Do you have someone you love so much; you could never be truly mad at them, never love them less? For that matter, you love them so completely; you couldn’t possibly love them more?
Maybe it’s your dog. Whether he tracks mud on your floor, fetches the stick, or chews on your shoes you want to cuddle him, because he’s so darn sweet. Or maybe it’s your niece, granddaughter, or the little girl you babysit, because, hello? Has anyone seen her cuteness? Sure she’s sassy and has a bit of an independent streak, but one hug from her and you are done for.
This is how God sees us.
It’s true. When we make a mess, don’t apologize, try to do things our way, throw in some attitude for good measure, lose our tempers, etc. God loves us so unconditionally; none of those things seem to matter. He just wants to take us into His arms, ask about our day, reassure us when we’re insecure, and calm us down when we’re upset. And when we achieve grand goals, win the prize, get the raise, He’s happy for us. He still loves us, but not more, because He already loves us so much.
When I see my kids studying for a test, I don’t care what grade they get. Sure, I hope they do well, because they’ve worked hard. I hope they’ll be rewarded for their effort. But I love that they’re being diligent. The score on the exam does not sway my love for them one way or another. It can’t. Same with anything they work towards. I hope they get summoned from the bench in a soccer match. I hope they win, because they’ve been training hard, because it matters to them. But their amount of playing time, a win, loss, or tie, doesn’t impact how much I adore my children, or how proud I am of them.
God loves us infinitely more than we are capable of loving those around us. So why oh why, do we ever feel the need to earn His love and grace? He already loves us. His grace is already ours.
I know this, yet, I was in a funk the other day. I was feeling as if my writing was not enough for God, that I wasn’t doing enough with my words for Him. Which sometimes is the Spirit prompting us to get off the couch and go. But this wasn’t. I knew I was focused and devoting time to writing words that wove themselves into stories. I was doing okay with inputs but was feeling responsible for outputs. That’s not my job.
Yes, it’s up to us to give things our all (and please know that some days “our all” is just squeaking by, because we’re spent and that’s OK). But how things turn out, we’ve got to trust God with that. When we use the talents God’s given us, God will work things out according to His perfect plans. I know that, but lose sight of it. My slump was self-doubt creeping in. And trust me, self-doubt is never from God.
How about you? Ever doubted any of your abilities?
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
Just as you delight in your dog, or that little girl, or whoever. Just as I marvel at my kids, God finds joy in us. Because we are the people He created. Which means He gave us our talents. And as long as we’re using them, He doesn’t care if our song hits number one, or if our department brings in the most grant dollars, or if our yard wins Garden of the Month. God just thinks it’s super cool that we’re singing, writing grants for things we’re passionate about, and digging in the dirt making things grow. Remember, He can take all the parts of us that aren’t quite there yet—our weaknesses—and perfect His power through it.
It’s when I’m not enough that God can show off His perfection.
Some of the most priceless moments with my kids are “good nights.” We recount highlights of the day, pray together, and exchange a hug. But the best part is when I tell them I love them. Because I do. Down to my core. And if they say, “I love you, too,” my heart explodes with joy.
God’s not looking for achievements, promotions, and dollar signs. He’s thrilled when we utilize the gifts He’s given us, just like I clap like crazy if one of my kids scores a goal or nails their lines. But as God showers us with His great love, what He most wants from us is an, “I love you, too, Lord.”
You don’t have to strive today. God isn’t using a measuring stick. Do your best. Use what He’s given you. Love large. God will do the rest and fill in the flaws and stumbles with his perfect power. And when God tells you how much He loves you, believe Him, then whisper, “I love you, too.”
Have you seen the movie Begin Again? My favorite scene is when Gretta, a disenchanted musician is coerced by her friend to perform at an open mic night at a pub. While she’s singing, Dan, a down and out music producer, is ordering a drink at the bar. But at the sound of her voice and her acoustic guitar he turns around. And everything stops.
Like magic, a few chords resonate from the piano on the corner of the stage, accompanying her tune. Drumsticks are raised by invisible hands to pound out a beat at the exact right moment. A cello and bow appear on stage and play a few perfectly placed notes all by themselves. Dan might be going through a rough period—with his family and with his job, but he has a God-given gift. He can produce music. And he can do it like a maestro. He rubs his chin, tilts his head, and as he nods a violin appears out of thin air playing the coup de grace for the song’s bridge. All it takes are a few notes from an unknown singer, and Dan inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to turn a good song into the kind that strikes a chord in your heart.
This is what God-given gifts look like. Effortless to those who weld them. Unbelievable to those who witness them. We usually spot them quickly in others, but falter when it comes to identifying them within ourselves. What are your God-given gifts—the things you do so naturally, that you might not even own up to them?
Recently I hit a brick wall while in the midst of responding to edits on a book I’m finishing. I knew what I wanted to say and why it was important to me. I understood what the reviewer was communicating, but I could not for the life of me make the two concepts work together. But my friend, Amy? She talked me off the ledge. She took a look at a passage that paralyzed me and said, “Oh, this is great. You just need to tweak this sentence by adding this and deleting that.” It was like she’d waved her magic wand and instantly fixed something I’d been tangled in for over an hour.
I was considering tiling the backsplash in my kitchen but I’m clueless in the home décor department, so I texted my friend, Jamie, who along with being an artist, stages houses. Five minutes and fifteen texts later she had pulled a Joanna Gaines and suggested what she would have a carpenter do on my cabinets and what color of paint would be the perfect accent to the tile.
Have you witnessed something like this? Someone who steps into a challenge and simply slides and turns what are obstacles to you as easily as the squares on a Rubik’s cube, and within moments has all of the sides and colors in neat little rows. The rest of us stand with our jaws hanging open saying, “How did they do that? What just happened?”
This is what God-given talent looks like. Effortless. What can you do like this? You might not even know you can do it, because it comes so stinking easy to you. You might not even think about it, never even consider it. It’s just what you do. But that’s not what everyone does, how everyone looks at things, this is your special thing. This is how the Creator of the Universe created you. Can you pluck a fabulous harmony on the upright bass? Can you look at a chemistry equation and immediately see which reactants and products in what quantities are necessary to balance it? When a friend is frazzled, do the right words, nods and gestures come naturally to you to calm and soothe them?
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…Romans 12:6
That gift you have? God placed it in you the day He made you.
You have a special thing! There’s something you do that awes the people around you, that leaves them asking, “How do they do that?” And when you find that thing—do lots of it. Do more of it. Find additional ways to integrate that thing into your daily life. Seek more opportunities to apply this skill, to exercise those muscles, to play your song. Don’t let your talent sit on a shelf collecting dust. The world needs you and your gift, because the rest of us can’t do it, and even if we can somehow accomplish that thing you do so well, when we do it—it is with great struggle and frustration. I needed friends to help with edits and with decorating. The world needs you to line it up, click things into place, plug them in, and light things up.
Because God gave you that gift in the first place, when you put it in His hands, it can soar like it’s on steroids! Even more masterfully than a music producer, God inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to highlight and accentuate your talents. Ask Him to guide that gift He gave you, and watch Him turn the tune of your life into the kind that makes people dance and cry and sing at the top of their lungs, the kind people remember, and play over and over again, because it strikes a chord in their hearts. Today you can begin again. You can tap into your God-given talent, ask Him how you can use it to serve Him, and together you can fill the air with magnificent melodies.
Two nights ago my husband woke in the middle of the night because our power went out. I know, who needs power to sleep? He does. Because when the electricity went out, so did his fan, and the silence woke him. Go figure. He walked around the house with his phone flashlight shining, trying to solve for the outage. He later got back in bed, rolled around, sighed, and eventually fell back to sleep.
I’m no better. Last night I woke up because there was such a strong scent in our bedroom I worried there must actually be a skunk in our bed. Thankfully, there was not. But the skunk in the woods outside our window must have had some turbo-powered perfume. I sat there in the dark pondering the probability of a skunk getting in our house, climbing the stairs and snuggling in, after awhile got a glass of water, crawled back in bed, rolled over, tugged the covers, prayed silently and concentrated on relaxing and falling back asleep. I eventually succeeded.
Our lives are filled with interruptions—things that disrupt our regularly scheduled programming. Whether that’s the addition of something (a pungent odor) or the subtraction of something (white noise). We are interrupted by the buzz of a text or a car cutting in front of us. Our work is impeded when we can’t get a signal and dinner is delayed when we accidentally set the oven at the wrong temp or spill the spices while measuring them into tiny spoons.
In all these circumstances, we eventually put down our phones, pull into a parking spot, tap into the 4G network and pull the lasagna out of the oven. But it takes patience, concentration and focus.
The same is true when our true reflections get interrupted, disrupted, disturbed. We can go around knowing full well we are created by God, that He loves us, that we have a God-given purpose in life, and then like a rock being thrown into a still pond, something comes along that causes ripples in who we see ourselves to be. We get a rejection letter. Our best friend bails. We get in an argument with our spouse or sibling, or get blamed for someone else’s mistake. We let someone we care about down. The coach benches us. Our friends do something without us. Someone casts a snide comment our way. We lose our balance in a yoga pose or our way on a bike ride. Some days we just plain lose our way and our balance—no exercise required.
And when that happens, we have to get back to who we are, that we are Christ’s masterpieces (Eph 2:10) that we are wonderfully made to inspire awe (Psalm 139:14), and we need to do it with patience and focus. We might need to get up from where we are and move around a bit, get a new view on things, shine some light on them. We might need to hydrate with living water (Jesus), wrap ourselves in the cover of God’s love and pray. We need to turn back to our Bibles and fill up on the truths that God loves us. He’ll give us courage and strength. We have nothing to fear with Him on our side. Jesus offers us peace. He is our hope, light and way.
We need to go hang out with the special people who remind us of these truths, who love us for exactly who we are. We need to do the things God created us to do—the things we’re good at, eat our favorite foods, wear our favorite clothes, listen to our favorite bands, and talk to God over and over again until we remember, until we fall back into our rhythms and find the blissful peace of knowing we are beautiful, we are priceless, our lives have meaning.
And even when it feels like nobody else knows or notices, God is there loving us—in the middle of the day, in the middle of the traffic jam, the disappointment, the self doubt and even in the middle of the darkest nights. It just takes a little focus, concentration, and turning it over, but soon we can tune out the interruptions and settle back into knowing we have value and worth, because we are loved by God. We can once again embrace our true reflections.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
Even though the years since I’ve attended school have come and gone, I’ve never gotten off of a school calendar. I live in a college town. My husband is a professor. I have four kids. In my life, the abrupt change the first day of school brings is more significant than January first. To me, back to school is New Year’s Eve—a season of change, unlocked potential, resolutions, goodbyes, hellos and opportunities.
My youngest told me that although he LOVES summer, he’s really looking forward to school starting, because he’ll get to see all of his friends, wear his new gym shoes, draw with his new Crayons (there is something thrilling about a new 64 pack with sharpened points all lined up by color), and start his flag football season. Our conversation made me smile.
Those are great things to look forward to.
What are you looking forward to this fall?
I’m excited to unroll my yoga mat that’s been collecting dust all summer. I’m eager to move my Mac off the kitchen counter where it’s been hanging out for impromptu writing sessions—aka the moments my kids were otherwise occupied—back to my writing nook where I can spend hours with two of my best friends—Words and Stories. And Bible study starts soon. I’ve missed those women and the structured discipline of studying God’s word. These are all awesome things I’m super geared up to get back into.
But today, the day my kids all go off to school and leave me, the day I sit at the kitchen table and eat lunch by myself, the day the house is eerily silent, is the hardest day of the year for me. A piece of my heart walks out of my car and into my children’s school, leaving me with a missing piece and an ache—as if part of me has been taken. I love those kids. I love summer. I love summer, because I get to spend so much time with them.
So I’m bittersweet. You?
There are hellos of new roommates and goodbyes to families as college students lug their crates into their dorms. Ends and beginnings to our places in neighborhoods, churches and workplaces as we move, relocate, and reallocate pieces of our lives. Seasons change, and God calls us to embrace each one. Just like the first page of a brand new spiral notebook, the possibilities of fall are endless and full of promise. To help ease my transition, I bought my own back-to-school supplies, because please, look how adorable these are, and because they help my creative juices flow (plus with each Yoobi product I purchased an item will be donated to a classroom in need—cool, right?) New notebooks and markers are fresh starts, bright ink, slabs of marble, just waiting to be carved.
And this is the life Jesus offers us everyday. He says, “I know you’re still bitter from that argument, frustrated with the coach from last season, stressed about how carpool could possibly work, anxious about today’s meeting, freaked about balancing a new routine, concerned about a new school, a new job, a new home, but why? Anything you’ve done in the past where you’ve messed up, I’ve erased, I’ve washed clean by dying on the cross. Anything you’re facing, I’ll be with you. Fear not. For I am with you. Always.”
So open to a new page, friends. This doesn’t mean forgetting your old friends, teammates or family, but it does mean embracing where you are, the place and time God has placed you. For me, it means not dwelling on the fact that I can’t go to the pool with my kids today, and instead diving into a writing project I’ve been chomping at the bit to start.
Say you’re sorry.
Begin something new.
There are so many possibilities awaiting us today, ours for the taking, if we’ll reach out and seize them.
What fresh starts are you looking forward to this fall?
I’m snuggled on the couch with my youngest on a rainy Saturday morning watching Prince Caspian with tears dripping down my cheeks.
Yes, I’m a total Narnia fangirl. Can’t even count how many times I’ve read all of the books by C.S. Lewis or watched the movies, but I am so enamored with these tales because they resonate so strongly with me and my faith journey. And just as Aslan tells Lucy in the story, “Things never happen the same way twice,” I am never hit by these stories of a magical land, and their perfect, untamed ruler, Aslan, the same way twice. This viewing I was deeply challenged about the motivations behind all I do.
In Prince Caspian, High King Peter and his royal siblings have been magically called back to the land of Narnia to help this nation and its people (um, well, citizens) in a dire, dark time. Peter is not only excited to be back in his realm, but also thrilled to be High King once more—to be respected, honored, to have people seek his opinion and listen to his ideas. And we all seek that, respect, honor, self-worth. But Peter gets it wrong. I get it wrong too, day after day.
Peter starts making plans—which way to go, how to attack the enemy, and other kingly type decisions—but he makes them without seeking guidance or direction from Aslan (who represents Jesus in this allegory). And not surprisingly, he and his companions get lost, lose time, resources, troops, and are forced to retreat. Just like when I start making plans—deciding what to do and how to do it, how to strategize my days, my goals, fight my personal battles without consulting Jesus. Guess what happens? Duh. I get lost along the way, distracted, waste time and resources, and end up feeling like a failure.
There is a pivotal point in the movie when Peter’s sister, Susan, asks Peter, “Just who are you doing this for anyway?” Ouch. Clearly this is not Peter at his best. And I had to ask myself, who am I doing life for? Who are you doing your thing for today?
Convicted, Peter changes his tune, slightly. He raises his sword and calls one of my favorite battle cries, “For Narnia!” And he almost gets it, but not quite. Just like when I make a special meal for my family and think, “This is to make my family feel loved and special.” Or when I write an article about true beauty, and think to myself, “this is to help show people how beautiful they are.” I’ve almost got it, but not quite. My family is awesome, and I want them to know it. I do write to spread the word that we are all unique beautiful individuals. You may be folding someone’s laundry so they have clean clothes, or working someone’s shift as a favor to give them some relief, or working late to help a client solve a problem, or maybe you gave up something for Lent, because it helped you with self-control. There are plenty of good causes, good reasons to do what we do, but ultimately there is one that matters more than any of the others.
May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others
Than all the others
“Full Attention” by Jeremy Riddle
There is a turning point in the movie where the final battle is all but lost by Peter and his troops. The enemy is overtaking them in droves. Left with no choice but to attempt to save the lives of the remaining good guys, the Narnians are retreating once more, this time to their fort. But the enemy implodes their fort, their one safe place. There is nowhere left to run. Nowhere left to hide. It is only at this desperate, hopeless place that Peter looks at his companions, nods, and knows exactly what to do. Peter turns around to face the enemy he’d been running from head on, pulls out his sword and changes one word in his call “For Aslan!” He screams and rushes towards the oncoming opponent. This is Peter at his absolute best, bravest, humblest, wisest, kindest—the most brilliant version of himself. Yes, this is the part where tears stream down my face.
And in this exact moment Aslan’s reinforcements, an army of trees, appears, and overtakes the enemy. Doing it for Aslan instead of for himself, or even for the noble cause of his nation is a gamechanger for Peter. Who am I fighting my battles for? For me? For a good cause? Or for Jesus? Why am I so stupidly trying to do things my way, when time and time again God shows up and turns the tables, and knocks down my walls, and clears the way for victory?
When I call out, “For Jesus!” I’m no longer struggling, no longer feeling like not enough. My eyes are opened to unexpected opportunities. I can see myself better for who I am, and what I am called to do. I am more able to see a better version of myself, my true reflection. You can too. It only takes changing one word in our battle cries.
How about you? Who are you working, playing, studying, parenting, living for today?
“It’s always best to start at the beginning.” ~ Glinda
I have three soccer kids, and one child who doesn’t even like to kick the ball. He also doesn’t like to dribble, throw, or pass a ball of any kind. He’s tried hockey and Tae Kwon Do, but sports are not his thing. Which is fantastic! I’m so proud of Maguire for realizing and recognizing that despite his three siblings running off to practices and games in uniforms with numbers on their backs, that this is not for him.
But I do want him to find his happy place. Because I love him. Because I firmly believe God has created each of us for greatness, but it’s our job to search for those things that light us up inside, and then do lots of those things, to help us see our true reflections.
This fall another mom met Maguire, looked at me and said, “He sounds exactly like our son. You need to get him into theatre.” Her words took me off guard. How did she know in the back of my head I’d been thinking drama might be the exact thing that would excite Maguire? He’s creative and funny. He loves dressing up and he does one heck of a Mr. Bean imitation. I’d half-searched for ways to get him involved before in plays, but this was the catalyst I needed to seek out theatre opportunities. I asked around, did web searches, contacted the theatre department at the university, the drama department of the public schools, and our local thespian group. Zero opportunities for kids. Maybe this wasn’t the path we were supposed to be following. But then… I was at my daughter’s high school and happened upon a sign announcing the cast for The Wizard of Oz.
“Follow the yellow brick road?” ~Dorothy
At the bottom it read: Munchkins to be announced. Was it too late? I emailed the teacher in charge (who also happens to be Maguire's art teacher at his grade school). She responded almost immediately, “I was actually getting ready to email you about this. I think Maguire would be a great Munchkin. If he's interested, we’d love to have him! Oh, and rehearsals start tomorrow.”
Get out! What had seemed like a lark, and then a dead end, all of a sudden fell perfectly together. It was as if God orchestrated every step of the way along a winding road through poppies, past witches and to the Emerald City itself. Are you at a dead end today? Keep your eyes peeled, God is at work, behind the scenes arranging amazing opportunities.
At rehearsal a dozen or so 2nd and 3rd graders nervously looked around taking in the thick, green velvet curtains and bright stage lights. The night was simple. Kids sitting next to parents, hesitantly singing the words on their scripts. As rehearsals continued, munchkins moved to the seats by the stage, away from their parents, stood while they sang, and were selected for specific roles. Maguire was cast in the Lollypop Guild. Soon they no longer needed their scripts. The first night Maguire was allowed to rehearse on the actual stage, he came home proclaiming he wanted to be an actor when he grows up, or maybe a movie producer.
“Follow the yellow brick road!”~Mayor of Munchkin City
This weekend were his performances. They made this mama weep for joy. It’s been a gift to watch the kids grow--memorizing their lines, taking cues, learning their dances, and taking on the persona of munchkins in a magical land. I don’t know if Maguire will act in one more play, or a dozen, or become the movie producer he’s currently envisioning, but what completely blows me away is how God brought him to this place. When neither my son nor I knew what he wanted to do, God did. God knows where you need to be as well. And He will get you there, one yellow brick at a time. When I saw Maguire on stage, beaming and dancing, cowering from the Witch, and waving goodbye to Dorothy, he was radiant, and I know, for now, he has found his happy place, his special kind of beautiful, his true reflection (which happens to be wearing bright orange suspenders and striped socks).
"There is a garden spot, I'm told. Where it's never too hot and it's never too cold. Where you're never too old. Where you're never too thin or tall. And you're never, never, never, too, too anything at all." ~Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion
This song about the Emerald City makes it sound so grand. But God's plans for you are even greater! Where is God calling you today? What lights you up? Seek it and He’ll help you get there. Be patient. There may be dead ends (or winged monkeys or spooky forests) along the way. But God does have a path laid out for you. A brilliant one. It might not be paved with yellow bricks, but then again it just might be.
While grabbing an apple in the kitchen to fight off a mid-day stomach growl, I heard an erratic banging from the dining room. I peeked around the corner to spy a large black bird flapping his wings and flying straight toward one of the windows--crash—hitting it so hard, he fell back to the ground in a feathered heap. Was he dead? How long had he been down here? How in the world did a bird get in our house?
The bird quickly answered my first question—he was not dead—by rearranging his body, raising his wings and aiming straight toward another window, only to repeat the whole crashing and crumpling scene. A close-up wild bird is very different than gazing at one flittering through the trees. He appeared so much gawkier, louder, and infinitely crazier. My instinct was to get him OUT! But he was like a lunatic, also probably severely concussed, so I avoided his hysterical flapping (I did not want him plummeting into me) by ducking through the hallway to open the front door. I swung the wooden door in and the storm door out, sliding the catch so it would stay open, all while talking to the bird as if it were a toddler, “Come on bird. Here’s the door. You can go outside now. Here you go.” But where did he go? He was nowhere in sight.
I followed my ears to the clatter of colliding and flapping in the living room. He must have snuck in this room, like one of those secret passageways in Clue—where you can go straight from the Conservatory to the Lounge even though they’re on opposite ends of the game board. He had tricks up his feathered sleeves, and he was now head-banging against the window in his new room. When he fell to the floor. Again. I rushed past him to open the back door leading to our screened-in porch “Alright, bird. Come on out to the porch. I’ll get this door open for you too, or the front door’s still an option. Either one works for me.”
I got the screen door open and finally remembered to breathe as he soared onto the porch. Brilliant. Until he crashed straight into one of the screens. I now know the origin of the word “birdbrain”. I closed off the porch, so he couldn’t get back in the house, and kept talking to him while shooing him time after time in the direction of the exit. After several crash and burns, he flew outside. I slammed and latched the door behind him.
Finally free of the problem of having a large bird flopping around my home, I pondered how he ever got so misplaced that he ended up here, that he thought he wanted to be in our house instead of out in the open where he belonged? How did he get so confused, distracted that he couldn’t distinguish glass or screens from air, from wide-open spaces? I considered how the more exhausted and anxious he got, the more he seemed to spin out of control.
But I do it too. Do you? Do you ever run into the same wall time and time again? Trying to do it all by yourself, ignoring the voice coaching you out to freedom
Instead of embracing the trees and sky where God has placed you, do you ever seek something you’re not suited for, somewhere unbecoming of the beautiful being God created you to be? Have you ever banged your head on the glass thinking it might be a way out, crashed into a screen when you’ve flown a little too high or too low?
Like that bird, we all get off track sometimes, misplaced, confused about where we want to be, where we should be, what is truly important. We find ourselves someplace we never imagined, and we can get trapped there. Appearances, brands, numbers on the scale, on test results, on the scoreboard, or in our checkbooks distract us. We get tired and stressed, which confuses us and we start making bad, frantic decisions. But how do we get back on track, back to our true selves, our true reflections?
It’s easy, if we’re willing to take a deep breath, get our bearings and listen. God is opening doors and windows giving us fresh opportunities and new chances, shooing us to the openings, to the ways out of bad situations and into wide-open spaces. He’s talking to us saying, “Look over here!” We just need to listen.
And when we pull ourselves out of our heaps and fly to the beautiful places He’s providing for us, we can stop feeling scared, lost, overwhelmed, or incapable, and spread our beautiful wings and soar as He designed us to do.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang to me when I listened to them non-stop in junior high.
“The greatest of these is love,” the Bible reminded me in 1 Corinthians 13 as I searched for answers and understanding of this life.
And they were both right. Only I didn’t know where to find love. So I looked in all of the wrong places. I searched for love in the form of approval – maybe if I got good grades I would be loved, if I got great grades I’d have an even better chance. I searched for love in the eyes of guys I dated—maybe if they thought I was pretty, or funny, or fun they’d love me, I’d be loved. I looked for love in my job—if I succeeded, did another deal, got another promotion my co-workers would respect me, my boss would be proud of me, and those things are kind of like love, aren’t they?
Kind of. But not really. Because all of those types of love slip through our fingers. They’re temporary. There will always be another test to take, another dance to find a date to, and another deal to land. Once the quick fix of approval is over, the buzz of being sought or appreciated dies down, so does the love. Where are you looking for love today?
There is one true love. A love so real, so true, and so fulfilling I can’t get my mind or arms around it. It is the love of Jesus. His love letter to us is the Bible. It starts with Him creating the world, a beautiful place for us to live, because He loves us. He created each of us, exactly how we are, no matter what are grades are, no matter what are relationship status is, no matter what size or shape we are, no matter how successful by worldly standards we are. God’s love letter goes on to explain what He’s done, what He will do for us. He’ll part seas for us. He’ll knock down walls for us. He’ll pull us out of fiery furnaces. He’ll slay our giants. And then, as if that weren’t enough to show us how deeply and completely He loves us—Jesus will take all of our imperfections and mistakes and wash them clean. I mean, who does that? Only someone who loves us utterly and unconditionally.
All the years that I searched for love on Valentine’s Day, that I longed for an extra special heart to be stuffed in my decorated box, or for flowers to be delivered at my door, or for Prince Charming to arrive on his white steed, I already had love all along, and so do you. Jesus loves you. He made you. He died for you. And He wants to be your Valentine.
And once we truly let that sink in, allow His love to flow over us, stop trying so hard and comparing ourselves to all the people and things we are not—that we were never intended to be—once we realize we were created to be exactly who we are, and that we are loved for our individual priceless unique selves, then we can feel the real love of God that completes us. And when we accept that true love, we can also begin to love ourselves, to see ourselves for our true lovely selves, see our true reflections. And once we know where to find true love, then we can realize love IS all we need and the greatest of these IS love.
I’d to hear your favorite Valentine’s recipes or traditions or your favorite parts of God’s love letter. Share in the comments section below.
“We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out,” is how one of my favorite Elvis songs, “Suspicious Minds”, begins. And as much as I love that song, especially the remake by the Fine Young Cannibals, there’s nothing melodious or harmonic about feeling trapped.
Trapped—you know that feeling of being stuck, of having the door slammed in your face and not knowing where to turn?
My fourteen-year old son has a summer birthday, making him one of the older kids in his class and one of the younger kids on his soccer team. The rest of his club team started high school this fall and tried out for their high school teams. Meanwhile, Max was left standing alone. It happens in sports, so often that there’s a term for it – Trapped Eighth Grader. Everything settles itself out in the spring, when all of the players of Max’s team will be free from their high school commitments, and they’ll all play together. Next fall, Max can try out for his high school team. But in the meantime, for this fall, he was officially trapped.
Max’s team had been yanked out from under his feet. What were we going to do? So, Max and I began praying about the situation.
We’d heard rumors of a team of home-schooled boys, who scrimmaged against some of the smaller high schools, but Max wouldn’t have known any of the players, and they’d all been playing together for years. We discussed hiring a soccer trainer to fine tune Max’s skills and keep him active, but not only was it expensive, Max wanted to play games. There was also talk of his club joining trapped eighth graders from a large geographical area to practice and scrimmage, but nothing ever materialized.
Then one day this summer, Max joined me for my morning jaunt to Starbucks. He wore his club soccer t-shirt, and while I was at one end of the line ordering my coffee, the barista at the other end of the counter started chatting with Max. By the time I got over to where Max was, the barista, who I’ve never seen working at my Starbucks before or since, was inviting Max to join in a standing pick up game of soccer. The players ranged from college boys to professors to community members who’d played high school or college club soccer, and still loved the game. They met twice a week, with no fees, at the park five minutes from our house. We walked out whispering to one another. It looked like God had answered our prayers.
Max has been playing with these guys ever since. And loving it. The players are first rate. Max gets tons of touches on the balls, lots of opportunities to learn and grow and shoot and score, and gets a great workout, without any pressure to start or win. This is not something Max or I or his soccer coach could have orchestrated. None of us knew these guys played. If I had, I would have never guessed my eighth grader would have been welcome. But he is. The other guys are super friendly and accepting of my son. Max and I could have never strategized that he should wear his club shirt to get noticed by a Starbucks worker I’m thinking was a sub. But God knew. He always does. And once again, He orchestrated something so perfect and out of the realm of my consideration that I am blown away. It didn't happen over night. It didn't become clear to us the first time we prayed about it. The first avenue we tried and the second and the third also were dead end streets. But God always had this in mind.
It is in Christ Jesus that we find out who we are and what we are living for. (Ephesians 1:11 MSG)
You see, we’re never really trapped. Sometimes it sure looks like it. Sometimes we’re suffering from an ailment or depression or a loss. Some days we get a rejection or a bad score or a bad review. But with God there is never a dead end. Jesus is The Way. And when we trust in Him, He always reveals the beautiful plan He’d intended for us all along.
You don’t have to figure the way through or out or over the slammed door in your life. But you do need to turn it over to God, and watch the amazing ways He’ll make you flat enough to slide under the door, strong enough to bust through the door, or reveal a secret passageway out, you’d never seen before. With Jesus there is no trapped, just pauses in the beautiful journey He’s walking with you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG)
Laura L. Smith