I glanced at the clock on the car dash. Ten minutes. That was enough time. Right? I pulled into a parking spot at the shopping center. Phone? Check. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. All set, you bet. I hopped out, locked the car remotely as I walked away and speed walked to the shop. I went through the glass doors, past the front table and the greeter who called out, “Welcome to Bath and Body.”
“Hello.” I smiled, but kept walking.
I darted to the display near the back, grabbed a tiny clear plastic bottle filled with ruby-colored liquid, flipped the top, and inhaled. Mmmm. It smelled like apples, leaves, and cinnamon. The Perfect Autumn Day lived up to its name. I closed the lid and took three steps to the register where I whipped out my coupon for a free hand sanitizer (no purchase necessary), handed it to the worker in the navy blue checkered apron, and was out the door and back to my car in plenty of time to pick up my youngest from Cross Country practice.
Who doesn’t love free stuff? The free salty chips and tangy salsa at Fiesta Charra or your favorite Mexican restaurant? The free goodie bag at a conference or event? The free Friday download? Or a buy one get one free special?
What if I told you you could have joy, peace, acceptance, and unconditional love for free? We all can. It’s an open invite. This is what Jesus offers. Free. All Jesus asks is that we follow Him.
People have told me, “Jesus’ love and grace sounds too good to be true.”
So does a no purchase necessary coupon.
Others have told me, “I didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love or grace.”
I didn’t buy a single item that day from Bath and Body Works. I didn’t take out their trash or stock their shelves or ring up a customer. I didn’t deserve or earn anything from their shop. But yet my hands are currently free of germs and smell like The Perfect Autumn Day.
Skeptics argue, “There’s no such thing as something free. Someone has to pay for it.”And that’s true.
Bath and Body Works produced that bottle of hand sanitizer, mixed up the fragrance, labeled it, shipped it to the store and put it on display. It cost them something. But it cost me nothing. They were totally willing to incur that cost in hopes of me visiting their shop, viewing (and smelling) their merchandise, enjoying the experience, perhaps coming back.
Our forgiveness and freedom also came for a price. But Jesus willingly paid that price on the cross, so we wouldn’t have to. He was willing to incur that cost so we could be freed from all our baggage, shame, worry, pain, fears and hurt. He wants us to come into His arms, to breathe in the sweet smell of grace (which may or may not smell like pumpkin spice). He hopes we’ll stay.
Fully trusting God to give us something He promises, like peace (John 14:27), is the same as entering that store with my coupon, fully believing they’d let me walk out with one of their products without paying. But holding onto things, is like standing outside The Peace Boutique clutching our coupons in front of the store but not going in. The same holds true with joy, hope, strength, endurance, patience, courage or love. But Jesus promises us ALL these things. For as quick as we are to snatch up freebies from retailers, why are we hesitant to accept all this goodness from God?
Maybe it’s because the world tells us we need to “pay our dues” and “earn our stripes.” But Jesus offers us an upside down kingdom. Where everyone who wants to be a part of it is invited and included. He paid the dues and earned the stripes for us, so we don’t have to. Jesus’ promises of love and grace aren’t while supplies last and they don’t have an expiration date. They’re sitting right in front of all of us right here right now.
It’s as simple as saying, “Jesus, I trust you with this problem. I know you can handle it.”
Or “Jesus, I don’t have a clue what to do. But I know you already know what’s best. Can you please make it clear to me when it’s time to make the decision?”
Or “Jesus,” I am terrified to take the next step, make the call, read the results, or have the surgery. You tell me to be strong and courageous, insisting You’ll be with me. Can You remind me of that? Flood me with courage and peace? I’m trusting You’ll stand at my side giving me exactly what I need.”
Sure, this requires some unclenching of our fists, turning things over, stepping out of our comfort zones. But a free hand sanitizer requires driving to the store, remembering the coupon, and actually redeeming it. It’s still free. We just have to be willing to redeem the offer.
Let’s do it today! Let’s cash in our coupons, accept the love and mercy that Jesus promises will follow us all the days of our lives. Let’s follow Jesus and enjoy the path filled with hope, joy, courage, strength, patience, endurance, love and amazing grace that He promises. It will be more satisfying than a bowl of salty chips and smell better than your favorite autumn fragrance, and oh yeah, it's free.
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I listened to videos from a worship conference my son and I attended two years ago (read more about our experience here) instead of one of my playlists while I ran this morning. Yes, I said listening to videos. I’m weird like that. The music at the event was amazing, and Max and I videoed many of the songs. Since all the music was live, our phone recordings are different from the versions of the same songs I have downloaded on Spotify.
“Glorious Day” started playing, and 1:16 minutes into the song Brandon Lake broke into a spontaneous declaration of, “This is my testimony…” Brandon proceeded to contrast the way God had changed his life. Such as, “This is my testimony--from dark to light. This is my testimony--from death to life.” And it got me thinking about where I was two years ago.
Where was I then?
Where am I now?
I don’t mean I was standing in insanely hot August Texas heat eating a-ma-zing tacos with some special zingy seasoning from a food truck while Max and I waited to get into the conference, but the things I was praying for two years ago. The things Max was praying for.
And how God has answered so many of those prayers.
Max was headed into his senior year of high school. Due to injuries he was no longer able to play soccer, which had been his sport the first three years of school. He didn’t know where he wanted to go to college. Or how he would continue with the worship music he was passionate about when he went away to school. At that conference I remember specifically praying for healing of an old, deep family wound and for my writing which seemed to be taking a new direction. I had all kinds of questions about where exactly God wanted it to go.
Fast forward to today. Max’s senior year was by far his favorite year of high school. He tried and loved a new sport and made incredible new friends. Last week he started his sophomore year of college, at a university we’re certain God guided him to. He leads worship both on and off campus in a variety of outlets using his musical gifts to point others to Jesus. The prayers my son prayed throughout that conference. The things he took to Jesus. They’ve been answered in wonderful ways we could have never imagined.
God placed a friend and a conversation in front of me that nudged me to start seeing a Christian counselor. She has helped me heal from my past in ways I didn’t know were possible. I’ve teamed up with an amazing publisher who has provided avenues for me to share about Jesus’ great love for us that I didn’t know existed. I look back to August 2019 Laura and see that as I sang, worshipped, and got down on my knees, the things I was talking to Jesus about? Those things? He heard me. He listened, He cared. He has provided in unfathomable ways.
And today, I write this for two reasons.
I’m not promising everything will look like you think it should.
I doubt it will.
Max’s situation isn’t at all how he had it sketched out.
It’s so much better.
Same with me.
Max and I didn’t even know to pray for some of the things God has provided.
I can’t wait to hear what your testimonies are--how God has moved in your past two years or past two weeks or last two days. Drop a comment--I’d love to praise Jesus with you.
Also drop a comment if you have a prayer request. I’d be honored to pray with you. Because I cannot wait to see where we’ll all be two years from now, sharing our testimonies of how our loving Savior has done so much infinitely more than we could ever hope for or imagine. How He has answered our prayers.
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There’s a trail near my house with twists and turns, where it splits and you have to go one way or another, and although I have zero sense of direction and get lost in a store, I never get lost on this trail. Because it has signs telling me where to go.
I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going ahead of time. I like to know that I’ll drive about twenty minutes before I take the exit and that the school is three miles past the turn. I want to hear the Cookie Monster voice on Waze (he makes me laugh every time) tell me, “In 18 miles exit left.” But this trail isn’t like that. The signs are right where you turn. I can’t plan, in half a mile I’ll take the left fork of the trail. I just run and when there’s a split up ahead I look for the sign and go the direction it tells me to. And I’ve never once gotten lost.
This is how God works.
We want to know what’s up ahead, how much farther? When will the pandemic end? What will this fall look like? Who will our roommates be? Will we get a job when we graduate? Where? How much will our starting salary be? What will it take for racism to be a thing of the past? Will we get married? To who? How long from now? Will we get accepted to that program? Invited to that event? How many kids will we have? Should we adopt?”
And Jesus says, “Trust me.”
He says, “Keep running until you get to the fork in the road. When you get there I’ll let you know exactly which way to go. And when you get to the next split in your path, I’ll tell you where you need to go then. You don’t need to know ahead of time. I’ll let you know in perfect time, at the exact time that you need to know.”
Right. But still we like to know. Don’t we? I do!
I believe if we search down deep, the reason we want to know all the details is because we don’t fully trust that:
1. God is in control
2. God’s plans are perfect.
If we did, we’d be just fine to keep running along and wait for Him to say, “Turn here. That’s the man I want you to meet. Email that person—they are the key to your dream job. When you’re twenty-seven. On the third try. At the second left.”
And even though I LOVE a plan I’m 100% content running without knowing the next part. Because I’ve run this trail before. And I know I can trust the signs. I know they never let me down.
I’ve also run with God before. I know God has never let me down. Have there been moments in my life I haven’t understood? Yeah. Have there been times when I’ve wished for different outcomes? Sure. But later on, I almost always thank Him for how He orchestrated something better than I knew at the time. Oh, that relationship didn’t work out, because I was supposed to meet and marry Brett. Even though it took me a long time to get pregnant, that was because I’m supposed to have the kids I have. Oh, I didn’t even get a second interview? That’s because that wasn’t actually a job where I would thrive.
So, like the signs on my trail, I want to trust Jesus. Yes, I still wish I knew how things will look in the fall, what will be open, what won’t, what to expect. But I’m trusting God will put up the sign in bold, easy to read letters when we get to that point in the trail. He doesn’t want us to get lost or go down a dangerous fork in the road. Our Heavenly Father only wants the very best for us. He wants us to find our way. The best way. In fact, He even calls Himself the Way. I’m pretty sure He’ll show us which way to go.
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Last spring, we were driving down the back road we take to our kids’ schools to discover it was completely closed. The city decided to do something about the flooding that frequently occurred during heavy rainfall. They shut down the road and began tearing down the old bridge, which spans a creek, so they could construct a replacement bridge. The sign simply stated Bridge Out .63 miles away. It didn’t suggest alternate routes. There wasn’t anywhere to turn, but back. All this would be great for the future. Whenever that was. Which was another area of concern, because the sign didn’t say for how long. For now we couldn’t get from Point A to Point B.
Unless we found a new route.
A different course would mean change, no longer driving by rote on familiar roads on sleepy school mornings. It would also mean a few more minutes in each direction, a less direct route. But with a bit of navigation we found a series of roads that would get us from our home to the schools and back again.
The first time we saw the sign we were startled, thrown off. We had to do a U-turn and backtrack. We were later than expected to school that day. For days, we had to mentally think through our morning and afternoon routines and deliberately change our patterns. Eventually I mapped a path that worked for me. My husband went a little different way, one he preferred. And my son found a slight variation that he liked best. Sure, we had days where we forgot about the road closure, but soon we developed new routes and habits.
This happens on roads, but it also happens in life. Doors slam shut. People leave. We’re told, “no.” And the way we did things, or the way we thought we would do things is no longer an option.
Where in your life do you feel like the road is torn up? The bridge closed? Is there something or someone that has changed how you need to approach things? Rerouted your direction? Change can be disruptive. Not knowing can be unsettling.
But only if we have zero idea how things will turn out. And if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re not in that position. Granted, we might not know if we’ll find a job in that city or if the event will be a success or if we’ll get accepted. We might not know how long this life construction project will take. We might have to spend time trying this route, then that one—exploring which one feels safest, gets us where we need to go most efficiently, or has the best coffee shop along the way. We might not understand how all the details are being organized or why, but we should understand that Jesus has us covered. That He is working for good. So, although we don’t know the details, we can find peace and assurance that things will work out exactly as they should.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. –Romans 8:26-28 MSG
Bridges come and go. But Jesus? He is constant, faithful, and reliable. And when we don’t know which way to go He is the Way! He gives us the Holy Spirit to pray for us. He sees our waiting, expectant selves and stays with us, working out every single detail for good. So, why do we worry when roads close or bridges go out?
Sure, initially it’s jarring. This is where I was going. This is how I thought God wanted me get there. But, okay, it’s not anymore. Or maybe just not for right now. So what’s next?
Ask Jesus which way He wants you to go. If you don’t have the words you can picture the situation in your mind and utter the word, “help!” Or tell Him what you’re confused or frustrated about. Get it off your chest and rest in His presence. Ask Jesus to map an alternate route for you, then actually listen to what He says. If you’re not hearing anything—think through some options—lay those out before the Lord. See if you feel Him nudging you one way or another. If not, start trying the ones that feel in keeping with how He taught us to live and love. All the time trusting that Jesus is wearing His Almighty hardhat, and He’s busy at work on the construction.
Some roads get permanently shut down. I’ve seen overpasses demolished and completely replaced when engineers came up with better ramps, curves, angles, and distribution of traffic. But some bridges get rebuilt. For us, this was the case. This beautiful, wide, high bridge, with a smoother curve, allowing for much safer turns is now open to the public, including my family. It’s a gift to us, as our round trips to school and back once again became almost daily traverses.
But even if your proverbial bridge is blown up, you can trust Jesus has a better way, a more glorious route for you to take. Sometimes we have to wait. Or retrain our patterns. Sometimes we need to learn different ways of going about our lives or accept new paths altogether. But whatever the case, replacements, improvements, or complete reroutes--we can count on Jesus to work every detail out for good.
My mother-in-law’s house was supposed to close at 10:00 AM today. But it didn’t. It got pushed back to 5:00 PM. My husband and his siblings had a celebratory dinner planned for their mom tonight. What if there would be nothing to celebrate?
Our oven broke over a week ago. After a chat with my mechanic, he determined we probably needed a new heating element. He ordered the part and once it arrived, we scheduled for him to install it today. But it ended up the heating element is notthe problem. So although I thought it would be fixed today, even though I told my family our oven would be fixed today, even though I went through the steps to get it fixed today. It’s not.
Things don’t always go as planned. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that.
Perhaps you’re in the midst of trying to get a class you thought you’d scheduled back in the spring, or reordering a pair of shoes that showed up in the wrong size or color. Maybe it’s something much bigger that isn’t going as planned. Maybe the company that just hired you is downsizing, or the surgery didn’t completely work, and there will need to be a second one. I don’t understand the rhythms of the world. But thankfully God does.
And because He is God, because He is so much greater, wiser, and more powerful than we can comprehend, He has things happen in perfect timing. Not always how we think they should go down. But always better.
In the Bible we hear about a guy named Mordecai. Mordecai gets wind of a plot to assassinate the king and alerts the queen (who happens to be his cousin). Thanks to Mordecai’s warning, the two guys planning to take out the king are caught and executed. Mordecai’s heroic act is recorded in the official documents of the king, but that’s it. No promotion or Medal of Honor for Mordecai. The king doesn’t even say, “Thanks.” Mordecai might have been thinking,I would have saved the king no matter what, but a little acknowledgement would be nice—an article in the Persian Timesor even an @mention on social media. But, nope. Nothing.
All that takes place in the book of Esther, chapter 2. Fast forward four entire chapters to Esther 6. A power hungry noble named Haman loves for everyone to bow down to him, and is disgusted that our friend Mordecai won’t. Haman figures he’ll trick the king into executing innocent Mordecai to “put him in his place.”That same night the king can’t sleep, and hopes reading the royal records might cure his insomnia. The king gets to the part about Mordecai saving his life and asks, “What did we do to thank him?”
Yes, just as Haman is about to unjustly have Mordecai killed, the king decides nowis the time to honor Mordecai for what happened before. It wasn’t a coincidence that the king delayed rewarding Mordecai until this moment. God wasn’t insensitive to Mordecai’s bravery before. No! God knew all along when it would be most beneficial for Mordecai to get a pat on the back. God intentionally delayed Mordecai’s reward in order to save Mordecai’s life.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding. —Proverbs 3:5
So what do you wish had different timing? What would you like to speed up or slow down? Maybe, like Mordecai, you’ll benefit more if that thing happens four chapters from now. Perhaps it’s actually better if that thing occurs sooner than you think you’re ready for it. Either way I’m certain God knows what’s best. He’s got an infinitely better view of the entire, gigantic picture. God knew Haman would plot to kill Mordecai before Haman did.
God is on our side. Fighting for us. Putting us in the right situations at the right time for the right reasons. Fast forwarding some things. Playing others in slow motion. Laying the stepping-stones of our paths out before us, so they’ll be there for us to walk across when the timing is right.
I was supposed to see a friend on Monday. She had to reschedule. I’m even more eager to get caught up with her now then when we first set up our walk, because I figure God had a reason to delay our time together. Whatever takes places today with different timing than you’d planned, trust Jesus. He understands where and when things should happen so much better than we ever could.
Ten years ago I climbed out of a cab into a narrow alley in Lyon, France with two of my kids, jet-lagged and disoriented. When our driver stopped in front of the graffiti-laden door I was speechless. This was the address I’d given him. My husband and other two children would be delivered to this same spot any minute (one French taxi was not equipped to hold two parents, four kids, and six pieces of luggage). So, even though I couldn’t imagine this is where we would be living for the next month while my husband taught at the local university, this is apparently the place the school had rented for us. The small black Peugeot taxi disappeared down the steep alley, and I extended my arms like wings pulling my kids close trying to make them feel safe, even though the burning pit in my stomach and dark sense of dread enveloping my heart intensified by the second.
On our recent family vacation to France we revisited this alley hearts warm, smiles creeping across our six Smith faces.
Because behind the graffiti-covered front door is a walkway leading up a series of stairs to a fantastic French apartment complete with bright purple and green throw pillows on a dove gray Ikea couch, a basket of toys, and a spectacular view of a church steeple and the red-tiled rooftops of Lyon. The memories of the five weeks we spent here ten years ago are some of my fondest.
Despite my initial moments of dread, ends up we lived on the same street as the elementary school and only a two-minute walk from a peaceful playground. Safe. Quiet. Family friendly. While Brett rode the bus to the University each morning, the kids and I crossed the Saone River on a cherry red bridge to the outdoor market, purchasing fresh produce. Our next stop was the boulangerie to find fresh warm pastries and baguettes for the day. While Brett taught students from around the world about entrepreneurship, our kids played futbol with French children on the playground and tag in the large public square with a giant statue of the sun king, Louis XIV. We explored the ancient Roman ruins, and the cathedral Fourvière covered with mosaics perched atop a hill. Church on Sundays was at Saint-Georges, originally built in the year 550 at the end of our street, whose church bells serenaded us daily on the hour. We learned our way around the city, and became friends with our baker and grocer. It was like a page out of a Madeline book.
You see, you can't judge an adventure by its doors.
What looked to be a run down apartment in the bad part of town turned out to be a charming home within walking distance to everything a family with four kiddos could want in the loveliest (in my opinion) neighborhood in Lyon. Turns out the university knew exactly what they were doing when they rented the apartment. They were taking care of us. We just didn’t realize it at first glance.
How often do we do this? Decide something is bad, wrong, unsafe, finished, undoable before even waiting to see what’s behind the door. We give up before we start, or at least before we’ve allowed God to show us what He’s up to.
I think of the poor disciples after Jesus was crucified. Their Savior, leader, pastor, friend was gone. They saw Him brutally executed. Watched His body carried away and sealed in a grave with a giant forboding stone. But behind that stone the most amazing thing was going down. Jesus conquered the grave, so that we too, would never be stuck in the dark without air. The disciples couldn’t see this. Not until they looked inside the door on Sunday and realized that tomb was empty.
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. —Mark 16:2-6
What door seems shut in your life? Or damaged or covered in grafitti or locked or knocked down or sealed with a stone?
Sometimes God closes doors. And I am so grateful for that, because the doors He’s closed in my life have forced me to turn around so I could see the things He wants to teach me, and eventually the doors He’s swung wide open for me.
But Jesus also asks us to trust Him. Trust that the skill God gave you He will use for good. Trust that the relationship that didn’t work out wasn’t supposed to last for an extremely good reason (even if you don't see that today). Trust that Jesus has something incredible in store at the new place He’s put you. Trust that the sun will shine again. Trust that the apartment He set up for your family in France will be safe. Trust that when Jesus said He was coming back, He meant it.
I can’t tell you which doors are permanently closed and which ones you need to push open in your life. But I do know God will show you. He wants us to discover His plans. It’s not some game He’s playing like Let’s Make a Deal. God would never hide a goat behind one of the doors He's set on your path or lock a door He intends for you to walk through. No. He puts exactly what we need behind precisely the right door and if we’re patient (apparently sometimes it takes about three days) and willing to unlock the door or roll back the stone we’ll discover pure love, ultimate grace, and adventures beyond our comprehension.
Are you ready to push open the door?
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.
Laura L. Smith