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.
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
I went to put away a dish and the glass lid of a casserole tumbled out of my overcrowded cupboard, shattering into seemingly thousands of amber-colored shards. This is indicative of my week. An argument with one of my kids. A piece of information I don’t know how to deal with. A sleepless night. Something I’m waiting on. All unrelated, except for one thing. They’re all reminding me how much I need God. That I literally can’t do anything without Him. That thankfully, I don’t have to.
The argument was ridiculous. But it happened. I can’t undo it. I apologized. But that doesn’t make me a better listener or more patient or less prideful next time around. It doesn’t make my child and I see things from the same perspective. I am powerless to do that. The thing I discovered, the hours of sleep I missed out on, the answer I’m waiting to hear, all out of my control. And all in God’s. There are no amount of to-do’s I can accomplish, words I can say, breaths I can take that can assemble all of these items together like pieces of a jigsaw and end of with a pretty picture. But God can. I don’t know where to start. But He already has. I’m left with an action plan that only has one item on it—pray.
So God and I have been talking. A. Lot.
And this is what He keeps telling me on repeat. I’m sharing, because I believe it applies to you, too, no matter what is out of your control, is going wrong, or hurts or confuses you in this season of your life.
2. No matter what happens, God is still God, on the throne, knowing what’s best, and in control. So, I know this, and yet I don’t fully. I mean, of course God is God. He always has been and always will be. He created every shape and pattern of each leaf on every plant growing in the woods behind my house, grew every vibrant tomato plump and red piled on roadside stands and farmer’s markets, and invented every note of all the songs playing on my Spotify account and through my mind. God has rescued me in countless beautiful ways. But still I run a zillion “what if” scenarios through my brain. “What if I say this or she does that or this happens? What if I do or don’t check that thing off my list, have that meeting, get that offer? What if it makes me feel awful or elated? What if I let someone down? What if they disappoint me? Then what?” Then God will still be all-powerful, brilliantly wise, and capable of moving mountains. Then God will still love me and you fully and completely. No matter how those outcomes unfold. No matter what. God’s dominion and love are unstoppable and unchangeable.
3. I will continue to provide opportunities for you to glorify me. God might use you in a relationship, your sphere of influence, your work, your play, at home, when you’re out and about, when things go your way and when they don’t. He might use you in big-powerful-loud ways or in the finest, most precise details, or in the quiet- stealth-like ways that no one else will ever see. But God sees and smiles, no actually He beams. He will use you for good and for glory, 100% guaranteed. So we don’t have to worry if we get a new job, because whether we do or don’t, God will employ the specific talents He’s given us. It doesn’t matter if they pay you, play you, or cheer hooray for you, you are His—loved by God. He will provide chances time and time again where we can live and love well for Him, where we can point people back to Him, where we can do the things He created us to do. He’ll do that. Because He wants to, because He wants that for us, and even more so for His kingdom.
I am incapable of assembling all of those sharp transparent slivers back into a casserole lid. Nor can I guarantee I cleaned them all up. I swept, went back over the entire floor with a damp cloth. Mopped, too. My daughter pitched in and helped. One more time. Just in case. But there could still be a fragment of glass hiding in a corner. Someone could still step on a stray fragment and cut their foot.
My personality is one that wants to make everything right and then put cute stickers on it. But I’m not capable of fixing all the things. Or any of them as it turns out, not completely without any risks or cracks. But God is. And so today, I am putting my full trust in Him, believing that no matter what events and conversations take place He has specific plans for me and for you, He is almighty and all-loving, and He will provide us our daily bread, and so very much more. When life feels like too much to do solo, because it is, this is what we do—we pray. As the song goes—“This is how we fight our battles!”—never alone, but with the king of the universe on our side.
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.
I am a horrible singer, but I love music, so I sing all the time anyway. I’m constantly adding songs to my Spotify playlists. One of my kids will play something that I positively need or the worship band at church will sing something I have to add to my library. When I add new songs, I find myself playing them on repeat, singing them again and again, as they do the magic that music does to me, tugging at my heart, pulling my feet to step and sway, making me feel lighter, more alive. Psalm 96 begins by instructing us to, “Sing to the Lord a new song.”
It got me wondering what my current song to the Lord is, what playlist I am automatically clicking on, and if it needs to be freshened up. I thought through my days—praises to God for my husband and kids. Pleas to God for friends and family with ailments and needs. Thanks to God before meals, as the new days dawn, as the tired days tug at my eyelids. Good songs I sing to God. At least I think they are. But new ones? Could I use some? Could you?
This past week I’ve been reading Psalm 96 over and over asking God, “How do you want me to change my tune? What new song would you like me to sing?”
Remember how big I am, I hear Him say as I gaze upward at impossibly tall trees reaching toward brilliant blue sky on my back porch. Remember how faithful I am He whispers as I go for a walk with my youngest, listening to him chatter about the Skittles his team won reviewing terms for vocabulary and about the clues to the crime in the novel he’s reading—voice animated, blue eyes flashing excitement. This boy who has overcome a hole in his heart and a life-threatening peanut allergy in his handful of years on earth, who God has literally saved over and over. Believe how complete I am, God nudges, as I glimpse a stunning sunrise in the morning and am captivated by a breath-taking sunset in the same day, murals painted across the sky, the ultimate performance-art-piece bookending my waking hours.
As I question what’s next, as my prayers are peppered with ‘please help us figure out this, transition into that, discern what to do about this’…God says, “I hear you. I love it when you share with Me what’s on your heart. I love you. I promise to care for you and your family in ways you can’t comprehend. But, would you add another song to your library?” God asks. “One of trust—because of how great I am, because of how faithful I am, because of how ultimate I am. Just savor this, and I think you’ll find everything else will fall into place.”
And for a moment I understand. The God who created all of this—each tulip perfectly shaped and steeped in bright colors teetering on fragile stems, each sip of coffee brewed from water running through dried beans and metamorphosing into morning nectar, each laugh ringing through the air like tiny chimes, the God who has answered prayer after prayer, the God who is with me when I wake welcoming me with my first glimpse of morning light and lulling me to rest as my weary head hits the pillow each night. This God is to be fully trusted, counted on, relied on. Because He is infinite, glorious, loving, caring, brilliant, and unstoppable.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. Psalm 96:4
When I meditate on these truths I know that Jesus loves the people I love even more deeply than I do, and therefore He has their best interests in mind. I know that God has plans to grow His kingdom, to grow me, and therefore He will guide me down the paths He wants me to take. I know He is in control, that God has the power to light up the sky with stars or sunshine or rainbows or snowflakes. That He can make giant oaks grow from tiny brown seeds wearing patterned caps. That He can freeze time or speed it up. Jesus can do anything and everything. This makes my worries, my anxieties disappear.
Yes, I will continue to talk to Him about all of the things I’m grateful for and concerned about, the things that scare me, shake me, make me cry and the ones that make me dance, grin, and giggle. Because our Heavenly Father is so sweet and caring, He wants to know, wants to talk about it. But I will also add a song of praise to Him to my prayer playlist. For being Him. Because when I do, everything else comes into a better perspective, a more rhythmic beat, a more beautiful melody.