Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
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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My mom and I were going for a walk around our neighborhood when she spied someone’s garbage can pulled to the curb with pieces of wood poking out of the lid.
“I want those!” She proclaimed.
“Well, take ‘em,” I encouraged. One man’s trash …
“I’ll use them for my tomatoes,” Mom declared, pulling out a few, straight, long stakes.
“Awesome,” I answered, because my mom loves to garden. It brings her so much joy. She literally completed our walk beaming ear-to-ear, strutting around with those sticks like a drum major leading a marching band. My mom rocks when it comes to growing just about anything. For years, she sweetly planted tomato plants in my yard, staked them, even placed little cages around them to keep the deer from snacking. And I LOVE tomatoes, love homegrown, Ohio tomatoes in the summer time. Could eat them every night with a small sprinkle of salt, preferably with some corn on the cob from the farmer’s market. But I can’t grow tomatoes. Can’t grow any kind of plant. So year after year Mom would painstakingly plant, and year after year they would die. I never harvested a single tomato.
So, explain to me how these grow in my yard? I’ve lived in this house for seventeen years. I did not buy the irises. I did not plant the irises. I never think about them unless they’re blooming. And then I stand in awe. I never fertilize the ground where they grow, water them, stake them, cage them, or ponder how much sunlight they’re getting. How do these stunning irises, drenched in purple, with crazy, gorgeous flowing shapes come up year after year and thrive in the same soil where I murder tomatoes?
I may be oversimplifying things. But truly, this is how God works, simply, not always easily, but always simply. He is always at work, doing unfathomable things, when we’re not capable, when we’re not mindful, when we’re not even aware.
Right now. Today. God is working some detail, maybe dozens of details in your life that you will be able to take zero credit for. Maybe it’s a job you didn’t even know existed that you are going to be offered in a few months, and right now God is introducing you to some people who will help you in that position, having you stumble across articles that will inform you for your interview, and having the person who currently holds that job get the promotion they’ve been hoping for, so their slot will be available for YOU! Maybe right now God has grad students working in a lab making small discoveries that when added to findings scientists in another lab are making will equal a treatment or cure for the very ailment you’re battling. Maybe God just gave someone else a whopping income tax return they weren’t expecting, and is nudging them to share the wealth, and they’ll just happen to hear about your need—the mission trip you’ve been praying about, the broken part of your house you can’t afford to fix, and voila—your need will be met.
Maybe none of the above applies. Certainly if I knew how God was working in the secret ways of your life, it wouldn’t be as cool or mysterious or phenomenal. But I do know He is working. I know, because I’ve seen Him do it again and again, over and over. I see college students apply for internships and get turned down, because the opportunity of a lifetime is about to present itself in a few days, and they would miss it all together if they’d settled for that other thing. I’ve seen people’s cancer go in remission, houses sell, relationships mend, all because of God’s grace, not because of all of their due diligence. God swept in and said, “I love you. I have something for you.” How have you seen God work behind the scenes in the past? Doesn’t that give you hope that He’ll do it again?
I’m not saying we get everything we wish for. Thankfully God knows better than we ever could what we need, thus all the cool undercover work He does. I’m also not proclaiming we should all park ourselves on the couch watching Netflix and eating ice cream all summer, trusting God will do the rest. We’re still called to do our part, to take care of our bodies, to be wise stewards of our time and our finances. To use the gifts He’s given us and to use them well, for His glory. If I never sat down and wrote, well, I wouldn’t have a blog, or articles, or books. It can’t happen unless I invest the time. But I also know none of my stories would have even been read without the way God orchestrated the details.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
So do the things you know you can do. Fill out the application. Make the appointment. And then breathe easy. God loves you. He wants you to experience a full, free life. Just like you do special things for the people you love—make them a treat, send them a card, plan a graduation or birthday celebration for them—things that take some time, some planning, some effort, God is putting together the pieces for a lovely gift for you. He might still be shopping or organizing or wrapping or waiting for the mysterious Amazon delivery person to drop it on His porch, but God is at work for you. Maybe you can’t fathom how you’re going to make the thing happen that you really want to happen. Maybe you’ve lost hope over something you felt God had in store for you, but now seems to be taking forever. Maybe your struggle is intense and hard, and you can’t see a way out or up. But God can. And He knows better than we ever will how all of the pieces should shift and flip to fall perfectly into place. Maybe there’s something so beautiful in the works, sprouting from a seed underground that you’ve never even asked for, never reached for, that you don’t even suspect is growing.
Maybe I can’t grow tomatoes, but God can grow irises. And, apparently peonies.
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This fall I started teaching a new Bible study, at a new place, with a group of women I’d never met before. I had a case of first-day-of-school excitement and nervousness so real I wondered if I should buy myself a new lunchbox and glue stick.
To prepare for the first session I:
Five minutes later a squirrel was running around the church. No lie. A squirrel! The pastor, who I’m sure was impressed with the new girl they picked to lead Bible study, and I scurried around for several minutes eventually shooing the little guy out.
The DVD player worked. We drank coffee. The ladies were awesome. When it was over, everyone left except one girl who helped me make sure the doors were locked and the alarm was set. I hopped in my car, checked my messages, and started to back out. Only, there was another woman coming out of the church with her littles. A woman who I thought had already left, but apparently was changing someone’s diaper. A woman who I had locked in the church. When she opened the door, yup, you guessed it, the alarm went off.
I had to call the pastor and beg him to drive back to the church to turn off the alarm system before the cops came (as if I hadn’t already dazzled him with my competency). But I got this great opportunity to get to know both the girl I locked out and the girl who helped me. I hadn’t known their names two hours prior, and now we stood in the parking lot chatting and laughing with the alarm blaring in the background.
The next week I arrived early. Only through a miscommunication of mine, the church was locked. And I didn’t have a key. There were a dozen women, many with toddlers, two babysitters, a locked church and me. I was rocking this new gig. But you know what? It was also a stunningly gorgeous autumn day. And picnic tables had been set up in front of the church. Tables that aren’t always there, but today were. And the church has a fantastic toddler-safe playground. I sent the kids with the sitters to play on the playground and the ladies and I set up shop at those picnic tables. We had such meaningful conversation.
The third week all of the gourmet chocolates I’d stashed in my bag to put out for the girls had melted into one gooey glob. Guess what? Bible study that day? Still grand.
Moral of the story? No matter how much I prepared, I could not secure the outcome of Bible Study. No matter how much I prepare for anything I can’t control the outcomes. Just the inputs. I can’t. You can’t. We aren’t supposed to. We weren’t meant to. And even if we think we can or try our hardest or prepare in all of the best ways we know how, we aren’t in control. But thankfully, God is.
Yes, since I agreed to lead this group I should come prepared. That’s a common courtesy. But I also need to accept that I’m not in control of “how well Bible study goes” or what women get out of it, or what these awesome ladies learn. God is.
When we do our jobs, care for our family, serve our organizations, teams, or churches, parent our kids, love our spouses, we should do our best. We should prepare, because that’s kind and respectful and caring. Because we would want others to do the same for us. Because Jesus loves us so perfectly. But in the end, the outcomes are in God’s hands.
If you have a tryout or an audition, play your hardest, strive to hit the high notes, work on memorizing your lines. If you have an assignment, read the material, think through it well, answer to the best of your ability. If you’re planning a party, buy and/or cook yummy food, check to make sure you have napkins and cups. If you have a deadline, arrange your schedule to allow enough time to get the work done. But don’t forget to pray over it. Put your work and your efforts, which on any given day could be stellar or less than stellar, in the hands of the Almighty who is always spot on and eternally at His best. And then trust Him.
How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? —Galatians 3:2 MSG
Last week during the video for Bible study, Jennie Allen said something like this (I’m paraphrasing, because when I take notes, I quote what I like and emphasize what I feel God is trying to tell me—so this is what I jotted down), “This has never been about my competency. It’s only about my love for Jesus and His love for me.”
No matter what you’re working at today know that, absolutely, you should give it your best. Because God made you. Because He’s given you this opportunity. Because He’s gifted you in ways to serve Him through this. Do the things you know how to do—the things you can control. Prepare in the ways you know how to prepare. But remember, it is not about your competency. It never was. It’s about your love for Jesus and His love for you. So, whisper a prayer over the situation—your interview, upcoming move, surgery, or evaluation. Then trust our God who is greater, who knows exactly what we need before we ever ask, who loves us, and is fighting for us, and is on our side. Trust the God who has more than everything we could ever need to accomplish what needs to be done. When we come to the end of ourselves we find God there waiting to complete the good work He has begun in us.
When it’s all said and done, don’t forget to marvel at what He does with our meager offerings—squirrels, alarms, melted chocolates. He takes these things and turns them into friendships, abundance and grace. This is what Jesus offers. Do your best today, but don’t worry about your competency. Instead focus on His love.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
I think most of us have at least two personas.
One is the uncomfortable, uncertain version of ourselves. When we are around specific people or in certain settings we tend to feel insecure and underestimate our capabilities. Personally, in these situations I lower my head, keep quiet, stay on the edges of conversations and groups, unsure of what to say, not feeling like I have much to contribute. I have friends who react the opposite in these same scenarios. They become louder, spewing things they don’t even mean to say, things that are a bit too snarky, or that challenge others as protective armor from having to reveal themselves. You might have a different default mode altogether that you use to cope with the places and people where you feel out of place. None of these is our best or brightest. These are the places we need to spend less time.
But then there is our true self. The way we feel and act when we are in our element. Where laughter comes easily, where we believe our ideas matter, where we can look people straight in the eye and say how we feel without any fear of being judged or misunderstood. When the weather seems perfect and our clothes feel comfortable and our phones stay tucked in our pockets and purses and we never glance at the clock, but wish we could stay a long while. These are the places we need to spend more time.
Which one of these personas are you currently living?
There is a scene in The Little French Bistro by Nina George where one of the main characters sees an artist’s portrayal of her. She is overwhelmed, because the woman the artist has depicted is stunning, captivating, positively beautiful and mesmerizing. Conversely, the character finds herself quite ordinary and unremarkable.
She asks the artist, “Is that how you see me?”
The artist replies, “That is how you are.”
It is a powerful scene. Because the woman was amazing. She just couldn’t see it in herself. Just like all of us are captivating. But we’re quick to dismiss our value and often struggle to see our true reflections. But Jesus? He always sees our true selves. And He always sees us as magnificent.
When we compare ourselves to others, measure ourselves against social media, and strive to make ourselves known—to get our numbers on the board. We often sell ourselves short. We focus on our faults and the places we do not excel. But Jesus created us. He created you and I uniquely and distinctly. He formed us to do amazing works. Allow Him to remind you who you are in Him. That you are as captivating as a masterpiece in a gallery—able to make those passing by pause, ask questions, and ponder. You truly make hearts beat faster, mouths curl into smiles, and brains expand their thoughts.
How do you find this beautiful self that’s sometimes so hard to see? Start by hanging out with Jesus. When I’m with Him, I see a me that doesn’t even resemble the woman who sits awkwardly on the fringe of a conversation or pants to keep up in a race or whose brain hurts when she looks at financial statements. Instead I see a woman who gets high on telling stories, who is loved by her family, treasured by her Savior, and therefore beautiful in a distinct way. Spending time with Jesus opens our eyes to better see the people who see our true personas and to the things that make us more of our true selves.
Once you’re vision has been cleared up a bit by Jesus, start doing fewer things that empty you. Do more of the things that thrill you, bring you peace, make you feel whole—that could be kicking instead of throwing the ball, teaching or taking a class, rocking a baby, or hiking a trail. Slowly stop spending time with the folks who drain you, who make you feel small. Your stunning true reflection is lost on them. Instead seek out the people who recognize you for the treasure you are.
How do you see yourself?
How do others see you?
How do you want to be seen?
The truth is you are Christ’s masterpiece. It’s time to allow Him to show you who you truly are. You might be surprised at the capable, worthy person you see in the mirror. You might turn to Jesus and ask, “Is that how you see me?” He is certain to reply, “That is how you are.”
Do you have someone you love so much; you could never be truly mad at them, never love them less? For that matter, you love them so completely; you couldn’t possibly love them more?
Maybe it’s your dog. Whether he tracks mud on your floor, fetches the stick, or chews on your shoes you want to cuddle him, because he’s so darn sweet. Or maybe it’s your niece, granddaughter, or the little girl you babysit, because, hello? Has anyone seen her cuteness? Sure she’s sassy and has a bit of an independent streak, but one hug from her and you are done for.
This is how God sees us.
It’s true. When we make a mess, don’t apologize, try to do things our way, throw in some attitude for good measure, lose our tempers, etc. God loves us so unconditionally; none of those things seem to matter. He just wants to take us into His arms, ask about our day, reassure us when we’re insecure, and calm us down when we’re upset. And when we achieve grand goals, win the prize, get the raise, He’s happy for us. He still loves us, but not more, because He already loves us so much.
When I see my kids studying for a test, I don’t care what grade they get. Sure, I hope they do well, because they’ve worked hard. I hope they’ll be rewarded for their effort. But I love that they’re being diligent. The score on the exam does not sway my love for them one way or another. It can’t. Same with anything they work towards. I hope they get summoned from the bench in a soccer match. I hope they win, because they’ve been training hard, because it matters to them. But their amount of playing time, a win, loss, or tie, doesn’t impact how much I adore my children, or how proud I am of them.
God loves us infinitely more than we are capable of loving those around us. So why oh why, do we ever feel the need to earn His love and grace? He already loves us. His grace is already ours.
I know this, yet, I was in a funk the other day. I was feeling as if my writing was not enough for God, that I wasn’t doing enough with my words for Him. Which sometimes is the Spirit prompting us to get off the couch and go. But this wasn’t. I knew I was focused and devoting time to writing words that wove themselves into stories. I was doing okay with inputs but was feeling responsible for outputs. That’s not my job.
Yes, it’s up to us to give things our all (and please know that some days “our all” is just squeaking by, because we’re spent and that’s OK). But how things turn out, we’ve got to trust God with that. When we use the talents God’s given us, God will work things out according to His perfect plans. I know that, but lose sight of it. My slump was self-doubt creeping in. And trust me, self-doubt is never from God.
How about you? Ever doubted any of your abilities?
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
Just as you delight in your dog, or that little girl, or whoever. Just as I marvel at my kids, God finds joy in us. Because we are the people He created. Which means He gave us our talents. And as long as we’re using them, He doesn’t care if our song hits number one, or if our department brings in the most grant dollars, or if our yard wins Garden of the Month. God just thinks it’s super cool that we’re singing, writing grants for things we’re passionate about, and digging in the dirt making things grow. Remember, He can take all the parts of us that aren’t quite there yet—our weaknesses—and perfect His power through it.
It’s when I’m not enough that God can show off His perfection.
Some of the most priceless moments with my kids are “good nights.” We recount highlights of the day, pray together, and exchange a hug. But the best part is when I tell them I love them. Because I do. Down to my core. And if they say, “I love you, too,” my heart explodes with joy.
God’s not looking for achievements, promotions, and dollar signs. He’s thrilled when we utilize the gifts He’s given us, just like I clap like crazy if one of my kids scores a goal or nails their lines. But as God showers us with His great love, what He most wants from us is an, “I love you, too, Lord.”
You don’t have to strive today. God isn’t using a measuring stick. Do your best. Use what He’s given you. Love large. God will do the rest and fill in the flaws and stumbles with his perfect power. And when God tells you how much He loves you, believe Him, then whisper, “I love you, too.”
Have you seen the movie Begin Again? My favorite scene is when Gretta, a disenchanted musician is coerced by her friend to perform at an open mic night at a pub. While she’s singing, Dan, a down and out music producer, is ordering a drink at the bar. But at the sound of her voice and her acoustic guitar he turns around. And everything stops.
Like magic, a few chords resonate from the piano on the corner of the stage, accompanying her tune. Drumsticks are raised by invisible hands to pound out a beat at the exact right moment. A cello and bow appear on stage and play a few perfectly placed notes all by themselves. Dan might be going through a rough period—with his family and with his job, but he has a God-given gift. He can produce music. And he can do it like a maestro. He rubs his chin, tilts his head, and as he nods a violin appears out of thin air playing the coup de grace for the song’s bridge. All it takes are a few notes from an unknown singer, and Dan inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to turn a good song into the kind that strikes a chord in your heart.
This is what God-given gifts look like. Effortless to those who weld them. Unbelievable to those who witness them. We usually spot them quickly in others, but falter when it comes to identifying them within ourselves. What are your God-given gifts—the things you do so naturally, that you might not even own up to them?
Recently I hit a brick wall while in the midst of responding to edits on a book I’m finishing. I knew what I wanted to say and why it was important to me. I understood what the reviewer was communicating, but I could not for the life of me make the two concepts work together. But my friend, Amy? She talked me off the ledge. She took a look at a passage that paralyzed me and said, “Oh, this is great. You just need to tweak this sentence by adding this and deleting that.” It was like she’d waved her magic wand and instantly fixed something I’d been tangled in for over an hour.
I was considering tiling the backsplash in my kitchen but I’m clueless in the home décor department, so I texted my friend, Jamie, who along with being an artist, stages houses. Five minutes and fifteen texts later she had pulled a Joanna Gaines and suggested what she would have a carpenter do on my cabinets and what color of paint would be the perfect accent to the tile.
Have you witnessed something like this? Someone who steps into a challenge and simply slides and turns what are obstacles to you as easily as the squares on a Rubik’s cube, and within moments has all of the sides and colors in neat little rows. The rest of us stand with our jaws hanging open saying, “How did they do that? What just happened?”
This is what God-given talent looks like. Effortless. What can you do like this? You might not even know you can do it, because it comes so stinking easy to you. You might not even think about it, never even consider it. It’s just what you do. But that’s not what everyone does, how everyone looks at things, this is your special thing. This is how the Creator of the Universe created you. Can you pluck a fabulous harmony on the upright bass? Can you look at a chemistry equation and immediately see which reactants and products in what quantities are necessary to balance it? When a friend is frazzled, do the right words, nods and gestures come naturally to you to calm and soothe them?
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…Romans 12:6
That gift you have? God placed it in you the day He made you.
You have a special thing! There’s something you do that awes the people around you, that leaves them asking, “How do they do that?” And when you find that thing—do lots of it. Do more of it. Find additional ways to integrate that thing into your daily life. Seek more opportunities to apply this skill, to exercise those muscles, to play your song. Don’t let your talent sit on a shelf collecting dust. The world needs you and your gift, because the rest of us can’t do it, and even if we can somehow accomplish that thing you do so well, when we do it—it is with great struggle and frustration. I needed friends to help with edits and with decorating. The world needs you to line it up, click things into place, plug them in, and light things up.
Because God gave you that gift in the first place, when you put it in His hands, it can soar like it’s on steroids! Even more masterfully than a music producer, God inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to highlight and accentuate your talents. Ask Him to guide that gift He gave you, and watch Him turn the tune of your life into the kind that makes people dance and cry and sing at the top of their lungs, the kind people remember, and play over and over again, because it strikes a chord in their hearts. Today you can begin again. You can tap into your God-given talent, ask Him how you can use it to serve Him, and together you can fill the air with magnificent melodies.
Seven new planets were discovered orbiting around a star named Trappist-1 last week! Seven! They’re about the size of earth, and we didn’t even know they existed!
Closer to home, this Amaryllis grew out of a bulb in the middle of winter in my own house. It’s not quite as remarkable as the planet thing, but considering any plant I come in contact with withers at my touch, it’s pretty amazing. (I’m like the Freeze Miser without ice).
And the God who created these stunning blooms, literally unfathomable when you look at the brown onion-like bulb they spring from, and our solar system packed with all those stars and planets (apparently way more than we could ever imagine) He created us, too.
Some days it’s easy to go around doing our thing. Rolling over, tapping our alarms, checking our phones, brushing our teeth, driving to school, work, spin class, and before we know it we’re washing up the dinner dishes, sliding on pajamas and crashing into our pillows, so engrained in our routines that we don’t notice. That we don’t notice the daffodils are poking up their heads, the people we love most have something behind their eyes, something on their minds, the song on the radio is the one we kept hearing at the beach, the scent of our soap smells like Grandma’s pies, that some time during the day God used us in some incredible way, that God created us for unbelievably phenomenal work.
Yes, I’m still a bit amazed by this whole planet thing, and I’ve pointed out the flower on our counter to my kids about 94 times each, but I also stand in awe of the way one of my girlfriends sings like a rock star, when I can’t carry a tune, how my mom makes meals for every neighbor and friend she knows when I struggle to get dinner on the table for my own family, how another friend can walk in a room and effortlessly remake the space with her instincts for color and layouts, when I’m just hoping to get around to the dusting. I’m not saying that I wish I had those gifts, sure they’d be nice, but this is not a jealous rant, just a moment to observe how many incredibly awesome and irreplaceable people God has created. To pause. And be in awe of how He uniquely gifts each of us.
And as I see the beauty in each of the women I get to hang out with, it reminds me that God created me to do specific work as well. Just like He created some of you to teach a certain skill, to listen to somebody’s problem, to mediate another disagreement, to create delicious cupcakes, to make people laugh, or to block the other team from scoring. What did He create you to do?
Don’t go through today without noticing.
Without observing the beauty in each of the individuals around you.
Without realizing the potential within yourself.
What amazing skills and talents do your friends and family members possess? Compliment them. Remind them. Encourage them, in case they haven’t detected their talents for themselves, in case they’re about to give up.
What do you do well? What comes naturally, something you might take for granted, that the people around you marvel at? Thank God for the ability to sing, run, analyze, listen, navigate, tell jokes, be patient, think outside the box, be silly, cook, make a difference. Thank Him for making you you. Now go out and shine like a planet, bloom like a flower, and knock the socks off the world.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
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