My Favorite Reads of 2022
I made some progress in my to-read stack this year, but every time I took one book off, more seemed to multiply in its place. Which is wonderful, because bring on ALL the books! I usually give you my “best” books in a couple of categories each January, but it’s so hard to pick “best” when there are so many grand books. So this year, I’m just going to share some of my favorites.
I discovered a new author, Clare Pooley. Her writing is honest and authentic. My daughter loaned me her copy of The Authenticity Project, which I devoured and loved so much I went on to read Pooley’s other novel Iona Iverson’s Rules of Commuting. It was so good I bought a copy for my girl. Both books give glimpses of a variety of individual’s lives that collide under a set of unusual circumstances. Their interactions remind us that everyone has value and deserves to be seen, and that first impressions don’t tell the real story.
I dove into Charles Martin’s third book in his Murphy Shepherd series, The Record Keeper. I raved about the first two last year here ). The Record Keeper was. So. Good. In this trilogy Martin exposes the detestable sex trafficking industry throughout the plot raising awareness of the heinous crimes being committed against young people. But it is the journeys of healing the characters travel that are the gold nuggets here. They remind us that there is hope and redemption for us all. Read these books starting with #1. Allow the stories to roll over you. Breathe them in and believe that the healing grace offered the characters is available for you, too. Because it is.
I'm trying to broaden my Midwestern white girl perspective. Two books that helped this year were I Take My Coffee Black by Tyler Merritt and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The social justice work Bryan Stevenson does and shares in Just Mercy is beautiful, hard, life-changing work. As Rosa Parks told Bryan when they met, "You're going to be tired, tired tired. So you're going to need to be brave, brave, brave."
I learned so much about systemic racism, the prison system, death row, and humanity on these pages. Bryan is so bravely loving His neighbors, taking back ground for God's kingdom, and saving and changing people's lives (Just Mercy is also a powerful movie).
Tyler Merritt is funny, smart, creative, full of faith and warm-hearted. He weaves important, historical information on systemic racism throughout his personal narrative. Merritt honestly steps into hard life situations, but always bounces back to the love and grace of Jesus. Tyler also loves all things Hamilton and almost every genre of music, which is an added bonus. For a glimpse of Tyler’s work watch his YouTube video, “If Only She Knew”
As usual, this year I spent a lot of time reading my favorite book–the Bible. I mostly hung out in the Old Testament (with extra time in the Psalms) but also had an extended stay in Ephesians, plus frequent dips into the Gospels. I read books on faith and Jesus and the Bible. I absolutely loved Shauna Niequist’s I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet. I read more World War II Historical Fiction set in France, like Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah, because, please, I cannot resist. I also enjoyed a couple of fun romances by Betsy St. Amant like All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, because I have a sweet tooth for romance. You can find my reviews on everything I remembered to review on my Goodreads profile.
Other favorites of the year?
Music wise, I listened to Lion by Elevation Worship on repeat. Shows? Our family discovered a new series on Disney Plus, National Treasure: Edge of History we’re all enjoying. My favorite movies of the year were Redeeming Love, the film adaptation of Francine Rivers’ novel about the book of Hosea and ultimately God’s love for each of us, and Top Gun: Maverick, the follow up to the 80’s classic, full of fighting for what’s good and right, never leaving your wing man, plus a little romance sprinkled in. I also got new running shoes–I switched to Hokas and this running girl’s knees are so thankful! And last but not least, my mom got me to try a new mascara. Thrive, which goes on and off differently than any mascara I’ve ever tried, was super weird at first, and now I’m in love. Plus Thrive Causemetics donates money to great causes to help people suffering from domestic abuse, homelessness, cancer, etc. with every purchase. Win win.
How about you? What books, music, shoes, new things did you discover in 2022? What’s on your reading list for 2023? Leave a comment–I’m always looking for more books to add to my stack.
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Does someone you care about struggle with their mental health (maybe even you)? If so, how can you help?
Seeking help from a mental health professional is always the best and most important first step. But you can make a difference right now. Where should you start?
1. Take care of their physical needs. Our mental health wobbles when we’re not taking care of ourselves, so basic self care is a great place to start. Are they eating enough? Sleeping enough? Moving their bodies? Are they staying hydrated?
If not, help out how you can. Bring the person you care about a charcuterie tray or a meal or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants. Deliver a goodie bag of their favorite hydrating beverages–La Croix or some other flavored fizzy water or a box of their favorite tea with a jar of local honey. Invite them on a walk or a bike ride or to kick the soccer ball around with you (it is World Cup season, after all). Suggest they get some sleep–go to bed early, take a nap, etc.
Jesus did this. He fed crowds (John 6:5-13). He made sure the disciples were eating and resting (Mark 6:31). He cared about the people around Him and their basic needs. We can too.
2. Be a calming presence. Lean back, breathe deeply and slowly, speak in a calm voice, light a candle, or play some soft music. We live in a loud, hurried world. Show the person you love what peace looks like–that it is available.
Jesus calmed the storms at sea, showing the disciples peace was accessible to them even when they least expected it (Mark 4:35-41). We can also offer the people we care about a glimpse of calm.
3. Check in. When we’re alone is when our thoughts tend to spiral. We worry about the what ifs instead of focusing on the now. When we’re alone is when Satan loves to slither in and whisper lies to us. Make sure you’re not alone and the people you care about aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to. Remind them that they are seen. That they matter.
Jesus made sure the disciples traveled in pairs, not solo (Luke 10:1). Jesus approached people no one else would consider speaking to or even getting near. He didn't want them to feel isolated (John 4:7-27, Matthew 8:1-3). From the get go God knew it wasn't good for people to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We can follow Jesus’ lead and send the text, better yet make the call, even better knock on and open doors to make sure the people we care about are doing okay. If you’re worried about someone’s safety, seek professional help immediately.
4. Pray. There’s just nothing like prayer. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things is just waiting for you to talk to Him. He loves you and every single person on earth so very much. He created us all. He died for us all. He cares about our mental health. Jesus wants to flood us with hope, joy, and peace. When we talk to Jesus, it sets things in motion. Prayer costs nothing. It doesn’t require any knowledge or skill set. All you have to do is start telling Jesus what’s on your mind.
Peter, one of Jesus’ very best friends, tells us: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter saw first hand that Jesus cares so much about you and me, that we can hand over all our troubles and fears and concerns to Him. Ask Jesus to help the people you love(and yourself) with their mental health. I’ll get us started: Dear Jesus, please flood me and ______ with your peace, hope, and love.
5. Grab them a copy of my new book, 5 MInute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health
It releases one week from today! I wrote this book as a way for people to quickly connect with Jesus, and in doing so, also care for their mental health. The short devotions are catered to teens, but early readers are saying, “It’s great for ALL ages, even adults.” Each page has a Bible verse, devotion, and prayer or activity. These books make great stocking stuffers for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, anyone you love. Maybe even sneak an extra in your own stocking.
It’s amazing how many scientific tips for caring for our mental health are Biblical. Jesus loves us so much. He always has our best interest in mind, and cares so much about our mental health. Praying for you, for your mental health, and for the mental health of those you love.
I am a music lover. I love going to concerts, especially outdoor concerts in the summer with the music floating through the warm evening air and the vibrancy and excitement and energy everywhere. Therefore, when planning the summer and how to embrace it to its fullest, summer shows were on my list. And because God is God, of course He taught me things from these outdoor concerts. Mainly, He taught me about perseverance.
My husband got me tickets as a gift to see three nineties bands we’d loved way back then. We purchased our tickets in the spring, but this show had originally been planned to take place in the summer of 2020.
These musicians had scheduled their lives around dates in over thirty-five cities, booked venues, tour buses, and bus drivers. They’d arranged their calendars with their families, sold tickets, created setlists, hired crews, designed merchandise.
And then the world shut down.
The bands could have said, oh well, guess that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Or they could have gotten angry and negative and complained.
They certainly could have given up.
But instead, they waited for two years, persevered, rescheduled, and toured. All three bands shared how meaningful this tour was to them, because they’d had to wait for it, because against the odds they made it happen.
At another concert, Ryan Tedder, front man for One Republic and also acclaimed songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Beyonce, Adele, etc., also spoke of perseverance. He shared the stories of songs he’d written over the years that critics told him, “were awful,” “no one would like,” and should be “thrown in the garbage.” But Tedder believed in these songs, believed that God created Him to write songs, even after getting his work turned down by multiple artists and industry experts, so he persevered. Tedder found homes for all his rejected songs, some of them even becoming number one hits. You just might know all the words to them.
What if Ryan Tedder had given up? Listened to the criticism? Filled his head with the lies that his music didn’t cut it? What if the 90’s bands had given up touring altogether? What if you give up on the dream God placed in your heart or the work God has put in front of you or the relationship God has nudged you to tend and maybe even mend?
What if you choose to persevere?
Because the Bible instructs us:
Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. --Hebrews 10:35-36
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? --Esther 4:14
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. --Philippians 1:6
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. I’m saying this to myself and to you. That thing that’s hard right now–let’s persevere. Let’s cling to our confidence–not that we’re spectacular or talented, but that God is, and His work is mighty in us. That with Him we can do anything He desires. Remember, this is the God who parted seas and rivers, knocked down city walls, and sprang water to quench millions (yes millions) of Israelites in the desert. I’m pretty sure this God can help you and me with the work and projects and relationships and situations that are challenging us today.
I’m wondering what you need to persevere right now?
I know for myself I have a new book I’m writing that’s different from my previous projects. I’m passionate about the topic and fully believe that God gave me the idea and opened the doors to make this idea a reality, but it’s quite the undertaking. I need to sit down. Write it idea by idea. Page by page. Praying all along. Because God gave me this opportunity to share something important with others. I need to go to my desk and put away my phone and actually type some words. Even when the writing is hard. Even when I need to be vulnerable in the writing. Even when I’m tired. Because that’s how things get done.
I have friends who are working towards licensures, certifications, and degrees. I have other friends who are working toward health and fitness goals. Another friend has an exciting business idea. Yet another is working through some really challenging things with her counselor. One friend has something amazing she wants to implement at her church. These women inspire me with their perseverance. They have faced obstacles. They will face more. And yet, Jesus calls them to persevere.
Why? Because when He starts something in us, He will bring it to completion. Because there is good work to be done. Because He chose them for these things at this time.
Just like He chose you. Today. For the things He puts in front of you.
One more band, NeedtoBreathe, sang a song narrating a time when the lead singer’s father, who was a pastor, had a rumor started about him at his church. It was an extremely challenging time for their family as people believed the lies. But the pastor stood his ground in the truth. He clung to who he was in Christ. He persevered. As a result of his perseverance, God gave their dad/the pastor the strength to confront the attacks and help the truth surface.
The refrain of this song, titled “Washed by the Water,” is such a testament to how we can all persevere, not by our own strength, not by our own intellect, or flair, but by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us if we are baptized in Christ.
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
How about you? What do you need to persevere right now? Keep going! You can do this! You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you, empowering and strengthening you, the God of the universe cheering you on! He wants the best for you, hang on, keep going, don't give up, persevere. What He started in you, He will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6). Jesus promises us a full life when we persevere with and for Him. I don’t want to miss out on the good good life He has in store.
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Are You Ready For Something New
I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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Go, Tell it on the Mountain
I’m deep in edits and on a deadline, so I decided instead of skipping sending you a blog this week, I’d send a free chapter (a Christmas one, of course) from my book How Sweet the Sound. However busy your Christmas routine and year end to-dos have you, I pray you can take a moment to hear the sweet, sweet sound, of our Savior's amazing grace.
“I need You,” my son’s vocal coach’s harmony mingles with my son’s melody. I’m in the other room with a novel I brought to read during his lesson. The pages sit open on my lap, but I’m not reading. I can’t. The song they’re sing- ing, "Whole Heart” by Hillsong United, is too beauti- ful, too magnetic, and pulls me out of my book and into the lyrics. Last week his teacher said to us as we were leaving, “That is such a powerful song. I can’t get it out of my head.”
Did I mention his teacher is not a Christian?
And yet, this song about Jesus restoring our brokenness through His grace is stuck in her head. She’s singing it out loud, over and over. Words about clinging to the rock, about being made whole—an anthem so fitting for this wonderful woman.
Her husband passed away a few years ago. I’m not sure how old she is. In her fifties? Too young to be widowed. Any age is too young to be widowed. And she lives in the beautiful home they built together, teaching music because it’s her passion. She is kind and encouraging and every flavor of loveliness, but she doesn’t know Jesus.
She’s shared with me how much she misses her husband, how difficult it is. And then my son (I’m actually going to assume it was the Spirit prompting my son) picks this song as the piece he wants to work on. A song about Jesus pulling us upright when we’re too weak to stand.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
That’s why I can’t read today—can’t pull myself away from the marvel of a woman learning about Jesus, experiencing who He is, feeling the tug of His love. My eyes are closed. Still a tear leaks out of the right corner and glides down my cheek.
This is what sharing the gospel looks like—beautiful, moving, real. There’s an old spiritual that was passed among the plantations in the South called “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”
Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
Jesus calls us to this. His final conversation with the disciples (recorded in Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8) is Jesus instructing them (and now us) to tell the whole world about Him.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NLT)
Telling the whole earth about Jesus, over the hills and everywhere, sounds difficult, especially in our do-it-your-self culture. Where do we start? With whom? When? Under what circumstances?
Heck, even acquiring and writing down the lyrics to “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” was a challenge. The song had been passed along verbally. There was no written record of it. As you can imagine there were several versions being sung. But John Wesley Work Jr. was passionate about collecting and preserving African American spirituals so they could be shared with people everywhere. His desire to distribute these songs proclaiming that God "sent us salvation that blessèd Christmas morn" allows us to sing these hymns and contemplate their messages today.
Collecting scores of unwritten songs composed by the enslaved, verifying words, stanzas, and melodies from the Civil War era seemed unlikely, intimidating, and maybe not super popular with early-twentieth-century American culture. But to John Wesley Work Jr. it made sense. He was a highly educated man, led the church choir, adored Jesus, and loved music. Curating and publishing books featuring the hymns of his ancestors was meaningful. Work included “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” in his second book, Folk Songs of the American Negro.
This was such a natural way for Work to share the gospel.
Similarly, a high school boy sharing how Jesus can change your life with his vocal coach in a college town today also sounds unlikely, intimidating, and a little strange. But, sharing the gospel doesn’t have to feel weird. My son didn’t pull out a tract, recite verses, or tell his teacher a story about the time he accepted Jesus at camp.
Don’t get me wrong. I write Christian content for a living, love memorizing Scripture, and actually accepted Christ at horseback riding camp in junior high.
I’m just saying we overthink this “Go tell the world” thing. We sometimes try too hard. Overanalyze.
Max is taking voice lessons so he can improve his worship leading skills. His teacher asked him what song he’d like to work on. Max suggested this one by Hillsong United. He was just honest about the kind of music he listens to, the kind he sings—worship music. It was normal, natural, unforced. The next thing you know, this lovely lady is singing to Jesus.
I don’t know if his teacher will accept Christ into her heart. But that’s not my job or Max’s. Telling people about Jesus, sharing who He is, that’s our assignment—the Great Commission. John Wesley Work Jr. probably died having no idea how many people came to Christ because of the books of spirituals he published. But his job was to get them in print, get them out there, plant the seeds through songs.
As Max and I walk to the car we hear his teacher's alto trill across the walk declaring how God’s grace holds her. Yes it does, my friend. Grace holds you. Grace holds all of us. Me. Max. You, on the other side of this book. Grace holds you.
What a gorgeous truth.
I am so grateful God allowed Max to share Christ’s grace with his teacher, maybe not on a mountain or in Judea, but on a piano bench in Oxford, Ohio. Because this is what Jesus asks us to do . . . go out and make disciples of all the nations. There’s not a perfect way to do it. You don’t have to have things written out or know all the answers. You just have to walk around loving Jesus. The rest will come naturally. You’ll find your own mountains. And there you can tell others of His love.
And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 nlt)
If you enjoyed this chapter, you can get the book, How Sweet the Sound in its entirety at booksellers everywhere including Amazon and Our Daily Bread Publishing.
from How Sweet the Sound reprinted with permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. Further distribution of this chapter is prohibited without permission from Our Daily Bread Publishing. For permission to use this devotional please contact email@example.com
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IN TWO YEARS?
I listened to videos from a worship conference my son and I attended two years ago (read more about our experience here) instead of one of my playlists while I ran this morning. Yes, I said listening to videos. I’m weird like that. The music at the event was amazing, and Max and I videoed many of the songs. Since all the music was live, our phone recordings are different from the versions of the same songs I have downloaded on Spotify.
“Glorious Day” started playing, and 1:16 minutes into the song Brandon Lake broke into a spontaneous declaration of, “This is my testimony…” Brandon proceeded to contrast the way God had changed his life. Such as, “This is my testimony--from dark to light. This is my testimony--from death to life.” And it got me thinking about where I was two years ago.
Where was I then?
Where am I now?
I don’t mean I was standing in insanely hot August Texas heat eating a-ma-zing tacos with some special zingy seasoning from a food truck while Max and I waited to get into the conference, but the things I was praying for two years ago. The things Max was praying for.
And how God has answered so many of those prayers.
Max was headed into his senior year of high school. Due to injuries he was no longer able to play soccer, which had been his sport the first three years of school. He didn’t know where he wanted to go to college. Or how he would continue with the worship music he was passionate about when he went away to school. At that conference I remember specifically praying for healing of an old, deep family wound and for my writing which seemed to be taking a new direction. I had all kinds of questions about where exactly God wanted it to go.
Fast forward to today. Max’s senior year was by far his favorite year of high school. He tried and loved a new sport and made incredible new friends. Last week he started his sophomore year of college, at a university we’re certain God guided him to. He leads worship both on and off campus in a variety of outlets using his musical gifts to point others to Jesus. The prayers my son prayed throughout that conference. The things he took to Jesus. They’ve been answered in wonderful ways we could have never imagined.
God placed a friend and a conversation in front of me that nudged me to start seeing a Christian counselor. She has helped me heal from my past in ways I didn’t know were possible. I’ve teamed up with an amazing publisher who has provided avenues for me to share about Jesus’ great love for us that I didn’t know existed. I look back to August 2019 Laura and see that as I sang, worshipped, and got down on my knees, the things I was talking to Jesus about? Those things? He heard me. He listened, He cared. He has provided in unfathomable ways.
And today, I write this for two reasons.
I’m not promising everything will look like you think it should.
I doubt it will.
Max’s situation isn’t at all how he had it sketched out.
It’s so much better.
Same with me.
Max and I didn’t even know to pray for some of the things God has provided.
I can’t wait to hear what your testimonies are--how God has moved in your past two years or past two weeks or last two days. Drop a comment--I’d love to praise Jesus with you.
Also drop a comment if you have a prayer request. I’d be honored to pray with you. Because I cannot wait to see where we’ll all be two years from now, sharing our testimonies of how our loving Savior has done so much infinitely more than we could ever hope for or imagine. How He has answered our prayers.
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What should you know about Jesus?
Jesus is kind.
Jesus is loving.
Over the last ten days I’ve gone to my home church, attended a church in Nashville (because we were there over the weekend), read a nonfiction Christian book, listened to three sermon podcasts on the book of Revelation, which were recommended to me, prepped and taught a Bible study, watched an episode of The Chosen (a series depicting the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and read the Bible and journaled daily with Jesus. For those of you who are new here, this content is both for my soul--my personal relationship with Jesus and for my job as a Christian author and speaker, so I can better understand and explain Jesus to others. Getting to immerse myself in teachings on the Bible is a huge perk of my vocation for me, since I'm the ultimate booknerd/studynerd. Out of all these readings and sermons I learned a lot, but this is my biggest takeaway--Jesus is kind. Jesus is loving.
It sounds trite, but it. Is. So. True. And because it’s true, it’s a game changer.
At the church services I attended we sang of the goodness of God, how His love is like a sloppy wet kiss, that the God of breakthroughs is on our side. One of the sermons focused on Philippians 4:8 which says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Why? Because Jesus wants lovelines, excellence, truth and nobility for us! For you! For me!
The book I read was all about slowing down to hear the loving voice of Jesus better. The sermons on Revelation honed in on both how loving our God is to give us a zillion and ten chances to follow Him, and that we have an open invite into His glorious kingdom. The Bible study I wrote and taught was all about the joy God offers. The episode of The Chosen shows Jesus look into the eyes of a woman who doesn’t feel noticed, who’s overwhelmed, and He tells her, “I see you. I will take care of you.”
Another woman declares, “Everyone looks down on me.”
And Jesus nods because it’s true. Then He says, “Yes. But the Messiah does not.”
In my daily reading I’ve been in the book of Matthew where Jesus heals a leper and a paralytic, calms the storms, and reassures us that if we follow Him He will give us everything we need.
Page after page in the Bible illustrates how kind and loving Jesus is.
I see this in my own life. I mentioned we went to Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Our purpose was to help my oldest daughter move into her first grown up home. It was, I repeat, Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Which sounded like so much traffic and so many people, but of course worth it, to see my girl.
God knew my heart was a little fragile about my daughter moving away and with immense loving-kindness He padded my weekend with ease and joy and laughter. We experienced no traffic. As in not just no “holiday traffic,” but no traffic traffic. We cruised from state to state to state, and around Music City no problem. We also experienced zero lines going out to eat Fourth of July weekend in this bustling town. We got right in, no reservations, ate pizza and something called cinnamon bites, saw live music (because when in Nashville….), got ripe, juicy blackberries at the farmer’s market, ate a scrumptious brunch at Fido complete with Berry Berry Pancakes (seems to be a berry theme), returned our rental truck in about two minutes, and drove back to Ohio. Again, with no traffic.
It was all so perfect and easy and I felt God’s provision and goodness all over every single piece of our adventure. How good is our God? How personal?
A God who sees a mama trying to gracefully release her baby bird but with an ache in her heart (that’s me) and gives her a no traffic, no lines, get to hug your girl and hold her tight kind of weekend.
Sure, we still live in a world where there is traffic and evil and mosquitos and gossip. But Jesus? He is kind. And He is loving.
And why is this important? Because life can be hard. Because when our product doesn’t launch as well as we’d hoped or when that person hurts us or when we experience loss or when our world feels so divided Jesus sees you and me. Right where we are. In the middle of it all. He looks us in the eyes and loves us in just the way we need it most. And He is kind to us.
Jesus loves you.
Today He loves you.
No matter if you’ve talked to Him ever or not. No matter if you’re currently in a hot mess of lies and mistakes or living your best life. No matter what you think “the church” thinks about you, Jesus isn’t judgy. He is kind and loving. To quote Jesus himself, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”--John 3:17
Jesus loves us by giving us blue skies and fruity, sticky pancakes, and the sound of an acoustic guitar played by a young musician on Music Row strumming his heart out. Jesus is so kind He provides a breeze blowing on a hot July day and the magical sparks of fireworks lighting up the dark summer sky with bright colors.
Jesus loves you. Jesus is kind to you.
Inhale the scent of a knockout rose or better yet lavender growing in a garden. Savor the sweetness of a fresh strawberry or a cool glass of lemonade. Giggle at the splash of a sprinkler or fountain or wave. And thank Jesus for His ever present overpowering love and kindness.
How has Jesus been kind and loving to you today? Drop a comment. I’d love to hear.
THE POWER OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC
From the very first jingle of bells I get excited. I can’t help smiling. It literally turns on a happy switch inside my brain and heart. One day I’m raking leaves, focused on a deadline, and trying not to be late to pick up one of my kids, and the next I hear those bells and I’m instantly transformed from a mom-in-motion to a Christmas elf. I want to bake all the cookies, decorate a tree right this very minute, light a pine-scented candle and order matching polar bear pajamas for the fam.
The catalog of Christmas music can do everything from make me giggle “6 White Boomers”, tear up “Silent Night”, or belt it out at the top of my lungs “Let it Snow.” But mostly for me it sets the mood for the holiday celebrating that Jesus chose to come down to earth to be with us. It is the soundtrack of my season. I play it while I shop, cook, and wrap. It evokes so many memories--of the kids caroling with their cousins when they were little, of them singing in their preschool Christmas programs, of candlelit Christmas eve services at church growing up. But Christmas music does more than just put us in a good mood or a nostalgic state of mind.
There’s power in it.
In 1984 Bob Geldof, front man for the Boomtown Rats, organized a group of the most famous British and Irish musicians to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” His goal was to raise money and awareness for a famine in Ethiopia. Geldof’s song raised over $24 million dollars! From one song. Recorded in one day and released a week later. Why? Because there is power in music. There is power in us using our place here on earth (whether we’re a stay-at-home mom, an accountant, or a member of Duran Duran) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, because Jesus asked us to (Matthew 25:34-39). There is power in people coming together to be light to this world.
Seventy years earlier, on December 24, 1914 soldiers in Europe were in the fray of World War. Over a million lives had already been lost. Deep in the muddy trenches a group of British soldiers saw lights and then heard their German enemies not firing guns, but singing “Stille Nacht,” which we know as “Silent Night.” The British soldiers joined in in their own language, both sides singing of the night Jesus came to bring peace on earth. And for that night, there was. Soldiers on both sides shook hands, exchanged their meager possessions--chocolate and cigarettes--as gifts and even played a game of soccer. There was a ceasefire in the midst of a bloody warzone. People loving their neighbors. I’m certain it made Jesus smile.
Christmas music can be super fun, but it can also be powerful. The old Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night” and “Away in the Manger” take us back to that very first moment when Jesus entered the earth. When He said, “Yes, I’ll leave heaven, step off my throne, put down my crown and royal robes and humble myself as a baby, and as a carpenter from Nazareth. I’ll do all of this to be with my children, the incredible individuals I created (that’s you and me). Not only do I want to be with them for a little while, but I want to be with them forever. So, while I’m down there, I’ll sacrifice myself for them. But it starts right now, in this most unlikely of places with the most unlikely of people--an unwed couple and a manger. Yeah. It’s going to be perfect.”
And the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.” May the glory of Christ Jesus and the peace He offers be with you this Christmas season and always.
I'd love to hear. What’s your favorite Christmas song?
To dive deeper into how music can inspire and empower us today grab a copy of my new book, How Sweet the Sound
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WHAT WILL BE ENOUGH?
Ever since Disney Plus released Hamilton our family has been ob-sessed. I think most of us have the intricate lyrics (passing over the first five seconds) of the title track down pat. Well mostly.
If you haven’t seen it yet. Do. It is a gorgeous, creative, inspiring story packed with love, grace, and redemption. The talent is phenomenal and the music brilliant. There is a thread woven throughout the show of the tension between being satisfied and not. Phrases like “that will be enough” and “running out of time” “never be satisfied” “all I have” are littered throughout the lyrics.
It makes me question what is “enough” in my life? What’s enough in yours?
What’s enough money? Enough pairs of sandals or shorts? Enough house? Enough memory for our phones or laptops? Enough time on social media? What are you measuring right now? Do you have enough? Or do you want MORE? Why?
Sure, there are some things we do need more of—if we don’t have enough money to pay our rent or medical bill—yeah, we could use a few more bucks. If our doctor tells us we’re supposed to exercise at least three hours a week and we’ve been lucky to squeeze in one, we need to find a way to move more. But overall, we Americans, as a society struggle to be satisfied. We get one promotion, but what we really want is her job. We meet a great guy, but we wish we could spend even more time with him. We find an adorable home, but we want to get a coffee table for the family room, and a fresh, new comforter for our bed, oh and a couple of cute throw pillows to add a pop of color to our couch. None of these things are bad. Not at all. God created beauty and relationships and vocations and wants us to enjoy and savor all these things. I’m just asking myself, “What’s enough?” Because, Jesus tells us that He satisfies our souls.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. —John 6:35
Never hungry again? Never thirsty again?
Okay. I’m listening. But Jesus didn’t mean our physical bodies wouldn’t require food or drink. My stomach growls first thing every morning and I cannot wait to pour myself some dark chocolate granola with almonds and top it with a handful of fresh, sweet berries from the local farmer’s market. But that inner craving, that soul searching, that hunger inside that makes us antsy and itchy and twitchy and wanting more—Jesus satisfies that. When we turn to Him, soak ourselves in Him, we find complete peace and satisfaction.
We realize that yes, a cute new cozy sweater for fall would be amazing, and if we can afford it, great, and if we can’t also great, because Jesus loves us with or without that sweater. He provides joy for us with or without a paycheck, partner, or the palomino pony we thought we needed when we were kids.
Do you have enough? The answer is we already have all of Jesus’ love and grace and hope and joy and peace. Right now. Today. If we want it. If we ask Him for it. It’s ours for the taking. And when we have that? All the other things are yummy or fun, but not necessary. Our peace, hope, and joy don’t hinge on them. Because we’re already fully satisfied. The love of Jesus? Is more than enough. It’s everything!
Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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Laura L. Smith