“Would you like a pain au chocolat?” We asked my mom when she arrived at our apartment in Paris.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
“We just got them from the bakery. They’re still warm.”
She peeked at the white paper bag brimming with pastries, but shook her head. “No, really.”
I’m not sure what prompted Mom to turn down the flaky croissants stuffed with chunks of dark, rich chocolate. Maybe it was the calorie count or the fat grams. Maybe she’d eaten something on the plane already. But this was special. She was in France. And these were fresh-from-the-oven French delicacies.
“You should at least try a piece of one,” my son, Max, coaxed.
“Okay, maybe one bite.”
A few nights later, I received an email inviting me to go to Israel. Instantly my mind flooded with the memory of my childhood pastor describing his trip to the Holy Land from the pulpit, and my ten-year old mind being blown. You could actually go to the places from the Bible? That was an option? You could see where Jesus was buried? You could dip your toes in the Sea of Galilee? I’d longed to go ever since. I sighed—what an incredible opportunity. What an honor to be invited. My very next thought? Of course I won’t go.
Because it costs a lot of money? I hadn’t asked how much.
Because it means leaving my family for a week? I hadn’t asked if they minded. Because I don’t deserve this kind of gift—it seems too lavish for me to experience? I hadn’t asked God what His thoughts were.
I sounded like my mom with that pastry. Oh yes, that’s marvelous. I would really enjoy it. But, nah, I won’t partake.
Have you ever done this?
Given a quick “no.” to something good, something you want, something right in front of you? I’m not talking about eating the entire blueberry cobbler, buying every pair of cute sandals at TJ Maxx, or going out with the girls (or guys) every time someone sends a group text. We have limits on our resources. It’s important to set priorities and to exercise self-control. But sometimes, God gives us presents, simply because He’s an incredible Father and wants to delight us. Think of it like God wanting to take us out for ice cream, not because it’s our birthday, or because we got an A on our report card, but because it brings Him joy to make us smile.
When God asks if we’d like to go to Graeter’s? Do we answer, “Yes please!” and grab our flip-flops? Or do we primly shake our heads.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. —Ephesians 3:19 NLT
I’m guilty of turning down some of the ice cream cones God offers. In my practical “get things done, take care of the fam, make sure everything is running smoothly” mentality, I sometimes lose sight of how extravagant God’s love is. It might feel like I don’t deserve it, but not necessarily to Jesus. He is over the top and loves us accordingly. He piles heaps of blessings on us like putting someone in our lives who loves us for who we are, financially providing the means to pay a bill, a parking spot up front on a day when we need the extra four minutes, or a hug from a friend when we’re feeling down.
Are you receiving these gifts? Why or why not?
If you think they’re “too much” or not for you, have you asked God what His thoughts are?
After chatting with my Mom about her flight and train into the city, I glanced at her plate. All that remained were a few buttery crumbs of pastry.
I grinned, thrilled she had allowed herself to enjoy the treat we’d selected from specifically for her. “Good thing you had that bite,” I teased.
“It was just so delicious, I ended up eating the whole thing.”
Pain au chocolats are indulgent. We don’t need them. But they are also scrumptious. Not to eat every day, but while on a family trip to France, definitely.
Mom savored each morsel.
And after some long, deep conversations with God, I said, “yes,” to the trip to Israel.
What is Jesus offering you today?
He offers all of us peace, rescue, strength, courage, and salvation. Are you taking Him on those big, beautiful gifts wrapped in shiny bows?
Jesus also has special, unique gifts He offers us, too—trips to Israel and French pastries included. Are you accepting these gifts? Maybe it’s a job you haven’t bothered applying for, because you don’t know if they’d hire you. Or maybe you haven’t gone to that event, meeting, club, because you’re not sure how you’ll fit in. Or maybe you haven’t spoken up because you’re uncertain how they’ll respond. If this is you, I urge you to look inward and ask why you’re so quick to turn these potential gifts down. Ask God His opinion. I find He likes us to go ahead and open the presents He’s wrapped for us. They don’t do much good sitting there taped shut.
You are worthy of every spiritual blessing. God says so. Go ahead—tug on the bow. I can’t wait to see what you unwrap!
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Ten years ago I climbed out of a cab into a narrow alley in Lyon, France with two of my kids, jet-lagged and disoriented. When our driver stopped in front of the graffiti-laden door I was speechless. This was the address I’d given him. My husband and other two children would be delivered to this same spot any minute (one French taxi was not equipped to hold two parents, four kids, and six pieces of luggage). So, even though I couldn’t imagine this is where we would be living for the next month while my husband taught at the local university, this is apparently the place the school had rented for us. The small black Peugeot taxi disappeared down the steep alley, and I extended my arms like wings pulling my kids close trying to make them feel safe, even though the burning pit in my stomach and dark sense of dread enveloping my heart intensified by the second.
On our recent family vacation to France we revisited this alley hearts warm, smiles creeping across our six Smith faces.
Because behind the graffiti-covered front door is a walkway leading up a series of stairs to a fantastic French apartment complete with bright purple and green throw pillows on a dove gray Ikea couch, a basket of toys, and a spectacular view of a church steeple and the red-tiled rooftops of Lyon. The memories of the five weeks we spent here ten years ago are some of my fondest.
Despite my initial moments of dread, ends up we lived on the same street as the elementary school and only a two-minute walk from a peaceful playground. Safe. Quiet. Family friendly. While Brett rode the bus to the University each morning, the kids and I crossed the Saone River on a cherry red bridge to the outdoor market, purchasing fresh produce. Our next stop was the boulangerie to find fresh warm pastries and baguettes for the day. While Brett taught students from around the world about entrepreneurship, our kids played futbol with French children on the playground and tag in the large public square with a giant statue of the sun king, Louis XIV. We explored the ancient Roman ruins, and the cathedral Fourvière covered with mosaics perched atop a hill. Church on Sundays was at Saint-Georges, originally built in the year 550 at the end of our street, whose church bells serenaded us daily on the hour. We learned our way around the city, and became friends with our baker and grocer. It was like a page out of a Madeline book.
You see, you can't judge an adventure by its doors.
What looked to be a run down apartment in the bad part of town turned out to be a charming home within walking distance to everything a family with four kiddos could want in the loveliest (in my opinion) neighborhood in Lyon. Turns out the university knew exactly what they were doing when they rented the apartment. They were taking care of us. We just didn’t realize it at first glance.
How often do we do this? Decide something is bad, wrong, unsafe, finished, undoable before even waiting to see what’s behind the door. We give up before we start, or at least before we’ve allowed God to show us what He’s up to.
I think of the poor disciples after Jesus was crucified. Their Savior, leader, pastor, friend was gone. They saw Him brutally executed. Watched His body carried away and sealed in a grave with a giant forboding stone. But behind that stone the most amazing thing was going down. Jesus conquered the grave, so that we too, would never be stuck in the dark without air. The disciples couldn’t see this. Not until they looked inside the door on Sunday and realized that tomb was empty.
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. —Mark 16:2-6
What door seems shut in your life? Or damaged or covered in grafitti or locked or knocked down or sealed with a stone?
Sometimes God closes doors. And I am so grateful for that, because the doors He’s closed in my life have forced me to turn around so I could see the things He wants to teach me, and eventually the doors He’s swung wide open for me.
But Jesus also asks us to trust Him. Trust that the skill God gave you He will use for good. Trust that the relationship that didn’t work out wasn’t supposed to last for an extremely good reason (even if you don't see that today). Trust that Jesus has something incredible in store at the new place He’s put you. Trust that the sun will shine again. Trust that the apartment He set up for your family in France will be safe. Trust that when Jesus said He was coming back, He meant it.
I can’t tell you which doors are permanently closed and which ones you need to push open in your life. But I do know God will show you. He wants us to discover His plans. It’s not some game He’s playing like Let’s Make a Deal. God would never hide a goat behind one of the doors He's set on your path or lock a door He intends for you to walk through. No. He puts exactly what we need behind precisely the right door and if we’re patient (apparently sometimes it takes about three days) and willing to unlock the door or roll back the stone we’ll discover pure love, ultimate grace, and adventures beyond our comprehension.
Are you ready to push open the door?
This year I’ve been working on a book about music and the church and our roots. I’ve been writing the chapters out of order, which is not my style, but I knew how I wanted it to end, and there was something I wanted to change in the middle, and another chapter needed to go bye-bye and be replaced. I was working off two documents—the beautiful, polished one I’ll send my editor, and the one with lots of notes, some ideas for later, some reminders for now. So I kind of knew where I was with the project, but not completely. I thought I had at least three full chapters to write, plus edits as I pulled up the manuscript on my laptop. I was all set to start a new chapter, when one I’d been doing a major remodel on caught my eye.
I spent the day reworking the words—their order, the story they told. And when it took the shape I was hoping for, I added that chapter to my pretty document, and scrolled through. All thirty chapters had been written. What?!
I’m not saying I didn’t have some major editing to do, just that the first draft was complete, which is huge. And I didn’t even realize I’d crossed the finish line. I looked at the sky, blue and clear on the other side of the screen on my porch, and whispered, “thank you,” to Jesus, because He’s the one who gave me this book and He’s the one who truly wrote it. I just took dictation.
A completed draft is not a finished project, so I kept going, organizing the table of contents, fixing some footnotes. I didn’t take time to high five myself or journal or go beyond that one whispered phrase of gratitude. I’d save that for when I turned it in. Plus we were leaving that afternoon for an out of town soccer tournament. I still had to pack, grab a few things from the store, fill my car with gas. So, I kept going. And going.
Fast forward to that evening. I’d arrived in Columbus where the soccer games would start early the next morning. And because God is so good, my incredibly talented and lovely friend, Holly Starr, was playing a show in Columbus. Which is a huge deal, because she lives on the other side of the country, and we rarely get to see each other. But here God was—giving us this night for a hug, shared conversation, and the beautiful opportunity for me to witness her using her God-given talent. Holly sang some tunes off her latest album, Human. She sang some familiar worship music everyone knew. Her last song was “Give Me Jesus.” Which just happened to be the title of one of my book chapters.
Her rendition felt so raw and personal, like it was a gift from God, wrapped up with a shiny silver bow and delivered specifically for me. I’m sure others in the audience benefited from the reminder…but in that moment…you could have all this world, all I wanted was Jesus. He was reminding me of what happened that day—that He had given me a large assignment, walked with me every step of the way, and because I was willing to be obedient, He did a thing, a glorious thing—He wrote a book with me. And in the writing Jesus taught me so much. I felt like I would burst with appreciation.
The pastor of the church took the mic, said a prayer, and invited anyone who needed prayer to come forward while his wife sang a closing song. His adorable wife with short silver, curly hair and cherry red lips stood up and began, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus….” Yes. Oh my. I also referenced the lyrics to this song on a page of my book.
The book is about all kinds of things Jesus wants us to know, all kinds of ways we can connect with Him. And yet, the final two songs of a night that already felt like a present were straight from the conversations I’d been having with God as I wrote it. If gratitude was a liquid, my cup was running over.
This is how our God works. We go through the motions—did I pack toothpaste? And He sets up a Christmas tree packed with presents. We think, okay, check, I did that task, and He says, “Let’s celebrate! Look how wonderful things work out when we collaborate!”
I didn’t deserve to have the chance to write this book, yet I'd been spending my days penning the pages. I didn’t deserve to learn everything God taught me in the writing, yet I was full of a deeper understanding than when I began. I didn’t deserve to finish it before I thought I was done. I was ready to do more, but it was as if God wrote extra pages while I was sleeping or cooking dinner or driving carpools. I didn’t deserve to see my friend. I didn’t coordinate calendars or book a flight, but here she was smiling in front of me. And oh these beautiful songs that stirred my soul, I didn’t deserve to hear them, but God lavished them on me, like mounds of home made whipped cream, light and sweet, on top of rich, chocolate lava cake.
I didn’t deserve any of it, but just like I love to shower my kiddos with gifts, treats, and surprises, our Heavenly Father loves to love on us.
So keep on writing, or running, or researching, or rehearsing. Keep on studying, stretching, being obedient to what God is calling you to do. I don’t know when or what it will look like (I wasn’t expecting any of the presents He showered on me), but I do know He will lavish you with undeserved gifts, blessings sweet, tangible, and endless. Just keep your eyes on Him. The things of earth will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
I was at the Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference this week and had the pleasure of meeting a lovely group of up-and-coming writers. It was such an honor to sit and chat with them about all of the things God is calling them to do. One woman lost a son to suicide. In the midst of her own tragedy, she feels called by God to write a book to help others heal from similar traumas. I was blown away by her courage and love and obedience, to wade through her own pain to help others. Another woman lost her voice completely three days before the conference. But she came anyway. She took notes and attended a dozen one-on-one meetings communicating by writing questions and answers on her iPad and showing whoever she was speaking with her screen. Such bravery and faithfulness to come despite her ailment, to not give up, to move ahead. I have at least a dozen more stories of others I met who were bravely moving through doubt and worry and all of the excuses to start writing or speaking or blogging, because they felt God was asking them to. God called these folks to some extremely challenging things, but they stepped out in faith.
I came home from the event, changed into my soft red flannel pj pants (the ones with the snowflakes on them), made a hot cup of sweet and spicy apple cinnamon tea, and watched Evan Almighty with my youngest. Have you seen it? Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls and Steve Carell from The Office star as a modern-day couple with three boys. God visits Evan (Carell), a newly elected congressman, and tells him to build an ark. 450 feet long. 75 feet high. Out of wood. By hand. Identical to what God calls Noah to do in Genesis 6:14-21. Which seems a bit crazy and completely impossible, as I’m sure it did to Noah.
The movie is hilarious and if you have to cast someone as God, Morgan Freeman makes a fabulous choice, but what struck me was this is exactly what God does. He asks us to do the wildest things, things that seem out of our realm, and out of our skillset. Just like He was calling the writers I met with at the conference. Just like that thing He’s calling you to do, but you’re not quite sure, or ready, or wonder how it will be received, or what the neighbors will think. But there’s always purpose when God asks. Always. Some times no one else can see or believe why this task is important (like saving folks from an unforeseeable flood during a drought), but when we know God is calling, it’s our job to take a step forward in faith, pick up our toolbox and start building.
Oh yeah, and that toolbox thing. When we think there’s no way we could tackle this project, let alone complete it by ourselves, God puts all of the exact tools we need in our toolbox when we need them. Because we’re not meant to do it on our own. God didn’t call us to that. He’ll be with us. Every step of the way. In Evan Almighty, God had a toolbox and truckloads of wood delivered to Evan’s house. Plus, duh, God gave him a copy of Building an Ark for Dummies. God didn’t make Evan shop for tools or expect him to know how to take on that construction project without guidance and materials. In the same way God has been filling your toolbox, too. Maybe He’s given you a Bible verse and then another and another that totally speaks to what He’s calling you to do. Maybe through a variety of what seemed like random encounters you’ve gotten to know someone who has expertise or contacts that could help launch you towards that next step. Perhaps God had you take a class in college, had you work a part-time job, or volunteer at that charity, so you could learn a skill that He’s asking you to pull out of your toolbox now. And although you never knew you’d need that “saw,” there it is sitting for you, right where God put it, all sharpened and ready to cut some wood.
I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends. Watch it on Netflix if you want to find out. But this is how Genesis Chapter 6 ends: So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. Dang! I can’t imagine how crazy Noah felt, how long it took to build that giant boat by hand, how many people mocked him daily, what is was like rounding up all of those animals, how many times he wanted to give up, how many times Noah, asked God, “Really?” But Noah knew God asked him to do it. And so he did. All of it. Exactly how God asked him to do it.
What is God asking you to do? What tools has He put in your toolbox? What’s stopping you from starting? Don’t let it stop you anymore. Grab a metaphorical saw or hammer and get building, because God asked you to, because He’ll be with you, because He’ll use it for something phenomenal.
As part of our #thankfulnessproject for the month of November, comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram with either something you’re thankful God has called you to do OR a tool you’re thankful God has equipped you with, and then…start building your “ark.”
P.S. If you haven’t joined our #thankfullnessproject yet, it’s not too late. Stop by Facebook and Instagram daily for prompts, so we can thank the good Lord together for all He does and provides.
It’s impossible for me to keep up with this crazy banana game. Two of us Smiths like our bananas firm and bright yellow, with just a hint of green on the edges. Two of us like medium bananas—mellow yellow and slightly soft. The final two prefer “lightly dappled” (this is my husband’s official term) bananas—speckled with brown and borderline mushy. We all have one, possibly two days to eat the bananas perched in our fruit basket. If we miss the window, we’re out of luck. When the “lightly dappled” crowd misses their window, all that’s left in the basket is something that resembles smushy baby food in a thick, slimy brown wrapper.
So I have a choice:
I love sweet treats, so this decision is fairly easy. I believe sickeningly sweet brown bananas are precisely why God invented banana bread, and smoothies, and banana pancakes—whatever you’re preferred potion is. Sometimes in life we reach for something sweet, healthy and satisfying and instead grab a handful of overripe mush. Some days we think we need to arrive at 6:30 only to find out at 4:00 that we need to arrive at 4:30, meaning we needed to leave five minutes ago. Sometimes the flight or the book deal gets cancelled (just saying, it happens). There are days we’re asked to do something we have zero experience doing, and when the person we’re partnered with is our polar opposite.
Then what? When things look less than ideal, we assess the situation and see what we can make out of it. Not alone of course, but with God’s strength, endurance, patience, and perseverance stirred in to the proverbial banana pancake batter.
My youngest went back to school today, and my heart hurts, because the house feels so empty. But when my four kids all go back to school, I have time to write, and I have so many projects I’m excited to work on. So lookout laptop—you and I are getting ready to log some serious hours together. I have a lovely friend who recently lost her job. Which is awful and horrible and not at all what she saw coming. But she’s decided to travel the country, stopping and staying with friends along the way, while she sorts out “what’s next.” Another friend’s daughter plays field hockey and is not getting much playing time. But the daughter decided when she plays, she’s going to go full force, run with all her might, and make a difference for her team. Last night, allowed only a few minutes on the field with her stick, that girl scored the winning goal! Sometimes a handful of mush is all we get, but it’s what we’re going to do with that mush that changes things.
We can complain and gripe and as The Wild Things did roar our horrible roars and gnash our terrible teeth, OR we can assess the hand we’ve been dealt and play it well.
What mushy bananas have you grabbed lately? Did someone humiliate you? Your hours get cut? Did you break your wrist? Okay. So those are your cards. Not the best. But what are you going to do with them?
Jesus talks all the time about using what we’ve got, and using it to the best of our ability. In Mark 12 Jesus and his disciples witness a poor widow throwing a couple of pennies into the offering box. Jesus makes a point of talking to his disciples about this event—that it wasn’t what the lady had, but what she did with what she had that mattered. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”—Mark 12:43-44
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells another story of a man who went away on a business trip. Before leaving the guy gave three of his workers each different amounts of money. When the man returned he asked each of his workers what they did with the resources he gave them. Two of the workers invested the money and made a profit. The third buried his portion of money in the dirt. The boss was mad at the guy who simply buried his money, even calling him ‘wicked and lazy.’ But to the two guys who used the resources they’d been given to make something out of the situation he said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about what we have, but what we do with what we have. Jesus isn’t measuring us on how many hours we got our baby (or ourselves LOL) to sleep, how many Instagram followers we have, or how much money we saved at the grocery. But He does ask us to rest and take care of the bodies He gave us (ours and anyone under our charge). He does ask us to use our social media accounts to glorify the kingdom—this doesn’t mean it has to all be Bible verses, but it does mean we shouldn’t slam or judge people on social media, that we should use it as a positive place to encourage others, make them laugh, or smile, or think. Jesus isn’t counting cash or coupons, but again He wants us to use our resource of money wisely. And He doesn’t care about these things, because He’s filling out our performance reviews. Jesus cares, because He cares about us. Because He loves us. Because He wants what’s best for us.
He’s God, so Jesus pretty much knows about all the crummy cards the world deals out, all the brown, mushy bananas in the basket. But He also knows about all of the high cards he’s placed in our hands. Jesus wants us to take the crummy cards and bruised pieces of fruit, along with the Aces He’s dealt us, the eggs and chocolate chips He’s stocked in our fridges and pantries—the gifts He’s given us, the talents He’s given us, the strength and love He provides us with, and make beautiful, amazing things out of them.
What cards are in your hand? Don’t throw them in. Take another look. Maybe rearrange them or trade one with someone across the table. Wait until you hear what’s trump—that ten of hearts may be more valuable than you think. Got some overripe fruit? Consider what you can make out of it. Then play your hand well. Make scrumptious banana pancakes for dinner that make your entire family giddy. Use all the ingredients you’ve been provided with. And use them well. Then listen to Jesus as He whispers in your ear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, share My happiness!”
I went to put away a dish and the glass lid of a casserole tumbled out of my overcrowded cupboard, shattering into seemingly thousands of amber-colored shards. This is indicative of my week. An argument with one of my kids. A piece of information I don’t know how to deal with. A sleepless night. Something I’m waiting on. All unrelated, except for one thing. They’re all reminding me how much I need God. That I literally can’t do anything without Him. That thankfully, I don’t have to.
The argument was ridiculous. But it happened. I can’t undo it. I apologized. But that doesn’t make me a better listener or more patient or less prideful next time around. It doesn’t make my child and I see things from the same perspective. I am powerless to do that. The thing I discovered, the hours of sleep I missed out on, the answer I’m waiting to hear, all out of my control. And all in God’s. There are no amount of to-do’s I can accomplish, words I can say, breaths I can take that can assemble all of these items together like pieces of a jigsaw and end of with a pretty picture. But God can. I don’t know where to start. But He already has. I’m left with an action plan that only has one item on it—pray.
So God and I have been talking. A. Lot.
And this is what He keeps telling me on repeat. I’m sharing, because I believe it applies to you, too, no matter what is out of your control, is going wrong, or hurts or confuses you in this season of your life.
2. No matter what happens, God is still God, on the throne, knowing what’s best, and in control. So, I know this, and yet I don’t fully. I mean, of course God is God. He always has been and always will be. He created every shape and pattern of each leaf on every plant growing in the woods behind my house, grew every vibrant tomato plump and red piled on roadside stands and farmer’s markets, and invented every note of all the songs playing on my Spotify account and through my mind. God has rescued me in countless beautiful ways. But still I run a zillion “what if” scenarios through my brain. “What if I say this or she does that or this happens? What if I do or don’t check that thing off my list, have that meeting, get that offer? What if it makes me feel awful or elated? What if I let someone down? What if they disappoint me? Then what?” Then God will still be all-powerful, brilliantly wise, and capable of moving mountains. Then God will still love me and you fully and completely. No matter how those outcomes unfold. No matter what. God’s dominion and love are unstoppable and unchangeable.
3. I will continue to provide opportunities for you to glorify me. God might use you in a relationship, your sphere of influence, your work, your play, at home, when you’re out and about, when things go your way and when they don’t. He might use you in big-powerful-loud ways or in the finest, most precise details, or in the quiet- stealth-like ways that no one else will ever see. But God sees and smiles, no actually He beams. He will use you for good and for glory, 100% guaranteed. So we don’t have to worry if we get a new job, because whether we do or don’t, God will employ the specific talents He’s given us. It doesn’t matter if they pay you, play you, or cheer hooray for you, you are His—loved by God. He will provide chances time and time again where we can live and love well for Him, where we can point people back to Him, where we can do the things He created us to do. He’ll do that. Because He wants to, because He wants that for us, and even more so for His kingdom.
I am incapable of assembling all of those sharp transparent slivers back into a casserole lid. Nor can I guarantee I cleaned them all up. I swept, went back over the entire floor with a damp cloth. Mopped, too. My daughter pitched in and helped. One more time. Just in case. But there could still be a fragment of glass hiding in a corner. Someone could still step on a stray fragment and cut their foot.
My personality is one that wants to make everything right and then put cute stickers on it. But I’m not capable of fixing all the things. Or any of them as it turns out, not completely without any risks or cracks. But God is. And so today, I am putting my full trust in Him, believing that no matter what events and conversations take place He has specific plans for me and for you, He is almighty and all-loving, and He will provide us our daily bread, and so very much more. When life feels like too much to do solo, because it is, this is what we do—we pray. As the song goes—“This is how we fight our battles!”—never alone, but with the king of the universe on our side.
I have always loved getting packages. When Brett and I got married the gifts flowed in—delicate crystal wine glasses and fluffy yellow towels from our registry, all new, all ours, all symbolic of setting up a new household, a new life together. Each time the UPS man rang the bell; I scampered to the door, as eager to open the brown cardboard boxes from Macy’s or Williams Sonoma as if they were ornate treasure chests. After living in a myriad of apartments, sleeping on futons and using the mismatched forks and hand-me-down skillet my mom had donated to my cupboards, I was in awe that all these lovely items were for us—that we could eat off these matching plates and cook pasta in brand new Calphalon pans with lids that fit.
The packages poured in again when we had babies—people we knew from college and work and growing up—all lavishing us with adorable sleepers with fuzzy feet, cuddly blankets dotted with yellow and green puppy dogs, and rhyming Boynton board books. How could we possibly be recipients of all this cuteness? We were the ones blessed with little miracles on the way. Certainly we didn’t deserve all of these gifts, too!
Now, with Amazon Prime, packages appear seemingly daily. Just this week I ordered lavender seeds, a scrubber brush to clean the showers, a case of Italian flour, and a book one of my kids needs to read over the summer for school (yes! you can still get books on Amazon). They all came in separate boxes (the environmentalist in me is screaming, but that’s a rant for another blog). As I pulled the boxes in off the porch it dawned on me that the brown cardboard now seems so normal. When the gifts from our wedding registry showed up it felt like Christmas every time—what was in the box? Who was it from? Wow! We’d never owned anything so nice, not that we could call ours. But now? I mean, crackers and jumper cables. Not so exciting. I even get entitled when something takes more than two days, because hello? Prime.
I started wondering how I’m responding to the packages God delivers to me? Am I opening them with anticipation? Or tossing them aside, into the bin with the other scrub brushes, along the shelves with the other groceries, taking it for granted when I use them, because I feel entitled that they should be there? Am I thrilled when packages from God show up, or am I all, “I prayed about it two days ago. Where the heck is it?”
Yesterday I walked out front to dump our dehumidifier bucket full of Ohio humidity on our flowers—this is about as advanced as I get in my gardening. And, there was a package on the porch. I didn’t even remember ordering anything. Had I? Instinctively I brought it inside and grabbed my scissors, because we do get so many brown boxes on our porch. My husband’s birthday was in a couple of days, my son’s is in two weeks. The box could be a package for one of them. Of maybe it was the swimsuit top I ordered for my daughter. But before I cut in, I was prompted to pause and read the label. Curious to see the package’s origins I discovered it wasn’t for me, or anyone in our home at all. The box was actually addressed to our neighbors a few blocks away—same numerals on their address, same neighborhood, different street. It made me wonder if I’m figuratively trying to open packages meant for other people. Wishing a destiny or current situation different than the one God has gifted me. The one He knows is best for me.
Because God does deliver packages on the porches of our lives every single day—conversations with strangers and friends that teach us something or remind us of something important or open our eyes, tangy barbeque sauce, sweet, juicy watermelon, cool pool water on scorching hot summer days, tiny baby deer with white speckled backs peeking through the trees, a fluffy squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk, a phone call or Bitmoji from a friend that makes you laugh out loud, the solid warmth of a hug from someone you love—all gifts. Are we opening them with anticipation, excitement, gratitude? Amazed that we could be so lucky to receive such packages? That God would deliver them to our doorsteps? Or do we take them for granted?
Are we so grumpy about the packages that haven’t come yet, the things we want, the things we feel we deserve that we’re like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, belting out, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” Are there things we prayed about two days ago that we wish God would hurry up and Prime them to our porch. Are we so busy eyeing our neighbors brown boxes—jobs, wardrobes, achievements, homes, families, meals, vacations, abs, that we wish we could open them for ourselves, totally missing the packages God has piled up specifically for us to enjoy?
I don’t know what your day holds. But I promise God will deliver at least one wonderful package to you, if not many. It might be exactly what you hoped for, or something you didn’t even know existed. Keep your eyes open! Take a moment to notice the pink streaks of sky in the sunrise, the tomato deepening from green to red on the vine, the uninhibited laughter of a child splashing in a fountain, to really look into someone’s eyes. Consider the job opportunity, the house that’s for sale, the trip someone invited you on—could these maybe be a special delivery from God? Open up the packages of today with new lenses aware of the beauty God has surrounded you with. Be amazed that He has handpicked this present for you and sent it to your address—to make you smile, to make you understand you are loved, that even though you don’t deserve it, He wants you to have it.
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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Laura L. Smith