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 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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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.
There’s a trail near my house with twists and turns, where it splits and you have to go one way or another, and although I have zero sense of direction and get lost in a store, I never get lost on this trail. Because it has signs telling me where to go.
I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going ahead of time. I like to know that I’ll drive about twenty minutes before I take the exit and that the school is three miles past the turn. I want to hear the Cookie Monster voice on Waze (he makes me laugh every time) tell me, “In 18 miles exit left.” But this trail isn’t like that. The signs are right where you turn. I can’t plan, in half a mile I’ll take the left fork of the trail. I just run and when there’s a split up ahead I look for the sign and go the direction it tells me to. And I’ve never once gotten lost.
This is how God works.
We want to know what’s up ahead, how much farther? When will the pandemic end? What will this fall look like? Who will our roommates be? Will we get a job when we graduate? Where? How much will our starting salary be? What will it take for racism to be a thing of the past? Will we get married? To who? How long from now? Will we get accepted to that program? Invited to that event? How many kids will we have? Should we adopt?”
And Jesus says, “Trust me.”
He says, “Keep running until you get to the fork in the road. When you get there I’ll let you know exactly which way to go. And when you get to the next split in your path, I’ll tell you where you need to go then. You don’t need to know ahead of time. I’ll let you know in perfect time, at the exact time that you need to know.”
Right. But still we like to know. Don’t we? I do!
I believe if we search down deep, the reason we want to know all the details is because we don’t fully trust that:
1. God is in control
2. God’s plans are perfect.
If we did, we’d be just fine to keep running along and wait for Him to say, “Turn here. That’s the man I want you to meet. Email that person—they are the key to your dream job. When you’re twenty-seven. On the third try. At the second left.”
And even though I LOVE a plan I’m 100% content running without knowing the next part. Because I’ve run this trail before. And I know I can trust the signs. I know they never let me down.
I’ve also run with God before. I know God has never let me down. Have there been moments in my life I haven’t understood? Yeah. Have there been times when I’ve wished for different outcomes? Sure. But later on, I almost always thank Him for how He orchestrated something better than I knew at the time. Oh, that relationship didn’t work out, because I was supposed to meet and marry Brett. Even though it took me a long time to get pregnant, that was because I’m supposed to have the kids I have. Oh, I didn’t even get a second interview? That’s because that wasn’t actually a job where I would thrive.
So, like the signs on my trail, I want to trust Jesus. Yes, I still wish I knew how things will look in the fall, what will be open, what won’t, what to expect. But I’m trusting God will put up the sign in bold, easy to read letters when we get to that point in the trail. He doesn’t want us to get lost or go down a dangerous fork in the road. Our Heavenly Father only wants the very best for us. He wants us to find our way. The best way. In fact, He even calls Himself the Way. I’m pretty sure He’ll show us which way to go.
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The trail near our house is a little torn up. It’s been raining a lot, because April showers were working hard to bring us May flowers, and then May had an identity crisis and thought it was April. The storms washed away parts of the trail and left puddles in other spots. It’s a bit of an obstacle course, and although I love everything about running on the trails, I have to watch my step, so I don’t turn an ankle or go down.
Part way in the dirt trail becomes a smooth paved one, and I can concentrate less on the terrain and more on the shape of the clouds and the smell of honeysuckle and fresh mown grass. My favorite spot on the run is the covered bridge that signals I’m halfway done. There’s something beautiful and nostalgic about the bridge and my feet make a lovely percussion sound when they pound against the planks. I love the idea of running while suspended over a stream. But today, my toe caught on one of those uneven boards and I lost my balance. I wiped out skinning my knee and ripping open my hand.
I’m fine. Nothing a Band-Aid, some Neosporin, and a few days won’t heal, but it reminded me how vulnerable I am. How vulnerable we all are.
I knew I had to pay extra attention on the bumpy, rocky portion of my course. I was alert. Just like there are parts of our days and lives when we need to keep our antennae up—maybe around the person who we don’t fully trust or driving at night during a thunderstorm, or how tenderly we need to handle a newborn. But it was on the stretch of my run where I felt safe and free and peaceful that I fell. Just like in life. Sometimes it’s when I’m cruising along on autopilot that I stumble.
I think COVID-19 has shown most of us that we’re more vulnerable than we thought. That even though everything was plugging along like clockwork, we’re still vulnerable. We’re at risk for losing dollars we thought would be deposited in our accounts. We’re at risk for losing events we were looking forward to. We’re at risk for germs and viruses that can infect our lungs. But I’ve also become acutely aware in my vulnerability how faithful our God is. The virus shut down shops, but all the flowers still bloomed wide open. The virus halted regularly scheduled classes, meetings, church services, but God continues to show up during Google Hangout Bible studies, Facebook live women’s conferences, church on YouTube. Unemployment is up, but so is giving and outreach and generosity.
Are these changes preferred? Some yes. Some maybe not. Some for sure no. But even when we’re vulnerable, Jesus is not. He is steady and alive and on the move and keeps on showing up. Jesus has conquered sin and death and fear. He is love and light and life.
So we’re vulnerable. We always have been. We’re human. Our bodies get sick and scraped. We have seasons of financial success and seasons where we’re pinching pennies. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever taken a tumble while on a run. And I’m guessing it won’t be my last. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. Every step I make doesn’t have to be calculated, precise, and perfect, because God’s are. It’s alright that we’re vulnerable, and that sometimes we fall, because Jesus walks beside us, picks us up when we fall, cleans out our wounds, and if we let Him get close enough with His almighty Neosporin and peroxide, heals us.
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This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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I just unfollowed thirty -one people on Instagram and unsubscribed from 45 email lists. Sure, I’ve cleaned out some drawers during this shelter-in-place period, but I’m also cleaning out my electronic life, allowing some margin that in the long run will hopefully give me more moments to pause to savor what’s in front of me, so I can tend to the more important tasks at hand—whether that’s turning in a chapter, laughing on the sofa with my family, or being still with God.
The people I unfollowed weren’t toxic or mean. They were just distractions. Like the woman who posts gorgeous pictures of food and often has beautiful videos of her whipping together scrumptious meals. I frequently watch them, oohing and ahhing at how delicious and healthy that meal looks. Oh, and look, it’s gluten free. I should file it away. Add the key ingredients to my grocery list. Make it for dinner next week. But I don’t. I’ve never once made one of her recipes. So why do I watch her videos and scroll through her posts?
I also unfollowed a musician I heard once and loved her sound, but most of her posts are pictures of her with a new hairdo or wild eyeliner, and although pretty, have nothing to do with my life. I don’t know her. I don’t gain anything by seeing that she died her hair pink this week. And so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her—zip, she’s gone.
The unsubscribes? From clothing companies I’ve shopped from, but certainly don’t need daily reminders (translate temptations) to click on their site or spend money on their clothes. If I’m in the market for a cool new jacket or a snazzy pair of sandals, I know how to find them. Open Table? You’re so helpful when making a reservation. However, I don’t need to hear from you every single day. Bandsintown? I LOVE music and concerts, but I honestly scroll through the shows you send me and waste another couple of minutes that I always wish I had come the end of a day. If only I had a few more minutes to re-read this paragraph, play a hand of cards with the kids, close my eyes and just listen to the Lord. Oh, yeah, I did, but I wasted it daydreaming of concerts and restaurants in the morning when my brain was fresh. Dang it.
We talk about decluttering our homes—fewer pairs of jeans means fewer to choose from when we get dressed, fewer dollars spent, less crowded shelves, less chance of wadded up chaos and overflowing piles. Getting rid of bras that don’t fit or that their elastic has given out means I don’t have to root through all the bad ones every morning. But our electronic lives are also cluttered. When I open my laptop in the morning to write I usually have a dozen or so emails waiting for me. A couple are important. Some are “subscribes.” And even if I delete all of them, I still take the moment to think, “Free People? I don’t need any sundresses right now. Delete.” It takes a second. But it takes a second every day. And each of the similar emails also takes a second every day. And, for every ten, maybe I click on one. What is new on Netflix?
These aren’t bad or dangerous uses of my time, because gazing at funky apparel makes me happy inside and if Netflix added back all the Harry Potter movies I’d want to know. It’s just not the best use of my time. If I want to click on Free People’s website or on the Netflix App I can. But then I’m choosing. It’s intentional. Instead of having the distraction imposed on me. See the difference?
I want to do the work Jesus has set out for me today. And tomorrow and the next day after that. I want to be focused and live well for Him. I want to spend time with Jesus not rush through my prayers or time reading my Bible. I want to exhale in the middle of the day with Him, and not feel like “I don’t have time.”
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. --1 Corinthians 12:6-7 MSG
Jesus doesn’t get mad at me when I learn a new recipe or watch a music video. He delights when we are delighted. But He also calls each of us to specific work for the kingdom. And He asks us to do it well. And He loves it when we spend time with Him. I for one, do this much better, when I’m not going down rabbit trails of outfits I might someday wear or meals I might, but probably won’t, one day cook. So, I’m spring cleaning my mental space.
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. --Titus 3:8-9 MSG
Want to join me? Let’s put our feet down. Let’s avoid mindless, pointless scrolling. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.
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With all our time at home, we’ve been playing a lot of games. You? Clue is a fam favorite and when you play, the first thing you do is choose your character. I always choose Miss Scarlet. When it’s your turn you roll the dice, hopefully land in a room, and proceed to make some more choices. Who will you accuse? With what weapon? And as the game progresses your choices, along with some luck and deciphering, determine the winner of the game.
Today you and I get to choose. We don’t get to choose our health. We don’t get to choose where we’ll go (because, well….). But we do get to choose how we’ll let these quarantines and lockdowns affect us.
We can choose to move our bodies, because we’re still allowed outside for a walk or run or to toss a frisbee, walk a dog, shoot hoops, or hike through the woods. We can choose to eat healthy, because we have time to cook and the place we’re still allowed to go is the grocery. We can choose to love an actual neighbor in the neighborhood, by waving across the street, asking if they need anything. Sharing from our grocery delivery. We can choose to love our “neighbor” by writing a note (yes, on paper and putting it in the mail) calling someone (yes, on the phone) who lives alone or who we miss or who God has put on our hearts. We can choose to learn something new or hone that skill, because we have a zillion free podcasts plus YouTube at our fingertips, and again, we have time. We can choose to spend time with the Lord every day, because He’s here, right this moment, right by our side. He loves us. And He is the source of our strength, peace, joy, hope, and courage. All the excuses we used before as to why we couldn’t squeeze any time in our Bibles or in prayer have evaporated.
We can choose to keep going. Not give up on Bible study or that meeting we were supposed to have or even that coffee date just because we can’t meet in person. How about meeting and chatting via Google Hangout or Zoom or Houseparty?
We can choose our mood. I'm not talking about ignoring the pain or loss. Those are important emotions to process.
But we have the choice to grump and moan and complain about the inconveniences--"my investments are tanking!” “everything’s closed!” or choose to count our blessings—the grocery is still open, we have food, praise God! It’s sunny! It’s getting warm out! Thank you, Jesus, that this happened not in January when it was too cold, but now, in the spring so we can go outside and get a change of scenery and hear the twittering of the birds and take in the puffy white blossoms bursting on the Bradford pear trees. Thank you, Lord, for technology so I can still watch my church livestream, listen to music, download free e-books from the library, and do a silly Tik-Tok in the living room with my kids.
We can choose to be afraid in the midst of all this uncertainty. Or we can choose to listen to Jesus who told us on repeat, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Worry about nothing. I will be with you always.”
We won’t always get it right and it’s not easy. We’re still either finding ourselves in close quarters day after day with the people we live with or finding ourselves alone for longer periods of time if we live alone. The grocery doesn’t have everything on our lists. A lot of us are tight on cash. There are people we care about on our hearts. This is not normal for any of us. And that can cause us to grumble or feel a little boxed in or on edge. And that’s natural. It’s okay. We’re adjusting.
But, see, God has always given us free choice, from the very beginning of time, and we can pick all the sweet, juicy fruit He’s given us access to, or we can try to go for the one He said is off limits (which at a time like this is the grumbling, the giving up, the state of fear).
Today I choose Christ. I choose the fruits of the Spirit that are ready and available to all of us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’ll slip and mess up, and make a poor choice, and snap at one of my kids, or not communicate well, or wish things were different, but then I pray I’ll choose to come back to who God is—good and kind and powerful and faithful—and rest in the choice to love and trust Him.
Because whether we choose to trust Jesus or not, He is in control. And He is inherently good. So, yeah, that’s where I’m choosing to focus today. Will you join me?
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I went rogue last week. I drove around with the tag on my car expired. Crazy, right? But I am a rule follower, and I did not like it. I watched my speedometer like my life depended on it. I overpaid the parking meter when I ran inside Kofenya to grab a coffee. My eyes spent more time on my rearview mirror than on the road. I was antsy and edgy, and it was no way to live.
People talk about wishing they didn’t have any rules, about living wild and free. But I don’t buy in to it working that way. No rules, aka driving with an expired license plate and risking a ticket is no fun at all. I felt nervous. I didn’t feel free. I felt caged in.
But today? Today I have my new plate. After two visits to the BMV (don’t get me started) I’m legal to drive on the roads. And guess what? I feel free. As. A. Bird. If I veer a couple miles over the speed limit I’m not concerned. I’ll park in any spot I choose—I don’t care who sees me. I’ve got music playing and I’m singing along. I’m not looking over my shoulder. I’m not worried. I’ve passed three cops in the last five minutes and didn’t even wince (I might wonder why so many police were out in such a small area, but I won’t worry). I have nothing to prove and nothing to hide from.
This is what it’s like to live in obedience to Jesus. Nothing to prove. Nothing to hide from. Free.
Sure, God gave us all free choice from the get-go. We can choose to go rogue on any issue and follow our whims whenever we choose. And He will still loves us. We can decide if we want to call all the shots or trust Him to guide our decisions. The first, the “on-our-own way” is like telling the government, “I’m not going to have a valid license plate. I don’t like being told what to do. It’s not convenient to go to the BMV. I can’t stand waiting in line. Plus, I’d rather hold onto that cash than spend it on a rectangular piece of metal, thank you very much. And, what are the actual odds of a police officer noticing my expired plate, and then pulling me over? They have bigger fish to fry. There are much bigger crimes. I’ll chance it. Sure, we can choose this alternative. And then we can drive around like we’re paranoid, not enjoying the ride, thinking we need to be sneaky and stealth. Putting additional pressure on ourselves. And risking a pricey fine that could have been avoided. Or in terms of real life, we can fear like we’ll be called out for our past, doubt our worth when we don’t measure up to some worldly expectation, and feel small when we don’t know what someone else is talking about.
OR… we can decide if we want to walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus, listen to Him, and follow His perfect advice—we can simply get that metaphorical license plate. Yes, some days Jesus will ask us to do something inconvenient. Yes, sometimes it will cost us time or money. Sometimes we’ll have to wait. But when we follow Jesus, we can drive around town head held high, owning the fact that we are His sons and daughters. We don’t have to look over our shoulders because of that thing we’re trying to quit or the way we feel inside or the night from our past we wish we could change. Jesus is already clued in. We don’t have to hide anything from Him. He sees us, knows, us, and fully loves us just the same. Jesus has already forgiven all our mistakes past, present, and future. Will we make a bad decision, say something out of anger, slip back into a bad habit, choose the easy way out? We will. For sure mess up. But Jesus will be there, not with sirens wailing and lights flashing, but with a hand to help us up and point us back in the right direction.
Driving with a legitimate license plate isn’t constraining—it’s freeing. It allows me to drive the roads I want to take, to get where I need to be on time, without the potential delay of being pulled over or the unbudgeted cost of a ticket or the angst of worry.
Riding through life with Jesus also isn’t restricting. It’s so incredibly liberating. He offers us love and grace and a better way. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The fruit of the Spirit implants peace in our hearts (Galatians 5:22). When we follow His call, we can turn up the tunes and enjoy the ride, because we know we are fully loved for just who we are, that we have the King of kings on our side, and that we are on a road filled with joy and freedom.
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My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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Laura L. Smith