I glanced at the clock on the car dash. Ten minutes. That was enough time. Right? I pulled into a parking spot at the shopping center. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. All set, you bet. I hopped out, locked the car remotely as I walked away and speed walked to the shop. I went through the glass doors, past the front table and the greeter who called out, “Welcome to Bath and Body.”
“Hello.” I smiled, but kept walking.
I darted to the display near the back, grabbed a tiny clear plastic bottle filled with ruby-colored liquid, flipped the top, and inhaled. Mmmm. It smelled like apples, leaves, and cinnamon. The Perfect Autumn Day lived up to its name. I closed the lid and took three steps to the register where I whipped out my coupon for a free hand sanitizer (no purchase necessary), handed it to the worker in the navy blue checkered apron, and was out the door and back to my car in plenty of time to pick up my youngest from Cross Country practice.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? The free salty chips and tangy salsa at Fiesta Charra or your favorite Mexican restaurant? The free goodie bag at a conference or event? The free Friday download? Or a buy one get one free special?
What if I told you you could have joy, peace, acceptance, and unconditional love for free? We all can. It’s an open invite. This is what Jesus offers. Free. All Jesus asks is that we follow Him.
People have told me, “Jesus’ love and grace sounds too good to be true.”
So does a no purchase necessary coupon.
Others have told me, “I didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love or grace.”
I didn’t buy a single item that day from Bath and Body Works. I didn’t take out their trash or stock their shelves or ring up a customer. I didn’t deserve or earn anything from their shop. But yet my hands are currently free of germs and smell like The Perfect Autumn Day.
Skeptics argue, “There’s no such thing as something free. Someone has to pay for it.”And that’s true.
Bath and Body Works produced that bottle of hand sanitizer, mixed up the fragrance, labeled it, shipped it to the store and put it on display. It cost them something. But it cost me nothing. They were totally willing to incur that cost in hopes of me visiting their shop, viewing (and smelling) their merchandise, enjoying the experience, perhaps coming back.
Our forgiveness and freedom also came for a price. But Jesus willingly paid that price on the cross, so we wouldn’t have to. He was willing to incur that cost so we could be freed from all our baggage, shame, worry, pain, fears and hurt. He wants us to come into His arms, to breathe in the sweet smell of grace (which may or may not smell like pumpkin spice). He hopes we’ll stay.
Fully trusting God to give us something He promises, like peace (John 14:27), is the same as entering that store with my coupon, fully believing they’d let me walk out with one of their products without paying. But holding onto things, is like standing outside The Peace Boutique clutching our coupons in front of the store but not going in. The same holds true with joy, hope, strength, endurance, patience, courage or love. But Jesus promises us ALL these things. For as quick as we are to snatch up freebies from retailers, why are we hesitant to accept all this goodness from God?
Maybe it’s because the world tells us we need to “pay our dues” and “earn our stripes.” But Jesus offers us an upside down kingdom. Where everyone who wants to be a part of it is invited and included. He paid the dues and earned the stripes for us, so we don’t have to. Jesus’ promises of love and grace aren’t while supplies last and they don’t have an expiration date. They’re sitting right in front of all of us right here right now.
It’s as simple as saying, “Jesus, I trust you with this problem. I know you can handle it.”
Or “Jesus, I don’t have a clue what to do. But I know you already know what’s best. Can you please make it clear to me when it’s time to make the decision?”
Or “Jesus,” I am terrified to take the next step, make the call, read the results, or have the surgery. You tell me to be strong and courageous, insisting You’ll be with me. Can You remind me of that? Flood me with courage and peace? I’m trusting You’ll stand at my side giving me exactly what I need.”
Sure, this requires some unclenching of our fists, turning things over, stepping out of our comfort zones. But a free hand sanitizer requires driving to the store, remembering the coupon, and actually redeeming it. It’s still free. We just have to be willing to redeem the offer.
Let’s do it today! Let’s cash in our coupons, accept the love and mercy that Jesus promises will follow us all the days of our lives. Let’s follow Jesus and enjoy the path filled with hope, joy, courage, strength, patience, endurance, love and amazing grace that He promises. It will be more satisfying than a bowl of salty chips and smell better than your favorite autumn fragrance, and oh yeah, it's free.
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My editor noticed I’m over on word count. It seems every single chapter of my manuscript is too many words long, putting the projected length of my book larger than my contract allows. She kindly suggested I start cutting. It’s a problem I have. Using too many words. Just ask my husband who wishes he had a fast forward button to use on me when I’m sharing a story. And although it’s tricky, when I cut away excess words my writing becomes cleaner, tighter, and more impactful. Turns out, there are loads of things I think I need that I can actually live without.
Like apparently our washing machine, at least for a few days. Even though I typically run two loads a day. Even with five people constantly throwing their damp towels and smelly, sweaty t-shirts in the hamper. Gheesh. But what do you know? We all have plenty of clothes to sustain us without “needing” the dirty ones instantly cleaned. Which makes me think it’s high time I sort through our closets and put together some giveaway bags. Yeah, there are some things in my life I think I need, but I can definitely live without.
The light over our kitchen table also isn’t working. Anyone else living this life? The switch is shorted out. I have a call into the electrician, finally. But we’ve been surviving for over two weeks by using other nearby lights to illuminate our meals. Go figure. And we lost a credit card. Cringe. We’ve stopped the account and Visa is sending replacements. But we are managing without it.
Is there something in your life that you would be just fine if it was gone? Is there anything in your life you truly couldn’t live without
I felt I needed those words to tell my story, that machine to wash our clothes, that light to see what I’m eating, and the credit card because, well, things cost money. Turns out, I’m okay without them (at least for a while). But there’s one thing I can not live without. Jesus.
I need Him when I first wake up to center my day, to remind me how His perfect plans have always been in motion and always will be. I need Jesus for the people I love—I ask Him to comfort my child who’s disappointed and to fill another child with peace in the midst of their stressful week. I turn to Jesus for advice on how to handle a conversation, on which projects to focus on, on how to find balance between work and my adorable family. I need Him to help me see others through His eyes. I need Him to help me see myself through His gracious eyes. I need Jesus to help me bite my tongue and extend grace when I’m frustrated. I need Jesus to help me reach out, stand up, or share when it feels easier not to. I crave to catch glimpses of His glory, to drink in His gorgeous creation, His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His acceptance.
Sure, I’ve lived through way too many days when I did not seek Jesus, but I don’t ever want to go there again. Those days were stinky, damp, dark, full of words I shouldn’t have said, things I shouldn’t have done, things I shouldn’t have bought, people I shouldn’t have been with, and places I should not have gone. Those days were full of me striving and yet, somehow always feeling empty. I’m not saying because I hang out with Jesus that I never make mistakes. Nope. He still gives me free will. And I still mess up. All the time.
But with Jesus in my life, I know where to go when I fall. I know I can run to His arms, and He will pick me up and show me what love and forgiveness actually look like. I know when I’m out of time or patience or ideas or answers that He provides all of those things in abundance. I know that Jesus is the rock I can stand on, the love that will never leave me, and the answer to all of my questions. He wants to be all of these things for you, too. All you have to do is ask Him.
I’m really hoping my washer/light switch/credit card situations get fixed ASAP. I’m working on deleting unnecessary words to better tell stories for Jesus. But mainly I pray that I can cling to Him. Because I can do without all that other stuff. But I don’t want to live a single moment without Him.
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
Our icemaker has been broken for months, but I’m chilly approximately 92% of the time, so it hasn’t really been a priority for me. However, this past week the thermometer crept up it to 90 degrees, and my poor kids are melting into puddles before my very eyes, so yes, I called the repairman. Along with the warmer temps, we have ants. I scheduled an appointment with the bug guy. Apparently next Thursday is convenient for him. The check engine light is on in my car. This requires a call to the auto shop. Our disposal isn’t working. I called our plumber, but he’s on vacation for two weeks. Bless. And our bathroom? I promise you do not want to see what it looks like. Let’s just say after I called plumber #2, this job required not one, but two plumbing TRUCKS with “the machine.” Our toilet had to be taken out in the yard. And yes, a shop vac and quite a bit of bleach were necessary. We’re okay for now, but they do need to come back in a couple of weeks to check on things and put a new top or end or something on the pipe they had to cut through. You’re welcome for not having any accompanying pictures of that mess.
Witnessing all of this mayhem, my oldest daughter told me the thing she dreaded most about being a grown-up was that she’d have to make all of these phone calls. #adulting
None of these things get fixed without the phone calls. We really don’t have a choice, unless you’re a mechanic, plumber, electrician, and exterminator all rolled into one. Which, I am clearly not. It rarely takes one call to solve the household problems. This isn’t three clicks of your heels and you’re back in Kansas. So you make another call and another until the sink is fixed, the light goes off, the bugs go away, and yes, the toilet flushes. When we have household problems, we need to make calls and make them persistently. Period. The end. No way out.
And when we have problems with a relationship, stress, depression, being underappreciated, overwhelmed, overtired, or overworked, we also need to call out—to Jesus. Persistently. He will always answer, always know exactly how to help, and never put us on hold (if He did, what kind of Muzak do you think heaven would play?). But sometimes it does take more than one call. Not because Jesus is incapable. Please. This is the guy who knocked down the walls of a giant city with trumpet blasts and rose from the dead. Pretty sure He can take on anything. But sometimes it takes multiple calls to Jesus to set things straight, because it’s a multi-step task, or because we have to do something—use self-control, start the process, send the letter, take the trip, get out of our comfort zone, or possibly, make the phone call, and He’s waiting on us to take action. Sometimes, it takes more than one prayer session, maybe more than dozens of moments on our knees, because it’s simply not time yet. But we still have to make the call. And keep calling. God is there. He’s answering. And He’s listening.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
So what does calling Jesus look like? Same as it looks to call anyone else.
I called my mom this week to debrief on all the end-of-school-year stuff. She was a teacher for decades and certainly understands what the last week in May looks like, but Mom wanted to hear about field day and how I cried when the eighth graders sang their farewell song. Jesus also has a good pulse on the calendar and is aware of what’s going on, but He wants to know about the graduation, awards ceremony, recital, concert, and service. He wants to know if there were any good snacks, how cute your kids were, how much effort it takes to keep track of all of the forms, instruments, sports equipment, and lunch boxes. He wants you to want to share it all with Him. He smiles and claps at the joy of it all. And then in the areas where this is rough—you’re overwhelmed or end of school doesn’t look the same for you as it might for “typical” families, Jesus steps in and helps.
Over lunch the other day, a dear friend and I reached over our sandwiches, grabbed hands, and told each other our most urgent prayer requests. She shared a hope for one of her kids. I shared something going on in our family, something that’s broken, that I simply cannot fix. She nodded, reminded me that God is in control, shared a similar situation her family went through, and promised to pray. Jesus also extends His hands to us. He listens so very well. Of course He already knows all of our dreams and all the things that are off kilter, but this gives Him the opportunity to encourage us, comfort us, to remind us that He has gone through something similar. “I was a human, too,” He says. “I had people lie to me, try to trick me, abandon me, and call me names. I watched people I love get sick and mocked and hurt. I know what your pain feels like. I promise, I’m here for you.”
The other night after I’d told all the kiddos good night, locked the doors, turned out the lights, and crawled under the covers I whispered to my husband something I did that day that disappointed me. I’d lost my temper with one of the kids, and it was eating me up. I’d apologized, but it felt like too little too late. Brett reached over, rubbed my arm and said, “It’s okay. They know you love them. Let it go.” Jesus wants to know, too. I mean He sees when things go down, and He knows when something makes us feel all yucky inside, but He wants to hear us get it off our chests, say, “I’m sorry.” And when we do, Jesus says, “It’s alright. I love you. I took care of that over 2000 years ago on the cross. Time for you to let it go.”
A few days have passed since I started drafting this blog. The repairman came, but he had to order a new icemaker, so I bought a bag of ice at the store and we’re making do. The bug man sprayed for ants and said the first day we’d see more of them as they’re attracted to the bait—eww—and then they should go away. We got my car fixed, but no lie; my husband’s car has a flat tire. I couldn’t make this up. And so we keep making phone calls. Life is unpredictable and often challenging. More things will go wrong in our homes and families with our health and with our dreams, but with Jesus on speed dial, we have an expert to turn to, someone who knows how to fix All. The. Things. But even more fantastic than that—Jesus is the best listener and the ultimate comforter. Add Him to your contact list and star Him as a favorite. Praying to Jesus is the best call you can make today. And everyday.
When I was little I had a picture book, a Golden Book, (does anyone remember those?) starring Grover from Sesame Street. It was titled The Monster at the End of This Book. The plot is Grover warning the reader not to turn the page, because he is so frightened about the monster on the last page. Turns out, the monster on the last page is Grover. Sometimes the monsters we are most frightened of are ourselves.
You guys I am typically a smiley, happy girl. I’m a morning person. I’m a hugger. I love sunshine and daisies. My glass is half full. But there is a monster that lives inside of me. She came out yesterday, on the phone with a customer service representative. I said things out loud to this poor woman like, “I don’t need you to repeat the same sentence over and over to me.” Oh my.
What gets in to me? Why in the world would I treat someone on the other end of the phone with disrespect and unkindness? I can try to justify that I was extremely frustrated, that it was for my college daughter’s debit card, and she’s going to need it as she heads out of town and back to campus. And I love my daughter and instinctively protect her. But the woman whose job it is to process debit cards does not deserve my sass. No one does.
I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, if the Christmas returns or bills brought out your inner-monster? Maybe you turn into monster-mode in rush hour traffic, long lines or after a long day of working or parenting or all of the above. If so, how do you handle these emotions? What does it take for you to simmer down?
Me? I literally had to get off the phone. I ended the call without any resolution whatsoever by saying, “I’m so frustrated I just need to go. Have a great day.” I did sneak in ‘have a great day’, but no one was buying my brand of fake friendliness.
Once off the phone, I walked a lap around the house, took a couple of deep breaths, and tried to figure out why I got so riled up. God reminded me no matter what happened on the other end of the phone, I could control what happened on my end, and I had chosen poorly. I immediately asked God to forgive me. Because hadn’t my pride just taken over? My feeling of entitlement? So not pretty. I apologized to my daughter who had overheard the whole conversation, because I was ashamed of how I'd handled the call. Very poor modeling on my end. I don’t know how to apologize to the woman on the phone, or to the woman from Time Warner I spoke to last month when canceling cable, or to the Samsung representative I spoke to last summer when my washing machine was exploding. But I’m doing it here. A public confession of my rudeness. I didn’t curse or call anyone names, but I was extremely impatient and ungrateful. And I am so sorry. This is not behavior becoming of anyone. And it is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when He instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To all of you customer service reps, YOU ARE AMAZING FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL OF THE NONSENSE. I appreciate each and every one of you. I can’t imagine what you hear in a day. I am so sorry I did not treat you with the love you deserve.
This monster inside of me. I do not like her. Like Grover, I fear getting to the part in the story where I emerge—possibly when I need to call the insurance company. So I’m taking this one to God. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (7:15), I want to say, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
The good news? Jesus. Jesus forgives all of this yuck, and the rest of the ickiness inside us, too. He restores our brokenness and heals our wounds. He files down our fangs, clips our claws, and tames our roars. And then even though He sees plain and clear the monster part, Jesus pulls us in close, hugs us and says, “I love you.”
As Paul asks then answers a few verses down (v. 24-25) to the Romans, “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Brandon Heath puts it similarly in his song, “Wait and See”:
There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans He's made for me
I'll have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet
This is the very best news. If there’s any percent monster in you (even a blue, fluffy one) then know it’s okay. There’s hope for us. God loves us anyway. He’s not finished with us. He has great plans for us that go way above and beyond phone calls and driving through traffic. Whew. We can turn the page and do so with courage and expectance of how God will guide us and help us back on track when we stray.
P.S. They’ve animated The Monster at the End of This Book and Grover narrates it. If you have a little one, this is a brilliant way to entertain them when their inner monster is flaring.
‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even our Elf on the Shelf.
In the morning, I woke an hour before I set my alarm my brain whirring a million miles a minute. Although I’d felt like I’d been preparing nonstop for Christmas since we lit the first Advent candle, when I’d gone through my closet the day before and started sorting through bags and laying things in piles, I realized I’d done a pretty poor job of shopping for my amazing kiddos.
I’d purchased, gathered, and wrapped the teacher gifts, the cousin gifts, the baby gifts, the gifts for Columbus, and the gifts for Cincinnati. I’d planned menus, shopped for food. Had it in separate bags in the fridge, freezer, and pantry for the appointed visits and times. I’d mailed the cards.
But aye aye aye! Where was the jersey I’d ordered? Where were the p.j. pants? I did push “confirm order,” didn’t I? Did I ever buy the hat I’d considered purchasing? I felt like I had almost nothing for my four kids who were definitely on the nice list. I felt like I’d failed. Because I’m the mom. Because I love my kids. Because it’s my “job” to take care of the Christmas gifts. And I’d done a stinky job at it. I lay there under my covers tangled in self-induced guilt, then got up, read my Bible (but didn’t let it sink in—too preoccupied with failure), brushed my teeth, and was still teetering on panic mode. I confessed my freak out to my husband who kicked into the most beautiful gear.
“What do we need? I love last minute shopping. Give me a minute. I’ll go to Walmart.”
Neither of these words is even in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. I do not do last minute. And I cannot do Walmart. I’m sorry. It’s just too everything for me to handle.
But my husband, he lives for this stuff. He probably passed around wassail and cookies to the workers. And he gave me the gift I needed most for Christmas, something I’d rarely get for myself—grace.
You guys. This is not a pass/fail class. I don’t know where you feel you may have failed this holiday season. Did you forget the postman? Your boss? Your assistant? Did you burn the roast or break the dish? Did the paint on your crafts smear? Jesus doesn’t care.
Or… maybe you nailed it. Maybe your turkey turned out golden-brown. Maybe you made your list, checked it twice, and got gold stars next to every single line item. Maybe Chip and JoJo called and asked how you made your cards and tree and table all look so perfect. Jesus doesn’t care. Either way. And it’s not that He doesn’t care about you. Quite the opposite. He cares so much about you and your heart and your peace, that He would never judge you on your performance. Jesus is not keeping score or judging or measuring your worth on your holiday checklists, cooking performance, or ability to find the perfect gifts.
This wasn’t going to be a blog. I was going to take the week off. So there’s only one picture and I didn’t check for spelling errors—so sorry, not sorry. But I needed you guys to know. That I fail. That you fail. That none of us are perfect. Nobody. And it’s okay. You are loved. You are valued. Exactly as is. No matter how someone (including you) would have rated your Christmas performance.
We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.—Romans 3:23-24
In a world where everyone is trying to advance, and make it to the next round, and get the judges to pick them, you don’t have to. You’ve already made it. Jesus came once and for all to settle the score. You’re in. By yourself there will be days when you fall short, but with Jesus you’ll still always come out on top. Curl up the fireplace with a blanket, a book, some cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream, plus maybe a candy cane, and take a deep breath. Breathe in His grace.
Because, that’s what Christmas is all about.
My youngest has always been allergic to peanuts. A few Zyrtec and Kleenex won’t take care of his problem. Peanut allergies are life threatening. We’ve cleared our home of anything remotely resembling a nut. We’ve become experts at reading ingredient labels. We bake our own treats for parties and celebrations to ensure his safety. Epipens are stashed in every car, purse, backpack and cupboard of our house.
This summer Maguire had his annual allergist appointment. The doc did a skin test to check the status of his allergy and…there was no reaction. Zero. Next came a blood test to confirm the findings of the skin test. The results…negative. No peanut allergy? What? There was still one more test. Dun, dun dun…The Peanut Challenge, which basically consists of eating peanut butter for two hours in the doctor’s office while they monitor you. If something goes wrong, the doctor has the antidote to rescue you. If all goes well, you’re officially deemed no longer allergic. That day Maguire ate spoonfuls of Jif, and he was completely fine.
It was incredible. Life changing. Freeing! Maguire was thrilled he could now eat Reese’s and go out for ice cream without having to ask the worker for a clean scoop to ensure no nutty remnants from another flavor touched his vanilla. We were thrilled our son was safer in those situations. But despite all of the joy, gratefulness, and freedom, it was oddly hard to accept. Maguire has always been allergic to peanuts. How could he just start eating them now? How was it possible that Maguire was instantly free? He hadn’t taken a class, eaten pounds of spinach, or stood on his head to remove his allergy. It just vanished.
The same is true in our relationship with Christ. We don’t have to do anything, eat anything, turn around three times or pray a set number of minutes each day. Just by accepting that Jesus died for us, cleans our slates. We are no longer soiled by our recent or long gone past. We are not condemned by our mistakes, strangled by our fears or chained to our worries. I know that. Just like I know Maguire has outgrown his allergy. But how often do I question the freedom Christ offers?
When the school office called asking where Maguire’s Epipen was, I answered hesitantly, heat pounding, “He doesn’t need one any more.” Was he safe? I knew he was, and yet…
I put a note in his lunch and saw a peanut butter sandwich nestled inside. It freaked me out. I’ll have to sanitize his lunch box. No, I don’t. Because peanuts can’t hurt him any more. And we are also safe. Free. Loved. We don’t need backup medication or extra special sanitation.
Jesus says, “I love you. Just how you are.”
And I believe Him. Most of the time. Yet some days, I feel the need to prove myself—to God, to the world, to my family. I don’t want to let others down. I don’t want to let God down. I don’t want to let down my guard. Because I want to be a good wife and mama. I want to tell great stories. I want to be the kind of person Jesus wants me to be. Which are great desires. Just like keeping my son safe is a great desire.
But I have to accept that medical tests proved Maguire is no longer allergic. And more importantly I have to full out accept Jesus’ grace. That it is truly ALL I need. I have to stop doubting and second-guessing. I don’t have to take things into my own hands, just in case God doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t capable of handling the situation. Because God knows everything. And He can handle everything. In my life and in yours.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
What are you freaking out about right now? The balance of your bank account? Your relationship status? Your grades? Your quiet time, playing time, personal time, airtime, time of departure or arrival?
Christ’s grace is sufficient. Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I have this. Trust me. Don’t believe me? Look at all the times I’ve guided, saved, directed, and held you up in the past. Still don’t believe me? I died to save you, that’s how much I love you.”
“Right. He’s got this.” We don’t have to freak out. We do need to do our part. But then we have to trust. And when we do, we can outgrow our dependency on trying to prove ourselves worthy. Jesus says we are worthy. Jesus says He loves us. And nothing we eat or do or forget or achieve can ever change that.
“So apparently when you all signed up for your fitness passes, you signed a waiver agreeing you could be photographed or filmed to promote the Rec Center,” my instructor pauses. “Do any of you have a problem with that? Because I totally understand if you do.” Her blue eyes glance around the room, because she knows most of us, because she cares about our wellness and about our privacy. “They’re filming today, and we can always move you or organize you, so you don’t show up on film.”
Someone commented they would have worn nicer workout gear if they’d known. What was I even wearing?
Someone else suggested they weren’t on their best game today and asked to move to the corner. Not a horrible idea.
If we’re being filmed, let’s face it; we’d want our best to show.
It got me thinking about what it would be like if my entire day was filmed. Would it change what I wore? What I said? How I reacted? Would there be things I would beg the cameraperson to delete? Yes. Other things I’d ask if they could retake? Definitely. Would I want a handful of do-overs? Absolutely, plus a few more, please. What if someone was filming my entire week or month or year of life? Gheesh!
What if they were filming yours?
There are some frivolous things that come to mind, like I’d need to clean my house, and then my car. I probably wouldn’t wear my worn-out slippers as often as I do, and maybe I’d be motivated to cook something a bit more elaborate than tacos for dinner. I might question if it’s necessary for me to nibble on all of those chocolate chips at 11:00 AM? I might answer, yes, yes it is necessary, but still I might question it.
But there are way more important things I’d want to focus on, like every word that comes out of my mouth—is it affirming? Is it hopeful, encouraging, pointing people back to Jesus? Or is it whiny, prideful or sarcastic? Am I fritzing too much time on social media and Googling random questions that clutter my head, or am I using my time wisely? Would I be less judgmental? Would I be more attentive to my kids, more adoring to my husband?
The thing is, someone can see everything we do, and it’s not Siri, Echo, Google Home, or Big Brother. It’s God. He sees us waking up and knows the first thought that pops into our heads—good or bad. He sees how we act when we’re stuck in traffic, when our team beats our rival, when we’re scrambling to meet a deadline, when that certain person texts, and when we’re faced with a difficult decision. He sees all of it, and no matter how badly (or well) we act, no matter how many times we mess up (or get it right), He loves us.
I type that and it still blows me away.
Jesus sees everything I do, knows everything I think, and loves me anyway. Loves you anyway.
If the cameras were rolling would you act differently today?
There are so many things I could do better. So many things I’m working on in my life. Quite frankly, knowing Jesus loves me that much inspires me to continuously try to fine-tune my attitude and heart. Not because He demands it, but because I am so honored and overwhelmed that He cares that much about me (about you, too!). Some days I do all right. Others, not so much. But I am grateful that every day, the God who created heaven and earth is by my side. He offers love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control when I don’t have it on my own. And when I’m too stubborn or weak to accept the beautiful fruit He offers, He still loves me. Despite it all.
And that? God loving us no matter how many scenes of our lives we mess up? That sounds like the best love story of all time.
Would you do anything differently, if you were being filmed?
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
I have coffee splatters on the console of my car and a smear of toothpaste on my bathroom counter. A drop of shimmery lavender nail polish marks the top of my planner. There’s a spot on my jeans that’s been there so long, I’m not sure how it got there, but my suspicions are it’s chocolate in one form or another. And then last night, somebody (no one will be named) dropped a piece of pizza on the living room carpet. Which happens to be white. With six of us running at full speed, our house is lived in, to say the least. The dropped pizza was no big deal. But I couldn’t let the red splash of tomato sauce just sit in the middle of the floor, so I dug under the sink for that carpet spray stuff. I read the back and sprayed and scrubbed and scrubbed a little more. And then I turned it around—reading the label, Spot Remover.
Which made me laugh, because yesterday morning when I’d washed my face and noticed the twin zits on the end of my chin, I’d gotten out a product called Super Spot Remover—the cleverly named zit gel I keep handy for just such occasions.
I am covered in spots!
But my spots aren’t just literal spots. I am also covered in spots you can’t see. Splatters when I yell at one of my kids instead of talking through a rough moment. Dribbles when I forget to bring the dessert or sign the form or write the check or text back. Giant globs when I recall how I tucked God under my pillow in college and did things my way instead of leaning on Him. Shameful spots for things I’ve done in my past. Stains as I struggle with a broken relationship. Big blobs whenever I doubt God’s perfect plans in the every day (how will I ever get everything done on my to-do list?) or in the big decisions of life (where should my daughter go to college?). I could go on. I am covered in so many spots inside and out that I resemble a leopard.
And although I use stain stick on my clothes, spot remover on my carpet and face, spray on my counters, there is no cool new product that can clean my inside spots. It’s like the animal in the children’s book, Put Me in the Zoo. He can change the color and size of his spots. He can put them on the wall or on a tree, “But then,” the animal says, “All my spots are back on me.” And I can smile and laugh and apologize. I can move forward and try to bury my past and doubts and insecurities and shame and guilt under the busyness of the week or the façade of having it all together. I can try harder, work more, do better, but in the end all my spots are back on me.
Or at least I used to think so. But I’ve discovered the ultimate spot remover. And it doesn’t come in a bottle, it never expires and it’s absolutely free. It’s having a relationship with Jesus. See, He scrubbed all of my spots clean. So clean, He who knows everything about me—all my breakdowns and blunders—completely forgives me and loves me and doesn’t notice those old spots at all.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried--
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him--our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed. Is 53:5
No more spots to stick in a box or on a tree. No more spots can come back on me. Or on you. Whatever our spots may be, whatever color or size they are, no matter where we’ve tried to stick them or how we’ve tried to change them, Jesus died so that all of my sins and yours, all of our mistakes and failures past, present, and future were nailed to the cross and washed completely clean. And with all of those spots removed once and for all, we can clearly see our beautiful true reflections.
Do you have any spots you're working on removing? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment on the Read More or Comments tab below.
Laura L. Smith