“What are you taking a picture of?” my husband asked.
“I’m just going to touch them,” I said over my shoulder. I was drawn to the most beautiful willow on the other side of the street with wispy branches arching high and dropping low to the ground. After crossing the street and running my fingers through whispery leaves and vine like branches I pulled my phone from my back pocket and snapped a few pics. Which to most people would seem pretty strange, but it didn’t faze my husband.
“We both knew you were going to take pictures.”
“I just planned on touching it,” I said. “I can’t resist willows.”
Brett grinned. “And?”
“And once I touched it I needed a picture,” I conceded.
Brett held out his arms and hugged my ridiculous self—the goofball who takes pictures of trees in random people’s yards. “We both knew you were going to take a picture. I just knew first,” he said.
I am a dork. There’s no question about it. My husband knows all of my weird, quirky, nerdy behavior, and loves me not only despite it, but sometimes even because of it. I am blessed by him, no doubt. But this isn’t just how Brett sees me. This is how Jesus—the Creator of the Universe, the King of the World sees all of us!
He knows we can’t hear very well, can’t help talking strangers next to us in line, feel the need to wash our feet twice every time we shower, or require a pillow on our ear in order to fall asleep. Jesus knows all of these things about us, because He specifically designed us this way. And instead of being bothered when we yank an itchy t-shirt off our body as soon as it touches our skin, Jesus grins, and makes a softer tee more visible in our drawer.
Early in his ministry Jesus was headed toward Galilee. There was a man named Nathanael who Jesus wanted as one of his disciples. Jesus hadn’t officially been introduced, but being part of the Trinity and all, had actually been in on the creation of Nathanael. Jesus knew him inside and out.
When Jesus saw him (Nathanael) coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet!--John 1:47-50
In this short interchange we see that:
We spend so much time apologizing for and hiding our quirks. Why? We get nervous wondering what others will think. Why?
Jesus looks at us and says, “I love your crooked smile—it puts people at ease. Your fun laugh brings joy to a room. The fact that you count everything makes those around you aware of how much they actually have. Your quiet nature relaxes those around you. The way you can’t sit still when you hear music gets folks minds off their problems and onto the possibilities of singing or dancing—of finding joy.”
When we need a minute to collect our thoughts or because we’re meticulous about tucking in our shirt or to take a deep breath or because we are unsettled if we don’t wipe off the counter, Jesus doesn’t get frustrated or impatient. He leans back, smiles, and when we’re good to go says, “Ready?”
The disciples were worried about what people would think when Jesus sent them out to spread the good news. Jesus reassured them:
What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated. You’re worth more than a million canaries. —Matthew 10:30
Wow! I have a hecka lot of hairs on this head. And He numbers all of them? How amazing that this is how specifically and thoroughly our God loves us. He knows every single detail about us. And just as we cringe and think--Every single detail? Because there are a few details I’d rather nobody knew. Jesus follows up. He says, “I know every detail about you, and by knowing all of those details, I consider you worth more than a million canaries.”
So be yourself—your actual self—today. Be silly or serious, fast or slow, calm or crazy. Bring yourself to the game, the meeting, the coffee date, the class, and know that you are exactly who God created you to be. He sees you under your fig tree or crossing the street to touch a willow tree or researching your family tree or pulling your favorite sandals off your shoetree, and He says, “That one—I want to hang out with her.”
On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
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Flying home from California my ears filled with pressure. It felt like someone was stuffing thick, fuzzy bath towels in my ears. And believe me, there was no room for them. I feel it on most flights, but this was a doozy. I told my husband if I was a baby I would have been screaming. I turned to all the tricks—chewing gum, drinking water, fake yawning. And I was doing them all a bit too fervently, hoping for even the slightest relief in my ears. Then, probably, because of all the bizarre antics of chomping and swallowing, I got the hiccups. I attempted to contain them, because although my husband sat on my right, a stranger sat on my left, and I didn’t want to weird him out too much. So my body twitched every four seconds and my ears felt like they were going to explode, and I was trying to breathe deeply, in and out, but I felt like a cartoon. The plane could not land quickly enough.
Somewhere in the midst of all the ridiculousness, I realized Jesus also got the hiccups. Jesus’s ears popped. I giggled in my seat—more antics. There was relief in this fact. It’s silly. And trivial. But also pretty cool. God, who designed oak trees to grow 80 feet tall and produce tiny acorns, less than an inch tall, with a point on the end so they could plant themselves insuring oaks won’t become extinct. That same God came down to earth to experience everything about being human. Everything. So Jesus could understand us better.
He didn’t have to. He could have stayed up on His royal throne. But Jesus chose this humbling condition—hiccups and all—out of love for us.
Jesus probably got splinters, experienced headaches. He sweat, got chilly, had to blow his nose. And maybe broke His ankle playing in the hills with His brother, James. Jesus most likely had nosebleeds, and definitely had his share of bad nights of sleep.
Whatever your body is experiencing today—migraine, fatigue, sore muscles—Jesus knows what you’re up against. He doesn’t just sympathize, but empathizes. So talk to Him about it. And take comfort knowing the King of the universe loves you so much, that He experienced all kinds of peculiar bodily pain so He could relate to you.
Take inventory of your body. What’s working well—a healed cut? Cleared sinuses? Praise Jesus for it.
What’s not—cramps? Allergies? Ask Jesus for relief.
Thank Him for taking on a human body, so He could truly understand.
I burnt myself with a curling iron. It’s so stupid. Brett and I actually had plans both nights of the weekend, like going out plans, and not just to soccer games. So I thought I’d fancify myself up. Clearly, I’m out of practice.
I felt the burn when it happened—searing hot. Ouch, like mmmm, no appropriate words available. But I was mid-curl, and had to finish, and get the kiddos all settled before we headed out, so I kept twirling and curling. I peeked at my wrist and couldn’t even see where I’d burned it, although it stung like crazy! Throughout the evening I kept glancing at the painful spot on my hand radiating heat, but there was still no mark. I told myself I was making a big deal about nothing.
The next day, the burn still hurt and the area was slightly pink, but you could only tell if you looked. Really hard. The third day, everyone I saw asked what happened to my hand. It was so weird. I felt my skin burn the moment the hot iron touched my hand, but it didn’t leave a mark for days. Not to gross you out, but a week and a half later I still have a giant scab that hurts and itches. I’m fairly certain it will scar, leaving a permanent reminder of a dumb mistake that didn’t even reveal itself until after the fact.
I think this is how emotional burns work.
When somebody says something cruel, treats us like we’re less than, when we’re shamed or belittled or betrayed or let down, when we experience loss, we feel it instantly. But we’re usually busy, and don’t want to reveal that the comment or action hurt us, because you know, we’re strong and resilient. Right? So we keep on going, moving, smiling, nodding, twirling. The next day it still hurts, but the damage isn’t visible. After time the pain of the emotional burn is less front and center, but it begins to manifest itself in unexpected ways. We might struggle with sleeping, or speaking up, or getting up and trying again. We might be unsure of how to move forward or back out of a relationship. We may over compensate, give a little attitude, or withdraw.
And eventually we’re left with a scar. And that scar tissue is sensitive and doesn’t do well in the sunlight and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.
I have some of these scars. I bet you do, too. Emotional hurts that I tried to plow through, but that left their permanent mark on me.
I’m so grateful for a Savior that lived a life where He felt physical and emotional pain. He was physically flogged, nailed, and pierced. If you saw the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, you get the picture. Jesus’ friends betrayed him, denied him, gave up on him. He was always being misunderstood. So, Jesus empathizes about those scars, those hurts we have deep inside. Better yet, He knows how to heal them.
You all, I’ve tried self-help on these emotional wounds. It’s not a bad thing—it just doesn’t completely heal. Jesus does. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the light. Show Him where you hurt. Tell Him about it. Jesus understands your pain. He loves you in spite of it, and because of it. Jesus is a healer. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus says, “tell John, The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleaned, the deaf here, the dead are raised.” He longs to heal your burns.
Those scars, they may always be a part of you—marks of what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown—but the pain that caused them? Jesus longs to take it away. Hand it over to Him, and let Him spread the cool, soothing aloe of His love wherever you’ve been burned. The healing process can begin immediately. All you have to do is ask Him.
The last time I got my hair done I had some lowlights added. Chlorine from summer pool days, hours of sun shining on my head at soccer fields, plus the highlights only stance I’d taken the last few times I had my hair done, all added up to my tresses looking slightly less honey and a little on the platinum side. It was time. But lowlights seem so counterintuitive. I’m paying to keep the golden glow of my childhood forever, why would I darken the sheen?
Why? Because dark helps us focus on light, illuminates the glow, so it shines even brighter.
The lowlights? They show off the paler strands. The contrast is lovely, somehow richer, and fuller, than a straight up blonde. But in life we tend not to focus on our lowlights, but on our highlights—the signed contract, the win, the award, the cupcakes we frosted to look like adorable pumpkins, the stunning vistas taken during our vacation, when in truth, most of our life is lowlights.
We rarely share scrubbing the toilets before guests arrive, the rewrites and revisions on our papers, the hours of doing flashcards with our kids so they pass that time test, the acne cream we dab on our zits, or the spills and extra trips to the hardware store that went into our latest home improvement project.
This past week, I experienced some lowlights. Didn’t you? Not major ones, but some less than shining moments.
I didn’t post a single one of these events on Instagram. But guess what? In these darker spots is where I turned to Jesus and saw His glory shine so brightly.
When those soccer boys walked off the field, I knew there was nothing I could say to ease their hurt or make them smile. And so I did what I do when I can’t do anything else. I hugged my son tight and prayed. I prayed for him and his team and their sweet hearts, that they would find their worth in Christ and not in goals or wins. That they would find joy in the season instead of pain in its end. I felt God’s love fill me, remind me where my worth was, and felt Him soothing and loving those boys.
I was kicking myself for snipping at my fun-loving daughter. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I let little things go? My stomach in knots, I turned to Jesus and said, “I adore my daughter and can’t stand arguing with her. She is funny and smart and smiley and loving.” And before I even finished listing to God all the things I love about my girl (which clearly, He already knew) I was flooded with all the reasons that young lady is sunshine in my life. All my icky feelings vanished. Next day we had a laughfest baking brownies together. God is so good.
The woodpile? Yeah. Okay, so I am a klutz. My parents sent me to ballet lessons as a girl in hopes I would stop bumping into things. I fell in love with dance, but still bang into stationary objects on a regular basis. I was helping my husband lug a pile of leaves into the woods. My foot got caught. For unknown reasons I refused to let go of the tarp and catch myself. Instead I went down, smack onto a piece of sharp wood and have a nasty four-inch cut across my shin to show for it. You are so glad I didn’t post a photo! Trust me. My husband and daughter came to the rescue. Feeling the way they loved me was priceless. It hurt, sure, but it’s a mere flesh wound. This cut gave me the opportunity to thank God for people who love me, and pray for anyone I know suffering from chronic pain or lingering ailments. My sore leg gave me a fresh perspective on how jam-packed with blessings my life is.
Ever wonder what Jesus’ social media accounts would have looked like? I imagine Peter running His accounts for Him, and Jesus chastising Peter for only showing the highlights. Jesus was all about down and dirty—drawing in the dirt, making paste out of mud, touching lepers who had highly contagious skin disease, talking one on one with the town harlot, chatting with the naked guy named Legion, who liked to cut himself with rocks.
Am I dismissing the lowlights or embracing them? Am I taking time to watch Jesus open my blind eyes with the mud of life? Are you?
What tough stuff did you wade through this week? What mire are you still desperately trying to climb through? Have you turned it over to Jesus? Asked Him to bring light to the darker spaces? To use these hardships to illuminate your life?
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
I am thankful for all of the highlights of my life. So. Very. Grateful. I’ve been blessed with a dreamy husband, four kids whom I adore more than oxygen or chocolate, the sweetest mother, and I get to tell stories for a living. Please! This week I went to the farmer’s market, made apple crisp, had date night with my hubby—all darling photo ops. But I am also blessed by my lowlights—the learning moments, the times I turn to Jesus and say, “Help!” and watch Him turn up every single time, shining His almighty flashlight into my dark places.
Jesus is not afraid of the dark. Instead He uses it to show us how bright He is. Whatever seems murky or muddy this week, hand it over to Him and watch His sunbeams light up your life.
My hair stylist was my friend before she started doing my hair. This makes getting my roots touched up a multi-tasking miracle of self-care and great conversation. There’s the added bonus that sometimes another friend will be getting her hair done at the same time, which turns the whole event into an impromptu coffee date. This past week was one of those days. The three of us chatted about books, kids, and fall schedules. It was good for my soul. We discussed the struggle our kids were having finding balance right now—trying to complete homework, be organized, get ready for practice, pack lunch, have time with friends etc. It’s a lot to juggle.
My friend, Cecilia, suggested, “They need to learn what doing their best means. Today’s best is different than tomorrow’s best or last year’s best or next week’s best.” Ummm….were we talking about our kids or ourselves?
Because folks, fall is fabulous. But around here, it’s insane! I love watching my kids play sports they’re passionate about. I love seeing them learn about hard work, teamwork, dedication, the thrill of victory and even the agony of defeat. I love watching them make new friends, work to get along with people whose personalities don’t mesh with theirs, and cultivate deeper relationships with folks they already know. I love being outside.
However, we are NEVER home. Which means dinner looks like a lot of mac and cheese and Chipotle. That’s all I’ve got in me. Right now, this is my best in this department. And our house—looks like the Tasmanian Devil had a field trip here. It’s no one’s fault. Everyone is coming and going at breathtaking speeds. Cleats get flung. Clean clothes struggle to make it to drawers. Wrappers and empty cereal boxes get left behind in the flurry.
How about you? Are you tired? Sick? Overwhelmed? Or maybe today you find yourself rested, energized, and raring to go? We all have different bests on any given day.
My current best here is messy. And that’s okay. Because in this season, for the Smiths of Oxford, Ohio, this is what our best looks like. Just like everyone else in the world we can’t do everything well. So we’re bonding as a family, cheering each other on, getting exercise and fresh air. But please don’t peek inside our doors until soccer season is over. By then I hope to have adorable autumn decorations, homemade pizza crust, get caught up on coffee dates with friends and read at least one of the books on my nightstand. No promises, but that’s the goal.
My friends’ advice was some of the most brilliant I’d heard in awhile. In fact, it sounds a lot like grace. Jesus offers us full and perfect grace. But do we offer it to ourselves? What are you freaking out about today because you can’t get it done, or can’t get it right, or can’t get it fixed, or can’t even get it started?
What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ~Matthew 6: 31-33 MSG
These are Jesus’ words to a hillside of folks who wondered how they were supposed to live. Jesus gives no advice on time management, the top 10 workouts, which eight foods will change how you feel forever, or how to maximize the new update for your phone. Jesus doesn’t expect for us to do it all. Instead, He asks us to relax, stop fussing, and focus on what God gives us.
On rare days, our full swing days, our bests look like they should have their own TV show. But mostly our best looks like a ball cap, another cup of coffee please, and leftovers for dinner. And in those times, God positively blows me away. By His grace and His grace alone, my just getting by actually ends up to be an incredibly full and rich life. I’m amazed when God gives me an hour while the kids do homework to finish up some edits, a walk with my husband around the park as one of our kids warms up with their teammates, and even a dear friend as a stylist plus another having her hair done at the same time as me, so I can visit and get a little perspective.
God wants us to do our best, to live fully for Him. But in all the places we lack, He will meet our every day needs. So, today, do your best for today, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. And tomorrow do your best for Thursday, September 28, 2017. I promise they’ll look different. Don’t give up, but also don’t beat yourself up. Just put in your best effort and trust God, because He loves you and wants what’s best for you. Then soak in the abundance of God’s beautiful provision.
I am a shedder.
I leave long, curly blonde hairs on the carpet of your car, the pillows of your couches, on the backs of the seats at church, and on your shirt when I give you a hug. My hairs clog the sink and get tangled in the rollers of the vacuum. If I’m ever a suspect for anything, the detectives won’t need to look for my fingerprints or footprints—all they’ll need to do is follow my trail of tresses.
I know I leave my hair everywhere I go (sorry about that) but what else am I leaving behind? When I leave yoga class, Bible study, your kitchen table, are there smiles lingering? Laughter? Sarcasm? Complaints? Prayers? What am I imprinting?
Are people glad I came, or do they sigh with relief, grateful for my departure?
I’ll never hear the conversations and comments after I exit a room, but I can choose how I act when I’m in that room. My husband and I went to see Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, speak last week. Mitch shared one of the most important things Morrie taught him, a lesson Albom weaves into all of his books, is that “one life touches another and another.” Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22: 39
If I’m going to fully love my neighbor, if our lives are going to touch people one way or another, we can choose to try to love them and touch them in positive, meaningful ways. We all get that choice. Each time we enter a room. If we’re running late and juggling our keys and our purse and our coffee, we can grump and make excuses and make a big deal about our woes OR we can smile and laugh and greet someone. When we’re listening to someone speak—whether that’s a doctor, pastor, counselor, boss, co-worker, best friend, spouse, student or one of our own kids—we can choose to continue with our busyness, our business, on our phones OR we can choose to look them in the eye, give them our full attention, and truly listen.
Even when we’re the ones who need help, who are asking for advice, who need help carrying a load—physical, emotional or mental—(because some days we do need help) we can still choose to say, ‘thank you,’ to let the person know how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are for their help.
I’m going to be a lot of places over the next few weeks—soccer games, sports banquets, my children’s schools, church, visiting family for the holidays to name a few. How about you? Where are you headed? How will we act? What will we leave behind? In this season of thankfulness, let’s make a pact to remind others of all that they have to be thankful for, to have our presence be something they are thankful for, not because we are awesome or brilliant or have all of the right answers, but because we can choose to shine light in dark places, to choose hope over despair, and to choose compliments over criticism.
When someone finds one of my hairs—which they’re bound to do—after parting ways with me, I pray they pull it off their sleeve or pick it off their floor and smile, that I have left them with peace, strength or a little joy.
Laura L. Smith