When I was little I had a picture book, a Golden Book, (does anyone remember those?) starring Grover from Sesame Street. It was titled The Monster at the End of This Book. The plot is Grover warning the reader not to turn the page, because he is so frightened about the monster on the last page. Turns out, the monster on the last page is Grover. Sometimes the monsters we are most frightened of are ourselves.
You guys I am typically a smiley, happy girl. I’m a morning person. I’m a hugger. I love sunshine and daisies. My glass is half full. But there is a monster that lives inside of me. She came out yesterday, on the phone with a customer service representative. I said things out loud to this poor woman like, “I don’t need you to repeat the same sentence over and over to me.” Oh my.
What gets in to me? Why in the world would I treat someone on the other end of the phone with disrespect and unkindness? I can try to justify that I was extremely frustrated, that it was for my college daughter’s debit card, and she’s going to need it as she heads out of town and back to campus. And I love my daughter and instinctively protect her. But the woman whose job it is to process debit cards does not deserve my sass. No one does.
I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, if the Christmas returns or bills brought out your inner-monster? Maybe you turn into monster-mode in rush hour traffic, long lines or after a long day of working or parenting or all of the above. If so, how do you handle these emotions? What does it take for you to simmer down?
Me? I literally had to get off the phone. I ended the call without any resolution whatsoever by saying, “I’m so frustrated I just need to go. Have a great day.” I did sneak in ‘have a great day’, but no one was buying my brand of fake friendliness.
Once off the phone, I walked a lap around the house, took a couple of deep breaths, and tried to figure out why I got so riled up. God reminded me no matter what happened on the other end of the phone, I could control what happened on my end, and I had chosen poorly. I immediately asked God to forgive me. Because hadn’t my pride just taken over? My feeling of entitlement? So not pretty. I apologized to my daughter who had overheard the whole conversation, because I was ashamed of how I'd handled the call. Very poor modeling on my end. I don’t know how to apologize to the woman on the phone, or to the woman from Time Warner I spoke to last month when canceling cable, or to the Samsung representative I spoke to last summer when my washing machine was exploding. But I’m doing it here. A public confession of my rudeness. I didn’t curse or call anyone names, but I was extremely impatient and ungrateful. And I am so sorry. This is not behavior becoming of anyone. And it is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when He instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To all of you customer service reps, YOU ARE AMAZING FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL OF THE NONSENSE. I appreciate each and every one of you. I can’t imagine what you hear in a day. I am so sorry I did not treat you with the love you deserve.
This monster inside of me. I do not like her. Like Grover, I fear getting to the part in the story where I emerge—possibly when I need to call the insurance company. So I’m taking this one to God. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (7:15), I want to say, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
The good news? Jesus. Jesus forgives all of this yuck, and the rest of the ickiness inside us, too. He restores our brokenness and heals our wounds. He files down our fangs, clips our claws, and tames our roars. And then even though He sees plain and clear the monster part, Jesus pulls us in close, hugs us and says, “I love you.”
As Paul asks then answers a few verses down (v. 24-25) to the Romans, “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Brandon Heath puts it similarly in his song, “Wait and See”:
There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans He's made for me
I'll have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet
This is the very best news. If there’s any percent monster in you (even a blue, fluffy one) then know it’s okay. There’s hope for us. God loves us anyway. He’s not finished with us. He has great plans for us that go way above and beyond phone calls and driving through traffic. Whew. We can turn the page and do so with courage and expectance of how God will guide us and help us back on track when we stray.
P.S. They’ve animated The Monster at the End of This Book and Grover narrates it. If you have a little one, this is a brilliant way to entertain them when their inner monster is flaring.
My husband and I joke that God’s voice might sound a whole lot like James Earl Jones'. We were reminded of that tonight. We had a family movie night and watched Field of Dreams. I hadn’t seen this movie since it first came out, which was closing on twenty years ago—yikes! But I still remembered the key line, “Build it and they will come.”
You guys I feel like that all of the time. Like God is whispering to me, “Write it and they will read. Write about your kids’ soccer games, what a bad driver you are, how you let a squirrel into church, peanut butter, that book you read.”
And I think, “Eh? Really? Who wants to hear about that?”
And God, says, “Write it. Write if for Me. I’ll do something with it.”
And so I write. And I hope someone will read the words. But more importantly I pray over each blog that it will somehow impact somebody out there, that someone will understand how much God loves them just a little bit better. That someone will truly believe in their bones a milli-moment more that they are uniquely created by the ultimate Creator to do amazing things. I pray before I open the lid of my Mac, before I click “publish” on a new blog, before I push “send” on a proposal or manuscript or revisions or fourth round of revisions to an editor, before I walk out in front of an audience, before I sync something on social media. I pray that God will use the words He gave me for His glory.
Because none of the words come from me. None of the stories come from me.
Just like Kevin Costner hears a voice in the cornfield telling him to build a baseball field, I believe God calls me to write the craziest things, the things that don’t make sense. But when I do? Something insane happens. It’s no longer about the stories I tell, it’s all about getting closer to Jesus. For a flash, I catch a glimpse His all encompassing love and power. And it is marvelous.
I also believe that God calls each of you to the zaniest most fabulous things. What is He calling you to do today? How weird does it sound? How limitless are the possibilities?
Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, built a baseball field, not because he’d always wanted to, not because it made sense, not to turn a profit, or to give his daughter a place to play, but simply in obedience to a voice. And then?
And Ray questions and wonders if he made the right decision, if he was out of his mind. But one day Ray walks outside and sees baseball legend, Shoeless Joe, standing on his field. The next day several baseball greats are playing on Ray’s field. The movie ends with Ray unexpectedly healing one of his own hurts and a line of cars coming to pay admission to see his field. Ray obeyed the voice even when it seemed counterintuitive to everything he knew. And something awesome happened. That’s how God works.
“March around a wall seven times. That’s how you’ll take this city,” God told Joshua and his army as they faced the impenetrable wall of Jericho. And the walls fell down.
“Oh yeah, fight their army of thousands carrying tons of sharp weapons with only pots and trumpets. You’re sure to win,” God told Gideon and his army of 300. And they won.
The poor will be rich.
The blind will see.
What wackiness is God calling you to?
We’ll all hear His voice in different ways. He calls us all to unique, specific work. And sometimes what God says seems out of the question, like something we would never be able or want to do. Ray’s wife, Annie, in Field of Dreams asks, “Why didn’t the voice send someone else?” And sometimes we ask that same question. Even Moses asked that question. But when God calls you. He calls YOU.
This film came out in 1989. Technology was different. Very. I laughed when Kevin Costner goes to the library and views microfiche, and when his wife answers the telephone with a cord. Plugged into the wall. My husband and I had to explain these things to the children. What if no one had followed God’s call to invent Google to replace microfiche or cell phones to replace wall phones? Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple spoke in our college town this past week about all of the things he was curious about, all the problems he wanted to solve, how if something had a glitch he wanted to fix it. What if he hadn’t? What if you don’t answer God’s voice? What will the world miss out on?
What is God calling you to do today? To build? To create? To join? To take on? To write? To learn? To say? To act upon?
What’s stopping you? Are you afraid of what someone will think or how they’ll react? Are you unsure of the numbers? Of the odds? Of yourself?
I know Field of Dreams is a movie, folks, but I was overwhelmed by how much it mirrors God’s call in our lives. Kevin Costner looks cuckoo. He risks his farm, his profit, and his reputation. But he knows it is what he is called to do. And just when everything seems to be falling apart—like he’ll lose his land and go bankrupt, everything falls into place.
Because God’s plans are perfect plans. Yes, His plans seem out there sometimes. Because, well He’s not of this world. Sometimes earthly obstacles feel like roadblocks when we try executing God’s plans. But if we’re obedient, if we listen when He asks us to do something? Then baseball legends from the past walk out of cornfields, strangers read about my quirky days and somehow feel God’s love, battles are won, slaves freed, and the meek inherit the earth.
I positively love the beautiful little college town we live in. But this summer it has been attacked by the construction army. I cannot turn right out of or park in my neighborhood. One of the three main roads going through our small town has been closed all summer, and the route leading south out of town to where all of our soccer practices take place has been limited to one lane since June.
The crews are frantically trying to finish up. The college students and their parents will arrive in two weeks, and unless roads are open and running they won’t know which way to go.
For me, it’s been slightly inconvenient, but not a huge deal. I’ve had to plan my trips. How to get from here to there? is the question I keep asking myself. And since I’ve lived in Oxford for sixteen years I do know where to go. I know I can go a mile north out of my way, cruise parallel to the road I want to take, head back south a mile and end up on my normal route. I know that even though it’s near impossible to get to one of the houses we carpool with for soccer, there is a parking lot both families can get to as a meeting point. I know this, not because I’m a good driver. I’m not. Not because I have a good sense of direction. I might have the worst. I know this, because I’ve spent enough time here to know my town.
My life is undergoing a little bit of construction too.
How about yours?
My oldest daughter is going off to college. My oldest son is learning to drive. Both of which create all kinds of letting go, releasing, and reacclimating. There’s also some roadwork within our extended family—health issues, relationship problems. We all go through changes, some of them more painful than others. My issues are minor—a lane closure, no edge lines. I’m sure many of you have the same or much worse—barricaded sections of your life, some roads permanently altered, some bridges torn down. I’m sorry times are difficult. Please know I’m praying for you.
So how do we get around when our normal routes are shut down? When we have to change the way we do things or get places? When the roads of life are harder or impossible to travel? Not by ourselves. Because frankly, I’m not wise enough to have all the answers, strong enough to walk through all the hard stuff, or patient enough to get from A to B by myself. But with Jesus, I can do all that. And so can you.
By knowing Jesus so well that even when we have no idea where to turn, we can trust Him to show us which way to go. By knowing how much He loves us and cares for us and walks with us that we know we’re never alone. By knowing how strong and capable He is, how He can literally move mountains or anything else in our life that needs moved. By knowing Jesus is for us, fighting for us, that He wants us to come out safe and sound.
The more I read the Bible, the better I understand what Jesus is capable of, how immense He is, and how much grace He extends. The more time I spend talking with Him, the more I feel the power of His love, the guidance of His hand, the reassurance of His presence. And then all of a sudden, maneuvering through life construction is more manageable.
The construction in Oxford will be winding down soon. Over the next two weeks cones, barricades, and strong workers in orange vests will disappear. The locals will sigh in relief. The students and their families will marvel at the pretty brick streets, the freshly painted lines, and the lovely planters lining the roads. And for a while, driving around here will feel simple. But next summer there will be new projects to make sure our town remains picturesque. I’ll be ready. Because by then, I’ll have had yet another year to learn my way around this place.
And in my life and yours, some things will work themselves out, others will go away. But some will flare up and expand. There will be new bumps and trials we’ll go through and experience. And the better we know Jesus, the better we’ll be able to navigate through all of them.
The other night my husband and I were on the back deck unwinding our day. We let the warm summer evening breeze blow through and around the thoughts, concerns, and conversations we’d experienced since our morning java. Brett was relaying something hilarious one of the kids said when he interrupted himself, pointed at the sky, and proclaimed, “Look at the moon!”
I turned my gaze upward and there it was, orange and mysterious barely peeking out from behind gauzy clouds. For the first thirty minutes of our conversation it had been hidden from view, but certainly not absent. It had been a darker than normal evening, but the moon was there. It’s always there. Even when we can’t see it.
The same is true with God.
He is always there.
Even when we can’t see Him.
Because there are days when we can’t see Him, aren’t there? Days when the clouds of unexpected expenses, unpredicted demands, and unappreciated criticism come our way and cloud our view of Him and His love for us. There are other days when we’re swamped—sprinting to the next and the next and the next, and ‘dang I forgot to text her back’ and ‘I never called the repairman’. On those days, we don’t even take time to look up. And then there are days when the brightness of fill-in-the-blank with whatever you seem fixated on lately seems as bright as the sun, a glare making it hard to see anything else but that distraction.
But just like the moon, God’s still there. He never goes away or disappears just because of circumstances, our decision not to seek Him, or the things we get distracted by. He is still there and He is still working. Consistently and constantly.
The moon, whether we see it or not, is pulling the tides of the 321,000,000 cubic miles of water in the oceans. Every single day. The moon constantly keeps the earth from wobbling as it spins. It does this at night when it glows in the sky and during the day when it’s barely visible if visible at all. The moon even tugs at babies still in the womb, beckoning them to come out into the world. Don’t believe me? You should have been walking the hallways of Northside Hospital, a.k.a. the Baby Factory, with me the night our first child was born. There were so many women who went into labor that night of a full moon there weren’t enough beds available. True story. The moon does all that, when we’re inside and have a roof blocking our views. It’s in action when we’re outside and thick storm clouds cover its glow. Even when it’s daytime and the sun is bright and the moon is dim, when all that’s observable from earth is the tiny sliver or a toenail moon, when we’re outside, but busy, distracted and not looking up, in all those times the moon never stops doing its thing.
And God created the moon. Can you imagine how much more He’s doing 24/7? When we don’t see God, we can’t dismiss His power, His attention to details, or His love for us. Even in the stressful times, the stagnant times, the struggles, and the storms God is strengthening us, building our character, and blessing us with gifts.
We never doubt that the moon is up there somewhere doing its thing, so why do we ever doubt God?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. —Hebrews 11:1
Trust in His constancy today. No matter what cards life has dealt you, God is on your side. He is pulling you safely from the tides, steadying you from spinning out of control, and beckoning you into His loving arms.
My husband and I recently snuck away to Monterosso, a small Italian fishing village. In my eyes, it is the most beautiful place on earth. Monterosso is an adorable water-colored village nestled along the coast, protected by jagged cliffs and connected by trains and trails to four other neighboring towns that together comprise the Cinque Terre (five lands).
A train ride from one town to another lasts approximately three minutes. But if you travel by foot, the hikes take between two to three hours. The trails climb up from the centers of the towns through vineyards and past waterfalls to high peaks. They level out offering countless views of the aqua blue Ligurian Sea, then wind back down into the next adorable village. Each trail is unique—one is predominantly stairs, another slanty and muddy, some narrow, some broad, but they all promise to work your leg muscles, provide you with spectacular vistas, and guide you along the way via red and white trail markers.
Okay, I’m laughing as I type. Because the trail markers, well, they’re not like the street signs this Ohio girl is accustomed to. They are basically hand painted stripes that could show up on a rock, a tree, a signpost, or any seemingly random interval the trailblazer decided to paint them. So let’s just say as my husband and I hiked our way through the Cinque Terre, we took more than a few wrong turns at Albuquerque.
But the markers were always there, albeit sometimes hidden. And when we felt extremely uncertain and unsure, we could hone in, focus, and eventually find another set of red and white stripes—on a fence, on a wall—reminding us where to go, to keep us headed in the right direction.
Step after step, bend after bend, the twists of the trails reminded me of the journeys of life. The times I’m walking along, enjoying the sunshine, when all of a sudden I have to watch my step, hold on to the rail, because things went wonky, and if I’m not careful I could slip or fall or twist myself into a dangerous place—somewhere I shouldn’t be. The gratefulness when I regain my footing, when I successfully maneuver through a tight spot, and even when after stumbling, I’m able to stand back up, brush myself off, assess the scrapes and scratches, and say, “I’m okay.” The times I’m exhausted, out of breath, but I keep going, one step after another, and then out of the blue I’m rewarded for obediently moving forward by one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen—vibrant indigo Morning Glories blooming inexplicably out of rocks, rows of vines intricately twisted lush with grapes, whispery silver leaves on a shady olive tree, the sea as far as my eyes can focus. There’s also the awe of viewing something I’ve never seen before just when I least expect it.
And of course, like life, there are all of the splits in the trail—the should I go up or down, turn left or right places. I have so many friends facing forks in their roads—should they move? Stay put? Change jobs? Who should they room with? If they’re supposed to go, where should they go? What classes should they take? What should they give up in order to have time for the thing they’ve been called to? How will they pay for it?
How about you? Any questions on your heart—decisions you’re trying to make? Turns in your life journey?
On our Italian hikes the signs seemed irregular to me, not where I would have put them, not how I would have marked things, but they were there. And when we are not sure what our next steps in life should be, when we can’t “see the signs” they are also there. We just have to focus, intentionally hone in, because we all have someone to help us along the way. Jesus says, “I am the way.” Which sure is reassuring when we’re lost, confused, misguided, or the backs of our legs are cramping.
I know Jesus is the way. I am confident He will lead my steps and show me where to go. Only sometimes when I’m at the fork in the road, looking left and right I don’t hear Him, can’t tell which way He wants me to go. Usually, because I’m looking in the wrong places in the wrong ways and muffling His voice with the noise of the world. So I get frazzled and flustered and frustrated. My heart beats too fast, and I worry that I’m lost. Should I be in the middle of someone’s lemon grove (yes that happened)? It just doesn’t feel right.
It’s one thing on a vacation hike, but in real life when we feel lost and confused what are we supposed to do? Take a deep breath, remind ourselves that He is with us, that He will never forsake us (similar to reminding myself someone has marked this trail. I have seen the markers. There will be more). And take a few steps forward.
For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. —Deuteronomy 31:6
And if after five minutes of hiking, or five months of praying we still feel unsettled, well then, it’s usually time to get a sip of water, maybe nibble on a granola bar from our backpacks, and circle back, to the last time we turned, to where the path split, when we last made a choice. When I’m in the wrong place and actually take time to retrace my steps, it usually becomes quite clear where I went wrong.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. —Hebrews 13:5
And sure enough when I go back to where I veered, there is one of those crazy sets of stripes. Red and white. Red, like Christ’s blood that He shed to save us from all of our mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns. And white like how pure and clean we are now, because of His love. With signs like that, we can be assured we’re on the right track. We just need to seek His direction, go where He leads us, then take in the views.
For me in hiking (and in life), the thrill is not in reaching the destination at the end of the journey—no the joy is in the discovery, in the learning, in the overcoming the challenges, in the surprises I could have never imagined, but that God delights me with along the way.
Where are you headed today? Follow the markers God has put out for you and delight in the journey.
I’ve been going to the North Carolina Mountains since I was in eighth grade. My mom says she built the house there, because she fell in love with the scenery. Which I get, because the view from that little lake community nestled in the midst of the Blue Ridge peaks is breathtaking. But for me there’s another pull—in our crazy, whirlwind, hectic, busy, overscheduled lives I’m drawn to the simplicity of the mountain house as if by a magnetic force.
No one has practice in the mountains. Or rehearsal. Or meetings. Or homework. The majority of the time our phones read “No Service.” In the mountains I don’t wear jewelry or perfume or eyeliner. Everything I need for the week fits into a small duffle bag. Mostly I wear my hair in a braid.
We play outside all day—going on mountain runs, playing Putt Putt and scrambling after tiny lizards, watching their colors change as they land on a leaf or skitter onto mulch. The kids shoot hoops and play soccer tennis. My mom and I talk for hours. When we head inside it’s for home cooked meals, Scrabble and movies (this is a no streaming zone). Three of us finished the books we brought with us and dove into new ones.
I’m not saying I could do this all of the time. I wouldn’t even want to. For one thing I’d miss Starbucks, the Internet, and lipstick too much. My kids would go through withdrawal from their soccer teams and bins of Legos. But for a week here and there it’s so lovely to unplug and slow down. To not be a slave to email or texts or social media, because it’s too hard to even check them with a wayward signal. To never look at the clock, because there’s nowhere to be. To eat when we’re hungry and sleep until I wake. And when I do wake it’s to the sound of birds warming up their vocal chords in song and church bells echoing through the valley instead of the ringtone du jour I’ve set for my alarm. I walk out onto the deck, breathe in the mountain air, and open up my Bible to just talk to God until someone else rises or the urge to make a pot of coffee in the Mr. Coffee overtakes me. For me, spring break with my mom and kids is a refreshing reset from the scampering of day to day.
But I do love day to day. I love the things I do, the places I go, the things I’m responsible for. It’s just that sometimes, the amount of them, the intensity of them, the urgency of them, the fullness of them? They wear me down and stress me out. So inserting a week of Sabbath does my body and soul good.
As I re-enter reality it’s key for me to remember to take deep breaths, to admire the views, to slow down and savor even in the midst of the busyness.
When was the last time you took a real rest? How do you slow down? Where is your peaceful place? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear. Let’s work together to try and find that still, quiet place this week. And when we do, let's breathe peace in and exhale it out to the world around us.
I was Googling all sorts of random facts—what color line a certain stop was on the subway, the historical context of a monument,—all in a day’s work when writing a novel. While searching a song on YouTube the side bar read, “Up Next.” In other words, the videos YouTube analytics thought I’d be interested in. The top suggestion was an interview with the actor who played Jesus in the movie The Passion.
My husband and I saw it in the theatre with friends when it came out in 2004—fun date night, huh? We left the theatre in silence. As we got into our car I said, “I’m really glad we went. It was…powerful. But I don’t think I could ever watch it again.” True to my word, I haven’t. I’m squeamish and emotional. Viewing the flogging and torture of Christ, even if it was on the Silver Screen, was important to me as a Christian, to have a better understanding of what Jesus endured. But I didn’t think I could take it a second time around.
I never knew who the actor was who played Jesus or what he had done before or since, so his face and name on the sidebar of YouTube didn’t register anything with me. For the record it’s Jim Caviezel. But just the week prior, my daughter’s teacher had messaged saying she’d like to show The Passion in class but required parents’ permission due to the emotional and violent intensity. That email had been a week ago. I’d talked to my daughter about it. Sent a message back giving permission. Checked it off my list and had processed billions of pieces of information since without giving it another thought.
But now? I hesitated, intrigued by the video on the sidebar, about the movie that was more front of mind than it had been since I’d watched it thirteen years ago.
A few blogs back I shared I wanted to spend the 40 days leading up to Easter seeking God like it was a quest. I read and prayed and forced myself to slow down, pause, and listen. I found Him, of course, in countless ways. Because God is always there. Everywhere. And because He is grander than anything imaginable, when we take off our blinders, we find Him. Sometimes I need to remind myself to look. Often I need help pulling those blinders off.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
I was only searching for a performance of a song, but God revealed Himself to me once again. Not because I was actively seeking Him in that moment, but because He knew Laura Smith needed to hear something specific at that particular time. The video was 39 minutes long. Who has time to watch that? It was the middle of my writing day. I had to pick up the kids from school in an hour. But I felt prompted to watch anyway. So I viewed the first few minutes, then let it play for another twenty in the background while I continued with my research. Then it was time to get my kids.
A zillion things occurred— ranging from carpooling to soccer practice that evening to finding someone's missing sock the next morning, and over twenty hours later I returned to my laptop. When I opened it the video was staring me in the face.
Something told me I should watch the rest. Prepared to run it in the background, I pushed play. And then the interviewer asked Jim (the Jesus actor) if he had any parting words. The actor began with how much God loves us then broke into Old Aramaic, quoting his character in the film. I speak some French, a spattering of Spanish and Italian—meaning enough to buy train tickets or order a glass of wine, but Old Aramaic? Not a word. I had no clue what he was saying, but yet these words penetrated somewhere deeper than language could go.
Somehow hearing my Savior’s words spoken in His native tongue took me out of Ohio and my petty concerns of what font I’m typing in and the temperature of my coffee. I was sitting in my writing nook completely undone. Sobbing. Wrecked. It was as if a numbness I didn’t even realize I was experiencing had worn off and I suddenly felt God’s completeness, His unfathomable holiness, and in comparison my utter weakness. Also incredibly tangible was His grace that bridges the huge gap between the two more intensely than I understood was possible to feel. For a moment my blinders came off and I was dazzled by God’s magnificence. And that just shatters me in all kinds of beautiful directions.
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Seriously. Like the Professor explained to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy that although they would have more adventures in Narnia, more incredible experiences of wonder, it would not be by entering through the wardrobe again, we all experience Christ in different ways and different times. Even how one of us discovers different aspects of God varies from day to day. I wasn’t searching for that video. I'm not even linking it here, because it being your door is unlikely. I didn’t know it existed. I certainly didn’t expect to watch the whole thing. This moment of clarity did not come from my striving, but through God's grace.
Seek Him today. I don’t know how He’ll reveal Himself to you. But He will. And when He does, you will be blown away.
Have you seen the movie Begin Again? My favorite scene is when Gretta, a disenchanted musician is coerced by her friend to perform at an open mic night at a pub. While she’s singing, Dan, a down and out music producer, is ordering a drink at the bar. But at the sound of her voice and her acoustic guitar he turns around. And everything stops.
Like magic, a few chords resonate from the piano on the corner of the stage, accompanying her tune. Drumsticks are raised by invisible hands to pound out a beat at the exact right moment. A cello and bow appear on stage and play a few perfectly placed notes all by themselves. Dan might be going through a rough period—with his family and with his job, but he has a God-given gift. He can produce music. And he can do it like a maestro. He rubs his chin, tilts his head, and as he nods a violin appears out of thin air playing the coup de grace for the song’s bridge. All it takes are a few notes from an unknown singer, and Dan inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to turn a good song into the kind that strikes a chord in your heart.
This is what God-given gifts look like. Effortless to those who weld them. Unbelievable to those who witness them. We usually spot them quickly in others, but falter when it comes to identifying them within ourselves. What are your God-given gifts—the things you do so naturally, that you might not even own up to them?
Recently I hit a brick wall while in the midst of responding to edits on a book I’m finishing. I knew what I wanted to say and why it was important to me. I understood what the reviewer was communicating, but I could not for the life of me make the two concepts work together. But my friend, Amy? She talked me off the ledge. She took a look at a passage that paralyzed me and said, “Oh, this is great. You just need to tweak this sentence by adding this and deleting that.” It was like she’d waved her magic wand and instantly fixed something I’d been tangled in for over an hour.
I was considering tiling the backsplash in my kitchen but I’m clueless in the home décor department, so I texted my friend, Jamie, who along with being an artist, stages houses. Five minutes and fifteen texts later she had pulled a Joanna Gaines and suggested what she would have a carpenter do on my cabinets and what color of paint would be the perfect accent to the tile.
Have you witnessed something like this? Someone who steps into a challenge and simply slides and turns what are obstacles to you as easily as the squares on a Rubik’s cube, and within moments has all of the sides and colors in neat little rows. The rest of us stand with our jaws hanging open saying, “How did they do that? What just happened?”
This is what God-given talent looks like. Effortless. What can you do like this? You might not even know you can do it, because it comes so stinking easy to you. You might not even think about it, never even consider it. It’s just what you do. But that’s not what everyone does, how everyone looks at things, this is your special thing. This is how the Creator of the Universe created you. Can you pluck a fabulous harmony on the upright bass? Can you look at a chemistry equation and immediately see which reactants and products in what quantities are necessary to balance it? When a friend is frazzled, do the right words, nods and gestures come naturally to you to calm and soothe them?
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…Romans 12:6
That gift you have? God placed it in you the day He made you.
You have a special thing! There’s something you do that awes the people around you, that leaves them asking, “How do they do that?” And when you find that thing—do lots of it. Do more of it. Find additional ways to integrate that thing into your daily life. Seek more opportunities to apply this skill, to exercise those muscles, to play your song. Don’t let your talent sit on a shelf collecting dust. The world needs you and your gift, because the rest of us can’t do it, and even if we can somehow accomplish that thing you do so well, when we do it—it is with great struggle and frustration. I needed friends to help with edits and with decorating. The world needs you to line it up, click things into place, plug them in, and light things up.
Because God gave you that gift in the first place, when you put it in His hands, it can soar like it’s on steroids! Even more masterfully than a music producer, God inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to highlight and accentuate your talents. Ask Him to guide that gift He gave you, and watch Him turn the tune of your life into the kind that makes people dance and cry and sing at the top of their lungs, the kind people remember, and play over and over again, because it strikes a chord in their hearts. Today you can begin again. You can tap into your God-given talent, ask Him how you can use it to serve Him, and together you can fill the air with magnificent melodies.
Two nights ago my husband woke in the middle of the night because our power went out. I know, who needs power to sleep? He does. Because when the electricity went out, so did his fan, and the silence woke him. Go figure. He walked around the house with his phone flashlight shining, trying to solve for the outage. He later got back in bed, rolled around, sighed, and eventually fell back to sleep.
I’m no better. Last night I woke up because there was such a strong scent in our bedroom I worried there must actually be a skunk in our bed. Thankfully, there was not. But the skunk in the woods outside our window must have had some turbo-powered perfume. I sat there in the dark pondering the probability of a skunk getting in our house, climbing the stairs and snuggling in, after awhile got a glass of water, crawled back in bed, rolled over, tugged the covers, prayed silently and concentrated on relaxing and falling back asleep. I eventually succeeded.
Our lives are filled with interruptions—things that disrupt our regularly scheduled programming. Whether that’s the addition of something (a pungent odor) or the subtraction of something (white noise). We are interrupted by the buzz of a text or a car cutting in front of us. Our work is impeded when we can’t get a signal and dinner is delayed when we accidentally set the oven at the wrong temp or spill the spices while measuring them into tiny spoons.
In all these circumstances, we eventually put down our phones, pull into a parking spot, tap into the 4G network and pull the lasagna out of the oven. But it takes patience, concentration and focus.
The same is true when our true reflections get interrupted, disrupted, disturbed. We can go around knowing full well we are created by God, that He loves us, that we have a God-given purpose in life, and then like a rock being thrown into a still pond, something comes along that causes ripples in who we see ourselves to be. We get a rejection letter. Our best friend bails. We get in an argument with our spouse or sibling, or get blamed for someone else’s mistake. We let someone we care about down. The coach benches us. Our friends do something without us. Someone casts a snide comment our way. We lose our balance in a yoga pose or our way on a bike ride. Some days we just plain lose our way and our balance—no exercise required.
And when that happens, we have to get back to who we are, that we are Christ’s masterpieces (Eph 2:10) that we are wonderfully made to inspire awe (Psalm 139:14), and we need to do it with patience and focus. We might need to get up from where we are and move around a bit, get a new view on things, shine some light on them. We might need to hydrate with living water (Jesus), wrap ourselves in the cover of God’s love and pray. We need to turn back to our Bibles and fill up on the truths that God loves us. He’ll give us courage and strength. We have nothing to fear with Him on our side. Jesus offers us peace. He is our hope, light and way.
We need to go hang out with the special people who remind us of these truths, who love us for exactly who we are. We need to do the things God created us to do—the things we’re good at, eat our favorite foods, wear our favorite clothes, listen to our favorite bands, and talk to God over and over again until we remember, until we fall back into our rhythms and find the blissful peace of knowing we are beautiful, we are priceless, our lives have meaning.
And even when it feels like nobody else knows or notices, God is there loving us—in the middle of the day, in the middle of the traffic jam, the disappointment, the self doubt and even in the middle of the darkest nights. It just takes a little focus, concentration, and turning it over, but soon we can tune out the interruptions and settle back into knowing we have value and worth, because we are loved by God. We can once again embrace our true reflections.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
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