of silence as opportunities to hear God? When we fill our days with so much sound, are we able to hear God above the noise? Am I even trying to?
Yes! Of course I want to hear God. And I am trying to. So, I get out my Bible and journal in the mornings. And I read and I write and I pray. But I often get distracted. Because the dryer buzzes, and the UPS man rings the doorbell, and someone asks if I’ve seen their keys, and I get a text, and now that I’m on my phone... Instagram. Plus I remember I still want to send a card to a new friend who wasn’t on our list last year, and wrap those cozy sweats I got one of the cousins, and order one more thing from Amazon, and get the chicken out of the freezer now so it has time to thaw. And then the Bible verse that was resonating, the thought I was about to jot down, that thing God and I were talking about escapes me. And I try to go back to where I was.
Sometimes I step back in the flow of my conversation with God, but sometimes I don’t, because now I don’t have time, and I’ll return to it later. Or will I? Sometimes God and I have a fantastic chat in the mornings, but by three in the afternoon it’s nowhere on my radar, or some mornings I go through the motions, but my brain is on all the other things and nothing seems to stick. But I want it to. I want to know what Jesus has to say. About my marriage. About my kids. About my writing. About all of the things. So, am I listening? Are you?
In the last week my daughter had a piano recital, my youngest son had his Fine Arts night, and my older son played guitar in church. So much beautiful music to hear. My daughter, who hasn’t played since she was little, practiced her song over and over, and was a bit nervous to play in front of all those people for her exam grade in piano class. I prayed that she’d do her best, that she’d be confident in her playing. And she slid onto that bench and pounded out “All of Me,” on the keys filling the theatre with beautiful chords. I held my breath the entire time. It was lovely. My youngest warned us his bell for the bell song was “bigger than his head,” and thus difficult to ring. He also warned, “Don’t look at me, because, I’ll mess up.” But I couldn’t help but look, and pray his bell would ring, and he’d actually enjoy the experience. Sure enough, he lifted that giant brass bell, and the notes rang clear and loud. During worship on Sunday my ears honed in on the electric guitar, because when my son plays I want to hear his part. I peeked at him up there in his plaid flannel, and prayed he’d use his talents to glorify God. The notes from his instrument filled my ears and my heart with joy.
I was listening. Extra hard. Because these are my kids. And I love them. And I’m proud of them, that they played their songs all in with their various levels of interest and talent. This is how God listens to us—completely tuned in. We’re His kids, and He loves us, and He’s proud of us, in all of our unique skillsets both when we do the things we love and the things we’re assigned. If the God of the Universe is paying so much attention to every note we play, are we listening to Him?
Wow. I’m trying. But not always as intently as I’d like to. I make excuses, but I didn’t make excuses when my kids were playing, and God doesn’t make excuses when I’m talking to Him. So, for me, I realize it’s time to ditch the distractions and get back to being full-on focused on Jesus.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” —Matthew 13:16-17 MSG
Jesus gave us the ears and the opportunities to hear Him—what a gift! So, are we listening, really listening, like we’d focus on our kids in a concert, or our favorite part of our favorite Christmas song, or the funniest line from Elf? Because Jesus is listening to us. And He has so much to tell us, so much love to share with us. He tells us we’re chosen. We’re holy. We’re loved. We’re His. If only we’ll listen.
The rain has stopped now. A bird chirps out my window, insistent and shrill. I hear it, because I’ve put myself in a quiet place, where I can hear better. It’s a reminder to me, to set myself up well to hear Jesus. To temporarily tune out all of the other noise each morning, to take advantage of moments of silence throughout my day, to hone into the beautiful melody of love and forgiveness and joy and courage and strength Jesus sings to me, to all of us. It’s my all-time favorite song. And I want to listen to it, really listen.
I’ll be honest, I’d never really thought about what happens from the time I add Bertie Botts Ever Flavor Beans, a case of Italian Flour, AA batteries, and the newest book by Annie F. Downs to my Amazon cart. I just hope it gets to me fast. My youngest had a recent fieldtrip to Honeywell, which engineers the robots and mechanical sorting systems that make sure all those items we order online get to our houses correctly and in time. Now that I’ve seen the inner workings, I realize hope isn’t really the right word. I know my order will arrive quickly. You should see those robots!
Seeing how it all works was particularly interesting, because, let’s just say I checked a few things off my “nice” list with a few clicks on my trusty Mac. As a result I keep eyeing the front porch or the sketchy car in my driveway as someone I’ve never seen before approaches (#amazondelivery), thinking I hope …the sweater I ordered for Maguire to wear on Christmas is the right size, the sweatshirt I got for Mallory is super soft, I intercept the gift I ordered for Brett before he spies it on the doorstep.
Christmas time is full of hope.
When my kids were little they had wish lists of things they hoped Santa would leave under the tree. They hoped they’d be the first to find Frosty, our resident Elf on the Shelf, each morning, and for the jingle of bells from Nana’s front porch signaling a special guest appearance from Santa. They’re older now and hope for mornings they can sleep in under thick blankets, and that if we make a coffee run they’ll get a sweet peppermint mocha or cocoa topped with extra creamy whipped cream. What are you hoping for this Christmas?
That first Christmas? Can you imagine how thick and desperate hope was in the air? Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say, I imagine when Mary found out she was pregnant with God’s son, she must have hoped with every cell of her body that Joseph would believe her, that he wouldn’t walk away from their betrothal, leave her to be a single mom. In her day that meant she’d be an outcast and most likely homeless. When Joseph heard Mary’s news and decided to go through with the whole marrying her thing, despite her umm condition, I’m guessing he hoped people wouldn’t talk too much, that society would still accept him and his wife, that he would still get carpentry work. At that time Rome was in charge of the people of Israel and life was oppressive. Royalty and rulers were rich, and the poor were impoverished. Laws were harsh. Taxes were high. Life was exhausting. And God? He’d promised a Messiah for centuries. Four hundred years had passed since the prophet, Malachi, had put down his pen. The Jewish nation was desperate, and they were hoping for God to make a move.
And God came through in the most glorious of ways.
He sent Jesus. Hope of the world.
I used to get frustrated when I was young and asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas. They’d answer, “I don’t need anything.” Now I get what they meant. I don’t need anything. But I still have things I hope for. I hope my mother-in-law’s move goes smoothly, that she really finds joy in her new home. I hope my kids don’t get too stressed during their exam weeks, that we all get to spend quality time together as a family over Christmas break, that a friend who recently lost his job finds peace and security.
But I don’t just hope these things. I realize that’s not the right word. I know these things are in good hands. Not because of robots or sophisticated sorting systems. But because my hope is in Jesus. And I can count on Him.
We don’t need advanced technology to fulfill our spiritual list of hopes, translation—prayer requests. We have a Savior we can rely on—who will always be here for us. Until the end of the days. The people I care about are in Jesus’ hands. And He loves them so, I can be assured He will give them the opportunities and rest they need, if they’ll let Him. I can be certain peace and joy are available to everyone I’m praying for. And I can exhale, knowing my loved ones are in the very best hands.
“My hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I do not trust the sweetest frame. But wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” goes the old hymn.
All of Israel was hoping that night over 2000 years ago. And then Jesus showed up. In a barn. To a peasant teenager. I doubt anyone guessed things would go down like that. But maybe they should have, because God promised it would be so. God told the prophets how He would save them. God promised a Savior from the lineage of David, to be born in Bethlehem, to a virgin. And when Jesus came He checked all of those boxes, fulfilled every promise. Because that’s who God is. God consistently delivers what He promises. Who the Israelites had long been hoping for came. Jesus is hope.
So, yes, let’s put our hope in Jesus this Christmas. But let’s redefine hope as not something we’re crossing our fingers for, but something we’re trusting God to do at exactly the right place and time. This most likely won’t look how we envision it. Many of the Jews were hoping for a strong military commander or a rich and mighty king. Jesus is strong, He does command authority, and man, is He mighty, but when Jesus showed up as a baby, people struggled to see all of that, to connect the dots.
It wasn’t that God had mixed up the packages or the addresses. Nope. God has 0% error. He kept His promise. He always does. Always will. So let’s live in expectant hope this Christmas, of all of the promises Jesus will keep—to love, cherish, redeem, rescue, and stand by us, forever more. Let’s keep our eyes wide open like little kids on Christmas morning, believing Jesus will do what He said He would do, not just wanting Him to be, but fully believing that He IS the hope of the world.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1
What are you hoping for this Christmas? How will you trust Jesus with your hope?
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
Due to crazy schedules and me skimming too fast through one too many emails my youngest and I pulled up to his school for basketball tryouts the other night. “Hmm,” I said. “I wonder why there aren’t any cars here.”
“Yeah, kind of strange,” he answered. “We are kinda early.”
I checked my phone. “Six minutes early.”
We got out of the car walked to the door, and you already know the scenario, the door was locked. No one was there.
I texted another mom and scrolled through emails. Pretty sure I did this simultaneously, which might be how we’d ended up here in the first place. Yes, there was a coach’s meeting tonight. No, there weren’t tryouts. Yes, there were tryouts for an elite team at a different place tonight, but those were not the tryouts we were trying to attend. Total mom fail. Although my son shrugged it off as we got back in our car, I knew he’d gotten mentally and emotionally ready for tryouts. There’s an adrenaline surge of excitement and nervousness no matter your skill level or what you’re auditioning for. It was a chilly evening and he’d had to change into basketball clothes and ride to the next town for absolutely nothing. When we got home he said, “Thanks for bringing me home.”
Ummm. “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter. “Do you think I would have left you at the tryouts I thought you had, but weren’t real?”
He laughed, too. “No. But thanks for coming straight home, and for taking me in the first place.”
This kid is too much. He is honestly the most grateful person I know. This has nothing to do with parenting and everything to do with the kind spirit God has placed inside of him. This is the same boy who has said, “Thank you for letting me make dinner tonight.” As in him. Cooking for our family. And then thanking me. No lie. He oozes gratitude. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the happiest people I know.
Does thankfulness equal joy?
There’s research that makes it sound like that’s true. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, wanted to know why some people were content with their lives, while others were not. She conducted thousands of interviews trying to discover what makes a wholehearted person. “Wholehearted living,” she says, “is about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” These people had joy.
Do you know what she found? Every single person who made it to her “wholehearted” list practices gratitude on a regular basis. Meaning, they don’t just say, “thank you” when the barista hands them their pumpkin spiced latte, but they daily, intentionally, take time to mentally note things they can be thankful for.
I think Brene is pretty rockstar, if you haven’t watched her Ted Talks or read her books, do that and soon, but there’s a source I deem much higher than Brene, higher than any other source, the Bible. And the Bible repeatedly instructs us to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:18
As we enter into November and pumpkin pies and pilgrims, are we focused on which family we’ll see when and what dish we need to prepare for Thanksgiving, or are we actually taking time to be thankful?
My son has to practice basketball. Dribbling and shooting aren’t part of his daily life, unless he intentionally goes out to the garage, grabs the ball, and takes time to practice. No one else in our family plays this game. So for Maguire, this means motivating himself, dribbling up and down our cul de sac when it’s chilly outside, shooting over and over when there’s no one else to play with. The same is true for gratitude. We aren’t going to just “be thankful” unless we intentionally set aside time or habits that enable us to appreciate all we have.
Where do we start? A lot of people say grace or a prayer before they eat. Do you do this? Before every meal? Even a Starbucks scone on the fly? Even at a business dinner with clients? You could start by thanking God for every single meal, regardless, for having food, any food, when so many people in the world are literally starving, for crunchy apples the colors of fall leaves, and warm, hearty soup on a chilly day. It’s an easy place to start.
How about as a family with daily prayers? Could you all go around and say one thing you’re thankful for? Before you start your day? Before you go to bed? Both? This holds you all accountable to one another. At least once a day, even the grumpiest family member with the lousiest stuff going on can practice finding something they’re thankful for. And when we say it out loud, “Thank you God for cozy blankets or a stunning sunrise this morning,” all of a sudden, we realize we truly are grateful.
A thankful list or journal is a brilliant way, for all you planner-obsessed, list-making, color-coded folks out there (raises hand). Create a separate journal or pad of paper where you write down at least five things, or ten things, or twenty, up to you, you’re grateful for each day. Make the time consistent—when the kids get on the bus, when you arrive in the office, when you park your car in the parking lot, but before you get out—whatever time of day you can both make it fit into your schedule and it will help mentally prepare you for what’s next.
Maybe none of these ideas make sense for you, but your morning drive time would be ideal, or your lunch break, or you’d like to put up a sticky note on your mirror each day with something you’re thankful for, or change your screen saver to “Give thanks in all circumstances!” so that every time you pick up your phone, you’re reminded to thank God for something. You don’t have to limit yourself to being grateful at these set times, but scheduled times, just like brushing your teeth before you go to bed, makes it part of your routine.
Today, I’m sick. I don’t know what hit me, but I feel like my head is in a way too tight helmet and like I could sleep until Christmas. But I am so grateful. Grateful my kids are old enough to feed and dress themselves, so I don’t have to worry about their basic needs. Grateful my husband brought a rich, chocolate muffin and steaming, coffee up to me in my bed. Thankful for vitamin C packets that give my immune system a boost. Grateful I could sleep in and wear sweats, because there is only one place I had to be all day, you guessed it, actual basketball tryouts.
Throughout November, I’m going to provide a place for us to practice gratitude together for anyone who’d like to get into this habit. It is proven to bring us joy, and more importantly to please God. I’ll use #thankfulnessproject to organize the posts. I’d love for you to check out my Facebook and Instagram daily to join in. But let’s start right now. What’s one thing you’re grateful for?
“I’m horrified,” my son said as I came down the stairs.
“Ummm... why?” Keep in mind I had not had coffee yet.
“There’s a toad in my room!”
“Wh—aatt?” Still no coffee.
“I woke up, saw a brown lump on the floor, and it’s a toad, and I put a bowl over it.”
Thankfully my husband entered the kitchen, and we retold the tale to him. He swept in like a fairy tale prince and somehow scooped up the toad and escorted him outside. I never saw the toad. I have no pictures to post of the little fellow. I have zero idea how he could have hopped his bumpy self into our house, up a flight of stairs, down a hall and into my son’s room. Not a clue. But yet I believe it. I don’t question the story of the toad even though it doesn’t make sense, and the only proof I have is testimonies from my son and husband. I didn’t see it. But the toad was there.
Which brings me to another frog fairy tale. In the classic, The Frog Prince, a prince is turned into a frog. He needs a princess to kiss him to return to his royal, human state. He meets a princess and tells her his sad story, but the princess treats him, well, like pond scum. Why should the princess believe this frog’s story? Why would she ever kiss a slimy, green reptile smelling of swamps? But the moment the princess kisses the frog it is so obvious, this thing she couldn’t see before, but that had been there all along was absolutely true. The princess didn’t see that a jumpy frog could be a prince. But he was.
Are we only believing the things we can see?
If I can trust two mischievous boys (yes, my husband counts as a boy) about an outlandish story involving a stair-climbing toad, then shouldn’t it be easy for me to believe everything the King of the Universe tells me? Shouldn’t I accept all of God’s promises without a doubt? Or am I like the princess? A little doubtful, because I don’t always see things clearly? Because I’m too caught up in my own life, the distractions, the noise, in the things I’m used to, to see the full story.
When Jesus says to us, “You are completely loved.” Do we believe it? Or do we doubt the minute someone cuts us down?
When Jesus says, “I have plans for you to prosper.” Do we believe it? Or as soon as things don’t go the way we hoped or expected do we doubt?
When Jesus says, “You are forgiven of the lowest deed you’ve ever done if you follow Me.” Do we believe Him? Or do we hold our past sins and mistakes over our own heads, wearing them like labels, to categorize or punish ourselves?
You guys there was a toad in my house. The frog really was a prince. But even more importantly, everything Jesus says is true. It’s real. Even if you don’t see it, you are loved. He does have amazing plans for you. You are forgiven. God is on your side.
But some days that feels hard to hold onto.
In 2 Kings 6 a prophet named Elisha is on the King’s list. The cruel king sends a hecka lot of hit men to surround the city where Elisha is and take him out. When Elisha’s servant sees the soldiers he freaks out. Wouldn’t you? But Elisha doesn’t bat an eyelash, because he sees something that the servant doesn’t. Elisha sees and believes that God is on His side, that the God of Angel Armies is fighting for him. Elisha prays the servant’s eyes will be opened. God opens the servant’s eyes and voila! The servant sees something that had been there the whole time, but that he couldn’t even imagine, let alone see. With open eyes the servant sees hundreds of soldiers and chariots of fire—armies of God on their side. God was protecting Elisha and his servant. God had the enemy outnumbered and out-powered and out-strategized. He always does. Protective troops were in place, already there. Elisha’s servant just couldn’t see it. Yet.
If you feel outnumbered today, or out of luck or out of time or out of money or outlandishly sad or overwhelmed, open your eyes. Believe what is true. Even if you can’t see it. Even if all the “evidence” you have is that someone who loves you said so. Jesus does love you. And He says, actually He promises, that He will never forsake you. That He has His hand on you for something special. That He loves you very much. Be open to the miracle of it all—of His unexpected, unbelievable, unfathomable love, forgiveness, and protection. Because toads can (apparently) hop upstairs. God’s armies are protecting you in full force with phenomenal chariots of fire. And perhaps, just maybe, frogs can be kissed into princes.
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We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
Saturday night two of the kids had soccer scrimmages. We thought it was a great excuse to grab the grandmas, bring them along for an evening of visiting and watching the kids play. However, the sky had other plans. The clouds thought it was a fantastic night for a thunderstorm. After driving an hour to the location of Game #1, we sat in the car watching the sky flash with electricity and listening to booming thunder for over an hour. Then this game was cancelled altogether.
But you know what? We also ended up having a picnic in the car—if you count hot, salty, rosemary fries and chicken sandwiches smeared with creamy avocado from Smashburger a picnic, and I do. When the storm stopped, the sun came out revealing a spectacular full-arc rainbow. We had thirty minutes while the team warmed up, so we went on a lovely walk around the school grounds. We laughed, got caught up, and had a sweet family evening despite the weather.
What changes in plans have switched your schedule this week? How did you handle them?
Sunday night was date night. I put on lipstick, sprayed perfume, set up our kids with frozen pizzas and a movie, hugged them goodbye, and drove into the sunset with the man of my dreams. We pulled into the empty parking lot of the yummy Italian restaurant we’d planned on dining at to discover a “Closed” sign in their window.
Gratefully, I have a quick-thinking entrepreneurial husband who embraces changes in plans. He calls them “opportunities.” No lie, the man rubbed his hands together as if now that our date night had been hijacked, the world was his oyster. Fifteen minutes later we exited Kroger with a baguette, brie, a bottle of wine, and a couple of crisp apples—all the fixings for an impromptu dinner for two that didn’t involve me cooking, because please, date night. Our kids were surprised to see us. But you know what? We had a romantic evening on our screened-in porch. My husband and I talked for hours while dipping crusty bread in creamy cheese, and bonus, grocery goodies were way less expensive than dinner out would have been.
When your plans get turned upside down, what do you do? Panic? Get angry? Shut down? Start pointing fingers? Or look for opportunities? Figure out how to reallocate your time, look for ways to shuffle the pieces around to make a different picture, double up, juggle, or seize the day?
Here’s the deal. I do so much better when there’s a schedule. We have four kids and life gets crazy, and the only way to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there and make sure we’re all fed on a daily basis is by planning it all out. I sleep better, breathe deeper, am more relaxed when I know what to expect. But plans change. All the time. The examples I gave are every day occurrences—the flight gets cancelled or an impromptu party breaks out or the meeting gets changed or someone gets sick or they win an award and the ceremony is tonight…and it’s out of our hands, and we have to adjust, cope, slide into Plan B. I’m also aware there are changes in plans that rip the carpet right out from under our feet, leaving us feeling helpless about how to move forward. But God is with us through all of it—the every day and the tragic. Right beside us. Loving us. We need to lean on Him when the changes are too hard to take on our own, and be open to what God has in store. Because He has so very much good for us planned.
I love the song, “Yes I Will,” by Vertical Worship. It starts, “I count on one thing. The same God who never fails, will not fail me now.” Oh gosh, amen! We cannot count on the weather or our health or the calendar or other people all of the time. But we can always count on one thing—God. He’s the one who is in control. He’s the one who will never change, never let us down.
And He is there in all of it. Every single thing.
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, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose. —Romans 8:28
So, when a curve ball comes your way today:
I guarantee sometime this week you will experience a change in plans. No matter how big or small, or exciting or jarring, I promise He is at work, for good. God’s plan is perfect. And He will never fail you.
Laura L. Smith