This is the part of vacation where most people post a cute picture of their pedicured toes and the ocean beyond. I did give myself a pedicure before we left, in pastel yellow, which felt sunny and beachy, but no one sees my toes during our time at the beach. I wear these gross shoes that my oldest described as “oven mitts for your feet” to sit in the sun or stroll the sand and let the waves crash over my legs.
I take this precaution, because I’m highly allergic to fire ants. And, just like me, they love it here at the beach. I’d rather walk barefoot on the sand and wear fun sandals out to dinner, but I settle for ugly beach shoes and cute sneakers, so I don’t get attacked by a tiny ant and end up in the hospital. On this trip I’ve been marveling at how I’m not in this battle against the ants on my own. My family protects me far better than I do by myself.
Sitting at the pool my daughter grabs her water bottle and starts pouring its contents on the pavement to drown an ant and his pal that have just crawled our way. My husband shines the flashlight from his phone on my feet as we walk back from Rita’s, creamy chocolate frozen custard in hand, ensuring I don’t accidentally step on any anthills.
“Mom, you all right? I saw you rub your leg?” Asks one of my kids.
“Mom, do you have your Epipen?” another asks.
“Mom, I’ll walk around with you away from the ants while we wait for everyone else,” another offers.
And it’s this beautiful thing that makes me feel incredibly loved. Yes, I’m trying to be safe, but it’s not all up to me. The people who love me are taking it upon themselves to have my back, (well, feet) and keep me from harm.
If my wonderful, but human family who has their own worries and concerns does this much for me, can you imagine how much more our Heavenly Father protects us, looks out for us?
It reminds me of the passage in Luke where Jesus is explaining that there are going to be some incredibly hard times for His followers. But He assures the disciples, and us, that He will always look over us.
...every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost--Luke 21:18
EVERY detail of our bodies and souls. How comforting is that?.
Meaning, if you are struggling with bills, a relationship, your mental health, your physical health, it’s not all up to you. God will care for you. Not only does God love you, but He pays attention to every detail of your life, and has all the resources in the world to take care of your needs.
If you trust in Him, He’ll shine His Almighty flashlight to illuminate a safe path for you to walk. He’ll douse oncoming trouble to keep it from crawling your way. He’ll walk with you away from danger and toward safety. He’ll keep you company along the way. He’ll remind you to take your medicine, visit your counselor or doctor, do your exercises. He’ll check in with you--are you okay? He’ll be patient with you as you do your part, whether that’s scouting out the outdoor table to make sure it’s clear of ants or attending a support group or journaling or working the extra shift. But it will never all fall on you. Yes, the fire ants of the world still exist. Some things are dangerous. And we need to do the things we know to do to protect ourselves. Wear our seatbelts or beach shoes, both literally and figuratively. But we don’t have to worry. Because our God is looking out for us at every turn. And through it all Jesus will remind us how very much He loves us.
No matter what happens, God has our back. He’s guarding us with angel armies. He’s stronger than anything that comes our way, and wants us to avoid stepping into a nest of danger. Even if that danger looks like fire ants.
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Last Friday my husband and I went out to dinner--an absolute treat after having most of our date nights in the living room or the porch over the past year. Brett glanced over my shoulder and out the window, nodding towards something behind me. “Montgomery Inn is across the street,” he said. “I promised Maguire sometime soon I’d get him an order of their ribs.”
Ribs are not my jam. They never even enter my mind. But my youngest loves them, and before I could respond, Brett slid out his phone and was dialing up the restaurant. When we finished our meal we picked up the ribs, drove them home, and put them in the fridge for Maguire to feast on the next day. On Saturday we went for a walk and when we stepped back into the house there was Maguire at the kitchen table with a giant slab of ribs and the biggest grin an 8th grade boy can conjure covered in barbeque.
My husband knew ribs would make Maguire happy, so he intentionally made a call, spent the money, and walked across the street. Brett loves our son so well, he not only thought about it, but went the extra mile to give Maguire joy.
This is how our God operates.
He knows you. And He knows me. He knows all the things that make us smile and sigh and laugh and He goes out of His way to put them on our paths. Like these whirligigs or helicopters or whatever you want to call them. Sure, it’s miraculous in itself to ponder that God weighted the seeds so they spin and plant themselves ensuring a future population of maple trees. But also, they are so much fun! And here they are sprinkled like confetti along the streets of our neighborhood. I can’t walk past them without picking one up, tossing it in the air, and watching it twirl. And, I can’t help but giggle as it spirals to the ground. Pure and simple childlike joy. Right along my path.
God also delights me with a baguette. One bite of its crackly crust and fresh fluffy insides take me back to that spring we lived in Lyon and bought bread like this daily from the boulangerie down the street from our apartment.
My mother in law suffers from Alzheimer’s. It seems like every time we take her for a walk and the conversation gets challenging we see a dog. She adores dogs. Always has. These four-legged animals light her up. She’ll pet them and talk to them and for a moment everything is right in her world. I’m certain God pops those dogs on our path, just for her. Because our God is a God who loves us and showers us with gifts. As the book of James tells us: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
What is it for you? A certain song you heard on the radio? The feel of sand between your toes? The smell of coffee brewing in the morning?
The other night we watched two episodes of the Chosen back to back. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. In the first episode, Jesus used His carpentry skills to make a toy for a little girl. In the second, Jesus performed a miracle giving someone in extreme financial turmoil the necessary resources at the perfect moment in a ridiculously extravagant way. Each episode was different, but in both Jesus had this awesome smile on His face as He watched the person He planned the surprise for (the girl and then the man) discover what He’d given them. It reminded me so much of Brett’s smile watching Maguire gobble down those Montgomery Inn ribs.
Whatever you have going on or are facing today, don’t forget that God loves you. So much that He’s planning little treats for you around every corner--something to make you laugh, something to make you remember, something to make you feel known. Look around. Keep your eyes open. I promise God has something for you today. Something to make you smile. Something good and perfect.
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Today I have the honor of having the beautiful, talented and wise, Elisa Morgan, sharing an excerpt from her best-selling book, Hello, Beauty Full for the blog....
Most of us don’t think we’re beautiful. In fact, a recent poll revealed that 96% of women globally would never use the word beautiful to describe themselves.
Even women (and men) who know they are made in the image of God. Women (and men) like you and me.
Beautiful? No…instead we feel not enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not spiritual enough.
I know. What I see is not beauty but the world of ugly within.
I say, “I’ll pray!” and I don’t.
I forget about the suffering in the world, even after I’ve seen suffering up close and personal. And then I go ahead and buy another purse, pair of shoes, trinket for my home.
I wake up in the middle of the night and worry.
I think I’m better than others when my life goes well, even though I know full well that I’m not.
I eat too many Doritos. I watch too many episodes of The Queen’s Gambit.
I assume I’m the only one.
The only lonely one.
The only depressed one.
The only one who doesn’t know the answers. The only one who feels like a failure.
I don’t like my body.
I like some people more than others—a lot more than others. I pretend to be interested when I’m not.
I’m jealous when someone’s life goes better than mine.
I want to just stay in bed on some days.
I’m ugly. At least there are plenty of ugly parts of me. “Beautiful?” HA.
Some words I read a while back from Brennan Manning’s classic book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, seep up into my thoughts. Manning reported a 1677 prophecy to a thirty-four-year-old widow in Lynn, Massachusetts. God’s words to her way back then—and maybe to us in this moment? “More pleasing to Me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”
I may think ugly thoughts and feel ugly feelings and do ugly things, but to God, I am filled with beauty and therefore beauty full. He holds out three words and calls me to receive them, knowing that when I see myself the way he sees me, I will be free to be who he made me to be and to live the life he made me to live.
Hello, Beauty Full.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who pushes away God’s pronouncement of personal value. Likely you do too. Likely you embrace the ugly and discard the beauty in yourself. And likely you feel incredibly inadequate, stuck, and even alone.
Here’s what we need to know in order to live the lives we were made to live: God loves us. He sees us through Jesus: beauty full. He wants us to see ourselves the way he sees us. We struggle with embracing such a thing. But the truth is, when we don’t embrace how God sees us, we don’t embrace God. We miss out on the very lives he created us to enjoy—and died to make sure we could experience. When we do embrace how God sees us—beauty full—we are freed to live loved, and in so doing, we love God back.
Three words reveal how God sees us – through Jesus – and how he invites us to see ourselves.
Hello. Beauty. Full.
Yes, I am.
And yes, you are too.
Elisa Morgan (MDiv) was named by Christianity Today as one of the top fifty women influencing today’s church and culture. She has authored over twenty-five books including The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, She Did What She Could and When We Pray Like Jesus. Her newest book, You Are Not Alone: Six Affirmations from a Loving God, releases in the Fall of 2021.
For twenty years, Elisa served as CEO of MOPS International and now is President Emerita. She speaks internationally, writes for Our Daily Bread Devotional and co-hosts Discover the Word radio and the podcast God Hears Her for Our Daily Bread Ministries.
You can find out more about Elisa, book her to speak at your event and sign up for her blog, Really, which reaches thousands at www.elisamorgan.com. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@elisamorganauthor) and on Twitter (@elisa_morgan).
Ever since Disney Plus released Hamilton our family has been ob-sessed. I think most of us have the intricate lyrics (passing over the first five seconds) of the title track down pat. Well mostly.
If you haven’t seen it yet. Do. It is a gorgeous, creative, inspiring story packed with love, grace, and redemption. The talent is phenomenal and the music brilliant. There is a thread woven throughout the show of the tension between being satisfied and not. Phrases like “that will be enough” and “running out of time” “never be satisfied” “all I have” are littered throughout the lyrics.
It makes me question what is “enough” in my life? What’s enough in yours?
What’s enough money? Enough pairs of sandals or shorts? Enough house? Enough memory for our phones or laptops? Enough time on social media? What are you measuring right now? Do you have enough? Or do you want MORE? Why?
Sure, there are some things we do need more of—if we don’t have enough money to pay our rent or medical bill—yeah, we could use a few more bucks. If our doctor tells us we’re supposed to exercise at least three hours a week and we’ve been lucky to squeeze in one, we need to find a way to move more. But overall, we Americans, as a society struggle to be satisfied. We get one promotion, but what we really want is her job. We meet a great guy, but we wish we could spend even more time with him. We find an adorable home, but we want to get a coffee table for the family room, and a fresh, new comforter for our bed, oh and a couple of cute throw pillows to add a pop of color to our couch. None of these things are bad. Not at all. God created beauty and relationships and vocations and wants us to enjoy and savor all these things. I’m just asking myself, “What’s enough?” Because, Jesus tells us that He satisfies our souls.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Never hungry again? Never thirsty again?
Okay. I’m listening. But Jesus didn’t mean our physical bodies wouldn’t require food or drink. My stomach growls first thing every morning and I cannot wait to pour myself some dark chocolate granola with almonds and top it with a handful of fresh, sweet berries from the local farmer’s market. But that inner craving, that soul searching, that hunger inside that makes us antsy and itchy and twitchy and wanting more—Jesus satisfies that. When we turn to Him, soak ourselves in Him, we find complete peace and satisfaction.
We realize that yes, a cute new cozy sweater for fall would be amazing, and if we can afford it, great, and if we can’t also great, because Jesus loves us with or without that sweater. He provides joy for us with or without a paycheck, partner, or the palomino pony we thought we needed when we were kids.
Do you have enough? The answer is we already have all of Jesus’ love and grace and hope and joy and peace. Right now. Today. If we want it. If we ask Him for it. It’s ours for the taking. And when we have that? All the other things are yummy or fun, but not necessary. Our peace, hope, and joy don’t hinge on them. Because we’re already fully satisfied. The love of Jesus? Is more than enough. It’s everything!
My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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My daughter and I had to weave our way through an Easter carnival in the middle of the town square to get to Scoops. The festivities included a jumpy house, sand art, an outdoor viewing of Hop, and of course photos with the Easter Bunny. We made our way through toddlers and parents and into the ice cream parlor where we proceeded to order bowls of gooey peanut butter brownie and rich coffee toffee ice cream. As we sat down to a table to enjoy our cool, creamy treats the Easter Bunny entered the shop. I was primarily focused on my daughter, but couldn’t help being a little startled when the Easter Bunny took off her costume head, and there was the face of a normal looking mom with a white, furry, bunny body. Of course I knew she was in a suit, but all of a sudden she wasn’t at all what she seemed.
Later that night in our hotel room, we could hear the people in the room next to us. Clearly. Too clearly. They were reading someone’s text and complaining loudly about the person who sent it. My daughter and I wished they would pipe down, but I was also sad for the person who sent the text. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have wanted it to be read aloud (and who knew the audience would also include us?). I’m also certain they wouldn’t have wanted to be talked about like that. The receiver of the text went on to share how she’d responded, which was way different than what she was shouting through hotel room doors. She wasn’t being consistent. In the privacy of her hotel room, her mask came off, revealing a different side of her.
Unfortunately, we’re all like this sometimes. We tend to wear certain faces for certain people—to appear stronger, braver, smarter, more put together, like we can handle it, like we’re okay or cool (even if we’re not). We sometimes say one thing, but feel completely different about it. Sometimes we act differently when we’re alone, then when we’re out in public, or speak differently when we’re with one group compared to how we speak when we’re with another.
But Jesus? Jesus is exactly who He says He is. He is always the same. He wears no masks and speaks no lies. He is always honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always.
As we’re midway through Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), I’m reading about Jesus in those final days of His life on earth. When He rode into town on a donkey and people waved palm branches at Him, Jesus was all these things (Mark 11:7-10). On that day everyone recognized Him as king—powerful, wise, and holy. But Jesus knew He was riding into town to rescue everyone. He knew what was ahead, and He did it anyway, because He is consistently strong, true, brave, and loving.
When Jesus overturned the tables at the temple, yes, He was angry (Mark 11:15-17). But only because He loves God the Father and His people, and He saw that the people were making a mess of things. Just like a parent snatches matches out of the hands of a toddler, using a firm voice, Jesus removed the danger from His children. Because He loves them. Because in wisdom He knows better. Because He’s never afraid to stand up for what is right.
When the religious officials belittled and questioned Jesus (Matthew 26:62-64), Jesus initially bit His tongue. He is holy, the Creator of all and didn’t have to come up with a snide comment or answer questions He didn’t want to. As High King of Heaven, He has both the wisdom and the authority to remain silent if He chooses. And when Jesus decided to speak, He declared with full authority that He will be ‘seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.’
On the cross Jesus was still King of Kings, still loving us, still bravely there to rescue us, not because He had to, but because He wanted to (Luke 23:26-49). This is who our Lord is. Never changing. Always faithful. We never have to worry about Jesus taking off a mask, about being different than who He says He is. If Jesus tells us something this morning, or if He said it over 2000 years ago, we can know it is 100% true. Jesus won’t change His mind, or say something different when He’s hanging out with someone else. He’ll never turn on us or let us down.
Jesus? He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. —Hebrews 13:8. He is honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always. Let’s marinate ourselves in who our Savior is this Holy Week as we remember how He died on the cross to save us. Because He loves us and He wants us with Him always.
God loves us. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the jumble of our lives that we won’t even allow Him to remind us. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Will you let God and the people He put in your life love you?
The other day one of my kids woke with a massive headache. They had an important presentation at school ahead of them. They felt awful and were unsure of how they could navigate the presentation through their pain, but they had to go. They needed to be there. I laid out a grab-and-go breakfast, knowing not eating amplifies headaches. I found Advil and Tylenol to tackle the headache from both sides. I placed the capsules in the hand of my sweet child. But they were hurting and stressed, which made it difficult to focus on the help in front of them. They felt frozen by pain and worry, unable to put the medicine or breakfast in their mouth. I only share this, because I saw so much of my own frequent shutdowns and refusal to accept God's help in their struggle.
I unfortunately do this all the time.
“Need any help?” my husband asks as I hustle around the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table before someone needs to sprint out the door for practice or rehearsal.
“No!” I snarl. Which is not the kindest way to respond to someone offering assistance. But I’m in a mode, and a mood. And I fear if I slow down to even explain to Brett what needs to be done, I won’t complete my task in time. So instead of trusting and accepting the love God offers via my husband, I continue in a snit. I miss out on a chance to realize the beauty in the fact that God is tender enough to notice me making dinner and to offer me free kitchen staff.
I’ll get edits on something I’ve written, and stubbornly think, nah, it makes perfect sense how I wrote it. Which is clearly not true, or the person editing wouldn’t have questioned what I was trying to say. God gives me wisdom via a colleague to improve the work I do for Him. Why do I ever resist accepting these insightful suggestions?
Someone-who-hurt-me’s name comes up in conversation, and all I want to do is make a snide remark. But I hear God whisper, Let it go. Speaking negative things makes you hang onto bitterness, which only ends up hurting you. It also sets a bad example for those around you. My Good, Good Father is trying to protect me from inflicting pain on myself. Yet, I want to say the snarky thing, so I say it anyway. And then get a pit in my stomach.
Can you relate?
I knew within fifteen minutes of ingesting the acetaminophen and ibuprofen my child’s pain would be minimized. I also knew the longer they worried, the less time they’d have to get ready for school. This would make them more stressed. And the whole thing would continue to spiral. Easier to see when it’s happening to someone else. But I couldn’t shove medicine down their throat. And I couldn’t force feed them breakfast or dress them. I love my child and had tools to help—medicine, food, and a plan. They couldn’t accept any of it. They ended up darting out the door hungry and in a frazzled mess.
Ugh. How many times do we do this with the help God offers? Shake our heads, wallow in our pain, and refuse to accept the gift of love He’s basically placed in our palms. We don’t mean to. My kiddo didn’t mean to. They wanted to feel better, but they were overwhelmed. By all of it. I want to feel better, too—less stressed, better at my trade, and less bitter. But when we get overwhelmed, we tend to shut down. And in shutting our hands, we make it nearly impossible to receive God’s gifts.
Jesus came down to earth to love us. He died on the cross to love us. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us to—you guessed it—love us. That’s a lot of love. So why are we resisting it?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:37-39 NIV
Tomorrow is a day dedicated to expressing love. I hope your day is full of those yummy-red-chewy-cherry hearts, rich Dove chocolates, laughter with the people dear to you, and warm, comforting hugs. But no matter if it is or is not, I know that you are loved by your Creator, by the Creator of all the things, by the King of kings. There’s not a single way you can mess up that will make Jesus love you less. There’s not a single thing you need to do to make Jesus love you more. He loves you fully and completely. Right now. As is.
He offers grace and joy and forgiveness and hope. Will you receive it? Open your hands. Open your heart. And let His unending glorious love flood in.
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
How was your Christmas?
Did you see the people you wanted to see?
Did you get that thing you most wanted under the tree?
Partake in your usual traditions—view the light show? Watch The Nutcracker? Attend the concert? Give the silliest present in the gift exchange?
Or are you feeling unsatisfied?
Maybe you’re full of sugar cookies topped with creamy frosting and sweet sprinkles, and memories and hugs, but now it’s over. Now what?
Or maybe it was amazing, but you’re tired. And you have a house to clean, a fridge to restock, a shopping bag full of returns and exchanges to make, plus thank you notes to write.
Or maybe Christmas at your house is hard, because of that one family member, yikes, or bitterness or jealousy or past regrets or painful memories or the unexpected tragedy and you really want to move on.
I am a Christmas fanatic. I love all of it—the songs (I’ve been listening since November 1), the baking, the decorating, the crisp scent of pine, the sharp taste of peppermint, the warm glow of candles, the Christmas movies that make me laugh (Home Alone) and cry (It’s a Wonderful Life). Yes, I adore Christmas—every millisecond of it, but I ate too much. And stayed up later than my body likes to. And I love my family so fully I might burst, but this introvert girl needs a little alone time. And sure, there are moments over the holidays that are a struggle—when family members bicker, when someone’s feelings are hurt, when a gift goes awry, or the memory of someone no longer with you leaves an ache in your heart. But Christmas isn’t something we’re supposed to rate with a five star system like the last book we read (Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg ****) or movie we watched (Incredibles 2 also ****). Christmas is something that happened one time, one night over 2000 years ago that changed the world, changed everything, changed me, and if you know Jesus changed you, too, forever.
We celebrate this phenomenal event every year despite our budgets or states of mind. It’s such a huge deal we get together with all of our favorite people and decorate evergreens—because they symbolize the everlasting life Jesus gives us, exchange gifts—because He is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and drink eggnog—because I have no idea why. Important things should be celebrated, remembered, reflected upon. But this important event wasn’t a one and done—like your last birthday, anniversary, or semester. Jesus was born as a baby (okay, that part only happened once), but He did it to shower His love on us for always.
Jesus loved the world. That’s what He did. That’s who He is—love. And this all-powerful King, Lord of Lords who personifies love, loves you.
When you’re questioning yourself—asking did your brother even like his present, was the turkey a little dry, what did Uncle Lester even mean by his comment, could I have changed that, or fixed that, or saved them? Remember that Jesus loves you, then as the carol, “Old Holy Night,” describes your soul will remember its worth. It’s not about the outcomes. Jesus’ love—that’s what Christmas is all about.
Peter, who hung out with Jesus nonstop during the three years Jesus preached, healed, and taught on earth says it this way:
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people. —1 Peter 2:9-10
Chosen. Us? For high callings? To be holy people? Dang. It’s hard to feel anything but grateful and honored in the midst of these positions we’ve been appointed to.
You’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls. —1 Peter 2:35
When we feel helpless, or like no one notices us or appreciates us or understands us, we can remember that Jesus named us. He named us His prized possessions. He’s keeping us for good things. Jesus is our shepherd, the one who feeds, cares for, provides, and protects our very souls.
So, I don’t know how Christmas impacted you for the good or bad. Maybe you still have two more rounds of unruly relatives to “celebrate” with. But no matter how many stars you’d give this Christmas, it’s important to realize all of the festivities were created solely as a way to remember THE first Christmas and all the love Jesus brought for us then, for always. When we sink into the truth that He loves us, that He names us and chooses us, then our souls truly know their worth.
We no longer evaluate ourselves on how the appetizers turned out or how the presents were wrapped. We no longer let those painful memories or snide comments hijack what Christmas means. We no longer feel the need to prove ourselves. Because Jesus chose to come down to earth. Chose to live among us. Chose to die for me and for you, because He chose to love us.
Whoever did want him,
who 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 1:11 MSG
All we have to do is chose Him. And then Jesus will show us who we truly are, allow us to glimpse our value, our worth, fashion us into our true selves, our child-of-God selves. So, as you reflect on Christmas, reflect on that truth. That God wants to be with you, loves you. Not just on Christmas, but every day. And that is something that truly deserves to be celebrated!
Our family watched Jumanji the other night—the latest one with the Rock. The premise for the film is four high school students from different cliques all end up with detention together—think The Breakfast Club with a much nicer principal than Mr. Vernon.
During their Saturday morning punishment the four teens learn to appreciate one another for their true selves and discover greater understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses after being sucked into a video game. Each of the four students becomes a character in the game equipped with special super powers such as “dance fighting” and weaknesses—ranging from snake venom to mosquitos.
After watching I asked my kids, “What’s your super power?” Some of them listed their talents—soccer, acting, music, etc. Some named things that sounded plain fun, like invisibility. When we chatted about our weaknesses we came up with snakes, mice, splinters, and not enough sleep.
We all have weaknesses—things that stop us in our tracks that might not bother anyone else. This could be an issue with our physical or mental health, an event in our personal history that left a permanent scar, a person who brings out the worst in us, an addiction or fear. Or maybe like one of the Jumanji characters admitted, “I explode when I eat cake.” We don’t like to talk about our real weaknesses, but we know what they are.
And our super powers? As Christians we have the mightiest powers of all up our sleeves. Like prayer. We get to talk one on one with the Lord God Almighty. Who gets to do that? Us, that’s who! I mean we don’t need an invitation, or permission, or a special V.I.P. pass. We don’t need to know the right people, have the right credentials, or go through a security scan. We just get to talk to Him about anything and everything.
Not only do we get to talk to God, but we get to tap into His strength. What? Think of a strong force that literally wipes things out—hurricanes, earthquakes, avalanches—God makes those things. And we get to tap into that power. He’s on our side. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. –Ephesians 3:20
And how about this one? You probably won’t see it in any Xbox games, because it’s intangible, but this super power makes all the difference in the most trying situations—hope. Hope for a future. Hope for redemption. Hope because after Jesus was buried in a tomb, on the third day He sprang back to life claiming victory over the grave forever more. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. —Romans 15:13
As Christians we have a slew of super powers, but the most powerful of all is love. The apostle Paul explains this in a letter to the early church in Corinth, These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love never fails. --1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, take it from Dumbledore near the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone. He explains to Harry how the powerful, evil Voldemort couldn’t even touch young Harry, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.” If that’s the protection a fictitious boy wizard has from someone who died for him, think how much more protection we have from a Savior who died for us. A Savior who still lives! Love. We are loved by the God who created everything. He designed us. He wants to be with us. He didn’t want to be separated from us, so He paid the ultimate price for us. And as a result we will live forever under His protection. It is in our very skin.
There are days that are rough. When we get a phone call from that person—the one who has a knack for making us feel small and incapable. Or waking up with a migraine, feeling like we’ll throw up, and a handful of Advil and hours later instead of getting better, it has gotten so much worse it’s almost paralyzing. The times we argue with someone we love, leaving both people depleted. The NO we receive when all we wanted to hear was YES. The days the thing we’ve been hoping to fix still appears broken. Jesus knows there will be seasons of pain and struggling in our lives. He warns, “In the world there will be tribulation.” But with the line up of super powers Jesus leaves us—prayer, God’s power, hope, and love, I feel like I can face anything. You can, too. Take it face on. Because the rest of Jesus’ sentence was, “But be of good cheer. For I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33.
Today you may or may not feel like a superhero. You may feel like the cute high school girl in Jumanji suddenly smashed into Jack Black’s body being gobbled up by hippos. Like you don’t fit. Like you’re not supposed to be here. Like you just want to escape this situation. But even when we’re out of breath, confused, angry, or frightened these powers are ours—immediately accessible, right this very moment. Talk to Jesus. Tap into His strength. Rest in the hope He offers. And collapse into His love. No matter how tough a challenge this level is, no matter how nasty the bad guys, no matter how much energy you do or don’t have left, He has overcome the world.
Laura L. Smith