5 Steps for a Flourishing Fall
I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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I am a music lover. I love going to concerts, especially outdoor concerts in the summer with the music floating through the warm evening air and the vibrancy and excitement and energy everywhere. Therefore, when planning the summer and how to embrace it to its fullest, summer shows were on my list. And because God is God, of course He taught me things from these outdoor concerts. Mainly, He taught me about perseverance.
My husband got me tickets as a gift to see three nineties bands we’d loved way back then. We purchased our tickets in the spring, but this show had originally been planned to take place in the summer of 2020.
These musicians had scheduled their lives around dates in over thirty-five cities, booked venues, tour buses, and bus drivers. They’d arranged their calendars with their families, sold tickets, created setlists, hired crews, designed merchandise.
And then the world shut down.
The bands could have said, oh well, guess that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Or they could have gotten angry and negative and complained.
They certainly could have given up.
But instead, they waited for two years, persevered, rescheduled, and toured. All three bands shared how meaningful this tour was to them, because they’d had to wait for it, because against the odds they made it happen.
At another concert, Ryan Tedder, front man for One Republic and also acclaimed songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Beyonce, Adele, etc., also spoke of perseverance. He shared the stories of songs he’d written over the years that critics told him, “were awful,” “no one would like,” and should be “thrown in the garbage.” But Tedder believed in these songs, believed that God created Him to write songs, even after getting his work turned down by multiple artists and industry experts, so he persevered. Tedder found homes for all his rejected songs, some of them even becoming number one hits. You just might know all the words to them.
What if Ryan Tedder had given up? Listened to the criticism? Filled his head with the lies that his music didn’t cut it? What if the 90’s bands had given up touring altogether? What if you give up on the dream God placed in your heart or the work God has put in front of you or the relationship God has nudged you to tend and maybe even mend?
What if you choose to persevere?
Because the Bible instructs us:
Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. --Hebrews 10:35-36
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? --Esther 4:14
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. --Philippians 1:6
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. I’m saying this to myself and to you. That thing that’s hard right now–let’s persevere. Let’s cling to our confidence–not that we’re spectacular or talented, but that God is, and His work is mighty in us. That with Him we can do anything He desires. Remember, this is the God who parted seas and rivers, knocked down city walls, and sprang water to quench millions (yes millions) of Israelites in the desert. I’m pretty sure this God can help you and me with the work and projects and relationships and situations that are challenging us today.
I’m wondering what you need to persevere right now?
I know for myself I have a new book I’m writing that’s different from my previous projects. I’m passionate about the topic and fully believe that God gave me the idea and opened the doors to make this idea a reality, but it’s quite the undertaking. I need to sit down. Write it idea by idea. Page by page. Praying all along. Because God gave me this opportunity to share something important with others. I need to go to my desk and put away my phone and actually type some words. Even when the writing is hard. Even when I need to be vulnerable in the writing. Even when I’m tired. Because that’s how things get done.
I have friends who are working towards licensures, certifications, and degrees. I have other friends who are working toward health and fitness goals. Another friend has an exciting business idea. Yet another is working through some really challenging things with her counselor. One friend has something amazing she wants to implement at her church. These women inspire me with their perseverance. They have faced obstacles. They will face more. And yet, Jesus calls them to persevere.
Why? Because when He starts something in us, He will bring it to completion. Because there is good work to be done. Because He chose them for these things at this time.
Just like He chose you. Today. For the things He puts in front of you.
One more band, NeedtoBreathe, sang a song narrating a time when the lead singer’s father, who was a pastor, had a rumor started about him at his church. It was an extremely challenging time for their family as people believed the lies. But the pastor stood his ground in the truth. He clung to who he was in Christ. He persevered. As a result of his perseverance, God gave their dad/the pastor the strength to confront the attacks and help the truth surface.
The refrain of this song, titled “Washed by the Water,” is such a testament to how we can all persevere, not by our own strength, not by our own intellect, or flair, but by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us if we are baptized in Christ.
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
How about you? What do you need to persevere right now? Keep going! You can do this! You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you, empowering and strengthening you, the God of the universe cheering you on! He wants the best for you, hang on, keep going, don't give up, persevere. What He started in you, He will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6). Jesus promises us a full life when we persevere with and for Him. I don’t want to miss out on the good good life He has in store.
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The work of being a writer for me consists of most days sitting in my writing nook and well, writing. I’ll also read and pray and answer emails, but most of it is writing and rewriting and rewriting. For weeks and months. Without anybody else seeing what I’m writing or asking about what I’m writing. With nothing to show the world. The most exciting days are when I get an email from my agent or an editor about a brand new project or a development on a project I’m working on.
I have a book releasing in July which I’m super excited about, but I’ve turned it in and gone through all the edits. My part is mostly complete until launch time. I have a new project that’s due about the same time the book I mentioned releases. I won’t hear from my agent or editor on either book until summer. What’s next is me being disciplined and writing this next book for Jesus. Word by word. Story by story, or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird by Bird.”
But wanting to know the next “what’s next” bubbles up some days. A weird, it’s a new year-ish, should I be revamping my website, dreaming up new projects, planning something else? Maybe. So today I was asking God again, “Is there something else you want me to be doing (this is always a great question to ask)? Is there another project or idea I should be working on for Your kingdom? Do you want me to write a new Bible study? Teach a new Bible study?” And I got that tug inside to check my email, but the tug wasn’t from God. It was from me thinking and from culture reminding me I “needed” to be doing something new. Maybe the answer was waiting for me online? But I sensed God simply answer, “today.” As in, God wants me to do today.
Today. What does God want you to do today?
God reminded me that already this morning there had been a beautiful worship gathering at our home. “I wanted you to open your door for that and be present for it. It didn’t involve books or emails or projects. It involved living today and worshiping Me.” God also reminded me that I’d had coffee with a friend. We’d talked about our faith and jobs and relationships and what we were reading and God’s faithfulness. God told me, “That coffee date was living for Me. Where two or more are gathered I am there. This was something I wanted you to do today.”
What’s on your schedule?
I don’t know what you’re checking your email or texts or actual metal mailbox at the curb for today. An acceptance letter? A job offer? A check? An invitation? A referral? A grade? A result? Those are all super awesome things to look forward to. And God loves for us to get excited about the plans He has for us and the places He’s taking us. And just for the record, He does have ginormous fabulous plans for you! He doesn’t want us to be complacent and just let life happen. However, He also doesn’t want us to waste our time longing for the what ifs, the maybes, and the as soon as…God created this day–THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.
Will you join me?
God reminded me that kingdom work is what we’re doing right now, today– the conversation with your neighbor or roommate or classmate or sister. It’s stopping to praise Jesus for the delicate snowflakes dancing through the air. It’s texting the friend who isn’t feeling well and asking how they’re doing or taking them soup or praying for their healing. It’s bending over to help the person who just dropped something gather up their belongings or paying attention to the two hours of video training for your job or cheering for your teammates or vacuuming so your home will feel clean and safe for whoever walks through your doors. For me, it was that gathering, that coffee, and now it’s writing this blog, sitting down at my desk and typing the words, word by word. Then it’s off to my kids’ indoor track meet and cheering them on. This is all kingdom work. It doesn’t get better than this–than real life–than this beautiful everyday life God gifted us with.
Because this is what we do–God’s children. We walk this earth flooded in His love and try to pass some of the abundance of that love back out to others. It doesn’t have to be BIG and SPLASHY and newsworthy, although sometimes it is and that’s fun, too. We just have to be present. To God. And to what He’s doing. And when we focus on making the most of the class we need to attend or the food we need to prep, when we do it out of love for ourselves or others, then we are doing kingdom work, we are making a difference, we are moving forward. And when something new does come our way, we’re called to step into it the exact same way. By being present. By living that day and that idea and that opportunity to its fullest. One beautiful step at a time.
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Jesus Doesn't Want You to Settle
We had these old gross towels that we’ve had for twenty-six years (yup, wedding gifts). They were great at the time, but now some of them have holes, many are fraying, and quite frankly some of them stink. Right after Christmas I bought some nice, new towels on a ridiculously low priced clearance. And you all! They are so thick and fluffy. Every time I dry my hands or get out of the shower I am amazed by how lovely these towels are. I also wonder why I waited so long to upgrade.
I know it sounds silly. But I was settling. And sometimes we do–for old towels or a quick meal or a pair of shoes our growing child will probably only wear once or twice. But God doesn’t want us to settle for the big stuff.
Are you doing things that fulfill you? Hanging out with people who make your life rich and full? Taking classes or doing things that challenge you? Finding ways to laugh and learn? Taking care of yourself mentally and physically?
Because that’s what Jesus wants for you. An abundant life. An overflowing life. A rich, full, joyful, satisfying life! He tells us:
"But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect—life in its fullness until you overflow!" –John 10:10 TPT
Do you love your job or volunteer work? Does it bring you satisfaction? Do you use some specific skill or talent that God gave you when you’re there? Or are you settling?
Sure, there are parts of every job that are an absolute grind–filling out the forms, cleaning the bathrooms, or maybe attending the staff meetings. And sometimes we do jobs with the sole purpose of paying our bills. Years ago, I waitressed while interning at an advertising agency that didn’t pay me a cent, unless you count parking. I waitressed in the evenings and on weekends to pay my bills (which was not my dream job) and interned during normal work hours (which was my dream job and led to an actual job). It worked. Maybe you’re working a job to help pay for your education or certification, or because the flexible hours allow you to be around for someone you love or to spend time on that creative endeavor you’re so excited about. And that’s awesome. Because you’re not settling. You’re chasing after that education, family, or dream. You’re seizing the abundant life God has for you.
Is the person you’re in a relationship with someone who brings out the best in you, who encourages you to be the amazing person God created you to be? Are your friends people who build you up, love you for just who you are, listen well, pray for and with you? Are they there for you when you need them? Or are you settling?
Since you are an individual, you’re not going to agree with anyone 100% of the time. You won’t always think things should be done the same way or at the same speed or for the same reasons. And your friends or spouse or boy/girlfriend have their own responsibilities and lives to tend to. They can’t be there for you 24/7. But, you know what I mean. If you’re friends or significant other takes you for granted, doesn’t listen to or respect your wishes, doesn’t encourage your faith life, only wants to do things their way, God has more for you.
Jesus doesn’t want you to settle. He loves you too much. The Bible says before you were even born, God chose you and called you by His marvelous grace (Galatians 1:15). Get that? You are chosen. You have a special calling from the God of the Universe. So, no, you shouldn’t settle.
I don’t know what that means for you today. But hopefully it means being reminded of all the amazing things God has in store. Hopefully it means ditching something that does not bring life to you–that committee you’re on that completely drains you, that “friend” who only texts when they need something “desperately,” that book you’re reading that is inappropriate (put it down, there’s so many great reads out there!), the date who won’t go to church with you and who never seems to remember that crowds make you uneasy or that you’re allergic to nuts. Or maybe it's time to quit that activity that makes you grumpy.
Step one is getting rid of the things that deplete you. Step two is talking to Jesus about what He has for you. Ask Him. Right now. It’s as easy as praying: Jesus, I love You so much! Thank You for choosing me, for giving me a special calling, for Your amazing grace. Please show me how to step out of anything I'm settling for and into the abundant life You have waiting for me. Please help me keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to all You offer. Amen
FREE Bible Study: 10 Minutes for 10 Days
Our family is new to the cross country scene. Our four kids have been involved in soccer--lots and lots of soccer, flag football, theatre, ballet, track, as well as very brief stints in gymnastics, karate, and baseball, but none of them had ever run XC until now. Our youngest started high school in August and joined the school’s cross country team back in June. He’s been practicing for months, building up his mileage, increasing his speed and endurance, and making quality friends.
The morning of our first meet my husband and I weren’t really sure what to expect. We’d been told to wear comfortable shoes, because you end up darting from one spot to another to watch different parts of the race, which sounded fun. We drove to the address, parked, got out of our car and it felt more like a festival than a competition. Toby Mac was blaring from a sound system, “It’s never too late to get back up again.” Teams had tents with signs. Food trucks had parked along the perimeter, and the intoxicating smells of kettle corn and empanadas filled the air.
It was fun and festive. The whole space vibrated with energy.
Here are some things we learned about cross country that we think Jesus would love:
Doing Your Best is a Win
Hundreds of athletes run in a cross country meet. Yes, there is a first place winner, but very few of the athletes have their eye on that prize. They’re all actually running with the goal to beat their PR--personal record. They’re not comparing themselves to the other runners. They’re just trying to do their personal best--to take what God gave them and use it to the best of their ability. The world needs more of this. Yes please and now. The Apostle Paul instructs us to live like this in Galatians 5:26
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
What if we all did this? Stopped wishing we had as many followers as her, the job title of him, or the family of them. And instead, took what God gave us and used it to our fullest, ran our best original race. Think of all the freedom to live out our callings and all the amazing things that would ensue.
Everybody cheers for everybody
It doesn’t matter what team your kid is on or how fast they do or don’t run, other people from other teams cheer for them. Which, really? They’re cheering for my boy? Insert all the emojis. This takes place at the starting line when all the fans cheer loudly for all the runners. And it also happens throughout the three point one mile course as spectators sprint to different spots along the route to cheer on athletes as they progress.
At our first stop along the yellow tape marking the course, we met a man who told us his daughter was running in the next race. He cheered and clapped as each athlete ran past. I repeat, his daughter was not even in this race. This was the boys race! At the two mile marker a group of varsity runners who had already completed their race gathered along a bend in the route cheering, “You’ve got this! Keep it up! Keep it up!” Yes, to their JV teammates, but also to all the other athletes passing by.
This is beautiful. And it’s Biblical! Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We’re supposed to cheer each other on! We’re supposed to encourage each other! This is what living in Christ looks like.
There are snacks at the end
As the runners cross the finish line they immediately head toward their team’s tent which is laden with sandwiches, protein bars, and fruit. The Propel and Gatorade flow freely. They can get seconds or thirds or fourths, and eat their fill. Jesus would love this! Celebrating with food was Jesus’ jam. In fact his very first miracle was at a wedding feast--turning water into wine (John 2:1-10). Throughout the Gospels (the four Biblical books that serve as the biography of Jesus’ life) we find Jesus eating with his friends and people in the community (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 7:36, Luke 10:38-40, Luke 11:37, Luke 14:1, John 12:2-3, John 21:12-13). We also see Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts (Mark 14:12-26, John 2:23, John 5:1, John 13:1). Jesus loved sharing food while hanging out with others.
So, yeah, cross country meets are awesome. Because they mirror some ways God wants us to be living. He wants us to stop comparing ourselves to others. He wants us to use the gifts He’s given us to the best of our ability on any given day. God wants us to cheer for one another along the way. And God also wants us to share meals with one another--to eat and laugh and swap stories and encourage one another.
I’m up for the challenge. You?
Not to compete in a cross country meet. But to keep running our races--the one God put in front of us, specifically--one full of doing our best, loving one another, both feeling encouraged and encouraging others, and of course with yummy snacks involved. On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!
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HOW ARE YOU SHOWING UP?
My husband and I passed the members of the college marching band assembling for rehearsal on our run this morning. It transported me for a moment to the sweltering Augusts of high school when my dance team rehearsed daily with the marching band for the upcoming football game halftime shows, sweat stinging our eyes and dripping down our backs. I watched the band members as they gathered, some musicians already on the lined practice field chatting and laughing. A young man with a giant black instrument case strapped to his back crossed the street, probably a tuba player. Another guy off in the distance sprinted toward the field, obviously running a few minutes late, his tiny black case swinging back and forth by his side.
Next, I noticed two band members walking arm in arm up the sidewalk in matching bright blue t-shirts. One had a white cane outstretched in front of them, tap, tapping the pavement. Their bandmate was escorting them to practice--beautiful.
We rounded the bend and darted into a quad of majestic brick dorms trimmed in crisp cream complete with Georgian columns and cream keystones. We heard the cadence before we saw a handful of members of the drumline marching toward us in a row, jamming to their beat, making a grand entrance into their practice. My feet found their beat, and I soon found myself running a bit faster and in time with their music.
As I observed all these musicians and how they chose to show up to their rehearsal, it made me wonder how I’m showing up to things--to the parents’ meeting, to my laptop, to the Zoom call, to church on Sunday. Am I there early, raring to go? Running late? A little stressed and off kilter? Am I taking time to help someone, to think of others, or am I focused on me? Am I sitting on the edge, the fringe, hoping to go unnoticed? Am I using the skills God gave me, rocking what I’ve got? Am I motivating or inspiring others? Or going through the motions?
So often I just go where I’m supposed to go and engage by instinct when I’m there. But God has given us each gifts and passions and a purpose. He calls us to be intentional with our lives, to live them to the fullest. I know that. But sometimes I forget. Thankfully, He gave us the Bible packed with reminders.
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
Before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
See that-- you were set apart. By the God of the Universe. Before you were even born!
“You must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” Jeremiah 1:7-8
God is sending you to the places on your planner or Google calendar. He has things for you to do and say there. No need to be nervous about what others will think, or how they’ll react. God promises to be with you and protect you.
Well, that flips everything upside down, doesn’t it?
The parents’ meeting I attended yesterday, I literally stood by myself (I’m such an introvert), talked to the lovely woman who came over to say, “hi,” paid attention to the info, and left. Which was fine and effective. But did I act as if I were set apart? As if I were on a mission from God? Ummm...no.
I didn’t pray before I went. I didn’t ask God what He wanted me to do there. I didn’t consider that there was something for me there besides some facts and handouts.
Guess what? I have another parents meeting coming up, because ‘tis the season. I’m already asking God how He wants me to show up to that one. But life is more than parents meeting (thankfully). Personally, my life shifts considerably as the kids head back to school. How does God want me to show up for the new routine, for fall in general? I’ve been invited to be part of a panel at an upcoming conference--how does God want me to show up for that? I’m going to visit my oldest daughter soon--how does God want me to show up for that? My husband and I have a date scheduled later this week. How does God want me to show up for that?
That’s my calendar. What’s on yours? What do you have in front of you this week--a walk with a friend? A practice? Meeting? Class? Driving carpool? Interview? Long shift at work? Audition?
The night before or the morning of or at least before you fly out the door, take a deep breath, ask Jesus how He wants you to show up. Take a minute. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Listen to what He says. He might ask you to speak up. Or place someone on your mind to sit next to, ask how they’re doing, inquire if there’s a way you could help them. God might whisper a song you could listen to that would put you in a better mood, more ready for what you’re about to face. He might remind you to eat breakfast, so you’ll have physical energy or nudge you to buy a box of doughnuts or bake a batch of muffins to share. Sometimes He’ll remind us to bite our tongues, not make a fuss--just do our part. Sometimes He’ll ask us not to go at all, but instead to rest or tend to something that’s actually more important.
Whatever you’re facing, wherever you’re going God has set you apart. He’ll be with you. He’ll protect you. There’s comfort in that. Relief. Excitement.
Where are you headed this week and how do you plan to show up? I’d love to hear.
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WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM QUARANTINE?
This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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WHAT I NEED
I love burying my toes in warm, wet sand and letting foamy waves splash over them again and again. Sounds nice about now, doesn’t’ it?
But since it’s January and I live in the middle of a frozen corn field, not at the beach, I’m more than content to bury myself under a fleecy blanket and cozy up with a steaming mug of peppermint tea.
I also love burying myself in the pages of a new book, lost in the words and stories and lessons that lie within.
This word, “bury,” is a strange one. It sounds exactly like a completely different word, berry, a juicy fruit. It can mean to dig a hole and throw something in and cover it in soil never to be seen again, or it can be used in the ways I’ve described above. I heard this word recently, loud and clear, and I heard it straight from God.
I was bundled up in hat and gloves walking a brisk pace around our neighborhood. I’d been writing and was taking a break to clear my head and stretch my legs. I was thinking through an article I was working on, praying for one of my kids, then another, then all of them, and trying to remember what I needed at the grocery. A typical day in the life of my brain. I had some questions. Some for myself. Most of them for God. And then I heard Him, distinct and clear, “If you bury yourself in Me, I will give you what you need.”
This shouldn’t have been a revelation, because it mirrors almost exactly one of my favorite verses, something my husband and I had read at our wedding:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Seek God first. Bury myself in Him. And then goodness and life come my way. I know this. But I don’t always live like it. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle and deadlines and dishes, sometimes I lose sight of it. But on this day, it resonated so deeply and brought me so much comfort. We’re in a new year, a new century actually (Happy New Year and welcome to the new Roaring Twenties!), and it is filled with so much promise and potential. I have a child headed off to college this year, another to play soccer overseas, yet another on a mission trip, and the youngest is prepping for a big audition. I’m traveling somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going, my husband and I will celebrate a milestone anniversary. I’m working on a proposal for my agent for a new book idea I’m giddy about. I have another book launching this year (more on that soon). But none of these things have worth, if I’m not seeking Jesus first, if I’m not buried in Jesus, like my toes in the sand, or my body in a blanket, or my mind in a book—completely wrapped up in, immersed, covered.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.
Colossians 3:14-15 NLT
Ahhh. Yes, please. These words from Paul to the Colossians are exactly how I picture being buried in Jesus. I want to be bound in perfect harmony and have peace rule my heart. Those are some lovely goals for 2020. This is what He offers. There’s no guarantee on how any of the things I’m expecting this year will play out, or what surprises will come my way. There will most likely be some setbacks, bad days, exhaustion, illness, stress, and sorrow. There will also be joy, adventure, opportunities, and conversations. And I know as long as I am buried in Jesus, I will have harmony and peace in the midst of it all. I will have everything I need. So, my word for this year is “bury.”
(Want to hear about 2019’s word? Click here.)
Yes, this is the promise God whispered to me on my walk. But He promises it to everyone who believes in Him, and He promises it every day.
So here we are. All dressed up in Christ, buried in Him, like the softest blanket or the most riveting novel. There are lots of things we do and don’t want. Lots of things we can resolve to accomplish and put on our calendars and bucket lists for this year. But me? The one thing I want to cling to this year is Jesus. No matter what comes my way, good or bad, I want to be buried in Him.
Do you have a word for the year? Comment here, I’d love to hear about it.
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Out of Breath
Cerulean sky. Vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. A cool breeze filled with the smoky scent of a neighbor’s fireplace tickled my nose. The setting for my run was ideal, yet I felt weak and out of breath. Coming to a hill I slowed to a walk. Almost immediately a friend’s face popped into my head who’s a marathon runner. She told me in the hardest parts of a race if you just keep running—push past the hard part--you find your groove. Alright, Laura, I told myself, get going. I increased my speed. But it was hard. Unusually so. Next month I’d be running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and this current thing my legs and lungs were doing would not do.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. When did I become such a bad runner? Why can’t I go for a simple jog at a distance and rate I usually go without huffing and puffing? I’m out of shape. I need to train. I’ll be a bad partner for my husband in the race. I’ll slow him down. I have a daughter who is a college athlete. I’m pathetic.
Regardless of how much shame I felt for not being able to breathe, I had to slow to a walk again. And then it hit me—I’d had my blood drawn an hour ago, which always makes me woozy. And because I was getting my blood drawn, I’d fasted last night and this morning. Afterwards I ate some yogurt and granola, so I thought I was good. But apparently not so much. How long does it take for the body to replace that blood?
I Googled it. The pop-up answer was four to eight weeks. What? No wonder I felt light-headed. I finally gave myself some grace and decided it was A-Okay to walk the rest of my route. When I got home, I researched a bit more. Turns out the four-eight weeks was a bit misleading, but the web consensus was that according to my weight and normal level of physical activity I could work out about five hours after having blood drawn. Hmmm. Not one hour. Weird.
Why was my first instinct to bash myself? Instead of assessing my situation and wondering why two days ago I had a phenomenal run, and today I was struggling, I listed the ways I didn’t measure up. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what I did. Oh, how my brain can take one lie and spin it out of control.
Do you ever do this? Is there any area in your life that the talk in your head sounds like, “You’re not good enough to… get noticed, be in a relationship, earn an “A,” be picked, win the award, get the job, move up the list, have your idea accepted? Because Jesus never talks to us like that. His words are, “You are my masterpiece. You were created in my image. I came down to the world and died on the cross to save you. I love you.”
Will Jesus sometimes put up barriers? Sure. Will He sometimes say, “not now” or “not this” or “not them?” Definitely. Just like God told me to slow down as I ran. Not because Jesus thinks I’m a bad runner or doubts if I’m capable of running the Turkey Trot. Not because He’s shaking His head and wishing I would step up my workouts. But because Jesus saw me get my biometrics test. God knew my body was still recuperating, and if I kept going, I might pass out in the middle of the street, or some such thing. Jesus wasn’t telling me I wasn’t good enough. He was keeping me safe.
Because Jesus NEVER tells us we’re not good enough.
That’s always the enemy’s voice, slithering into any place we might feel doubt, anything that’s important to us, anywhere he thinks he can distract us from the truth of who we are in Christ—treasured, fearfully and wonderfully made, set aside to do good works.
What if when we start to struggle, our default was to ask God, “Hey, what’s going on? Why is this hard? Do you want me to stop? Or do different? Or go the other way?” And if it’s something that’s plain going to be hard (because some things are hard—loss, abuse, health issues both mental and physical, etc.), what if we went to God in these situations and said, “This is freaking hard, please give me the strength, energy, stamina, to get through it. Please help me know when resting makes sense. And when it’s time to push forward again.”
What, then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
God is for us. On our side. Not telling us where we fall short. But cheering us on over the finish line. Yes, He’ll put up some barriers sometimes—to protect us. But our Savior always wants what’s absolutely best for us. Even when we can’t see the whole picture.
The next time you hear “not enough” in your head. Slow down. Catch your breath. Stamp it out. Dismiss it as quickly as it came. Don’t let your default be one of blame or shame. Don’t let the negativity fester or multiply out of control. Because that is never of God. He is for you. He will stand strong to protect you from anything or anyone who tries to go against you, but He will also wave you forward into the glorious plans He has in store for you. Whether you’re completely in stride or feeling faint, Jesus looks at you, and says, “Oh look! There’s one of my kids! I love her so much!”
Last weekend I:
Which shouldn’t seem related at all, except they both dealt with the things we look to in life to find satisfaction and gratification, and how rarely that works out for us.
If you need a quick refresher, in Aladdin, a poor boy named, Aladdin comes across a magic lamp housing a genie. The genie pops out and tells Aladdin he can make three wishes. Hmmm…what would you do with three wishes? Have you ever considered what you would wish for? A new house? A new job? More hours in the day? The genie warns Aladdin, “Here’s the thing about wishes…the more you have, the more you want.” Dang. Rings a little too true, doesn’t it?
When we turn sixteen it seems like our biggest wish is to be able to drive. When we get our license, we want to borrow our parents’ car. Then we wish we had our own car—any car that moves. Then we want a car with a few bells and whistles. As we get older we might wish for fancier cars—with leather interiors and fabulous sound systems and heated seats (I’m not that into cars, but I do enjoyheated seats). Most writing friends I know have at one time or another “wished” to be published. If they achieve that goal, their next wish is to get another book published, with a bigger publisher, or to sell more copies, or perhaps a multi-book deal, or the ultimate—to be a New York Times Bestseller. All of these are great goals. But at the beginning “being published” felt like the end all. The problem is, there is no end all. The wishes never end.
Renters dream of one day owning a home. Once we buy that “fixer upper” we long for a new kitchen counter, then a kitchen remodel. And while we’re getting a new sink for the kitchen wouldn’t it be gorgeous if we replaced the sinks in the bathrooms, too? Before we know it we’re drooling over Pinterest homes and wishing for more and different than what we have. For athletes it could be an initial goal of making the team, then moving up to the “A” team, hoping for playing time, being in the starting lineup, scoring the points, winning the games, being the MVP. The more you have…the more you want. Most of us are guilty of it in some form or another.
The old man in Hemingway’s classic wasn’t materialistic. He lived in a hut and owned one pair of pants. But he wanted to catch the biggest fish and would stop at nothing to get him. For three days the fisherman held onto his line, so this big fish would not be the one who got away. Meanwhile the old man’s hands were ripped raw from the tugging and pulling of the fishing line. All the man had to eat were a couple of raw fish, all the while being towed by a giant marlin through the depths of the sea. On the brink of dehydration, the man rationed one bottle of fresh water over the course of sunsets and rises and barely slept a wink, putting his body and mind in extreme danger. For over eighty days the man had wished for one great fish. Now it was hooked on his line. Be careful what you wish for old man.
And I feel the warning being screamed at me, too. Be careful what you wish for, Laura. What am I wishing for? What are you wishing for? What do we think we need to feel complete? Like we’ve arrived? If we only had/did/achieved/looked like ______ we would be happy.
Really? Because as soon as we get/earn/appear like that, we usually wish for more.
Except when we have Jesus. He is the one thing that satisfies us once and for all. He is the bread of life, the living water. He told the people who encountered Him they would never need anything else. All they had to do was believe in Him.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (water from a well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4:13
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” —John 6:35
Completely, 100% satisfied. Never needing again. When we walk in the peaceful, grace-filled life Jesus offers this is what we receive. Sure, we still could use some money to pay our bills. We still pray for healthy relationships, for joy to fill the hearts of those we love. But we find all of our actual needs are provided for—that our longings are fulfilled. That desire for more and then a little more is squelched, because with Jesus we finally feel whole.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of things I want. A python pair of boots or that pink fuzzy jacket would be fun for fall. A serving of warm apple cobbler topped with creamy ice cream would be delicious. An extra hour of sleep would be divine. Heck, I’d take the half hour. But if I don’t get those things, I’m still fine, thoroughly content. Because all those little twinge-y incomplete parts of my heart have been filled in by a Savior who loves me no matter what I’m wearing, who’s sweeter than any decadent desert, and who provides rest for my tangled up soul.
If you had a magic lamp what would you wish for? If you could go out to proverbial sea one more time what would you hope to catch? It’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. Jesus calls us to be brave, live large, and go out there and use the gifts He’s given us to live bold, radical, fruitful lives. But at the end of the day whether we achieved or did not, won or lost, were noticed or ignored, we are fully seen and fully loved by our Perfect Savior. That itch? That something missing? That void we’re striving to fill? Jesus satisfies and fills it. He is everything we need. And His love and grace never ever run out.
My wish? Is that you feel Jesus’ love today, how it completes you, and satisfies like nothing you could ever set out to catch.
Laura L. Smith