There’s something fishy about the Italian village of Monterosso, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”) nestled along the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. The cerulean water, breathtaking views, picturesque hiking trails, lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and postcard perfect town comprised of candy-colored buildings makes it one of my favorite places in the world. I’m not the only one who loves Monterosso. The secret is out and this tiny town (population 1,400) now teems with tourists from around the world. Another thing I love about Monterosso is it never tries to be something that it’s not and it never forgets who it is, what it has, and what its strong suit is. It never looks to the right or left and says, “I wish I was more like Venice or Florence.”
Can we say the same?
Monterosso is a fishing village through and through situated in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it fully rocks its fishy-ness.
Long before tourists flooded the train station, fishermen and their families lived in this coastal town dating back to the year 683 when people living in the hills descended to the seashore to escape barbarians. The people caught the local fish and built a life. They hiked trails or took boats to get between the neighboring villages. Today fishermen still fish daily. Every restaurant we saw serves freshly caught fish, as well as foods prepared with the olives and lemons abundant on the hills. If you google top things to do in prominent Italian cities like Rome or Milan you’ll find churches and statues topping all the lists. But Monterosso doesn’t promote tours to Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, the beautiful black and white striped Gothic church built in the 1200s, or Il Gigante, the incredible sculpture of a giant carved into the rock at the very far end of the beach (although they’re both worth a look).
No, if you search for what to do in Monterosso you’ll be directed to the things that make Monterosso unique–hike the gorgeous trails and take boat rides in the azure water. The cafes and shops aren’t decorated with pictures of famous people who have stopped by or glitzy beach scenes, but everywhere everywhere everywhere there are fish. Monterosso owns who it is.
Who were you created to be?
Are you living in your God-given identity, or trying to be like or comparing yourself to somebody else?
What do you have available to you?
What’s your strong suit?
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and trying new things. I highly encourage both. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of praying and dreaming through something totally new. But as we dream, let’s keep in mind who God created us to be, what He’s given us, and where He’s put us. It actually helps make our dreams a reality, a reality where God walks beside us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Who did God create you to be?
What do you love doing? What are you great at? Make a list of those things–everything. What music makes you dance, what books can you not put down, what would you do with one hour of free time, what was your favorite subject in school, what’s your favorite food, who makes you laugh, what would you do with a million dollars or three weeks without responsibilities? Brainstorm. Dream. What lights you up?
What’s available to you?
The people of Monterosso have fish, lemons, olives, water, and scenic trails at their fingertips.
How about you? Has your family owned a small farm for ages? You could grow vegetables to feed your community or transform the property into a special event venue. If your workplace has a sound system, could you borrow it to start your own podcast or record the music you’re writing?
Where do you live?
In a cold or hot climate? What part of the country? What are the needs of your community? I live in a college town with brick, ivy, college students, classrooms, a large population of academics, incredible speakers and events, and all the shops and restaurants that cater to these young people. How about you? If you live in a big city you probably have public transport, skyscrapers, large crowds, an fine arts scene, and professional sports. Is your city famous for barbecue or live music or its annual sunflower festival? How do you fit into those things? Do any of those opportunities enable you to rent a booth, offer a class, share the Gospel, create a tour, lead a study, feed the hungry, or give a performance utilizing your gifts and skills?
What’s your strong suit?
Are you great at numbers or words? Do you have a keen sense of direction or an eye for details or design? Do you communicate especially well with kids or senior citizens? Can you make exceptionally tasty fish tacos or mouth-watering muffins or super cool tie-dyed t-shirts or water tight contracts or create codes?
Jesus is so intentional. He’s numbered every hair on your head. He goes before and behind you. He knit you very specifically together in your mother’s womb. He had designs on you for glorious living before you were even born. This means all those things you love to do, all those things you’re actually pretty good at, that come easily to you, even the places and spaces where Jesus has put you–they’re all part of His divine plan–there is goodness for you there, you can thrive and help others thrive, too!
Spend some time this week not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Instead journal, pray, talk to trusted Godly friends about what you like to do, what you’re great at, what resources and opportunities are around you, what you dream of doing, how that all fits into your calling and see what comes of it. There’s nothing fishy about it, just purpose, fullness, and joy waiting to be discovered.
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“Who do you think will get hit by the most?”
“Aaack! I got the first one.”
“Ugh, that one hit me twice. Does it count as two?”
“No, but if there’s a tie, it will be the tie breaker.”
My husband, daughter, and I were not playing some sort of sport. We were out for a run and dodging the cicadas. Y’all cicadas are a thing!
For those of you who don’t live in the parts of the fifteen states that got inundated by Brood X, every seventeen years these insects come up from underground en masse, to the tune of billions, possibly trillions of these big, ugly bugs. They are harmless, but extremely loud (it sounds like a loud generator or an airplane landing in our neighborhood most afternoons) and so very gross. These guys are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! In your eyes, and hair, underfoot, splattered all over your windshield. They cover sidewalks and tree trunks and randomly hit you while you’re running.
It’s a crazy phenomenon that lasts a couple of weeks and feels like it’s out of some bizarre movie. But believe it or not, the cicadas are real. They’re here, there, and everywhere. And then, almost overnight...they’re gone. I have friends who know I’m a bit of a Bible nerd and ask me things like, “How can you believe everything in the Bible? Isn’t some of it a bit far-fetched?” Ummm, you mean like a plague of large, winged, singing insects? Seems pretty probable to me.
So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. --Exodus 10:13-15
The appearance of the cicadas actually cements my faith. God can make swarms of insects. Not usually as a punishment as He did to the Egyptians, but He is certainly capable of creating countless critters out of nowhere. I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. Therefore, it’s easy for me to buy into all the other plagues listed in Exodus, as well.
“Okay,” my friends might say, “I’ll give you the plagues, but how about Jonah and the whale? Getting swallowed by a giant fish and being spit out sounds more like the fairy tale Pinocchio than something that could really happen.”
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights...And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.--Jonah 1:17, Jonah 2:10
Tell that to lobster diver, Michael Packard, who just last week got completely swallowed by a humpback whale, was inside the whale’s mouth for 30-40 seconds, and then the whale spit him out.
My point? The Bible is the Living Word of God! Yes, some of it sounds crazy. But so does the actual news, documented by scientists, photographers, and eye-witnesses. If we can acknowledge that there can be plagues of insects and that a man can be swallowed by a whale and spit back out, we can look at some of the other amazing things in the Bible and contemplate their truth. As the Apostle Paul tells his friend Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). So do you believe these promises?
Bugs and whales are interesting, but these promises? These are ones I desperately want to be true. I crave peace. I’m sick of being judged and would love to be saved from all the comparisons in this world. I want all the beautiful dreams of my heart to be possible. I long to prosper. To have Jesus with me, always, to have Him never leave me--sigh, what a relief! And a full, abundant life? Yes, please!
The Good News? All of it is true! The bugs and the fish and the promises of a loving God who created you and me and longs to spend time with us. He doesn’t force us into a relationship with Him, because what kind of a relationship would that be? But instead, He invites us into one. All we have to do? Believe.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” --John 3:16
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These daffodils. They truly blow me away. There are countless bunches of them bursting in bright yellow all over my back yard. I didn’t plant a single one of them. I have never once watered, weeded, or fertilized them. And yet every single year they push up through the ground and flourish. They even miraculously multiply. All by themselves.
This is how Jesus operates.
Jesus reminds us that it’s not OUR work that gets things done, but His. Now, disclaimer, Jesus does ask us to work. We’ve talked about that here on the blog--for example, just last week and here in 2019. God commissioned mankind to “tend and watch over the garden (Genesis 2:15).” Clearly, we’re no longer in the Garden of Eden, but anything that consists of tending or watching over this world counts. Cutting someone’s hair is “tending” to a person who lives on this earth. Teaching someone a new skill or concept is “tending” to the knowledge of someone on this earth. Studying wave charts or babysitting or managing accounts or parenting all count as “watching over” things on this earth. God assigns us work. However…it is not all up to us. Never was. Never will be.
When a crowd of around 20,000 people who were listening to Jesus teach got hungry, Philip said, “Even if we WORKED for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:7. Another disciple named Andrew found a boy with two fish and five loaves. Jesus took that and not only fed the masses, but there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Andrew had to find the boy. He had to do some work, but it wasn’t up to Andrew to feed the crowd that would fill a soccer stadium. That’s where Jesus stepped in.
A bit later in verse 28 when the crowd asks, ““What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
The work we’re supposed to do is to believe in Jesus, and let that flow into all of our work--into the dishes and deadlines and debit card statements. We do the things we’re supposed to, like find a boy with his lunchbox, and then believe that Jesus is who He says He is, and let Him feed the crowd.
When Peter was asked if Jesus would pay his taxes, Jesus gave Peter some work to do.
“Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.”
Peter was a fisherman. That was his job. Jesus told him to go catch a fish. And then to open its mouth. If Peter did the work, if Peter would believe, Jesus would do the miracle.
Jesus followed up with, “Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:27.
Again Jesus asks the disciples to do a task, trust Him, and He’ll provide the miracle. “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Luke 19:30-31
The disciples had to walk to the next village. They had to look for the colt. They had to give a certain answer, untie the colt and bring it back. It took awhile. It required physical effort. It might have made the disciples uncomfortable or nervous to grab a large animal and use as their explanation, “The Lord needs it.” Wouldn’t it look like they were stealing? What if the owner doubted them? But they believed Jesus when He said this would all work out. They did the assignment and things went down exactly how Jesus said they would. The owner let them walk away with that colt. Why? Because Jesus does miracles.
And that drops us off on Palm Sunday as Jesus rides that donkey into Jerusalem knowing full well the miracle of all miracle He’s about to perform--the one where He dies on a cross, but comes back to life. For this one, all He asks is for us to believe.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.--John 3:36
Kind of like those daffodils.
It doesn’t matter if I water them or not. It doesn’t matter if I weed around them or put up some kind of cage to keep critters from nibbling. They come back to life every spring.
What is it you’re trying super hard to bring to life right now?
Where do you feel like you don’t have enough food or resources or dollars or clout?
Do you believe Jesus can change that? Do you believe He's working? When He asks you to do something, do you believe it's for a reason?
Jesus can feed you in abundance, provide more than you ever imagined, pull money out of a fish, and His word is the only endorsement you need to untie that donkey. To live in His love, to experience His grace, all you have to do is believe He is who He says He is. He did all the work for you.
Easter is coming. And with it new life. Whatever feels dead in your life, like it could use a makeover or redo or revival, that’s Jesus’ jam. He’s all about second chances and bringing things out of the grave. Do what He asks you, whether that’s catching a fish or going into town or running some numbers or making a call or doing some research or trying one more time, and then wait for it--His miracle is coming.
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My Uncle Ray (who wasn’t really an uncle, but actually my mom’s cousin) introduced me to fishing when I was about four. He was a farmer and had a pond on his property stocked with rainbow trout. Ray treated me like the Princess of Fishing, telling me what a great job I was doing, making a point of telling my mom when I was in close earshot, “Laura could make a fine fisherwoman.” At the time I had no idea how much of the work Ray did or what a “stocked” pond even meant, I just knew that he taught me how to put a worm on a hook, cast a line, and reel in a beautiful iridescent trout I could be proud of.
A handful of years later our family went to Florida for spring break and stayed with my actual uncle, Lowell. He took us out deep-sea fishing on his boat. I got so seasick I spent most of the day lying down in the cabin, but despite my nausea a gigantic barracuda bit on “my” line. Of course my uncle, my dad, and everyone else on board had to reel the big boy in, but still somehow, it felt like mine.
With those limited experiences I am hardly a fisherwoman, but when our family heads to the beach for summer vacation we always buy crab nets, string, and chicken backs for bait from either Walmart or the local hardware store and venture out to the pier posing as the crew of the Deadliest Catch for an afternoon. It’s something my husband did when he was a kid, and he’s carried on the tradition with our four kids and me.
Some years we catch scads of blue crabs. One year we didn’t catch a single one. Some spots or nets seem to be more productive than others as they dangle from the pier. Some years one of our kids will seem to catch the mother lode while others repeatedly pull up their nets empty except for the bait, exclaiming, “I caught chicken!” We’ve had expeditions where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, sweat pouring down our backs and dripping from our brows. This year it was sunny, then rained so hard it sent us under a shelter, only to turn sunny again a few minutes later.
Jesus hung out with fishermen and talked about fishing all of the time. I figure if He spent His time in boats with nets, there’s probably something to learn there. My takeaway from trying to figure out how to catch fish, or crab, is that it mirrors my journey in life.
First, no matter where I’m headed, I need someone to help me—a guide who’s gone before. I would have never even known where to fish, let alone what to bring, or how to use the rods, nets, hooks, etc. if it weren’t for my Uncle Ray, Uncle Lowell, and my husband leading me to the fishing spots and coaching me on how to hold, cast, and reel. In my life, I need Jesus. I can’t start an adventure, a new endeavor, assignment, job, relationship, or experiment without Him. Jesus knows the best places for us to go, and how we should get there. He knows when we need stocked ponds, and when we’re ready for deep waters. He equips us with the tools we’ll need to face whatever lays ahead and teaches us how to use them. He gently explains the best course of action along the way, and cheers for us when we get the catch.
Second, I need to be patient. Sometimes the things I’m after, the goals I set, the roads I set out on seem to take forever to obtain, achieve, or traverse. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, just maybe, on some things I want I’ll never get, because I’m supposed to be doing something else with someone else somewhere else. Being patient could mean standing for an hour or day or month or year without so much as a nibble on my line. It could mean sending out another application or submission, running one more lap, biting my tongue one more time, praying another prayer, going to one more audition, inviting her again, rehearsing one more time. But mainly it means trusting Jesus, that He’s in control, that He knows what’s best, that He’ll move things forward, or sideways if necessary, (and it will be like a snap of the fingers for Him) when it’s time, when we’re ready, when it makes sense for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. Sometimes the waiting, the trying again, builds the character we need to be able to take the next step or the next.
Third, I never know how things are going to go down. Some days everything goes swimmingly (sorry, couldn’t resist). Some days I’ll question why I’m out there, standing in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Some days I’ll feel queasy and others my nets will fill effortlessly. Some days I’ll catch exactly what I’m looking for, and others my nets will pull up the most random, brilliant treasures—like when my youngest pulled up a horseshoe crab too heavy for him to lift or when I caught a hermit crab, curled up inside his shell. But every day, Jesus is up to great things, kingdom building things. He always has something to teach us. When things are rough and challenging, it reminds us to be dependent on Him and His power and His grace. That we’re not going to get through unless we lean on Him, take shelter in Him, slather Him on like sunscreen to save us from being burned. When things come easily, we’re reminded of how great our God is, that He can move mountains, or fill nets, despite the circumstances. There are people He’ll have us meet walking down the boardwalk of life that need a smile or a hug, or maybe they’ll explain something in a way we never heard before, or they’ll become our new best friend. There are times when we’ll have zero idea what Jesus is up to, but we’ll sense it’s cool, amazing— like the day this week when I hadn’t caught a crab, but I pulled up a brilliantly striped zebra fish, flapping in my net.
I don’t know what your life adventure looks like. But I do know if you let Jesus guide you, if you’re patient with His perfect timing, and if you can let go of how you think things should go, then you’ll be in for an incredible adventure.
After a night of catching no fish at all, Jesus told his disciples:
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it there, and they were unable to haul it in because of the great number of fish. —John 21:6
Laura L. Smith