Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
On a stroll through the formal gardens my youngest picked up this leaf hole-punched by insects, held it in front of his face and peered at me. We took turns looking through the leaf, still able to see each other, the sunny marigolds and the scarlet impatiens, but everything was muted, less vibrant. It was odd to be able to see, and yet not. As the bees buzzed overhead and the July sun warmed our skin, I pondered where I need to pull away the metaphorical leaf from my face, so I can see God and His plans for me more clearly.
In the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter has a beautiful, courageous imagination, but in real life he’s complacent, bullied, lonely, and struggles to name a single interesting thing about himself. To keep his job Walter must step out of his daydreams, and in doing so experiences more than he ever realized was possible. This gorgeous film reminds me so much of the leaf. What has God put in our hearts that we’re just imagining we could do or say today, that’s right in front of us yet veiled by something easy to remove? Are we willing to step forward in faith, throw down the leaf, and transform our daydreams into realities?
Because God doesn’t want us living a partial life, seeing things from a muted perspective. He wants us to get going and live fully. He has so much in store! In Hebrews 12:1 we learn we were made to run the race, not cheer on the sidelines. Paul tells the church in Corinth not to sit and think about doing the work God has called them to, but to, “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort. Paul tells the church in Ephesus to run on the road God calls us to travel. King David prays in Psalm 119, “Oh that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.”
To have no regrets. Yes, please! That’s the road I want to travel. One without regrets. One where I don’t look back and wonder what it would have looked like if I’d been willing to open my eyes, take action, and act upon God’s promptings.
What is God nudging you to do? That place He wants you to go, thing He wants you to try, person He wants you to meet? What’s holding you back?
Sure...everything has a price--time, money, energy--are some of the costs of pursuing dreams. But ask anyone who’s completed the marathon they felt inspired to run, climbed the mountain God whispered they should climb, taken the step where God pointed them to walk, if it was worth it. The answer is almost always the same--it was better than they imagined.
Does it feel like God is leading you to further your education? Order yourself a GRE, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT prep book, (Amazon will get it to you by tomorrow), sign yourself up to take the test, and start researching programs. Has God given you an itch to travel, to see more of the world He created? Book yourself a cheap plane ticket on Kayak or convince a pal to take a road trip with you to a city you’ve never visited.
My son and I crossed a bridge and gazed at the gorgeous reflection of the sky and trees in the water. It looked so real--as if we were actually looking upward. But we weren’t. If we keep thinking about what we could be and do, but don’t take any steps toward doing it, it’s like gazing at the reflection of trees in a stream instead of swimming in the water or climbing the trees. So let’s stop thinking about it and dive in, climb upward, and embrace the glorious adventures God has in store.
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Every bathroom on our France vacation was a puzzle. How do I turn on the shower? Once I get the water on how do I possibly keep the water in the shower without a door or curtain? How do I flush?
The washing machines were no easier. In fact, in our first apartment the washer and dryer was the same machine. What? And in our second apartment, I ran our first load through the dryer first, thinking it was the washer. At least the clothes were warm and fluffy for their bath. Oh, and the cycles were about three hours long. Each. Yup. Six hours to do one load of laundry.
But we had to shower, flush, and wash our clothes. So… we figured it out. Because we had to. And guess what? Even though new and different things kept throwing us for loops, we worked through them. Not always elegantly or efficiently. There was one shower I never solved. I took a bath instead.
But it got me thinking to big things; dreams, challenges, obstacles, goals and aspirations—things where we sometimes don’t know how or when to act or what it should look like when we do. And how quickly we sometimes say, “I don’t know how that works? I don’t know what to do? It makes me uncomfortable. It seems hard. I don’t know where to start?”
And so we don’t do anything. We sit. And stay stuck. And hope someone will come to rescue us. Pray that God will have the perfect person or solution ring our doorbell. Praying is awesome, and always a great strategy, but Jesus wants us to do our part, too. Praying wasn’t going to get our clothes clean in France. I had to take action—trial and error, detergent, translating, button pushing, dial turning, and the willingness to go at it again.
So what are you wondering about today? How to write your college/grad school/Peace Corps essay? Transfer information from your old laptop to your new one? Pursue that career? Put up a website? Eat healthier? Get the word out about your business? What are you doing about it? What actions are you taking?
I’m not suggesting for a second that you try to move forward without Jesus. That’s not how God intended us to go about life. Talk to Jesus about your dreams, challenges, heartbreak, and ideas. Ask Him lots of questions. He knows what’s up already. He knows where we’re confused or uncertain or stuck or out of strategies and He LOVES to chat with us about it. He also wants to steer us in the right direction, strengthen us, give us hope, and equip us to move forward. But He also wants us to go, act, and do.
When our car, okay, let’s just call it a tank (France is not used to families with four kids plus Grandma driving around with all their luggage), was low on gas, we had to fill it up. But we couldn’t find the gas tank. Anywhere. Four of us drive and regularly fill up cars with gas. The other two of us are extremely bright, capable teenagers. You’d think we could solve this. We all walked circles around the vehicle, looking for any place we might insert the nozzle. And found…nothing. But we couldn’t just say, “I give up,” or I’d still be stuck in the French countryside somewhere (hmmm…maybe I should have…). Instead, first we searched. Second, several minutes in, I Googled “where is the gas tank on a Volkswagen whatever the model was.” My husband and I watched a twenty-two second video, and discovered, the gas tank was behind a secret panel on the driver’s door. Of course. Ha! We found it, filled up, and drove to a magnificent church by the sea.
So, what can you do today to propel yourself forward? Go up to that person you see doing the thing you want to be doing and ask them some questions, like: what kind of training did you need? How did you go about finding the right customers? How much did you have to pay for that? Toss them out your ideas: what do you think about…? Google something. Watch a YouTube video. Apply for a job or scholarship or a whole bunch of both. Enter the contest. Read a book, a blog, or ten. Try a new recipe. Jot down some notes. Listen to a podcast. Try a new route. Send out a slew of emails asking people who have already powered through your situation, lived in that city, tried that task, or healed from that ailment, if you can get together for coffee and pick their brains.
God has perfect plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Whew! It looks like a jigsaw to us, but God already knows how it looks when all of the pieces are assembled. The puzzle in front of us is waiting to be solved. God will whisper hints, but often, we need to physically pick up the pieces, manipulate them here, turn them sideways, and then try them over there until God reveals where they fit. As He teaches us what we need to know, introduces us to the people He wants us to meet, puts us in the places where we gain experience to handle what He has in store, we need to do our part.
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. –Hebrews 12:1-2
Let’s get running on that road He’s called us to travel. I can’t wait to see where we'll go.
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My youngest is into gardening. I promise he didn’t get it from me. But he’s currently growing tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and watermelon radishes. I helped him gather pots and shovels, then marveled at how patiently and meticulously he buried tiny seeds in the soil. I would have tossed them in, shoved some dirt on top, and wiped my hands of the whole process. But that’s not how he operates. Not in this arena. Maguire gathered fertile soil from our compost and sprinkled it on top of his seeds. He gently mists his plants daily and peeks on their progress. This is what we do with things we truly desire to grow.
Maguire can’t plant everything. We don’t have enough yard, or sunlight in our yard, or enough time for that. Some things would never grow here in Ohio, like orange trees or camellias, even if he gave those seeds all of his attention. It’s also not the best time of year to plant everything. Pansies should be planted in the spring. Marigolds in the fall. What are you trying to grow? Is it the right time? Is it even yours to cultivate?
I’m not really talking about plants. Are you trying to grow your bangs, your biceps, your bank account? Maybe you’re trying to grow your understanding of a new computer code, a different culture or subculture than yours, the city you got transferred to, an aspect of your personality, someone you care about. Do you talk about wishing you were better at something, more disciplined? Me? I’m trying to grow so many things! I want to learn and discover and improve. I want to speak French better, and understand the book of Ephesians more fully (#Biblenerd) and increase my upper body strength, to name a few. But there are only so many hours in each day. Some of these things I am growing. I see little sprouts or even stalks. Others not so much.
So which things do we nurture? And which things do we decide to plant in another season? Which things do we let someone else plant all together?
I think it takes a little self-exploration and a whole lot of time with Jesus. Make a list of your wants, needs, and curiosities. Circle or highlight the things you’d really like to cultivate. Write out next to them why they’re important to you. If you can’t verbalize why they’re important, they might not actually be. Take this list to Jesus. Flat out ask Him, “What do You want me to learn? What areas of my life do You want me to fertilize, nurture, water? What do You want me to let go of or delegate? How do You want me to spend my time?”
And when you hear from Him, when He nudges you or whispers (or sometimes shouts), when Scripture keeps pointing you to the same item on your list, when a conversation with a friend (who had no idea what you were praying about) mentions how good you’d be at this thing or invites you to a class on that other thing on your list what is your response? Are you watering those seeds or leaving them to fend for themselves?
Summer is a great time to start. It is the turning of the page, a new season. Even if your work schedule stays exactly the same, the days just feel different. And with this shift, it’s a wonderful time to say, “I’m going to grow this thing!” Then find a way to do it. Order the book, take the class, download the podcasts, schedule the sessions.
If you water the seeds Jesus gives you today with His love for you, your garden will grow. Probably not at all at once. And not every seed you plant will make it. But if you do the things Jesus calls you to do, nourish those things, devote time to them, leave the things He’s designed for others to do or maybe for you to work on in a different season, and dig your roots deep down into Him, God’s love will keep you strong and enable you to flourish in the soil where He’s planted you, growing things to sustain and delight, to build the kingdom. So, let’s get planting!
Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
My daughter folded herself forward in the passenger seat, tugged her church top off, and swiftly wiggled her way into a t-shirt. She could sit upright to pull her thick, fuzzy sweatshirt over her head, but it was still quite a feat with the seatbelt and all. I won’t try to describe the dance moves she had to execute to pull off her skinny jeans, so she could slip on her joggers. But she had to do it. She was going straight from church to a cool volunteer opportunity to play with some kids in need. There wasn’t time to go home, or even grab a moment in the church bathroom to change. The top and jeans were perfect for church. The sweats were ideal for where my girl was going. The change was necessary. As were the less than ideal circumstances for making the switch. But it was worth it. She got to both attend church and play tag with kiddos.
This moment of squirming and giggles in the car matches a series of questions God keeps asking me: Where have I had you? Where am I taking you? What needs to change to walk into this new space?
My first clue was in December. A friend asked, “What can I pray about for you?”
Words came from nowhere. “I feel a shift coming. I don’t know what it is, but I really feel like God is preparing me for a change. Could you pray that I stay focused on Him and His plans, throughout that change?”
What just happened? What shift? What change? I hadn’t felt any of this until the words escaped my mouth. As my friend climbed out of my car, I had to sit a minute to catch my breath. I felt like I’d been bowled over. God, what are you planning? What’s changing? I want to hold tight to You in this!
Is anything changing in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A new expense? A new routine? Does the ground feel like it’s moving under your feet?
Another day. Another friend. Same crazy questions and ideas from God. As we circled the indoor track, gym shoes rhythmically thumping the rubber surface, our unplanned conversation orbited from where we’ve been to where we’re headed and what that means.
In my Bible study we’re studying Jonah. Jonah was a prophet living in Israel, delivering messages from God to the Hebrew people. Until God gave Jonah a new assignment, “Get up and go to Nineveh.” Jonah had been at one post, Israel. But he was being sent to a new one five hundred miles away. And it changed everything. Um, God, I don’t want to go to Nineveh. But I also don’t want to end up in the slimy, smelly belly of a big fish. I’m listening. What changes do you have in mind?
And even though I’m in a Bible study about Jonah, God keeps pointing me back to Ephesians. Specifically 2:10 God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. And chapter 4:1 I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. Hmmm. Work I had better be doing. Work He’s gotten me ready to do. Work I best be running after. But if I’m running, don’t I need to take off these cute boots and put on my Nike Zooms?
What is God calling you to today? How is it different than what He had you doing before? What changes might you need to make? What discomfort or inconvenience might you have to endure? How will you intentionally walk (better yet run) onto this road He’s calling you to travel?
My youngest was on the court in the last two minutes of his game. My phone vibrated. Can Maguire spend the night? We were twenty minutes from home and five minutes from his friend’s house. The ideal scenario would be to drop Maguire at the friend’s immediately following the game. Only he was in his uniform and didn’t have a pillow, toothbrush, etc.
After the buzzer I chatted with my boy. Yes, he wanted to go to his friend’s. Yes, he would even skip home, a shower, and his own covers. I sent Maguire into the restroom where he pulled off his uniform and tugged on the sweats he’d worn over his jersey and shorts on the way to the game. And although he wasn’t fresh, he was comfortable enough to snuggle on a friend’s couch with a borrowed blanket for the night. He’d been playing basketball. But it was time to hang with his buddy. To go from one to the next meant something had to give. He had to change. He also had to give up some comfort, but it was worth it.
Here it is again. This change in direction and the necessary action to make it happen. God doesn’t promise us it will be easy. But He promises it will be glorious and extravagant (Ephesians 1:19). That seems worth a little discomfort. That feels like it will be worthwhile to do without some of the security blankets I’ve been holding. But it’s still a bit scary, eyeing that new unfamiliar road. But also, so very exciting.
Today, in a new stage of life, where my kids are older and intriguing assignments are knocking at my door, what’s best for my family, best for me, best for this work God has called me into? I’m not sure, and I don’t how it will all play out. But I’m feeling the need to tug off my previous outfit, and put on something more appropriate for the next season.
What is this new attire? I haven’t found it in my closet yet. But with this coming shift, I know I’ll need to let go of control, and say, “no,” to some things. I’ll need to enlist help and be flexible as I learn what a day in the life of this new season for Laura looks like. And I’ll need to accept that there will be bumps during the transition. Changing outfits while riding in a car can be tricky. Certainly less than ideal. But the end result is worth it.
The coolest part? God is with me on my journey and with you wherever He’s taking you. He doesn’t ask us to go out there and do it alone. He says to join Him in the work He does. Join Him. Yes, please. There’s no one I’d rather walk through life with than the One who loves me, believes in me, encourages me, holds me, comforts me, and cheers for me just for trying. Because what God really wants isn’t a best-selling novel from me or a full-ride scholarship, trophy, or promotion from you.
What He really wants is for us to join Him. That’s all. To walk through life with Him. To trust Him when He says He creates us for cool stuff and wants us to do it, because it will be amazing, and because He can shower us and the world with His love and grace while we do this work He’s put in front of us together.
So, let’s get going. Ready? Set? Go!
I love living in Ohio with our four distinct seasons. I even embrace the sparkling snow, but today it is a high of six degrees. As in 1-2-3-4-5-6. I just got back from California, and let’s just say a few days in sixty (a very key “t-y” there) and sunny was good for my body and soul. One thing I marveled at as my husband and I strolled the streets of Yountville hand-in-hand, were the gardeners busily out planting. Apparently, in wine country January is the perfect time to be pulling carrots and picking lettuce, to be watering Brussels sprouts and tilling the soil in preparation for the next round of seeds. Each day the gardens bustled with workers yes, harvesting current crops, but also preparing the ground for future produce.
We can’t plant anything in Ohio that we hope will have even the slightest chance of living until late March, and that’s still quite risky, but it made me think about what I can metaphorically be planting in my life now to harvest when the time comes. Because growing things takes time. And patience. It takes planning, digging, water, sunlight, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and yes, more patience. Nothing will grow, not the tiniest sprout, if we don’t prepare the soil, and if we don’t plant the seeds.
So, on this icy January day I ask myself (and you), “What do you want to be harvesting in March? In August? Next year at this time? Five years from now?” I’m clever enough to realize I am not the one in control of how things go down. God is. But I also realize God invites us into the gardening. He even asks us to “bear fruit.” So, we trust God to provide the sunlight and rain for our crops—because that stuff is way out of our control. We also need to trust Him with the timing—how long those seeds need to germinate before they sprout, how long they need to grow underground before they’re stable enough to pop their heads above ground, and even how long it will be from the moment they emerge until the vines sprout tomatoes, and the tomatoes are round, red, juicy, and ready to pick. But while we’re trusting Jesus for all of that timing rain and sun, we have to be the ones seeking good soil, loosening it with our shovels, maybe adding a scoop or two of fertilizer, removing clunky rocks, pulling invasive weeds. We have to dig the correct depth and plant the seeds. We need to gently cover them back up and sprinkle them with water on the days the rain doesn’t fall. Depending on the growing cycle, we might be called to more—to covering tender leaves if a late frost threatens or tying stalks to stakes to keep them sturdy as they grow. So this gardening? It’s a partnership between us and God, the Master Gardener. And partnerships don’t work when only one partner shows up. Since God ALWAYS does His part, we need to do ours.
I don’t know what you hope to harvest in your next season, or the one after that. If you feel called to find a new job, now is the perfect time to be updating your resume, taking a class, reading a book, honing your craft, asking someone (or twenty someones) to coffee to pick their brain on the industry, how it works, what potential job routes there are, if they know anyone who’s hiring. If you’re aiming for honor roll this semester to maintain or earn a scholarship, get ahead on your reading. Make flashcards or Quizlets. Find a strong study partner or group. Meet with the teacher in the class you struggle in, today, not after you do poorly on a test. If you’re eyeing a move—take some weekend trips to potential new hometowns. Stay with friends. Quiz them on the pros and cons of their area. Google neighborhoods, rents, home prices, school districts. Clean out a closet or two, so when it’s time to move, you’re prepared. You want to play in a band? Practice your instrument. Over and over for hours on end.
I don’t know what dream God has given you, what goals you long to achieve, or what is going to be necessary for you to get there. But I know it starts now.
"It’s January," we groan, and "we can’t even find the soil under all this snow. The ground is frozen." Fill in any excuse you have as to why you can’t start today. I don’t feel well. I’m broke. I’m too young (or too old). I don’t know where God wants me to go.
Fine. That may all be true. But even on a six-degree day I can order seeds online and compost the avocado pits, cilantro stems, and stale taco shells from our taco night. And as they decay over the next few months, they’ll create nutrient rich dirt for me to sprinkle into my flower beds come spring.
What is God calling you to do? Have you asked Him? If not, talk to Him. Ask Him where and when and what He has planned. Ask Him again. And again. Make this an ongoing conversation. You can start right now. This very moment.
If you have heard from Him, what are you doing about it? As Banning Leibscher says in his book, Rooted, “It’s not enough to just hear the Lord’s words, we must carry them (p. 122).” Are you actively carrying around the idea, the dream, the next step or did you stick it in the garage waiting for April showers? If God gave you a goal, a plan, an assignment, He will equip you to carry it out. So talk to Him about what steps He wants you to take, about how you can currently be preparing the soil. Then get out your rake and begin.
Growing things is a process. Except on time-lapse cameras nothing grows over night. But it is a beautiful process. And when we plant for Jesus, succulent fruit grows in abundance. You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws or the casting director calls, you can start today. Even in January.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5 NLT
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.
My husband is reading a book called Rooted by Banning Liebscher. I’ve seen it lying on the steps, the coffee table, in his hands. I like the sound of the word, rooted, as if it describes itself. I picture green roots of a plant diving deep into rich soil and calling out, “Roooooooo-ted,” as they descend. As a writer I’m drawn to words. And this one keeps flashing across my radar.
I have dozens of pages marked in my Bible with brass book tabs, scraps of paper, colorful sticky notes, stiff prayer cards, whatever I can find when I come across something that stirs me so deeply I need to get back to it. The other day I flipped to a passage in Isaiah, and a piece of paper marked the page prior to the one I was reading. Out of curiosity, I turned back to see what was so profound on that page, and noticed the marker—a small square sheet of paper promoting VBS from our previous church. On the back in lime green ink I’d written “Rooted,” in thicker, swirlier letters at the top to serve as a heading. Really? Rooted? From a few years back. Hmmm.
And the next day, a coffee date with a girlfriend. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but we both speak, write, and teach for Jesus, plus we’re both soccer moms, so there is never a shortage of things to talk about. And as we were praying she spoke the word rooted over our lives and our relationships with God. There it was again standing out from all the other words as if in all-bold caps.
Okay, God, I’m listening.
On the dawn of a new year I don’t make resolutions. I used to, but they don’t serve me and my personality well, so instead I choose a word, or actually God chooses it for me—one to cling to for the year. And, well, yes, this year’s is clearly ROOTED. I know it’s a word that could pop up into multiple conversations, maybe-ish. But every time I heard “rooted” it seems to be highlighted, illuminated, like this word is an important one. Priscilla Shirer describes the Greek word, rhema, as the times when God’s words leap out of the page at you, when you truly hear God’s word being spoken directly to you. I knew rooted was one of these rhema moments for me early in December and went ahead and wrote it on the gold-framed slate a dear friend gave me that sits on my bookshelves, so I would remember. If God was giving me this word already, it didn’t seem like I should wait until January 1 to proclaim it. Rooted is something I need.
I need to be so rooted in who Jesus is and how He loves me, so I don’t sway. So I don’t crumble when I get rejections. Newsflash, writers get rejections, scads of them, over stories we’ve poured ourselves into, into stories I feel God has given me to write. And handfuls of rejections can hurt, and damage one’s self esteem. Are you in a position where you experience rejection? Then you get it. But when I write for Jesus and His glory, and stay rooted in that, then it doesn’t matter if my words get turned down, because Jesus never asked me to get my stories accepted, just to write them. Same for whatever He’s calling you, to do. Jesus calls you to the input, not the output. And when we dig down deep into that truth, then the shame or disappointment from someone passing on something we’ve worked at fades, because we remember who we did the work for. Jesus. Not them.
I need to stay rooted in who I am in Jesus, and what He did for me, so when I get acceptances I remember who gave me the stories and the words and the opportunities, who orchestrated all of the pieces so perfectly, that my agent would send my work on the specific day to the particular editor who was open to this kind of story and was able to convince their publishing board, and editorial board, and marketing team, that they should also buy into this specific manuscript. Only God could do all of that. I never could. And therefore all the glory from success goes to Him. Are things going your way? Have you had some success? Guess who got you there. Oh how I want to stay rooted in that, realizing all that Jesus does for me, knowing my stability comes from Him, seeking more and more nourishment from Him for more assignments He’ll give me by allowing my roots to dive deeper into the Lord.
I need to stay rooted in Jesus, so when one of my kids is in a funk and doesn’t want to talk to anyone, including me, I don’t feel like a worthless mom. I also won’t feel like a failure when I can’t solve my kid’s problems for them, or help them with their trigonometry (math hurts my head) or because I forgot to send in the $5 for the raffle basket or when only half of the family likes what I made for dinner. Because I’m not a failure. I’m a child of God. And so are you. But it’s easy to be blown sideways by the circumstances of life.
So, in 2019, I want to stay rooted. Rooted in Jesus. In His love. In His grace. In His forgiveness. In the identity He’s given me. Will you join me? Spread out your toes and imagine sinking them into soil, warm from the sun. Imagine when you feel shaky or uncertain that you can maintain stability by digging deeper, grounding yourself in the dark earth. Consider when you feel in control, like you nailed that project and hustled well, that if you wiggle your ankles and burrow down a few inches you’ll realize where your strength came from and while you’re at it you’ll absorb some additional nutrients of the dirt –calcium, magnesium, potassium to strengthen, calm, and regulate you to keep you going, keep you centered in whatever lies ahead.
Jesus provides us everything we need. He is our living water. The bread of life. He has overcome the world. Yes, I want to root myself in Him, realizing without Jesus, I have nothing to anchor myself in, nowhere to grow. But with Him, everything makes sense, and grows both up towards the bright sunlight and down into the cool, soothing dirt.
Is God whispering a word or phrase or instruction repeatedly in your ear? Does something appear to be highlighted or standing out to you for 2019? What is it? I’d love to hear.
Over the weekend I was at a soccer tournament in Lexington. On Saturday the girls had three games. As we were leaving the hotel one of the other moms who I adore said, “Do you guys want to ride over to the fields with us? I mean, we have a bunch of chairs and things in the car, but we can move them around and make room for you.” Riding over with friends sounded great, plus I’m always looking for a way out of driving (not my strong suit), so we hopped in their SUV.
But first they had to prepare—make a little room for us, move some stuff around, or we wouldn’t have fit.
After the first game, we went to brunch at First Watch. (Oh my goodness, have you had their banana granola pancakes? If not, find a First Watch soon and give them a try—crunchy, sweet, and lightly drizzled with syrup, of course.) We put our name in at the hostess stand and had to wait a few minutes while they got a table ready for us. Someone else had to leave. The table needed to be wiped down. New menus and silverware needed to be set up. They needed to prepare some room for us before we could dine.
As we’re entering into Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas observed as a way to “get ready” for Jesus) I wonder what I need to be moving around, shifting over, getting rid of, setting out to make more room for Jesus in my life. The familiar Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” says it like this: Let every heart prepare Him room.
It’s not that I don’t have Jesus in my life. I do. I go to church, read my Bible, pray, but I also do a zillion other things. Make breakfast, pick up shirts from the dry cleaner, drive the curvy country roads to and from basketball practice, sign a permission slip so my teenager can watch 12 Years a Slave in class, call the pharmacy about a prescription… to name a few. And each of those things is great—feeding the fam, getting people where they need to go, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, at least some of them. But each workout I log, counter I wipe off, text I respond to is like another folding chair I throw in my trunk or another empty coffee mug on my table. Super handy for watching a soccer game or waking up, but making my life a little more crowded. And if I want Jesus to hop in my figurative car or sit at my table with me, I’m going to have to move some things around to make room for Him.
Over 2,000 years ago Mary and Joseph had the best surprise for the entire world going. Mary was pregnant and about to give birth to the Savior of the World! Get. Out! This was the promise the Israelites had been waiting for for centuries (it had been over 500 years since the last of the great Jewish prophets telling how God would come down to save His people, Malachi, put down his quill). But yet, there was no room for them in the inn. —Luke 2:8
No room? For the promised Messiah? For the guy everyone had hoped for, prayed for, yearned for? We hear these verses every Christmas and imagine exhausted Mary and Joseph wandering around Bethlehem with their gray, fuzzy donkey. But do we let the “no room” part sink in? Not just that it was super frustrating to not be able to find a hotel--ugh. And not just that poor Mary had to give birth on prickly hay in a barn that smelled like cows, no thank you. Those are important details of the story, for sure. But so is this one. All of the folks in town who were craving a Savior, who were longing for a Messiah? Not one of them was able to find room in their busy lives, in their crowded homes for Jesus to actually enter and do what He does—love. They didn’t have room. And they weren’t willing to prepare any.
So how about us? If Jesus came knocking on our doors today, would we have time in our schedules to hang out with Him? What would we have to rearrange to make room for Jesus in our days? Skip an episode of This is Us? Use an absent pass from the staff meeting? Get someone else to drive carpool? Be okay with not vacuuming? Order pizza?
Because here’s the thing. Jesus is knocking at our doors. Right now. Literally as I write this blog and you read it. He’s saying, “Don’t you just love all the twinkly lights at Christmas time?” Or, “Wow, we haven’t talked in a while, but I miss hearing from you.” Or maybe, “Hey, I know things have been rough lately. Do you want to talk?” And Jesus is waiting to see if we’ll answer the door. Are we too busy? Is our life too noisy to even hear Him knocking?
I don’t know what takes up too much time in your life, what’s a distraction from hearing His voice. But as I look at my life, the first thing that comes to mind is social media. Which I enjoy. And can be fun and helpful. But also on social media, I can totally lose track of time, translation waste valuable time, AND end up playing the comparison game, which never ends well. Plus if I could limit my time on social media, my brain would be less cluttered with the zillions of quotes and images that flash past my eyes and then immediately dissolve, AND I could be more focused on Jesus. I could have at least fifteen or so more minutes a day to pray, stop and think, or take a deep breath and talk to Jesus. So this is where I’m starting to prepare Him room. But I still have more preparing to do.
Maybe for you it’s not eliminating something, but actually intentionally doing something—setting that table or opening the door He’s knocking on by grabbing your Bible, putting aside time each day to pray, or setting the alarm one day a week to meet with that friend who is so good for your soul.
I don’t know what “chairs you need to move in your car,” or what air mattress you might need to blow up in your figurative inn. But I do know Jesus is knocking. He wants to hang out. Yup, even though that one part of your life is a mess, and that other thing you did isn’t quite resolved. Jesus just wants to come in. He doesn’t ask for anything fancy. Remember, where He made his debut was a stable. Jesus just wants to come in, so He can do what Jesus does. Love.
Will you prepare Him room?
What can you do today, to clear out some space for Jesus?
If you want to chat more about Advent, find me on Facebook and Instagram where I'll be chatting all things Advent and Christmas.
Laura L. Smith