Well aren’t you the cat’s pajamas? That’s something my grandma would say, but I’m thinking about trying to bring it back. The phrase came from the 1920’s when flappers or anyone considered “stylish or cool” was given the nickname cat (think of the phrase “a cool cat”). And I guess, the cool or stylish person’s pj’s, well they were IT.
Cat’s Pajamas is also the name of a plant that blooms purple in the spring and summer here in Ohio. Two years ago when the world shut down, my girls were stuck at home and looking for ways to earn money, so my husband and I hired them to do our landscaping. The girls named their enterprise Two Sisters Landscaping. They weeded, mulched, mowed, and planted flowers in our yard. They were also responsible for the flowering pots that sit on our front porch. The girls went to Shademakers, our local home and garden store, which is incredible, and came home with Cat’s Pajamas which they planted in those pots.
The violet blooms looked lovely on our front porch. When summer faded to fall and the Cat’s Pajamas withered I replaced them with pots of mums. I’d like to say I did something green-thumbish about the situation but:
Then spring came and I was walking around the back to toss something in our compost heap when I noticed leafy green plants sprouting out of the abandoned pots. The Cat’s Pajamas had returned. Turns out they’re perennials. Who knew? It felt like a miracle. That these flowers my daughters had planted had come back to life. Without anyone watering or tending. Without anyone even looking at them. It felt significant.
So I took the plants out of their pots, dug holes in our flower beds, and gave them new permanent homes in our yard. They bloomed all last spring and summer, then again shriveled in the late fall. But look! They’re coming back to life again! Fresh green growth amidst dried out fronds.
It made me wonder what in my life could use some revitalization? What dried up and turned brown due to circumstances beyond my control like the cold, harsh months of winter? What have I let wither from neglect that could use some watering and sunshine? What felt too hard or like I couldn’t get to it or it simply fell off my radar? What can I bring back? What can I ask Jesus to help me bring back in my life? Because if Jesus can bring some abandoned flowers back to blooming each year, He can certainly do the same for us.
We’re in the midst of Lent, the season leading up to Easter, which means Easter is coming.
For Christians, Easter is the ultimate. It’s the day that Jesus conquered death and sin once and for all, that He erased our mistakes past, present, and future. It’s the day Jesus proved His exorbitant love for us in the most profound way–by giving His life for us. It’s also the day Jesus showed us we can conquer loss, pain, humiliation, devastation, betrayal. He walked out of that grave. And He wants us to walk out of anything dead or desolate in our lives.
When Jesus was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead he told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”--John 11:25-26
Resurrection and life! This is what Jesus offers anyone and everyone who believes. Yes, for eternity, but also for every aspect of our current lives!
What do you love that you’ve stopped doing? Who do you miss seeing? What practices that were really good for you like prayer, exercise, drinking enough water, stretching, reading your Bible have you slipped out of? What feels dry or brittle or shriveled or forgotten that God is calling you to bring back to life?
What if we all decided to be the Cat’s Pajamas? Because wouldn’t we be the coolest cats in town if we did a quick look over our lives and decided to revive laughter or weekly coffee dates with a friend? If we vowed to prune some dead branches and allow ourselves to bloom? Easter epitomizes resurrection and as we walk towards that day on our calendar, we can also walk towards our own resurrections, reviving what needs revived, and stepping into the glorious life-giving life Jesus offers.
I’d love to hear–what would you want to revive in your life?
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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?
My daughter and I had to weave our way through an Easter carnival in the middle of the town square to get to Scoops. The festivities included a jumpy house, sand art, an outdoor viewing of Hop, and of course photos with the Easter Bunny. We made our way through toddlers and parents and into the ice cream parlor where we proceeded to order bowls of gooey peanut butter brownie and rich coffee toffee ice cream. As we sat down to a table to enjoy our cool, creamy treats the Easter Bunny entered the shop. I was primarily focused on my daughter, but couldn’t help being a little startled when the Easter Bunny took off her costume head, and there was the face of a normal looking mom with a white, furry, bunny body. Of course I knew she was in a suit, but all of a sudden she wasn’t at all what she seemed.
Later that night in our hotel room, we could hear the people in the room next to us. Clearly. Too clearly. They were reading someone’s text and complaining loudly about the person who sent it. My daughter and I wished they would pipe down, but I was also sad for the person who sent the text. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have wanted it to be read aloud (and who knew the audience would also include us?). I’m also certain they wouldn’t have wanted to be talked about like that. The receiver of the text went on to share how she’d responded, which was way different than what she was shouting through hotel room doors. She wasn’t being consistent. In the privacy of her hotel room, her mask came off, revealing a different side of her.
Unfortunately, we’re all like this sometimes. We tend to wear certain faces for certain people—to appear stronger, braver, smarter, more put together, like we can handle it, like we’re okay or cool (even if we’re not). We sometimes say one thing, but feel completely different about it. Sometimes we act differently when we’re alone, then when we’re out in public, or speak differently when we’re with one group compared to how we speak when we’re with another.
But Jesus? Jesus is exactly who He says He is. He is always the same. He wears no masks and speaks no lies. He is always honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always.
As we’re midway through Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), I’m reading about Jesus in those final days of His life on earth. When He rode into town on a donkey and people waved palm branches at Him, Jesus was all these things (Mark 11:7-10). On that day everyone recognized Him as king—powerful, wise, and holy. But Jesus knew He was riding into town to rescue everyone. He knew what was ahead, and He did it anyway, because He is consistently strong, true, brave, and loving.
When Jesus overturned the tables at the temple, yes, He was angry (Mark 11:15-17). But only because He loves God the Father and His people, and He saw that the people were making a mess of things. Just like a parent snatches matches out of the hands of a toddler, using a firm voice, Jesus removed the danger from His children. Because He loves them. Because in wisdom He knows better. Because He’s never afraid to stand up for what is right.
When the religious officials belittled and questioned Jesus (Matthew 26:62-64), Jesus initially bit His tongue. He is holy, the Creator of all and didn’t have to come up with a snide comment or answer questions He didn’t want to. As High King of Heaven, He has both the wisdom and the authority to remain silent if He chooses. And when Jesus decided to speak, He declared with full authority that He will be ‘seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.’
On the cross Jesus was still King of Kings, still loving us, still bravely there to rescue us, not because He had to, but because He wanted to (Luke 23:26-49). This is who our Lord is. Never changing. Always faithful. We never have to worry about Jesus taking off a mask, about being different than who He says He is. If Jesus tells us something this morning, or if He said it over 2000 years ago, we can know it is 100% true. Jesus won’t change His mind, or say something different when He’s hanging out with someone else. He’ll never turn on us or let us down.
Jesus? He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. —Hebrews 13:8. He is honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always. Let’s marinate ourselves in who our Savior is this Holy Week as we remember how He died on the cross to save us. Because He loves us and He wants us with Him always.
What are you afraid of?
At my house our list includes:
Mice, snakes, thunderstorms, dogs, being late to practice, going to the dentist, getting a demerit, to name a few.
And when we take a look at these fears, we know they’re all silly, inconsequential, and yet…they’re rooted in something—some memory or impression that shoots off a warning in our brains.
For all of you puppy lovers out there, you cannot believe I even said someone could be afraid of dogs. The story behind the story? My daughter and I are both fiercely allergic to anything with fur. Ever since my kids can remember when a dog comes near Mallory or Mom, we back away. When a dog licks or rubs against Mallory or Mom we step back, Dad steps in front of us like Sir Lancelot to protect us. The clothes get washed. The hands get scrubbed. It’s like we go into total decontamination mode. So not surprisingly, my kids have it planted in their heads when you see a dog, you shy away.
But we have more serious fears, don’t we?
Fear of rejection, of not measuring up, of making the wrong decision, of losing someone we love, of going down the wrong path again, of not being able to pay our bills, of what the doctor will say, of the unknown.
But no matter what our fears are. God says, “Nothing of me is in fear. Nothing.”
God says, “I am perfect love,” and perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18
Knowing this means we don’t have to be afraid.
So…what are you afraid of? Where is the world or the competition or the enemy trying to sneak in, weaken you, make you doubt?
Over 70 times in the Bible it says, “Fear Not.” “Be not afraid.” It’s not a suggestion, but a command. It’s often followed with, “because I am with you” “because I will fight for you,” or “because you are mine.”
And yet, we’re still afraid. Of something. Of lots of things. Of unknown things.
I don’t want to be afraid.
I want to be fearless.
As a lover of words, I think maybe getting out of fear comes from understanding the word “fear”. There are actually two words for fear that frequently appear in the Bible.
When scripture speaks of “do not be afraid” it means phobeo, meaning no need to run, no need to hide.
Are we 100% in awe of God. Yare of who God is. Of how God loves us. Of the power of what Jesus did on that first Good Friday, what He did on the cross? Are we stunned by God and all He does, or are we trying to be the ones to impress others, running our hearts out on the performance treadmill? Striving to be good? To be good enough? A good enough friend, student, worker, parent, family member, spouse? A good person, or a good Christian?
Because we don’t’ have to perform. We have this gorgeous gift of unconditional love from the Savior of the World. Jesus loves you and me no matter where we’ve been, no matter how we ended up here, no matter what we’re struggling with today. Every day it blows me away that Jesus offers this amazing grace to a wretch like me (and like you, wretch or not). But He does. And because He offers it freely, we no longer have to strive. We have nothing to fear. His perfect love casts out all fear.
We are free to live a life of awe and wonder--yare'—and when we truly live in amazement of that, keep our eyes fixed on His love and glory, we never need to be concerned with phobos again.
I don’t have this virtue.
I’m horrible at waiting. I can’t wait until the chocolate chip cookies come out of the oven, so I eat spoonfuls of dough. I can’t wait until the Snow Patrol concert, so I keep pulling out my tickets. I can’t wait until Good Friday to post this blog, so I’m posting on Thursday. If I’ve emailed you in the past day, you can be sure I’m checking my inbox for your reply. I can’t even wait until tomorrow morning’s coffee – dark roast with a shot of mocha – mmm.
2014 years ago on this day the disciples also failed in the patience department. All they could see and feel was the humility and the devastation of their Lord being painfully and shamefully executed. They felt angry and lonely and hopeless. They locked themselves in a dark room afraid to go out, fearful of what would happen next.
Just around the corner was everything and more than they could have ever imagined. But the disciples couldn’t see it through all the darkness.
In just a couple of days they would see their Lord in all His glory. They would learn Jesus did not desert them, that He would never desert them or me or you. Instead, Jesus had forgiven the disciples, and all of us, our sins. He wasn’t leaving the disciples or us, but going ahead to make a place for us in heaven. But on Good Friday, the first Good Friday, that was incomprehensible.
The disciples needed faith, to remember His promises, and the patience to let them unfurl. So do I.
I’m plenty impatient about the little things. But, when I really want change in my life, when I’m over the top flustered or disgruntled or itching for things to be different, or am consumed with anticipation and excitement … this is when I truly need to be patient – to hang in there. Because just like Jesus had a glorious surprise for the disciples, there’s something just around the corner waiting for me, something amazing beyond my wildest dreams. And for you, there is something over the next hill that will blow you away. We just need to be patient.
For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13: 12 NIV
What are you waiting for today?
Laura L. Smith