Here’s the thing. COVID-19 stinks. It’s taking people’s lives, putting folks at risk, depriving people of income, robbing students of their experiences, stealing people’s interactions and activities, and creating uncertainty to name a few of its negative effects.
But God is good. So inherently good. And His character is unchanging. So, God sees a bad thing, this terrible virus, and He figures out a way to use it for some good stuff. This is who our God is.
So, we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives. Romans 8:28
I’ve read and listened to so much quality content about finding time to slow down, to be still, to breathe deeply, to listen to God, to stop striving, to take Sabbath. And as I read and listened, I agreed in my head, Yes! What a great idea! But these great ideas take a ton of intentionality. Over the past year I’ve gotten better at taking Sabbath, but I’ve been fighting obstacles and interruptions to do so. Even with a Sunday slow down, the rest of life in general pre COVID-19 was overstuffed and supersized. Every square on our white board calendar in the kitchen was full. In a world where games, practices, and rehearsals are scheduled every night of the week, it was tricky to gather our family together around the dinner table. Most meals were more grab-and-go or eat-at-your-own schedule—things like tacos.
Sundays aren’t sacred to the general public so out of town tournaments and meets were standard Sunday fare, putting a wrench on our family, and maybe yours too, attending church together. Personally, our overscheduled, exhausted Smith family’s typical weekend was titled “divide and conquer” as my husband and I went different directions to support and cheer on our kids in their activities. This life is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one—a full and vibrant one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s life. I’m thrilled my kids get the opportunities they have. I’m grateful for their dedicated coaches and directors, their encouraging teammates and casts. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children step in and use the talents God’s gifted them. I’m thankful for a husband who is such a fantastic dad engaged with the kids and willing to help with all the things. But the kids were tired, and we were tired. We were.
But over the last week and a half, like it or not, we’ve been at home. As I’m sure you’ve noticed everything is cancelled, and we have been forced to slow down. Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
I see Him doing all kinds of beautiful things.
The gorgeous canals in Venice, Italy are clearer than when I had the privilege of visiting ten years ago, clearer than they’ve been for a very long time. No boats or barges running along the water has cleared up the typically cloudy waterways so much so that you can see the fish where vaporetti usually zoom.Carbon dioxide emissions in China have dropped 25% since January. Again, God hates to see the sick, the infections, the financial struggles, but I notice Yahweh taking this awful thing and using it as an opportunity to give His world a spring cleaning.
People are reaching out. Giving what they have to offer. Loving their neighbors. Just like Jesus asked us to. Professional athletes are donating their salaries to arena workers. Fitness instructors like those at Root Yoga and Apps, like the FaithFit project, are offering free virtual workouts. Superstar musicians like Kelly Clarksonand John Legend are singing from home, creating free live performances, on their social feeds for their fans.
We don’t know how this is all going to pan out. But I do know that Jesus is still on the throne. That God is still good. And that He is on our side. As we all continue to shift our patterns, schedules, and expectations due to the effects of the coronavirus, I’m grateful that Christ is the solid rock I stand on. The world is not the same today as it was last week or the week before. But Jesus is. And He is good. And He is taking what He can from this pandemic and using it to orchestrate some good.
Let’s keep our eyes on Him, keep our feet planted in Him. Because Jesus is fully and completely good, we can all take an exhale. What He told the disciples just prior to His crucifixion, He tells us today, In the world there will be tribulation. But be of good cheer. I will overcome the world! John 16:33. God is fully aware of the horrible thing COVID-19 is, but be of good cheer. Jesus will find ways to make some good out of the mess, and even better, He'll overcome it.
Last weekend I:
Which shouldn’t seem related at all, except they both dealt with the things we look to in life to find satisfaction and gratification, and how rarely that works out for us.
If you need a quick refresher, in Aladdin, a poor boy named, Aladdin comes across a magic lamp housing a genie. The genie pops out and tells Aladdin he can make three wishes. Hmmm…what would you do with three wishes? Have you ever considered what you would wish for? A new house? A new job? More hours in the day? The genie warns Aladdin, “Here’s the thing about wishes…the more you have, the more you want.” Dang. Rings a little too true, doesn’t it?
When we turn sixteen it seems like our biggest wish is to be able to drive. When we get our license, we want to borrow our parents’ car. Then we wish we had our own car—any car that moves. Then we want a car with a few bells and whistles. As we get older we might wish for fancier cars—with leather interiors and fabulous sound systems and heated seats (I’m not that into cars, but I do enjoyheated seats). Most writing friends I know have at one time or another “wished” to be published. If they achieve that goal, their next wish is to get another book published, with a bigger publisher, or to sell more copies, or perhaps a multi-book deal, or the ultimate—to be a New York Times Bestseller. All of these are great goals. But at the beginning “being published” felt like the end all. The problem is, there is no end all. The wishes never end.
Renters dream of one day owning a home. Once we buy that “fixer upper” we long for a new kitchen counter, then a kitchen remodel. And while we’re getting a new sink for the kitchen wouldn’t it be gorgeous if we replaced the sinks in the bathrooms, too? Before we know it we’re drooling over Pinterest homes and wishing for more and different than what we have. For athletes it could be an initial goal of making the team, then moving up to the “A” team, hoping for playing time, being in the starting lineup, scoring the points, winning the games, being the MVP. The more you have…the more you want. Most of us are guilty of it in some form or another.
The old man in Hemingway’s classic wasn’t materialistic. He lived in a hut and owned one pair of pants. But he wanted to catch the biggest fish and would stop at nothing to get him. For three days the fisherman held onto his line, so this big fish would not be the one who got away. Meanwhile the old man’s hands were ripped raw from the tugging and pulling of the fishing line. All the man had to eat were a couple of raw fish, all the while being towed by a giant marlin through the depths of the sea. On the brink of dehydration, the man rationed one bottle of fresh water over the course of sunsets and rises and barely slept a wink, putting his body and mind in extreme danger. For over eighty days the man had wished for one great fish. Now it was hooked on his line. Be careful what you wish for old man.
And I feel the warning being screamed at me, too. Be careful what you wish for, Laura. What am I wishing for? What are you wishing for? What do we think we need to feel complete? Like we’ve arrived? If we only had/did/achieved/looked like ______ we would be happy.
Really? Because as soon as we get/earn/appear like that, we usually wish for more.
Except when we have Jesus. He is the one thing that satisfies us once and for all. He is the bread of life, the living water. He told the people who encountered Him they would never need anything else. All they had to do was believe in Him.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (water from a well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4:13
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
Completely, 100% satisfied. Never needing again. When we walk in the peaceful, grace-filled life Jesus offers this is what we receive. Sure, we still could use some money to pay our bills. We still pray for healthy relationships, for joy to fill the hearts of those we love. But we find all of our actual needs are provided for—that our longings are fulfilled. That desire for more and then a little more is squelched, because with Jesus we finally feel whole.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of things I want. A python pair of boots or that pink fuzzy jacket would be fun for fall. A serving of warm apple cobbler topped with creamy ice cream would be delicious. An extra hour of sleep would be divine. Heck, I’d take the half hour. But if I don’t get those things, I’m still fine, thoroughly content. Because all those little twinge-y incomplete parts of my heart have been filled in by a Savior who loves me no matter what I’m wearing, who’s sweeter than any decadent desert, and who provides rest for my tangled up soul.
If you had a magic lamp what would you wish for? If you could go out to proverbial sea one more time what would you hope to catch? It’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. Jesus calls us to be brave, live large, and go out there and use the gifts He’s given us to live bold, radical, fruitful lives. But at the end of the day whether we achieved or did not, won or lost, were noticed or ignored, we are fully seen and fully loved by our Perfect Savior. That itch? That something missing? That void we’re striving to fill? Jesus satisfies and fills it. He is everything we need. And His love and grace never ever run out.
My wish? Is that you feel Jesus’ love today, how it completes you, and satisfies like nothing you could ever set out to catch.
I want my kids to stay home and not return to school. I want the evenings to stay long, the air to stay warm, and to all sit around on the screened-in-porch laughing and talking with a soundtrack of crickets playing in the background.
What do you want right now? The starting position? The starring role? A different relationship status?
In Disney’s The Princess FrogTiana and Prince Naveen show up at Mama Odie’s with green skin, sticky, pink tongues, and covered in mucous. They want to be turned back into humans. But Mama Odie cautions the two “frogs” against striving for what they want, and instead digging deeper to discover what they need. Hmmm.Maybe I should do the same.
Summer forever sounds good and glorious in my mind, but God is way wiser than Mama Odie or me. He knows my kids need to go back to school. If they didn’t their soccer seasons would never commence, they wouldn’t have the conversations that will grow, challenge, and inspire them, play the music orchestrated for them, or audition for the roles they’re itching to act in. If my kids stayed home I would never complete the book I’m working on. If it stayed summer the leaves wouldn’t turn vibrant orange and deep scarlet, the apples wouldn’t ripen, crisp and tart, and we’d never get sweet, frothy Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. Tragic.
Can you picture a year without fall? What would I be forfeiting if I got what I want? We think we know what we want, but God knows better what we need.
How can I be so sure? Experience, for one thing. If all the relationships I’d wanted to work out had, I wouldn’t have married my incredible, loving husband. If we’d been able to purchase the house we wanted to buy when we moved back to Ohio, we wouldn’t have enjoyed our home for the last eighteen years. If my company had granted me the part-time position I wanted after having my first baby, I wouldn’t have pursued writing. And that’s just a sampling of the times God knew way better than I did what was best for me.
I also know God is wiser and more capable than me from reading scripture:
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of His power. – Job 37:5
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty. —Job 37:22-23
This glorious, great, dazzling, powerful, Almighty God of ours knows what He’s doing and has the power to make it happen. He loves us more than we can hope or fathom. Shouldn’t we trust Him to take care of our needs?
What do you want?
What do you need?
Because they’re not always the same thing. I see this as a parent. My kids want to stay up later—which means they’ll be exhausted the next day. They want giant bowls of ice cream, which are tasty in the moment. But if they only ate ice cream, they’d get cavities and face some health issues. Mama Odie suggests to the two frogs who want to return to human form, to consider where happiness comes from before they make a wish. How do we dig deeper?
By praying. It’s that simple. Talk to Jesus. Tell Him you’re worn out, excited, nervous, sad, tired of waiting, not sure what to do next. Tell Him your hopes and dreams—what you want. He already knows exactly what’s on your heart. But He also knows exactly what will fill you with joy, help you thrive, and saturate you with peace. Yes, we all want things. But why not turn those wants into conversations. Then take time to listen to what God whispers, walk away from the doors He shuts, peek through the windows He opens, act upon His nudges, and trust Him in the process.
Our God is glorious. And He loves you so much. He might not give you everything you “want.” But He will provide you with everything you need, plus more than you could ever imagine.
On a stroll through the formal gardens my youngest picked up this leaf hole-punched by insects, held it in front of his face and peered at me. We took turns looking through the leaf, still able to see each other, the sunny marigolds and the scarlet impatiens, but everything was muted, less vibrant. It was odd to be able to see, and yet not. As the bees buzzed overhead and the July sun warmed our skin, I pondered where I need to pull away the metaphorical leaf from my face, so I can see God and His plans for me more clearly.
In the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter has a beautiful, courageous imagination, but in real life he’s complacent, bullied, lonely, and struggles to name a single interesting thing about himself. To keep his job Walter must step out of his daydreams, and in doing so experiences more than he ever realized was possible. This gorgeous film reminds me so much of the leaf. What has God put in our hearts that we’re just imagining we could do or say today, that’s right in front of us yet veiled by something easy to remove? Are we willing to step forward in faith, throw down the leaf, and transform our daydreams into realities?
Because God doesn’t want us living a partial life, seeing things from a muted perspective. He wants us to get going and live fully. He has so much in store! In Hebrews 12:1 we learn we were made to run the race, not cheer on the sidelines. Paul tells the church in Corinth not to sit and think about doing the work God has called them to, but to, “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort. Paul tells the church in Ephesus to run on the road God calls us to travel. King David prays in Psalm 119, “Oh that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.”
To have no regrets. Yes, please! That’s the road I want to travel. One without regrets. One where I don’t look back and wonder what it would have looked like if I’d been willing to open my eyes, take action, and act upon God’s promptings.
What is God nudging you to do? That place He wants you to go, thing He wants you to try, person He wants you to meet? What’s holding you back?
Sure...everything has a price--time, money, energy--are some of the costs of pursuing dreams. But ask anyone who’s completed the marathon they felt inspired to run, climbed the mountain God whispered they should climb, taken the step where God pointed them to walk, if it was worth it. The answer is almost always the same--it was better than they imagined.
Does it feel like God is leading you to further your education? Order yourself a GRE, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT prep book, (Amazon will get it to you by tomorrow), sign yourself up to take the test, and start researching programs. Has God given you an itch to travel, to see more of the world He created? Book yourself a cheap plane ticket on Kayak or convince a pal to take a road trip with you to a city you’ve never visited.
My son and I crossed a bridge and gazed at the gorgeous reflection of the sky and trees in the water. It looked so real--as if we were actually looking upward. But we weren’t. If we keep thinking about what we could be and do, but don’t take any steps toward doing it, it’s like gazing at the reflection of trees in a stream instead of swimming in the water or climbing the trees. So let’s stop thinking about it and dive in, climb upward, and embrace the glorious adventures God has in store.
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I was at the Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference this week and had the pleasure of meeting a lovely group of up-and-coming writers. It was such an honor to sit and chat with them about all of the things God is calling them to do. One woman lost a son to suicide. In the midst of her own tragedy, she feels called by God to write a book to help others heal from similar traumas. I was blown away by her courage and love and obedience, to wade through her own pain to help others. Another woman lost her voice completely three days before the conference. But she came anyway. She took notes and attended a dozen one-on-one meetings communicating by writing questions and answers on her iPad and showing whoever she was speaking with her screen. Such bravery and faithfulness to come despite her ailment, to not give up, to move ahead. I have at least a dozen more stories of others I met who were bravely moving through doubt and worry and all of the excuses to start writing or speaking or blogging, because they felt God was asking them to. God called these folks to some extremely challenging things, but they stepped out in faith.
I came home from the event, changed into my soft red flannel pj pants (the ones with the snowflakes on them), made a hot cup of sweet and spicy apple cinnamon tea, and watched Evan Almighty with my youngest. Have you seen it? Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls and Steve Carell from The Office star as a modern-day couple with three boys. God visits Evan (Carell), a newly elected congressman, and tells him to build an ark. 450 feet long. 75 feet high. Out of wood. By hand. Identical to what God calls Noah to do in Genesis 6:14-21. Which seems a bit crazy and completely impossible, as I’m sure it did to Noah.
The movie is hilarious and if you have to cast someone as God, Morgan Freeman makes a fabulous choice, but what struck me was this is exactly what God does. He asks us to do the wildest things, things that seem out of our realm, and out of our skillset. Just like He was calling the writers I met with at the conference. Just like that thing He’s calling you to do, but you’re not quite sure, or ready, or wonder how it will be received, or what the neighbors will think. But there’s always purpose when God asks. Always. Some times no one else can see or believe why this task is important (like saving folks from an unforeseeable flood during a drought), but when we know God is calling, it’s our job to take a step forward in faith, pick up our toolbox and start building.
Oh yeah, and that toolbox thing. When we think there’s no way we could tackle this project, let alone complete it by ourselves, God puts all of the exact tools we need in our toolbox when we need them. Because we’re not meant to do it on our own. God didn’t call us to that. He’ll be with us. Every step of the way. In Evan Almighty, God had a toolbox and truckloads of wood delivered to Evan’s house. Plus, duh, God gave him a copy of Building an Ark for Dummies. God didn’t make Evan shop for tools or expect him to know how to take on that construction project without guidance and materials. In the same way God has been filling your toolbox, too. Maybe He’s given you a Bible verse and then another and another that totally speaks to what He’s calling you to do. Maybe through a variety of what seemed like random encounters you’ve gotten to know someone who has expertise or contacts that could help launch you towards that next step. Perhaps God had you take a class in college, had you work a part-time job, or volunteer at that charity, so you could learn a skill that He’s asking you to pull out of your toolbox now. And although you never knew you’d need that “saw,” there it is sitting for you, right where God put it, all sharpened and ready to cut some wood.
I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends. Watch it on Netflix if you want to find out. But this is how Genesis Chapter 6 ends: So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. Dang! I can’t imagine how crazy Noah felt, how long it took to build that giant boat by hand, how many people mocked him daily, what is was like rounding up all of those animals, how many times he wanted to give up, how many times Noah, asked God, “Really?” But Noah knew God asked him to do it. And so he did. All of it. Exactly how God asked him to do it.
What is God asking you to do? What tools has He put in your toolbox? What’s stopping you from starting? Don’t let it stop you anymore. Grab a metaphorical saw or hammer and get building, because God asked you to, because He’ll be with you, because He’ll use it for something phenomenal.
As part of our #thankfulnessproject for the month of November, comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram with either something you’re thankful God has called you to do OR a tool you’re thankful God has equipped you with, and then…start building your “ark.”
P.S. If you haven’t joined our #thankfullnessproject yet, it’s not too late. Stop by Facebook and Instagram daily for prompts, so we can thank the good Lord together for all He does and provides.
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.
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
My husband and I joke that God’s voice might sound a whole lot like James Earl Jones'. We were reminded of that tonight. We had a family movie night and watched Field of Dreams. I hadn’t seen this movie since it first came out, which was closing on twenty years ago—yikes! But I still remembered the key line, “Build it and they will come.”
You guys I feel like that all of the time. Like God is whispering to me, “Write it and they will read. Write about your kids’ soccer games, what a bad driver you are, how you let a squirrel into church, peanut butter, that book you read.”
And I think, “Eh? Really? Who wants to hear about that?”
And God, says, “Write it. Write if for Me. I’ll do something with it.”
And so I write. And I hope someone will read the words. But more importantly I pray over each blog that it will somehow impact somebody out there, that someone will understand how much God loves them just a little bit better. That someone will truly believe in their bones a milli-moment more that they are uniquely created by the ultimate Creator to do amazing things. I pray before I open the lid of my Mac, before I click “publish” on a new blog, before I push “send” on a proposal or manuscript or revisions or fourth round of revisions to an editor, before I walk out in front of an audience, before I sync something on social media. I pray that God will use the words He gave me for His glory.
Because none of the words come from me. None of the stories come from me.
Just like Kevin Costner hears a voice in the cornfield telling him to build a baseball field, I believe God calls me to write the craziest things, the things that don’t make sense. But when I do? Something insane happens. It’s no longer about the stories I tell, it’s all about getting closer to Jesus. For a flash, I catch a glimpse His all encompassing love and power. And it is marvelous.
I also believe that God calls each of you to the zaniest most fabulous things. What is He calling you to do today? How weird does it sound? How limitless are the possibilities?
Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, built a baseball field, not because he’d always wanted to, not because it made sense, not to turn a profit, or to give his daughter a place to play, but simply in obedience to a voice. And then?
And Ray questions and wonders if he made the right decision, if he was out of his mind. But one day Ray walks outside and sees baseball legend, Shoeless Joe, standing on his field. The next day several baseball greats are playing on Ray’s field. The movie ends with Ray unexpectedly healing one of his own hurts and a line of cars coming to pay admission to see his field. Ray obeyed the voice even when it seemed counterintuitive to everything he knew. And something awesome happened. That’s how God works.
“March around a wall seven times. That’s how you’ll take this city,” God told Joshua and his army as they faced the impenetrable wall of Jericho. And the walls fell down.
“Oh yeah, fight their army of thousands carrying tons of sharp weapons with only pots and trumpets. You’re sure to win,” God told Gideon and his army of 300. And they won.
The poor will be rich.
The blind will see.
What wackiness is God calling you to?
We’ll all hear His voice in different ways. He calls us all to unique, specific work. And sometimes what God says seems out of the question, like something we would never be able or want to do. Ray’s wife, Annie, in Field of Dreams asks, “Why didn’t the voice send someone else?” And sometimes we ask that same question. Even Moses asked that question. But when God calls you. He calls YOU.
This film came out in 1989. Technology was different. Very. I laughed when Kevin Costner goes to the library and views microfiche, and when his wife answers the telephone with a cord. Plugged into the wall. My husband and I had to explain these things to the children. What if no one had followed God’s call to invent Google to replace microfiche or cell phones to replace wall phones? Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple spoke in our college town this past week about all of the things he was curious about, all the problems he wanted to solve, how if something had a glitch he wanted to fix it. What if he hadn’t? What if you don’t answer God’s voice? What will the world miss out on?
What is God calling you to do today? To build? To create? To join? To take on? To write? To learn? To say? To act upon?
What’s stopping you? Are you afraid of what someone will think or how they’ll react? Are you unsure of the numbers? Of the odds? Of yourself?
I know Field of Dreams is a movie, folks, but I was overwhelmed by how much it mirrors God’s call in our lives. Kevin Costner looks cuckoo. He risks his farm, his profit, and his reputation. But he knows it is what he is called to do. And just when everything seems to be falling apart—like he’ll lose his land and go bankrupt, everything falls into place.
Because God’s plans are perfect plans. Yes, His plans seem out there sometimes. Because, well He’s not of this world. Sometimes earthly obstacles feel like roadblocks when we try executing God’s plans. But if we’re obedient, if we listen when He asks us to do something? Then baseball legends from the past walk out of cornfields, strangers read about my quirky days and somehow feel God’s love, battles are won, slaves freed, and the meek inherit the earth.
The thing about promises is that you keep them.
Or we’re supposed to. But everyone knows some promises hold more weight than others. There are some promises we don’t even pretend will be kept, because we know that either the maker of the promise is unreliable or the nature of the promise is impossible to keep. Think back to junior high elections—the poster that read “Jake for President, if I get elected I promise less homework and more ice cream in the cafeteria.” Um, Jake? Seventh Grade Class President doesn’t hold that kind of weight.
It’s gotten to the point that a promise isn’t enough. We have to swear by it, commit to the promise in writing, or the promise of all promises—make a pinky promise. But even those promises—contracts, vows, oaths—sometimes get broken. But God? He never breaks a promise. Never.
I’ve been working on a writing project this summer, which has put me deep in the books of the Old Testament. I’ll be honest, if I’m picking a chunk of the Bible to read, I prefer the letters from Paul. That’s not where God put me. I found myself imbedded in the pages of thick detailed books where I prefer to skip the battle scenes and go straight to the stories about lion’s dens and fiery furnaces. But it was important for my project that I read every word.
And in that reading, God blew me away. There were passages I thought I knew well, and others I hadn’t spent much time on, but page after page God opened my eyes to one particular truth—He is the God who keeps His promises. Every single time.
God said to an older man and woman with mega infertility issues, “Your kids and grandkids will outnumber the stars.” Abraham and Sarah were skeptical. They both tried to take matters into their own hands. Sarah even laughed out loud at God’s promise. But their son Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90!!! God built a nation out of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. Just like He promised.
God said to Gideon, “You’ll win this battle with a handful of men against a gigantic army. Oh, by the way, you can’t use weapons. Just bring some torches, pots and horns.” Gideon was hiding when God found him. He had a rinky-dink army and no battle skills. But God kept his promise. The enemy defeated themselves. Biggest ‘own goal’ ever.
God said to Joshua, “I’m going to give you this city. All you have to do is walk around it for a week.” And the three tiers of walls that stood four stories high around Jericho literally crumbled to the ground. I get lost easily and have circled many a city block. Thankfully, nothing has fallen down. But when God promises something, even if it sounds ludicrous or impossible, it happens. Because God keeps his promises.
I could go on, but the point is if God says something is going to happen, it will. There are some promises God has across the board promised all of us, like that He will always be with us (Matthew 28:20), which would be plenty on its own. But there are more personal promises that He’s made to me and to you. God promised the shepherd boy David he would become king of Israel. God promised Noah he would be safe from a giant flood when there wasn’t a drop of rain in sight. Those most likely aren’t the promises God has spoken to you lately, because those crazy unlikely sounding promises were very specific to David and Noah. God has other specific promises, possibly super out-there promises, for you and me.
Sometimes God’s promise is something I could never dream up, but God could and does—as in the project that planted me in the Old Testament this summer. God taught me so much through this storytelling assignment, I am blown away. And I never saw it coming.
What has God promised you? Hang on to the fact that He never breaks His promises. No matter how we mess up, how tired we are, how defeated or unworthy we feel. God’s promises don’t look like worldly promises. They’re way more spectacular. And they always come to fruition in ways richer and fuller than we could orchestrate on our own. Whatever God is promising you today, it will happen. I promise.
Laura L. Smith