My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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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.
I was presented with a wonderful ministry opportunity, but it means traveling to a different town in these crazy Covid-19 days, being away from my fabulous family for a night, and missing one of my daughter’s soccer games. It also means some extra work and preparation—translation time. I had mixed emotions. I started praying.
I shut my computer, closed my eyes, whispered the pros and cons I listed above, told God I knew that He knew my heart. I told Him I was worried if I could give both the Bible study I was teaching that same week and this opportunity my best. I asked Him to let me know what He wanted me to do. God popped into my head, What if you used the same topic for both? Sure, they’d have to be a little different, but you could use the same research, prep time, Scriptures, themes—that could make both events even better. I quickly checked the few notes I’d scribbled in pink ink for the upcoming Bible study, and thought, “Hmm. This could work.”
Are you listening?
Before transitioning out of work, I straightened my desk, picking up a stray bookmark that had fallen out of my Bible. It has the hymn I was going to reference in the Bible study printed on it. Side note: I have over a dozen bookmarks currently in my Bible. “Okay, God.” I smiled.
I headed downstairs to start dinner. I was itching to tell my husband about the invitation, because it was exciting, and I wanted his opinion. I told God if He wanted me to go, I’d need my husband’s support, because I want to be in sync with him. But Brett was on a call, so I started cooking and kept the conversation with God going. As I cracked eggs and sliced creamy avocados God whispered scriptures and stories to me as I stirred. He started writing my talk for me in my mind.
Are you listening?
One specific idea was front and center. I wanted to ponder this particular passage more while I cooked. So, I ran back up to my writing nook, found the book I needed, and discovered it was sitting open to the precise page I needed.
When Brett got off his call, I barely got three words out before he said, “You should definitely do this.”
I ask God all the time to help me discern things—know which way to go and when. I ask Him to tell me what I should do next and for the right words to say. And here’s the thing. He answers. All the time. And I’m not saying God always answers pronto like in the example I just gave. Or that He always gives me several iterations of that answer in a row—bam! Bam! Bam! But He does answer all of us when we ask Him questions in a million ways—an idea, an overwhelming sense of peace, a bookmark, a page open to a certain something, a conversation, a reminder of something we’ve talked to God about before, a note from a friend, a song on the speakers that confirms what we thought we just heard.... But do I always notice? Am I really listening?
Or am I too quick to turn on the noise—check Instagram, answer a text, put on an audiobook or music, that drowns out or muffles Christ’s voice? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Communicating with friends and loved ones is awesome. Christian audio books and worship music help me tune into Jesus. Secular novels and music can be great too. But what kind of conversation am I trying to have if I ask God a question and then turn to something else, instead of sitting, quietly, attentively, to hear His reply?
What if I did that to my husband?
“Hey, honey, do you have time to pick up Maguire after school?”
And then instead of waiting for Brett to answer, I immediately opened my phone or slipped in my earbuds or left the room.
I would never know his response. It would also be rude. But somedays I do this to God. No wonder I don’t always hear Him.
“Are you listening?
These are words Jesus spoke over and over again while He was on earth. He shared an important insight into God and love and life—something folks should be taking notes about and then because Jesus knows how distracted we get He asked, “Are you listening?”
I feel like Jesus is asking me this same question.
Maybe He’s asking you, too.
His answers are sometimes slower than we’d like in our instant gratification world. His answers aren’t always what we wanted to hear. Sometimes we get the, That’s not such a good idea or Not now from God even though we’re eager to get going. Sometimes He’ll send us a feeling of warning that we should turn around and stop doing the thing we are about to do. But only because Jesus wants us to know His will for our lives. He wants us to go the places He’s planned for us. He wants us to meet the people He hopes we will be roommates or friends or coworkers with. He wants to keep us from dangerous or toxic scenarios. He wants us to take the job and live in the city where we can live our lives for Him to the fullest. If we ask. And if we listen. He will always answer.
Jesus tells the truth. He gives the best advice. And He asks if we’re paying attention. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the story of a sower with some seeds. He wants His disciples (and us) to know that if we dig our roots deep into Him, we’ll flourish. In this same chapter Jesus tells another story about good crops and thistles—letting us know we can grow, encouraging us to be fruitful, even in the midst of a mixed-up world and all the “thistles” we’ll encounter. In Luke 14 Jesus tells us we’re the salt of the earth—here to bring seasoning, the true flavor to this world. All these things Jesus is saying are so important. We should be hanging on every word. But because Jesus knows our attention spans are tiny, He followed up these teachings with, “Are you listening? Really listening?”
The disciples were concerned with things like politics and number of followers and taxes and who was right and who was wrong. They’d interrupt Jesus to ask about those things. They’d be listening to Him, kind of listening, but they were distracted by all the buzz about the hot topics of their culture. Oh, yeah, maybe we do that, too.
For the record I read the news and think voting is a privilege we should all exercise. We need to know what’s going on in our world, because we live here. But I don’t want to get so tangled up in all that that I miss what Jesus is telling me. I need to take time to be still. To be quiet. So I can hear Him.
Jesus calls us into a conversation. Are we sitting down to chat with Him or barking out our questions and demands and leaving the room?
How do you listen?
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Be still. Go somewhere quiet—a porch, a park, a patch of grass in your yard when everyone else is inside, a picnic table where no one else is sitting. Tell God what’s on your mind, your heart. Tell Him what you’re really worried about today, what has you tied up in knots, or what you’re confused about. And then sit. In the silence. And wait. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day and the next.
Jesus tells us in Mark 4:24-25 “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.”
I want that. More understanding. I’m focusing on sitting still more this week. Listening better. I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I want to hear Him more clearly and more often. He tells us we can. If we pay attention. If we listen closer.
Will you join me? I’d love to hear about the ways you’re listening. Drop a comment and let me know.
For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger and dear friend, Tamara Bundy. Tammy and I both have four kids (two girls and two boys each), husbands who work at Miami University, a love for coffee, books and Jesus, and a passion to write stories. Tammy’s newest title releases January 14, and in the blog this week she writes about something God taught her while writing Pixie Pushes On and she's giving away a free copy of her book (keep reading for details).
Only God could turn a trip to the hospital into an uplifting trip down memory lane. My dad had been in the hospital with, yet another case of pneumonia caused by his compromised lungs due to his Inclusion Body Myositis. We had gotten used to this rotation of hospital stays–at least as much as one can get used to it. But no matter how used to it you pretend to be, sitting with someone you love in a hospital room, while they are hooked up to beeping machines, looking older than you remember them to be, is hard.
My mom and dad both grew up on farms during the 1940’s, but they moved to the city when they got married. Because I grew up a city-kid, I remember being amazed at the farm stories they told—stories about my dad driving tractors as soon as he could see over the steering wheel. Stories of my mom’s favorite lamb, Buster. When it came time to write my second middle grade novel, I knew I wanted it to take place in that setting –and I knew it would have a lamb named Buster.
As I added the fictional elements to the story –such as my main character’s sister having polio, I wanted to ground it in more realities of my parents’ childhoods. That’s when I realized how poorly I’d been listening all those years. Sure, I’d heard their basic stories –but when you’re growing up, you assume you’ll have your parents (and their stories) your whole life. You imagine you’ll always be able to ask them important (and unimportant) things.
My parents lived in Columbus and my family lived two hours away in Cincinnati. Our moments of being in the same room at the same time were few. That day in the hospital was a moment I knew God put in front of me. And so, on that winter day, with my worried mom stationed beside Dad, who didn’t want the attention on him, I tried to distract them. I told them about the new book I was writing. And then, in that scary hospital room I asked my mom and dad to tell me about when they were children.
I wanted their day-to day details of life on the farm. What did they have for lunch at school? How did they get to school? Did they have bathrooms? Electricity? These were all questions that younger-me never bothered to ask, but older-me not only wanted to take the time, but also desperately wanted to slow it down.
Then, amidst the din of the machines helping my dad breathe, another sound blissfully prevailed. This sound of youthful stories of milking cows, gathering eggs, tending gardens. Mom and Dad were no longer 80-something-year-old’s watching their lives slip away. My mom became, again, the ten-year-old chasing the fuzzy little lamb she bottle-fed. My dad, once more, was in fifth grade having to eat the cold, slimy fried-egg sandwich he didn’t like, but had to eat because, as my grandma told him, “If the chickens are laying eggs, we’re eating eggs.”
My parents remembered. They talked and talked. I swear, they even giggled. If possible, they physically grew younger in front of me. And I wrote down every exquisite detail I could manage through the happy tears gathering in my eyes.
My dad passed away not long after that treasured afternoon.
On January 14, the book I was writing, Pixie Pushes On releases from Nancy Paulsen Books. And yes, I am thrilled to have readers meet Pixie, her Granddaddy, Grandma, Sissy, Daddy –and her lamb named Buster. But most of all, I am filled with joy that if I look closely between the lines of this story, I can see traces of my parents’ childhoods. And within those pages, they will stay young forever.
My dad wouldn’t mind that attention at all. I imagine he would even say, “That’s fine and dandy.”
(click here to listen to the song "Fine and Dandy" written and performed by Tamara's kids a.k.a. The Bundys, in honor of Tamara's dad)
If you are blessed to have older people in your life – ask them about their childhoods, their special memories. You don’t have to be writing a book. You just have to ask. And then listen. Listen as the years melt away. Listen to their stories. Maybe you’ll even decide to write some of the memories down.
It’s never too late. Start today, start now. Ask God to guide you. Afterall, He managed to turn a hospital trip into an uplifting trip down memory lane, leaving me with a precious memory that is, indeed, one for the books.
To win an autographed copy of Tammy’s Pixie Pushes On leave a comment in the comment section below of the blog. One winner will be selected by number randomizer on January 13. Open to continental U.S. residents only.
Tamara Bundy is a children’s book author as well as the author of several non-fiction inspirational books. A former columnist for the Cincinnati Post, she currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Miami University. You can follow her on all social media platforms as well as at www.tamarabundy.com
I’d received three rejections in three days on a proposal for a new book my agent was pitching for me. The first one, I thought, “Oh well, God has a better plan.” The second, I thought, “Even though they’re not taking my book, the editor’s feedback was encouraging.” The third? My first and only thought for quite a while was: Ugh.
The publishing industry is packed with NOs. It’s part of the gig. Some publishing houses already have full lists, a similar idea in the works, specific requirements they’re currently looking for that I, or this particular book, don’t meet. I try not to take these “no thank yous” personally. But three in three days was a lot to deflect.
I felt like this door might be shutting. It felt like ALL the doors were actually slamming shut.
God, you wanted me to write this book, right? Then, why so many turndowns?
God remained sturdy. He always does. Trust me,I felt Him, respond.
Which is not the answer I wanted, because I wanted to know the details.Wherewill this book land? When? Willit find a publisher at all? If not, whatdo You want me to do with it, Lord? But God’s answer was, of course, complete.
Trust Jesus. Because Jesus is the One gave me the idea for the book in the first place, because He always knows what’s right and best for me, for you, for us.
I chatted with Jesus for a long while, asking Him to help me let go of my expectations, and trust Him more. I asked Him to shake off the lies that my writing wasn’t enough, and the inevitable follow up lie, that I wasn’t enough. I thanked Him for the privilege of being able to write for Him. I thanked Him for knowing even before He asked me to write this book how and when He would use it. He washed calmness over me. He reminded me I was His and loved. Feeling more centered and peaceful I got back to my day,
I grabbed some almond milk out of the fridge to top off my coffee, but the refrigerator door didn’t seal. I pushed it more tightly the second time. I ran out to my car to put a new pack of gum in my console, but when I tried to close it, the lid bounced back up like a broken jack-in-the-box. A-ha! My aux cord needed to be maneuvered. Going from the garage back inside took me through the laundry room, so I grabbed a load from the dryer, but the laundry room door wouldn’t shut. A backpack jutting out from its peg near the door was the culprit. After folding the clothes I carried some dish towels to the kitchen and slid them in their drawer—only an oven mitt stubbornly blocked the way. Again, I moved things around to slide the drawer shut. Upstairs, I placed some of my husband’s black t-shirts in our closet, only, you guessed it, the door caught on something as I went to shut it.
I got frustrated and may have uttered out loud, “Why won’t you shut, you stinking door?”
Everything I tried to close wouldn’t. Too many things to be natural or normal. I needed to stop, breathe, and consider what Jesus was saying. In that moment of stillness by the closet I heard Him say, “I’m not closing your doors, Laura. I’m keeping them open.” Cue tears.
Jesus sees us. He knows us. He loves us. And He cares so much about our every move. He heard me talking to Him, and saw me stand up more settled, but not fully. He saw me folding laundry and putting away towels. Jesus understood I want to trust Him completely with my writing and everything else, but my human heart struggles. I’m impatient and emotional. And He speaks to me, and to you, too, with constant little reminders—the tiniest details right where we are, as simple as a stuck door (or several) to give us sweet encouragement.
I don’t know what Jesus intends to happen with my manuscript. It could be months before I hear back from all the publishers my agent pitched. It might become a bestseller or not get published at all. I don’t know how Jesus is going to use this thing He asked me to write, but I do know He will use it. Because He called me to write it. Sometimes it feels so easy when Christ calls us to something new—the excitement, the possibilities, the novelty of it all. But somewhere in the midst of the work, of walking around our proverbial walls of Jericho the fifth time around we lose hope or worry. Jesus reminded me that He’s with me, that He didn’t ditch me mid-way through this project, that He knows exactly what’s going on, and just wanted to tell me no matter how things appear, He’s keeping doors open.
Yes, sometimes Jesus shuts doors—when they lead us the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time. If you’re uncertain if Jesus wants you to move forward or change lanes or turn around, ask Him, He’ll tell you. But when God calls us to something, when He sparks something in us, He brings it to completion. He wouldn’t pack you full of a talent, plop you in a certain place, introduce you to that person, or light you up with an idea, and then just stomp it out. No, our God finishes what He starts. Not just always how we imagine.
What has God asked you to do for Him? Are you believing the lies that it’s too hard, you’re not capable of seeing it through, or nobody likes your idea? Are you tired? Discouraged? Because nothing is too hard for Jesus. He’s capable of seeing any project through to the end. And if He gave you the idea, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter. Trust Him and His call. And when the time is right, Jesus, like a perfect gentleman, will hold the right door, the one He’s been planning for you all along, wide open for you to walk through. I’m sure of it.
“Is everyone okay?” My mom called down the hallway.
A loud crash, as if a bunk bed had caved into itself and tumbled to the floor, rang throughout my mom’s mountain house. Mom rushed toward the noise. I was a half step behind.
A serviceman had been walking the eaves of the attic space and stepped off a beam, literally putting his foot through the drywall of the upper story’s floor, which was also the laundry room’s ceiling. When you’re in an attic the beams are the only sturdy flooring. He was doing his job. Going about his work. But one step off the path he was supposed to be on, and, well, his foot came through the ceiling.
An hour or so later we went down the mountain to the resort where the bridge that has connected the tennis and basketball courts with the beach for as long as I can remember was wiped out. Caution tape haphazardly strung on the remaining wooden posts warned us not to step where there is no longer any footing. A flood came through earlier this spring and strong torrents of rushing water claimed the bridge as its own.
Dang. We have to be careful where we walk.
And I sense this in my current season. I hear God calling me to new things, great things, things I had better watch my step as I move forward, so that I stay on the sturdy beams He’s set before me to walk on, so that I don’t stumble or fall on this journey by trying to do things my own way—off roading from His route. I sense this as one of my sons considers where he’ll go to college. I know God has a plan for him with a strong, secure pathway. I want him to choose that path, not one that is wobbly or unstable.
Gosh, just in the last few days in my life, a friend got fired after giving years of loyal service to his organization, another friend’s mom got a horrible health diagnosis, and another family has been turned inside out by something completely unexpected. These are just people I know. How do we stand strong when the torrents of life blow around us?
How do we avoid putting our feet through the floor or having the bridge go out beneath us? How do we walk strong and fast and secure both in the glorious new opportunities of life and when the storms hit?
As I stand and stare at the beautiful Smoky mountains, ridge after ridge of magnificent landforms, I can’t help but feel Jesus reminding me of the words He spoke to a crowd gathered around Him on a mountain one day.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” –Matthew 7:24-27
Some days everything looks totally fine, wonderful even, but if we try to venture where we aren’t intended to go we could fall into danger. Some days rain drizzles and soaks our lives. Streams rise. Winds blow and beat against us.
But Jesus is steady and secure. No misstep can throw Him off course. No unexpected event can knock Him down. No natural disaster or flood of emotions or insults or bills can wear Him down. He is solid impermeable, unshakable rock. Yes, please, I want to build my foundation on Him.
I don’t need a hammer and nails. Thanks goodness! Picture hanging is about as handy as I get. All I have to do is hang out with Him. Talk to Jesus and share my praises and problems. Listen to His sweet, tender voice. Let the sun soak my skin and the breeze brush across my face and be still in Christ’s love allowing Him to shape my life.
What’s going on in your life today? Are you in a peaceful place? A time of excitement and growth? Or are you just holding on for dear life? In any and all of these circumstances you need a place to stand. Stand on Jesus. He loves you so deeply. His strong arms will hold you tight when you’re wobbly, hold your burden when your hands feel too full, and cheer for you when you’re in your groove. No matter what kind of life-weather comes your way, Jesus is unshakable. And He’s on your side. Why not build your life in Him?
It’s raining. Heavy drops pelt our wood deck just off our family room. I hear water rolling down the roof and trickling down the smooth glass of the windows. The sound fills our momentarily quiet house, as two kids are at the rec center, one’s playing video games, and one is showering. The swooshing, dripping, pattering sounds like a symphony of various water instruments all playing their parts, together forming a gorgeous gift to my ears. That is, if I listen. Because earlier, when I was sending someone’s Christmas list to Grandma, making a reservation for dinner, and booking a haircut for my son, while filling my water bottle, I didn’t hear it. It was raining then, just like it is now, but I missed the beauty of it. Somewhere in my head I acknowledged the weather, but I wasn’t listening.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Jesus asked his disciples after telling them about the sower who scattered seed on various kinds of soil. This exact phrase is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so I feel like it’s important, a verbatim quote. So am I really listening? Are we? And when I look at the story Jesus had just told about some seed taking sprout, and other seed not so much, I realize how important it is to listen to Him, because I want His seeds to grow in my life, to flourish, to produce fruit. But is His voice what I tune my ears to, or do I allow the noise of the world to drown Jesus out.
Because life is noisy. And when it’s not, when it’s silent, we get antsy, and seek to fill the quiet. If no one’s talking in the car, we flip on the radio or plug in ear buds. If we’re standing in line we tap our phone screens filling our brain with visual noise, quotes and scores, snaps and stories. One friend I love has multiple televisions on throughout her house, so her rooms don’t feel “too quiet.” What if instead, we grabbed those pockets of silence as opportunities to hear God? When we fill our days with so much sound, are we able to hear God above the noise? Am I even trying to?
Yes! Of course I want to hear God. And I am trying to. So, I get out my Bible and journal in the mornings. And I read and I write and I pray. But I often get distracted. Because the dryer buzzes, and the UPS man rings the doorbell, and someone asks if I’ve seen their keys, and I get a text, and now that I’m on my phone... Instagram. Plus I remember I still want to send a card to a new friend who wasn’t on our list last year, and wrap those cozy sweats I got one of the cousins, and order one more thing from Amazon, and get the chicken out of the freezer now so it has time to thaw. And then the Bible verse that was resonating, the thought I was about to jot down, that thing God and I were talking about escapes me. And I try to go back to where I was.
Sometimes I step back in the flow of my conversation with God, but sometimes I don’t, because now I don’t have time, and I’ll return to it later. Or will I? Sometimes God and I have a fantastic chat in the mornings, but by three in the afternoon it’s nowhere on my radar, or some mornings I go through the motions, but my brain is on all the other things and nothing seems to stick. But I want it to. I want to know what Jesus has to say. About my marriage. About my kids. About my writing. About all of the things. So, am I listening? Are you?
In the last week my daughter had a piano recital, my youngest son had his Fine Arts night, and my older son played guitar in church. So much beautiful music to hear. My daughter, who hasn’t played since she was little, practiced her song over and over, and was a bit nervous to play in front of all those people for her exam grade in piano class. I prayed that she’d do her best, that she’d be confident in her playing. And she slid onto that bench and pounded out “All of Me,” on the keys filling the theatre with beautiful chords. I held my breath the entire time. It was lovely. My youngest warned us his bell for the bell song was “bigger than his head,” and thus difficult to ring. He also warned, “Don’t look at me, because, I’ll mess up.” But I couldn’t help but look, and pray his bell would ring, and he’d actually enjoy the experience. Sure enough, he lifted that giant brass bell, and the notes rang clear and loud. During worship on Sunday my ears honed in on the electric guitar, because when my son plays I want to hear his part. I peeked at him up there in his plaid flannel, and prayed he’d use his talents to glorify God. The notes from his instrument filled my ears and my heart with joy.
I was listening. Extra hard. Because these are my kids. And I love them. And I’m proud of them, that they played their songs all in with their various levels of interest and talent. This is how God listens to us—completely tuned in. We’re His kids, and He loves us, and He’s proud of us, in all of our unique skillsets both when we do the things we love and the things we’re assigned. If the God of the Universe is paying so much attention to every note we play, are we listening to Him?
Wow. I’m trying. But not always as intently as I’d like to. I make excuses, but I didn’t make excuses when my kids were playing, and God doesn’t make excuses when I’m talking to Him. So, for me, I realize it’s time to ditch the distractions and get back to being full-on focused on Jesus.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.” —Matthew 13:16-17 MSG
Jesus gave us the ears and the opportunities to hear Him—what a gift! So, are we listening, really listening, like we’d focus on our kids in a concert, or our favorite part of our favorite Christmas song, or the funniest line from Elf? Because Jesus is listening to us. And He has so much to tell us, so much love to share with us. He tells us we’re chosen. We’re holy. We’re loved. We’re His. If only we’ll listen.
The rain has stopped now. A bird chirps out my window, insistent and shrill. I hear it, because I’ve put myself in a quiet place, where I can hear better. It’s a reminder to me, to set myself up well to hear Jesus. To temporarily tune out all of the other noise each morning, to take advantage of moments of silence throughout my day, to hone into the beautiful melody of love and forgiveness and joy and courage and strength Jesus sings to me, to all of us. It’s my all-time favorite song. And I want to listen to it, really listen.
Do you remember that song from preschool, “Where is Thumbkin?” Thumbkin?!!! Oh my gosh, how was that even a song? Allow me to get it stuck in your head:
Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin?
Here I am. Here I am.
How are you today, sir?
Very fine, I thank you.
Run and hide.
Run and hide
If you’re not familiar with this classic, there are hand-motions. Because preschool. You hold your hands behind your back and at the appointed time each thumb makes an appearance in front of your body to say, “Here I am.” After the quick thumb conversation, both thumbs run back and hide behind your back. This is repeated with all of your fingers. Okay, so honest? I loved taking my thumbs and hiding them behind my back. Why was this so fun for me? Maybe because I’m an introvert. Maybe even at the age of three I was grateful for the time a conversation (even between thumbs) could be over, and I had permission to “run and hide.”
One on one I want to talk with you all day long and get to know you and your entire life story. But put me in the middle of a group of five or more (for example a preschool classroom) and I’m done for. In front of a crowd with a microphone is easy breezy for me, oddly not an issue, but in the crowd? Yikes. Run away.
But here’s the deal. Everyone wants to be seen, to be noticed, to be acknowledged, honestly, to be loved. Every one. So when I duck my head or stick in earbuds, I may be protecting myself from a socially awkward moment, but I’m robbing someone else of being heard, of being seen. Do you ever avoid conversations? Why? How do you go about doing it?
The Bible doesn’t talk about Jesus being an extrovert or an introvert. I’m guessing, because He’s perfect at everything else, that He’s the perfect balance between the two. We see Jesus both speaking to thousands of people and intentionally getting away from crowds to pray and rest. You know what else we see as we follow Jesus’ days on earth by reading the Bible? Him talking to people. Him looking folks in the eye. All people. The ones who were in his face vying for his attention AND those who were trying to be invisible.
Jesus spoke to the obnoxious Pharisees who thought they had all the answers about religion, even though Jesus is clearly the only one who has ever had a corner on that market. Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, the rich, corrupt tax collector hiding in a tree, because He was too ashamed to face Jesus. Jesus initiated a conversation with the woman at the well who intentionally went to the well when no one else would be there, so she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Jesus started a conversation with the woman caught in adultery who had been thrown on the street. Jesus wants to talk to you, too. No matter what your mood, or what you think you do or don’t know about a certain topic, or where you’ve been, or what you look like, or how busy you are, or what you’re ashamed of.
And Jesus calls us to do the same to the people around us.
I’m not saying we have to engage in super long conversations with every person we run into today. But I’m challenging us—both the extroverts who would prefer to be at the center of attention, to tell their stories and jokes AND the introverts who would prefer to remain silent—to look someone in the eye, congratulate them on a win or a good grade or a promotion or an anniversary. Ask a couple of questions, dig deeper than saying (or singing), “How are you today, sir?” before you ‘run and hide’ behind your comfortable group of friends, your sarcasm, your work, your to-do list, or your sunglasses.
What if each of us reached out to one additional person today in a genuine way? This could be via text or email or sending a card or yes, actually going up to someone and asking what their favorite song from the show or service was, or how their family is adjusting to the new school year, or what they thought of the guest speaker, or maybe even as simple as, “I haven’t met you yet. What’s your name?” What if we each helped one more person be known, heard, seen, understood, even in the smallest of ways. What if we all took a lesson from Jesus and helped someone else realize that they are loved, that they are accepted, that God is good? Because we are all loved. Us, too. Introverts and extroverts. We are all accepted. You, me, and the garbage man. And God is so very good. Let’s spread the word. Let’s engage.
And Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. —Mark 12:17
When Jesus reached the spot (where Zacchaeus was hiding), He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” –Luke 19:5
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”—John 4:7
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” —John 8:11-12
Have you ever watched an episode of the show Shark Tank? Our family is hooked. I mean, my husband is an entrepreneurship professor, but oddly he’s not the one driving our current obsession—it’s our twelve-year old son (insert laughing/crying emoji here). Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality show where real entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs (the sharks) in hopes that the seasoned professionals will invest in their new idea and help them grow their business.
People come in passionate about their ideas for everything from gourmet cupcakes to reflective life-saving devices. The entrepreneur gives a quick synopsis of what their product is, the need it fills, and why the sharks should invest in them. Next, the expert entrepreneurs (with net worths of over $50 million a piece) ask tough questions, give advice, and frequently make offers to invest in the proposed new business ideas for a percentage of the entrepreneur’s company.
It takes passion and guts to go on this show and face the scrutiny of the sharks. Our family loves to hear the wacky and interesting pitches. We also love to guess which, if any shark, will partner with the excited entrepreneur. And we are dumbfounded when the person pitching an idea refuses to listen to the advice of the seasoned millionaires and turns down deals for hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they want to do things their way. They really want their business to be a retail store instead of an online store even though the folks who have made millions online are instructing them to go away from strip malls OR they really want to sell their product for a premium price when all the sharks who have made a bundle selling things on QVC and Best Buy recommend they make their product less expensive and sell it the masses. The entrepreneurs come to the show for expert advice and funding, but they often walk away from it, because they don’t want to hear what the specialists are suggesting.
He who has ears, let him hear. –Matthew 13:9
Do we do this? Do I do this? Do I go to God for expert advice, and then turn away from Him, because what He has to say isn’t always what I want to hear? Things like; be patient, not now, not him, not here, try again, forgive, go deeper, one more time, bite your tongue…to name a few.
I get it. I’ll spend months or years pouring myself into a manuscript, searching for perfect words and phrases, studying Bible passages, rewriting, revising, and rewriting again. And then I hand it over to my critique partners, agent, or an editor. My manuscript always comes back with countless edits. And my instinct is, I can’t take out that chapter, I worked so hard on it. Or I don’t want to find a different example to use here. I felt that one illustrated my point. But then, I take a deep breath. Put aside my pride. Let go of “my way.” And realize, these opinions are expert opinions—from writers I trust, an agent who is on my side, editors who know the industry. These comments aren’t a personal affront; they are words of wisdom given with kindness, to help my writing grow. My kids get similar input from their coaches. Friends get it from their doctors or bosses—advice from those who know best. This is what the sharks are trying to give the business owners who come on Shark Tank—knowledge, wisdom, a deeper understanding.
And this is what God gives us too. We go about our lives making our choices, planning our days, doing our things, fighting our battles. We wish God would just clean up our messes, make our decisions easy, and solve our problems. But are we turning to Him to get the answers? Or just hoping He’ll drop a new job, cure, or nap, in our laps? Are we listening to the advice He’s already given us—His knowledge, wisdom, and deeper understanding that comes from Him, because He is God? Or are we walking away from it, because it conflicts with what we’d like to hear?
Should we take that job? Hang out with that person? Attend that event? Go that place? Confront this friend? The expert opinion is there—at our fingertips between the pages of the Bible. It’s also available when we pause and talk to God and let Him fill our heart with answers, or maybe when we talk to another friend who loves Jesus and she reminds us who God is and how that impacts our decisions. Yes, we want answers. We all want answers, but are we listening when God gives them to us?
I’m reminded of that story about a man in a flood who begged God to save him. A woman came along with a raft and told the man to hop on. He said, “No, thanks, I’m waiting for God to save me.” A guy came by with a boat and told him to climb aboard. The man said, “No thanks, I’m waiting on God to save me.” As the waters were surrounding him, an airplane flew overhead and dropped a rope. But the man didn’t reach out, because he was waiting on God. He died in the flood, went to heaven and asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I sent you a raft, a boat, and an airplane! Why didn’t you hop on?”
I’m full of questions, too. I have big questions like how to handle a strained relationship. I have smaller questions like wondering if I should run more to build up my cardio or pull back to protect my trick knee. God wants to guide me. He wants to guide you, too. He has plans for us for glorious living, and he wants us to walk into those plans and live them full out. God’s not going to keep it a secret from us. If He really wants us to move or invite that person or take a chance, God will let us know. Maybe that’s why Jesus asks six times in the Bible, “Are you listening to this, really listening?” Mark 4:23
We need to listen to the advice He’s put in front of us. Keep our eyes open—seek Him in prayer and through studying His word. Seek Him in those around us. Take time from our whirlwind summers to allow His love and peace and joy to sink into our sunburnt skin. We need to understand that sometimes that raft or expert advice from a shark is the answer from God we’re looking for. And just because it’s different than what we hoped to hear or how we thought it might sound, doesn’t mean we should tune it out, or walk away.
My heart is circling around three questions this week. All because of Shark Tank. Gheesh.
I’m praying for all of us this week. That we truly understand how great our God is. Those millionaires on Shark Tank have some brilliant business ideas. Can you even fathom how much greater God’s advice is? I’m praying we understand this awesomeness, and then tap into Him—the guidance and love He freely gives us, the offers He makes. I’m praying we’re bold enough to joyfully say, “God, I am so excited to go with your plan—to accept your offer!”
I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
Laura L. Smith