My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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Ivy League schools only accept students with insanely high ACT scores. Only the first 1000 shoppers on Black Friday get the free fleece blanket with purchase. You can only vote if you’re 18 years old or older. Only people who are verified by Instagram get a blue checkmark. Who can get in on Jesus’ promises? Everyone.
That doesn’t’ seem possible. Not with all the qualifiers and regulations put on everything else. But Jesus says so Himself. The Bible says it over and over again. Heck, just in the book of John, it’s the song that’s on repeat. Jesus’ love is for everyone.
Everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. —John 3:15
Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. —John 3: 36
To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. —John 1:12
All. Everyone. Anyone.
This is not an exclusive club. You don’t need to be a certain age, race, gender, speak a certain language, attend a specific church, or any church, for that matter. You don’t need the right grades, resume, upbringing, status, perfect timing, or number of followers to get in. All you have to do is believe. In Him. The One who created everything in the first place. And then we’ll never be hungry or thirsty…meaning that emptiness inside, that void we’re always trying to fill—will be overflowing with the warmth and comfort of Jesus’ unending love and His amazing grace.
To enjoy the free life Jesus offers, we just have to believe in Him. It’s that simple. If we believe He is the Son of God, then all the things Jesus promises—peace, joy, freedom, forgiveness, grace, comfort, healing, and most of all that we are fully and completely loved for exactly who we are, are available to everyone, including you and me. Even if we don’t think we could possibly deserve it, that they couldn’t possibly apply to us because of something in our past, or because of our darkest secret, or because of a current desperate situation. But hope, love and light are just one thought away.
“Anyone who believes in me will live even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. —John 11:25-26
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Jesus was pretty clear about it. Anyone. Everyone. Whoever. So, what’s keeping you from Him today? What’s keeping you from believing? You don’t have to have the right outfit, specific credentials, know a certain prayer, or have memorized a verse. You don’t even need the right words. It’s as simple as saying something like: Jesus, I believe in you. I know I don’t have it all right. I never will. I know I mess up. Every day. But I look at You, and the love in Your eyes, and the way Your presence calms storms, the way Your power healed lepers, and blind folks, and cast out demons. I want that. I want love and peace and healing and a fresh start. I believe.
Maybe you could say it like that, but you don’t have to. All you need are three syllables, “I believe,” and mean it. Living a life with Jesus is truly simple. A lot simpler than most of the things we’re trying to do each day. And so much more glorious. This life filled with excitement and peace at the same time, with the ability to know we’re a hot mess, and yet fully loved, this life filled with passion and purpose and joy it’s a heartbeat away. Are you ready to step into it? Do you believe? Because that’s all it takes.
If you have questions about this free life or about Jesus …please message me. I’d love to chat more.
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Cerulean sky. Vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. A cool breeze filled with the smoky scent of a neighbor’s fireplace tickled my nose. The setting for my run was ideal, yet I felt weak and out of breath. Coming to a hill I slowed to a walk. Almost immediately a friend’s face popped into my head who’s a marathon runner. She told me in the hardest parts of a race if you just keep running—push past the hard part--you find your groove. Alright, Laura, I told myself, get going. I increased my speed. But it was hard. Unusually so. Next month I’d be running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and this current thing my legs and lungs were doing would not do.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. When did I become such a bad runner? Why can’t I go for a simple jog at a distance and rate I usually go without huffing and puffing? I’m out of shape. I need to train. I’ll be a bad partner for my husband in the race. I’ll slow him down. I have a daughter who is a college athlete. I’m pathetic.
Regardless of how much shame I felt for not being able to breathe, I had to slow to a walk again. And then it hit me—I’d had my blood drawn an hour ago, which always makes me woozy. And because I was getting my blood drawn, I’d fasted last night and this morning. Afterwards I ate some yogurt and granola, so I thought I was good. But apparently not so much. How long does it take for the body to replace that blood?
I Googled it. The pop-up answer was four to eight weeks. What? No wonder I felt light-headed. I finally gave myself some grace and decided it was A-Okay to walk the rest of my route. When I got home, I researched a bit more. Turns out the four-eight weeks was a bit misleading, but the web consensus was that according to my weight and normal level of physical activity I could work out about five hours after having blood drawn. Hmmm. Not one hour. Weird.
Why was my first instinct to bash myself? Instead of assessing my situation and wondering why two days ago I had a phenomenal run, and today I was struggling, I listed the ways I didn’t measure up. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what I did. Oh, how my brain can take one lie and spin it out of control.
Do you ever do this? Is there any area in your life that the talk in your head sounds like, “You’re not good enough to… get noticed, be in a relationship, earn an “A,” be picked, win the award, get the job, move up the list, have your idea accepted? Because Jesus never talks to us like that. His words are, “You are my masterpiece. You were created in my image. I came down to the world and died on the cross to save you. I love you.”
Will Jesus sometimes put up barriers? Sure. Will He sometimes say, “not now” or “not this” or “not them?” Definitely. Just like God told me to slow down as I ran. Not because Jesus thinks I’m a bad runner or doubts if I’m capable of running the Turkey Trot. Not because He’s shaking His head and wishing I would step up my workouts. But because Jesus saw me get my biometrics test. God knew my body was still recuperating, and if I kept going, I might pass out in the middle of the street, or some such thing. Jesus wasn’t telling me I wasn’t good enough. He was keeping me safe.
Because Jesus NEVER tells us we’re not good enough.
That’s always the enemy’s voice, slithering into any place we might feel doubt, anything that’s important to us, anywhere he thinks he can distract us from the truth of who we are in Christ—treasured, fearfully and wonderfully made, set aside to do good works.
What if when we start to struggle, our default was to ask God, “Hey, what’s going on? Why is this hard? Do you want me to stop? Or do different? Or go the other way?” And if it’s something that’s plain going to be hard (because some things are hard—loss, abuse, health issues both mental and physical, etc.), what if we went to God in these situations and said, “This is freaking hard, please give me the strength, energy, stamina, to get through it. Please help me know when resting makes sense. And when it’s time to push forward again.”
What, then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
God is for us. On our side. Not telling us where we fall short. But cheering us on over the finish line. Yes, He’ll put up some barriers sometimes—to protect us. But our Savior always wants what’s absolutely best for us. Even when we can’t see the whole picture.
The next time you hear “not enough” in your head. Slow down. Catch your breath. Stamp it out. Dismiss it as quickly as it came. Don’t let your default be one of blame or shame. Don’t let the negativity fester or multiply out of control. Because that is never of God. He is for you. He will stand strong to protect you from anything or anyone who tries to go against you, but He will also wave you forward into the glorious plans He has in store for you. Whether you’re completely in stride or feeling faint, Jesus looks at you, and says, “Oh look! There’s one of my kids! I love her so much!”
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.
On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
If you just stumbled onto us, you can start today and always go back to the previous days later (or not, that’s fine, too). This is a FREE 30-day devotional to dive into how much God loves you, and to discover what that means for your life. If you haven’t downloaded your free copy yet, just leave a comment, and I'll get you added. Share with friends. The more the merrier.
On winter days in high school if I wanted to see on the way to school, which I did, I needed to exit my house five minutes earlier, turn on my ignition, blast the front and rear defrosters to hot and high, and start the back and forth motions with my plastic scraper against my windows. Because every night winter frost decorated my windshield with delicate, icy crystals. Although I griped about standing outside in below freezing weather, the crisp air actually did wonders to wake me. And the effort was worth it, because the combination of my scraping and the car blowing warmth on the glass, cleared the windows, and I could drive safely and confidently to school (well sort of confidently…I’m not that strong a driver).
I see this in my life, too. Each morning I wake to an alarm, and barely take time to yawn before diving into what needs to be accomplished in the next forty-five minutes—fix five breakfasts, dole out vitamins, get out lunch boxes, write and insert notes, and double check everyone has what they need (the $1 for an out of uniform day, the friend’s jacket left at our house). Nothing hard, but a lot of moving parts for a short amount of time. My brain cranks on rapid fire and starts to stress, worry, and fuss--one of my kids seems down, are they okay? Why can’t I find my wallet? Where did I put it? Dang, we’re out of milk, which means I need to go to the store today, even though I was just there last night. Why didn’t I remember?
Crystals of concern begin to cover the windshield of my faith. By the time my kids head out to school, my head is cluttered and has limited visibility. Does this happen to you? Is there a time of day that’s crazy, where there is so much juggling you lose sight of love, peace, and patience?
We need to scrape it all off, so we can see Jesus again. So, we can see how much He loves us, has perfect plans for us, and promises to always stay at our sides, so we can see our true reflections. In the silence after my kids scurry, I pull out my Bible and journal, read and write until my mental windshield is clear again, until I’m ready to put my foot to the pedal and truly start my day. Because it’s only by starting with Jesus, that we have a clearer view of who we are, where we are going, and what truly matters.
Do you have any crystals cluttering the windshield of your faith? What are they?
What can you do this morning to scrape them off, before driving into your day?
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.
My editor noticed I’m over on word count. It seems every single chapter of my manuscript is too many words long, putting the projected length of my book larger than my contract allows. She kindly suggested I start cutting. It’s a problem I have. Using too many words. Just ask my husband who wishes he had a fast forward button to use on me when I’m sharing a story. And although it’s tricky, when I cut away excess words my writing becomes cleaner, tighter, and more impactful. Turns out, there are loads of things I think I need that I can actually live without.
Like apparently our washing machine, at least for a few days. Even though I typically run two loads a day. Even with five people constantly throwing their damp towels and smelly, sweaty t-shirts in the hamper. Gheesh. But what do you know? We all have plenty of clothes to sustain us without “needing” the dirty ones instantly cleaned. Which makes me think it’s high time I sort through our closets and put together some giveaway bags. Yeah, there are some things in my life I think I need, but I can definitely live without.
The light over our kitchen table also isn’t working. Anyone else living this life? The switch is shorted out. I have a call into the electrician, finally. But we’ve been surviving for over two weeks by using other nearby lights to illuminate our meals. Go figure. And we lost a credit card. Cringe. We’ve stopped the account and Visa is sending replacements. But we are managing without it.
Is there something in your life that you would be just fine if it was gone? Is there anything in your life you truly couldn’t live without
I felt I needed those words to tell my story, that machine to wash our clothes, that light to see what I’m eating, and the credit card because, well, things cost money. Turns out, I’m okay without them (at least for a while). But there’s one thing I can not live without. Jesus.
I need Him when I first wake up to center my day, to remind me how His perfect plans have always been in motion and always will be. I need Jesus for the people I love—I ask Him to comfort my child who’s disappointed and to fill another child with peace in the midst of their stressful week. I turn to Jesus for advice on how to handle a conversation, on which projects to focus on, on how to find balance between work and my adorable family. I need Him to help me see others through His eyes. I need Him to help me see myself through His gracious eyes. I need Jesus to help me bite my tongue and extend grace when I’m frustrated. I need Jesus to help me reach out, stand up, or share when it feels easier not to. I crave to catch glimpses of His glory, to drink in His gorgeous creation, His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His acceptance.
Sure, I’ve lived through way too many days when I did not seek Jesus, but I don’t ever want to go there again. Those days were stinky, damp, dark, full of words I shouldn’t have said, things I shouldn’t have done, things I shouldn’t have bought, people I shouldn’t have been with, and places I should not have gone. Those days were full of me striving and yet, somehow always feeling empty. I’m not saying because I hang out with Jesus that I never make mistakes. Nope. He still gives me free will. And I still mess up. All the time.
But with Jesus in my life, I know where to go when I fall. I know I can run to His arms, and He will pick me up and show me what love and forgiveness actually look like. I know when I’m out of time or patience or ideas or answers that He provides all of those things in abundance. I know that Jesus is the rock I can stand on, the love that will never leave me, and the answer to all of my questions. He wants to be all of these things for you, too. All you have to do is ask Him.
I’m really hoping my washer/light switch/credit card situations get fixed ASAP. I’m working on deleting unnecessary words to better tell stories for Jesus. But mainly I pray that I can cling to Him. Because I can do without all that other stuff. But I don’t want to live a single moment without Him.
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
Laura L. Smith