The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
I’ve been reading the book of Luke this summer. It’s packed with familiar stories—shepherds, a manger, the Good Samaritan. I love going back through the pages and seeing what Jesus did, how He handled situations, what His attitude was, and specifically this summer I’m trying to focus on what Jesus said, because as a word lover I’m thinking the words Jesus spoke are a pretty fantastic way to learn more about Him.
One of my favorite passages is when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Luke 9). Now, keep in mind there were five thousand men plus women and children, so the crowd exceeded ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand folks. In this passage this giant crowd has come to listen to Jesus teach. Near the end of the day everyone is getting a little fussy, tired, and downright hungry.
What’s for dinner is a question my family asks on repeat. I think through what we’ve eaten recently, peek in the pantry, consider everyone’s schedules—who has soccer, meetings, sleepovers, etc. Who is even going to be eating this meal? Just when I think of something that meets our family’s dietary needs (all of the allergies live here) that most of my people will actually consume, I realize I need cilantro and gluten free wraps if I’m going to pull this together. Another trip to Kroger and perhaps also the farmer’s market and I’m good to go, at least for tonight. But thousands of hungry folks on a hillside? Yikes! Where to start? Sure, their “pantry” held five loaves of bread and two fish, but that wouldn’t make my crew happy, let alone fill them. And there are only six Smiths. The disciples point out this problem to Jesus, suggesting they send everyone out to the closest farms and villages, so the people can grab a bite to eat and stock up on snacks. That’s what the disciples say, but Jesus responds, “You feed them.”
Wait. Wha-at? Yeah, Jesus asks them to do it. When we see a problem, He also asks us to act. Jesus seems to throw His hands up at the disciples and say, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!” He says the same to us.
I have a relationship that’s rugged. I can pray about it all day long, but at the end of the day, Jesus says, “You make the phone call. Don’t wait on the other person.” I argue, “They’re challenging to talk to. It’s not always easy or pleasant.” Jesus nods. Mmm-hmm, then hands me the phone and says, “It’s not going to dial itself.” A friend asks for prayer. Jesus elbows me and says, “Go ahead. Pray.” “Um, now?” I ask. He reminds me that it makes way more sense to pray specifically for my friend’s need with my friend right now rather then telling them politely I’ll pray and then possibly forgetting and possibly tagging it onto a run-on prayer sentence a day or two later. I dream of speaking at an event at a certain church. I Google the church, check out all their fantastic resources, wish I knew someone who could introduce me to the right people, and yeah, Jesus says, “Reach out and set up a meeting.” Wait. Wha-at? What if they don’t respond? What if they don’t want me? Jesus has zero time for that nonsense. He never argues, just urges me again, “You do it.”
It’s not that Jesus is hanging us out to dry, that He’s lazy, or uninterested in helping. Quite the contrary. With the feeding the hungry crowd situation the disciples’ jaws are still hanging open in disbelief, that Jesus, the miracle-working Messiah, thinks they should feed the crowd, when He pipes in. “Listen. Get the crowd to sit in groups. Then Jesus takes the few barley loaves and tilapia, prays over the food, and hands it to the disciples. It’s Jesus who steps in with a plan. It’s Jesus who performs a miracle by blessing the small amount of food, so it can feed the masses. But the disciples have to do the work. They have to physically organize the crowd. Get them to settle down, sit down, and hang tight. Then they have to walk around to thousands of hungry folks and serve them dinner. The disciples have to take part of it, so they can fully understand what is going on, how incredible the whole thing is. They get to see the look on the faces of the hungry crowd as they relax and take a break, the smiles from the kiddos, the relief from the mamas. They got to marvel as they put their hand in the basket time and time again and every time more food keeps coming out.
Same with us. Jesus wants us to do the work. He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. He’ll bless the work if it’s for Him. He’ll give us a plan, a place to start. He’ll pray over the situation with us. And then He’ll say, “Get moving.” Because He wants us to be a part of it, He wants us to get in on it, marvel at what He does and how He works.
If you want that mountain moved, yes pray for it, yes have faith that God will move it, but you also better start lifting weights, invest in one heck of a shovel, and start moving that dirt. Create a website. Send the message. Attend the event. Audition. Introduce yourself. Show up. Raise your hand. Suggest the idea. And then get ready to be blown away. That hungry crowd? After they’d all eaten until they were full, no skimping, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Twelve baskets. Of extras.
I’m not promising all rainbows and roses here, although that is the way I like to roll. Just because I send in a book proposal, doesn’t mean I get a book contract. But if I don’t do the work—write the proposal, make the changes my agent suggests, incorporate the feedback we get back from editors, I’ll never get that next book deal. And more importantly I won’t learn what Jesus wants to teach me. It probably took a while to settle that giant crowd into groups. Just because you work out, doesn’t mean you’ll win the race. Just because you apply for the job, does not mean you’ll get it. But when it’s the right deal, the right race, the right job, where Jesus wants to make a change and simultaneously grow us, we will get all those things and bonus baskets to boot. The job guy won’t come knocking on your door. It will be up to you to put together your resume, check out the requirements, apply, follow up with a call or email, get dressed up and cleaned up and put together for the interview. Then let Jesus bless it and dole it out, the way only He can.
Whatever thing you see needs fixing, started, initiated, changed today? Go do it. You feed them. Yes, YOU. And be blown away by not only how Jesus blesses and works, but in all the abundance of extras He’ll provide.
My mom and I were going for a walk around our neighborhood when she spied someone’s garbage can pulled to the curb with pieces of wood poking out of the lid.
“I want those!” She proclaimed.
“Well, take ‘em,” I encouraged. One man’s trash …
“I’ll use them for my tomatoes,” Mom declared, pulling out a few, straight, long stakes.
“Awesome,” I answered, because my mom loves to garden. It brings her so much joy. She literally completed our walk beaming ear-to-ear, strutting around with those sticks like a drum major leading a marching band. My mom rocks when it comes to growing just about anything. For years, she sweetly planted tomato plants in my yard, staked them, even placed little cages around them to keep the deer from snacking. And I LOVE tomatoes, love homegrown, Ohio tomatoes in the summer time. Could eat them every night with a small sprinkle of salt, preferably with some corn on the cob from the farmer’s market. But I can’t grow tomatoes. Can’t grow any kind of plant. So year after year Mom would painstakingly plant, and year after year they would die. I never harvested a single tomato.
So, explain to me how these grow in my yard? I’ve lived in this house for seventeen years. I did not buy the irises. I did not plant the irises. I never think about them unless they’re blooming. And then I stand in awe. I never fertilize the ground where they grow, water them, stake them, cage them, or ponder how much sunlight they’re getting. How do these stunning irises, drenched in purple, with crazy, gorgeous flowing shapes come up year after year and thrive in the same soil where I murder tomatoes?
I may be oversimplifying things. But truly, this is how God works, simply, not always easily, but always simply. He is always at work, doing unfathomable things, when we’re not capable, when we’re not mindful, when we’re not even aware.
Right now. Today. God is working some detail, maybe dozens of details in your life that you will be able to take zero credit for. Maybe it’s a job you didn’t even know existed that you are going to be offered in a few months, and right now God is introducing you to some people who will help you in that position, having you stumble across articles that will inform you for your interview, and having the person who currently holds that job get the promotion they’ve been hoping for, so their slot will be available for YOU! Maybe right now God has grad students working in a lab making small discoveries that when added to findings scientists in another lab are making will equal a treatment or cure for the very ailment you’re battling. Maybe God just gave someone else a whopping income tax return they weren’t expecting, and is nudging them to share the wealth, and they’ll just happen to hear about your need—the mission trip you’ve been praying about, the broken part of your house you can’t afford to fix, and voila—your need will be met.
Maybe none of the above applies. Certainly if I knew how God was working in the secret ways of your life, it wouldn’t be as cool or mysterious or phenomenal. But I do know He is working. I know, because I’ve seen Him do it again and again, over and over. I see college students apply for internships and get turned down, because the opportunity of a lifetime is about to present itself in a few days, and they would miss it all together if they’d settled for that other thing. I’ve seen people’s cancer go in remission, houses sell, relationships mend, all because of God’s grace, not because of all of their due diligence. God swept in and said, “I love you. I have something for you.” How have you seen God work behind the scenes in the past? Doesn’t that give you hope that He’ll do it again?
I’m not saying we get everything we wish for. Thankfully God knows better than we ever could what we need, thus all the cool undercover work He does. I’m also not proclaiming we should all park ourselves on the couch watching Netflix and eating ice cream all summer, trusting God will do the rest. We’re still called to do our part, to take care of our bodies, to be wise stewards of our time and our finances. To use the gifts He’s given us and to use them well, for His glory. If I never sat down and wrote, well, I wouldn’t have a blog, or articles, or books. It can’t happen unless I invest the time. But I also know none of my stories would have even been read without the way God orchestrated the details.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
So do the things you know you can do. Fill out the application. Make the appointment. And then breathe easy. God loves you. He wants you to experience a full, free life. Just like you do special things for the people you love—make them a treat, send them a card, plan a graduation or birthday celebration for them—things that take some time, some planning, some effort, God is putting together the pieces for a lovely gift for you. He might still be shopping or organizing or wrapping or waiting for the mysterious Amazon delivery person to drop it on His porch, but God is at work for you. Maybe you can’t fathom how you’re going to make the thing happen that you really want to happen. Maybe you’ve lost hope over something you felt God had in store for you, but now seems to be taking forever. Maybe your struggle is intense and hard, and you can’t see a way out or up. But God can. And He knows better than we ever will how all of the pieces should shift and flip to fall perfectly into place. Maybe there’s something so beautiful in the works, sprouting from a seed underground that you’ve never even asked for, never reached for, that you don’t even suspect is growing.
Maybe I can’t grow tomatoes, but God can grow irises. And, apparently peonies.
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I burnt myself with a curling iron. It’s so stupid. Brett and I actually had plans both nights of the weekend, like going out plans, and not just to soccer games. So I thought I’d fancify myself up. Clearly, I’m out of practice.
I felt the burn when it happened—searing hot. Ouch, like mmmm, no appropriate words available. But I was mid-curl, and had to finish, and get the kiddos all settled before we headed out, so I kept twirling and curling. I peeked at my wrist and couldn’t even see where I’d burned it, although it stung like crazy! Throughout the evening I kept glancing at the painful spot on my hand radiating heat, but there was still no mark. I told myself I was making a big deal about nothing.
The next day, the burn still hurt and the area was slightly pink, but you could only tell if you looked. Really hard. The third day, everyone I saw asked what happened to my hand. It was so weird. I felt my skin burn the moment the hot iron touched my hand, but it didn’t leave a mark for days. Not to gross you out, but a week and a half later I still have a giant scab that hurts and itches. I’m fairly certain it will scar, leaving a permanent reminder of a dumb mistake that didn’t even reveal itself until after the fact.
I think this is how emotional burns work.
When somebody says something cruel, treats us like we’re less than, when we’re shamed or belittled or betrayed or let down, when we experience loss, we feel it instantly. But we’re usually busy, and don’t want to reveal that the comment or action hurt us, because you know, we’re strong and resilient. Right? So we keep on going, moving, smiling, nodding, twirling. The next day it still hurts, but the damage isn’t visible. After time the pain of the emotional burn is less front and center, but it begins to manifest itself in unexpected ways. We might struggle with sleeping, or speaking up, or getting up and trying again. We might be unsure of how to move forward or back out of a relationship. We may over compensate, give a little attitude, or withdraw.
And eventually we’re left with a scar. And that scar tissue is sensitive and doesn’t do well in the sunlight and there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.
I have some of these scars. I bet you do, too. Emotional hurts that I tried to plow through, but that left their permanent mark on me.
I’m so grateful for a Savior that lived a life where He felt physical and emotional pain. He was physically flogged, nailed, and pierced. If you saw the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, you get the picture. Jesus’ friends betrayed him, denied him, gave up on him. He was always being misunderstood. So, Jesus empathizes about those scars, those hurts we have deep inside. Better yet, He knows how to heal them.
You all, I’ve tried self-help on these emotional wounds. It’s not a bad thing—it just doesn’t completely heal. Jesus does. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the light. Show Him where you hurt. Tell Him about it. Jesus understands your pain. He loves you in spite of it, and because of it. Jesus is a healer. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus says, “tell John, The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleaned, the deaf here, the dead are raised.” He longs to heal your burns.
Those scars, they may always be a part of you—marks of what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown—but the pain that caused them? Jesus longs to take it away. Hand it over to Him, and let Him spread the cool, soothing aloe of His love wherever you’ve been burned. The healing process can begin immediately. All you have to do is ask Him.
Have You Ever Experienced a Miracle?
Miracles happen quietly every day—in an operating room, on a stormy sea, in the sudden appearance of a roadside stranger. They are rarely tallied. No one keeps score.
~The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom
Have you ever experienced a miracle?
A big one? A small one?
I bet you have. I think Albom is spot on in his quote above, miracles do happen quietly, every day.
On my morning run I spotted two baby deer and their mama in a neighbor’s yard, playing tag with one another, romping about. The babies were tiny—white speckles on their backs—and they made me stop everything. Stop my conversation with my husband. Stop the rhythm of my feet. Even for a moment I stopped breathing. Because they were beautiful. And deer don’t usually play where people are. But on this morning, early enough to beat the July heat; I got to glimpse the grace and beauty of these deer. They were a gift to me. A small miracle.
On a group message I noticed someone’s title was a professor of Special Education. My daughter wants to major in Special Ed. No way! I thought. I’ll have to chat with this woman. But there was no need to call or write an email. I turned around at church the next day to see this very woman standing behind me. And my daughter was next to me. We all chatted. They set up a meeting, and ever since my daughter has worn a huge smile on her face. She got to volunteer all week with a special needs camp. It lit her up from the inside out doing something that truly makes her shine. I couldn’t have orchestrated this meeting, or this experience for her, not like this. But God could. Another miracle on the books.
I’ve experienced big, unbelievable get down on my knees miracles, too. My youngest was born with a hole in his heart. We spent the first couple of weeks of his life getting ultrasounds of his tiny ticker with the pediatric cardiologists at Children’s Hospital. And praying. A lot. But when we went in for his two month follow up—anxiety tight in my stomach, tears pricking the corners of my eyes—the ultrasound showed his hole had closed up on it’s own. It had repaired itself! This was what we’d hoped for, begged God for, the best-case scenario. There was no follow up necessary. A true lightning bolt, praise Jesus miracle.
How about you? Have you experienced a miracle? A big one that knocked your socks off? Small ones that no one else might count, that wouldn’t get you canonized or even in the local news, but a miracle none the less? Have you experienced something you could not have planned, predicted or pulled together no matter how hard you tried; yet somehow, there it was, the perfect moment just waiting for you?
The rest of the quote from The First Phone Call in Heaven reads, “But now and then, a miracle is declared to the world. And when that happens, things change.”
What if we shared our miracles? Not for bragging rights, because there’s nothing to take credit for, because we are so clearly not behind the miracles. But to be grateful. To say thanks to God who dropped them in our laps—little nuggets, that made things easier, happier, less complicated. Big reliefs and life changes and burdens lifted that overwhelmed us with gratitude. What if we shared these big and small miracles? What if we also paid attention, and took note of the miracles occurring in the lives of our friends and family?
What if by declaring our miracles to the world we really could make a change? We could help each other be more appreciate, live more in wonder, acknowledge more often that God is actively working in all of our lives on a daily basis. We could give Him not only credit, but also praise for doing so. Would we live a little less nervous, a little less anxious, knowing our God is alive and well and on our side? Would we sleep better, fret less, hug more freely? I’m guessing yes. Share with someone a miracle you’ve experienced today, and let’s see what kind of change we can make.
What miracles big or small have you experienced? I’d love to hear.
Laura L. Smith