In 2014 my friend, Amy, was driving through Cincinnati on her way to Columbus, so we met up for mochas and chocolate croissants at Panera. We’re both writers, so as we sipped our frothy coffees and nibbled on buttery pastries, we also brainstormed projects. At the time, I had a handful of novels published, but hadn’t dabbled in any nonfiction.
“I think you should write a devotional,” Amy said.
I nodded, wrote in my journal with the water-colored flowers on the front “Devotional?” But something in me pushed away her idea, made excuses. I had zero qualifications. I read devotionals, you know the books like Jesus Calling where you get a one-pager of inspiration for the day, but had never written one. I was working on a new novel, with a plot and a character I adored.
Amy elaborated on possibilities and potential formats. I listened, and absorbed, but didn’t act. Although, the idea stuck with me. A few days later, I scribbled this in fast, messy handwriting in the margin of the Bible study I was working through (Gideon by Priscilla Shirer): Should I take Amy’s advice and write a devotional? Have my blogs been leading up to this?
In the weeks following, I finessed my novel, and pitched it to editors. One publishing house showed a lot of interest. The editor there championed my proposal through two rounds of board meetings, and then in the third and final round my manuscript got turned down.
One month later, the same editor unexpectedly reached out to me. She was looking for an author to write a devotional and wondered if I’d be interested. God closed one door and opened another. Just like that. A door He’d already cracked slightly ajar by having Amy plant that seed of an idea in my head two years prior. The editor contacted me in October 2016. And today, February 5, 2019 my first devotional, 5-Minute Devotions for Girls releases. It’s craziness. It’s how God works.
Every good and perfect gift comes from above. —James 1:17
Fun fact: that novel? It still hasn’t found a home. I’m sharing all of this to say; maybe someone is planting an idea in your head today that is actually a seed from God. Maybe someone is telling you, “no,” today, but that “no” is building the foundation for an even better “yes”. Maybe something you know God has called you to do is taking longer than you ever imagined (Amy’s and my conversation was almost five years ago!) or down a road that looks completely different than the one you’d mapped out. God is at work. His ideas sometimes feel or sound a little out there. They usually are. His timeline looks completely different than ours. In fact, His isn’t even a line. The way we envision something is typically just a flat, colorless version of the multi-faceted prism He has in mind.
So hang in there. Wait. Be patient. Be obedient. Listen to Him and the things He’s whispering to you. Do what God asks. Seek Him. Love Him. He’s God, so He can work out all the other stuff, the important stuff, the details we don’t even know exist, let alone how they need tended to. And I promise, you’ll be amazed, and bowled over by His good and perfect gifts.
I love living in Ohio with our four distinct seasons. I even embrace the sparkling snow, but today it is a high of six degrees. As in 1-2-3-4-5-6. I just got back from California, and let’s just say a few days in sixty (a very key “t-y” there) and sunny was good for my body and soul. One thing I marveled at as my husband and I strolled the streets of Yountville hand-in-hand, were the gardeners busily out planting. Apparently, in wine country January is the perfect time to be pulling carrots and picking lettuce, to be watering Brussels sprouts and tilling the soil in preparation for the next round of seeds. Each day the gardens bustled with workers yes, harvesting current crops, but also preparing the ground for future produce.
We can’t plant anything in Ohio that we hope will have even the slightest chance of living until late March, and that’s still quite risky, but it made me think about what I can metaphorically be planting in my life now to harvest when the time comes. Because growing things takes time. And patience. It takes planning, digging, water, sunlight, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and yes, more patience. Nothing will grow, not the tiniest sprout, if we don’t prepare the soil, and if we don’t plant the seeds.
So, on this icy January day I ask myself (and you), “What do you want to be harvesting in March? In August? Next year at this time? Five years from now?” I’m clever enough to realize I am not the one in control of how things go down. God is. But I also realize God invites us into the gardening. He even asks us to “bear fruit.” So, we trust God to provide the sunlight and rain for our crops—because that stuff is way out of our control. We also need to trust Him with the timing—how long those seeds need to germinate before they sprout, how long they need to grow underground before they’re stable enough to pop their heads above ground, and even how long it will be from the moment they emerge until the vines sprout tomatoes, and the tomatoes are round, red, juicy, and ready to pick. But while we’re trusting Jesus for all of that timing rain and sun, we have to be the ones seeking good soil, loosening it with our shovels, maybe adding a scoop or two of fertilizer, removing clunky rocks, pulling invasive weeds. We have to dig the correct depth and plant the seeds. We need to gently cover them back up and sprinkle them with water on the days the rain doesn’t fall. Depending on the growing cycle, we might be called to more—to covering tender leaves if a late frost threatens or tying stalks to stakes to keep them sturdy as they grow. So this gardening? It’s a partnership between us and God, the Master Gardener. And partnerships don’t work when only one partner shows up. Since God ALWAYS does His part, we need to do ours.
I don’t know what you hope to harvest in your next season, or the one after that. If you feel called to find a new job, now is the perfect time to be updating your resume, taking a class, reading a book, honing your craft, asking someone (or twenty someones) to coffee to pick their brain on the industry, how it works, what potential job routes there are, if they know anyone who’s hiring. If you’re aiming for honor roll this semester to maintain or earn a scholarship, get ahead on your reading. Make flashcards or Quizlets. Find a strong study partner or group. Meet with the teacher in the class you struggle in, today, not after you do poorly on a test. If you’re eyeing a move—take some weekend trips to potential new hometowns. Stay with friends. Quiz them on the pros and cons of their area. Google neighborhoods, rents, home prices, school districts. Clean out a closet or two, so when it’s time to move, you’re prepared. You want to play in a band? Practice your instrument. Over and over for hours on end.
I don’t know what dream God has given you, what goals you long to achieve, or what is going to be necessary for you to get there. But I know it starts now.
"It’s January," we groan, and "we can’t even find the soil under all this snow. The ground is frozen." Fill in any excuse you have as to why you can’t start today. I don’t feel well. I’m broke. I’m too young (or too old). I don’t know where God wants me to go.
Fine. That may all be true. But even on a six-degree day I can order seeds online and compost the avocado pits, cilantro stems, and stale taco shells from our taco night. And as they decay over the next few months, they’ll create nutrient rich dirt for me to sprinkle into my flower beds come spring.
What is God calling you to do? Have you asked Him? If not, talk to Him. Ask Him where and when and what He has planned. Ask Him again. And again. Make this an ongoing conversation. You can start right now. This very moment.
If you have heard from Him, what are you doing about it? As Banning Leibscher says in his book, Rooted, “It’s not enough to just hear the Lord’s words, we must carry them (p. 122).” Are you actively carrying around the idea, the dream, the next step or did you stick it in the garage waiting for April showers? If God gave you a goal, a plan, an assignment, He will equip you to carry it out. So talk to Him about what steps He wants you to take, about how you can currently be preparing the soil. Then get out your rake and begin.
Growing things is a process. Except on time-lapse cameras nothing grows over night. But it is a beautiful process. And when we plant for Jesus, succulent fruit grows in abundance. You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws or the casting director calls, you can start today. Even in January.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5 NLT
My Uncle Ray (who wasn’t really an uncle, but actually my mom’s cousin) introduced me to fishing when I was about four. He was a farmer and had a pond on his property stocked with rainbow trout. Ray treated me like the Princess of Fishing, telling me what a great job I was doing, making a point of telling my mom when I was in close earshot, “Laura could make a fine fisherwoman.” At the time I had no idea how much of the work Ray did or what a “stocked” pond even meant, I just knew that he taught me how to put a worm on a hook, cast a line, and reel in a beautiful iridescent trout I could be proud of.
A handful of years later our family went to Florida for spring break and stayed with my actual uncle, Lowell. He took us out deep-sea fishing on his boat. I got so seasick I spent most of the day lying down in the cabin, but despite my nausea a gigantic barracuda bit on “my” line. Of course my uncle, my dad, and everyone else on board had to reel the big boy in, but still somehow, it felt like mine.
With those limited experiences I am hardly a fisherwoman, but when our family heads to the beach for summer vacation we always buy crab nets, string, and chicken backs for bait from either Walmart or the local hardware store and venture out to the pier posing as the crew of the Deadliest Catch for an afternoon. It’s something my husband did when he was a kid, and he’s carried on the tradition with our four kids and me.
Some years we catch scads of blue crabs. One year we didn’t catch a single one. Some spots or nets seem to be more productive than others as they dangle from the pier. Some years one of our kids will seem to catch the mother lode while others repeatedly pull up their nets empty except for the bait, exclaiming, “I caught chicken!” We’ve had expeditions where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees, sweat pouring down our backs and dripping from our brows. This year it was sunny, then rained so hard it sent us under a shelter, only to turn sunny again a few minutes later.
Jesus hung out with fishermen and talked about fishing all of the time. I figure if He spent His time in boats with nets, there’s probably something to learn there. My takeaway from trying to figure out how to catch fish, or crab, is that it mirrors my journey in life.
First, no matter where I’m headed, I need someone to help me—a guide who’s gone before. I would have never even known where to fish, let alone what to bring, or how to use the rods, nets, hooks, etc. if it weren’t for my Uncle Ray, Uncle Lowell, and my husband leading me to the fishing spots and coaching me on how to hold, cast, and reel. In my life, I need Jesus. I can’t start an adventure, a new endeavor, assignment, job, relationship, or experiment without Him. Jesus knows the best places for us to go, and how we should get there. He knows when we need stocked ponds, and when we’re ready for deep waters. He equips us with the tools we’ll need to face whatever lays ahead and teaches us how to use them. He gently explains the best course of action along the way, and cheers for us when we get the catch.
Second, I need to be patient. Sometimes the things I’m after, the goals I set, the roads I set out on seem to take forever to obtain, achieve, or traverse. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there. Maybe I won’t. Maybe, just maybe, on some things I want I’ll never get, because I’m supposed to be doing something else with someone else somewhere else. Being patient could mean standing for an hour or day or month or year without so much as a nibble on my line. It could mean sending out another application or submission, running one more lap, biting my tongue one more time, praying another prayer, going to one more audition, inviting her again, rehearsing one more time. But mainly it means trusting Jesus, that He’s in control, that He knows what’s best, that He’ll move things forward, or sideways if necessary, (and it will be like a snap of the fingers for Him) when it’s time, when we’re ready, when it makes sense for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom. Sometimes the waiting, the trying again, builds the character we need to be able to take the next step or the next.
Third, I never know how things are going to go down. Some days everything goes swimmingly (sorry, couldn’t resist). Some days I’ll question why I’m out there, standing in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Some days I’ll feel queasy and others my nets will fill effortlessly. Some days I’ll catch exactly what I’m looking for, and others my nets will pull up the most random, brilliant treasures—like when my youngest pulled up a horseshoe crab too heavy for him to lift or when I caught a hermit crab, curled up inside his shell. But every day, Jesus is up to great things, kingdom building things. He always has something to teach us. When things are rough and challenging, it reminds us to be dependent on Him and His power and His grace. That we’re not going to get through unless we lean on Him, take shelter in Him, slather Him on like sunscreen to save us from being burned. When things come easily, we’re reminded of how great our God is, that He can move mountains, or fill nets, despite the circumstances. There are people He’ll have us meet walking down the boardwalk of life that need a smile or a hug, or maybe they’ll explain something in a way we never heard before, or they’ll become our new best friend. There are times when we’ll have zero idea what Jesus is up to, but we’ll sense it’s cool, amazing— like the day this week when I hadn’t caught a crab, but I pulled up a brilliantly striped zebra fish, flapping in my net.
I don’t know what your life adventure looks like. But I do know if you let Jesus guide you, if you’re patient with His perfect timing, and if you can let go of how you think things should go, then you’ll be in for an incredible adventure.
After a night of catching no fish at all, Jesus told his disciples:
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it there, and they were unable to haul it in because of the great number of fish. —John 21:6
I’m sitting in the high school theater. One girl sits behind the piano, playing a song I’ve heard on the radio. She sings it more beautifully than I’ve ever heard. A guy sits on the stage drinking soda out of a flask—very dramatic. The students filter in, greeting each other, hugging. One girl walks in with a boot on her foot. “What happened?” “How long do you have to wear it?” “Can you still do the show?” The questions hit her rapid fire. More chatter as the teens take time to acclimate to this space—the theater, a gathering of friends, of others who love the stage.
And then, the director calls out, “Everyone on stage. We’re working on the car song. Go ahead and take a seat.” The entire room changes in five seconds from the atmosphere of a cafeteria to a scene from Rise.
There was a time to arrive, get comfortable, exchange hellos, and there is a time to get serious. To get to work. Both are important. And even in the work, it’s not predictable. Two weeks from the show, the cast typically takes it from Scene 1, all out reading lines and dancing across the stage. But this day is a day for the details, to nit pick a song apart, and make sure it’s spot on.
I’m emotional today, because I’ve also gone though a shift of what it is time for. I’ve been under an insane deadline. The number of days I had to write the number of pages that were due did not compute. It was a time to keep my head down, stay focused, cut out anything extra, eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. It was a time to write for hours on Saturdays, to wake up early on weekdays, to skip a couple of blog entries. Grinding out, page by page, trying to make the words flow, trying to make it all Biblically accurate, trying to make it right. And yesterday, I turned it in. Insert giant exhale here. I sent my manuscript to my project manager, closed the document that had sat open on my screen for weeks, shut my Mac, and went for a run.
Yesterday afternoon I cooked a real dinner for my family—with sides and everything. I went for a walk with my husband, sat by the fire and watched a movie with these my kids. This morning I slept in, made crepe batter, and didn’t touch my computer until, well, now. I’ve entered a whole different zone. Not that I won’t have more writing assignments (I mean, I hope I will). But today I need to recognize I was in a season of deep, intense, work, and now I need to take a season of rest. I’ll get comments back from the editor next week, and I’ll have to get back to work, but now? Now I can hang with my family, enjoy a meal, sleep, write a blog with rambling words about how God has been working on me lately.
And here’s how He’s been working. God has shown me that just like it says in Ecclesiastes 3; there is a time for everything. God runs that eternal clock that we are all watching and checking and running around trying to stay in sync with it. But He does not see time like we do. God is less concerned with who’s first in the pick up line, who gets there early enough to get the best parking spot, who’s sitting in their desk when the boss arrives, who’s strolling into church halfway through the second song, and who arrives at the finish line in the middle of the pack.
God looks at it like this. “I have something for you to do. Please do it. Your life will be better if you do it and if you do it on my timeline.” And for each of us on each day and even in different parts of the day that’s something different—a time to plant, a time to uproot, a time to heal, a time to tear down, a time to rebuild, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance, a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them… God sees us and knows what is actually best –when we need to step out, step up, step to the side, and when we need to take more steps before we’re ready. These are the assignments He gives us with our time.
For me this meant lots of coffee, reading, writing, checking, rereading, rewording. But none of this work made sense, and none of it could happen for me unless I did something first.
Each day I closed my eyes and prayed. “God, thank you for this opportunity. For the chance to write these stories for You. Please help me use my time wisely for Your glory. Please help me write the words You want written, words that point people to you. Please give me endurance. Please give me focus. I am so grateful for Your love. That You allow me to do this thing I love. Thank You for my family. I love them so. Please help me balance all the things. And trust You when I feel like I’m dropping balls and praise You when things go smoothly. Please, Lord, let me use this day to serve You.”
Because of that prayer, on the days when I was super productive, or on days when I was super not, all was well. When I took three giant steps backwards to rewrite a whole section. When we had two soccer practices and play practice and an event at school. When I felt energized or exhausted, it somehow worked. Because it was for God and for His glory. And then it didn’t matter how much I’d written. I’d written for Him. And that’s all that mattered in the first place.
What is it time for in your life? It might be time to get accustomed to new space, to familiarize yourself with the people around you, to take time to give someone a hug, to check in and see how they’re doing. It might be time to get going, to do the work in front of you. For you it might be time to practice—to run through that presentation, that drill one more time even if you’re exhausted, look through your notes, rehearse your lines, your part. It might be God wants you to take time to fix some broken things—the flat tire on your car, the broken ice maker on your freezer, the way you’ve been looking at things, the way you’ve been treating someone else or yourself.
Maybe for you it’s time to sleep, to take a hot bath, to stay inside, to do your nails, to sit by a window and gaze out as the raindrops trickle down the window, or sit outside and listen to the birds twittering, grateful for the promise of springtime.
There are times for everything. And everything works brilliantly when it’s done in God’s time. For the cast of this play, today is time to go over the third measure of one song with the vocal coach over and over, feet dangling over the edge of the stage. But in a week and a half they’ll be performing for a full theatre in costumes and makeup. It’s all important. The work. The rest. The performance. And they’re all best executed when we realize they are all from God, all part of His plan, that they all hold equal credence.
What is God calling you to do today? Work? Rest? Rebuilding? Going for it? Settling down? Nesting? Going out? Waiting? Charging forward? He will use all the times in perfect ways. Trust Him. Talk to Him. Then go out and do what He’s called you to do in this specific, priceless season.
When I was little I had a picture book, a Golden Book, (does anyone remember those?) starring Grover from Sesame Street. It was titled The Monster at the End of This Book. The plot is Grover warning the reader not to turn the page, because he is so frightened about the monster on the last page. Turns out, the monster on the last page is Grover. Sometimes the monsters we are most frightened of are ourselves.
You guys I am typically a smiley, happy girl. I’m a morning person. I’m a hugger. I love sunshine and daisies. My glass is half full. But there is a monster that lives inside of me. She came out yesterday, on the phone with a customer service representative. I said things out loud to this poor woman like, “I don’t need you to repeat the same sentence over and over to me.” Oh my.
What gets in to me? Why in the world would I treat someone on the other end of the phone with disrespect and unkindness? I can try to justify that I was extremely frustrated, that it was for my college daughter’s debit card, and she’s going to need it as she heads out of town and back to campus. And I love my daughter and instinctively protect her. But the woman whose job it is to process debit cards does not deserve my sass. No one does.
I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, if the Christmas returns or bills brought out your inner-monster? Maybe you turn into monster-mode in rush hour traffic, long lines or after a long day of working or parenting or all of the above. If so, how do you handle these emotions? What does it take for you to simmer down?
Me? I literally had to get off the phone. I ended the call without any resolution whatsoever by saying, “I’m so frustrated I just need to go. Have a great day.” I did sneak in ‘have a great day’, but no one was buying my brand of fake friendliness.
Once off the phone, I walked a lap around the house, took a couple of deep breaths, and tried to figure out why I got so riled up. God reminded me no matter what happened on the other end of the phone, I could control what happened on my end, and I had chosen poorly. I immediately asked God to forgive me. Because hadn’t my pride just taken over? My feeling of entitlement? So not pretty. I apologized to my daughter who had overheard the whole conversation, because I was ashamed of how I'd handled the call. Very poor modeling on my end. I don’t know how to apologize to the woman on the phone, or to the woman from Time Warner I spoke to last month when canceling cable, or to the Samsung representative I spoke to last summer when my washing machine was exploding. But I’m doing it here. A public confession of my rudeness. I didn’t curse or call anyone names, but I was extremely impatient and ungrateful. And I am so sorry. This is not behavior becoming of anyone. And it is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when He instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To all of you customer service reps, YOU ARE AMAZING FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL OF THE NONSENSE. I appreciate each and every one of you. I can’t imagine what you hear in a day. I am so sorry I did not treat you with the love you deserve.
This monster inside of me. I do not like her. Like Grover, I fear getting to the part in the story where I emerge—possibly when I need to call the insurance company. So I’m taking this one to God. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (7:15), I want to say, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
The good news? Jesus. Jesus forgives all of this yuck, and the rest of the ickiness inside us, too. He restores our brokenness and heals our wounds. He files down our fangs, clips our claws, and tames our roars. And then even though He sees plain and clear the monster part, Jesus pulls us in close, hugs us and says, “I love you.”
As Paul asks then answers a few verses down (v. 24-25) to the Romans, “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Brandon Heath puts it similarly in his song, “Wait and See”:
There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans He's made for me
I'll have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet
This is the very best news. If there’s any percent monster in you (even a blue, fluffy one) then know it’s okay. There’s hope for us. God loves us anyway. He’s not finished with us. He has great plans for us that go way above and beyond phone calls and driving through traffic. Whew. We can turn the page and do so with courage and expectance of how God will guide us and help us back on track when we stray.
P.S. They’ve animated The Monster at the End of This Book and Grover narrates it. If you have a little one, this is a brilliant way to entertain them when their inner monster is flaring.
My husband called, “I thought you were up here?”
“Up here,” I replied with an inferred, “duh.”
“The bathroom door is open, your office door is open, the closet door is open. It looks like you’re in the middle of a million things,” Brett said. "Did you just get an idea?"
“Yup.” And this is me on any given day. A mess in the middle of a million and one.
Putting on mascara, typing down a phrase—a key phrase—hello, it’s urgent! Or a plot idea or description while changing shoes, emailing a teacher, throwing in a load of laundry and deciding which necklace to wear all while drinking coffee/water/coffee/water. Basically I’m a mess in the middle of a million things. Eventually I’ll finish the story, be completely dressed, have make-up on, push send on the email, get the clothes folded and sadly abandon coffee until tomorrow and it will all look as it is supposed to-ish.
But in the middle. I’m an absolute mess.
You? Anything messy in your life today? Anything halfway done? Partway done? Thinking about starting to be done? In this college town, it’s finals week. And students are shuffling into the coffee shop in their pajamas, messy buns, and glasses, because getting ready is hard, and all they really want is a bottomless cup of dark roast and to be done. The professors are no different, except they’re not allowed to wear pajamas to class. They’re giving the finals, grading all of those finals, and then recording the grades. Basically everyone in town’s desks and dorms are a mess.
So is my kitchen. We’re getting the cabinets painted white (to match the chairs I painted this fall). Yay! But first—chaos. Every cabinet and drawer is open—maybe I should throw all of the contents away, because ew. Everything is off the shelves and in a heap on the living room—more potential items to fill the garbage cans. Plus the dust these items were hiding—yikes! So, my downstairs looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through and I have to pull a cool yoga balance to open the fridge.
Getting where you want to go takes work, effort, and mess. To make frosted sugar cookies you dirty endless dishes and sweep up sprinkles for weeks. But they are delicious. And worth it. And these are our lives! Learning a new way of doing something, investing in new relationships, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the envelopes, hanging the lights, unpacking boxes, researching new topics, rewriting, rerecording, editing, scrambling to finish before year end, following up, sending another text, praying, discerning, praying, discerning, praying.
And it all takes time. And it’s messy, and unfinished, and parts of it are scattered everywhere. But God is using all of it. Every last piece of the process! Every piece of Scotch tape and candy cane. God is using the rehearsals, the trial balloons, the readings, the exercises, the discipline, the parts you delete. And He’s using it for His good and His glory.
…okay…it’s a few days later. My kitchen? Ended up like this. OhmygoshIloveit. The college students are one by one trickling home to be with their families to celebrate Christmas. The professors are getting ready to sit by the fire and unwind. A few days ago in the midst of the mess it was all so hard to envision.
Just like pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary riding on a donkey looked like a mess. No room in the inn, a barn with animals and a pile of straw to give birth to your first baby…um, pretty messy. No thanks. Hard to envision this as God’s great plan to save the world. But it was. Jesus did come down to earth. He did die on the cross to cover all of our sins. He is the Savior of the World! So worth waiting for! Worth every bit of the messy process. Worth all the stuff in the middle that looked like chaos and like it would never happen, and never work, and like it couldn’t possibly be going as planned.
You guys the miracle of Christmas looked like a mess, but God knew what He was doing all along. And look how it turned out! Glory to the newborn king! And the story repeats itself over and over again in our lives. We’re a mess. Everything is everywhere. God knows how to fix us. And then He does. He uses all of the in-betweens and rough drafts, studying, and first takes to make something glorious happen.
No matter how messy things look for you today, this week, this season, God is using it. He loves you. He’s reaching all the way down to earth to you. He came all the way down to a manger and then a cross for you. You might feel like you’re in a middle of a million things, but inhale, because God is truly in the middle of it all with you. And His greatness and peace will have no end.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:6-7
…if you’d like more reminders on finding your true reflection 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.
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.
As I clean the top left section of my white board, I am stopped mid-erase, in total awe of God’s plans, and how He orchestrates them.
About a year ago I started the search for a literary agent to represent me. I’d had an agent previously. We’d broken up, because we wanted different things. And as with any relationship that ends, I’d needed some time to sort through it. But last year I was prompted to look for a new agent.
All searches—for a job, a new house, a college, a spouse—are a process. These searches remind me of working my way through a corn maze. Have you been in one? You know where you’re starting. You know there is a finish. You’re just not sure how you’re going to get from A to B. The names and dates I’m erasing from my white board are a testimony to this process—of websites researched, proposals written, submissions sent, phone calls made. Are you searching for anything right now?
On my quest I took wrong turns when I looked around and saw endless rows of corn, where I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from the finish line, more and more lost in the maze. These were the days I chatted with agents who didn’t get me, who said they wanted to represent me, but they hadn’t even read my email to see what I wanted represented, who made suggestions that just didn’t make sense. I shook my head, discouraged, not sure what to do next. Luckily, I had friends and family who kept giving me new suggestions, kept encouraging me, kept praying for me, kept me on track when I would start to lose perspective. Their company along the journey made a world of difference. I mean, where’s the fun in tackling a corn maze by yourself?
There were days when I hit dead ends like getting to a wall of head-high corn stalks not sure if I would ever get out, where it felt like I’d come so far to get absolutely nowhere. These were the days I got rejected from agents whose work I respected, who I thought might be a great fit.
But there were also brilliant, beautiful moments. Just like when you’re in a corn maze and you spot a scarlet ladybug, when the sunshine warms your face, when a fuzzy caterpillar crosses your path, when you’re laughing so hard with your companions, or you’re floored by the intricacies of a sparkling spider web woven to perfection, and you forget all about solving the maze, when you just want to breathe in the moment. These were days when I was writing new material, and sensing God’s inspiration behind every word. These were days when I had speaking engagements and met the most amazing, awe-inspiring women. There were some of my favorite moments of the past year, which had nothing to do with writing or agents—baking cookies with my kids and eating spoonfuls of the dough, going for walks with my husband as the sun set in our neighborhood, enjoying the company and insights of a good friend or a good book.
When you walk through a corn maze, no matter what stage of it you’re in, the farmer has plowed a wide, smooth path to the end, to the finish line. It’s there. You just can’t see it yet. He even gives you a map to follow along your way. But there are times when the map seems confusing, when you try to solve it yourself, when you forget about the map in your hand altogether. Life’s mazes are the same. God has plowed a wide, smooth path to the finish line—to the right job, the right roommate, the right date, the right team, the right neighborhood. He even gives us a map to follow to get to the end. The Bible is packed with everything we need to make the right decisions, to stay strong and courageous, to understand that if you hit a dead end, you just need to turn around because God will provide a way out, that God will never leave you, that if you have a little faith, you can move mountains, or solve corn mazes. But some days we forget. Or tuck our maps in our pockets. Or try to solve it ourselves, just because we want to, even when we know better.
And just like walking through a corn maze, there is a thrill in finding the sign that reads FINISH in red letters at the end, but the journey is a thrill, it’s packed with discovery and hope and mystery and laughter. And with life’s corn mazes, you don’t have to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end, because you can have faith, that our perfect God has plans for you, plans to prosper you, plans for a future.
For me, the finish line of this particular corn maze of my life is that I’ve signed with Emily Sweeney of ESY Marketing Solutions. She is sharp, funny, and real. She gets me. She understands the industry. She has brilliant ideas. As I chat with Emily, I understand fully why none of the other agents worked out. I am in awe of the fact that God kept me from signing with any of them, because He knew all along that I needed to sign with her. Emily wasn’t even an agent when I began my search! She was still working at a major publisher. So when I thought it was taking forever, God was just making sure everything was in place. I see God’s fingerprints all over my journey.
As I stand here erasing the steps of me trying to solve this maze I am blown away by what He had in store all along, and I am reminded to hold tight to this moment. Because there will be more quests I go on in life. There will be a different search, with different questions, new sets of dead ends and wrong turns. But I can be certain, just like you can, that God has a perfect path laid out. All we have to do is patiently follow it one step, one day at a time. When we get mixed up, we need to go back to His map, ask Him for guidance, and He will lead us to life’s finish lines. And along the way, we can savor the journeys.
“We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out,” is how one of my favorite Elvis songs, “Suspicious Minds”, begins. And as much as I love that song, especially the remake by the Fine Young Cannibals, there’s nothing melodious or harmonic about feeling trapped.
Trapped—you know that feeling of being stuck, of having the door slammed in your face and not knowing where to turn?
My fourteen-year old son has a summer birthday, making him one of the older kids in his class and one of the younger kids on his soccer team. The rest of his club team started high school this fall and tried out for their high school teams. Meanwhile, Max was left standing alone. It happens in sports, so often that there’s a term for it – Trapped Eighth Grader. Everything settles itself out in the spring, when all of the players of Max’s team will be free from their high school commitments, and they’ll all play together. Next fall, Max can try out for his high school team. But in the meantime, for this fall, he was officially trapped.
Max’s team had been yanked out from under his feet. What were we going to do? So, Max and I began praying about the situation.
We’d heard rumors of a team of home-schooled boys, who scrimmaged against some of the smaller high schools, but Max wouldn’t have known any of the players, and they’d all been playing together for years. We discussed hiring a soccer trainer to fine tune Max’s skills and keep him active, but not only was it expensive, Max wanted to play games. There was also talk of his club joining trapped eighth graders from a large geographical area to practice and scrimmage, but nothing ever materialized.
Then one day this summer, Max joined me for my morning jaunt to Starbucks. He wore his club soccer t-shirt, and while I was at one end of the line ordering my coffee, the barista at the other end of the counter started chatting with Max. By the time I got over to where Max was, the barista, who I’ve never seen working at my Starbucks before or since, was inviting Max to join in a standing pick up game of soccer. The players ranged from college boys to professors to community members who’d played high school or college club soccer, and still loved the game. They met twice a week, with no fees, at the park five minutes from our house. We walked out whispering to one another. It looked like God had answered our prayers.
Max has been playing with these guys ever since. And loving it. The players are first rate. Max gets tons of touches on the balls, lots of opportunities to learn and grow and shoot and score, and gets a great workout, without any pressure to start or win. This is not something Max or I or his soccer coach could have orchestrated. None of us knew these guys played. If I had, I would have never guessed my eighth grader would have been welcome. But he is. The other guys are super friendly and accepting of my son. Max and I could have never strategized that he should wear his club shirt to get noticed by a Starbucks worker I’m thinking was a sub. But God knew. He always does. And once again, He orchestrated something so perfect and out of the realm of my consideration that I am blown away. It didn't happen over night. It didn't become clear to us the first time we prayed about it. The first avenue we tried and the second and the third also were dead end streets. But God always had this in mind.
It is in Christ Jesus that we find out who we are and what we are living for. (Ephesians 1:11 MSG)
You see, we’re never really trapped. Sometimes it sure looks like it. Sometimes we’re suffering from an ailment or depression or a loss. Some days we get a rejection or a bad score or a bad review. But with God there is never a dead end. Jesus is The Way. And when we trust in Him, He always reveals the beautiful plan He’d intended for us all along.
You don’t have to figure the way through or out or over the slammed door in your life. But you do need to turn it over to God, and watch the amazing ways He’ll make you flat enough to slide under the door, strong enough to bust through the door, or reveal a secret passageway out, you’d never seen before. With Jesus there is no trapped, just pauses in the beautiful journey He’s walking with you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG)
Laura L. Smith