We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
What Does Jesus Want?
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11
If you’ve ever attended a Christmas Eve service or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas you’ve heard this verse before. The night that Jesus came down from heaven where He had been living since the beginning of time with God the Father and the Holy Spirit this is how it was announced. By an angel. An angel surrounded by the glory of the Lord. Imagine the sky lighting up in the middle of a night without fireworks or a full moon–a wild, crazy, magnificent light that makes your jaw drop open and your knees shake. A lot.
And this announcement didn’t come to the government or royalty or priests or religious scholars. It didn’t come during an election, at a concert, or during a holiday or at the temple. The good news that the Israelites had been praying for and hoping for for centuries –that the Messiah had finally come to save them–was given to a group of shepherds, considered uneducated and unclean, working the night shift in a field with smelly animals.
Here are the bullet points of the news story:
This is the first thing humans besides Jesus’ very own parents, Mary and Joseph, heard about Jesus. This is why Jesus came. This is what Jesus wants. To calm our fears and worries when there are so many things we’re worried about, when anxiety is running rampant. To give us good news in a world where it’s hard and heartbreaking to watch or read the news. To bring us joy, no matter what we’re going through or what our circumstances are or how sad we feel or how deep our depression is. Because this joy is for ALL people, which certainly includes you and me.
Christmas is in three days.
Maybe you’ve checked everything off your list and all that’s left to do is celebrate with people you love. Maybe the people you love aren’t around this year and that’s harder than you knew it would be. Maybe they’re around, but you still need to shop for a few of them and bake for a few others and send one more package and eight more cards and wrap everything. Maybe your bank account or your energy is depleted. Maybe you cannot wait for a new year, a new start, a new situation.
But you guys? There is a loving peace that will calm all our fears, fill us with such incredible goodness, and flood us with joy. His name is Jesus. And He left everything–His throne in heaven with all its glory and privilege–out of love for you and me. He suffered on the cross so that our suffering would end. He rose from the grave, so that we, too, could rise from the things that have nearly killed us.
That’s good news. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. Joy is waiting for us.
The shepherds took the angel up on the invitation to go and find Jesus. The Bible tells us they “hurried off” to find the baby. And once the shepherds had seen him, a baby born in an animals’ feeding trough in a cave, they were so amazed they went around and told everyone what they’d seen and heard. The shepherds didn’t doubt because Mary and Joseph and the setting of it all weren’t what they’d expected. They didn’t doubt when their circumstances didn’t change. Because their lives were changed. Their hearts were changed. The angel was right. This was good news–the best news. The shepherds weren’t afraid any more. They were filled with joy. And they wanted everyone to know that they could experience this too.
Now, it’s up to us. We can stay where we are. Or we can look for Jesus. When we do, we always find joy, peace, love and light. What are we waiting for?
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CROSSWALKS AND DUCK RAMPS
In Washington DC the crosswalks have timers on them alerting you to how much time you have to cross the street. It’s super handy--oh look we have eighteen seconds left, we can make it. Or--three seconds left probably isn’t enough time to get across a four lane street. As my youngest and I explored the city by foot we noticed that the times set on the various crosswalks appeared to be extremely random. Why didn’t they do 20, 30, or 40 second intervals? Why was this one so much longer than that one?
We were tourists and had zero insights into the traffic patterns in DC, but apparently The Federal Highway Association (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) was more informed than us and behind the math. Their job is to make sure pedestrians have enough time to cross intersections, so they determine the timers at each crosswalk considering average walking speeds, traffic, number of lanes, etc. to make sure the people crossing the street can cross safely. The FHA’s care into our situation worked. If Maguire and I started traversing across an intersection at the beginning of a countdown, we always made it across the street with time to spare. Every single time. And we were thankful.
It was only when we pushed our luck, crossing with only a few seconds remaining, that we cut it close and had to break into a sprint to get safely across..
We weren’t the only ones being looked after for our to-ing and fro-ing. Even the ducks got a little help from the government with their own special ramp enabling them to enter and exit the reflection pool near the Capitol. The ramps were designed by the Architect of the Capitol and assisted by the nonprofit City Wildlife who had observed the ducks struggling to make it over the slick curb of the pool. They must have measured angles and taken into consideration the weight of your average duck as well as how much traction those webbed feet have to design a ramp so perfectly suited for the four fluffy families who make the pool their home.
I was taking this all in--this planning and protection from people we didn’t even know, who the ducks didn’t know--who were concerned about our well being and safety the same week I was studying and leading a Bible study discussion on Psalm 139. The words King David penned in this psalm echoed in my brain.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. V. 3
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me. V. 5
I really like the Passion Translation of verse 5:
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.
You have laid your hand on me!
Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. V.10
If our government spends so much time on crosswalk countdowns and slides for ducks can you imagine how much more God is caring for us in our walking and crossing and coming and going--our entering and exiting and moving and staying in place. If one branch of government takes this much time to calculate precise seconds for crosswalks and another office uses their engineering savvy for the safety of our feathered friends, isn’t it incredible to ponder how much more God is looking after us? Caring for us?
Saying, “Oh look, she’s slipping, let Me make an easier route for her to get back to where she needs to go.”
And, “Hmmm, it might take him a little while, I better give him ample time to get there.”
What do you need protected from this week? From loneliness? From something physical that is prohibiting you to do what you would like to do? From walls you’ve built up around yourself? From fear? From a lie that makes you feel less than, even though God says you are His prized possession (1 Peter 2:9)?
Whatever it is, God knows about it. He sees us needing protection, looks us in the eyes and says, “I AM your protector.” It’s one of God’s names, Elohim Shomri.
God wants you to know that He’s familiar with all of your ways. He knows where you need to go, how long it might take and when you actually need to get there. He also knows when you need to rest. Jesus wants you to know He will go before you to scout out the way. He’s got your back, too, keeping you safe from anything that might sneak up on you. He’ll hem you in. The original Greek word of the word “hem” in verse 5 is sur, which means to fortify or secure. Got that? Jesus will fortify and secure you. And God wants us to know that He will both guide our steps and hold onto us as we move towards this or away from that or settle into a new normal.
So wherever you’re going today, whatever you’re facing, however long it’s taking--God has already been doing the math, running the charts, building the ramps, and setting the timers ahead of time, to ensure that when we follow Him, we can stay safe, make it across, and if it makes sense, splash about.
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GOD'S GOT YOUR BACK (OR FEET)
This is the part of vacation where most people post a cute picture of their pedicured toes and the ocean beyond. I did give myself a pedicure before we left, in pastel yellow, which felt sunny and beachy, but no one sees my toes during our time at the beach. I wear these gross shoes that my oldest described as “oven mitts for your feet” to sit in the sun or stroll the sand and let the waves crash over my legs.
I take this precaution, because I’m highly allergic to fire ants. And, just like me, they love it here at the beach. I’d rather walk barefoot on the sand and wear fun sandals out to dinner, but I settle for ugly beach shoes and cute sneakers, so I don’t get attacked by a tiny ant and end up in the hospital. On this trip I’ve been marveling at how I’m not in this battle against the ants on my own. My family protects me far better than I do by myself.
Sitting at the pool my daughter grabs her water bottle and starts pouring its contents on the pavement to drown an ant and his pal that have just crawled our way. My husband shines the flashlight from his phone on my feet as we walk back from Rita’s, creamy chocolate frozen custard in hand, ensuring I don’t accidentally step on any anthills.
“Mom, you all right? I saw you rub your leg?” Asks one of my kids.
“Mom, do you have your Epipen?” another asks.
“Mom, I’ll walk around with you away from the ants while we wait for everyone else,” another offers.
And it’s this beautiful thing that makes me feel incredibly loved. Yes, I’m trying to be safe, but it’s not all up to me. The people who love me are taking it upon themselves to have my back, (well, feet) and keep me from harm.
If my wonderful, but human family who has their own worries and concerns does this much for me, can you imagine how much more our Heavenly Father protects us, looks out for us?
It reminds me of the passage in Luke where Jesus is explaining that there are going to be some incredibly hard times for His followers. But He assures the disciples, and us, that He will always look over us.
...every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost--Luke 21:18
EVERY detail of our bodies and souls. How comforting is that?.
Meaning, if you are struggling with bills, a relationship, your mental health, your physical health, it’s not all up to you. God will care for you. Not only does God love you, but He pays attention to every detail of your life, and has all the resources in the world to take care of your needs.
If you trust in Him, He’ll shine His Almighty flashlight to illuminate a safe path for you to walk. He’ll douse oncoming trouble to keep it from crawling your way. He’ll walk with you away from danger and toward safety. He’ll keep you company along the way. He’ll remind you to take your medicine, visit your counselor or doctor, do your exercises. He’ll check in with you--are you okay? He’ll be patient with you as you do your part, whether that’s scouting out the outdoor table to make sure it’s clear of ants or attending a support group or journaling or working the extra shift. But it will never all fall on you. Yes, the fire ants of the world still exist. Some things are dangerous. And we need to do the things we know to do to protect ourselves. Wear our seatbelts or beach shoes, both literally and figuratively. But we don’t have to worry. Because our God is looking out for us at every turn. And through it all Jesus will remind us how very much He loves us.
No matter what happens, God has our back. He’s guarding us with angel armies. He’s stronger than anything that comes our way, and wants us to avoid stepping into a nest of danger. Even if that danger looks like fire ants.
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YOU ARE MARVEL-OUS!
My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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WHEN JESUS ASKS US TO TURN LEFT
Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
Courage, Dear Heart
I recently received this fabulous package of goodies from one of my closest friends, Amy. Hanging out with her is better than any subscription box, because throughout the year she mails me the cutest, most adorable packages packed with things that make me smile. I knew it was from her before opening it, because even the outside of her packages are exciting—covered in star stickers and silver Sharpie swirls with fun lettering.
I began pulling out the contents one by one. This package was extra packed with goodness, because it was for my birthday. There was a separate bag within the envelope with this t-shirt in it that I kind of had to wiggle out, then unfold, and then my breath caught in my throat and a hot tear leaked out of my left eye. Not because of a t-shirt. Because of what it said: Courage, dear heart.
And yes, I am a huge Narnia fan (okay, geek) and this is a phrase Aslan says to Lucy on the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when everyone is losing hope and it reminds me that Jesus whispers the same to me when I am losing hope. When those around me only see the stormy waves. When the boat I’m standing on is rocking and I’m blinded by mist and my mouth is full of pungent salty sea water.
The words. This shirt. The ship. It all transports me to the moment Jesus and the disciples were on a boat and a storm kicked up—I mean one doozie of a storm, tossing their boat all over the place. Waves and saltwater blinded and gagged the disciples. Jesus was napping, because He wasn’t concerned. But the disciples were majorly freaked out and frightened, so they called out to Him.
The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and Jesus was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”
Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. Matthew 8:23-27
Jesus turned to them before He stilled the waters and said, “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” And in His question, I hear the inverse of what He tells us to do. Jesus tells us to have courage and asks why we would ever be cowards—after all He’s right there next to us in our proverbial boats. He calls us dear hearts, because we’re dear to Him and wonders why we’ve changed our own names to ‘faint hearts’?
The words from the shirt, this scene from the boat, rang specifically true to me this past year—the one leading up to my birthday, the one I’d just concluded, and somehow without realizing it these were the exact words that had been helping me hang on.
Rewind a bit to when I had my annual mammogram. And the radiologist found something wonky on the film. And they had me come back in. And then it was still not clear what they were seeing, so I had to have a third mammogram. Praise Jesus, I am fine. But in the midst of the uncertainty, I heard Jesus whispering, Courage, dear heart. I saw him with me in that sterile hospital room just past the giant mammogram machine, steady and sure, giving me the courage I needed.
And again, when I had another medical test go awry, with an uncertain result, and I had to go back in for another look. My boat rocked a bit, but I saw Jesus with me as I came out of sedation, literally saw His face giving me the courage I needed, felt how much He loves me, that He holds me dear.
This year was a year of God continually asking me to be bolder, to ask bolder questions, to be bolder in my faith, to speak up more boldly in bold ways about and for Him. And, let’s just get this straight, bold is not how I lean. I prefer zero confrontation, making everyone happy, keeping the peace. But each time I would waiver and wonder, God why? Are you sure? He’d say, “Trust me. Find your strength in me. I’ll give you everything you need. Courage, dear heart.”
This phrase isn’t just cute words from a children’s book or a t-shirt. They’re a directive from God: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”—Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV
And this shirt printed who knows where delivered from Nashville in a colorful envelope from a caring friend spoke over me everything Jesus told me all year. I share this in case someone out there needs to hear it today, “Courage, dear heart.”
Whatever you’re facing, no matter how dark the storm, Christ reminds us to have courage, to be brave, because He is with us, and He is Master over the Storms. He can calm them in one word. “Silence.”
One of the fun bonus items in my envelope was a pack of Zinnia seeds. The promise of blooms in the form of tiny brown seeds. It’s a lot to ask an itty-bitty seed to bury itself in the soil, to break through its protective seed coating and drive its roots into the soil that feeds it, to stretch up out of its comfort zone into the light. But if those seeds are brave enough, they’ll bloom.
So will we. If we’ll take courage. The good news? The courage doesn’t have to come from us. We don’t have to be instinctively bold or brave. We just need to find our courage in Jesus. The bravest of them all. In Him we’ll find the hope and strength we need.
So, “Courage, dear heart.”
Jesus loves you.
He’ll give you the nutrients and light and stability you need. He’ll calm the waves and hold you tight. He’s on your side and stronger than anything you’re up against. Courage. Find it in Him.
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“Would you like a pain au chocolat?” We asked my mom when she arrived at our apartment in Paris.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
“We just got them from the bakery. They’re still warm.”
She peeked at the white paper bag brimming with pastries, but shook her head. “No, really.”
I’m not sure what prompted Mom to turn down the flaky croissants stuffed with chunks of dark, rich chocolate. Maybe it was the calorie count or the fat grams. Maybe she’d eaten something on the plane already. But this was special. She was in France. And these were fresh-from-the-oven French delicacies.
“You should at least try a piece of one,” my son, Max, coaxed.
“Okay, maybe one bite.”
A few nights later, I received an email inviting me to go to Israel. Instantly my mind flooded with the memory of my childhood pastor describing his trip to the Holy Land from the pulpit, and my ten-year old mind being blown. You could actually go to the places from the Bible? That was an option? You could see where Jesus was buried? You could dip your toes in the Sea of Galilee? I’d longed to go ever since. I sighed—what an incredible opportunity. What an honor to be invited. My very next thought? Of course I won’t go.
Because it costs a lot of money? I hadn’t asked how much.
Because it means leaving my family for a week? I hadn’t asked if they minded. Because I don’t deserve this kind of gift—it seems too lavish for me to experience? I hadn’t asked God what His thoughts were.
I sounded like my mom with that pastry. Oh yes, that’s marvelous. I would really enjoy it. But, nah, I won’t partake.
Have you ever done this?
Given a quick “no.” to something good, something you want, something right in front of you? I’m not talking about eating the entire blueberry cobbler, buying every pair of cute sandals at TJ Maxx, or going out with the girls (or guys) every time someone sends a group text. We have limits on our resources. It’s important to set priorities and to exercise self-control. But sometimes, God gives us presents, simply because He’s an incredible Father and wants to delight us. Think of it like God wanting to take us out for ice cream, not because it’s our birthday, or because we got an A on our report card, but because it brings Him joy to make us smile.
When God asks if we’d like to go to Graeter’s? Do we answer, “Yes please!” and grab our flip-flops? Or do we primly shake our heads.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. —Ephesians 3:19 NLT
I’m guilty of turning down some of the ice cream cones God offers. In my practical “get things done, take care of the fam, make sure everything is running smoothly” mentality, I sometimes lose sight of how extravagant God’s love is. It might feel like I don’t deserve it, but not necessarily to Jesus. He is over the top and loves us accordingly. He piles heaps of blessings on us like putting someone in our lives who loves us for who we are, financially providing the means to pay a bill, a parking spot up front on a day when we need the extra four minutes, or a hug from a friend when we’re feeling down.
Are you receiving these gifts? Why or why not?
If you think they’re “too much” or not for you, have you asked God what His thoughts are?
After chatting with my Mom about her flight and train into the city, I glanced at her plate. All that remained were a few buttery crumbs of pastry.
I grinned, thrilled she had allowed herself to enjoy the treat we’d selected from specifically for her. “Good thing you had that bite,” I teased.
“It was just so delicious, I ended up eating the whole thing.”
Pain au chocolats are indulgent. We don’t need them. But they are also scrumptious. Not to eat every day, but while on a family trip to France, definitely.
Mom savored each morsel.
And after some long, deep conversations with God, I said, “yes,” to the trip to Israel.
What is Jesus offering you today?
He offers all of us peace, rescue, strength, courage, and salvation. Are you taking Him on those big, beautiful gifts wrapped in shiny bows?
Jesus also has special, unique gifts He offers us, too—trips to Israel and French pastries included. Are you accepting these gifts? Maybe it’s a job you haven’t bothered applying for, because you don’t know if they’d hire you. Or maybe you haven’t gone to that event, meeting, club, because you’re not sure how you’ll fit in. Or maybe you haven’t spoken up because you’re uncertain how they’ll respond. If this is you, I urge you to look inward and ask why you’re so quick to turn these potential gifts down. Ask God His opinion. I find He likes us to go ahead and open the presents He’s wrapped for us. They don’t do much good sitting there taped shut.
You are worthy of every spiritual blessing. God says so. Go ahead—tug on the bow. I can’t wait to see what you unwrap!
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IT'S TIME TO GET UNCOMFORTABLE
I like to be comfortable.
I mean really comfortable. I love to put on my jams as early as possible—as soon as I’m home for the day—cozy up on the couch with a soft, snuggly blanket, a mug of orange spice tea, and play Euchre or watch a movie with my husband and kiddos.
These are wonderful moments. And I truly believe God created spices,, blankets, and decks of cards for our enjoyment. He wants us to savor these things. But of all the incredible promises God gave us—that He loves us, is always here for us, gives us strength, forgives us, empowers us, never leaves us, He never promised we’d be comfortable. Hmm.
Lately I’ve been holding tight on to comfortable, my daily routine, the things I can control, a nice, even work load, things that feel doable, familiar places, and where I can reach that fleecy blanket. But God’s been asking me to let go. He’s been placing new people and opportunities on my path—exciting opportunities, cool chances to share with more people how much Jesus loves them right now, as we are, where we are. And I’ve been shaking my head. I’ve been telling God, “Oh that sounds nice, but I’d have to drive far, work more hours, not be able to swing by the grocery if we’re out of something. The laundry might pile up. The kids might need me. What if I don’t get the blog out?” Yup, this was real this week. Because Tuesday night I ordered carry out, my son’s school pants were dirty, we were out of fruit and milk, and I hadn’t written a blog. I was freaking out a bit, because I like to have all of those things taken care of. I felt antsy. I was so uncomfortable.
God is so gracious, because He doesn’t chastise me as harshly as He should. God should tell me, “What is wrong with you? Why are you stressing about these little things, when hello, I’m God. I’m offering you amazing possibilities. Are you listening to yourself?”
No. He’s sweeter. And wiser. Instead God says, I love you. I’ll equip you. I’m not asking you to do these things, because I expect you to do it all. I know you’ll be uncomfortable, but I’ll do something incredible with it. I want to work through you. I want you to depend on me.
Ahh. I. Don’t. Have. To. Do. It. All.
And neither do you.
But I bet there is something God is calling you to—something that seems difficult, perhaps uncomfortable. It could be something giant, like moving to a new city, or turning down a job offer, or it could be something as simple as telling a friend who’s undecided on her faith that you’ll be praying for her. Maybe God’s urging you to raise your prices, take a week off, make a phone call, go back to work, or sell your house. Maybe He’s nudging you to take a class, call the doctor, or visit your neighbor. And this thing makes you squirm—it’s out of your comfort zone, not your normal, and thinking about it puts you on edge. (Side note, God would never ask you to do something that would harm you—so if you feel like you’re being pushed to do something toxic, that’s not God. Step away.)
But uncomfortable, yeah, that sounds like God.
Jonah was not comfortable going to Nineveh to give the violent, malicious folks there a message. Moses wasn’t comfortable going to Pharaoh and demanding the release of his free labor force. None of the disciples were super comfortable with the fact that every time they mentioned Jesus’ name they risked being thrown in jail. But God was with Jonah. All the Ninevites converted on the spot. God was with Moses—it took some repeat action, but over two million Israelites walked out of Egyptian slavery, and straight through the Red Sea to safety on the other side. And the twelve disciples—a dozen uneducated, mix-matched, regular guys? God was with them. They spread the good news about Jesus, enabling you and me, over 2000 years later in a land that hadn’t even been discovered at the time, to know Jesus. To hear the good news that He died for our sins, rescued us from our troubles, and loves us completely.
God is with us, too.
What is God calling you to do that might feel bumpy or prickly?
Whatever it is, if it is God’s calling, please know He doesn’t expect you to go it alone. He doesn’t want you to. God will walk with you; give you the words, the ideas, the introductions, the skills, and the resources. If it’s Kingdom work, God wants it to get done. Since He invented vibrant purple flowers that can bloom from brown bulbs underground and gorgeous rainbows of color that arc in the sky from a mixture of rain and sun, He’s more than capable of accomplishing whatever He’s asking you to do.
When we hear God asking, “Who should I send? Who will go?” All we have to do is trust Him. Get off the couch. Get out of our comfort zones. Let go of the blanket. Take a deep breath and answer, “I’m in. Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
You Are Not Alone
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.
Laura L. Smith