I glanced at the clock on the car dash. Ten minutes. That was enough time. Right? I pulled into a parking spot at the shopping center. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. All set, you bet. I hopped out, locked the car remotely as I walked away and speed walked to the shop. I went through the glass doors, past the front table and the greeter who called out, “Welcome to Bath and Body.”
“Hello.” I smiled, but kept walking.
I darted to the display near the back, grabbed a tiny clear plastic bottle filled with ruby-colored liquid, flipped the top, and inhaled. Mmmm. It smelled like apples, leaves, and cinnamon. The Perfect Autumn Day lived up to its name. I closed the lid and took three steps to the register where I whipped out my coupon for a free hand sanitizer (no purchase necessary), handed it to the worker in the navy blue checkered apron, and was out the door and back to my car in plenty of time to pick up my youngest from Cross Country practice.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? The free salty chips and tangy salsa at Fiesta Charra or your favorite Mexican restaurant? The free goodie bag at a conference or event? The free Friday download? Or a buy one get one free special?
What if I told you you could have joy, peace, acceptance, and unconditional love for free? We all can. It’s an open invite. This is what Jesus offers. Free. All Jesus asks is that we follow Him.
People have told me, “Jesus’ love and grace sounds too good to be true.”
So does a no purchase necessary coupon.
Others have told me, “I didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love or grace.”
I didn’t buy a single item that day from Bath and Body Works. I didn’t take out their trash or stock their shelves or ring up a customer. I didn’t deserve or earn anything from their shop. But yet my hands are currently free of germs and smell like The Perfect Autumn Day.
Skeptics argue, “There’s no such thing as something free. Someone has to pay for it.”And that’s true.
Bath and Body Works produced that bottle of hand sanitizer, mixed up the fragrance, labeled it, shipped it to the store and put it on display. It cost them something. But it cost me nothing. They were totally willing to incur that cost in hopes of me visiting their shop, viewing (and smelling) their merchandise, enjoying the experience, perhaps coming back.
Our forgiveness and freedom also came for a price. But Jesus willingly paid that price on the cross, so we wouldn’t have to. He was willing to incur that cost so we could be freed from all our baggage, shame, worry, pain, fears and hurt. He wants us to come into His arms, to breathe in the sweet smell of grace (which may or may not smell like pumpkin spice). He hopes we’ll stay.
Fully trusting God to give us something He promises, like peace (John 14:27), is the same as entering that store with my coupon, fully believing they’d let me walk out with one of their products without paying. But holding onto things, is like standing outside The Peace Boutique clutching our coupons in front of the store but not going in. The same holds true with joy, hope, strength, endurance, patience, courage or love. But Jesus promises us ALL these things. For as quick as we are to snatch up freebies from retailers, why are we hesitant to accept all this goodness from God?
Maybe it’s because the world tells us we need to “pay our dues” and “earn our stripes.” But Jesus offers us an upside down kingdom. Where everyone who wants to be a part of it is invited and included. He paid the dues and earned the stripes for us, so we don’t have to. Jesus’ promises of love and grace aren’t while supplies last and they don’t have an expiration date. They’re sitting right in front of all of us right here right now.
It’s as simple as saying, “Jesus, I trust you with this problem. I know you can handle it.”
Or “Jesus, I don’t have a clue what to do. But I know you already know what’s best. Can you please make it clear to me when it’s time to make the decision?”
Or “Jesus,” I am terrified to take the next step, make the call, read the results, or have the surgery. You tell me to be strong and courageous, insisting You’ll be with me. Can You remind me of that? Flood me with courage and peace? I’m trusting You’ll stand at my side giving me exactly what I need.”
Sure, this requires some unclenching of our fists, turning things over, stepping out of our comfort zones. But a free hand sanitizer requires driving to the store, remembering the coupon, and actually redeeming it. It’s still free. We just have to be willing to redeem the offer.
Let’s do it today! Let’s cash in our coupons, accept the love and mercy that Jesus promises will follow us all the days of our lives. Let’s follow Jesus and enjoy the path filled with hope, joy, courage, strength, patience, endurance, love and amazing grace that He promises. It will be more satisfying than a bowl of salty chips and smell better than your favorite autumn fragrance, and oh yeah, it's free.
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When the kids were little we went to the pool almost every day of summer. We packed snacks and Pull-Ups and goggles and towels and little plastic pool toys and sunscreen. We played alligator in the shallow end and the kids had contests off the diving board while I judged who made the biggest (or smallest) splash or who made me laugh the hardest as they bounced off the board and into the water.
My kids are big now. And their schedules don’t leave much time for swimming pools. But the other day was hot hot and we decided to go and it was the absolute best time. We still packed snacks, sunscreen, and towels, but I also packed a book, thinking I might read a bit while my teenagers splashed about. But a few minutes after spreading out our striped towels on plastic chairs they asked me if I’d go down the giant slide with them. And who can pass up an offer like that?
We went down once, one at a time as required, each having our own fun while we cheered one another on. As I landed in the pool after my ride down the twists and curves of the yellow chute the kids said:
“You’re supposed to lay down, Mom.”
“You looked like you were on a carriage ride, waving to people passing by.”
“It’s a little slower that way,” I explained.
“Why would you want to go slow?” They were so puzzled.
“It’s more fun when you go fast!” They insisted.
We were already in line to go down again. Another mom was sliding down, also sitting up. I defended myself, “That’s just how moms ride down. Sitting up.”
“But you’re not like other moms,” my daughter insisted.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I’m not.” Because no two moms are the same and for me to even create a category of “other moms” is absurd.
So, when I got to the top, I laid down with my arms and feet crossed, like my kids, exhaled, and enjoyed the ride, laughing most of the way. It was faster, but letting go, leaning back was exhilarating. I stopped trying to go slower and just enjoyed what was in front of me--a cool, slippery, giggly ride on a hot July day.
As I came flying through the chute the force submerged me under water. I bounced back up to the cheers of my kiddos. “Go Mom!”
I try to control my life too much. I try to control my schedule, speed, servings of fruits and vegetables and hours of sleep. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to make sure I get enough sleep--in fact it’s super important. As are eating healthy foods and meeting my deadlines and paying bills on time. But also, I need to trust Jesus and lean back and embrace the fun and adventures He puts in front of me even when they feel slightly scary.
This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.--Psalm 118:23-24
From there we went to the wide green mega slide where we could sit three across and go down together. Next we made a chain with our innertubes and floated along the lazy river. When the bell started ringing signaling the enormous red bucket that fills up with water every fifteen minutes was about to dump, we darted over and sat in the shallow part of the pool, heads tossed back, waiting for the bucket to tip and douse us.
Who needs a book and the security of a lawn chair when there is so much fun to be had?
It made me wonder how often I’ve been clinging to the metaphoric plastic chair? Because security and routine are safe. But they keep us from fully embracing this present moment now. And I don’t want to miss anything Jesus has in store for me. I don’t want to have been “too busy” sticking to my plan that I missed the delights He had in store.
I don’t know what routines or possibly ruts you’re stuck in today. Is there something you’ve been meaning to try but weren’t sure how to make time for? Or were maybe a little scared to attempt it? Or worried you wouldn’t know anyone there? Is your schedule so jam-packed that if Jesus asked you to go down the slide with Him you wouldn’t have the time or energy to go? Are you willing to put down your laptop, phone, book, knitting, crossword puzzle and join in the fun God is making available?
God gives us so many incredible opportunities every day, if only we’ll step into them. I’d love to hear how you’re leaning back into His arms and letting go of your plans to step into His. Drop it in the comments so we can cheer one another on.
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What should you know about Jesus?
Jesus is kind.
Jesus is loving.
Over the last ten days I’ve gone to my home church, attended a church in Nashville (because we were there over the weekend), read a nonfiction Christian book, listened to three sermon podcasts on the book of Revelation, which were recommended to me, prepped and taught a Bible study, watched an episode of The Chosen (a series depicting the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and read the Bible and journaled daily with Jesus. For those of you who are new here, this content is both for my soul--my personal relationship with Jesus and for my job as a Christian author and speaker, so I can better understand and explain Jesus to others. Getting to immerse myself in teachings on the Bible is a huge perk of my vocation for me, since I'm the ultimate booknerd/studynerd. Out of all these readings and sermons I learned a lot, but this is my biggest takeaway--Jesus is kind. Jesus is loving.
It sounds trite, but it. Is. So. True. And because it’s true, it’s a game changer.
At the church services I attended we sang of the goodness of God, how His love is like a sloppy wet kiss, that the God of breakthroughs is on our side. One of the sermons focused on Philippians 4:8 which says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Why? Because Jesus wants lovelines, excellence, truth and nobility for us! For you! For me!
The book I read was all about slowing down to hear the loving voice of Jesus better. The sermons on Revelation honed in on both how loving our God is to give us a zillion and ten chances to follow Him, and that we have an open invite into His glorious kingdom. The Bible study I wrote and taught was all about the joy God offers. The episode of The Chosen shows Jesus look into the eyes of a woman who doesn’t feel noticed, who’s overwhelmed, and He tells her, “I see you. I will take care of you.”
Another woman declares, “Everyone looks down on me.”
And Jesus nods because it’s true. Then He says, “Yes. But the Messiah does not.”
In my daily reading I’ve been in the book of Matthew where Jesus heals a leper and a paralytic, calms the storms, and reassures us that if we follow Him He will give us everything we need.
Page after page in the Bible illustrates how kind and loving Jesus is.
I see this in my own life. I mentioned we went to Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Our purpose was to help my oldest daughter move into her first grown up home. It was, I repeat, Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Which sounded like so much traffic and so many people, but of course worth it, to see my girl.
God knew my heart was a little fragile about my daughter moving away and with immense loving-kindness He padded my weekend with ease and joy and laughter. We experienced no traffic. As in not just no “holiday traffic,” but no traffic traffic. We cruised from state to state to state, and around Music City no problem. We also experienced zero lines going out to eat Fourth of July weekend in this bustling town. We got right in, no reservations, ate pizza and something called cinnamon bites, saw live music (because when in Nashville….), got ripe, juicy blackberries at the farmer’s market, ate a scrumptious brunch at Fido complete with Berry Berry Pancakes (seems to be a berry theme), returned our rental truck in about two minutes, and drove back to Ohio. Again, with no traffic.
It was all so perfect and easy and I felt God’s provision and goodness all over every single piece of our adventure. How good is our God? How personal?
A God who sees a mama trying to gracefully release her baby bird but with an ache in her heart (that’s me) and gives her a no traffic, no lines, get to hug your girl and hold her tight kind of weekend.
Sure, we still live in a world where there is traffic and evil and mosquitos and gossip. But Jesus? He is kind. And He is loving.
And why is this important? Because life can be hard. Because when our product doesn’t launch as well as we’d hoped or when that person hurts us or when we experience loss or when our world feels so divided Jesus sees you and me. Right where we are. In the middle of it all. He looks us in the eyes and loves us in just the way we need it most. And He is kind to us.
Jesus loves you.
Today He loves you.
No matter if you’ve talked to Him ever or not. No matter if you’re currently in a hot mess of lies and mistakes or living your best life. No matter what you think “the church” thinks about you, Jesus isn’t judgy. He is kind and loving. To quote Jesus himself, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”--John 3:17
Jesus loves us by giving us blue skies and fruity, sticky pancakes, and the sound of an acoustic guitar played by a young musician on Music Row strumming his heart out. Jesus is so kind He provides a breeze blowing on a hot July day and the magical sparks of fireworks lighting up the dark summer sky with bright colors.
Jesus loves you. Jesus is kind to you.
Inhale the scent of a knockout rose or better yet lavender growing in a garden. Savor the sweetness of a fresh strawberry or a cool glass of lemonade. Giggle at the splash of a sprinkler or fountain or wave. And thank Jesus for His ever present overpowering love and kindness.
How has Jesus been kind and loving to you today? Drop a comment. I’d love to hear.
Last Friday my husband and I went out to dinner--an absolute treat after having most of our date nights in the living room or the porch over the past year. Brett glanced over my shoulder and out the window, nodding towards something behind me. “Montgomery Inn is across the street,” he said. “I promised Maguire sometime soon I’d get him an order of their ribs.”
Ribs are not my jam. They never even enter my mind. But my youngest loves them, and before I could respond, Brett slid out his phone and was dialing up the restaurant. When we finished our meal we picked up the ribs, drove them home, and put them in the fridge for Maguire to feast on the next day. On Saturday we went for a walk and when we stepped back into the house there was Maguire at the kitchen table with a giant slab of ribs and the biggest grin an 8th grade boy can conjure covered in barbeque.
My husband knew ribs would make Maguire happy, so he intentionally made a call, spent the money, and walked across the street. Brett loves our son so well, he not only thought about it, but went the extra mile to give Maguire joy.
This is how our God operates.
He knows you. And He knows me. He knows all the things that make us smile and sigh and laugh and He goes out of His way to put them on our paths. Like these whirligigs or helicopters or whatever you want to call them. Sure, it’s miraculous in itself to ponder that God weighted the seeds so they spin and plant themselves ensuring a future population of maple trees. But also, they are so much fun! And here they are sprinkled like confetti along the streets of our neighborhood. I can’t walk past them without picking one up, tossing it in the air, and watching it twirl. And, I can’t help but giggle as it spirals to the ground. Pure and simple childlike joy. Right along my path.
God also delights me with a baguette. One bite of its crackly crust and fresh fluffy insides take me back to that spring we lived in Lyon and bought bread like this daily from the boulangerie down the street from our apartment.
My mother in law suffers from Alzheimer’s. It seems like every time we take her for a walk and the conversation gets challenging we see a dog. She adores dogs. Always has. These four-legged animals light her up. She’ll pet them and talk to them and for a moment everything is right in her world. I’m certain God pops those dogs on our path, just for her. Because our God is a God who loves us and showers us with gifts. As the book of James tells us: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
What is it for you? A certain song you heard on the radio? The feel of sand between your toes? The smell of coffee brewing in the morning?
The other night we watched two episodes of the Chosen back to back. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. In the first episode, Jesus used His carpentry skills to make a toy for a little girl. In the second, Jesus performed a miracle giving someone in extreme financial turmoil the necessary resources at the perfect moment in a ridiculously extravagant way. Each episode was different, but in both Jesus had this awesome smile on His face as He watched the person He planned the surprise for (the girl and then the man) discover what He’d given them. It reminded me so much of Brett’s smile watching Maguire gobble down those Montgomery Inn ribs.
Whatever you have going on or are facing today, don’t forget that God loves you. So much that He’s planning little treats for you around every corner--something to make you laugh, something to make you remember, something to make you feel known. Look around. Keep your eyes open. I promise God has something for you today. Something to make you smile. Something good and perfect.
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A year ago as the cast of Hamilton sings, “the world turned upside down.”
First my son and daughter’s high school business plan competition in Columbus was canceled. Then my daughter’s soccer tournament in Tennessee was called off. Next, I got a frantic call from my oldest saying she and all the other students were being sent home from her college campus immediately. Soon my packed calendar was emptied and our family who is usually going every direction and back again was together within the confines of our home.
I’m sure you have similar stories.
Prior to all the cancellations, I was in a rut. In a lot of areas in my life. I’ve talked about some of them before here and here, but even though I’m a writer, and use creativity in my work on a daily basis, my creativity seemed stunted when I stepped away from my laptop.
With six people’s taste buds and multiple food allergies, planning safe meals that everyone enjoys is a trick and a half, and I was letting it get the better of me. Not to mention, we were often on a time crunch to have dinner ready between school, practices, meetings, and rehearsals. I had a couple of full proof meals--tacos and gluten free pasta, but that was about it. I was as sick of making them as my family was of eating them.
But when last March gave us some extra time on our hands my kids sparked my creativity. Could they help plan the meals? Sure. Could we make the homemade tomato recipe they found on TikTok? We can try. Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a giant charcuterie board? Absolutely it would be fun! And so, I rediscovered how therapeutic cooking is for me.
When I stopped thinking of dinner as another task I needed to complete and instead took my time chopping and simmering, stirring and measuring it became soothing. Even better was when one of my kids joined me in the kitchen--smashing avocados for guacamole or kneading pizza dough. Their interest in the process made it more interesting to me. Their company in the kitchen--absolutely priceless. The flavors of melted brie dripping with honey and smells of garlic and onion simmering in olive oil revived my senses. I felt like Remy in Ratatouille savoring the experience instead of going through the motions. And the tangible product of creating a delicious meal for the family while transitioning from “go” mode to “relax” mode in the early evenings became something I looked forward to. Our schedules are rapidly picking back up again, but I want to find ways to continue this. Maybe not every night, but more nights.
I also rediscovered painting--not walls, but journals, Bibles, blank notecards, just creating beauty on blank spaces. In school I opted into extra art classes. I’m also the girl who could spend hours in a museum gazing at the imaginative creations of great artists. But I hadn’t painted anything since the kiddos were tiny and we’d pull out the watercolors. Getting the paints back out has been therapeutic.
It makes sense. The first time I ever baked chocolate chip cookies with my mom I was amazed I could cream butter and sift flour to make my favorite food (and eat spoonfuls of delectable dough in the process). The first time I dipped my fingers in thick, cool finger paints (I can still smell the waxy scent of the red, yellow, and blue), I was amazed how streaks of color transformed the white paper. God put these things in me when He created me. It was me that got away from them, that got too busy to play.
Think back to things that have always made you happy, the ways you “played” when you were younger. Riding bikes? Doing puzzles? When was the last time you did that thing?
I’ve heard it said that if you work with your mind you should rest with your hands and vice versa. I’m a writer, which is all words in my head, so this theory holds true as I find measuring teaspoons of cinnamon or dipping brushes and swirling colors restful and restorative.
Using your hands could mean sewing a skirt, rebuilding an engine, tiling your bathroom, or getting out a box of Crayolas and creating aliens with a cute preschooler. My friends who work with their hands--nurses who deliver babies, interior designers who lug couches across rooms--they find rest reading nonfiction books, listening to podcasts, playing games like Clue, Chess, or Risk-- things that tap into their brilliant headspace.
God worked. He wants us to do the same. And God rested. And, yup, He wants us to do the same.
Do you rest? Or are you always on the go?
Do you practice this principle of switching your processing from your mind to hands or hands to mind?
Do you incorporate playtime into your life?
If so, what brings you joy and rest, renews your body, refreshes your soul?
Find your things or rediscover ones that have been in you all along. Those things you loved to do once upon a time, Jesus put in you when He created you. And Jesus tells us that He’ll teach us how to live a free and light life--one filled with unforced rhythms of grace.
“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 11:29-30 MSG
Jesus does this because He wants to awaken our senses of smell with intoxicating vanilla, invigorate us with laughter and revive us with bright cobalt blues. But we have to be willing to put down our work. We have to be willing to pause and rest and play and pray. And when Jesus shows us a fabulous way to live life more freely, we need to step into it.
Set aside some time this week to play. Talk to Jesus about some ways to intentionally do something (scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix are fine, but not what we’re talking about here). Do something that restores you, that helps build a rhythm of grace into your life. Let me know how it goes!
Me? I plan on painting a chair or two and making homemade pizza dough.
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Ever since Disney Plus released Hamilton our family has been ob-sessed. I think most of us have the intricate lyrics (passing over the first five seconds) of the title track down pat. Well mostly.
If you haven’t seen it yet. Do. It is a gorgeous, creative, inspiring story packed with love, grace, and redemption. The talent is phenomenal and the music brilliant. There is a thread woven throughout the show of the tension between being satisfied and not. Phrases like “that will be enough” and “running out of time” “never be satisfied” “all I have” are littered throughout the lyrics.
It makes me question what is “enough” in my life? What’s enough in yours?
What’s enough money? Enough pairs of sandals or shorts? Enough house? Enough memory for our phones or laptops? Enough time on social media? What are you measuring right now? Do you have enough? Or do you want MORE? Why?
Sure, there are some things we do need more of—if we don’t have enough money to pay our rent or medical bill—yeah, we could use a few more bucks. If our doctor tells us we’re supposed to exercise at least three hours a week and we’ve been lucky to squeeze in one, we need to find a way to move more. But overall, we Americans, as a society struggle to be satisfied. We get one promotion, but what we really want is her job. We meet a great guy, but we wish we could spend even more time with him. We find an adorable home, but we want to get a coffee table for the family room, and a fresh, new comforter for our bed, oh and a couple of cute throw pillows to add a pop of color to our couch. None of these things are bad. Not at all. God created beauty and relationships and vocations and wants us to enjoy and savor all these things. I’m just asking myself, “What’s enough?” Because, Jesus tells us that He satisfies our souls.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Never hungry again? Never thirsty again?
Okay. I’m listening. But Jesus didn’t mean our physical bodies wouldn’t require food or drink. My stomach growls first thing every morning and I cannot wait to pour myself some dark chocolate granola with almonds and top it with a handful of fresh, sweet berries from the local farmer’s market. But that inner craving, that soul searching, that hunger inside that makes us antsy and itchy and twitchy and wanting more—Jesus satisfies that. When we turn to Him, soak ourselves in Him, we find complete peace and satisfaction.
We realize that yes, a cute new cozy sweater for fall would be amazing, and if we can afford it, great, and if we can’t also great, because Jesus loves us with or without that sweater. He provides joy for us with or without a paycheck, partner, or the palomino pony we thought we needed when we were kids.
Do you have enough? The answer is we already have all of Jesus’ love and grace and hope and joy and peace. Right now. Today. If we want it. If we ask Him for it. It’s ours for the taking. And when we have that? All the other things are yummy or fun, but not necessary. Our peace, hope, and joy don’t hinge on them. Because we’re already fully satisfied. The love of Jesus? Is more than enough. It’s everything!
Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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“If we’re not living in the present right now, well then…” my friend, Beth said, raising her eyebrows at all the ways quarantine has meant not being able to plan ahead for tomorrow or next week or July, because we have no idea what will be open or what will be safe or what things will look like.
Interestingly enough she said it on a day we hadn’t seen each other since before shut down, at least ten prior. Yes, we’d traded texts, calls and emails, but in person? Uh uh. Did I mention we were supposed to have taken a trip to Israel together in the midst of all this shelter in place? Instead, I hadn’t even seen her face, unless you count on Instagram.
Her son asked if he could go see the horses that day and she thought, Yeah, let’s savor this sunny day. Meanwhile at my house, I finished editing a chapter and wanted to breathe in some fresh air on the trails. And so I went. None of those details were coincidences. And here Beth and I were standing on the same trail at the same time, as if God knew how much we would benefit from seeing each other. Oh, right. He did. God planned all of it—the horses, the timing, the ideas. For this particular moment.
The sun warmed our skin. The birds twittered in the branches. Beth and I, from a distance, got caught up on our kids, writing, mental health, the state of our world and what God was whispering to us. If either Beth or I had been feeling like we needed to get another thirty minutes of work done or another load of laundry thrown in, we would have missed it. But we didn’t. Because we both decided to embrace the day and God’s calling.
The present, as it turns out, is all we have, and it’s pretty amazing.
I’m not the first person to come to this conclusion. John Mark Comer states in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.
Or as the Psalmist says almost identically but a bit more succinctly, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” Psalm 118:24
So the question is, what are you doing with your present? What am I doing with mine? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to learn more about? What sounds delicious for dinner? What book have you been meaning to read?
Have you been hoping to spend more time with your kids? Pull out a deck of cards or dust off your bikes. Have you been thinking you’d like to start working out? Do a dozen jumping jacks or push ups or burpees or sit ups. Been meaning to start reading the Bible. Put this blog down, open up your Bible or Bible App and go to John 1 and read the first five verses. Meditate on them. Has something been on your mind? Tell someone. Stand up for something. Support the cause. Ask for help. Are you trusting God in this day and following where He’s leading?
Will you get everything you’ve ever wanted to do completed today? Of course not. Will you end racism, cure COVID-19, build that beach house, travel to Greece, ummm maybe not today. But…today you can start. You can do something.
You can watch, read or listen to media created by black artists and thought leaders. You can wear a mask and wash your hands. You can put aside some extra change, listen to that podcast, do some research, reach out to that friend. Today is packed with possibilities. This is the day the Lord has made. This random Wednesday in June when the world has been closed, but is slowly opening back up. This day when we’re wearing masks and standing apart and systemic racism is breaking our hearts and life does not look like last summer or the one before.
Looking for ideas to embrace this day, the present? Jesus tells us, “Follow me. Love your neighbor. Go and tell the world about me. Be of good cheer. Feed the poor. Come away with me. Pray with me. Drop your nets. Do not fear. Shine your light. Those are some pretty great places to start.
We get to choose if we’ll embrace this day. If we’ll obey when we feel Jesus nudging us. If we’ll get out of the house if He asks us. If we’ll call or text the person He places in our mind or heart. If we’ll contemplate what He has in store what He wants us to say. If we’ll try some of these things Jesus instructs us to do, if we’ll trust Him, and get excited about His perfect plans, if we’ll rejoice in this day, be glad in it. Or…if we’ll complain, mope, try grinding it out by ourselves, numb all our feelings with distractions, and wish things were different.
This is the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24). So what are you going to do with it?
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My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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Laura L. Smith