Word of the Year
At the beginning of 2022 God placed a word on my heart to focus on throughout the year–JOY. It was interesting to me, because I believe most people would describe me as a joyful person. I’m definitely a glass half full kind of girl. But sometimes, I struggle to fully accept the joy Jesus offers me, as if there is a limit to the joy I am entitled to, and I don’t dare exceed that limit. Do you ever feel that way?
Jesus said He came so we can have an abundant life (John 10:10). And we’re instructed by the Apostle Paul to, “Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! (Philippians 4:4).” Turns out we’re not only allowed, but encouraged to dip our toes in the joy pool.
To remind myself, I wrote out Nehemiah 8:10 at the top of my calendar page each week of 2022, “The JOY of the Lord is my strength.” It centered me, reminding me that Jesus had joy for me, more than I could imagine, joy I should be jumping into, not just taking what I thought would suffice.
And so, because Jesus is Jesus, He kept reminding me throughout the year. A reader sent me the most adorable card with JOY on the front. My kiddos stopped in a boutique that had sticky notes with Bible verses on them. The shop owner encouraged them to take one. They selected one to bring home to me with Psalm 16:11 on it. I’d just written a book on the Psalms (you can find it here), and specifically a chapter about this Psalm. It’s all about God’s protection. But even in my studying and actual writing of that chapter on Psalm 16 I’d never paid attention to the word JOY smack in the middle of it. In Your presence is fullness of JOY. Not a little joy, not enough joy, but full-on, ridiculous amounts of JOY. This is what Jesus wants for us, not just for me, for all of us.
Over the summer God gave me more meaning to this word. I was given a wonderful opportunity, but full disclosure, I was afraid to step into it. And as I was planning a new week and writing this verse once again at the top of my planner–it hit me in a fresh way. The joy of the LORD is my strength. God’s joy is what gives me the strength to do the things He puts in front of me. We don’t have to be strong enough. Because God’s joy steps in and becomes our strength. Wow! That whole thought process really blew me away.
As the year came to an end, God used this verse one more way for me. Someone told me my joy was, wait for it, MY strength. I almost fell out of my chair. The joy of the Lord is MY strength. And I, Laura Smith, am fueled by the joy Jesus gives me. I love that. I can think of no other strength I’d rather have.
One word. Three ways it impacted me this year.
What I’m trying to say is the Bible is dang powerful. I enjoy reading every single page. Reading the entirety of the story of Jesus’s redemption and love for us that flows from Genesis all the way to Revelation is powerful. But even one tiny verse can power punch through an entire year. The Bible is alive and active. I’m not sure what word or verse God is going to give me for 2023, but I can’t wait to see how He’s going to use it!
You? Do you have a word, phrase, or verse for 2023? Any good stories of how God used a word or verse in your life last year? Share in the comments so we can marvel together at God’s word and His work in our lives.
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What Does Jesus Want?
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11
If you’ve ever attended a Christmas Eve service or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas you’ve heard this verse before. The night that Jesus came down from heaven where He had been living since the beginning of time with God the Father and the Holy Spirit this is how it was announced. By an angel. An angel surrounded by the glory of the Lord. Imagine the sky lighting up in the middle of a night without fireworks or a full moon–a wild, crazy, magnificent light that makes your jaw drop open and your knees shake. A lot.
And this announcement didn’t come to the government or royalty or priests or religious scholars. It didn’t come during an election, at a concert, or during a holiday or at the temple. The good news that the Israelites had been praying for and hoping for for centuries –that the Messiah had finally come to save them–was given to a group of shepherds, considered uneducated and unclean, working the night shift in a field with smelly animals.
Here are the bullet points of the news story:
This is the first thing humans besides Jesus’ very own parents, Mary and Joseph, heard about Jesus. This is why Jesus came. This is what Jesus wants. To calm our fears and worries when there are so many things we’re worried about, when anxiety is running rampant. To give us good news in a world where it’s hard and heartbreaking to watch or read the news. To bring us joy, no matter what we’re going through or what our circumstances are or how sad we feel or how deep our depression is. Because this joy is for ALL people, which certainly includes you and me.
Christmas is in three days.
Maybe you’ve checked everything off your list and all that’s left to do is celebrate with people you love. Maybe the people you love aren’t around this year and that’s harder than you knew it would be. Maybe they’re around, but you still need to shop for a few of them and bake for a few others and send one more package and eight more cards and wrap everything. Maybe your bank account or your energy is depleted. Maybe you cannot wait for a new year, a new start, a new situation.
But you guys? There is a loving peace that will calm all our fears, fill us with such incredible goodness, and flood us with joy. His name is Jesus. And He left everything–His throne in heaven with all its glory and privilege–out of love for you and me. He suffered on the cross so that our suffering would end. He rose from the grave, so that we, too, could rise from the things that have nearly killed us.
That’s good news. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. Joy is waiting for us.
The shepherds took the angel up on the invitation to go and find Jesus. The Bible tells us they “hurried off” to find the baby. And once the shepherds had seen him, a baby born in an animals’ feeding trough in a cave, they were so amazed they went around and told everyone what they’d seen and heard. The shepherds didn’t doubt because Mary and Joseph and the setting of it all weren’t what they’d expected. They didn’t doubt when their circumstances didn’t change. Because their lives were changed. Their hearts were changed. The angel was right. This was good news–the best news. The shepherds weren’t afraid any more. They were filled with joy. And they wanted everyone to know that they could experience this too.
Now, it’s up to us. We can stay where we are. Or we can look for Jesus. When we do, we always find joy, peace, love and light. What are we waiting for?
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Does someone you care about struggle with their mental health (maybe even you)? If so, how can you help?
Seeking help from a mental health professional is always the best and most important first step. But you can make a difference right now. Where should you start?
1. Take care of their physical needs. Our mental health wobbles when we’re not taking care of ourselves, so basic self care is a great place to start. Are they eating enough? Sleeping enough? Moving their bodies? Are they staying hydrated?
If not, help out how you can. Bring the person you care about a charcuterie tray or a meal or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants. Deliver a goodie bag of their favorite hydrating beverages–La Croix or some other flavored fizzy water or a box of their favorite tea with a jar of local honey. Invite them on a walk or a bike ride or to kick the soccer ball around with you (it is World Cup season, after all). Suggest they get some sleep–go to bed early, take a nap, etc.
Jesus did this. He fed crowds (John 6:5-13). He made sure the disciples were eating and resting (Mark 6:31). He cared about the people around Him and their basic needs. We can too.
2. Be a calming presence. Lean back, breathe deeply and slowly, speak in a calm voice, light a candle, or play some soft music. We live in a loud, hurried world. Show the person you love what peace looks like–that it is available.
Jesus calmed the storms at sea, showing the disciples peace was accessible to them even when they least expected it (Mark 4:35-41). We can also offer the people we care about a glimpse of calm.
3. Check in. When we’re alone is when our thoughts tend to spiral. We worry about the what ifs instead of focusing on the now. When we’re alone is when Satan loves to slither in and whisper lies to us. Make sure you’re not alone and the people you care about aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to. Remind them that they are seen. That they matter.
Jesus made sure the disciples traveled in pairs, not solo (Luke 10:1). Jesus approached people no one else would consider speaking to or even getting near. He didn't want them to feel isolated (John 4:7-27, Matthew 8:1-3). From the get go God knew it wasn't good for people to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We can follow Jesus’ lead and send the text, better yet make the call, even better knock on and open doors to make sure the people we care about are doing okay. If you’re worried about someone’s safety, seek professional help immediately.
4. Pray. There’s just nothing like prayer. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things is just waiting for you to talk to Him. He loves you and every single person on earth so very much. He created us all. He died for us all. He cares about our mental health. Jesus wants to flood us with hope, joy, and peace. When we talk to Jesus, it sets things in motion. Prayer costs nothing. It doesn’t require any knowledge or skill set. All you have to do is start telling Jesus what’s on your mind.
Peter, one of Jesus’ very best friends, tells us: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter saw first hand that Jesus cares so much about you and me, that we can hand over all our troubles and fears and concerns to Him. Ask Jesus to help the people you love(and yourself) with their mental health. I’ll get us started: Dear Jesus, please flood me and ______ with your peace, hope, and love.
5. Grab them a copy of my new book, 5 MInute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health
It releases one week from today! I wrote this book as a way for people to quickly connect with Jesus, and in doing so, also care for their mental health. The short devotions are catered to teens, but early readers are saying, “It’s great for ALL ages, even adults.” Each page has a Bible verse, devotion, and prayer or activity. These books make great stocking stuffers for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, anyone you love. Maybe even sneak an extra in your own stocking.
It’s amazing how many scientific tips for caring for our mental health are Biblical. Jesus loves us so much. He always has our best interest in mind, and cares so much about our mental health. Praying for you, for your mental health, and for the mental health of those you love.
What Are You Focusing On?
I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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Are You Ready For Something New
I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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Jesus Doesn't Want You to Settle
We had these old gross towels that we’ve had for twenty-six years (yup, wedding gifts). They were great at the time, but now some of them have holes, many are fraying, and quite frankly some of them stink. Right after Christmas I bought some nice, new towels on a ridiculously low priced clearance. And you all! They are so thick and fluffy. Every time I dry my hands or get out of the shower I am amazed by how lovely these towels are. I also wonder why I waited so long to upgrade.
I know it sounds silly. But I was settling. And sometimes we do–for old towels or a quick meal or a pair of shoes our growing child will probably only wear once or twice. But God doesn’t want us to settle for the big stuff.
Are you doing things that fulfill you? Hanging out with people who make your life rich and full? Taking classes or doing things that challenge you? Finding ways to laugh and learn? Taking care of yourself mentally and physically?
Because that’s what Jesus wants for you. An abundant life. An overflowing life. A rich, full, joyful, satisfying life! He tells us:
"But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect—life in its fullness until you overflow!" –John 10:10 TPT
Do you love your job or volunteer work? Does it bring you satisfaction? Do you use some specific skill or talent that God gave you when you’re there? Or are you settling?
Sure, there are parts of every job that are an absolute grind–filling out the forms, cleaning the bathrooms, or maybe attending the staff meetings. And sometimes we do jobs with the sole purpose of paying our bills. Years ago, I waitressed while interning at an advertising agency that didn’t pay me a cent, unless you count parking. I waitressed in the evenings and on weekends to pay my bills (which was not my dream job) and interned during normal work hours (which was my dream job and led to an actual job). It worked. Maybe you’re working a job to help pay for your education or certification, or because the flexible hours allow you to be around for someone you love or to spend time on that creative endeavor you’re so excited about. And that’s awesome. Because you’re not settling. You’re chasing after that education, family, or dream. You’re seizing the abundant life God has for you.
Is the person you’re in a relationship with someone who brings out the best in you, who encourages you to be the amazing person God created you to be? Are your friends people who build you up, love you for just who you are, listen well, pray for and with you? Are they there for you when you need them? Or are you settling?
Since you are an individual, you’re not going to agree with anyone 100% of the time. You won’t always think things should be done the same way or at the same speed or for the same reasons. And your friends or spouse or boy/girlfriend have their own responsibilities and lives to tend to. They can’t be there for you 24/7. But, you know what I mean. If you’re friends or significant other takes you for granted, doesn’t listen to or respect your wishes, doesn’t encourage your faith life, only wants to do things their way, God has more for you.
Jesus doesn’t want you to settle. He loves you too much. The Bible says before you were even born, God chose you and called you by His marvelous grace (Galatians 1:15). Get that? You are chosen. You have a special calling from the God of the Universe. So, no, you shouldn’t settle.
I don’t know what that means for you today. But hopefully it means being reminded of all the amazing things God has in store. Hopefully it means ditching something that does not bring life to you–that committee you’re on that completely drains you, that “friend” who only texts when they need something “desperately,” that book you’re reading that is inappropriate (put it down, there’s so many great reads out there!), the date who won’t go to church with you and who never seems to remember that crowds make you uneasy or that you’re allergic to nuts. Or maybe it's time to quit that activity that makes you grumpy.
Step one is getting rid of the things that deplete you. Step two is talking to Jesus about what He has for you. Ask Him. Right now. It’s as easy as praying: Jesus, I love You so much! Thank You for choosing me, for giving me a special calling, for Your amazing grace. Please show me how to step out of anything I'm settling for and into the abundant life You have waiting for me. Please help me keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to all You offer. Amen
FREE Bible Study: 10 Minutes for 10 Days
Feel the Feelings
I’m not a new year’s resolution girl. But I do find a word or phrase to focus on each year–something God keeps reminding me of, something He’s made quite clear He doesn’t want me to forget. At the beginning of 2021 I felt God telling me to “feel all the feelings.” That phrase seems pretty self explanatory, especially to a girl who cries at movies, cards, and commercials on the regular. But there are some feelings that are hard to feel–that seem like they’d be better off shoved in a drawer or put in the back of a closet where you don’t have to look at them or sort through them. These were the feelings I was afraid of, and the ones God was referring to.
But God followed “feel the feelings” with “I’ll protect you.” He even showed me the phrase Elohim Shomri which means, God my Protector. So, I would understand if I feel the hard stuff, if I address it, if I go “there,” it’s okay. It’s safe. God will protect me.
So on a slate in my office and each new week in my planner I wrote “feel the feelings” and “Elohim Shomri.” I wanted this phrase front and center as I dove into new days and to-do lists and highs and lows. And, as expected, it was a year of all. The. feelings. Our oldest graduated college. And moved to Nashville. To work a job that feels like God handcrafted for her. Which makes me so proud of her, and so grateful and full of joy for the life she’s living, and also I miss her oodles.
Our twenty year old decided to live at home instead of the dorms this year. Which feels like a gift, because it’s an extra year of having our son at home with us. I am so grateful for every hug and conversation I didn’t expect to share with him. But also, he’s twenty. And I want to respect that. And treat him like a grown up. While he’s living under our roof. Which is complicated. Cue more feelings.
My counselor has also helped me sort through some feelings that I’d sealed in figurative boxes and hidden in the basement of myself. I believe it’s super important to tend to our mental health, and mine needed a check up that unearthed more feelings.
And you know what? God has been with me. Every single feeling of the way. In the excitement and joy and the sadness and concern. In the missing of my oldest child, the adapting to new norms with the next oldest child, and in the exploring of my own childhood. God is so faithful. And so loving. And I am so grateful. He is my Elohim Shomri.
And now–Christmas, which is always jam-packed with feelings. Full of memories, family, relationships and reminders. But also full of the reason for the celebration in the first place–that Jesus came to earth to be with us–Emmanuel. And because Jesus is with us (and He promises to be to the ends of the earth), we are free to mourn the loss of those not with us this year and to celebrate the new people in our lives. We can also mourn and celebrate jobs and life situations, new things, and old places, and things we used to be able to do or just learned how to do. Because Jesus, the Christ child who was announced to the world by a host of angels, who radically changed the lives of the shepherds who saw him on that first Christmas, the magi who followed, and every human who ever encountered Him, is here with us. You and me. Today. Around our dinner tables and trees, in our very hearts and souls.
So feel the feelings this Christmas. As the angels first announced to the shepherds, ““Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth.--Luke 2:12-14
PAUSE. REFLECT. GIVE THANKS.
I walked with a friend and visited a family member yesterday, both of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. They both asked, “How are you? What’s new?” I paused to think, What is new since the last time we chatted? My mind flew to the new school year and all that came with it, then, to all the ways God has taken care of our family. Where to start?
Since the last time I’d seen either of these women we’ve been through a billion transitions, experiences, challenges, and triumphs. I never doubted we’d “make it” through the first nine weeks of the school year, but we did have a lot of unknowns going in. Our oldest daughter moved to a new city. Our college son decided at the last minute to live at home instead of the dorm he’d been planning on moving into. It’s our younger daughter’s senior year, which is a super fun year filled with all the “senior stuff,” but also filled with the expectations of that “stuff,” plus decisions about the future. Our youngest started high school, which is a lot in itself. That’s just a sampling of what we tried to maneuver this fall.
And here we are. Nine weeks later. There have been hiccups, challenges and definitely some drama, but my heart is overflowing with gratitude. God provided my kids with great friends. He’s held them in rough spots and helped them make hard decisions. God has tangibly been with us these past nine weeks. Praise Jesus!
Yes, our family made it through the first quarter of a new school year, but for you reading this, you also made it. You made it to the end of October! Woo hoo! Maybe you made it through the next round of interviews, funding, auditions, payments, applications, trimester, treatments, or tournaments. But we all made it to today! God was with me every step. He was with you, too (whether you knew it or not). Let’s take a sec to thank Him.
How often do we pray for things, and when God answers those prayers just move onto other prayers? I mean, it is a new quarter with a whole new set of choices, situations, and opportunities. When things are going smoothly, do we just enjoy the ride? Or stop to praise God for how He’s minimized the bumps or gotten us over them? I don’t want to gloss over God’s goodness, His faithfulness. I don’t want to forget. I want to take time to let all the ways God loves us sink in.
God is constantly at work in our lives--blessing us with this and providing us with that. It’s important (and Biblical) to pause. Relect. And give thanks. When we do, it’s mind boggling to see all the ways God has been there. Giving thanks reminds us who God is, how He loves us, and that the promises of the Bible--that Jesus will never leave us (Matthew 28:20), has plans for our futures (Jeremiah 29:11), knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)--they’re all true. If we’re intentional about thanking God for knowing what’s best for us and providing exactly what we need, it changes our mindset, it reduces worry. And the next time we face a struggle or challenge, it’s so much easier to recall that God is faithful. What He’s done before, He can do again.
Today I’m so thankful that even though my freshman son had never run on a team before, he thrived and made amazing friends running Cross Country (read more about that blessing here). I’m grateful that despite the kids’ busy schedules, my husband and I still found creative ways to have date nights this fall. I’m blessed beyond belief by my daughter whose awesome personality fills our home with joy and laughter even after a hectic or stressful day. I’m grateful for priceless phone calls and visits with my older daughter who now lives in Tennessee that allow us to stay connected and share life together. I’m filled with gratitude for the precious moments I’ve gotten with my college boy as a result of him living at home. Once I get started I could go on and on.
What are you thankful for today? What has God done to get you here? What has He provided you with? What people has He put in your path? What ways has He delighted you (a bright blue sky? Unexpectedly bumping into a friend? A deer bounding across your path?) Pause right now and thank Him.
God doesn’t need a thank you, but He does ask us to thank Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs us: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Why does God ask us to give thanks? Not for Him, but to help us. When we pause to remember God’s goodness, His abundance, His faithfulness, how personal and powerful He is, our future feels less concerning, our fears less scary, our stress level less intense, our mood more joyful. We can exhale and see God’s provision and protection around us. Psychologists have discovered that thankfulness makes people happier, improves our health, helps us build relationships, and deal with adversity. What do you know? God is really onto something. Turns out gratitude is good for us.
As we enter into the Thanksgiving season will you join me on a gratitude journey? I’m planning on daily* posting on Facebook and Instagram something I’m grateful for and tagging it #gratitudejourney. I’m doing this to remind myself of God’s goodness and to embrace this abundant life He’s provided. My prayer is that if we all join in, that not only can we increase our faith and joy, but that we can also increase the faith and joy of those around us. Are you in? Let’s start right now. What are you thankful for?
WHO DOESN'T LOVE A FREEBIE?
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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LEAN BACK AND SPLASH
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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Laura L. Smith