*If you signed up for the True Reflections devotional FREE digital copies will arrive in your inbox on Saturday, April 3. If you haven’t signed up yet, but still want to click here*
A year ago as the cast of Hamilton sings, “the world turned upside down.”
First my son and daughter’s high school business plan competition in Columbus was canceled. Then my daughter’s soccer tournament in Tennessee was called off. Next, I got a frantic call from my oldest saying she and all the other students were being sent home from her college campus immediately. Soon my packed calendar was emptied and our family who is usually going every direction and back again was together within the confines of our home.
I’m sure you have similar stories.
Prior to all the cancellations, I was in a rut. In a lot of areas in my life. I’ve talked about some of them before here and here, but even though I’m a writer, and use creativity in my work on a daily basis, my creativity seemed stunted when I stepped away from my laptop.
With six people’s taste buds and multiple food allergies, planning safe meals that everyone enjoys is a trick and a half, and I was letting it get the better of me. Not to mention, we were often on a time crunch to have dinner ready between school, practices, meetings, and rehearsals. I had a couple of full proof meals--tacos and gluten free pasta, but that was about it. I was as sick of making them as my family was of eating them.
But when last March gave us some extra time on our hands my kids sparked my creativity. Could they help plan the meals? Sure. Could we make the homemade tomato recipe they found on TikTok? We can try. Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a giant charcuterie board? Absolutely it would be fun! And so, I rediscovered how therapeutic cooking is for me.
When I stopped thinking of dinner as another task I needed to complete and instead took my time chopping and simmering, stirring and measuring it became soothing. Even better was when one of my kids joined me in the kitchen--smashing avocados for guacamole or kneading pizza dough. Their interest in the process made it more interesting to me. Their company in the kitchen--absolutely priceless. The flavors of melted brie dripping with honey and smells of garlic and onion simmering in olive oil revived my senses. I felt like Remy in Ratatouille savoring the experience instead of going through the motions. And the tangible product of creating a delicious meal for the family while transitioning from “go” mode to “relax” mode in the early evenings became something I looked forward to. Our schedules are rapidly picking back up again, but I want to find ways to continue this. Maybe not every night, but more nights.
I also rediscovered painting--not walls, but journals, Bibles, blank notecards, just creating beauty on blank spaces. In school I opted into extra art classes. I’m also the girl who could spend hours in a museum gazing at the imaginative creations of great artists. But I hadn’t painted anything since the kiddos were tiny and we’d pull out the watercolors. Getting the paints back out has been therapeutic.
It makes sense. The first time I ever baked chocolate chip cookies with my mom I was amazed I could cream butter and sift flour to make my favorite food (and eat spoonfuls of delectable dough in the process). The first time I dipped my fingers in thick, cool finger paints (I can still smell the waxy scent of the red, yellow, and blue), I was amazed how streaks of color transformed the white paper. God put these things in me when He created me. It was me that got away from them, that got too busy to play.
Think back to things that have always made you happy, the ways you “played” when you were younger. Riding bikes? Doing puzzles? When was the last time you did that thing?
I’ve heard it said that if you work with your mind you should rest with your hands and vice versa. I’m a writer, which is all words in my head, so this theory holds true as I find measuring teaspoons of cinnamon or dipping brushes and swirling colors restful and restorative.
Using your hands could mean sewing a skirt, rebuilding an engine, tiling your bathroom, or getting out a box of Crayolas and creating aliens with a cute preschooler. My friends who work with their hands--nurses who deliver babies, interior designers who lug couches across rooms--they find rest reading nonfiction books, listening to podcasts, playing games like Clue, Chess, or Risk-- things that tap into their brilliant headspace.
God worked. He wants us to do the same. And God rested. And, yup, He wants us to do the same.
Do you rest? Or are you always on the go?
Do you practice this principle of switching your processing from your mind to hands or hands to mind?
Do you incorporate playtime into your life?
If so, what brings you joy and rest, renews your body, refreshes your soul?
Find your things or rediscover ones that have been in you all along. Those things you loved to do once upon a time, Jesus put in you when He created you. And Jesus tells us that He’ll teach us how to live a free and light life--one filled with unforced rhythms of grace.
“Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” --Matthew 11:29-30 MSG
Jesus does this because He wants to awaken our senses of smell with intoxicating vanilla, invigorate us with laughter and revive us with bright cobalt blues. But we have to be willing to put down our work. We have to be willing to pause and rest and play and pray. And when Jesus shows us a fabulous way to live life more freely, we need to step into it.
Set aside some time this week to play. Talk to Jesus about some ways to intentionally do something (scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix are fine, but not what we’re talking about here). Do something that restores you, that helps build a rhythm of grace into your life. Let me know how it goes!
Me? I plan on painting a chair or two and making homemade pizza dough.
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
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.
“You don’t play golf? Why not?”
Umm… I’ve never considered it.
“You don’t like steak?” Pause. “You’re kidding. Who doesn’t like steak?”
Nope. Not kidding. I’m more of a pasta and salad girl.
“Are you a Bengals fan?”
I’m not big into football.
Have you ever felt like this? Like you failed the interview? Like there’s no way you would be invited back? Like you didn’t quite fit in?
Just moments into my first Thanksgiving with the Smith family I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit into my own skin. It seemed like the Smiths all did and liked things that I didn’t do or like, or had never even considered liking, and therefore, I didn’t belong. But I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted by this family. Brett and I were engaged, and I was going to marry into this clan and hopefully spend decades of Thanksgivings with them. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted them to think I was worthy of Brett, and of wearing their last name. But I felt like I was failing.
This wasn’t the only place I felt pressure to prove myself. I tried to establish my self-worth at work, with friends, and in our first neighborhood filled with young families. When we had a baby, I wanted to prove I could be a good mom—to Brett, to both of our mothers, to the other women pushing strollers and planning play dates.
But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He invites us to a life of freedom—freedom to thrive by embracing who He created us to be, not who we think we should be, or who the world tells us we "should" be.
I have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Don’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG
We don’t need to please anyone?
We don’t need to fit into anyone’s patterns?
It’s not about what we’re doing—where we went to school, what sport we play, or if we don't play sports at all, if we’re breast feeding or not or for how long, what color our couch is, if we buy organic, almond or store brand milk, how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. None of it matters—grades, weight, relationship status, mortgage payment.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re called to work hard and well in the life and vocation God called us to and placed us in. From the beginning God designed Adam and Eve to cultivate the world. This isn’t about plopping down on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, because it “doesn’t matter what I do.” But it is about not measuring ourselves by worldly standards or comparing ourselves to others.
God is creating something totally new—a free life. And He’s inviting us into it. Which requires action. We have to R.S.V.P.—accept His invitation. And when we say, “yes, I want that,” our life becomes the very best party—spending time with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit remind us who we are—His beautiful daughters and sons specifically and uniquely designed stitch by stitch, cell by cell. And the celebration never ends.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. —Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
You are an original, one-of-a-kind wonder, who doesn’t have to prove yourself. If God created you to be a night owl, awesome. Use your evenings to crank out your to do list and sing worship songs. If He made you an early bird, super. Read your Bible first thing and then go for a walk or run or send all your emails before anyone else wakes up. If God put in you the desire to create delicious meals out of fresh ingredients, fabulous. Shop at the farmer’s market. Watch the Food Network. Set aside time in your schedule to cook and let the simmering scents tickle your nose. More of a take-out girl? Also, great. Grab yummy refrigerated raviolis or rotisserie chickens for quick, tasty meals and use the time others spend cooking to do the things God created you to do. And do them well.
Thankfully, the Smiths did accept me. And love me. And invite me into their family. But I got turned down by several colleges I applied to, wasn’t invited back to multiple sororities during recruitment in college, had boyfriends break up with me, and have been turned down by dozens of publishers who don’t feel my writing is a fit for their brand. I get rejected all the time. We all do. But Jesus always accepts us just the way we are, because that’s how He intended us to be. And His opinion is the One that holds the most weight. Because He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.
If we want this kind of life, one where who we are is who we’re supposed to be, all we have to do is accept how much Jesus loves us. Truly accept this truth down to our bones. Sure, I have so much more to learn about Jesus, but one thing I understand is that living with Him is the freest I’ve ever felt. When I read the Bible and talk to Jesus—when I choose this life of the Spirit—I am empowered, because I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has plans to prosper me, that He calls me His masterpiece. It gives me permission to enter any room or situation and understand that I am who He made me to be, and that is never something to hide or be ashamed of. It is always enough.
Do I stumble? Sure. Do I feel awkward and insecure? Yup. Does my brain jump on the crazy train and make me start to doubt if I belong, if I’m able, if I’m qualified? Of course. But when I feel my feet sliding down that slippery slope, I reach out for Jesus’ hand waiting for me. I grab my Bible or start praying or get off social media or start playing worship music or text someone to pray for me or simply say the name of my rescuer out loud, “Jesus”. And it brings me back to who I am. His.
Because I want to live in the truth of who He made me to be, marinate in it. Stay in it. Do you crave this kind of freedom?
It is available. A rescue from an old way of life and an invitation into a new glorious one. God’s plan is that we all experience this rescue (Galatians 1:5). We don’t have to earn it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we have to do is take Jesus’ hand and step into freedom.
I love burying my toes in warm, wet sand and letting foamy waves splash over them again and again. Sounds nice about now, doesn’t’ it?
But since it’s January and I live in the middle of a frozen corn field, not at the beach, I’m more than content to bury myself under a fleecy blanket and cozy up with a steaming mug of peppermint tea.
I also love burying myself in the pages of a new book, lost in the words and stories and lessons that lie within.
This word, “bury,” is a strange one. It sounds exactly like a completely different word, berry, a juicy fruit. It can mean to dig a hole and throw something in and cover it in soil never to be seen again, or it can be used in the ways I’ve described above. I heard this word recently, loud and clear, and I heard it straight from God.
I was bundled up in hat and gloves walking a brisk pace around our neighborhood. I’d been writing and was taking a break to clear my head and stretch my legs. I was thinking through an article I was working on, praying for one of my kids, then another, then all of them, and trying to remember what I needed at the grocery. A typical day in the life of my brain. I had some questions. Some for myself. Most of them for God. And then I heard Him, distinct and clear, “If you bury yourself in Me, I will give you what you need.”
This shouldn’t have been a revelation, because it mirrors almost exactly one of my favorite verses, something my husband and I had read at our wedding:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Seek God first. Bury myself in Him. And then goodness and life come my way. I know this. But I don’t always live like it. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle and deadlines and dishes, sometimes I lose sight of it. But on this day, it resonated so deeply and brought me so much comfort. We’re in a new year, a new century actually (Happy New Year and welcome to the new Roaring Twenties!), and it is filled with so much promise and potential. I have a child headed off to college this year, another to play soccer overseas, yet another on a mission trip, and the youngest is prepping for a big audition. I’m traveling somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going, my husband and I will celebrate a milestone anniversary. I’m working on a proposal for my agent for a new book idea I’m giddy about. I have another book launching this year (more on that soon). But none of these things have worth, if I’m not seeking Jesus first, if I’m not buried in Jesus, like my toes in the sand, or my body in a blanket, or my mind in a book—completely wrapped up in, immersed, covered.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.
Colossians 3:14-15 NLT
Ahhh. Yes, please. These words from Paul to the Colossians are exactly how I picture being buried in Jesus. I want to be bound in perfect harmony and have peace rule my heart. Those are some lovely goals for 2020. This is what He offers. There’s no guarantee on how any of the things I’m expecting this year will play out, or what surprises will come my way. There will most likely be some setbacks, bad days, exhaustion, illness, stress, and sorrow. There will also be joy, adventure, opportunities, and conversations. And I know as long as I am buried in Jesus, I will have harmony and peace in the midst of it all. I will have everything I need. So, my word for this year is “bury.”
(Want to hear about 2019’s word? Click here.)
Yes, this is the promise God whispered to me on my walk. But He promises it to everyone who believes in Him, and He promises it every day.
So here we are. All dressed up in Christ, buried in Him, like the softest blanket or the most riveting novel. There are lots of things we do and don’t want. Lots of things we can resolve to accomplish and put on our calendars and bucket lists for this year. But me? The one thing I want to cling to this year is Jesus. No matter what comes my way, good or bad, I want to be buried in Him.
Do you have a word for the year? Comment here, I’d love to hear about it.
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
Last weekend I:
Which shouldn’t seem related at all, except they both dealt with the things we look to in life to find satisfaction and gratification, and how rarely that works out for us.
If you need a quick refresher, in Aladdin, a poor boy named, Aladdin comes across a magic lamp housing a genie. The genie pops out and tells Aladdin he can make three wishes. Hmmm…what would you do with three wishes? Have you ever considered what you would wish for? A new house? A new job? More hours in the day? The genie warns Aladdin, “Here’s the thing about wishes…the more you have, the more you want.” Dang. Rings a little too true, doesn’t it?
When we turn sixteen it seems like our biggest wish is to be able to drive. When we get our license, we want to borrow our parents’ car. Then we wish we had our own car—any car that moves. Then we want a car with a few bells and whistles. As we get older we might wish for fancier cars—with leather interiors and fabulous sound systems and heated seats (I’m not that into cars, but I do enjoyheated seats). Most writing friends I know have at one time or another “wished” to be published. If they achieve that goal, their next wish is to get another book published, with a bigger publisher, or to sell more copies, or perhaps a multi-book deal, or the ultimate—to be a New York Times Bestseller. All of these are great goals. But at the beginning “being published” felt like the end all. The problem is, there is no end all. The wishes never end.
Renters dream of one day owning a home. Once we buy that “fixer upper” we long for a new kitchen counter, then a kitchen remodel. And while we’re getting a new sink for the kitchen wouldn’t it be gorgeous if we replaced the sinks in the bathrooms, too? Before we know it we’re drooling over Pinterest homes and wishing for more and different than what we have. For athletes it could be an initial goal of making the team, then moving up to the “A” team, hoping for playing time, being in the starting lineup, scoring the points, winning the games, being the MVP. The more you have…the more you want. Most of us are guilty of it in some form or another.
The old man in Hemingway’s classic wasn’t materialistic. He lived in a hut and owned one pair of pants. But he wanted to catch the biggest fish and would stop at nothing to get him. For three days the fisherman held onto his line, so this big fish would not be the one who got away. Meanwhile the old man’s hands were ripped raw from the tugging and pulling of the fishing line. All the man had to eat were a couple of raw fish, all the while being towed by a giant marlin through the depths of the sea. On the brink of dehydration, the man rationed one bottle of fresh water over the course of sunsets and rises and barely slept a wink, putting his body and mind in extreme danger. For over eighty days the man had wished for one great fish. Now it was hooked on his line. Be careful what you wish for old man.
And I feel the warning being screamed at me, too. Be careful what you wish for, Laura. What am I wishing for? What are you wishing for? What do we think we need to feel complete? Like we’ve arrived? If we only had/did/achieved/looked like ______ we would be happy.
Really? Because as soon as we get/earn/appear like that, we usually wish for more.
Except when we have Jesus. He is the one thing that satisfies us once and for all. He is the bread of life, the living water. He told the people who encountered Him they would never need anything else. All they had to do was believe in Him.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (water from a well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4:13
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” —John 6:35
Completely, 100% satisfied. Never needing again. When we walk in the peaceful, grace-filled life Jesus offers this is what we receive. Sure, we still could use some money to pay our bills. We still pray for healthy relationships, for joy to fill the hearts of those we love. But we find all of our actual needs are provided for—that our longings are fulfilled. That desire for more and then a little more is squelched, because with Jesus we finally feel whole.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of things I want. A python pair of boots or that pink fuzzy jacket would be fun for fall. A serving of warm apple cobbler topped with creamy ice cream would be delicious. An extra hour of sleep would be divine. Heck, I’d take the half hour. But if I don’t get those things, I’m still fine, thoroughly content. Because all those little twinge-y incomplete parts of my heart have been filled in by a Savior who loves me no matter what I’m wearing, who’s sweeter than any decadent desert, and who provides rest for my tangled up soul.
If you had a magic lamp what would you wish for? If you could go out to proverbial sea one more time what would you hope to catch? It’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. Jesus calls us to be brave, live large, and go out there and use the gifts He’s given us to live bold, radical, fruitful lives. But at the end of the day whether we achieved or did not, won or lost, were noticed or ignored, we are fully seen and fully loved by our Perfect Savior. That itch? That something missing? That void we’re striving to fill? Jesus satisfies and fills it. He is everything we need. And His love and grace never ever run out.
My wish? Is that you feel Jesus’ love today, how it completes you, and satisfies like nothing you could ever set out to catch.
By 8:45 a line snaked out the door of the old warehouse. The doors opened at 9:00 for the 10:00 event. No, the first 100 visitors didn’t receive free t-shirts, bobble heads, or even coffee. No one was autographing anything. There wasn’t a big screen. This wasn’t a sporting event or a concert. This was a church service my son, Max, and I attended while we were in Dallas last weekend.
When the music began folks danced and cheered. Kids crawled and skipped. What was going on? You’d think Jesus, Himself, was in the sanctuary. That’s kind of the point. Everyone there was so excited to sing to Jesus, worship Jesus, talk to Jesus, learn about Jesus, they couldn’t wait to get inside. He does tell us where two or more are gathered, He is there in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Wowza—you could feel Jesus there in our midst. And it was a-ma-zing!
The prophet, Isaiah, foretold who Jesus would be and what He would do. That He would replace our mourning with joy and our despair with praise. But do we approach life like that? Full of joy and praise? Like Jesus is with us and He can change our lives?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. --Isaiah 61:1-3
I LOVE my home church, but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t wait outside for them to open the doors Sunday morning. Why not?
When was the last time you lined up for church, giddy to get in the door? And if it’s been a while…why is that? There is so much joy in Jesus! The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians (and us) to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
What are some things you get all amped up for, rush to get there?
Personally, I’ll wait in line to get coffee any day of the week. I’ll leave early. Perhaps place a mobile order. Plan it into my timeline. Because I am excited to get coffee—to taste the rich, bold flavor, inhale the thick, inviting aroma, feel the warm cup in my hands and the caffeine kick in, making me more alert. It brings me joy to think about my morning brew, order it (or whip one up at home), and take that first sip (and all the sips that follow).
What will you stand in line for, leave early for, make extra time for? Maybe to get a good parking spot, to beat traffic, to have time to chat with friends before the work or school day begins, or perhaps for bragging rights that you were the First One There. Why is it so easy, natural, or important to get to thatplace early? Are we as excited to get to our Bibles or to church? Are we rejoicing in the Lord like that?
Whatever it is we plan ahead for with anticipation, Jesus is infinitely better. Jesus is more satisfying than the richest, frothiest, most chocolaty mocha, revives our spirits and our souls, and is the positively BEST person to hang out with ever.
Maybe you’re not feeling the joy or the excitement at your church. Sadly, some churches have lost it. But the problem doesn’t lie solely on the Church. Part of the problem is us. Do we open our Bibles in anticipation or obligation? Do we open them at all? Do we attend a small group or study out of habit, because we think we should? Or because we can’t wait to learn more about Jesus, talk more about Jesus? Are we chomping at the bit to get to church? Or is church some place we go when we feel like it, if we feel like it, and sometimes even when we’re there, we slide in late, scoot out early and keep checking our phones (and I don’t mean the Bible App) while we’re there.
Imagine if Jesus stood at the doors greeting you. How early would you get there to hug Him? Ask Him some questions? Bow at His feet? Just look into His eyes? Treat your Bible study, small group, gathering, or church like that. Because Jesus lives in us and loves to show off when we seek Him. Why not go into our gatherings truly expecting to find Jesus there? Because, I promise He will show up.
If you’re not feeling the joy of Jesus in your current situation, why not be the one to change that—to create the joy. As Kelly Krenzel, founder of Hope Bloomssays in her TedTalk, “Sometimes to feel joy, you must first give it away to others.” We can be the change. We can be the catalyst to take something routine or rote and remind others that Jesus is there in our midst. That’s something to get pumped up about!
Why not bring doughnuts or carrot sticks, coffee, or bottled waters, for before, during, or after, depending on the setting. Heck, at my church a farmer puts out a bin of tomatoes or peppers from his field for anyone who wants them as we exit the building. There’s something so generous, unexpected, and fun about free produce freshly picked—it creates joy. Are you lacking music where you go? Take your portable speaker, cue up some hymns or brand new worship tunes or Christian rap, whatever, and play it in the background as people gather or mingle. Not appropriate for your gathering? That’s okay. Is there a piano? Do you play? Music not the right move? Then hug someone. Say, “hello,” to a stranger. Make a funny face at a toddler. Exude joy and watch it multiply! Whoever you touch with happiness will pass it on, and the excitement will build.
The sight of folks lining up to go to church brought pure happiness to my heart. It stirred something in me. The excitement in the room on Sunday was contagious. I wanted more of it. I pray all of you can feel that anticipation and hope of how Jesus is on the move, of what it feels like to hang out with Him. And I pray as you enter sanctuaries of any shape, size, or style to gather with one or one thousand brothers and sisters in Christ this week that you will bring joy with you, and like starting the wave at a sporting event, you will build the momentum, so that others can feel the joy that is Jesus.
“What are you taking a picture of?” my husband asked.
“I’m just going to touch them,” I said over my shoulder. I was drawn to the most beautiful willow on the other side of the street with wispy branches arching high and dropping low to the ground. After crossing the street and running my fingers through whispery leaves and vine like branches I pulled my phone from my back pocket and snapped a few pics. Which to most people would seem pretty strange, but it didn’t faze my husband.
“We both knew you were going to take pictures.”
“I just planned on touching it,” I said. “I can’t resist willows.”
Brett grinned. “And?”
“And once I touched it I needed a picture,” I conceded.
Brett held out his arms and hugged my ridiculous self—the goofball who takes pictures of trees in random people’s yards. “We both knew you were going to take a picture. I just knew first,” he said.
I am a dork. There’s no question about it. My husband knows all of my weird, quirky, nerdy behavior, and loves me not only despite it, but sometimes even because of it. I am blessed by him, no doubt. But this isn’t just how Brett sees me. This is how Jesus—the Creator of the Universe, the King of the World sees all of us!
He knows we can’t hear very well, can’t help talking strangers next to us in line, feel the need to wash our feet twice every time we shower, or require a pillow on our ear in order to fall asleep. Jesus knows all of these things about us, because He specifically designed us this way. And instead of being bothered when we yank an itchy t-shirt off our body as soon as it touches our skin, Jesus grins, and makes a softer tee more visible in our drawer.
Early in his ministry Jesus was headed toward Galilee. There was a man named Nathanael who Jesus wanted as one of his disciples. Jesus hadn’t officially been introduced, but being part of the Trinity and all, had actually been in on the creation of Nathanael. Jesus knew him inside and out.
When Jesus saw him (Nathanael) coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet!--John 1:47-50
In this short interchange we see that:
We spend so much time apologizing for and hiding our quirks. Why? We get nervous wondering what others will think. Why?
Jesus looks at us and says, “I love your crooked smile—it puts people at ease. Your fun laugh brings joy to a room. The fact that you count everything makes those around you aware of how much they actually have. Your quiet nature relaxes those around you. The way you can’t sit still when you hear music gets folks minds off their problems and onto the possibilities of singing or dancing—of finding joy.”
When we need a minute to collect our thoughts or because we’re meticulous about tucking in our shirt or to take a deep breath or because we are unsettled if we don’t wipe off the counter, Jesus doesn’t get frustrated or impatient. He leans back, smiles, and when we’re good to go says, “Ready?”
The disciples were worried about what people would think when Jesus sent them out to spread the good news. Jesus reassured them:
What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated. You’re worth more than a million canaries. —Matthew 10:30
Wow! I have a hecka lot of hairs on this head. And He numbers all of them? How amazing that this is how specifically and thoroughly our God loves us. He knows every single detail about us. And just as we cringe and think--Every single detail? Because there are a few details I’d rather nobody knew. Jesus follows up. He says, “I know every detail about you, and by knowing all of those details, I consider you worth more than a million canaries.”
So be yourself—your actual self—today. Be silly or serious, fast or slow, calm or crazy. Bring yourself to the game, the meeting, the coffee date, the class, and know that you are exactly who God created you to be. He sees you under your fig tree or crossing the street to touch a willow tree or researching your family tree or pulling your favorite sandals off your shoetree, and He says, “That one—I want to hang out with her.”
My youngest is into gardening. I promise he didn’t get it from me. But he’s currently growing tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and watermelon radishes. I helped him gather pots and shovels, then marveled at how patiently and meticulously he buried tiny seeds in the soil. I would have tossed them in, shoved some dirt on top, and wiped my hands of the whole process. But that’s not how he operates. Not in this arena. Maguire gathered fertile soil from our compost and sprinkled it on top of his seeds. He gently mists his plants daily and peeks on their progress. This is what we do with things we truly desire to grow.
Maguire can’t plant everything. We don’t have enough yard, or sunlight in our yard, or enough time for that. Some things would never grow here in Ohio, like orange trees or camellias, even if he gave those seeds all of his attention. It’s also not the best time of year to plant everything. Pansies should be planted in the spring. Marigolds in the fall. What are you trying to grow? Is it the right time? Is it even yours to cultivate?
I’m not really talking about plants. Are you trying to grow your bangs, your biceps, your bank account? Maybe you’re trying to grow your understanding of a new computer code, a different culture or subculture than yours, the city you got transferred to, an aspect of your personality, someone you care about. Do you talk about wishing you were better at something, more disciplined? Me? I’m trying to grow so many things! I want to learn and discover and improve. I want to speak French better, and understand the book of Ephesians more fully (#Biblenerd) and increase my upper body strength, to name a few. But there are only so many hours in each day. Some of these things I am growing. I see little sprouts or even stalks. Others not so much.
So which things do we nurture? And which things do we decide to plant in another season? Which things do we let someone else plant all together?
I think it takes a little self-exploration and a whole lot of time with Jesus. Make a list of your wants, needs, and curiosities. Circle or highlight the things you’d really like to cultivate. Write out next to them why they’re important to you. If you can’t verbalize why they’re important, they might not actually be. Take this list to Jesus. Flat out ask Him, “What do You want me to learn? What areas of my life do You want me to fertilize, nurture, water? What do You want me to let go of or delegate? How do You want me to spend my time?”
And when you hear from Him, when He nudges you or whispers (or sometimes shouts), when Scripture keeps pointing you to the same item on your list, when a conversation with a friend (who had no idea what you were praying about) mentions how good you’d be at this thing or invites you to a class on that other thing on your list what is your response? Are you watering those seeds or leaving them to fend for themselves?
Summer is a great time to start. It is the turning of the page, a new season. Even if your work schedule stays exactly the same, the days just feel different. And with this shift, it’s a wonderful time to say, “I’m going to grow this thing!” Then find a way to do it. Order the book, take the class, download the podcasts, schedule the sessions.
If you water the seeds Jesus gives you today with His love for you, your garden will grow. Probably not at all at once. And not every seed you plant will make it. But if you do the things Jesus calls you to do, nourish those things, devote time to them, leave the things He’s designed for others to do or maybe for you to work on in a different season, and dig your roots deep down into Him, God’s love will keep you strong and enable you to flourish in the soil where He’s planted you, growing things to sustain and delight, to build the kingdom. So, let’s get planting!
“Is everyone okay?” My mom called down the hallway.
A loud crash, as if a bunk bed had caved into itself and tumbled to the floor, rang throughout my mom’s mountain house. Mom rushed toward the noise. I was a half step behind.
A serviceman had been walking the eaves of the attic space and stepped off a beam, literally putting his foot through the drywall of the upper story’s floor, which was also the laundry room’s ceiling. When you’re in an attic the beams are the only sturdy flooring. He was doing his job. Going about his work. But one step off the path he was supposed to be on, and, well, his foot came through the ceiling.
An hour or so later we went down the mountain to the resort where the bridge that has connected the tennis and basketball courts with the beach for as long as I can remember was wiped out. Caution tape haphazardly strung on the remaining wooden posts warned us not to step where there is no longer any footing. A flood came through earlier this spring and strong torrents of rushing water claimed the bridge as its own.
Dang. We have to be careful where we walk.
And I sense this in my current season. I hear God calling me to new things, great things, things I had better watch my step as I move forward, so that I stay on the sturdy beams He’s set before me to walk on, so that I don’t stumble or fall on this journey by trying to do things my own way—off roading from His route. I sense this as one of my sons considers where he’ll go to college. I know God has a plan for him with a strong, secure pathway. I want him to choose that path, not one that is wobbly or unstable.
Gosh, just in the last few days in my life, a friend got fired after giving years of loyal service to his organization, another friend’s mom got a horrible health diagnosis, and another family has been turned inside out by something completely unexpected. These are just people I know. How do we stand strong when the torrents of life blow around us?
How do we avoid putting our feet through the floor or having the bridge go out beneath us? How do we walk strong and fast and secure both in the glorious new opportunities of life and when the storms hit?
As I stand and stare at the beautiful Smoky mountains, ridge after ridge of magnificent landforms, I can’t help but feel Jesus reminding me of the words He spoke to a crowd gathered around Him on a mountain one day.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” –Matthew 7:24-27
Some days everything looks totally fine, wonderful even, but if we try to venture where we aren’t intended to go we could fall into danger. Some days rain drizzles and soaks our lives. Streams rise. Winds blow and beat against us.
But Jesus is steady and secure. No misstep can throw Him off course. No unexpected event can knock Him down. No natural disaster or flood of emotions or insults or bills can wear Him down. He is solid impermeable, unshakable rock. Yes, please, I want to build my foundation on Him.
I don’t need a hammer and nails. Thanks goodness! Picture hanging is about as handy as I get. All I have to do is hang out with Him. Talk to Jesus and share my praises and problems. Listen to His sweet, tender voice. Let the sun soak my skin and the breeze brush across my face and be still in Christ’s love allowing Him to shape my life.
What’s going on in your life today? Are you in a peaceful place? A time of excitement and growth? Or are you just holding on for dear life? In any and all of these circumstances you need a place to stand. Stand on Jesus. He loves you so deeply. His strong arms will hold you tight when you’re wobbly, hold your burden when your hands feel too full, and cheer for you when you’re in your groove. No matter what kind of life-weather comes your way, Jesus is unshakable. And He’s on your side. Why not build your life in Him?
My daughter folded herself forward in the passenger seat, tugged her church top off, and swiftly wiggled her way into a t-shirt. She could sit upright to pull her thick, fuzzy sweatshirt over her head, but it was still quite a feat with the seatbelt and all. I won’t try to describe the dance moves she had to execute to pull off her skinny jeans, so she could slip on her joggers. But she had to do it. She was going straight from church to a cool volunteer opportunity to play with some kids in need. There wasn’t time to go home, or even grab a moment in the church bathroom to change. The top and jeans were perfect for church. The sweats were ideal for where my girl was going. The change was necessary. As were the less than ideal circumstances for making the switch. But it was worth it. She got to both attend church and play tag with kiddos.
This moment of squirming and giggles in the car matches a series of questions God keeps asking me: Where have I had you? Where am I taking you? What needs to change to walk into this new space?
My first clue was in December. A friend asked, “What can I pray about for you?”
Words came from nowhere. “I feel a shift coming. I don’t know what it is, but I really feel like God is preparing me for a change. Could you pray that I stay focused on Him and His plans, throughout that change?”
What just happened? What shift? What change? I hadn’t felt any of this until the words escaped my mouth. As my friend climbed out of my car, I had to sit a minute to catch my breath. I felt like I’d been bowled over. God, what are you planning? What’s changing? I want to hold tight to You in this!
Is anything changing in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A new expense? A new routine? Does the ground feel like it’s moving under your feet?
Another day. Another friend. Same crazy questions and ideas from God. As we circled the indoor track, gym shoes rhythmically thumping the rubber surface, our unplanned conversation orbited from where we’ve been to where we’re headed and what that means.
In my Bible study we’re studying Jonah. Jonah was a prophet living in Israel, delivering messages from God to the Hebrew people. Until God gave Jonah a new assignment, “Get up and go to Nineveh.” Jonah had been at one post, Israel. But he was being sent to a new one five hundred miles away. And it changed everything. Um, God, I don’t want to go to Nineveh. But I also don’t want to end up in the slimy, smelly belly of a big fish. I’m listening. What changes do you have in mind?
And even though I’m in a Bible study about Jonah, God keeps pointing me back to Ephesians. Specifically 2:10 God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. And chapter 4:1 I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. Hmmm. Work I had better be doing. Work He’s gotten me ready to do. Work I best be running after. But if I’m running, don’t I need to take off these cute boots and put on my Nike Zooms?
What is God calling you to today? How is it different than what He had you doing before? What changes might you need to make? What discomfort or inconvenience might you have to endure? How will you intentionally walk (better yet run) onto this road He’s calling you to travel?
My youngest was on the court in the last two minutes of his game. My phone vibrated. Can Maguire spend the night? We were twenty minutes from home and five minutes from his friend’s house. The ideal scenario would be to drop Maguire at the friend’s immediately following the game. Only he was in his uniform and didn’t have a pillow, toothbrush, etc.
After the buzzer I chatted with my boy. Yes, he wanted to go to his friend’s. Yes, he would even skip home, a shower, and his own covers. I sent Maguire into the restroom where he pulled off his uniform and tugged on the sweats he’d worn over his jersey and shorts on the way to the game. And although he wasn’t fresh, he was comfortable enough to snuggle on a friend’s couch with a borrowed blanket for the night. He’d been playing basketball. But it was time to hang with his buddy. To go from one to the next meant something had to give. He had to change. He also had to give up some comfort, but it was worth it.
Here it is again. This change in direction and the necessary action to make it happen. God doesn’t promise us it will be easy. But He promises it will be glorious and extravagant (Ephesians 1:19). That seems worth a little discomfort. That feels like it will be worthwhile to do without some of the security blankets I’ve been holding. But it’s still a bit scary, eyeing that new unfamiliar road. But also, so very exciting.
Today, in a new stage of life, where my kids are older and intriguing assignments are knocking at my door, what’s best for my family, best for me, best for this work God has called me into? I’m not sure, and I don’t how it will all play out. But I’m feeling the need to tug off my previous outfit, and put on something more appropriate for the next season.
What is this new attire? I haven’t found it in my closet yet. But with this coming shift, I know I’ll need to let go of control, and say, “no,” to some things. I’ll need to enlist help and be flexible as I learn what a day in the life of this new season for Laura looks like. And I’ll need to accept that there will be bumps during the transition. Changing outfits while riding in a car can be tricky. Certainly less than ideal. But the end result is worth it.
The coolest part? God is with me on my journey and with you wherever He’s taking you. He doesn’t ask us to go out there and do it alone. He says to join Him in the work He does. Join Him. Yes, please. There’s no one I’d rather walk through life with than the One who loves me, believes in me, encourages me, holds me, comforts me, and cheers for me just for trying. Because what God really wants isn’t a best-selling novel from me or a full-ride scholarship, trophy, or promotion from you.
What He really wants is for us to join Him. That’s all. To walk through life with Him. To trust Him when He says He creates us for cool stuff and wants us to do it, because it will be amazing, and because He can shower us and the world with His love and grace while we do this work He’s put in front of us together.
So, let’s get going. Ready? Set? Go!
Laura L. Smith