We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
I was on a run, almost at the end, when God nudged me to go spend a few minutes in the bird blind adjacent to the trail. Which seemed weird, because I had less than a half mile left, it was freezing outside, and although I’d been in the fenced off sanctuary designed to view birds, I pass it frequently and rarely enter. But I felt pulled. So I ran off the trail and unlatched the gate.
I had no idea what God had in store for me here. But I felt like there was something, so I sat on the bench behind the wooden wall “blind” to the birds, but able to see them through the slats. And in two minutes I saw redhawks, cardinals, a blue jay, a goldfinch, a purple finch, and several other birds I couldn’t identify darting about and eating from the bird feeders. They were an actual rainbow of feathers feasting on seed someone smarter and kinder than them regularly puts out for them.
I was dazzled by their colors, but also by Jesus’ words coming to life right before my eyes, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”--Matthew 6:26
I have a lot of things I’m praying for and waiting for right now. Things that I don’t know how they’re going to turn out, what next steps are, how all the pieces will fit. And yet, God was reminding me, “Laura, look. You don’t have to worry. I will provide. In fact, you can flit around like these birds completely carefree, enjoying themselves and the feast in front of them. See these birds.” I felt God kind of tapping me on the knee, making sure I was paying attention. “I 100% care for them. But you, you are infinitely more valuable to me than these birds. I’ve got you.”
I bet you have things you’re praying for, situations you don’t know the endings to or even the middles to, as well. But Jesus tells us, “No need to worry. I love you. And I’ll provide for you. Everything you need. You mean the world to me.”
I love how this verse is translated in the Message:
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Jesus invites us into this free and unfettered life. One without cares, because we know God cares for us. Sound inviting? It’s available 24/7 with no cost of admission. All we have to do is follow Jesus.
Sure, we still have responsibilities. We need to send the emails, go to the appointments, take care of ourselves, do the prep, put in the time. We’re still entrusted to do the good work God has put in front of us. Those beautiful birds I saw all had to fly to the bird blind, land on the feeders, and grab the seeds with their beaks. But they had zero worries that those feeders would be full. We can follow suit. Go where God sends us (even if that’s a bird blind), action what He calls us to do, and trust in His abundant provision, allowing us to live as carefree as birds.
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How to Bloom this Fall
I do not have a green thumb, or even a green pinkie finger for that matter, but I adore everything that blooms. So each year I give it a go. This spring I bought two large geraniums in pots from our local nursery and placed them on our front porch. They were gorgeous from the get go. Red. Vibrant. Showstoppers.
Until they weren’t.
In July all the blooms turned brown with no new buds in sight. My mom, who 1. was visiting and 2. is a fabulous gardener, instructed me to snip off the dried up blossoms. She’d been telling me for years that this encourages regrowth in plants, so I had tentatively and reluctantly snipped a few dead flowers from my gorgeous geraniums before her visit, but now? If I did that now I’d be left with nothing but stems and leaves. There were zero signs of new life on these plants.
Mom said, “Do it anyway.”
And so I did. And my plants sat and sat. Just green leaves and brown stems.
It’s not just my mom who talks about pruning. Jesus does too.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” -John 15:1-2
Living in Ohio, I don’t see grape vines on the regular, but every day I see my geraniums. And they do the trick to illustrate Jesus’ point. If we’re the branches, we’re the ones who are being pruned, just like my plants on my doorstep. This isn’t a punishment or intended to keep us from living our best life. It’s the opposite. God knows this pruning makes us more fruitful, helps us bloom more abundantly. And I want that. As I head into this fabulous season of fall my heart and soul long to bloom.
But unfortunately, part of the secret to blooming is allowing ourselves to be pruned. Pruning is scientifically proven to help plants grow stronger, be healthier, and you guessed it, produce more blooms and/or fruit. But it involves cutting, letting go, and getting rid of.
I was hesitant to snap off the dead blossoms on my flowers, even though I knew they were deadweight. Afterwards they sat just green, no sign of red for over a month. But this past week my geraniums grew buds out of seemingly dead stems, lots of them. Once again they’re brimming with stunning scarlet flowers, and there are more buds waiting to blossom as if they are starting all over again. The pruning had to happen for my geraniums to thrive.
It’s the same with us. Pruning helps us bloom. And Jesus wants us to blossom. There are things we hold onto–dead and withered parts of us that don’t bring us growth or health or peace or joy, but we hesitate to let go of. For me this includes, but is certainly not limited to some past shame, getting grumpy or hurt when things don’t go my way, and avoiding hard emotions, because, well, they’re hard. I’m sure you have your things, too. Perhaps a bad habit, or a relationship that brings out the worst in you or something that is a really poor use of your time. Maybe it’s something that’s actually toxic or dangerous for you, but it seems hard to give up. But Jesus says if we’ll let Him get rid of those things that hinder our vitality…we’ll bloom.
We’re supposed to let it go. Ouch. Yup. It hurts sometimes. But If we trust Jesus in this pruning process, He says in John 15:5 that we will bear MUCH fruit, not SOME but MUCH. Every single opportunity and healthy relationship in my life, everything blooming God has provided. All the dark times I’ve weathered, all the healing that’s taken place, all the times I’ve been doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things, acting in the wrong ways that I’ve let Jesus prune have produced fruit. What a blessing that our God loves us so much that He wants to help us get rid of anything holding us back from living a full, free, joyful and grace-filled life.
Jesus says there’s more fruit for you and for me.
No matter how much you do or don’t have today. If you feel like a withered stem or the opposite–a vibrant bouquet, Jesus has more for you. All you have to do? Abide in Him, which means spending time with Him, making Him the go-to person you ask for advice, trust with your dreams, lean on when you’re discouraged or sad. Allow Jesus to prune the dead stuff away, the stuff that’s stealing sunlight, the withered leaves that have become a home for pests, the things that jeopardize the healthy parts of your life.
Listen. It’s the end of August. It’s back to school time, or if you’re a sports fan, football or futbol season. The last couple of evenings I’ve even felt a slight chill in the air. Sweaters and pumpkin spice and crunchy apples and hayrides and cozy blankets are just around the corner. But Jesus promises even better than all of that. I want to let go of anything holding me back from the abundant life Jesus offers. I want to step into the fall light, free, and ready to bloom. I know it will take some pruning, some letting go of this or that but it will be so worth it.
You? What in your life could use a little pruning, so you can bloom this fall?
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What If Scenarios
I’m sitting in a chair under a turquoise umbrella at the beach staring out at the Atlantic praying to Jesus about, well everything. My mind is always packed full of what if scenarios. What if my blog comes out late? What if I intervene with my two kids who are pushing each other’s buttons? What if I let them work it out themselves? What if I get bit by a fire ant–will my EpiPen work? What if I do or don’t? What if that idea or action or conversation or proposal or treatment works or doesn’t? What if I speak up or keep my mouth shut? What if it does well or falls flat? What if, what if, what if? I ask Jesus a zillion and eight questions. And this is how Jesus responds.
Look at the ocean. See how endless it is. How powerful and calm it is at the same time. Listen to the waves crashing. Notice the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the water. Feel the breeze against your skin, dancing through your hair. Hear the laughter of children, the music playing from nearby speakers, the countless conversations all around you from all kinds of different people. I made ALL of them, ALL of this. I’m in control of all of this. The ocean looks like it goes on forever, but I actually DO go on forever. I am limitless. It’s all in my control. All of it. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of you. Your work, your health, your family, your future. I love you. I’ll never let you down.
God’s response is calm and steady and sure. He doesn’t give me specifics about the fire ants I’m allergic to or the article I’m going to turn down, but He reassures me that it’s all in His extremely powerful and capable and loving hands.
All of your what-ifs are also in God’s hands. He promises to work everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He promises to go before and behind us and keep His strong, loving hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Jesus promises that He has plans to prosper us–each and every one of us, plans that give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, why, oh why do I wonder? Why do I forget to trust?
Because I’m human, and I do. But Jesus uses the waves to remind me.
God is good. And true. And loving. And powerful. And almighty. And on our side–yours and mine. As I stare out at the waves rolling in and foaming white against the sand, I’m reminded. And I exhale. And I trust Him again. With everything.
I don’t know what you’re asking Jesus today. I don’t know what what-ifs are swirling around your brain. But I do know that Jesus only wants what is good for you. I know that when we trust in Him, He never lets us down.
I’m praying that we trust in God’s scenarios and stop worrying about all the what-ifs. Because His scenarios are true and right and packed with joy and peace and love.
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Life is Messy
I was talking to another woman about social media–how we love it and how it can also be the worst–all the comparisons. On social media we only see everyone else’s best selves–their best outfit, best meal they cooked, best room they decorated, best craft they did with their kids, best life hack. Nobody shows us that the day they painted their nails the pretty lavender color there was literally nothing for dinner in their house and someone ate cereal and someone else had leftovers and someone else just ate a bowl of ice cream. Nobody shows us that the night they made a yummy dinner their junk drawer was so jammed it wouldn’t close or under their bed was a war zone or the flowers they planted all died or that they got in a fight with one of their family members while cooking that photo-shopped dinner. Nope, we just see her best this and their best that and his best thingamagig and assume that everyone else out there is killing it in every area of their lives.
But the truth is we all have overflowing junk drawers, scrounge around for meals sometimes, and have ants. Okay, maybe not everyone has ants. But I did last week. Hundreds of itty bitty ants all over our cupboard, crawling around a single rogue piece of caramel corn that escaped its bag. Oh yeah, and all over the open pack of gluten free Oreos. The ants were climbing over cans of beans and bottles of olive oil and boxes of microwave popcorn and those little packets of strawberry jam that were left over from two years ago. My husband and I emptied the pantry item by item. He grabbed a can of bug spray and started spraying, because GROSS! And then we had this realization that all that poisonous bug spray was now coating the shelves where we store food. So, today I’m showing you reality. The reality that everything that was in our pantry is now on our counter. And has been for four days. Why?
Because this is real life. Everyone has something going on beneath the surface. It could be a broken relationship, an addiction, exhaustion, financial struggles, or even possibly ants.
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus (thankfully!). A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to Jesus (Luke 8:43). People with demons came to Jesus (Mary Magdalene, we see your transformed self!). A paralyzed man came to Jesus (Luke 5:18). Jesus ate dinner with a table full of what the religious leaders called, “scum” (Luke 5:30). None of them cleaned themselves up first or put a filter on their lives. And… Jesus loved them all.
Jesus said, “God blesses you when you're poor, when you’re hungry, when you weep, when people hate and exclude and mock and curse you (Luke 6:20-22).” None of those things look good on social media or make for great small talk.
Yet, when you can’t pay your bills, you didn’t make dinner–all week, you’re sad, overwhelmed, feel rejected, or left out, Jesus says God blesses you.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is yours.
You will be satisfied.
You will laugh.
When you can’t decide what to do, when you gave into an impulse, when someone said something nasty about you, when you said something you regret? Jesus loves you. He wants to make everything new. Jesus stopped that woman’s bleeding and made that lame man walk. Jesus sat down at the table with all those people the religious people said were riff raff. This changed the way they saw themselves, showed them they were worth eating with, talking to, being with–the King of the Universe said so Himself. And the poor, hungry, sad, and hated people? Jesus said they would be satisfied.
Sure, sometimes Jesus asks you to do something in this process. That woman had to make her way through a crowd. The lame man’s friends had to take him up on a roof, remove roof tiles, and lower him into the room on a mat where Jesus was. These things were risky. They took bravery. They took intentionality. But they were so worth it for the healing.
What might Jesus be asking you to do? He’s not asking you to get all cleaned up for Him, but Jesus wants you to seek Him, reach out to Him, move any obstacles out of the way so you can read the Bible and talk to Him, so you can discover or re-encounter His wild, extravagant love for you. Maybe Jesus wants you to take a breath, get some rest, be still so He can remind you who you are–His beloved, treasured daughter or son.
During what we’ll call the “ant crisis” would not have been what I would have considered the ideal time to have someone over for dinner. Our house smelled like Raid. That lone piece of caramel corn was smothered in dead ants and still on the shelf of the pantry, because I was too grossed out to pick it up. Plus the whole all our food on the countertop thing. But Jesus could have cared less. He’d say, “Hey, let’s sit on the floor and eat sandwiches and chat. How are you? What’s on your mind?” Jesus is never judging us. He just wants to be with us.
When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, you realize you don’t need their approval, you don’t need to achieve all the things. Those comparisons and ideals have been taking up space in your life (like four kinds of sauce you thought you might use sometime and never did so now they’ve all expired). And when you wipe down the surfaces of your life and strip off the need to achieve or false notion that you should look or act like “her” (or proverbial shelf liner) and replace it with new, everything feels fresher, better (like a cupboard that got pared down and reorganized). When we slow down, make time, and rest in Jesus, there is always peace and love to be found.
This is what Jesus wants for us–not perfection or filtered photos, but healing, fulfillment, and laughter. Coming to Him is as easy as closing your eyes and saying His name. Join me?
Jesus, I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t care what she or he is doing. I just want to be with you. Please help me see how I can get closer to the truth of who I am in You–even if it means braving a crowd, climbing a roof, or airing out a cupboard. Please help me drink in the freedom, joy, and fulfillment You alone offer. Amen!
If you’re looking for a way to start reading your Bible, to spend more time with Jesus, but not really sure how or where to start, I wrote a FREE guide. You can download it here.
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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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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WHAT GOD TAUGHT ME IN 2020
I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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THIS FALL LOOKS DIFFERENT
This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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WHEN JESUS ASKS US TO TURN LEFT
Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
Laura L. Smith