You guys, I am a total book nerd, and I can’t possibly let a year come and go without taking a moment to pause and list my favorite reads of 2017 (if you missed them here are favorite reads of 2016 and 2015).
Best Mystery: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Oh my gosh, why didn't I read this sooner? I’ve heard about Sherlock Holmes my entire life, seen multiple television and film adaptations, and even spent a summer in London at Regent’s College, where to get to my Tube stop I had to pass 221 b Baker Street every day. It took my 8th grade daughter having this book assigned for class to get me to actually pick it up. No surprise—it’s a classic. Holmes and his attention to detail are brilliant. I was fascinated by how much this famous detective could learn from one man's walking stick or another's boots. This is a page-turner with plenty of intrigue, suspicion cast on almost every character, suspense and a satisfying ending. Suitable for readers of all ages who love to learn, solve, sleuth, and be entertained.
Best Middle-Grade Novel: The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Have your kids read Blue Balliett’s books? If not, order them some on Amazon or reserve them from the library pronto. Balliett always writes brilliant stories that ignite curiosity. Her books make readers want to learn, discover, explore, and best of all think. In her previous novels, Balliett has introduced a famous artist into the plot (Calder, Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.), expanding the knowledge of readers while they're engrossed in her mysteries. In the Danger Box, she introduces a well-known scientist, not to stand behind or against the scientist's findings, but in the interest of making kids hungry to learn. Kudos to Balliett for always creating phenomenal characters--kids with quirks, but also with hidden gifts. She does a lovely job of reminding us that everyone has their own special talents and something to add to the conversation. I read her books, because my kids love them. But I LOVE them too!
Best Young Adult Novel: Every Last Word by Tamara Stone
I love young adult novels. Good ones are raw and real and deal with important themes like friendship, relationships, family, discovering your true self. Every Last Word does all of this and more. It also dives into mental health issues, frenemies, and sigh, poetry. As a lover of words, I was pulled into the underground writing community in Every Last Word. Tamara Stone illustrates how powerful the written word can be, how cathartic it can be to write down your emotions, dreams, thoughts, concerns, and even odes to your favorite snack foods. She also does a brilliant job of handling the issue of mental health, specifically OCD. This is a real issue so many people are dealing with--a chemical disorder that can be treated through therapy and medication. I was grateful to gain insight into this important issue.
Fiction: The Magic Stings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
I’ve enjoyed so many of Mitch Albom’s books, so I was excited to read a new one this year. If you have music in your soul, you will love Frankie Presto! I always enjoy the way Albom weaves hope and faith into his stories, but I am a music lover, and this one struck a special note with me. Magic Strings has a unique twist--with Music as the narrator--interviewing and referencing music legends I grew up listening to and admiring (everyone from Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley to Eric Clapton). Chapters alternate between Music’s interviews with the faces that have graced Rolling Stone magazine for decades to various stages of the life of a musician named Frankie Presto. The story takes the reader back and forth from Spain to New York and New Orleans like a shuffled time line all tied together with the chords of music and the power it evokes.
Best Nonfiction: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
I listened to Of Mess and Moxie on Hoopla. And after listening to the entire audio book, I bought it on Amazon. I'd already heard it, but I wanted a copy to underline and go back to, because, please! It's hilarious and heartfelt and authentic and faithful, just like Jen Hatmaker. If you loved For the Love, you will love Jen's new book. If you love your kids or your husband or your passion or cooking and Jesus, but sometimes you're not sure what to do with any of them, you will also love this book. Life is real and sometimes hard, but also glorious, because Jesus is with us and He loves us. What fantastic reassurance.
Best Read of 2017: Long Way Gone by Charles Martin
This is another musical tale, and also the most beautiful book I've read in a very long time. Martin is an expert storyteller. This story of a young man, his music, his passion, his relationships, his struggles, and his journey to make sense of it all broke my heart into thousands of pieces. This is my number one favorite book I read in 2017! It transports you to the musical roots and legends of Nashville. After reading it I just knew I had to see a show at the Ryman (my friend, Amy, got us tickets to see Charlie Daniels Band there—oh my gosh!) A Long Way Gone is a stunning retelling of the Prodigal Son in a way that shines new light into a classic parable that never gets old.
Of course, these are just a handful of the stories that swept me away, grabbed my attention, taught me something, or inspired me in the past year. The rest are on Goodreads. I’m looking forward to another fabulous year packed with amazing books. As I compile my “to read” list, I’d love to hear your favs from 2017. Any recommendations?
Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
I attended my first rap concert over the weekend. I’ve never been a rap girl. I prefer the coffee house playlists of bands with raspy voices pouring their hearts out like; The Fray, U2, The Goo Goo Dolls, Train, and a little worship music—Passion, Hillsong United, VCB, thrown in for good measure. But Rap? You see, my sixteen-year old son, Max, loves the Christian rapper, Lecrae. And I love my son. Plus, live music.
On the night before Advent, my son and I stood in line outside the Newport Music Hall with approximately 2000 other people waiting to be permitted into the old ballroom, touted the Longest Continually Running Rock Club in the country. With general admission (no assigned seats) everyone waits to be admitted, so they can try to wrangle a spot near the stage. The anticipation in the line that spanned multiple city blocks was palpable. Ticket holders walked up and down the queue, videoing the crowd for their Instastories and Snapchat feeds. Cars driving by cheerfully beeped their horns. One driver leaned out their window and yelled, “Who you standing in line to see?” “Lecrae!” a clump of guys behind us yelled pumping their fists. As the line lurched forward, the crowd stood on tiptoe, eager for the show, for the thing they’d been waiting for.
Much like Advent. As we prepare for Christmas, there is much waiting, much excitement and anticipating, but that’s all part of the experience, part of the fun. Are you standing on your tiptoes preparing for Jesus?
Two openers rapped with only microphones to keep them company on stage. There was a planned 15-minute intermission that dragged to 45 due to a malfunction with the DJ’s mixing board. The crowd shifted and murmured. The crew of the music hall hustled past with flashlights, screwdrivers, and concerned expressions.
Just like those Israelites waiting on the Messiah a thousand years before His birth. Just like our life as we wait for Christ to move. As we wait, sometimes things break or don’t work as expected. Sometimes life is crowded, dark, or uncomfortable. Sometimes other things have to take place first—there is an ordering of events necessary for the correct outcome. And when the waiting takes longer than we planned, we might begin to doubt or be tempted to take things into our own hands.
The Israelites grumbled. They turned to idols. They fell away from the One True God who loved them and had delivered them time and time again.
At the Newport voices grumbled, “What if they cancel the show?” “What if he won’t come on?” “Why doesn’t Lecrae just do what those other guys did, sing with just his mic? It worked for them?” People are antsy. People begin to doubt. People try to take the reins.
But God’s plan is the perfect plan. It always has been. Always will be. He knew precisely the moment Jesus needed to come down to earth over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, and He knows exactly what needs to be going on in your life today.
Keep your head to the sky, keep your eyes on the prize..—Lecrae, “8:28”
As the crowd mentality speculated about the outcome of the evening, the lights suddenly dimmed. Smoke machines emitted fog backlit with purple. “There’s mist!” the woman next to me yelled, as if she’d heard angels singing. The drummer began a cadence and the opening lyrics of Lecrae’s song, “Hammertime”, roared from the speakers. A platform at center stage rose with a huddled up figure and BANG! A cloud of red confetti and Lecrae bursting from the platform. By the way, the show was amazing.
I’m not saying a rap concert is the same as waiting on Jesus, getting ready for what He’ll do, but more of a parable of what it’s like when Jesus moves—light shows, confetti, and music that reverberates in your chest, just when you were wondering if He’d show up, if maybe it would be just fine without instruments, without lights.
Just fight a little longer my friend, it’s all worth it in the end… —Lecrae, “I’ll Find You”
This advent, as you prepare Him room in your heart, as you wait to get the medical report, the court date, the phone call, your exam grade, the text, the paycheck, take heart.
The anticipation is where God can do some of His greatest work. Allow yourself to experience the unspeakable joy that Jesus offers, because no matter what you’re waiting for these words rang true to the Israelites, and they ring true for me and you today:
Unto us a child is born. A son is given. His name shall be Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6-7.
In other words, the waiting is worth it.
And just like seeing and experiencing Lecrae made this girl into a rap fan, once you experience Jesus first hand, you’ll be changed forever by his love and grace. Prepare Him room.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
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.
Last year the music icon, David Bowie died. I loved his music. And his multi-colored eyes. And his song, “Changes”. “Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn to face the strange.” Our lives are always changing. And those changes can seem strange or awesome or unexpected or confusing or exciting or unsettling or just plain unknown. As Heraclitus of Ephesus put it, “The only thing constant is change.”
Does it ring true for you? Do you have any changes in your life right now? Big ones? Small ones? Ones you’ve been planning for? Ones that blindsided you?
With back to school our family’s life is jam packed with change—new teams, new teachers, new classes, new students. There are minor changes, like the 24 emails I’ve received in the last week about my kids’ soccer teams. Twenty-four! Each and every one detailed some change. We have a joyous change—our youngest just outgrew his peanut allergy (praise Jesus!). If you read last week’s blog, you know we just dropped our oldest off at college. That is a major life changer. I’m still a bit weepy, so I won’t dwell on it, but at least we had eighteen years to prepare for it.
But part of that predicted change took us by surprise. Like the fact that the week before we took Maddie to college:
1. One of her three roommates decided not to come to school this year and
2. Maddie’s college soccer coach resigned.
We didn’t see those coming.
But you know what? God did. God has never once been blindsided. God has known for ages where Maddie would go to school. He knew exactly why the one roommate needed to wait a year. God knew the coaching staff was going to change. Sometimes the need for change is immediately obvious to us. Some things we may never figure out. But we don’t need to. Not if we stay true to who we are and trust that God has promised to be on our side. Because whatever’s going on, He’s got it.
So the roommate thing? I don’t know why it shook down like it did, but I do know my daughter and her other roommate stayed true to their plan, they went ahead and moved in. Now the two of them share a ginormous dorm room designed for three or four girls. I don’t know the details about the coach, but it sounds like she had a fantastic opportunity that was important for her to take. And all the girls on the team, Maddie included, who showed up to the first meeting and to practice, they still get to play college soccer. And…the new coach is fantastic!
Our family is in the midst of some other transitions, too. We understand why we’re here, but we don’t yet quite understand how it’s all going to play out. On many levels we don’t know what this shift looks like yet. But God does. And He’s working in and through it. Our family plans to stick together, put in our best effort, stay true to our identity and trust God with the rest. Whatever is changing in your life, God is working in and through it, too.
Most of the time I can accept change. I remind myself, “God must have a reason.” But then I stumble, “What is the reason? When will I know the reason? If this door is closed or that door is opened, how is God going to guide me next? What does this new path look like?”
I want to know. Oh, how very desperately I want to know. But I don’t have to know.
Because Heraclitus of Ephesus was wrong. The only thing constant is Jesus. And even though everything else changes. God does not. Not ever. I can cling to that. So can you.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
That means Jesus is never going away (Revelation 1:8). He’s never giving up on us. He will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He will always love us (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus is always working things out for good (Romans 8:28). Whew. When I sink into those truths, changes are not only okay, but the question marks are okay, too. There is excitement in the fact that God is on the move, even if I have no idea how or what that looks like. Because Jesus doesn’t change, He is the one thing we can count on. Always.
So here we go, folks. I don’t know what changes are staring you down as you read this, or which ones will surprise you next week or next month. But I do know when those changes come, we don’t have to face them by ourselves. We can stand strong in who God created us to be. God will be the constant we can cling to. The rock that is Jesus is unmoving.
There was a time when I had an 8, 5, 3 and 1 year old. I remember pushing the double car cart at the grocery overflowing with kids. People stopped me all the time and said, “You sure have your hands full!”
“Full of love,” I’d respond, because a) my kids were listening to every word and b) it was 100% true.
When my husband, our four kids, and me are together our hearts are full of love. It’s amazing—hilarious, story pouring over story, laughter layering over laughter, card games, movie nights, adventures, ice cream runs, prayers, music, discussions, inside jokes and so very much love. Being all together is fantastic. It escalates our fun, excitement and energy. We grow from one another’s insights and experiences. As my kids get older (too big to push in the car cart) they have more places they need and want to be. I treasure the nights we’re all in one place.
But I also treasure the rare one-on-one time. When I get one of the kiddos alone and we go on a walk, run errands, grab a meal, or have a private conversation, it’s priceless. Because this time is more personal. It’s in this alone space that I hear their favorite songs, watch their favorite shows, hear about the things bouncing around in their brains—everything from music producers to World War II battles. This is where some of the important things on their minds and hearts come out. This is where it’s easiest to share.
This is how God wants to hang out with us, too. In big groups and in more intimate space.
God loves it when we gather to learn about Him and His grace, to ask questions about Him, to share stories about how Jesus guides and loves on or fights for us, to sing to Him, to praise Him. There is something tangible, electric in this space. A group of people can be everything from a giant conference to a couple of women drinking coffee with their Bibles open. It could be a weekly church service or a one-time event. But when people gather together to know or worship Jesus, there’s a passion of shared experience, an opportunity to learn something we couldn’t learn on our own, the gift of hearing how God has worked in someone else’s life, the knowledge someone else brings to the game, the buzz of a cluster of people all praising God.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20
But Jesus also loves one on one time with us. Even Jesus would go off by himself to pray. Sure, God knows everything on our hearts, understands what we need before we need it, but He loves when we talk to Him about it. God knows we have questions. He surely doesn’t expect humans to understand the vastness of the Creator of the Universe. So, God is thrilled when we come to Him with questions, and when we seek knowledge about Him in the Bible. One on one time looks different for each of us on any given day. Just like individual time with one of my kids could be baking cookies or sitting on the porch listening to a thunderstorm together, alone time with God can be reading a plan on our Bible Apps, falling down on our knees in a quiet room, or having a conversation with Jesus in our heads as we walk through the grocery. But in that space, that quiet personal place, there is the opportunity for God to show us something that applies specifically to us—a gift He’s given us to use, a person He wants us to reach out to, something He wants us to stop worrying about, a reminder that He loves and accepts us unconditionally.
But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray. —Luke 5:16
Relationships are unpredictable, messy, lovely things. Whether they’re with God or with a family member.
We can’t plan on lightning bolts, revelations and goosebumps every time we attend Bible study or say a prayer. Sometimes I get an hour in the car with one of my kids, and they fall asleep. Which is totally fine, because what they needed most was rest. Some days I’ll read my Bible, and be like, ‘okay, that battle was interesting. Next.’ But that’s fine, too, because God will teach me something through it. He always does. We can’t be guaranteed that all interactions will be life changing. But we can be guaranteed that when we show up to a relationship, when we make the effort, when we’re open to learning and sharing and communicating, that the relationship always grows.
How’s your relationship with God? Mine? Beautiful some days. On others it can use a hecka lot of work. But no matter how I’m doing, no matter how you’re doing, God is waiting with open arms. There aren’t many relationships like that. God takes us how we are, whenever we come to Him. Whether it’s with a big group at a planned event, or if we call out to Him in the middle of the night, His love is available and abundant. It’s unlike any other relationship we’ll ever experience.
Seek God this week. In big and small places. Learn and share with others what you’re struggling with and what God’s doing for you. Talk to Him alone, and see what Jesus reveals to you.
The more ways and times you seek Him, the more your hands and heart will be full. Of love.
I went for a run today, listened to my “Run” playlist and came back dripping with sweat. It had been a long time (due to the unseasonably cool weather) since I’d been dripping with sweat, or since I’d listened to music on a run. I’ve been listening to podcasts and books on tapes, which are great, but music? I’ve missed it. It feeds my soul. I realized I’ve been busy doing lots of wonderful things, but some of my favorite things have been packed away with my swimsuits and sundresses. As the cicadas emerge (yikes!) so do lots of other things that make my heart sing.
It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing. Or that I’ve been doing yucky things. Not at all. It’s just I feel a tangible shift as spring sidesteps into summer, from school year, to having the kids home. Yes, my actual daily routine changes, but something about my whole persona swings too.
I live in a college town, so my habitat changes overnight from the buzz of millennials filling the sidewalks and shops wearing back packs and holding coffee cups to almost empty streets, and locals splashing with their kids in the uptown fountains while licking ice cream cones. How does your life change when you turn your calendar to summer? How does your schedule change with longer, hotter days? Do you go from pots of soup to steaks on the grill? From jazz to pop? From evening workouts at the gym to early morning walks outside?
Since I’ve always loved a good research paper (I’m serious. I’m that nerdy girl), the past few months have been fascinating. The work I’ve been doing has called me to learn. I’ve been immersed in studying everything from the layout of Anne Frank’s hideout, to the structure of a biography, to the ropes used on ancient ships, to the Hebrew translation of the word “fear.” I love research. I do. But the little girl who spent countless hours of her childhood hidden in the branches of willow trees transported to Narnia—that part of me—is thrilled to be dipping my toes back in the pools of fiction. Writing nonfiction is thought provoking. And I love to learn, but writing fiction is flowing and creative and unpredictable. I never know what my characters will say or where they’ll end up as they journey to the end of their tale. My mind and my soul delight in the wandering.
I am amazed that God has created so many different pieces of me—even pieces that oppose one another. How can one girl love to discover historical details and adore making things up? How can she like to cuddle under piles of blankets and sit in the sun, allowing the rays to warm her through and through? Well, because God created me to love books—all books, and warmth—however I can get it. And because life changes, because I end up in different places at different times, because I have different assignments and adventures and opportunities and obstacles and challenges and puzzles to solve, I get to tap into the ways God made me and enjoy them in every circumstance. He’s done the same with you—woven varied likes and cravings and interests into your very being. And He loves it when you tap into different parts of them, when you exercise new or dormant muscles.
I’m transitioning from things I love to other things I love—from boots to flip flops, from dark roast to iced coffee, from the darkest of burgundy to the palest pinks and brightest blues on my fingers and toes. I’m grateful for all of them! And they’re all me—parts of me—parts of me that need to be expressed and that blink in joy at the dazzling sunlight when they emerge after hibernating.
So for now, I’ll tuck away my favorite army jackets and close off my beloved fireplace. I’ll stretch my legs and let my mind dance and allow the freedom of summer to infiltrate my very being. And when the leaves start to turn, I’ll be just as excited to pull out my sweaters and scarves.
How about you? Why not make a list of things you love about summertime? I’d love to hear how your schedule switches and how your different God-given passions and joys emerge in the warmer months.
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.
Ever feel like everything is in pieces? Like you have no idea if the loose ends will ever be tied up or if they will just keep on unraveling?
I’ve been fortunate to spectate my son rehearsing for the local musical production of Annie, and similarly to our disheveled lives, a show seemingly starts with chaos. Once the show is announced and the cast has been selected there is the first rehearsal—packed with potential, but heavy with an uneasy feeling that this couldn’t possibly come together. Scripts are passed out, a tape played, and soon the partial cast—the group for Act 1—sings hesitantly from their seats straining to find the melody.
Have you ever struggled to find your tune?
Even when we can’t find the notes, even when we can’t see it, God is at work, bringing the pieces together. Step by step a little more of the full picture is revealed, like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled piece by piece to reveal a beautiful landscape. But even as the bits convene, each one creates it’s own obstacles and seems to add a level of uncertainty.
In the production, students move from their seats to the stark stage. More actors appear seemingly out of thin air, interspersing, transforming sheets of paper printed with lines into a story. But just like our lives, there are bumps and hiccups as the actors adjust to the transitions. Dance steps add to the pizazz, but complicate where people stand on stage. Singing needs to be coordinated with the orchestra that has replaced the tape recording.
Wooden beams create the skeleton of a staircase where the stage was bare before. The smell of sawdust lingers heavy in the air, and it’s exciting to imagine the finished set, but also a bit questionable if there will be time to complete it—if it will all fit, if it will stand strong. A live dog coaxed with Milk Bones replaces the imaginary Sandy. Will the dog sit? Stay? Or scramble off the stage like it did tonight?
It’s not that different from our own discernment. One step forward. Two steps back. A turn around and a slide sideways. God keeps adding pieces for us, steps to our staircases, notes to our songs, but we’re not sure how it’s all going to come together, or if it ever will.
When we’re in the middle of it all, sometimes life looks like a wreck, feels off kilter. Some days we’re waiting for the email, the proposal, the acceptance letter, the check to clear, the next step to be visible and in the waiting we feel frantic, antsy, eager to just be doing the next thing. Life around us looks undone, like chaos, like it’s moving, but not necessarily forward and maybe even backwards.
But God is always at work. Always.
He is planning and shuffling and building things behind the scenes. He’s making introductions, connecting old friends, new friends and loose wires, so that when it’s time, that thing He’s planning will be spectacular.
Each musical rehearsal contains a new marvel, as if something has miraculously happened in the dark, empty theatre overnight. There are beds and phones and buckets and plates. Each prop needs to be in its place, used at the right time by the correct actor. Students in sweatshirts and Converse scramble to find their costumes, and then almost magically, are transformed into New Yorkers in the 1920’s. But Annie’s curly red wig is askew. Someone else is missing a scarf. The boy with a solo has a sore throat. The seam on a dress rips. How will this fly?
But then comes the night of the performance. And all of the bits and pieces and loose ends collaborate for one spectacular show. The girl who was hard to hear is crystal clear with her mic. The cumbersome scenery slides on and off stage flawlessly. Everyone remembers the lines they’ve been struggling to recall. And the vase that keeps falling down stands straight and tall.
The waiting can be unnerving if we focus on the unknown. But if we focus on the known it can be exhilarating.
God loves us. Eph 2:3-4
He will never forsake us. Heb 13:5-6
He has perfect plans for us. Jer 29:11
When we focus on these truths we can notice each new prop and how it rounds out our stories. We can appreciate every character God brings into our lives and what we can learn from them. We can appreciate this change of tempo and that breather we get when the scenes switch and the fresh outlook a costume change offers. Then, after a long season of rehearsing and retaking scenes, it’s time for the show, and we can savor what God had done, what He has put together for us.
Just like a school doesn’t put on one play then close the curtains for good, our life is never about one performance. Our days are packed with new seasons, new scripts, new costumes, and new stage directions—new jobs, new relationships, new schools, new homes, new stages of life. And although there will always be a bit of hesitancy when we see the bare theatre and the unfamiliar songs, there can always be excitement and expectancy that God is the ultimate stage manager, director, and producer working all things together for glorious outcomes.
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