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.
I was Googling all sorts of random facts—what color line a certain stop was on the subway, the historical context of a monument,—all in a day’s work when writing a novel. While searching a song on YouTube the side bar read, “Up Next.” In other words, the videos YouTube analytics thought I’d be interested in. The top suggestion was an interview with the actor who played Jesus in the movie The Passion.
My husband and I saw it in the theatre with friends when it came out in 2004—fun date night, huh? We left the theatre in silence. As we got into our car I said, “I’m really glad we went. It was…powerful. But I don’t think I could ever watch it again.” True to my word, I haven’t. I’m squeamish and emotional. Viewing the flogging and torture of Christ, even if it was on the Silver Screen, was important to me as a Christian, to have a better understanding of what Jesus endured. But I didn’t think I could take it a second time around.
I never knew who the actor was who played Jesus or what he had done before or since, so his face and name on the sidebar of YouTube didn’t register anything with me. For the record it’s Jim Caviezel. But just the week prior, my daughter’s teacher had messaged saying she’d like to show The Passion in class but required parents’ permission due to the emotional and violent intensity. That email had been a week ago. I’d talked to my daughter about it. Sent a message back giving permission. Checked it off my list and had processed billions of pieces of information since without giving it another thought.
But now? I hesitated, intrigued by the video on the sidebar, about the movie that was more front of mind than it had been since I’d watched it thirteen years ago.
A few blogs back I shared I wanted to spend the 40 days leading up to Easter seeking God like it was a quest. I read and prayed and forced myself to slow down, pause, and listen. I found Him, of course, in countless ways. Because God is always there. Everywhere. And because He is grander than anything imaginable, when we take off our blinders, we find Him. Sometimes I need to remind myself to look. Often I need help pulling those blinders off.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
I was only searching for a performance of a song, but God revealed Himself to me once again. Not because I was actively seeking Him in that moment, but because He knew Laura Smith needed to hear something specific at that particular time. The video was 39 minutes long. Who has time to watch that? It was the middle of my writing day. I had to pick up the kids from school in an hour. But I felt prompted to watch anyway. So I viewed the first few minutes, then let it play for another twenty in the background while I continued with my research. Then it was time to get my kids.
A zillion things occurred— ranging from carpooling to soccer practice that evening to finding someone's missing sock the next morning, and over twenty hours later I returned to my laptop. When I opened it the video was staring me in the face.
Something told me I should watch the rest. Prepared to run it in the background, I pushed play. And then the interviewer asked Jim (the Jesus actor) if he had any parting words. The actor began with how much God loves us then broke into Old Aramaic, quoting his character in the film. I speak some French, a spattering of Spanish and Italian—meaning enough to buy train tickets or order a glass of wine, but Old Aramaic? Not a word. I had no clue what he was saying, but yet these words penetrated somewhere deeper than language could go.
Somehow hearing my Savior’s words spoken in His native tongue took me out of Ohio and my petty concerns of what font I’m typing in and the temperature of my coffee. I was sitting in my writing nook completely undone. Sobbing. Wrecked. It was as if a numbness I didn’t even realize I was experiencing had worn off and I suddenly felt God’s completeness, His unfathomable holiness, and in comparison my utter weakness. Also incredibly tangible was His grace that bridges the huge gap between the two more intensely than I understood was possible to feel. For a moment my blinders came off and I was dazzled by God’s magnificence. And that just shatters me in all kinds of beautiful directions.
Kids, don’t try this at home.
Seriously. Like the Professor explained to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy that although they would have more adventures in Narnia, more incredible experiences of wonder, it would not be by entering through the wardrobe again, we all experience Christ in different ways and different times. Even how one of us discovers different aspects of God varies from day to day. I wasn’t searching for that video. I'm not even linking it here, because it being your door is unlikely. I didn’t know it existed. I certainly didn’t expect to watch the whole thing. This moment of clarity did not come from my striving, but through God's grace.
Seek Him today. I don’t know how He’ll reveal Himself to you. But He will. And when He does, you will be blown away.
Have you seen the movie Begin Again? My favorite scene is when Gretta, a disenchanted musician is coerced by her friend to perform at an open mic night at a pub. While she’s singing, Dan, a down and out music producer, is ordering a drink at the bar. But at the sound of her voice and her acoustic guitar he turns around. And everything stops.
Like magic, a few chords resonate from the piano on the corner of the stage, accompanying her tune. Drumsticks are raised by invisible hands to pound out a beat at the exact right moment. A cello and bow appear on stage and play a few perfectly placed notes all by themselves. Dan might be going through a rough period—with his family and with his job, but he has a God-given gift. He can produce music. And he can do it like a maestro. He rubs his chin, tilts his head, and as he nods a violin appears out of thin air playing the coup de grace for the song’s bridge. All it takes are a few notes from an unknown singer, and Dan inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to turn a good song into the kind that strikes a chord in your heart.
This is what God-given gifts look like. Effortless to those who weld them. Unbelievable to those who witness them. We usually spot them quickly in others, but falter when it comes to identifying them within ourselves. What are your God-given gifts—the things you do so naturally, that you might not even own up to them?
Recently I hit a brick wall while in the midst of responding to edits on a book I’m finishing. I knew what I wanted to say and why it was important to me. I understood what the reviewer was communicating, but I could not for the life of me make the two concepts work together. But my friend, Amy? She talked me off the ledge. She took a look at a passage that paralyzed me and said, “Oh, this is great. You just need to tweak this sentence by adding this and deleting that.” It was like she’d waved her magic wand and instantly fixed something I’d been tangled in for over an hour.
I was considering tiling the backsplash in my kitchen but I’m clueless in the home décor department, so I texted my friend, Jamie, who along with being an artist, stages houses. Five minutes and fifteen texts later she had pulled a Joanna Gaines and suggested what she would have a carpenter do on my cabinets and what color of paint would be the perfect accent to the tile.
Have you witnessed something like this? Someone who steps into a challenge and simply slides and turns what are obstacles to you as easily as the squares on a Rubik’s cube, and within moments has all of the sides and colors in neat little rows. The rest of us stand with our jaws hanging open saying, “How did they do that? What just happened?”
This is what God-given talent looks like. Effortless. What can you do like this? You might not even know you can do it, because it comes so stinking easy to you. You might not even think about it, never even consider it. It’s just what you do. But that’s not what everyone does, how everyone looks at things, this is your special thing. This is how the Creator of the Universe created you. Can you pluck a fabulous harmony on the upright bass? Can you look at a chemistry equation and immediately see which reactants and products in what quantities are necessary to balance it? When a friend is frazzled, do the right words, nods and gestures come naturally to you to calm and soothe them?
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts…Romans 12:6
That gift you have? God placed it in you the day He made you.
You have a special thing! There’s something you do that awes the people around you, that leaves them asking, “How do they do that?” And when you find that thing—do lots of it. Do more of it. Find additional ways to integrate that thing into your daily life. Seek more opportunities to apply this skill, to exercise those muscles, to play your song. Don’t let your talent sit on a shelf collecting dust. The world needs you and your gift, because the rest of us can’t do it, and even if we can somehow accomplish that thing you do so well, when we do it—it is with great struggle and frustration. I needed friends to help with edits and with decorating. The world needs you to line it up, click things into place, plug them in, and light things up.
Because God gave you that gift in the first place, when you put it in His hands, it can soar like it’s on steroids! Even more masterfully than a music producer, God inexplicably knows precisely what instruments, beats, and harmonies should be added in at exactly the right time to highlight and accentuate your talents. Ask Him to guide that gift He gave you, and watch Him turn the tune of your life into the kind that makes people dance and cry and sing at the top of their lungs, the kind people remember, and play over and over again, because it strikes a chord in their hearts. Today you can begin again. You can tap into your God-given talent, ask Him how you can use it to serve Him, and together you can fill the air with magnificent melodies.
“So apparently when you all signed up for your fitness passes, you signed a waiver agreeing you could be photographed or filmed to promote the Rec Center,” my instructor pauses. “Do any of you have a problem with that? Because I totally understand if you do.” Her blue eyes glance around the room, because she knows most of us, because she cares about our wellness and about our privacy. “They’re filming today, and we can always move you or organize you, so you don’t show up on film.”
Someone commented they would have worn nicer workout gear if they’d known. What was I even wearing?
Someone else suggested they weren’t on their best game today and asked to move to the corner. Not a horrible idea.
If we’re being filmed, let’s face it; we’d want our best to show.
It got me thinking about what it would be like if my entire day was filmed. Would it change what I wore? What I said? How I reacted? Would there be things I would beg the cameraperson to delete? Yes. Other things I’d ask if they could retake? Definitely. Would I want a handful of do-overs? Absolutely, plus a few more, please. What if someone was filming my entire week or month or year of life? Gheesh!
What if they were filming yours?
There are some frivolous things that come to mind, like I’d need to clean my house, and then my car. I probably wouldn’t wear my worn-out slippers as often as I do, and maybe I’d be motivated to cook something a bit more elaborate than tacos for dinner. I might question if it’s necessary for me to nibble on all of those chocolate chips at 11:00 AM? I might answer, yes, yes it is necessary, but still I might question it.
But there are way more important things I’d want to focus on, like every word that comes out of my mouth—is it affirming? Is it hopeful, encouraging, pointing people back to Jesus? Or is it whiny, prideful or sarcastic? Am I fritzing too much time on social media and Googling random questions that clutter my head, or am I using my time wisely? Would I be less judgmental? Would I be more attentive to my kids, more adoring to my husband?
The thing is, someone can see everything we do, and it’s not Siri, Echo, Google Home, or Big Brother. It’s God. He sees us waking up and knows the first thought that pops into our heads—good or bad. He sees how we act when we’re stuck in traffic, when our team beats our rival, when we’re scrambling to meet a deadline, when that certain person texts, and when we’re faced with a difficult decision. He sees all of it, and no matter how badly (or well) we act, no matter how many times we mess up (or get it right), He loves us.
I type that and it still blows me away.
Jesus sees everything I do, knows everything I think, and loves me anyway. Loves you anyway.
If the cameras were rolling would you act differently today?
There are so many things I could do better. So many things I’m working on in my life. Quite frankly, knowing Jesus loves me that much inspires me to continuously try to fine-tune my attitude and heart. Not because He demands it, but because I am so honored and overwhelmed that He cares that much about me (about you, too!). Some days I do all right. Others, not so much. But I am grateful that every day, the God who created heaven and earth is by my side. He offers love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control when I don’t have it on my own. And when I’m too stubborn or weak to accept the beautiful fruit He offers, He still loves me. Despite it all.
And that? God loving us no matter how many scenes of our lives we mess up? That sounds like the best love story of all time.
Would you do anything differently, if you were being filmed?
We love to be in the know.
We stay up later than we should turning the pages of a good mystery, because we want the next clue. We binge watch a series on Netflix, because we can’t stand not knowing what happens in the next episode. And in our lives, we’re even more eager to find out how things are going to turn out. We want to know who we’ll marry, and what our next job looks like, and if we’ll get in, and what the test results are going to say, what our 2017 is going to look like. And, we want to know NOW. But God tells us, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
And because He’s God, and He’s always had it, and He’s helped us and saved us and fixed us and rerouted us time and time again for the good, He expects us to be able to trust Him, and we sort of do, but inside we want the whole picture, and we sound a bit like Veruca Salt as we sing, “I want it now!”
But God asks us to have faith—in Him, in His perfect plans for us. That’s hard sometimes, right? Especially when we’re in challenging places, uncertain places, downright scary places.
Why am I here, God?
I want out now!
Okay, I prayed about it, how about now?
We are so impatient. We want it all, the next clue, the next episode, the next email, the next referral, the next deposit in our bank accounts…and we want it now.
We’re like little kids playing Mother-May-I.
God says, “Take three baby steps forward.”
We roll our eyes and ask, “Baby steps? How will I ever get there taking baby steps?”
God whispers, Have faith. You need to tread slowly here, so you don’t get hurt, so you understand the process. That’s why the steps are small.
God says, “Take one giant step backwards.”
We throw our hands in the air and scream at Him, “Backwards! I’m trying to move forward here. That way. Ahead!” As if He doesn’t know. Even though He’s God. And clearly He’s aware of the situation.
God sighs and thinks, I’m going to teach you something really cool back there. Give you a brilliant perspective. I might even have someone special you’re supposed to meet ‘back there’ that will make ‘up there’ much more pleasurable. Have a little faith.
And then, just when we feel like we’re trudging along, baby steps and backwards steps and going nowhere, God says, “Take ten giant leaps forward!” And we bound towards our goal and it’s even more glorious than we imagined and way better than we deserve.
Does anything look bleak for you right now? Is this time of year tough? Does it look like there’s no way out? Have you given up on something? Do you think God may have given up on you? Or are you praying earnestly, trusting that God has a plan? How’s your faith life?
Jesus offers us freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. —Galatians 5:1
But are we willing to walk through this life on His terms?
With total trust? Complete faith?
Taking one obedient step at a time?
Because when we do, the doors will be opened. And we will be set free!
Jesus rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a blazing fire that instantly torched the guards throwing them in the flames. God protected Daniel from a pit full of famished lions. Jesus rescued Lazarus from the dead, His disciples from the storm, and Peter from prison. Today, as we embark on a new year, Jesus reminds us once again, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
I don’t know what you’re leaving behind in 2016 or what you’re facing in 2017, but I do know that God is with you, walking by your side, guiding your steps forward and backward and sideways and even the moments when it’s necessary to stand absolutely still. I know that God has beautiful plans for you, and that He will orchestrate them magnificently. As you plan out your calendar and/or your finances, write down your goals, choose your word for the year, don’t forget to have a little faith.
Laura L. Smith