I’m emotionally raw. One of my best friends is in the hospital. Someone I adore lost his job. I just heard a friend-of-a-friend committed suicide. My heart hurts. I climbed in my freezing car, all of this swirling through my brain, fired up my heated seat, plugged my phone into the auxiliary cord, opened Spotify to whatever playlist I last had it on and hit shuffle. “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells came on, and the hot tears leaked down my cold cheeks.
“In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.”
Oh these valleys. They are no stinking fun, God. Yes, Jesus, I KNOW you are with me, with my friends, with this devastated family. You’re with us, Jesus, in all of it—in the hills and valleys and plateaus of life—always. I know Jesus is healing my one friend, has new plans for the other, and is wrapping His almighty arms around the family who is suffering loss. But, I also know today, they’re all in pain—physical, emotional, mental pain. Pain that I am incapable of easing. How about you? Are you or anyone you know suffering today? The valleys can be excruciating. Betrayal and loss hurt. Disappointments ache. Uncertainty depletes.
But I am not alone.
My friends are not alone.
You are not alone.
God knows about all of the hurt. He sees us in the rough patches, in the rigorous terrain. He knows how we ended up here. Often, it’s because the world is flawed, but sometimes it’s because either we or someone else made a bad choice, or maybe we need to learn something here, so we can thrive later when we arrive there. But God left us the Bible for instruction, and it says this: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be afraid of them, for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
This afternoon an acquaintance shared with my husband that her father, who had been ill, just passed away. The day before her dad went to heaven, he was anxious, flustered. Then he took a nap, woke up, and was completely calm. He wore a peaceful expression. His body was no longer twitchy, but relaxed. Upon waking he asked the family who was by his side for a picture of Jesus. Everyone fumbled for their phones, racing to get to Google images. And when someone found an acceptable representation of what we may imagine Jesus looks like, they showed it to him. “Yup!” He exclaimed, nodding fiercely and grinning. “Yup, that’s Him.”
He was dying. In Hospice. Agitated. But he wasn’t alone. Jesus knew all about it, gave this man a visit during his dream to provide the peace and reassurance he needed. The next day, he tranquilly went to heaven.
There you have it. God knows some of life’s adventures will drain us, sometimes we’ll get scraped, bruised, scarred, but He tells us to be strong and brave, to not be frightened, because the incredible God of the Universe? He’s our traveling companion. We’re not alone. Through ups and down, highs and lows, long stretches of the monotonous mundane, even in life and death. He’ll never bail on us.
And if we focus on that, and truly hold on to His love, the commonplace becomes lovely, the mountains more glorious, and the valleys bearable. Because even though there’s not a thing I can do to alleviate the pain my friends are experiencing, that there are times where I can’t do a single thing for myself, God is good. And He’s on our side. And He will never ever leave us, but instead walk with us through every trail and trial we roam on this journey of life. His backpack is full of courage and joy to pull out and offer us when we need it the most. As the song continues, “No matter what I know I’m safe inside his hand.”
So are you. So be brave. God is with you. You don’t have to do this or anything else that comes your way alone.
Our family watched Jumanji the other night—the latest one with the Rock. The premise for the film is four high school students from different cliques all end up with detention together—think The Breakfast Club with a much nicer principal than Mr. Vernon.
During their Saturday morning punishment the four teens learn to appreciate one another for their true selves and discover greater understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses after being sucked into a video game. Each of the four students becomes a character in the game equipped with special super powers such as “dance fighting” and weaknesses—ranging from snake venom to mosquitos.
After watching I asked my kids, “What’s your super power?” Some of them listed their talents—soccer, acting, music, etc. Some named things that sounded plain fun, like invisibility. When we chatted about our weaknesses we came up with snakes, mice, splinters, and not enough sleep.
We all have weaknesses—things that stop us in our tracks that might not bother anyone else. This could be an issue with our physical or mental health, an event in our personal history that left a permanent scar, a person who brings out the worst in us, an addiction or fear. Or maybe like one of the Jumanji characters admitted, “I explode when I eat cake.” We don’t like to talk about our real weaknesses, but we know what they are.
And our super powers? As Christians we have the mightiest powers of all up our sleeves. Like prayer. We get to talk one on one with the Lord God Almighty. Who gets to do that? Us, that’s who! I mean we don’t need an invitation, or permission, or a special V.I.P. pass. We don’t need to know the right people, have the right credentials, or go through a security scan. We just get to talk to Him about anything and everything.
Not only do we get to talk to God, but we get to tap into His strength. What? Think of a strong force that literally wipes things out—hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches—God makes those things. And we get to tap into that power. He’s on our side. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. –Ephesians 3:20
And how about this one? You probably won’t see it in any Xbox games, because it’s intangible, but this super power makes all the difference in the most trying situations—hope. Hope for a future. Hope for redemption. Hope because after Jesus was buried in a tomb, on the third day He sprang back to life claiming victory over the grave forever more. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Romans 15:13
As Christians we have a slew of super powers, but the most powerful of all is love. The apostle Paul explains this in a letter to the early church in Corinth, These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love never fails. --1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, take it from Dumbledore near the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. He explains to Harry how the powerful, evil Voldemort couldn’t even touch young Harry, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.” If that’s the protection a fictitious boy wizard has from someone who died for him, think how much more protection we have from a Savior who died for us. A Savior who still lives! Love. We are loved by the God who created everything. He designed us. He wants to be with us. He didn’t want to be separated from us, so He paid the ultimate price for us. And as a result we will live forever under His protection. It is in our very skin.
There are days that are rough. When we get a phone call from that person—the one who has a knack for making us feel small and incapable. Or waking up with a migraine, feeling like we’ll throw up, and a handful of Advil and hours later instead of getting better, it has gotten so much worse it’s almost paralyzing. The times we argue with someone we love, leaving both people depleted. The NO we receive when all we wanted to hear was YES. The days the thing we’ve been hoping to fix still appears broken. Jesus knows there will be seasons of pain and struggling in our lives. He warns, “In the world there will be tribulation.” But with the line up of super powers Jesus leaves us—prayer, God’s power, hope, and love, I feel like I can face anything. You can, too. Take it face on. Because the rest of Jesus’ sentence was, “But be of good cheer. For I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33.
Today you may or may not feel like a superhero. You may feel like the cute high school girl in Jumanji suddenly smashed into Jack Black’s body being gobbled up by hippos. Like you don’t fit. Like you’re not supposed to be here. Like you just want to escape this situation. But even when we’re out of breath, confused, angry, or frightened these powers are ours—immediately accessible, right this very moment. Talk to Jesus. Tap into His strength. Rest in the hope He offers. And collapse into His love. No matter how tough a challenge this level is, no matter how nasty the bad guys, no matter how much energy you do or don’t have left, He has overcome the world.
I attended an event the other night put on by Ocean Accelerator encouraging entrepreneurs to be brave in their beginnings. There was a speaker, a panel, a commentator, a cool old theatre as the venue, and of course, networking. The crux of the evening was that if you have an idea, a dream, a business you want to start, a creative endeavor you want to explore—the first step isn’t easy. You have to bravely take that first step.
It’s hard to deny that brave beginnings are both a good idea in general and necessary to propel dreams into realities. But guys, it doesn’t end with that first brave step. We all need to take brave beginnings every day.
Years ago, I took the brave step of confiding in my husband that my lifelong dream was to become a writer. From there, leaving my first born at home with Brett one evening a week, I took the brave step of taking a creative writing class at the local college. Then another brave step to actually put my ideas to paper and write some short stories. It took all the courage from the Cowardly Lion’s medal to actually submit my stories for someone else to read and evaluate their worth. The result was one story landing in the anthology, God Allows U-Turns and another in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’d been brave, but if I’d stopped there those would have been my only two stories ever in print. You guys, I still have to take brave steps with my writing. Every. Single. Day. This week I made a list of three brave things I could do to propel my dreams. They might have been easy things for you, but for me they would have been easier to talk about and put on my to-do list and stare at than actually execute.
What brave steps do you need to take this week?
Instead of keeping your thoughts inside your head, you might need to take the brave step of telling your spouse or best friend how you really feel about something. Maybe you’ll need to be bold enough to tell somebody, ‘no.’ No, I don’t have time. No, that doesn’t make me comfortable. No, it’s not okay for my kid to watch that movie, go to that party, or talk about someone like that. Perhaps your brave step will be to get out of bed, even though it’s really hard. Maybe you’ll need to call a counselor or someone else you trust and take the first courageous step towards help. Maybe you need to be daring enough to ask God for a miracle.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." —Joshua 1:9
Our minds get flooded with ideas—some of them good, some of them bad, some of them neutral. But some of our ideas keep at us, keep nudging us, elbowing us, calling out to us from somewhere inside. These are ideas we can’t brush off. We need to take them to God, “Is this from you?” and if it is, if God shows us this is Him encouraging us, guiding us, moving us, then we need to act. Even when we’re nervous or unsure of ourselves. Because, guess what? Our ideas won't change the situation, make a difference, or change the world unless we act upon them.
My friend, Beth, was on a panel at this “Brave Beginnings” event. Her words resonate, “Sometimes brave beginnings look like fear. Sometimes being brave starts with something small.”
There’s nothing easy about being brave. It is almost always hard. Otherwise it wouldn’t take any courage at all. It’s hard to walk into a room full of people that you don’t know. It’s hard to leave a job. It’s hard to start your own business. It’s hard to admit you have a problem. It’s hard to confront someone you love about his or her problem. And being brave doesn’t have to be hugungeous. Often the biggest amount of courage is necessary to make the first call, say the first words, take the first step onto the stage, or the field, or towards recovery.
What is God calling you to be brave about this week?
You can do this! God tells us, “Do NOT be discouraged. Do NOT be afraid. I AM with you.” Even when your knees are shaking and your voice wavers. Even when last time you tried you stumbled. Even when you’ve never tried anything like this before. God is with you. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and take that step forward. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s okay if you’re heart is pounding. God is with you. Be brave.
What three things can you do this week to bravely move forward? I’d love to hear.
My youngest has always been allergic to peanuts. A few Zyrtec and Kleenex won’t take care of his problem. Peanut allergies are life threatening. We’ve cleared our home of anything remotely resembling a nut. We’ve become experts at reading ingredient labels. We bake our own treats for parties and celebrations to ensure his safety. Epipens are stashed in every car, purse, backpack and cupboard of our house.
This summer Maguire had his annual allergist appointment. The doc did a skin test to check the status of his allergy and…there was no reaction. Zero. Next came a blood test to confirm the findings of the skin test. The results…negative. No peanut allergy? What? There was still one more test. Dun, dun dun…The Peanut Challenge, which basically consists of eating peanut butter for two hours in the doctor’s office while they monitor you. If something goes wrong, the doctor has the antidote to rescue you. If all goes well, you’re officially deemed no longer allergic. That day Maguire ate spoonfuls of Jif, and he was completely fine.
It was incredible. Life changing. Freeing! Maguire was thrilled he could now eat Reese’s and go out for ice cream without having to ask the worker for a clean scoop to ensure no nutty remnants from another flavor touched his vanilla. We were thrilled our son was safer in those situations. But despite all of the joy, gratefulness, and freedom, it was oddly hard to accept. Maguire has always been allergic to peanuts. How could he just start eating them now? How was it possible that Maguire was instantly free? He hadn’t taken a class, eaten pounds of spinach, or stood on his head to remove his allergy. It just vanished.
The same is true in our relationship with Christ. We don’t have to do anything, eat anything, turn around three times or pray a set number of minutes each day. Just by accepting that Jesus died for us, cleans our slates. We are no longer soiled by our recent or long gone past. We are not condemned by our mistakes, strangled by our fears or chained to our worries. I know that. Just like I know Maguire has outgrown his allergy. But how often do I question the freedom Christ offers?
When the school office called asking where Maguire’s Epipen was, I answered hesitantly, heat pounding, “He doesn’t need one any more.” Was he safe? I knew he was, and yet…
I put a note in his lunch and saw a peanut butter sandwich nestled inside. It freaked me out. I’ll have to sanitize his lunch box. No, I don’t. Because peanuts can’t hurt him any more. And we are also safe. Free. Loved. We don’t need backup medication or extra special sanitation.
Jesus says, “I love you. Just how you are.”
And I believe Him. Most of the time. Yet some days, I feel the need to prove myself—to God, to the world, to my family. I don’t want to let others down. I don’t want to let God down. I don’t want to let down my guard. Because I want to be a good wife and mama. I want to tell great stories. I want to be the kind of person Jesus wants me to be. Which are great desires. Just like keeping my son safe is a great desire.
But I have to accept that medical tests proved Maguire is no longer allergic. And more importantly I have to full out accept Jesus’ grace. That it is truly ALL I need. I have to stop doubting and second-guessing. I don’t have to take things into my own hands, just in case God doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t capable of handling the situation. Because God knows everything. And He can handle everything. In my life and in yours.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
What are you freaking out about right now? The balance of your bank account? Your relationship status? Your grades? Your quiet time, playing time, personal time, airtime, time of departure or arrival?
Christ’s grace is sufficient. Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I have this. Trust me. Don’t believe me? Look at all the times I’ve guided, saved, directed, and held you up in the past. Still don’t believe me? I died to save you, that’s how much I love you.”
“Right. He’s got this.” We don’t have to freak out. We do need to do our part. But then we have to trust. And when we do, we can outgrow our dependency on trying to prove ourselves worthy. Jesus says we are worthy. Jesus says He loves us. And nothing we eat or do or forget or achieve can ever change that.
What are you afraid of?
At my house our list includes:
Mice, snakes, thunderstorms, dogs, being late to practice, going to the dentist, getting a demerit, to name a few.
And when we take a look at these fears, we know they’re all silly, inconsequential, and yet…they’re rooted in something—some memory or impression that shoots off a warning in our brains.
For all of you puppy lovers out there, you cannot believe I even said someone could be afraid of dogs. The story behind the story? My daughter and I are both fiercely allergic to anything with fur. Ever since my kids can remember when a dog comes near Mallory or Mom, we back away. When a dog licks or rubs against Mallory or Mom we step back, Dad steps in front of us like Sir Lancelot to protect us. The clothes get washed. The hands get scrubbed. It’s like we go into total decontamination mode. So not surprisingly, my kids have it planted in their heads when you see a dog, you shy away.
But we have more serious fears, don’t we?
Fear of rejection, of not measuring up, of making the wrong decision, of losing someone we love, of going down the wrong path again, of not being able to pay our bills, of what the doctor will say, of the unknown.
But no matter what our fears are. God says, “Nothing of me is in fear. Nothing.”
God says, “I am perfect love,” and perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18
Knowing this means we don’t have to be afraid.
So…what are you afraid of? Where is the world or the competition or the enemy trying to sneak in, weaken you, make you doubt?
Over 70 times in the Bible it says, “Fear Not.” “Be not afraid.” It’s not a suggestion, but a command. It’s often followed with, “because I am with you” “because I will fight for you,” or “because you are mine.”
And yet, we’re still afraid. Of something. Of lots of things. Of unknown things.
I don’t want to be afraid.
I want to be fearless.
As a lover of words, I think maybe getting out of fear comes from understanding the word “fear”. There are actually two words for fear that frequently appear in the Bible.
When scripture speaks of “do not be afraid” it means phobeo, meaning no need to run, no need to hide.
Are we 100% in awe of God. Yare of who God is. Of how God loves us. Of the power of what Jesus did on that first Good Friday, what He did on the cross? Are we stunned by God and all He does, or are we trying to be the ones to impress others, running our hearts out on the performance treadmill? Striving to be good? To be good enough? A good enough friend, student, worker, parent, family member, spouse? A good person, or a good Christian?
Because we don’t’ have to perform. We have this gorgeous gift of unconditional love from the Savior of the World. Jesus loves you and me no matter where we’ve been, no matter how we ended up here, no matter what we’re struggling with today. Every day it blows me away that Jesus offers this amazing grace to a wretch like me (and like you, wretch or not). But He does. And because He offers it freely, we no longer have to strive. We have nothing to fear. His perfect love casts out all fear.
We are free to live a life of awe and wonder--yare'—and when we truly live in amazement of that, keep our eyes fixed on His love and glory, we never need to be concerned with phobos again.
Laura L. Smith