We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
You Need A Filter
Today my dear friend, author, and Bible teacher Alli Patterson is on the blog talking about why we need a filter for all the noise and voices we hear each day.
A country song played in my car one day. It was about what all country songs are about-- heartbreak and whiskey. My youngest daughter piped up after it ended; “I don’t like that song, Mom. I don’t think God wants us using alcohol to solve problems.” Her sister gave me a huge eye roll at her overly serious reaction, but I was delighted. She had a filter in place for the words coming at her and rejected what got stuck in it.
When you think about “having a filter” you probably think about the words coming out of your mouth. We all have that one friend who says absolutely anything that passes through their mind. However, the much more important filter is the one for the words coming in. The words you let in have the power to alter your life. You need a filter in place for those.
Life is full of words; your phone, social media, books, friends, family, even in your own mind. Some words you hear are empty calories at best. Some need spit out altogether, even if they come with the sweet taste of your best friend or your favorite influencer. You can’t listen to all the words in the same way. Instead: you need to hear like a cow eats. Yep, a cow. The cow’s first (of four!) stomach is like a storage bin to hold what comes in until the cow sorts it out through chewing, digesting and - if necessary - spitting things out. Cows take in an unbelievable amount of food but only digest what they really need. You need something to sort out all these words, so you can follow the Lord towards a thriving life in and around you.
Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). If you want the life God has for you, you need to be filled with his words and let them act as a filter for anything else that wants in. The words that bring health and life will be in-sync with the attitudes, actions, and authority of the Word of God. As you spend time reading and hearing scripture, your filter will begin to catch the words around you that are inconsistent with His voice, love and direction for you. You will also leave space for God’s words to resound in your mind and heart as timely wisdom in your real life. All words are not the same, so get that filter in place with three simple things:
If you want to learn more about how to adopt these practices and build a faith that can stand firm, get my new book called How to Stay Standing; 3 Essential Practices for Building a Faith that Lasts. Chapters 5-7 dive in deep about practices you need in your life to hear the voice of God…because these are the only words that will be standing in the end.
Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89
5 Steps for a Flourishing Fall
I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz on display. The shoes are iconic. Even though Dorothy’s charmed slippers were silver in Frank L. Baum’s book, they were changed to a spectacular ruby red for one of the first major motion pictures to be filmed in color. And Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives me goosebumps every time. But I believe this pair of shoes is considered a piece of American History because of Dorothy’s story.
If you recall, Dorothy is a farm girl living in Kansas wishing for a more spectacular life. When a tornado blows through her farm, she gets hit in the head and has a fantastical dream about going to the land of Oz. In Oz she is instructed to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”. It is along this road that Dorothy meets three friends, all of who are critical in figuring out who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, when she should step up, when she needs to ask for help, what she is capable of, what she truly wants, and how to get there.
That’s what we all want--isn’t it? Directions on how to get from where we are to where we hope we’ll be? The right people to help us get there? A better understanding of what our heart’s desires actually are? And once we’ve figured that out, we want to know how to find those heart’s desires--how to act and ask for assistance and use our gifts and rely on others to find them.
Those ruby slippers that walked and danced along the yellow bricks are kept on display, because they are symbolic of our own life’s journeys and the steps we’re taking.
But we don’t need jeweled heels or someone to paint our sidewalks and Instafeeds canary yellow. We have the God of the Universe. The Psalms repeat this refrain to us, of a God who leads the way to a life better than we’ve ever imagined.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he may fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.--Psalm 37:23-24
Our steps are established. So if you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up” or if you’ll ever get married or if you should move or start your own business or retire or stay awhile longer, you can be assured that the God of the Universe has already established your steps. He knows what happens in your next chapter. If you have three choices, God knows how things will go if you pick A, B, or C. Don’t worry, He’s going to guide you along the way, nudging you to select the choice He knows is best for you. Just like Dorothy saw a sign that read, ”I’d turn back if I were you” and met the Scarecrow to help her think through things, God will give you signs and introduce you to wise friends who can help you discern God’s ultimate route for you.
Verse 5 of this same Psalm says, “Give God the right to direct your life,
and as you trust him along the way,
you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” TPT
If we trust Him--God pulls it off perfectly! I love that.
But what if we pick the wrong route? Or don't trust God’s signs or nudges? Unfortunately sometimes I want an answer now, and force-fit a decision into my timetable or parameters. What then? Are we lost in the woods to be locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle forever?
Because our God loves us too much for that.
Even if we choose differently, God holds our hands and helps us get back on track if we’ll let Him. The Psalms remind us of this truth over and over again:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.--Psalm 40:2
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.-Psalm 23:3
When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.-Psalm 118:5
Life throws a lot of questions our way. Some days it feels like we’ll never know if we should accept that offer or turn it down, start dating again or take a break, apply for that position or the other one, keep quiet or speak up? But God has already ordered our steps and wants to lead us in paths of righteousness, put us in spacious places, lift us up, and hold our hands along the way.
So what are we waiting for? What are we worried about? All we have to do to find our heart’s greatest desires is not follow the yellow brick road, but follow Jesus. He’ll lead us to joy, love, grace, and freedom.
For more on the Psalms discover my new book Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms
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I’m giving away a 5-day 4-night stay in this gorgeous mountain house in hopes it will Restore Your Soul! Keep reading for all the details on how easy it is to enter.
Soul restoration. It’s what Jesus wants for us. It’s what He offers. But often we're worried, tired, stressed or some combo of the above.
How do we make the switch? From frazzled to at peace? From anxious to feeling safe and secure? Mainly by spending time with Jesus and letting Him guide, protect, and love us. I write all about it in my new book, Restore My Soul, which releases on July 5, 2022! You can pre-order your copy here (if you order two copies you can enter the mountain house giveaway–more on that in a minute). Getting away from the hustle and bustle, seeking beauty, taking time to rest, finding a quiet place to talk to Jesus, and slowing down so you can hear Him are all great ways to begin your soul restoration–thus the mountain house giveaway.
Psalm 84 says:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out
For the living God. (vv.1-2)
Do you have a place like this? Where you seek Jesus? Where you cry out to Him and spend time–dwelling or abiding–seeking Him?
My mom’s mountain house is one of those places for me. Staring out at the lake, marveling at the mountains, unplugging, being present. It’s beautiful. I find God here. I’ve been going to these mountains with my family since I was in 8th grade. Brett proposed to me in these mountains. One of our kids took their first steps here. We’ve played cards and gathered near the fireplace on chilly evenings. We’ve lounged on giant rafts floating around the lazy river, played tennis, basketball, and giant Connect Four on steamy summer days. We’ve shared countless meals and stories, celebrated birthdays, Easter and Thanksgiving–all gifts from our glorious God–in these rooms. I’ve sat on the deck with my Bible and soaked in His living word. Plus, the views are spectacular.
But the places God restores us don’t have to be fancy. My closet is also one of my favorite places to seek the Lord. I turn out the lights and close my eyes, so there are literally zero views. I shut out all noise and just talk to Jesus. I might shout out to Him my frustrations, thank Him for all that He’s done, rattle off a list of my concerns, meditate on something I read in the Bible that morning, or sit in silence and simply listen to Him.
And that’s such a cool thing about Jesus! He wants us to come to Him with all our emotions. Our joy and fear, our laughter and anger, our exhaustion and bursts of energy. The Psalms illustrate this for us. The psalmists brought everything to God–the good, bad, and ugly. And God promised to those emotional psalmists to always be faithful, that His love for them would endure forever. Jesus promises the same to you and me–no matter what we’re going through or how we feel.
Join me in the pages of Restore My Soul: the Power and Promise of 30 Psalms as I dive into thirty psalms and explore how relevant they are to our lives today, how these ancient poems and songs show us that no matter what we’re facing our God goes before and behind us. He watches over us and never sleeps. He bends down and picks us up. He wants only goodness and mercy for us. He longs to restore our very souls.
And while you’re picking up a copy of the book, if you grab two YOU CAN ENTER THE MOUNTAIN HOUSE GIVEAWAY! That’s right, the only thing you have to do to enter is purchase two copies of my new book, Restore My Soul wherever books are sold between today and July 12 and submit your receipt here. Make sure you're following me on Facebook or Instagram.
Must be 18 and over to enter. Void where prohibited. U.S. citizens only (sorry international friends). Note: I will never ask for credit card information and will only contact winners via email. Not affiliated with any social media site. One grand prize winner can stay five days and four nights at the pictured mountain house in Lake Lure, NC (30 miles outside of Asheville) and will be randomly selected from all entries. Transportation not included. Grand prize winner must work with property owner to find available dates. Runners up will be randomly selected from all entries for additional prizes including having Laura Zoom into your Bible study or book club. If your prize is being mailed to you, please allow additional time for postal delays.
What If Scenarios
I’m sitting in a chair under a turquoise umbrella at the beach staring out at the Atlantic praying to Jesus about, well everything. My mind is always packed full of what if scenarios. What if my blog comes out late? What if I intervene with my two kids who are pushing each other’s buttons? What if I let them work it out themselves? What if I get bit by a fire ant–will my EpiPen work? What if I do or don’t? What if that idea or action or conversation or proposal or treatment works or doesn’t? What if I speak up or keep my mouth shut? What if it does well or falls flat? What if, what if, what if? I ask Jesus a zillion and eight questions. And this is how Jesus responds.
Look at the ocean. See how endless it is. How powerful and calm it is at the same time. Listen to the waves crashing. Notice the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the water. Feel the breeze against your skin, dancing through your hair. Hear the laughter of children, the music playing from nearby speakers, the countless conversations all around you from all kinds of different people. I made ALL of them, ALL of this. I’m in control of all of this. The ocean looks like it goes on forever, but I actually DO go on forever. I am limitless. It’s all in my control. All of it. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of you. Your work, your health, your family, your future. I love you. I’ll never let you down.
God’s response is calm and steady and sure. He doesn’t give me specifics about the fire ants I’m allergic to or the article I’m going to turn down, but He reassures me that it’s all in His extremely powerful and capable and loving hands.
All of your what-ifs are also in God’s hands. He promises to work everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He promises to go before and behind us and keep His strong, loving hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Jesus promises that He has plans to prosper us–each and every one of us, plans that give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, why, oh why do I wonder? Why do I forget to trust?
Because I’m human, and I do. But Jesus uses the waves to remind me.
God is good. And true. And loving. And powerful. And almighty. And on our side–yours and mine. As I stare out at the waves rolling in and foaming white against the sand, I’m reminded. And I exhale. And I trust Him again. With everything.
I don’t know what you’re asking Jesus today. I don’t know what what-ifs are swirling around your brain. But I do know that Jesus only wants what is good for you. I know that when we trust in Him, He never lets us down.
I’m praying that we trust in God’s scenarios and stop worrying about all the what-ifs. Because His scenarios are true and right and packed with joy and peace and love.
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My kids love Chex Mix. But one is allergic to gluten which rules out the pretzels and wheat Chex in the classic recipe and another is allergic to nuts, which also rules out the peanuts. But does that stop us? Of course not. We use only corn and rice squares (no wheat), gluten free pretzels, sub out Fritos for peanuts, because they’re also salty and crunchy and nut and gluten free. And my kids devour it! Who said we have to follow the recipe?
And yet, as we walk around in life we get so stuck on the recipes of this world. I remember the social comparisons of parenting when our kiddos were little, the constant questions from other parents. Are your kids taking swim lessons? Enrolled for preschool? Which preschool? Signed up for Little League? Are you taking them to the egg hunt? How about pictures with the Easter Bunny uptown? And if we answered, “no.” The response was, “Ummm..why not?”
None of those are bad questions. I’m sure I asked many-a-parent similar questions. But my kids and your kids don’t have to do all those things, all the same things–especially if it doesn’t make sense for that child or your family. Turns out the common recipe for the average American is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Christians get this pressure, too, unintentionally from well-meaning friends or church members. Did you sign your kids up for vacation Bible school? Are you volunteering at VBS? Are you in a Bible study? Are you mentoring someone on a weekly basis? Again, great questions. All good ideas and activities for some people some of the time, but not if they wear you thin, conflict with something else God is calling you to, or don’t make sense in your current situation.
Jesus wants what’s best for YOU, not what’s best for your neighbor or your cousin or their kids. We see this in John 1 when Jesus is initially gathering some of His disciples.
And so it is with us.
Whoever believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. -John 1:12
Jesus will invite some of us to learn more, to investigate, to come and see. To others He’ll rename us–taking us out of something, and into something totally new. You used to be rejected, Jesus says, “Now you’re loved and accepted. You used to be alone, now He tells you, “I’ll be with you always.” And to others of us, Jesus says, “Hey, I see you. I saw what happened, what you went through, what you’re currently struggling with. I understand. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I love you.” And on any given day or week or season of life, Jesus might do something completely different for us. But it’s definitely not by a standard recipe.
As we walk about our days let’s not be afraid to go a little bit rogue, to swap corn chips for nuts, to say, “no,” to this, or “yes” to that, even if none of our friends or family or neighbors are or aren’t doing it. Let’s keep chatting with Jesus on a daily basis. Let’s walk in the freedom Jesus offers us–freedom to be our true selves, the people He created us to be, not like “him” or “her” or “them” or someone confined to a recipe on the back of a box. Because Jesus offers us so much more.
And…if you’re looking for a fun, free Bible study to do by yourself or with your group this summer, I teamed up with some amazing Bible teachers last year to put together Summer in the Psalms. God welcomes emotional honesty for the gift that it is: a step towards deeper intimacy with Him. In this 5-week study )complete with workbook and videos) we share a few of our favorite psalms and invite you to pray and process with us in God’s presence. Welcome. For free access to the study click HERE.
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What Are You Focusing On?
I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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Are You Ready For Something New
I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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The work of being a writer for me consists of most days sitting in my writing nook and well, writing. I’ll also read and pray and answer emails, but most of it is writing and rewriting and rewriting. For weeks and months. Without anybody else seeing what I’m writing or asking about what I’m writing. With nothing to show the world. The most exciting days are when I get an email from my agent or an editor about a brand new project or a development on a project I’m working on.
I have a book releasing in July which I’m super excited about, but I’ve turned it in and gone through all the edits. My part is mostly complete until launch time. I have a new project that’s due about the same time the book I mentioned releases. I won’t hear from my agent or editor on either book until summer. What’s next is me being disciplined and writing this next book for Jesus. Word by word. Story by story, or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird by Bird.”
But wanting to know the next “what’s next” bubbles up some days. A weird, it’s a new year-ish, should I be revamping my website, dreaming up new projects, planning something else? Maybe. So today I was asking God again, “Is there something else you want me to be doing (this is always a great question to ask)? Is there another project or idea I should be working on for Your kingdom? Do you want me to write a new Bible study? Teach a new Bible study?” And I got that tug inside to check my email, but the tug wasn’t from God. It was from me thinking and from culture reminding me I “needed” to be doing something new. Maybe the answer was waiting for me online? But I sensed God simply answer, “today.” As in, God wants me to do today.
Today. What does God want you to do today?
God reminded me that already this morning there had been a beautiful worship gathering at our home. “I wanted you to open your door for that and be present for it. It didn’t involve books or emails or projects. It involved living today and worshiping Me.” God also reminded me that I’d had coffee with a friend. We’d talked about our faith and jobs and relationships and what we were reading and God’s faithfulness. God told me, “That coffee date was living for Me. Where two or more are gathered I am there. This was something I wanted you to do today.”
What’s on your schedule?
I don’t know what you’re checking your email or texts or actual metal mailbox at the curb for today. An acceptance letter? A job offer? A check? An invitation? A referral? A grade? A result? Those are all super awesome things to look forward to. And God loves for us to get excited about the plans He has for us and the places He’s taking us. And just for the record, He does have ginormous fabulous plans for you! He doesn’t want us to be complacent and just let life happen. However, He also doesn’t want us to waste our time longing for the what ifs, the maybes, and the as soon as…God created this day–THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.
Will you join me?
God reminded me that kingdom work is what we’re doing right now, today– the conversation with your neighbor or roommate or classmate or sister. It’s stopping to praise Jesus for the delicate snowflakes dancing through the air. It’s texting the friend who isn’t feeling well and asking how they’re doing or taking them soup or praying for their healing. It’s bending over to help the person who just dropped something gather up their belongings or paying attention to the two hours of video training for your job or cheering for your teammates or vacuuming so your home will feel clean and safe for whoever walks through your doors. For me, it was that gathering, that coffee, and now it’s writing this blog, sitting down at my desk and typing the words, word by word. Then it’s off to my kids’ indoor track meet and cheering them on. This is all kingdom work. It doesn’t get better than this–than real life–than this beautiful everyday life God gifted us with.
Because this is what we do–God’s children. We walk this earth flooded in His love and try to pass some of the abundance of that love back out to others. It doesn’t have to be BIG and SPLASHY and newsworthy, although sometimes it is and that’s fun, too. We just have to be present. To God. And to what He’s doing. And when we focus on making the most of the class we need to attend or the food we need to prep, when we do it out of love for ourselves or others, then we are doing kingdom work, we are making a difference, we are moving forward. And when something new does come our way, we’re called to step into it the exact same way. By being present. By living that day and that idea and that opportunity to its fullest. One beautiful step at a time.
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Laura L. Smith