“If we’re not living in the present right now, well then…” my friend, Beth said, raising her eyebrows at all the ways quarantine has meant not being able to plan ahead for tomorrow or next week or July, because we have no idea what will be open or what will be safe or what things will look like.
Interestingly enough she said it on a day we hadn’t seen each other since before shut down, at least ten prior. Yes, we’d traded texts, calls and emails, but in person? Uh uh. Did I mention we were supposed to have taken a trip to Israel together in the midst of all this shelter in place? Instead, I hadn’t even seen her face, unless you count on Instagram.
Her son asked if he could go see the horses that day and she thought, Yeah, let’s savor this sunny day. Meanwhile at my house, I finished editing a chapter and wanted to breathe in some fresh air on the trails. And so I went. None of those details were coincidences. And here Beth and I were standing on the same trail at the same time, as if God knew how much we would benefit from seeing each other. Oh, right. He did. God planned all of it—the horses, the timing, the ideas. For this particular moment.
The sun warmed our skin. The birds twittered in the branches. Beth and I, from a distance, got caught up on our kids, writing, mental health, the state of our world and what God was whispering to us. If either Beth or I had been feeling like we needed to get another thirty minutes of work done or another load of laundry thrown in, we would have missed it. But we didn’t. Because we both decided to embrace the day and God’s calling.
The present, as it turns out, is all we have, and it’s pretty amazing.
I’m not the first person to come to this conclusion. John Mark Comer states in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.
Or as the Psalmist says almost identically but a bit more succinctly, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” Psalm 118:24
So the question is, what are you doing with your present? What am I doing with mine? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to learn more about? What sounds delicious for dinner? What book have you been meaning to read?
Have you been hoping to spend more time with your kids? Pull out a deck of cards or dust off your bikes. Have you been thinking you’d like to start working out? Do a dozen jumping jacks or push ups or burpees or sit ups. Been meaning to start reading the Bible. Put this blog down, open up your Bible or Bible App and go to John 1 and read the first five verses. Meditate on them. Has something been on your mind? Tell someone. Stand up for something. Support the cause. Ask for help. Are you trusting God in this day and following where He’s leading?
Will you get everything you’ve ever wanted to do completed today? Of course not. Will you end racism, cure COVID-19, build that beach house, travel to Greece, ummm maybe not today. But…today you can start. You can do something.
You can watch, read or listen to media created by black artists and thought leaders. You can wear a mask and wash your hands. You can put aside some extra change, listen to that podcast, do some research, reach out to that friend. Today is packed with possibilities. This is the day the Lord has made. This random Wednesday in June when the world has been closed, but is slowly opening back up. This day when we’re wearing masks and standing apart and systemic racism is breaking our hearts and life does not look like last summer or the one before.
Looking for ideas to embrace this day, the present? Jesus tells us, “Follow me. Love your neighbor. Go and tell the world about me. Be of good cheer. Feed the poor. Come away with me. Pray with me. Drop your nets. Do not fear. Shine your light. Those are some pretty great places to start.
We get to choose if we’ll embrace this day. If we’ll obey when we feel Jesus nudging us. If we’ll get out of the house if He asks us. If we’ll call or text the person He places in our mind or heart. If we’ll contemplate what He has in store what He wants us to say. If we’ll try some of these things Jesus instructs us to do, if we’ll trust Him, and get excited about His perfect plans, if we’ll rejoice in this day, be glad in it. Or…if we’ll complain, mope, try grinding it out by ourselves, numb all our feelings with distractions, and wish things were different.
This is the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24). So what are you going to do with it?
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I recently received this fabulous package of goodies from one of my closest friends, Amy. Hanging out with her is better than any subscription box, because throughout the year she mails me the cutest, most adorable packages packed with things that make me smile. I knew it was from her before opening it, because even the outside of her packages are exciting—covered in star stickers and silver Sharpie swirls with fun lettering.
I began pulling out the contents one by one. This package was extra packed with goodness, because it was for my birthday. There was a separate bag within the envelope with this t-shirt in it that I kind of had to wiggle out, then unfold, and then my breath caught in my throat and a hot tear leaked out of my left eye. Not because of a t-shirt. Because of what it said: Courage, dear heart.
And yes, I am a huge Narnia fan (okay, geek) and this is a phrase Aslan says to Lucy on the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when everyone is losing hope and it reminds me that Jesus whispers the same to me when I am losing hope. When those around me only see the stormy waves. When the boat I’m standing on is rocking and I’m blinded by mist and my mouth is full of pungent salty sea water.
The words. This shirt. The ship. It all transports me to the moment Jesus and the disciples were on a boat and a storm kicked up—I mean one doozie of a storm, tossing their boat all over the place. Waves and saltwater blinded and gagged the disciples. Jesus was napping, because He wasn’t concerned. But the disciples were majorly freaked out and frightened, so they called out to Him.
The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and Jesus was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”
Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. Matthew 8:23-27
Jesus turned to them before He stilled the waters and said, “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” And in His question, I hear the inverse of what He tells us to do. Jesus tells us to have courage and asks why we would ever be cowards—after all He’s right there next to us in our proverbial boats. He calls us dear hearts, because we’re dear to Him and wonders why we’ve changed our own names to ‘faint hearts’?
The words from the shirt, this scene from the boat, rang specifically true to me this past year—the one leading up to my birthday, the one I’d just concluded, and somehow without realizing it these were the exact words that had been helping me hang on.
Rewind a bit to when I had my annual mammogram. And the radiologist found something wonky on the film. And they had me come back in. And then it was still not clear what they were seeing, so I had to have a third mammogram. Praise Jesus, I am fine. But in the midst of the uncertainty, I heard Jesus whispering, Courage, dear heart. I saw him with me in that sterile hospital room just past the giant mammogram machine, steady and sure, giving me the courage I needed.
And again, when I had another medical test go awry, with an uncertain result, and I had to go back in for another look. My boat rocked a bit, but I saw Jesus with me as I came out of sedation, literally saw His face giving me the courage I needed, felt how much He loves me, that He holds me dear.
This year was a year of God continually asking me to be bolder, to ask bolder questions, to be bolder in my faith, to speak up more boldly in bold ways about and for Him. And, let’s just get this straight, bold is not how I lean. I prefer zero confrontation, making everyone happy, keeping the peace. But each time I would waiver and wonder, God why? Are you sure? He’d say, “Trust me. Find your strength in me. I’ll give you everything you need. Courage, dear heart.”
This phrase isn’t just cute words from a children’s book or a t-shirt. They’re a directive from God: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”—Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV
And this shirt printed who knows where delivered from Nashville in a colorful envelope from a caring friend spoke over me everything Jesus told me all year. I share this in case someone out there needs to hear it today, “Courage, dear heart.”
Whatever you’re facing, no matter how dark the storm, Christ reminds us to have courage, to be brave, because He is with us, and He is Master over the Storms. He can calm them in one word. “Silence.”
One of the fun bonus items in my envelope was a pack of Zinnia seeds. The promise of blooms in the form of tiny brown seeds. It’s a lot to ask an itty-bitty seed to bury itself in the soil, to break through its protective seed coating and drive its roots into the soil that feeds it, to stretch up out of its comfort zone into the light. But if those seeds are brave enough, they’ll bloom.
So will we. If we’ll take courage. The good news? The courage doesn’t have to come from us. We don’t have to be instinctively bold or brave. We just need to find our courage in Jesus. The bravest of them all. In Him we’ll find the hope and strength we need.
So, “Courage, dear heart.”
Jesus loves you.
He’ll give you the nutrients and light and stability you need. He’ll calm the waves and hold you tight. He’s on your side and stronger than anything you’re up against. Courage. Find it in Him.
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Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
In 2014 my friend, Amy, was driving through Cincinnati on her way to Columbus, so we met up for mochas and chocolate croissants at Panera. We’re both writers, so as we sipped our frothy coffees and nibbled on buttery pastries, we also brainstormed projects. At the time, I had a handful of novels published, but hadn’t dabbled in any nonfiction.
“I think you should write a devotional,” Amy said.
I nodded, wrote in my journal with the water-colored flowers on the front “Devotional?” But something in me pushed away her idea, made excuses. I had zero qualifications. I read devotionals, you know the books like Jesus Calling where you get a one-pager of inspiration for the day, but had never written one. I was working on a new novel, with a plot and a character I adored.
Amy elaborated on possibilities and potential formats. I listened, and absorbed, but didn’t act. Although, the idea stuck with me. A few days later, I scribbled this in fast, messy handwriting in the margin of the Bible study I was working through (Gideon by Priscilla Shirer): Should I take Amy’s advice and write a devotional? Have my blogs been leading up to this?
In the weeks following, I finessed my novel, and pitched it to editors. One publishing house showed a lot of interest. The editor there championed my proposal through two rounds of board meetings, and then in the third and final round my manuscript got turned down.
One month later, the same editor unexpectedly reached out to me. She was looking for an author to write a devotional and wondered if I’d be interested. God closed one door and opened another. Just like that. A door He’d already cracked slightly ajar by having Amy plant that seed of an idea in my head two years prior. The editor contacted me in October 2016. And today, February 5, 2019 my first devotional, 5-Minute Devotions for Girls releases. It’s craziness. It’s how God works.
Every good and perfect gift comes from above. —James 1:17
Fun fact: that novel? It still hasn’t found a home. I’m sharing all of this to say; maybe someone is planting an idea in your head today that is actually a seed from God. Maybe someone is telling you, “no,” today, but that “no” is building the foundation for an even better “yes”. Maybe something you know God has called you to do is taking longer than you ever imagined (Amy’s and my conversation was almost five years ago!) or down a road that looks completely different than the one you’d mapped out. God is at work. His ideas sometimes feel or sound a little out there. They usually are. His timeline looks completely different than ours. In fact, His isn’t even a line. The way we envision something is typically just a flat, colorless version of the multi-faceted prism He has in mind.
So hang in there. Wait. Be patient. Be obedient. Listen to Him and the things He’s whispering to you. Do what God asks. Seek Him. Love Him. He’s God, so He can work out all the other stuff, the important stuff, the details we don’t even know exist, let alone how they need tended to. And I promise, you’ll be amazed, and bowled over by His good and perfect gifts.
This week my gorgeous friend, Shena, is stepping in and guest blogging. Shena is a wife and mom who is breaking into a calling of discipleship and teaching. She hopes always to chase the beauty of obedience and to stir a generation to see God's kindness. Shena and I could sit for hours drinking coffee, talking about Jesus, and discussing books. After reading her inspiring words check her out here: ShenaAshcraft.com and follow her here: instagram.com/shenaashcraft/
Take it Shena....
There are twelve miles of wide-open road between my house and my church. Speed limit 45. Along that route, there's a bend in the road where I click the Jeep's cruise control down a few miles per hour to match the limit posted on the sign. In that bend, I can assume there will be a county Sherriff's deputy tucked in among the brush and rubble of an abandoned restaurant. He might be running radar or filing paperwork. Either way, his presence slows me down. The black and gold colors remind me of what I already know: The speed limit's 45, Shena! Slow. your. roll.
By the time I cross paths with Mr. Sherriff's Deputy, I'm all ten-and-two, eyes-on-the-road, doin'-the-speed-limit. Thank you very much. Because I know he's there. I know he's checking my obedience. And, hello, I don't want to get a ticket on my way to CHURCH!
Whether I'm going to a mid-week Bible study or Sunday Church Day, I get to church ticket-free (so far). And I get there fast. Because I love it. I crave church. I'm better because of it. I'm not better in the ten-and-two-driving-past-the-deputy sense of the word. I'm certainly not what some would call "better behaved"; because something about church and God's word and gathering with these folks makes me feisty, and energetic, and a bit unbridled. Actually, I think church makes me more like me. More like the me God created.
Recently, my church hosted a mid-week worship and prayer night. I was there alone. My husband and son were not flanking my sides as they do on Sundays. (I feel God so purely when the three of us worship together.) But that evening I was solo. And late. And the band was passionately quiet, singing "Do it Again." The reality of the lyrics settled into my heart. "Your promise still stands. Great is Your faithfulness. I'm still in Your hands. This is my confidence, You've never failed me yet." Thank you, Jesus, for your faithfulness.
The song ended and we were prompted to pray with the people we came with. Or, in my case, the other late-comers seated behind me--two lovely mamas whom I adore. We chatted and hugged and uncharacteristically went to our knees. Kneeling in a triangle, holding each others' hands, we prayed. I listened to the honey-sweet testimony of a child healed from infection. We prayed thanksgiving. I heard the heart-aching plea for God to show himself as kind and near. We prayed for revelation. I shared how good and clear God had been in answering my prayers. We prayed nothing. I couldn't speak.
After the service, sitting in my car preparing for the 12-mile drive home, I realized my heart had been stirred. My faith had grown. Testimonies and vulnerabilities and encouragements. These things had grown me. It's not the first time. It happens frequently. Meeting like that, in a building where other Jesus-followers are meeting, moves my introverted feet forward in my faith.
In Hebrews 10, the author describes how life changed for God's people once Jesus came. When Jesus died on the cross, he cleared away our sins (all of them!) and then laid a path for us to draw up close to God. Then the author says, basically (my paraphrase), "Do it. Draw near and hold onto hope!" Then in verses 24 and 25 he says: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
How kind of this friend of the Hebrews to say, "Hey, don't you forget about each other. Think about how you can support and encourage and love your fellow Christians to love better and act better. Let them do the same for you. And, by the way, you can only do this well if you're seeing them, meeting with them."
That is what I witnessed that evening at church and many days before and since! The closeness of meeting together stirred me up and spurred me on toward love and right actions. Other days, friends have come alongside to straighten my path, post a speed limit, gently call me out of my disobedience (or more likely my disbelief).
Years ago I traveled that stretch of going-to-church road to spend time studying the book of Hebrews with a woman whose example I admired greatly. One conversation wound about, per usual, from Bible study-ing to wife-ing, to mom-ing. Our chat landed on the little hurts I was letting fester. And over hot tea and honey, knees pulled up on the couch, she told me (and these are my words of her gentle reprimand) I was wrong and impulsive in my reactions to small offenses. She pointed me to Scripture that said I should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" because "human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires." (James 1:19-20) She encouraged me to spend the next week studying and praying about what God has to say about covering minor offenses in love.
God did a sweet, chiseling work in that "meeting together" with a woman wiser and bolder than I. He used her to tell me to slow down, to know God's truth, and act in obedience. Then He planted that time she and I spent together in my memory. It became the kinder, less intimidating deputy reminding of what I already knew: Slow to anger, Shena! Choose love.
In growing closer to God, I can study alone. I can hear the voice of God in His scriptures. I can feel His presence through prayer. But I travel the distance to meet together because, as a believer, I am placed on both sides of the Hebrews 10 passage. I meet to be encouraged and to offer encouragement. To be stirred and to stir. I need to hear and I need to say, "Be encouraged, grow your faith. And, Girl, sometimes, slow. your. roll."
Who are your "meet together" folks? Can you sense the position you fill when you meet together with other believers? I pray you can. Do you know there's a gap left when you don't? I pray you'll step into it.
Do you remember that song from preschool, “Where is Thumbkin?” Thumbkin?!!! Oh my gosh, how was that even a song? Allow me to get it stuck in your head:
Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin?
Here I am. Here I am.
How are you today, sir?
Very fine, I thank you.
Run and hide.
Run and hide
If you’re not familiar with this classic, there are hand-motions. Because preschool. You hold your hands behind your back and at the appointed time each thumb makes an appearance in front of your body to say, “Here I am.” After the quick thumb conversation, both thumbs run back and hide behind your back. This is repeated with all of your fingers. Okay, so honest? I loved taking my thumbs and hiding them behind my back. Why was this so fun for me? Maybe because I’m an introvert. Maybe even at the age of three I was grateful for the time a conversation (even between thumbs) could be over, and I had permission to “run and hide.”
One on one I want to talk with you all day long and get to know you and your entire life story. But put me in the middle of a group of five or more (for example a preschool classroom) and I’m done for. In front of a crowd with a microphone is easy breezy for me, oddly not an issue, but in the crowd? Yikes. Run away.
But here’s the deal. Everyone wants to be seen, to be noticed, to be acknowledged, honestly, to be loved. Every one. So when I duck my head or stick in earbuds, I may be protecting myself from a socially awkward moment, but I’m robbing someone else of being heard, of being seen. Do you ever avoid conversations? Why? How do you go about doing it?
The Bible doesn’t talk about Jesus being an extrovert or an introvert. I’m guessing, because He’s perfect at everything else, that He’s the perfect balance between the two. We see Jesus both speaking to thousands of people and intentionally getting away from crowds to pray and rest. You know what else we see as we follow Jesus’ days on earth by reading the Bible? Him talking to people. Him looking folks in the eye. All people. The ones who were in his face vying for his attention AND those who were trying to be invisible.
Jesus spoke to the obnoxious Pharisees who thought they had all the answers about religion, even though Jesus is clearly the only one who has ever had a corner on that market. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, the rich, corrupt tax collector hiding in a tree, because He was too ashamed to face Jesus. Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman at the well who intentionally went to the well when no one else would be there, so she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Jesus started a conversation with the woman caught in adultery who had been thrown on the street. Jesus wants to talk to you, too. No matter what your mood, or what you think you do or don’t know about a certain topic, or where you’ve been, or what you look like, or how busy you are, or what you’re ashamed of.
And Jesus calls us to do the same to the people around us.
I’m not saying we have to engage in super long conversations with every person we run into today. But I’m challenging us—both the extroverts who would prefer to be at the center of attention, to tell their stories and jokes AND the introverts who would prefer to remain silent—to look someone in the eye, congratulate them on a win or a good grade or a promotion or an anniversary. Ask a couple of questions, dig deeper than saying (or singing), “How are you today, sir?” before you ‘run and hide’ behind your comfortable group of friends, your sarcasm, your work, your to-do list, or your sunglasses.
What if each of us reached out to one additional person today in a genuine way? This could be via text or email or sending a card or yes, actually going up to someone and asking what their favorite song from the show or service was, or how their family is adjusting to the new school year, or what they thought of the guest speaker, or maybe even as simple as, “I haven’t met you yet. What’s your name?” What if we each helped one more person be known, heard, seen, understood, even in the smallest of ways. What if we all took a lesson from Jesus and helped someone else realize that they are loved, that they are accepted, that God is good? Because we are all loved. Us, too. Introverts and extroverts. We are all accepted. You, me, and the garbage man. And God is so very good. Let’s spread the word. Let’s engage.
And Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. —Mark 12:17
When Jesus reached the spot (where Zacchaeus was hiding), He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” –Luke 19:5
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”—John 4:7
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” —John 8:11-12
Last week I went to the annual Christian Book Association convention in Nashville. The event was at the Opryland Hotel. Which is so crazy cool. It’s like Disneyland in a hotel. Well, without the rides and characters. But there are waterfalls – in the hotel. And a whole section called, “The Delta,” because it looks like New Orleans, complete with lampposts and wrought iron balconies. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and two separate Starbucks (there might be more, but I saw two) within the hotel. It really is insane. And extremely easy to get lost in. Especially if you’re directionally challenged, like myself.
One of the huge benefits of traveling to Nashville for me is visiting with my sweetheart friend, Amy. I walked her to the place in the convention center (which is part of the hotel) where her book signing was taking place. Side note—oh my, check out her newest book, Night Night Sleepytown, so adorable! Then I turned around to head toward the entrance of the hotel, so I could grab an Uber to a meeting I had across town. Except where the heck did they hide the entrance? I walked down one set of blue-carpeted stairs, turned down a hallway with white doors, but didn’t have any sense of certainty to where I was going. I asked a group of women wearing name badges and none of them knew where the entrance was either. I tried another hall and spotted the back of a worker in uniform walking off into the distance.
“Excuse me,” I called. Please let him have heard me.
He turned. “Are you lost?” He asked in a beautiful, lolling accent.
“To be honest, completely lost.” I answered. “Do you know where the Cascade Lobby is?”
“Yes,” he smiled and started walking. I followed. “My first two weeks here, I couldn’t find anything,” he confessed.
“But now, you’re a pro?” I asked.
He laughed and kept walking. Soon we arrived at a crossroads where I assumed he would point me toward the exit. I paused.
“You know where you’re going?” He asked.
“No.” I answered. Because not one thing looked familiar. “But I don’t want to take you away from whatever you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you so much,” I sputtered.
We continued for ten minutes. Yes, it took that long to get to the lobby, so we had time to chat. I learned he was from the Dominican Republic. He thinks Nashville is “cool”, but misses home. He plans to go back and finish University, then return to Nashville. One thing my new friend said hit so hard. He was saying something about a training session he had that was near, “Where I found you.” As if he had found me. Even though I was the one who was lost, desperately searching for a way out. Even though I was the one who was so excited when I saw him, when I found him. Or so I thought. But of course what my new friend said was true, he found me and put me back on course. I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness and patience. Man, I’m sure he had a lot of work to keep that hotel running, but he acted as if he had nothing else to do, but walk me along.
Guys, this is what Jesus does!
I’m walking around confused, headed the wrong way, worried about this, stressed about that, putting too much importance on this thing, and not paying enough attention to that thing. I’m looking for answers, but don’t know where to start. I head up those stairs, and down that hallway. And ask the wrong people for advice. Then Jesus finds me. And He patiently, gently, takes all the time in the world to escort me back to where I need to go, as if He has nothing else to do, even though He’s fairly busy caring for the world.
Jesus gave them another parable:
“There once was a woman who had ten valuable silver coins. When she lost one of them, she swept her entire house, diligently searching every corner of her house for that one lost coin. When she finally found it, she gathered all her friends and neighbors for a celebration, telling them, ‘Come and celebrate with me! I had lost my precious silver coin, but now I’ve found it.’ Luke 15:8-10
I ordered my Uber, walked outside, and almost immediately my phone rang. My Uber driver was here, “Just to the left,” he said. I walked left. Two colorful taxis, one with turquoise and yellow markings, and another—a checkered cab, except it was bright green instead of yellow and looked like it might take you to the Emerald City were parked along the curb. I saw two pick-up trucks and a hotel shuttle. I did not see the Honda Sienna that Uber said was my ride. As I looked around confused my driver gently spoke to me, “I see you. No, not there,” he said. “Keep walking left.” I took a few more steps away from the entrance, not seeing any cars at all, but he kept coaxing me. “You’re closer. I see you.” Just as I was about to say, “I don’t’ see you.” I did see him. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed all in white with a big smile on his face, waving.
What? How did he know I was the “Laura” who called for a ride? There were multiple women milling around outside the entrance. I’d never had an Uber driver get out of his car to find me before. Why did he do that? Above and beyond. But once again, so soon after the last time, I was the one who was lost, and once again I’d been found.
In our lives we are the ones who need to be repeatedly found by Jesus. Because we keep getting lost. We get lost in the idea that we need to achieve a certain pace, or do things like our moms did, or be in charge of that person’s happiness, when what we’re really supposed to be doing is loving Jesus, and letting Him love us back and guide our steps. Because when we do—all the other stuff falls into place. I don’t mean it gets wrapped up in a bow. I mean it lands in its proper position, where God can use it best. And every time we go off the tracks, Jesus comes and finds us. Sometimes we’ll walk right past Him. Because we’re not looking for Him. Or because we’re looking the wrong way. Or thinking He’ll show up with a different solution. But He is there. And when we listen and keep walking left, even though it feels like we’re going rogue, there He is, waving, speaking in a kind voice, getting us to where we need to be—to get out, to move forward, to head to our next destination.
Wherever you feel lost in this season of life—at a loss for words, a loss of funds, a loss of direction, a loss of hope—Jesus is looking for you. And when you allow Him to find you, He’ll smile and wave and say, “I see you. I found you.” Who knows? He might even say it in an awesome island
Have you ever watched an episode of the show Shark Tank? Our family is hooked. I mean, my husband is an entrepreneurship professor, but oddly he’s not the one driving our current obsession—it’s our twelve-year old son (insert laughing/crying emoji here). Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show where real entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs (the sharks) in hopes that the seasoned professionals will invest in their new idea and help them grow their business.
People come in passionate about their ideas for everything from gourmet cupcakes to reflective life-saving devices. The entrepreneur gives a quick synopsis of what their product is, the need it fills, and why the sharks should invest in them. Next, the expert entrepreneurs (with net worths of over $50 million a piece) ask tough questions, give advice, and frequently make offers to invest in the proposed new business ideas for a percentage of the entrepreneur’s company.
It takes passion and guts to go on this show and face the scrutiny of the sharks. Our family loves to hear the wacky and interesting pitches. We also love to guess which, if any shark, will partner with the excited entrepreneur. And we are dumbfounded when the person pitching an idea refuses to listen to the advice of the seasoned millionaires and turns down deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they want to do things their way. They really want their business to be a retail store instead of an online store even though the folks who have made millions online are instructing them to go away from strip malls OR they really want to sell their product for a premium price when all the sharks who have made a bundle selling things on QVC and Best Buy recommend they make their product less expensive and sell it the masses. The entrepreneurs come to the show for expert advice and funding, but they often walk away from it, because they don’t want to hear what the specialists are suggesting.
He who has ears, let him hear. –Matthew 13:9
Do we do this? Do I do this? Do I go to God for expert advice, and then turn away from Him, because what He has to say isn’t always what I want to hear? Things like; be patient, not now, not him, not here, try again, forgive, go deeper, one more time, bite your tongue…to name a few.
I get it. I’ll spend months or years pouring myself into a manuscript, searching for perfect words and phrases, studying Bible passages, rewriting, revising, and rewriting again. And then I hand it over to my critique partners, agent, or an editor. My manuscript always comes back with countless edits. And my instinct is, I can’t take out that chapter, I worked so hard on it. Or I don’t want to find a different example to use here. I felt that one illustrated my point. But then, I take a deep breath. Put aside my pride. Let go of “my way.” And realize, these opinions are expert opinions—from writers I trust, an agent who is on my side, editors who know the industry. These comments aren’t a personal affront; they are words of wisdom given with kindness, to help my writing grow. My kids get similar input from their coaches. Friends get it from their doctors or bosses—advice from those who know best. This is what the sharks are trying to give the business owners who come on Shark Tank—knowledge, wisdom, a deeper understanding.
And this is what God gives us too. We go about our lives making our choices, planning our days, doing our things, fighting our battles. We wish God would just clean up our messes, make our decisions easy, and solve our problems. But are we turning to Him to get the answers? Or just hoping He’ll drop a new job, cure, or nap, in our laps? Are we listening to the advice He’s already given us—His knowledge, wisdom, and deeper understanding that comes from Him, because He is God? Or are we walking away from it, because it conflicts with what we’d like to hear?
Should we take that job? Hang out with that person? Attend that event? Go that place? Confront this friend? The expert opinion is there—at our fingertips between the pages of the Bible. It’s also available when we pause and talk to God and let Him fill our heart with answers, or maybe when we talk to another friend who loves Jesus and she reminds us who God is and how that impacts our decisions. Yes, we want answers. We all want answers, but are we listening when God gives them to us?
I’m reminded of that story about a man in a flood who begged God to save him. A woman came along with a raft and told the man to hop on. He said, “No, thanks, I’m waiting for God to save me.” A guy came by with a boat and told him to climb aboard. The man said, “No thanks, I’m waiting on God to save me.” As the waters were surrounding him, an airplane flew overhead and dropped a rope. But the man didn’t reach out, because he was waiting on God. He died in the flood, went to heaven and asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I sent you a raft, a boat, and an airplane! Why didn’t you hop on?”
I’m full of questions, too. I have big questions like how to handle a strained relationship. I have smaller questions like wondering if I should run more to build up my cardio or pull back to protect my trick knee. God wants to guide me. He wants to guide you, too. He has plans for us for glorious living, and he wants us to walk into those plans and live them full out. God’s not going to keep it a secret from us. If He really wants us to move or invite that person or take a chance, God will let us know. Maybe that’s why Jesus asks six times in the Bible, “Are you listening to this, really listening?” Mark 4:23
We need to listen to the advice He’s put in front of us. Keep our eyes open—seek Him in prayer and through studying His word. Seek Him in those around us. Take time from our whirlwind summers to allow His love and peace and joy to sink into our sunburnt skin. We need to understand that sometimes that raft or expert advice from a shark is the answer from God we’re looking for. And just because it’s different than what we hoped to hear or how we thought it might sound, doesn’t mean we should tune it out, or walk away.
My heart is circling around three questions this week. All because of Shark Tank. Gheesh.
I’m praying for all of us this week. That we truly understand how great our God is. Those millionaires on Shark Tank have some brilliant business ideas. Can you even fathom how much greater God’s advice is? I’m praying we understand this awesomeness, and then tap into Him—the guidance and love He freely gives us, the offers He makes. I’m praying we’re bold enough to joyfully say, “God, I am so excited to go with your plan—to accept your offer!”
When I was ten a new family moved in behind us that also had a ten-year old girl. Our moms decided we should walk to school together. The girl, Jamie, became my best friend. We played Legos, and Kick-the-Can. We ate dinner and slept over at each other’s houses on a rotating basis. We rode bikes, splashed at the pool, danced to David Bowie, helped each other pick out homecoming dresses, visited each other at college, were in each other’s weddings, and still to this day, Jamie gets me on a secret special level—because she’s known me for so long, knows so much of my backstory.
When we were little, along with climbing trees, I loved to read and write stories. Jamie loved to draw. These things seemed as normal as any of our other activities. But actually our passions for these things were specific to our characters—things woven into our very beings.
Jamie recently came by my house for lunch. While my oldest grabbed a snack, Jamie asked her about college and her major and the question college kids often get asked, “What do you want to do when you get out?” Also known as, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a very popular question this time of year with all the graduations going on. My daughter talked about her goals, dreams, and plans to get there.
“I always wanted to be an artist,” Jamie said emphatically, then turned to me.
“Did you always want to be a writer?”
“Always.” I nodded.
When we were young I knew Jamie was talented at art. Every drawing, pastel, or craft she did was amazing. When we were in high school she painted me a beautiful picture of ballerinas for my birthday. And she knew I was a bookworm, always reading. I geeked out about English class. These things have always been innate to us. What is that thing that tugs at your heart—that has always been a part of you?
In high school, I effortlessly confided in Jamie about my crushes and the family drama I would never want anyone else to know about, but somehow I hesitated when it came to sharing my writing aspirations. For me, it just sounded so outlandish—that I would want to become a writer—because who does that? Who gets to do that? So I followed a predictable path with a mission invisible to the outside world brewing inside my heart. Jamie, always being the braver one, declared an art major. We both graduated college, and ironically landed in sales jobs.
But guess what? Today, Jamie is an artist. Like a legit paints gorgeous abstracts of swirling color and sells her canvases with impressive price tags to homes all over the country.
And I am a writer.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11
God had always planned it this way—equipped us to enact the very desires of our heart from the get go. He has plans for you, too. And they are as beautiful as one of Jamie’s paintings.
They say the thing you most want to be when you’re little, is most likely what you’re supposed to be when you grow up—set aside things like being Dora. (Yes, one of my daughters wanted to be Dora) This thing that you’ve always loved, looked forward to, somehow had a knack for, got energized from doing is the very thing God planted in your heart to do—to do well—to do often. When we’re young we haven’t heard yet that we are too short, too tall, live in the wrong place, that only guys do that, that we need to know someone, or we aren’t good enough at math to ever be able to do “that thing.” All we understand is that we love doing that thing, and we happen to be pretty decent at it.
As Viktor Frankl said, “We don’t invent our missions. We detect them.” They’re already in there! Embedded in us by our Creator. And our hearts lean that way instinctively. Our missions were so clear and obvious early on. What lights you up? That should be the first clue on your detecting journey as to what you are called to do. Did you ever tell anyone? Did you ever pursue that passion? It’s not to late. Not now. Not ever. To find it, and more importantly, to do it!
Sure, Jamie and I both had to work at our dreams. It takes commitment of time, energy, and money. Making dreams into realities requires support networks. We both happen to have fabulous husbands who cheer us on in our pursuits, but support could also come from a friend, coach, parent, mentor, an artist group, teammate, or classmate. It also takes thick skin. I can’t speak for Jamie, but I get way more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses.’ But it’s easier to invest in endeavors when you’re passionate about them, because you sense you were made for it, that God made you for it.
So take everything you can—each experience, lesson, place you’re put, absorb it all; use it towards your mission in life. The marketing, product positioning, and promoting Jamie and I learned in sales jobs now come in super handy when she pitches paintings to a gallery, or when I pitch manuscripts to an editor. Nothing you’ve done up to this point is a waste of time. You get to use it all, towards what you’re supposed to be doing. God will use all of it.
What did you want to be when you were little? Are you doing it? What’s stopping you? What can you use from where you have been to help you do that thing you were built to do?
God created you distinctly from every other human for a beautiful purpose. He poured all kinds of talents and loves and cravings and preferences into you. He assembled them all together when He made you. They’re all still there. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly to do that thing or pursue that dream. Share it with someone you trust today. Start living your God-given mission! You’ll feel alive and vibrant when you do. You are the only one who can paint that picture, write that song, coach that team, run that program, teach that class, raise money for that cause, fight for that piece of legislation. God’s hoping you’ll accept His invitation to do the good work He created you to do. When you say, ‘yes,’ not only will you thrive, but the world will be a better place.
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Laura L. Smith