The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
I’m emotionally raw. One of my best friends is in the hospital. Someone I adore lost his job. I just heard a friend-of-a-friend committed suicide. My heart hurts. I climbed in my freezing car, all of this swirling through my brain, fired up my heated seat, plugged my phone into the auxiliary cord, opened Spotify to whatever playlist I last had it on and hit shuffle. “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells came on, and the hot tears leaked down my cold cheeks.
“In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.”
Oh these valleys. They are no stinking fun, God. Yes, Jesus, I KNOW you are with me, with my friends, with this devastated family. You’re with us, Jesus, in all of it—in the hills and valleys and plateaus of life—always. I know Jesus is healing my one friend, has new plans for the other, and is wrapping His almighty arms around the family who is suffering loss. But, I also know today, they’re all in pain—physical, emotional, mental pain. Pain that I am incapable of easing. How about you? Are you or anyone you know suffering today? The valleys can be excruciating. Betrayal and loss hurt. Disappointments ache. Uncertainty depletes.
But I am not alone.
My friends are not alone.
You are not alone.
God knows about all of the hurt. He sees us in the rough patches, in the rigorous terrain. He knows how we ended up here. Often, it’s because the world is flawed, but sometimes it’s because either we or someone else made a bad choice, or maybe we need to learn something here, so we can thrive later when we arrive there. But God left us the Bible for instruction, and it says this: Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be afraid of them, for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
This afternoon an acquaintance shared with my husband that her father, who had been ill, just passed away. The day before her dad went to heaven, he was anxious, flustered. Then he took a nap, woke up, and was completely calm. He wore a peaceful expression. His body was no longer twitchy, but relaxed. Upon waking he asked the family who was by his side for a picture of Jesus. Everyone fumbled for their phones, racing to get to Google images. And when someone found an acceptable representation of what we may imagine Jesus looks like, they showed it to him. “Yup!” He exclaimed, nodding fiercely and grinning. “Yup, that’s Him.”
He was dying. In Hospice. Agitated. But he wasn’t alone. Jesus knew all about it, gave this man a visit during his dream to provide the peace and reassurance he needed. The next day, he tranquilly went to heaven.
There you have it. God knows some of life’s adventures will drain us, sometimes we’ll get scraped, bruised, scarred, but He tells us to be strong and brave, to not be frightened, because the incredible God of the Universe? He’s our traveling companion. We’re not alone. Through ups and down, highs and lows, long stretches of the monotonous mundane, even in life and death. He’ll never bail on us.
And if we focus on that, and truly hold on to His love, the commonplace becomes lovely, the mountains more glorious, and the valleys bearable. Because even though there’s not a thing I can do to alleviate the pain my friends are experiencing, that there are times where I can’t do a single thing for myself, God is good. And He’s on our side. And He will never ever leave us, but instead walk with us through every trail and trial we roam on this journey of life. His backpack is full of courage and joy to pull out and offer us when we need it the most. As the song continues, “No matter what I know I’m safe inside his hand.”
So are you. So be brave. God is with you. You don’t have to do this or anything else that comes your way alone.
I’ll be honest, I’d never really thought about what happens from the time I add Bertie Botts Ever Flavor Beans, a case of Italian Flour, AA batteries, and the newest book by Annie F. Downs to my Amazon cart. I just hope it gets to me fast. My youngest had a recent fieldtrip to Honeywell, which engineers the robots and mechanical sorting systems that make sure all those items we order online get to our houses correctly and in time. Now that I’ve seen the inner workings, I realize hope isn’t really the right word. I know my order will arrive quickly. You should see those robots!
Seeing how it all works was particularly interesting, because, let’s just say I checked a few things off my “nice” list with a few clicks on my trusty Mac. As a result I keep eyeing the front porch or the sketchy car in my driveway as someone I’ve never seen before approaches (#amazondelivery), thinking I hope …the sweater I ordered for Maguire to wear on Christmas is the right size, the sweatshirt I got for Mallory is super soft, I intercept the gift I ordered for Brett before he spies it on the doorstep.
Christmas time is full of hope.
When my kids were little they had wish lists of things they hoped Santa would leave under the tree. They hoped they’d be the first to find Frosty, our resident Elf on the Shelf, each morning, and for the jingle of bells from Nana’s front porch signaling a special guest appearance from Santa. They’re older now and hope for mornings they can sleep in under thick blankets, and that if we make a coffee run they’ll get a sweet peppermint mocha or cocoa topped with extra creamy whipped cream. What are you hoping for this Christmas?
That first Christmas? Can you imagine how thick and desperate hope was in the air? Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say, I imagine when Mary found out she was pregnant with God’s son, she must have hoped with every cell of her body that Joseph would believe her, that he wouldn’t walk away from their betrothal, leave her to be a single mom. In her day that meant she’d be an outcast and most likely homeless. When Joseph heard Mary’s news and decided to go through with the whole marrying her thing, despite her umm condition, I’m guessing he hoped people wouldn’t talk too much, that society would still accept him and his wife, that he would still get carpentry work. At that time Rome was in charge of the people of Israel and life was oppressive. Royalty and rulers were rich, and the poor were impoverished. Laws were harsh. Taxes were high. Life was exhausting. And God? He’d promised a Messiah for centuries. Four hundred years had passed since the prophet, Malachi, had put down his pen. The Jewish nation was desperate, and they were hoping for God to make a move.
And God came through in the most glorious of ways.
He sent Jesus. Hope of the world.
I used to get frustrated when I was young and asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas. They’d answer, “I don’t need anything.” Now I get what they meant. I don’t need anything. But I still have things I hope for. I hope my mother-in-law’s move goes smoothly, that she really finds joy in her new home. I hope my kids don’t get too stressed during their exam weeks, that we all get to spend quality time together as a family over Christmas break, that a friend who recently lost his job finds peace and security.
But I don’t just hope these things. I realize that’s not the right word. I know these things are in good hands. Not because of robots or sophisticated sorting systems. But because my hope is in Jesus. And I can count on Him.
We don’t need advanced technology to fulfill our spiritual list of hopes, translation—prayer requests. We have a Savior we can rely on—who will always be here for us. Until the end of the days. The people I care about are in Jesus’ hands. And He loves them so, I can be assured He will give them the opportunities and rest they need, if they’ll let Him. I can be certain peace and joy are available to everyone I’m praying for. And I can exhale, knowing my loved ones are in the very best hands.
“My hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I do not trust the sweetest frame. But wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” goes the old hymn.
All of Israel was hoping that night over 2000 years ago. And then Jesus showed up. In a barn. To a peasant teenager. I doubt anyone guessed things would go down like that. But maybe they should have, because God promised it would be so. God told the prophets how He would save them. God promised a Savior from the lineage of David, to be born in Bethlehem, to a virgin. And when Jesus came He checked all of those boxes, fulfilled every promise. Because that’s who God is. God consistently delivers what He promises. Who the Israelites had long been hoping for came. Jesus is hope.
So, yes, let’s put our hope in Jesus this Christmas. But let’s redefine hope as not something we’re crossing our fingers for, but something we’re trusting God to do at exactly the right place and time. This most likely won’t look how we envision it. Many of the Jews were hoping for a strong military commander or a rich and mighty king. Jesus is strong, He does command authority, and man, is He mighty, but when Jesus showed up as a baby, people struggled to see all of that, to connect the dots.
It wasn’t that God had mixed up the packages or the addresses. Nope. God has 0% error. He kept His promise. He always does. Always will. So let’s live in expectant hope this Christmas, of all of the promises Jesus will keep—to love, cherish, redeem, rescue, and stand by us, forever more. Let’s keep our eyes wide open like little kids on Christmas morning, believing Jesus will do what He said He would do, not just wanting Him to be, but fully believing that He IS the hope of the world.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1
What are you hoping for this Christmas? How will you trust Jesus with your hope?
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
Our family watched Jumanji the other night—the latest one with the Rock. The premise for the film is four high school students from different cliques all end up with detention together—think The Breakfast Club with a much nicer principal than Mr. Vernon.
During their Saturday morning punishment the four teens learn to appreciate one another for their true selves and discover greater understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses after being sucked into a video game. Each of the four students becomes a character in the game equipped with special super powers such as “dance fighting” and weaknesses—ranging from snake venom to mosquitos.
After watching I asked my kids, “What’s your super power?” Some of them listed their talents—soccer, acting, music, etc. Some named things that sounded plain fun, like invisibility. When we chatted about our weaknesses we came up with snakes, mice, splinters, and not enough sleep.
We all have weaknesses—things that stop us in our tracks that might not bother anyone else. This could be an issue with our physical or mental health, an event in our personal history that left a permanent scar, a person who brings out the worst in us, an addiction or fear. Or maybe like one of the Jumanji characters admitted, “I explode when I eat cake.” We don’t like to talk about our real weaknesses, but we know what they are.
And our super powers? As Christians we have the mightiest powers of all up our sleeves. Like prayer. We get to talk one on one with the Lord God Almighty. Who gets to do that? Us, that’s who! I mean we don’t need an invitation, or permission, or a special V.I.P. pass. We don’t need to know the right people, have the right credentials, or go through a security scan. We just get to talk to Him about anything and everything.
Not only do we get to talk to God, but we get to tap into His strength. What? Think of a strong force that literally wipes things out—hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches—God makes those things. And we get to tap into that power. He’s on our side. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. –Ephesians 3:20
And how about this one? You probably won’t see it in any Xbox games, because it’s intangible, but this super power makes all the difference in the most trying situations—hope. Hope for a future. Hope for redemption. Hope because after Jesus was buried in a tomb, on the third day He sprang back to life claiming victory over the grave forever more. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Romans 15:13
As Christians we have a slew of super powers, but the most powerful of all is love. The apostle Paul explains this in a letter to the early church in Corinth, These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love never fails. --1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, take it from Dumbledore near the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. He explains to Harry how the powerful, evil Voldemort couldn’t even touch young Harry, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.” If that’s the protection a fictitious boy wizard has from someone who died for him, think how much more protection we have from a Savior who died for us. A Savior who still lives! Love. We are loved by the God who created everything. He designed us. He wants to be with us. He didn’t want to be separated from us, so He paid the ultimate price for us. And as a result we will live forever under His protection. It is in our very skin.
There are days that are rough. When we get a phone call from that person—the one who has a knack for making us feel small and incapable. Or waking up with a migraine, feeling like we’ll throw up, and a handful of Advil and hours later instead of getting better, it has gotten so much worse it’s almost paralyzing. The times we argue with someone we love, leaving both people depleted. The NO we receive when all we wanted to hear was YES. The days the thing we’ve been hoping to fix still appears broken. Jesus knows there will be seasons of pain and struggling in our lives. He warns, “In the world there will be tribulation.” But with the line up of super powers Jesus leaves us—prayer, God’s power, hope, and love, I feel like I can face anything. You can, too. Take it face on. Because the rest of Jesus’ sentence was, “But be of good cheer. For I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33.
Today you may or may not feel like a superhero. You may feel like the cute high school girl in Jumanji suddenly smashed into Jack Black’s body being gobbled up by hippos. Like you don’t fit. Like you’re not supposed to be here. Like you just want to escape this situation. But even when we’re out of breath, confused, angry, or frightened these powers are ours—immediately accessible, right this very moment. Talk to Jesus. Tap into His strength. Rest in the hope He offers. And collapse into His love. No matter how tough a challenge this level is, no matter how nasty the bad guys, no matter how much energy you do or don’t have left, He has overcome the world.
My mom and I were going for a walk around our neighborhood when she spied someone’s garbage can pulled to the curb with pieces of wood poking out of the lid.
“I want those!” She proclaimed.
“Well, take ‘em,” I encouraged. One man’s trash …
“I’ll use them for my tomatoes,” Mom declared, pulling out a few, straight, long stakes.
“Awesome,” I answered, because my mom loves to garden. It brings her so much joy. She literally completed our walk beaming ear-to-ear, strutting around with those sticks like a drum major leading a marching band. My mom rocks when it comes to growing just about anything. For years, she sweetly planted tomato plants in my yard, staked them, even placed little cages around them to keep the deer from snacking. And I LOVE tomatoes, love homegrown, Ohio tomatoes in the summer time. Could eat them every night with a small sprinkle of salt, preferably with some corn on the cob from the farmer’s market. But I can’t grow tomatoes. Can’t grow any kind of plant. So year after year Mom would painstakingly plant, and year after year they would die. I never harvested a single tomato.
So, explain to me how these grow in my yard? I’ve lived in this house for seventeen years. I did not buy the irises. I did not plant the irises. I never think about them unless they’re blooming. And then I stand in awe. I never fertilize the ground where they grow, water them, stake them, cage them, or ponder how much sunlight they’re getting. How do these stunning irises, drenched in purple, with crazy, gorgeous flowing shapes come up year after year and thrive in the same soil where I murder tomatoes?
I may be oversimplifying things. But truly, this is how God works, simply, not always easily, but always simply. He is always at work, doing unfathomable things, when we’re not capable, when we’re not mindful, when we’re not even aware.
Right now. Today. God is working some detail, maybe dozens of details in your life that you will be able to take zero credit for. Maybe it’s a job you didn’t even know existed that you are going to be offered in a few months, and right now God is introducing you to some people who will help you in that position, having you stumble across articles that will inform you for your interview, and having the person who currently holds that job get the promotion they’ve been hoping for, so their slot will be available for YOU! Maybe right now God has grad students working in a lab making small discoveries that when added to findings scientists in another lab are making will equal a treatment or cure for the very ailment you’re battling. Maybe God just gave someone else a whopping income tax return they weren’t expecting, and is nudging them to share the wealth, and they’ll just happen to hear about your need—the mission trip you’ve been praying about, the broken part of your house you can’t afford to fix, and voila—your need will be met.
Maybe none of the above applies. Certainly if I knew how God was working in the secret ways of your life, it wouldn’t be as cool or mysterious or phenomenal. But I do know He is working. I know, because I’ve seen Him do it again and again, over and over. I see college students apply for internships and get turned down, because the opportunity of a lifetime is about to present itself in a few days, and they would miss it all together if they’d settled for that other thing. I’ve seen people’s cancer go in remission, houses sell, relationships mend, all because of God’s grace, not because of all of their due diligence. God swept in and said, “I love you. I have something for you.” How have you seen God work behind the scenes in the past? Doesn’t that give you hope that He’ll do it again?
I’m not saying we get everything we wish for. Thankfully God knows better than we ever could what we need, thus all the cool undercover work He does. I’m also not proclaiming we should all park ourselves on the couch watching Netflix and eating ice cream all summer, trusting God will do the rest. We’re still called to do our part, to take care of our bodies, to be wise stewards of our time and our finances. To use the gifts He’s given us and to use them well, for His glory. If I never sat down and wrote, well, I wouldn’t have a blog, or articles, or books. It can’t happen unless I invest the time. But I also know none of my stories would have even been read without the way God orchestrated the details.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
So do the things you know you can do. Fill out the application. Make the appointment. And then breathe easy. God loves you. He wants you to experience a full, free life. Just like you do special things for the people you love—make them a treat, send them a card, plan a graduation or birthday celebration for them—things that take some time, some planning, some effort, God is putting together the pieces for a lovely gift for you. He might still be shopping or organizing or wrapping or waiting for the mysterious Amazon delivery person to drop it on His porch, but God is at work for you. Maybe you can’t fathom how you’re going to make the thing happen that you really want to happen. Maybe you’ve lost hope over something you felt God had in store for you, but now seems to be taking forever. Maybe your struggle is intense and hard, and you can’t see a way out or up. But God can. And He knows better than we ever will how all of the pieces should shift and flip to fall perfectly into place. Maybe there’s something so beautiful in the works, sprouting from a seed underground that you’ve never even asked for, never reached for, that you don’t even suspect is growing.
Maybe I can’t grow tomatoes, but God can grow irises. And, apparently peonies.
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I was scrolling through Instagram and paused at a post listing “10 Things I Hope to Do Every Day.” Mentioned were, “learn something new” and “laugh”—great things I hope to do, as well. But one item stood out—smell good. I made a note of it. Yes, please. Smell good. Every. Day. I mean, we’ve all been around someone who smells bad. And nobody wants to be that person.
Because our scent tells a lot about our story. I woke up this morning and my pajamas smelled like the fire from our fireplace last night. I know it’s April, but it just snowed. Again. Don’t get me started. Our kitchen smelled spicy like the tacos we ate for dinner. My son’s gym shoes reek like the creek he splashed in. One hug from one of my kids, and I can tell from their scent if they’ve been swimming, at a coffee shop, playing outside, or if they just crawled out from under their covers. I’m like a smell detective. But if I can tell so much from a quick whiff of one of my children, what else do our smells convey?
I don’t want my story to be a smelly one. I don’t want people to take a step away from me, like they do when someone has bad breath of body odor. I don’t want to have a stinky personality, reek of negativity, or be known for foul behavior.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. —2 Corinthians 2:15
I want to be the pleasing aroma of Christ. I want to smell like Jesus. What does that mean? I think being the aroma of Christ means our actions, and our words should waft wonderful things throughout the air, drifting by the people we encounter, and delivering to them a hint of what Jesus offers—hope, love, encouragement.
Have you heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They lived in ancient Babylon and worked for King Nebuchadnezzar. The King built a giant gold statue of himself and made everyone bow down to it. Slightly arrogant. Except these three guys refused. Because God. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t too pleased with their defiance, and threw the boys into a flaming furnace so hot it sizzled the guards who tossed them in. God stepped in and rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the King realized they weren’t going to die, he let them out. And our three heroes?
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! —Daniel 3:26-27
Our boys stood up for what they believed in. They would not bow down to anyone or anything except God. And even after being thrown in a furnace, not a scent of flame or ash was on them. Because they were not part of that thing, they were set apart. They were children of the One True King.
What do I smell like?
Am I standing up for Jesus? Am I idolizing anything other than God? Because Jesus has set me apart. You, too, if you believe in Him. We don’t have to be associated with the smoke and mirrors of this world. But it’s our choice. We can bow down. Or not. We can smell like smoke, or like something much better—the sweet aroma of Christ.
When I spritz on some Bath & Body spray, I smell fresh, fruity, maybe like an ocean breeze. What if my actions and words left a trail of warmth, kindness, and compassion? My favorite scent is lavender. One whiff and I feel peaceful and filled with beauty, like I’ve escaped to the South of France. How can I make others feel that way—calm and fulfilled? What if we all left a trail of lovely aromas that filled the world with hope and joy, or at least the potential for it?
I know that even as I focus on the idea of having a lovely scent, I’ll get stinky again. I’ll sweat, slice an onion, or take out the trash. And I’ll have to wash up to get fresh all over again.
What about when we get spiritually stinky? Same. We need to wash ourselves in the love of Christ, in what He did on the cross, on the fact that He loves us and therefore nothing else matters. Then we can be less defensive, less prideful, less jealous, less anxious, less concerned about what they think, because what do we need to worry or boast about if the Author of Creation loves us?
All scrubbed fresh and clean, we can go back out, equipped to spread the aroma of Christ to the world. Will you join me? Do you know how great we could make this world smell?
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
There was a strange banging and clanking sound coming from our laundry room. I carefully cracked open the door, concerned about what I would see. There was our washing machine spinning uncontrollably, doing the Macarena back and forth to an invisible band. Apparently we own the Samsung model known for exploding. This was not good. At all.
There is something strangely comforting to me about putting a heap of smelly clothes into a machine, and later pulling out a soft, warm, gentle smelling pile. I also oddly find satisfaction in folding the mound into neat, squarish shapes and lining up the clothes in organized bins. Sounds weird, but it’s a tangible reward of turning something disorderly and dirty into something appreciated and useful.
But chaos and not being able to have things as I think they should be, not being able to control them? Not my strong suit. At all. Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that’s spinning out of control? How do you feel about it?
For me, this trivial thing, this silly thing, a broken washing machine, made me feel unbalanced, just like our rocking washer. I couldn’t stop our family from wearing clothes, from sweating in them, or from using towels (believe me, I still wanted them to shower). Not only was our machine out of control, but now the heap of dirty laundry became a separate uncontrollable monster. Kids kept asking, “When will it be fixed?” “When will we get a new washer?”
“I’m working on it,” I replied. I’m really trying, I thought. But even for all the calls, repairmen, forms filled out, web searching and ordering I was stuck, waiting on others. This something I’m supposed to do and couldn’t do, made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up to the invisible mom/wife measuring stick that I’ve created for myself. Which is silly.
It happens to all of us. When meetings get cancelled, kids have temper tantrums, schedules are packed to overflowing, expenses pile up, someone we love is sick, but we don’t have the cure in our Band-Aid box or on the shelf next to the Advil? These things out of our control can make us feel frustrated and helpless. Somewhere along the way we may feel less than, because of something that has nothing to do with us. It’s such a blurring of our true reflections. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He thinks we’re pretty awesome just like we are, even when we’re not in control. Honest.
We don’t need to be in control. In fact we never were.
How’s that for good news?
God is in control. Of everything.
God is in control of the giant things like keeping the earth on its axis and tiny things like equipping ants with antennae so they can communicate with little built in headsets. If He can do all of that, God can certainly take care of anything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done.
It’s not all up to us. It never was. It never will be.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes we don’t’ know what to do, others we can’t do the work we know we’re supposed to do, because of circumstances. But there’s always something we can do—try to reschedule the meeting, offer a cuddle to the disgruntled child, figure out the exact item we’ll buy when the money is available, visit the friend who is sick, and most importantly—talk to God about it. Pray. Then we can trust God with the rest.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. —Philippians 4:6-7
We got a new washer yesterday. I’m back in business. Nine loads (giant loads, mind you), down, several more to go. I already feel better. But I’m certain there will be more things, more intense things, that feel like they’re spinning out of control. But I have hope. You do too, that we don’t need to worry. It doesn’t’ all depend on us (praise Jesus). Out of our control never ever means out of control. We can always count on God, turn everything over to Him. And He truly will take care of all our needs.
Laura L. Smith