How was your Christmas?
Did you see the people you wanted to see?
Did you get that thing you most wanted under the tree?
Partake in your usual traditions—view the light show? Watch The Nutcracker? Attend the concert? Give the silliest present in the gift exchange?
Or are you feeling unsatisfied?
Maybe you’re full of sugar cookies topped with creamy frosting and sweet sprinkles, and memories and hugs, but now it’s over. Now what?
Or maybe it was amazing, but you’re tired. And you have a house to clean, a fridge to restock, a shopping bag full of returns and exchanges to make, plus thank you notes to write.
Or maybe Christmas at your house is hard, because of that one family member, yikes, or bitterness or jealousy or past regrets or painful memories or the unexpected tragedy and you really want to move on.
I am a Christmas fanatic. I love all of it—the songs (I’ve been listening since November 1), the baking, the decorating, the crisp scent of pine, the sharp taste of peppermint, the warm glow of candles, the Christmas movies that make me laugh (Home Alone) and cry (It’s a Wonderful Life). Yes, I adore Christmas—every millisecond of it, but I ate too much. And stayed up later than my body likes to. And I love my family so fully I might burst, but this introvert girl needs a little alone time. And sure, there are moments over the holidays that are a struggle—when family members bicker, when someone’s feelings are hurt, when a gift goes awry, or the memory of someone no longer with you leaves an ache in your heart. But Christmas isn’t something we’re supposed to rate with a five star system like the last book we read (Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg ****) or movie we watched (Incredibles 2 also ****). Christmas is something that happened one time, one night over 2000 years ago that changed the world, changed everything, changed me, and if you know Jesus changed you, too, forever.
We celebrate this phenomenal event every year despite our budgets or states of mind. It’s such a huge deal we get together with all of our favorite people and decorate evergreens—because they symbolize the everlasting life Jesus gives us, exchange gifts—because He is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and drink eggnog—because I have no idea why. Important things should be celebrated, remembered, reflected upon. But this important event wasn’t a one and done—like your last birthday, anniversary, or semester. Jesus was born as a baby (okay, that part only happened once), but He did it to shower His love on us for always.
Jesus loved the world. That’s what He did. That’s who He is—love. And this all-powerful King, Lord of Lords who personifies love, loves you.
When you’re questioning yourself—asking did your brother even like his present, was the turkey a little dry, what did Uncle Lester even mean by his comment, could I have changed that, or fixed that, or saved them? Remember that Jesus loves you, then as the carol, “Old Holy Night,” describes your soul will remember its worth. It’s not about the outcomes. Jesus’ love—that’s what Christmas is all about.
Peter, who hung out with Jesus nonstop during the three years Jesus preached, healed, and taught on earth says it this way:
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people. —1 Peter 2:9-10
Chosen. Us? For high callings? To be holy people? Dang. It’s hard to feel anything but grateful and honored in the midst of these positions we’ve been appointed to.
You’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls. —1 Peter 2:35
When we feel helpless, or like no one notices us or appreciates us or understands us, we can remember that Jesus named us. He named us His prized possessions. He’s keeping us for good things. Jesus is our shepherd, the one who feeds, cares for, provides, and protects our very souls.
So, I don’t know how Christmas impacted you for the good or bad. Maybe you still have two more rounds of unruly relatives to “celebrate” with. But no matter how many stars you’d give this Christmas, it’s important to realize all of the festivities were created solely as a way to remember THE first Christmas and all the love Jesus brought for us then, for always. When we sink into the truth that He loves us, that He names us and chooses us, then our souls truly know their worth.
We no longer evaluate ourselves on how the appetizers turned out or how the presents were wrapped. We no longer let those painful memories or snide comments hijack what Christmas means. We no longer feel the need to prove ourselves. Because Jesus chose to come down to earth. Chose to live among us. Chose to die for me and for you, because He chose to love us.
Whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. John 1:11 MSG
All we have to do is chose Him. And then Jesus will show us who we truly are, allow us to glimpse our value, our worth, fashion us into our true selves, our child-of-God selves. So, as you reflect on Christmas, reflect on that truth. That God wants to be with you, loves you. Not just on Christmas, but every day. And that is something that truly deserves to be celebrated!
I was scrolling through Instagram and paused at a post listing “10 Things I Hope to Do Every Day.” Mentioned were, “learn something new” and “laugh”—great things I hope to do, as well. But one item stood out—smell good. I made a note of it. Yes, please. Smell good. Every. Day. I mean, we’ve all been around someone who smells bad. And nobody wants to be that person.
Because our scent tells a lot about our story. I woke up this morning and my pajamas smelled like the fire from our fireplace last night. I know it’s April, but it just snowed. Again. Don’t get me started. Our kitchen smelled spicy like the tacos we ate for dinner. My son’s gym shoes reek like the creek he splashed in. One hug from one of my kids, and I can tell from their scent if they’ve been swimming, at a coffee shop, playing outside, or if they just crawled out from under their covers. I’m like a smell detective. But if I can tell so much from a quick whiff of one of my children, what else do our smells convey?
I don’t want my story to be a smelly one. I don’t want people to take a step away from me, like they do when someone has bad breath of body odor. I don’t want to have a stinky personality, reek of negativity, or be known for foul behavior.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. —2 Corinthians 2:15
I want to be the pleasing aroma of Christ. I want to smell like Jesus. What does that mean? I think being the aroma of Christ means our actions, and our words should waft wonderful things throughout the air, drifting by the people we encounter, and delivering to them a hint of what Jesus offers—hope, love, encouragement.
Have you heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They lived in ancient Babylon and worked for King Nebuchadnezzar. The King built a giant gold statue of himself and made everyone bow down to it. Slightly arrogant. Except these three guys refused. Because God. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t too pleased with their defiance, and threw the boys into a flaming furnace so hot it sizzled the guards who tossed them in. God stepped in and rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the King realized they weren’t going to die, he let them out. And our three heroes?
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! —Daniel 3:26-27
Our boys stood up for what they believed in. They would not bow down to anyone or anything except God. And even after being thrown in a furnace, not a scent of flame or ash was on them. Because they were not part of that thing, they were set apart. They were children of the One True King.
What do I smell like?
Am I standing up for Jesus? Am I idolizing anything other than God? Because Jesus has set me apart. You, too, if you believe in Him. We don’t have to be associated with the smoke and mirrors of this world. But it’s our choice. We can bow down. Or not. We can smell like smoke, or like something much better—the sweet aroma of Christ.
When I spritz on some Bath & Body spray, I smell fresh, fruity, maybe like an ocean breeze. What if my actions and words left a trail of warmth, kindness, and compassion? My favorite scent is lavender. One whiff and I feel peaceful and filled with beauty, like I’ve escaped to the South of France. How can I make others feel that way—calm and fulfilled? What if we all left a trail of lovely aromas that filled the world with hope and joy, or at least the potential for it?
I know that even as I focus on the idea of having a lovely scent, I’ll get stinky again. I’ll sweat, slice an onion, or take out the trash. And I’ll have to wash up to get fresh all over again.
What about when we get spiritually stinky? Same. We need to wash ourselves in the love of Christ, in what He did on the cross, on the fact that He loves us and therefore nothing else matters. Then we can be less defensive, less prideful, less jealous, less anxious, less concerned about what they think, because what do we need to worry or boast about if the Author of Creation loves us?
All scrubbed fresh and clean, we can go back out, equipped to spread the aroma of Christ to the world. Will you join me? Do you know how great we could make this world smell?
‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even our Elf on the Shelf.
In the morning, I woke an hour before I set my alarm my brain whirring a million miles a minute. Although I’d felt like I’d been preparing nonstop for Christmas since we lit the first Advent candle, when I’d gone through my closet the day before and started sorting through bags and laying things in piles, I realized I’d done a pretty poor job of shopping for my amazing kiddos.
I’d purchased, gathered, and wrapped the teacher gifts, the cousin gifts, the baby gifts, the gifts for Columbus, and the gifts for Cincinnati. I’d planned menus, shopped for food. Had it in separate bags in the fridge, freezer, and pantry for the appointed visits and times. I’d mailed the cards.
But aye aye aye! Where was the jersey I’d ordered? Where were the p.j. pants? I did push “confirm order,” didn’t I? Did I ever buy the hat I’d considered purchasing? I felt like I had almost nothing for my four kids who were definitely on the nice list. I felt like I’d failed. Because I’m the mom. Because I love my kids. Because it’s my “job” to take care of the Christmas gifts. And I’d done a stinky job at it. I lay there under my covers tangled in self-induced guilt, then got up, read my Bible (but didn’t let it sink in—too preoccupied with failure), brushed my teeth, and was still teetering on panic mode. I confessed my freak out to my husband who kicked into the most beautiful gear.
“What do we need? I love last minute shopping. Give me a minute. I’ll go to Walmart.”
Neither of these words is even in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. I do not do last minute. And I cannot do Walmart. I’m sorry. It’s just too everything for me to handle.
But my husband, he lives for this stuff. He probably passed around wassail and cookies to the workers. And he gave me the gift I needed most for Christmas, something I’d rarely get for myself—grace.
You guys. This is not a pass/fail class. I don’t know where you feel you may have failed this holiday season. Did you forget the postman? Your boss? Your assistant? Did you burn the roast or break the dish? Did the paint on your crafts smear? Jesus doesn’t care.
Or… maybe you nailed it. Maybe your turkey turned out golden-brown. Maybe you made your list, checked it twice, and got gold stars next to every single line item. Maybe Chip and JoJo called and asked how you made your cards and tree and table all look so perfect. Jesus doesn’t care. Either way. And it’s not that He doesn’t care about you. Quite the opposite. He cares so much about you and your heart and your peace, that He would never judge you on your performance. Jesus is not keeping score or judging or measuring your worth on your holiday checklists, cooking performance, or ability to find the perfect gifts.
This wasn’t going to be a blog. I was going to take the week off. So there’s only one picture and I didn’t check for spelling errors—so sorry, not sorry. But I needed you guys to know. That I fail. That you fail. That none of us are perfect. Nobody. And it’s okay. You are loved. You are valued. Exactly as is. No matter how someone (including you) would have rated your Christmas performance.
We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.—Romans 3:23-24
In a world where everyone is trying to advance, and make it to the next round, and get the judges to pick them, you don’t have to. You’ve already made it. Jesus came once and for all to settle the score. You’re in. By yourself there will be days when you fall short, but with Jesus you’ll still always come out on top. Curl up the fireplace with a blanket, a book, some cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream, plus maybe a candy cane, and take a deep breath. Breathe in His grace.
Because, that’s what Christmas is all about.
My husband called, “I thought you were up here?”
“Up here,” I replied with an inferred, “duh.”
“The bathroom door is open, your office door is open, the closet door is open. It looks like you’re in the middle of a million things,” Brett said. "Did you just get an idea?"
“Yup.” And this is me on any given day. A mess in the middle of a million and one.
Putting on mascara, typing down a phrase—a key phrase—hello, it’s urgent! Or a plot idea or description while changing shoes, emailing a teacher, throwing in a load of laundry and deciding which necklace to wear all while drinking coffee/water/coffee/water. Basically I’m a mess in the middle of a million things. Eventually I’ll finish the story, be completely dressed, have make-up on, push send on the email, get the clothes folded and sadly abandon coffee until tomorrow and it will all look as it is supposed to-ish.
But in the middle. I’m an absolute mess.
You? Anything messy in your life today? Anything halfway done? Partway done? Thinking about starting to be done? In this college town, it’s finals week. And students are shuffling into the coffee shop in their pajamas, messy buns, and glasses, because getting ready is hard, and all they really want is a bottomless cup of dark roast and to be done. The professors are no different, except they’re not allowed to wear pajamas to class. They’re giving the finals, grading all of those finals, and then recording the grades. Basically everyone in town’s desks and dorms are a mess.
So is my kitchen. We’re getting the cabinets painted white (to match the chairs I painted this fall). Yay! But first—chaos. Every cabinet and drawer is open—maybe I should throw all of the contents away, because ew. Everything is off the shelves and in a heap on the living room—more potential items to fill the garbage cans. Plus the dust these items were hiding—yikes! So, my downstairs looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through and I have to pull a cool yoga balance to open the fridge.
Getting where you want to go takes work, effort, and mess. To make frosted sugar cookies you dirty endless dishes and sweep up sprinkles for weeks. But they are delicious. And worth it. And these are our lives! Learning a new way of doing something, investing in new relationships, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the envelopes, hanging the lights, unpacking boxes, researching new topics, rewriting, rerecording, editing, scrambling to finish before year end, following up, sending another text, praying, discerning, praying, discerning, praying.
And it all takes time. And it’s messy, and unfinished, and parts of it are scattered everywhere. But God is using all of it. Every last piece of the process! Every piece of Scotch tape and candy cane. God is using the rehearsals, the trial balloons, the readings, the exercises, the discipline, the parts you delete. And He’s using it for His good and His glory.
…okay…it’s a few days later. My kitchen? Ended up like this. OhmygoshIloveit. The college students are one by one trickling home to be with their families to celebrate Christmas. The professors are getting ready to sit by the fire and unwind. A few days ago in the midst of the mess it was all so hard to envision.
Just like pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary riding on a donkey looked like a mess. No room in the inn, a barn with animals and a pile of straw to give birth to your first baby…um, pretty messy. No thanks. Hard to envision this as God’s great plan to save the world. But it was. Jesus did come down to earth. He did die on the cross to cover all of our sins. He is the Savior of the World! So worth waiting for! Worth every bit of the messy process. Worth all the stuff in the middle that looked like chaos and like it would never happen, and never work, and like it couldn’t possibly be going as planned.
You guys the miracle of Christmas looked like a mess, but God knew what He was doing all along. And look how it turned out! Glory to the newborn king! And the story repeats itself over and over again in our lives. We’re a mess. Everything is everywhere. God knows how to fix us. And then He does. He uses all of the in-betweens and rough drafts, studying, and first takes to make something glorious happen.
No matter how messy things look for you today, this week, this season, God is using it. He loves you. He’s reaching all the way down to earth to you. He came all the way down to a manger and then a cross for you. You might feel like you’re in a middle of a million things, but inhale, because God is truly in the middle of it all with you. And His greatness and peace will have no end.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:6-7
…if you’d like more reminders on finding your true reflection throughout the week, follow me on:
My youngest has always been allergic to peanuts. A few Zyrtec and Kleenex won’t take care of his problem. Peanut allergies are life threatening. We’ve cleared our home of anything remotely resembling a nut. We’ve become experts at reading ingredient labels. We bake our own treats for parties and celebrations to ensure his safety. Epipens are stashed in every car, purse, backpack and cupboard of our house.
This summer Maguire had his annual allergist appointment. The doc did a skin test to check the status of his allergy and…there was no reaction. Zero. Next came a blood test to confirm the findings of the skin test. The results…negative. No peanut allergy? What? There was still one more test. Dun, dun dun…The Peanut Challenge, which basically consists of eating peanut butter for two hours in the doctor’s office while they monitor you. If something goes wrong, the doctor has the antidote to rescue you. If all goes well, you’re officially deemed no longer allergic. That day Maguire ate spoonfuls of Jif, and he was completely fine.
It was incredible. Life changing. Freeing! Maguire was thrilled he could now eat Reese’s and go out for ice cream without having to ask the worker for a clean scoop to ensure no nutty remnants from another flavor touched his vanilla. We were thrilled our son was safer in those situations. But despite all of the joy, gratefulness, and freedom, it was oddly hard to accept. Maguire has always been allergic to peanuts. How could he just start eating them now? How was it possible that Maguire was instantly free? He hadn’t taken a class, eaten pounds of spinach, or stood on his head to remove his allergy. It just vanished.
The same is true in our relationship with Christ. We don’t have to do anything, eat anything, turn around three times or pray a set number of minutes each day. Just by accepting that Jesus died for us, cleans our slates. We are no longer soiled by our recent or long gone past. We are not condemned by our mistakes, strangled by our fears or chained to our worries. I know that. Just like I know Maguire has outgrown his allergy. But how often do I question the freedom Christ offers?
When the school office called asking where Maguire’s Epipen was, I answered hesitantly, heat pounding, “He doesn’t need one any more.” Was he safe? I knew he was, and yet…
I put a note in his lunch and saw a peanut butter sandwich nestled inside. It freaked me out. I’ll have to sanitize his lunch box. No, I don’t. Because peanuts can’t hurt him any more. And we are also safe. Free. Loved. We don’t need backup medication or extra special sanitation.
Jesus says, “I love you. Just how you are.”
And I believe Him. Most of the time. Yet some days, I feel the need to prove myself—to God, to the world, to my family. I don’t want to let others down. I don’t want to let God down. I don’t want to let down my guard. Because I want to be a good wife and mama. I want to tell great stories. I want to be the kind of person Jesus wants me to be. Which are great desires. Just like keeping my son safe is a great desire.
But I have to accept that medical tests proved Maguire is no longer allergic. And more importantly I have to full out accept Jesus’ grace. That it is truly ALL I need. I have to stop doubting and second-guessing. I don’t have to take things into my own hands, just in case God doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t capable of handling the situation. Because God knows everything. And He can handle everything. In my life and in yours.
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. —2 Corinthians 12:9
What are you freaking out about right now? The balance of your bank account? Your relationship status? Your grades? Your quiet time, playing time, personal time, airtime, time of departure or arrival?
Christ’s grace is sufficient. Jesus says, “I’ve got this. I have this. Trust me. Don’t believe me? Look at all the times I’ve guided, saved, directed, and held you up in the past. Still don’t believe me? I died to save you, that’s how much I love you.”
“Right. He’s got this.” We don’t have to freak out. We do need to do our part. But then we have to trust. And when we do, we can outgrow our dependency on trying to prove ourselves worthy. Jesus says we are worthy. Jesus says He loves us. And nothing we eat or do or forget or achieve can ever change that.
Free samples, free Friday downloads, BOGO’s, free t-shirts, giveaways…we all love to get something for nothing.
On a recent shopping outing with my daughter, Mallory, we felt like we’d hit the jackpot. We had coupons at Bath and Body Works to get free travel size shower gels and lotions. We didn’t buy anything. We just walked up to the counter, handed the cashier our little hot pink coupons, and walked away with delicious smelling bath products. Then we went into Sephora. I had a coupon for a free mascara. Again, I handed the cashier my coupon (this one was hot pink AND black) and she handed me a full-size tube of Tarteist.
Oh, and we’d already sampled some tasty Kombucha at the open-air market.
Now of course, Bath and Body Works hoped that while we were being bombarded with scents, we’d purchase a beachy body scrub or a candle that smelled like birthday cakes. But it wasn’t required. And Sephora was hoping I’d buy some of the eyeliner the greeter was wearing or some of the perfume they were sampling at the counter. But I didn’t have to. The Skinny Piggy vendor who was pouring lavender and ginger snappy teas was hoping I’d think it tasted so good, I’d buy some to take home. I did. Yum. But again, the samples were free for the taking, whether I purchased or not.
This is what Christ’s love looks like.
Absolutely 100% free. You don’t even need a hot pink coupon.
Jesus loves you. No matter what others think of you or what you think of yourself. No matter where you placed, what your grades are, or how well or poorly you performed. No matter who you’ve let down or who you’ve impressed. No matter who has accepted or rejected you. Jesus loves you. You don’t have to go to a certain church, memorize a certain verse, know the words to certain songs, or go through any kind of ritual. You just have to say, “Jesus, I believe you are my Lord and Savior.” And mean it. It’s way easier than finding a parking spot at the mall.
We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule keeping, but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:15
Jesus’ free offer is open to everyone and anyone. Even a mess like me. Definitely to you. Now of course, Jesus hopes we think His loves smells so enticing, His grace tastes so sweet, His freedom feels so refreshing, that we’ll live accordingly, that we’ll share all of that goodness with others. Not because we have to. Not because it’s required, but because we want to. Just like I really wanted that lavender tea. And His love is so overwhelming; I do want to share it. All of the time. Except sometimes I fail. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I let pride and selfishness overshadow what Jesus has given me. But He still gives it to me. Jesus never withholds His love.
How we choose to live out His love is just that, our choice. Just like what we do with that free sample when we get it home. Our choice. We get to choose how often and when we’ll use that yummy smelling lotion. Some days we will, but sometimes we’ll be in a hurry, and sometimes we’ll forget. And on those days, our skin might be a bit dry. But when we use it, dang, we’ll feel and smell great. Christ’s love is infinitely more soothing and fragrant. And the more I hang out with Him, the more I feel His love soaking in, and the more I experience His love, the more I want to share it.
The gift of Christ’s love is the most amazing freebie you’ll ever receive. And because it is endless, no matter how much of it you “use” or in return, give away, it will never ever run out.
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 am in the midst of so many different stories.
I’m currently reading three different books for pleasure, information, and content. I’m also binge watching The Gilmore Girls with my oldest. My youngest is reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even though he’s a proficient reader every couple of days we snuggle up on the couch and read some out loud together. My thirteen-year old and I are trying to consume as much Fixer Upper as possible. And my fifteen-year old has recommended his favorite book of all time for me to read. I love it. All of it.
But I can’t possibly maintain full engagement in all of these stories. So…I’m skimming the commentary I’m reading, picking up and putting down my other books when a spare moment arises, and catching intermittent episodes and chapters with my kids. But jumping in and out of stories without knowing how they begin and end can be frustrating and confusing. If I miss Chipper and JoJo making a shack look chic I’ll still be okay diving into the next episode. But I need caught up on who Rory Gilmore is dating and who Count Olaf is currently disguised as… or I’ll be a little lost.
My faith story also has a beginning, a middle and an end. And in order for me to know where I am, to be caught up with what Jesus is doing for me, on what my faith even means, I need to be aware of all of the stages of this beautiful story.
The middle is easy, at least to see what’s going on. That’s where I am. Daily messing up, celebrating, stumbling, laughing, and falling short. In desperate need of God’s perfect grace. And at the same time, joyful, peaceful and fulfilled, because even though I certainly haven’t earned it (not possible), Jesus offers me His constant love.
The beginning? It doesn’t start with me. I need to go back to Season 1, Episode 1 to get a handle on the plot. Your story starts here too. Way back in chapter one it says:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. --Genesis 1:27
Got that? God created all of us in His image! I’m hooked. You? That means no matter what you saw when you looked in the mirror today, you reflect the greatness of God. It means God could have made you look like anything, but He chose to make you exactly how you are, so you could reflect a piece of Him in some uniquely, awesome way. He loves you that much! Thinks you’re that special. So intentionally created you.
Skim ahead to the New Testament or Part Two. Jesus says, “I know there’s so much pressure to be perfect—and it’s hard. But you don’t have to be perfect for me. I love you for who you are, and I’m going to take all of that yuck—the regret, the shame, the nervousness—and I’m going to nail it to that cross with me." This is the climax of my story (and yours if you choose it). The part we can’t miss. Because Jesus did two things for our stories that no villain can ever steal:
1. Proved how loved we are.
2. Gave us grace, so we never have to prove ourselves again. Ever.
Lastly, the ending. I’m not a girl who jumps ahead, who reads the final pages of a mystery to see who did it before discovering all the clues, but in the case of my faith story I find it critical. It reminds me of when my kids were tiny and we’d watch any Disney movie, and the mom would die in the first eight seconds. I’d push pause, hold my kids and say, “It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.” I need this too. Because on the days when I get stuck in a rut, or discouraged, or frightened, when I feel like I’m not enough, God tells me, “It’s okay. It’s going to be alright. Everything ends up happy.”
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”--Revelation 21:2-4
Talk about happily ever after.
So when I am worried about something one of my sweet children is dealing with or an illness of a dear friend, when I question my validity, when my stomach is in knots trying to decipher how to handle a controversial situation, I go back to the beginning and ending of my story. And I’m reminded that I was beautifully created by the Master Creator, on purpose, for His purpose. And…I know that His love conquers all. That He will wipe every tear. There will be no more pain. Then no matter what page I’m on in my life, whether it looks thrilling or bleak or fantastic, I know who I am and where I’m going. I know that I am loved. That my life has meaning. And that makes me want to keep turning page after page.
We all want answers—and we want them. Now. Like why haven’t I gotten a text back about that yet?
But we don’t’ have the all of the answers.
We all have parts of our lives that don’t make sense. The HOW will I pay these bills? And WHERE should I go to school/move/work? The WHO should be my roommate or should I marry or should I ask to start this business with me? The WHEN will I find out or get a break? And the WHY is this happening? And without answers to our questions, without the full picture, our current situations are confusing and sometimes seemingly hopeless or scary or stressful.
Do you remember the scene in A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise's character wants answers?
“You want answers?” Colonel Jessup challenges.
“I want answers.” Tom Cruise is emphatic.
“You want the truth?” Colonel Jessup questions.
“I think I’m entitled,” Cruise cries out.
“You can’t handle the truth!” Jessup retorts.
And some days this captures my conversations with God.
“You want answers?” God asks.
I want answers.
“You want the truth?” God asks.
I think I’m entitled God, because I want to go where You want me to go, to do what You want me to do, I want to get rid of this stress, I want out of this relationship, I want a job that fulfills me and pays my bills, I want to do better, for things to be better, but I need answers, I want them, I deserve them.
And thankfully God answers much more gently than Jack Nicholson, “Oh sweet, beautiful, daughter, you can’t handle the truth. Not now. Not yet.”
Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 13 as, “Now I see in a mirror dimly, then face to face.”
When applying to colleges, I sent applications to four. I got into one—my backup school, the one I’d never visited. My last choice. Why, God, did I not get into my top three? I asked.
I’d studied hard, gotten good grades, been active in clubs. I’d checked all the boxes, how did I get dung? God could have told me, “Well, you’ll need to meet your husband here, and one day he’ll be a professor there, and you two will raise a family in this very college town.” But I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my mind around any of that. It was too abstract. All I could see was a dim fog. But Miami ended up being my dream school, and well, I already told you the fairy tale ending.
Is there anything in your life that has you wondering, “Why God? How, God? When, God?” That you are looking up at God and saying, “What the heck?” That you wish God would just tell you the ending, so you could move forward? Is there anything you might be seeing dimly? Something you think you might want the truth about, but maybe, just maybe you can’t handle it yet?
I don’t know the answers to your questions, but I do know God keeps His promises. He is always true to His word. And I do know whatever you’re wrestling with; God will keep His promises to you, too. How do I know? Because the Bible is one beautiful, cohesive testament of God’s promises for His people and how He fulfills them.
The Old Testament books written hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, promise a Savior whose hands and feet will be pierced (Psalm 22:16), who will be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9), and who will be rejected by the rulers (Psalm 118:22). The Old Testament prophet, Micah, speaks that the Savior will be born in Bethlehem (5:2-5). Ezekiel 34 foretells He will come from the lineage of David.
Each and every one of these predictions came true. They are historically noted. God told the writers of these books what would happen. And when God makes a promise. He keeps it.
Fast forward to the New Testament and over and over again, we hear Jesus say something, and then see it happen.
“Be healed.” And the afflicted are healed. (Mark 1)
“Pick up your mat.” And the lame walk. (Mark 2)
“Silence. Be still.” And the storm stopped (Mark 4)
Because when Jesus says something. It happens.
Jesus tells his disciples, “I will be betrayed. I will be killed.” These are not promises you give when you’re trying to gain followers, gather people to your cause, show off your power, or flash your credentials. You only make these kinds of promises if you mean to keep them.
And He did.
But Jesus also promised, “On the third day I will rise again.”
And He did.
He and God knew at the beginning of time that we were going to mess up, and that they loved us and didn’t want to be separated from us. So God made a plan to save us, to take payment for our sins, to right our wrongs, and He knew the only guy for the job was Jesus. So God whispered His plan to the prophets. And then God kept His promise. Jesus died on the cross for me and for you. He took our sins. All of them. Paid for them in full. This was always the plan.
Jesus said it would happen. And it did.
Even though we saw dimly. Even though we couldn’t handle the truth.
God promises to use all things for good (Rom 8:28), that He has plans for us to prosper (Jer 29:11) and that He'll be with us even to the end of time (Mt 28:20). These are promises you can bank on, because He made them.
Only God knows the entire picture, all of the information. Because He’s the only one who can handle the truth. When we doubt, when we see dimly, when we can’t handle the truth, we have to find hope in the fact that Jesus is the TRUTH, in the fact that He keeps His promises. We might not have all the puzzle pieces yet, but when we do, we’ll say, wow, that is more spectacular than I ever imagined.
I have coffee splatters on the console of my car and a smear of toothpaste on my bathroom counter. A drop of shimmery lavender nail polish marks the top of my planner. There’s a spot on my jeans that’s been there so long, I’m not sure how it got there, but my suspicions are it’s chocolate in one form or another. And then last night, somebody (no one will be named) dropped a piece of pizza on the living room carpet. Which happens to be white. With six of us running at full speed, our house is lived in, to say the least. The dropped pizza was no big deal. But I couldn’t let the red splash of tomato sauce just sit in the middle of the floor, so I dug under the sink for that carpet spray stuff. I read the back and sprayed and scrubbed and scrubbed a little more. And then I turned it around—reading the label, Spot Remover.
Which made me laugh, because yesterday morning when I’d washed my face and noticed the twin zits on the end of my chin, I’d gotten out a product called Super Spot Remover—the cleverly named zit gel I keep handy for just such occasions.
I am covered in spots!
But my spots aren’t just literal spots. I am also covered in spots you can’t see. Splatters when I yell at one of my kids instead of talking through a rough moment. Dribbles when I forget to bring the dessert or sign the form or write the check or text back. Giant globs when I recall how I tucked God under my pillow in college and did things my way instead of leaning on Him. Shameful spots for things I’ve done in my past. Stains as I struggle with a broken relationship. Big blobs whenever I doubt God’s perfect plans in the every day (how will I ever get everything done on my to-do list?) or in the big decisions of life (where should my daughter go to college?). I could go on. I am covered in so many spots inside and out that I resemble a leopard.
And although I use stain stick on my clothes, spot remover on my carpet and face, spray on my counters, there is no cool new product that can clean my inside spots. It’s like the animal in the children’s book, Put Me in the Zoo. He can change the color and size of his spots. He can put them on the wall or on a tree, “But then,” the animal says, “All my spots are back on me.” And I can smile and laugh and apologize. I can move forward and try to bury my past and doubts and insecurities and shame and guilt under the busyness of the week or the façade of having it all together. I can try harder, work more, do better, but in the end all my spots are back on me.
Or at least I used to think so. But I’ve discovered the ultimate spot remover. And it doesn’t come in a bottle, it never expires and it’s absolutely free. It’s having a relationship with Jesus. See, He scrubbed all of my spots clean. So clean, He who knows everything about me—all my breakdowns and blunders—completely forgives me and loves me and doesn’t notice those old spots at all.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried--
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him--our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed. Is 53:5
No more spots to stick in a box or on a tree. No more spots can come back on me. Or on you. Whatever our spots may be, whatever color or size they are, no matter where we’ve tried to stick them or how we’ve tried to change them, Jesus died so that all of my sins and yours, all of our mistakes and failures past, present, and future were nailed to the cross and washed completely clean. And with all of those spots removed once and for all, we can clearly see our beautiful true reflections.
Do you have any spots you're working on removing? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment on the Read More or Comments tab below.
Laura L. Smith