Here’s the thing. COVID-19 stinks. It’s taking people’s lives, putting folks at risk, depriving people of income, robbing students of their experiences, stealing people’s interactions and activities, and creating uncertainty to name a few of its negative effects.
But God is good. So inherently good. And His character is unchanging. So, God sees a bad thing, this terrible virus, and He figures out a way to use it for some good stuff. This is who our God is.
So, we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives. Romans 8:28
I’ve read and listened to so much quality content about finding time to slow down, to be still, to breathe deeply, to listen to God, to stop striving, to take Sabbath. And as I read and listened, I agreed in my head, Yes! What a great idea! But these great ideas take a ton of intentionality. Over the past year I’ve gotten better at taking Sabbath, but I’ve been fighting obstacles and interruptions to do so. Even with a Sunday slow down, the rest of life in general pre COVID-19 was overstuffed and supersized. Every square on our white board calendar in the kitchen was full. In a world where games, practices, and rehearsals are scheduled every night of the week, it was tricky to gather our family together around the dinner table. Most meals were more grab-and-go or eat-at-your-own schedule—things like tacos.
Sundays aren’t sacred to the general public so out of town tournaments and meets were standard Sunday fare, putting a wrench on our family, and maybe yours too, attending church together. Personally, our overscheduled, exhausted Smith family’s typical weekend was titled “divide and conquer” as my husband and I went different directions to support and cheer on our kids in their activities. This life is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one—a full and vibrant one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s life. I’m thrilled my kids get the opportunities they have. I’m grateful for their dedicated coaches and directors, their encouraging teammates and casts. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children step in and use the talents God’s gifted them. I’m thankful for a husband who is such a fantastic dad engaged with the kids and willing to help with all the things. But the kids were tired, and we were tired. We were.
But over the last week and a half, like it or not, we’ve been at home. As I’m sure you’ve noticed everything is cancelled, and we have been forced to slow down. Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
I see Him doing all kinds of beautiful things.
The gorgeous canals in Venice, Italy are clearer than when I had the privilege of visiting ten years ago, clearer than they’ve been for a very long time. No boats or barges running along the water has cleared up the typically cloudy waterways so much so that you can see the fish where vaporetti usually zoom.Carbon dioxide emissions in China have dropped 25% since January. Again, God hates to see the sick, the infections, the financial struggles, but I notice Yahweh taking this awful thing and using it as an opportunity to give His world a spring cleaning.
People are reaching out. Giving what they have to offer. Loving their neighbors. Just like Jesus asked us to. Professional athletes are donating their salaries to arena workers. Fitness instructors like those at Root Yoga and Apps, like the FaithFit project, are offering free virtual workouts. Superstar musicians like Kelly Clarksonand John Legend are singing from home, creating free live performances, on their social feeds for their fans.
We don’t know how this is all going to pan out. But I do know that Jesus is still on the throne. That God is still good. And that He is on our side. As we all continue to shift our patterns, schedules, and expectations due to the effects of the coronavirus, I’m grateful that Christ is the solid rock I stand on. The world is not the same today as it was last week or the week before. But Jesus is. And He is good. And He is taking what He can from this pandemic and using it to orchestrate some good.
Let’s keep our eyes on Him, keep our feet planted in Him. Because Jesus is fully and completely good, we can all take an exhale. What He told the disciples just prior to His crucifixion, He tells us today, In the world there will be tribulation. But be of good cheer. I will overcome the world! John 16:33. God is fully aware of the horrible thing COVID-19 is, but be of good cheer. Jesus will find ways to make some good out of the mess, and even better, He'll overcome it.
Ivy League schools only accept students with insanely high ACT scores. Only the first 1000 shoppers on Black Friday get the free fleece blanket with purchase. You can only vote if you’re 18 years old or older. Only people who are verified by Instagram get a blue checkmark. Who can get in on Jesus’ promises? Everyone.
That doesn’t’ seem possible. Not with all the qualifiers and regulations put on everything else. But Jesus says so Himself. The Bible says it over and over again. Heck, just in the book of John, it’s the song that’s on repeat. Jesus’ love is for everyone.
Everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. —John 3:15
Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. —John 3: 36
To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. —John 1:12
All. Everyone. Anyone.
This is not an exclusive club. You don’t need to be a certain age, race, gender, speak a certain language, attend a specific church, or any church, for that matter. You don’t need the right grades, resume, upbringing, status, perfect timing, or number of followers to get in. All you have to do is believe. In Him. The One who created everything in the first place. And then we’ll never be hungry or thirsty…meaning that emptiness inside, that void we’re always trying to fill—will be overflowing with the warmth and comfort of Jesus’ unending love and His amazing grace.
To enjoy the free life Jesus offers, we just have to believe in Him. It’s that simple. If we believe He is the Son of God, then all the things Jesus promises—peace, joy, freedom, forgiveness, grace, comfort, healing, and most of all that we are fully and completely loved for exactly who we are, are available to everyone, including you and me. Even if we don’t think we could possibly deserve it, that they couldn’t possibly apply to us because of something in our past, or because of our darkest secret, or because of a current desperate situation. But hope, love and light are just one thought away.
“Anyone who believes in me will live even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. —John 11:25-26
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Jesus was pretty clear about it. Anyone. Everyone. Whoever. So, what’s keeping you from Him today? What’s keeping you from believing? You don’t have to have the right outfit, specific credentials, know a certain prayer, or have memorized a verse. You don’t even need the right words. It’s as simple as saying something like: Jesus, I believe in you. I know I don’t have it all right. I never will. I know I mess up. Every day. But I look at You, and the love in Your eyes, and the way Your presence calms storms, the way Your power healed lepers, and blind folks, and cast out demons. I want that. I want love and peace and healing and a fresh start. I believe.
Maybe you could say it like that, but you don’t have to. All you need are three syllables, “I believe,” and mean it. Living a life with Jesus is truly simple. A lot simpler than most of the things we’re trying to do each day. And so much more glorious. This life filled with excitement and peace at the same time, with the ability to know we’re a hot mess, and yet fully loved, this life filled with passion and purpose and joy it’s a heartbeat away. Are you ready to step into it? Do you believe? Because that’s all it takes.
If you have questions about this free life or about Jesus …please message me. I’d love to chat more.
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
I opened the cupboard and a bowl that was precariously balanced at the top of a bowl tower came tumbling out, bounced off the corner of my phone, landed on the floor and shattered. It all happened in approximately one part of one second. I cleaned up the bowl, which fortunately broke into only a few large pieces, and wiped off the floor and counter to make sure I hadn’t missed any tiny shards. Then I saw my phone. A tiny spiderweb crackled in the corner where the bowl had ricocheted. The bowl only had contact with my phone for a millisecond, but the weight of the bowl was too much. My phone couldn’t handle it.
Phone screens are expensive, and I can deal with a little crack, so I grimaced and got on with my life. I had a conference to attend, kids to pick up from practice and rehearsal, groceries to buy. But here’s the thing. When something is too heavy and we don’t deal with it, it doesn’t go away. It festers, expands, swells. And so, the corner crack spread across my screen in a myriad of directions. A tiny sliver of glass fell out leaving an area of the actual LED exposed. A few days later the screen where that crack was had a black spot. Then the whole screen got funky lines on it. You see where this is going.
There are so many things in life that are simply too heavy for us to bear. There is a weight that comes with loss, a weight that comes with success, a weight of being responsible for someone else, a weight of rejection, a weight of being abused. Even Queen Victoria found her own crown too heavy to wear and had a smaller, lighter version designed. These weighty things might only touch us for a moment. At first glance it might look like they barely made a dent in us. But they are so heavy, they continue to spread, damaging parts of us that didn’t even seem like they were impacted by the blow.
Yes, some things are too heavy for us to bear alone, but we’re not supposed to. We don’t have to.
Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” --Matthew 11:28-30
Real rest. Unforced rhythms of grace. Nothing heavy. Nothing ill-fitting. Freely and lightly. These are all things I want. When my mental, social, or emotional load feels too heavy, more than I can bear I want this—real rest, a free and light life. And Jesus offers it. He doesn’t require any payment, productivity, or performance from us. All He asks is that we walk with Him, keep company with Him. Mmmm. That sounds simply lovely.
Has something landed on you, bounced off you, hit you, and it hurt, and it shocked you, and it damaged your screen? What stunned you, but you’re trying to get on with life without really addressing it? What feels too heavy?
Jesus is a healer. He is a peace maker. He is a way maker. Jesus offers love and renewal. Don’t ignore the thing that fell on you or the place you feel cracked. Don’t let it expand and continue to damage your heart. Turn it over to Jesus. He’s there to help you pick up the pieces, mend what is broken, fill in the cracks, and learn to move forward. Stop blowing it off or dismissing it as no big deal. Some things in life ARE heavy. But Jesus wants to bear the weight for you, lift it from you. He’s inviting you in, right now, to a free and light life.
I’d received three rejections in three days on a proposal for a new book my agent was pitching for me. The first one, I thought, “Oh well, God has a better plan.” The second, I thought, “Even though they’re not taking my book, the editor’s feedback was encouraging.” The third? My first and only thought for quite a while was: Ugh.
The publishing industry is packed with NOs. It’s part of the gig. Some publishing houses already have full lists, a similar idea in the works, specific requirements they’re currently looking for that I, or this particular book, don’t meet. I try not to take these “no thank yous” personally. But three in three days was a lot to deflect.
I felt like this door might be shutting. It felt like ALL the doors were actually slamming shut.
God, you wanted me to write this book, right? Then, why so many turndowns?
God remained sturdy. He always does. Trust me,I felt Him, respond.
Which is not the answer I wanted, because I wanted to know the details.Wherewill this book land? When? Willit find a publisher at all? If not, whatdo You want me to do with it, Lord? But God’s answer was, of course, complete.
Trust Jesus. Because Jesus is the One gave me the idea for the book in the first place, because He always knows what’s right and best for me, for you, for us.
I chatted with Jesus for a long while, asking Him to help me let go of my expectations, and trust Him more. I asked Him to shake off the lies that my writing wasn’t enough, and the inevitable follow up lie, that I wasn’t enough. I thanked Him for the privilege of being able to write for Him. I thanked Him for knowing even before He asked me to write this book how and when He would use it. He washed calmness over me. He reminded me I was His and loved. Feeling more centered and peaceful I got back to my day,
I grabbed some almond milk out of the fridge to top off my coffee, but the refrigerator door didn’t seal. I pushed it more tightly the second time. I ran out to my car to put a new pack of gum in my console, but when I tried to close it, the lid bounced back up like a broken jack-in-the-box. A-ha! My aux cord needed to be maneuvered. Going from the garage back inside took me through the laundry room, so I grabbed a load from the dryer, but the laundry room door wouldn’t shut. A backpack jutting out from its peg near the door was the culprit. After folding the clothes I carried some dish towels to the kitchen and slid them in their drawer—only an oven mitt stubbornly blocked the way. Again, I moved things around to slide the drawer shut. Upstairs, I placed some of my husband’s black t-shirts in our closet, only, you guessed it, the door caught on something as I went to shut it.
I got frustrated and may have uttered out loud, “Why won’t you shut, you stinking door?”
Everything I tried to close wouldn’t. Too many things to be natural or normal. I needed to stop, breathe, and consider what Jesus was saying. In that moment of stillness by the closet I heard Him say, “I’m not closing your doors, Laura. I’m keeping them open.” Cue tears.
Jesus sees us. He knows us. He loves us. And He cares so much about our every move. He heard me talking to Him, and saw me stand up more settled, but not fully. He saw me folding laundry and putting away towels. Jesus understood I want to trust Him completely with my writing and everything else, but my human heart struggles. I’m impatient and emotional. And He speaks to me, and to you, too, with constant little reminders—the tiniest details right where we are, as simple as a stuck door (or several) to give us sweet encouragement.
I don’t know what Jesus intends to happen with my manuscript. It could be months before I hear back from all the publishers my agent pitched. It might become a bestseller or not get published at all. I don’t know how Jesus is going to use this thing He asked me to write, but I do know He will use it. Because He called me to write it. Sometimes it feels so easy when Christ calls us to something new—the excitement, the possibilities, the novelty of it all. But somewhere in the midst of the work, of walking around our proverbial walls of Jericho the fifth time around we lose hope or worry. Jesus reminded me that He’s with me, that He didn’t ditch me mid-way through this project, that He knows exactly what’s going on, and just wanted to tell me no matter how things appear, He’s keeping doors open.
Yes, sometimes Jesus shuts doors—when they lead us the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time. If you’re uncertain if Jesus wants you to move forward or change lanes or turn around, ask Him, He’ll tell you. But when God calls us to something, when He sparks something in us, He brings it to completion. He wouldn’t pack you full of a talent, plop you in a certain place, introduce you to that person, or light you up with an idea, and then just stomp it out. No, our God finishes what He starts. Not just always how we imagine.
What has God asked you to do for Him? Are you believing the lies that it’s too hard, you’re not capable of seeing it through, or nobody likes your idea? Are you tired? Discouraged? Because nothing is too hard for Jesus. He’s capable of seeing any project through to the end. And if He gave you the idea, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter. Trust Him and His call. And when the time is right, Jesus, like a perfect gentleman, will hold the right door, the one He’s been planning for you all along, wide open for you to walk through. I’m sure of it.
Last spring, we were driving down the back road we take to our kids’ schools to discover it was completely closed. The city decided to do something about the flooding that frequently occurred during heavy rainfall. They shut down the road and began tearing down the old bridge, which spans a creek, so they could construct a replacement bridge. The sign simply stated Bridge Out .63 miles away. It didn’t suggest alternate routes. There wasn’t anywhere to turn, but back. All this would be great for the future. Whenever that was. Which was another area of concern, because the sign didn’t say for how long. For now we couldn’t get from Point A to Point B.
Unless we found a new route.
A different course would mean change, no longer driving by rote on familiar roads on sleepy school mornings. It would also mean a few more minutes in each direction, a less direct route. But with a bit of navigation we found a series of roads that would get us from our home to the schools and back again.
The first time we saw the sign we were startled, thrown off. We had to do a U-turn and backtrack. We were later than expected to school that day. For days, we had to mentally think through our morning and afternoon routines and deliberately change our patterns. Eventually I mapped a path that worked for me. My husband went a little different way, one he preferred. And my son found a slight variation that he liked best. Sure, we had days where we forgot about the road closure, but soon we developed new routes and habits.
This happens on roads, but it also happens in life. Doors slam shut. People leave. We’re told, “no.” And the way we did things, or the way we thought we would do things is no longer an option.
Where in your life do you feel like the road is torn up? The bridge closed? Is there something or someone that has changed how you need to approach things? Rerouted your direction? Change can be disruptive. Not knowing can be unsettling.
But only if we have zero idea how things will turn out. And if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re not in that position. Granted, we might not know if we’ll find a job in that city or if the event will be a success or if we’ll get accepted. We might not know how long this life construction project will take. We might have to spend time trying this route, then that one—exploring which one feels safest, gets us where we need to go most efficiently, or has the best coffee shop along the way. We might not understand how all the details are being organized or why, but we should understand that Jesus has us covered. That He is working for good. So, although we don’t know the details, we can find peace and assurance that things will work out exactly as they should.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. –Romans 8:26-28 MSG
Bridges come and go. But Jesus? He is constant, faithful, and reliable. And when we don’t know which way to go He is the Way! He gives us the Holy Spirit to pray for us. He sees our waiting, expectant selves and stays with us, working out every single detail for good. So, why do we worry when roads close or bridges go out?
Sure, initially it’s jarring. This is where I was going. This is how I thought God wanted me get there. But, okay, it’s not anymore. Or maybe just not for right now. So what’s next?
Ask Jesus which way He wants you to go. If you don’t have the words you can picture the situation in your mind and utter the word, “help!” Or tell Him what you’re confused or frustrated about. Get it off your chest and rest in His presence. Ask Jesus to map an alternate route for you, then actually listen to what He says. If you’re not hearing anything—think through some options—lay those out before the Lord. See if you feel Him nudging you one way or another. If not, start trying the ones that feel in keeping with how He taught us to live and love. All the time trusting that Jesus is wearing His Almighty hardhat, and He’s busy at work on the construction.
Some roads get permanently shut down. I’ve seen overpasses demolished and completely replaced when engineers came up with better ramps, curves, angles, and distribution of traffic. But some bridges get rebuilt. For us, this was the case. This beautiful, wide, high bridge, with a smoother curve, allowing for much safer turns is now open to the public, including my family. It’s a gift to us, as our round trips to school and back once again became almost daily traverses.
But even if your proverbial bridge is blown up, you can trust Jesus has a better way, a more glorious route for you to take. Sometimes we have to wait. Or retrain our patterns. Sometimes we need to learn different ways of going about our lives or accept new paths altogether. But whatever the case, replacements, improvements, or complete reroutes--we can count on Jesus to work every detail out for good.
My mother-in-law’s house was supposed to close at 10:00 AM today. But it didn’t. It got pushed back to 5:00 PM. My husband and his siblings had a celebratory dinner planned for their mom tonight. What if there would be nothing to celebrate?
Our oven broke over a week ago. After a chat with my mechanic, he determined we probably needed a new heating element. He ordered the part and once it arrived, we scheduled for him to install it today. But it ended up the heating element is notthe problem. So although I thought it would be fixed today, even though I told my family our oven would be fixed today, even though I went through the steps to get it fixed today. It’s not.
Things don’t always go as planned. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that.
Perhaps you’re in the midst of trying to get a class you thought you’d scheduled back in the spring, or reordering a pair of shoes that showed up in the wrong size or color. Maybe it’s something much bigger that isn’t going as planned. Maybe the company that just hired you is downsizing, or the surgery didn’t completely work, and there will need to be a second one. I don’t understand the rhythms of the world. But thankfully God does.
And because He is God, because He is so much greater, wiser, and more powerful than we can comprehend, He has things happen in perfect timing. Not always how we think they should go down. But always better.
In the Bible we hear about a guy named Mordecai. Mordecai gets wind of a plot to assassinate the king and alerts the queen (who happens to be his cousin). Thanks to Mordecai’s warning, the two guys planning to take out the king are caught and executed. Mordecai’s heroic act is recorded in the official documents of the king, but that’s it. No promotion or Medal of Honor for Mordecai. The king doesn’t even say, “Thanks.” Mordecai might have been thinking,I would have saved the king no matter what, but a little acknowledgement would be nice—an article in the Persian Timesor even an @mention on social media. But, nope. Nothing.
All that takes place in the book of Esther, chapter 2. Fast forward four entire chapters to Esther 6. A power hungry noble named Haman loves for everyone to bow down to him, and is disgusted that our friend Mordecai won’t. Haman figures he’ll trick the king into executing innocent Mordecai to “put him in his place.”That same night the king can’t sleep, and hopes reading the royal records might cure his insomnia. The king gets to the part about Mordecai saving his life and asks, “What did we do to thank him?”
Yes, just as Haman is about to unjustly have Mordecai killed, the king decides nowis the time to honor Mordecai for what happened before. It wasn’t a coincidence that the king delayed rewarding Mordecai until this moment. God wasn’t insensitive to Mordecai’s bravery before. No! God knew all along when it would be most beneficial for Mordecai to get a pat on the back. God intentionally delayed Mordecai’s reward in order to save Mordecai’s life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding. —Proverbs 3:5
So what do you wish had different timing? What would you like to speed up or slow down? Maybe, like Mordecai, you’ll benefit more if that thing happens four chapters from now. Perhaps it’s actually better if that thing occurs sooner than you think you’re ready for it. Either way I’m certain God knows what’s best. He’s got an infinitely better view of the entire, gigantic picture. God knew Haman would plot to kill Mordecai before Haman did.
God is on our side. Fighting for us. Putting us in the right situations at the right time for the right reasons. Fast forwarding some things. Playing others in slow motion. Laying the stepping-stones of our paths out before us, so they’ll be there for us to walk across when the timing is right.
I was supposed to see a friend on Monday. She had to reschedule. I’m even more eager to get caught up with her now then when we first set up our walk, because I figure God had a reason to delay our time together. Whatever takes places today with different timing than you’d planned, trust Jesus. He understands where and when things should happen so much better than we ever could.
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
Laura L. Smith