This morning one of my daughters is walking into high school for the very first time. As soon as we drop her off, we’re driving our other daughter back to college. Tomorrow my older son returns to high school and although I get my youngest for a few more days, he starts back sooner than I’d like. Me? I’m one hot mess of mama emotions.
Summer with them has been…well it’s been all kinds of things. It’s been family dinners followed by hilarious conversations on the screened in porch while the sun slowly sets through the trees. It’s been countless hands of Euchre, coffee runs, episode upon episode of Shark Tank and so very much soccer. Summer’s been walks around the neighborhood, church picnics, science experiments, crêpes, cantaloupe and crunchy cucumbers from farmer’s market adventures, and board games on rainy afternoons. Summer has been filled with giggles and tears and frustration and joy. It’s been about shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, hair pulled into ponies or buns or braids (for the girls) whatever mismatched napkins we have in the cupboard, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet, juicy watermelon kept cold in the fridge.
But today the page turns. And as with every story, the page turning simply means the story is progressing. The characters get to learn more, experience new things, meet new people, overcome more obstacles, gain courage and strength and sense of self. This is what I want for my kids. Clearly. To grow like this. But so much of my heart just wants to snuggle them and breathe them in a little longer.
I’m so proud of these kids. Of who they are. Of the choices they make. Of the things they accomplish. Of how again and again they seek God in their own ways. I know going back to school means having to fight for what they believe in, being ranked and sorted by their scores on their papers and on their teams’ fields. It means not always being heard or understood or invited. It means striving to prove yourself over and over again. I know growing up can be hard.
But I also know this. As much as I love these four precious people, and I love them more than I knew human beings could experience love, God loves them more. He does. It’s hard for me to fathom, but it’s true. And the God who put taste buds on butterflies’ feet so it would be easy for them to immediately taste the nectar of the plants they land on, who gave the adorable baby deer who have been trotting around my neighborhood speckled backs so they can blend into the dappled light of sun on leaves, and who protects crisp, golden kernels of corn under layers of silky strands and papery husks, this God is going to take care of my kids, and your kids, and you, and me. Look at how He provides and equips butterflies, deer, and corn!!! Imagine what He will do for our kids, for us!
As much as I want only the very best friends and opportunities and experiences for my kids—God wants that more. He wants that for them and for us. As much as I long for my kids to overcome the challenges they face, to let go of the burdens they each carry, and to heal from all the things that have hurt them—God wants that more. He wants all this for my kids, and your kids, and me, and for you.
Who are you sending back to school? Maybe you’re the one headed back to the hallways and classrooms. Who or what are you worried about? Who are you praying for? A family member? A friend far away? Yourself? God loves them. He loves you. And He will put you exactly where you need to be, give you all the tools you need, equip you perfectly, so that you have every opportunity necessary to grow and heal and learn and soar. He does this for the people we wish we could make everything right for. He does this for us.
I don’t know if you’re also experiencing the back to school roller coaster or if your story and circumstances are totally different. But I do know as the summer chapter comes to an end and the pages of autumn tickle our fingers, God has a beautiful story planned—one filled with healing, growth, hope, grace, love. Not only is He capable of all of these things. He wants all of these things for all of His kids. Yes, I’ll cry ALL THE TEARS out of hope and love and longing for my kids. But I’m turning them over to God. Because I know He has them in His almighty hands.
Do you trust Him? Are you ready to let Him grow you? Teach you? Heal you? As you get on the figurative bus and pack your lunch or theirs, remember Jesus is with you. He’s with them. He loves us. He loved spending summer with us. But He is so excited for our fall and everything He’s planned for you and your kids in the upcoming days. I give you full on permission to miss your kids and pray for them like crazy, but let’s also breathe easily knowing this school year (and always); we (and the people we love) are loved and protected by the God of the Universe.
In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:6
I’ve been reading the book of Luke this summer. It’s packed with familiar stories—shepherds, a manger, the Good Samaritan. I love going back through the pages and seeing what Jesus did, how He handled situations, what His attitude was, and specifically this summer I’m trying to focus on what Jesus said, because as a word lover I’m thinking the words Jesus spoke are a pretty fantastic way to learn more about Him.
One of my favorite passages is when Jesus feeds the five thousand (Luke 9). Now, keep in mind there were five thousand men plus women and children, so the crowd exceeded ten thousand, possibly twenty thousand folks. In this passage this giant crowd has come to listen to Jesus teach. Near the end of the day everyone is getting a little fussy, tired, and downright hungry.
What’s for dinner is a question my family asks on repeat. I think through what we’ve eaten recently, peek in the pantry, consider everyone’s schedules—who has soccer, meetings, sleepovers, etc. Who is even going to be eating this meal? Just when I think of something that meets our family’s dietary needs (all of the allergies live here) that most of my people will actually consume, I realize I need cilantro and gluten free wraps if I’m going to pull this together. Another trip to Kroger and perhaps also the farmer’s market and I’m good to go, at least for tonight. But thousands of hungry folks on a hillside? Yikes! Where to start? Sure, their “pantry” held five loaves of bread and two fish, but that wouldn’t make my crew happy, let alone fill them. And there are only six Smiths. The disciples point out this problem to Jesus, suggesting they send everyone out to the closest farms and villages, so the people can grab a bite to eat and stock up on snacks. That’s what the disciples say, but Jesus responds, “You feed them.”
Wait. Wha-at? Yeah, Jesus asks them to do it. When we see a problem, He also asks us to act. Jesus seems to throw His hands up at the disciples and say, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!” He says the same to us.
I have a relationship that’s rugged. I can pray about it all day long, but at the end of the day, Jesus says, “You make the phone call. Don’t wait on the other person.” I argue, “They’re challenging to talk to. It’s not always easy or pleasant.” Jesus nods. Mmm-hmm, then hands me the phone and says, “It’s not going to dial itself.” A friend asks for prayer. Jesus elbows me and says, “Go ahead. Pray.” “Um, now?” I ask. He reminds me that it makes way more sense to pray specifically for my friend’s need with my friend right now rather then telling them politely I’ll pray and then possibly forgetting and possibly tagging it onto a run-on prayer sentence a day or two later. I dream of speaking at an event at a certain church. I Google the church, check out all their fantastic resources, wish I knew someone who could introduce me to the right people, and yeah, Jesus says, “Reach out and set up a meeting.” Wait. Wha-at? What if they don’t respond? What if they don’t want me? Jesus has zero time for that nonsense. He never argues, just urges me again, “You do it.”
It’s not that Jesus is hanging us out to dry, that He’s lazy, or uninterested in helping. Quite the contrary. With the feeding the hungry crowd situation the disciples’ jaws are still hanging open in disbelief, that Jesus, the miracle-working Messiah, thinks they should feed the crowd, when He pipes in. “Listen. Get the crowd to sit in groups. Then Jesus takes the few barley loaves and tilapia, prays over the food, and hands it to the disciples. It’s Jesus who steps in with a plan. It’s Jesus who performs a miracle by blessing the small amount of food, so it can feed the masses. But the disciples have to do the work. They have to physically organize the crowd. Get them to settle down, sit down, and hang tight. Then they have to walk around to thousands of hungry folks and serve them dinner. The disciples have to take part of it, so they can fully understand what is going on, how incredible the whole thing is. They get to see the look on the faces of the hungry crowd as they relax and take a break, the smiles from the kiddos, the relief from the mamas. They got to marvel as they put their hand in the basket time and time again and every time more food keeps coming out.
Same with us. Jesus wants us to do the work. He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. He’ll bless the work if it’s for Him. He’ll give us a plan, a place to start. He’ll pray over the situation with us. And then He’ll say, “Get moving.” Because He wants us to be a part of it, He wants us to get in on it, marvel at what He does and how He works.
If you want that mountain moved, yes pray for it, yes have faith that God will move it, but you also better start lifting weights, invest in one heck of a shovel, and start moving that dirt. Create a website. Send the message. Attend the event. Audition. Introduce yourself. Show up. Raise your hand. Suggest the idea. And then get ready to be blown away. That hungry crowd? After they’d all eaten until they were full, no skimping, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Twelve baskets. Of extras.
I’m not promising all rainbows and roses here, although that is the way I like to roll. Just because I send in a book proposal, doesn’t mean I get a book contract. But if I don’t do the work—write the proposal, make the changes my agent suggests, incorporate the feedback we get back from editors, I’ll never get that next book deal. And more importantly I won’t learn what Jesus wants to teach me. It probably took a while to settle that giant crowd into groups. Just because you work out, doesn’t mean you’ll win the race. Just because you apply for the job, does not mean you’ll get it. But when it’s the right deal, the right race, the right job, where Jesus wants to make a change and simultaneously grow us, we will get all those things and bonus baskets to boot. The job guy won’t come knocking on your door. It will be up to you to put together your resume, check out the requirements, apply, follow up with a call or email, get dressed up and cleaned up and put together for the interview. Then let Jesus bless it and dole it out, the way only He can.
Whatever thing you see needs fixing, started, initiated, changed today? Go do it. You feed them. Yes, YOU. And be blown away by not only how Jesus blesses and works, but in all the abundance of extras He’ll provide.
I have always loved getting packages. When Brett and I got married the gifts flowed in—delicate crystal wine glasses and fluffy yellow towels from our registry, all new, all ours, all symbolic of setting up a new household, a new life together. Each time the UPS man rang the bell; I scampered to the door, as eager to open the brown cardboard boxes from Macy’s or Williams Sonoma as if they were ornate treasure chests. After living in a myriad of apartments, sleeping on futons and using the mismatched forks and hand-me-down skillet my mom had donated to my cupboards, I was in awe that all these lovely items were for us—that we could eat off these matching plates and cook pasta in brand new Calphalon pans with lids that fit.
The packages poured in again when we had babies—people we knew from college and work and growing up—all lavishing us with adorable sleepers with fuzzy feet, cuddly blankets dotted with yellow and green puppy dogs, and rhyming Boynton board books. How could we possibly be recipients of all this cuteness? We were the ones blessed with little miracles on the way. Certainly we didn’t deserve all of these gifts, too!
Now, with Amazon Prime, packages appear seemingly daily. Just this week I ordered lavender seeds, a scrubber brush to clean the showers, a case of Italian flour, and a book one of my kids needs to read over the summer for school (yes! you can still get books on Amazon). They all came in separate boxes (the environmentalist in me is screaming, but that’s a rant for another blog). As I pulled the boxes in off the porch it dawned on me that the brown cardboard now seems so normal. When the gifts from our wedding registry showed up it felt like Christmas every time—what was in the box? Who was it from? Wow! We’d never owned anything so nice, not that we could call ours. But now? I mean, crackers and jumper cables. Not so exciting. I even get entitled when something takes more than two days, because hello? Prime.
I started wondering how I’m responding to the packages God delivers to me? Am I opening them with anticipation? Or tossing them aside, into the bin with the other scrub brushes, along the shelves with the other groceries, taking it for granted when I use them, because I feel entitled that they should be there? Am I thrilled when packages from God show up, or am I all, “I prayed about it two days ago. Where the heck is it?”
Yesterday I walked out front to dump our dehumidifier bucket full of Ohio humidity on our flowers—this is about as advanced as I get in my gardening. And, there was a package on the porch. I didn’t even remember ordering anything. Had I? Instinctively I brought it inside and grabbed my scissors, because we do get so many brown boxes on our porch. My husband’s birthday was in a couple of days, my son’s is in two weeks. The box could be a package for one of them. Of maybe it was the swimsuit top I ordered for my daughter. But before I cut in, I was prompted to pause and read the label. Curious to see the package’s origins I discovered it wasn’t for me, or anyone in our home at all. The box was actually addressed to our neighbors a few blocks away—same numerals on their address, same neighborhood, different street. It made me wonder if I’m figuratively trying to open packages meant for other people. Wishing a destiny or current situation different than the one God has gifted me. The one He knows is best for me.
Because God does deliver packages on the porches of our lives every single day—conversations with strangers and friends that teach us something or remind us of something important or open our eyes, tangy barbeque sauce, sweet, juicy watermelon, cool pool water on scorching hot summer days, tiny baby deer with white speckled backs peeking through the trees, a fluffy squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk, a phone call or Bitmoji from a friend that makes you laugh out loud, the solid warmth of a hug from someone you love—all gifts. Are we opening them with anticipation, excitement, gratitude? Amazed that we could be so lucky to receive such packages? That God would deliver them to our doorsteps? Or do we take them for granted?
Are we so grumpy about the packages that haven’t come yet, the things we want, the things we feel we deserve that we’re like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, belting out, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” Are there things we prayed about two days ago that we wish God would hurry up and Prime them to our porch. Are we so busy eyeing our neighbors brown boxes—jobs, wardrobes, achievements, homes, families, meals, vacations, abs, that we wish we could open them for ourselves, totally missing the packages God has piled up specifically for us to enjoy?
I don’t know what your day holds. But I promise God will deliver at least one wonderful package to you, if not many. It might be exactly what you hoped for, or something you didn’t even know existed. Keep your eyes open! Take a moment to notice the pink streaks of sky in the sunrise, the tomato deepening from green to red on the vine, the uninhibited laughter of a child splashing in a fountain, to really look into someone’s eyes. Consider the job opportunity, the house that’s for sale, the trip someone invited you on—could these maybe be a special delivery from God? Open up the packages of today with new lenses aware of the beauty God has surrounded you with. Be amazed that He has handpicked this present for you and sent it to your address—to make you smile, to make you understand you are loved, that even though you don’t deserve it, He wants you to have it.
My mom and I were going for a walk around our neighborhood when she spied someone’s garbage can pulled to the curb with pieces of wood poking out of the lid.
“I want those!” She proclaimed.
“Well, take ‘em,” I encouraged. One man’s trash …
“I’ll use them for my tomatoes,” Mom declared, pulling out a few, straight, long stakes.
“Awesome,” I answered, because my mom loves to garden. It brings her so much joy. She literally completed our walk beaming ear-to-ear, strutting around with those sticks like a drum major leading a marching band. My mom rocks when it comes to growing just about anything. For years, she sweetly planted tomato plants in my yard, staked them, even placed little cages around them to keep the deer from snacking. And I LOVE tomatoes, love homegrown, Ohio tomatoes in the summer time. Could eat them every night with a small sprinkle of salt, preferably with some corn on the cob from the farmer’s market. But I can’t grow tomatoes. Can’t grow any kind of plant. So year after year Mom would painstakingly plant, and year after year they would die. I never harvested a single tomato.
So, explain to me how these grow in my yard? I’ve lived in this house for seventeen years. I did not buy the irises. I did not plant the irises. I never think about them unless they’re blooming. And then I stand in awe. I never fertilize the ground where they grow, water them, stake them, cage them, or ponder how much sunlight they’re getting. How do these stunning irises, drenched in purple, with crazy, gorgeous flowing shapes come up year after year and thrive in the same soil where I murder tomatoes?
I may be oversimplifying things. But truly, this is how God works, simply, not always easily, but always simply. He is always at work, doing unfathomable things, when we’re not capable, when we’re not mindful, when we’re not even aware.
Right now. Today. God is working some detail, maybe dozens of details in your life that you will be able to take zero credit for. Maybe it’s a job you didn’t even know existed that you are going to be offered in a few months, and right now God is introducing you to some people who will help you in that position, having you stumble across articles that will inform you for your interview, and having the person who currently holds that job get the promotion they’ve been hoping for, so their slot will be available for YOU! Maybe right now God has grad students working in a lab making small discoveries that when added to findings scientists in another lab are making will equal a treatment or cure for the very ailment you’re battling. Maybe God just gave someone else a whopping income tax return they weren’t expecting, and is nudging them to share the wealth, and they’ll just happen to hear about your need—the mission trip you’ve been praying about, the broken part of your house you can’t afford to fix, and voila—your need will be met.
Maybe none of the above applies. Certainly if I knew how God was working in the secret ways of your life, it wouldn’t be as cool or mysterious or phenomenal. But I do know He is working. I know, because I’ve seen Him do it again and again, over and over. I see college students apply for internships and get turned down, because the opportunity of a lifetime is about to present itself in a few days, and they would miss it all together if they’d settled for that other thing. I’ve seen people’s cancer go in remission, houses sell, relationships mend, all because of God’s grace, not because of all of their due diligence. God swept in and said, “I love you. I have something for you.” How have you seen God work behind the scenes in the past? Doesn’t that give you hope that He’ll do it again?
I’m not saying we get everything we wish for. Thankfully God knows better than we ever could what we need, thus all the cool undercover work He does. I’m also not proclaiming we should all park ourselves on the couch watching Netflix and eating ice cream all summer, trusting God will do the rest. We’re still called to do our part, to take care of our bodies, to be wise stewards of our time and our finances. To use the gifts He’s given us and to use them well, for His glory. If I never sat down and wrote, well, I wouldn’t have a blog, or articles, or books. It can’t happen unless I invest the time. But I also know none of my stories would have even been read without the way God orchestrated the details.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
So do the things you know you can do. Fill out the application. Make the appointment. And then breathe easy. God loves you. He wants you to experience a full, free life. Just like you do special things for the people you love—make them a treat, send them a card, plan a graduation or birthday celebration for them—things that take some time, some planning, some effort, God is putting together the pieces for a lovely gift for you. He might still be shopping or organizing or wrapping or waiting for the mysterious Amazon delivery person to drop it on His porch, but God is at work for you. Maybe you can’t fathom how you’re going to make the thing happen that you really want to happen. Maybe you’ve lost hope over something you felt God had in store for you, but now seems to be taking forever. Maybe your struggle is intense and hard, and you can’t see a way out or up. But God can. And He knows better than we ever will how all of the pieces should shift and flip to fall perfectly into place. Maybe there’s something so beautiful in the works, sprouting from a seed underground that you’ve never even asked for, never reached for, that you don’t even suspect is growing.
Maybe I can’t grow tomatoes, but God can grow irises. And, apparently peonies.
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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.
One of my best friends, Amy, and I have a joke about making dinner. I’ll text her a picture of the rotisserie chicken I grabbed at Kroger and make some humorous comment about secret recipes. She’ll send back a picture of her family-sized Chick-Fil-A bag and reference how she’s “cooking”. One day she messaged, “Are cake pops a meal?” We’re hilarious.
The truth is, life is busy. We’re both mamas. We’re both writers. We’re both trying to hold all the pieces together. And that means some nights the best dinner we can muster up comes in a box or a bag. This of course is absolutely fine, because our people eat a hot meal (or a meal with frosting). But there are other nights, despite our hysterical text stream, where our best dinners involve actually cooking.
Today was a cooking day. My oldest baby is home from college visiting. I wanted to make her favorite dinner—lasagna. I learned long ago from a chef friend that the secret to good food is good ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the meal turns out. So, when I actually take time to make lasagna, I use hand-rolled, fresh mozzarella from Jungle Jim’s, this fabulous market near us. Guys, it’s not even the same substance that comes shredded in a bag. It is so amazing. I also use these tomatoes from Italy. I know. They’re canned tomatoes. Who cares, right? But they’re yummier. They’re sweeter. They just are. They’re not more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, they just taste better. And fresh basil? Sigh. This is my favorite ingredient. It adds a layer of flavor that can’t be replicated.
The better the ingredients, the better the meal. I think this mantra holds true to all parts of our lives.
Which translates into bringing our best games to everything we do, because the more we put into it, the better it will turn out. This is so true. When I prepare before a conference call, thinking through the questions I want to ask and the questions I might be asked. When I pull out my favorite notepad and a brightly-colored pen jotting down some main points prior to the call and taking notes during the call, the conversation is more productive. If I read all the passages, pray, research and journal about them for the Bible study I lead, Tuesday morning conversations at study are more focused and richer. When I get a great night’s sleep, eat healthy, am hydrated, stretch before and after, my morning runs are fantastic, energizing for my body and therapeutic for my mind.
But we all know that’s not always how it goes, is it?
Today Kroger was out of fresh basil. They just didn’t have any. They had this fresh-ish basil in a tub, which is far superior to dried basil in a spice jar, but not the same as fresh-cut leaves from my yard in the summer. Sometimes I’m rushing to my desk for the call, flying through the Bible-study lessons, and my legs feel like lead.
So how do we do this? How do we metaphorically cook with the best ingredients, when they’re not always available?
We look in our pantries, open our fridge, swing by the grocery and bring the best ingredients we have. Whatever that is today. Often this means improvising. That might mean basil in a tub. Or stewed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. It could mean a run that morphs into a stroll to be able to complete my route. It could mean getting to just a little of my Bible every day, the parts I can get to, and if I can’t journal, at least trying to think through some of the questions in our study book in my brain.
It always means praying. Because talking to God about all the things going on is the best ingredient I’ve got up my sleeve—the secret ingredient to save all the recipes, even the ones it looks like I’m burning or flubbing up. Praying over the conference call before the phone rings. Praying on the way to Bible study for God to fill in all the places I’m not prepared, to give me words where I need to speak, and silence when I need to hush. Praying over my children, my interactions with them. Praying over my marriage. Praying over my writing. Praying over all of the things all of the time.
Because the best ingredients available for today’s recipes might be totally different than the best ingredients that will be available tomorrow. We’re never sure how our legs or voices or patience will hold up. We can’t control if someone else is running late or running out or stands us up or if they raise the prices for the things on our list. Some days we come down with the flu or the blues. But we still need to show up. We still need to try. And we still need to sprinkle in the secret spice of prayer. My best tomorrow looks totally different than my best today and it looks completely different than yours on any day. Some days my best is homemade lasagna and others my best is pizza delivered to my doorstep. But when we keep trying, keep giving today the best ingredients we have to offer, praying over all the places we and the world falls short, together, we’ll make the tastiest lasagna. And ultimately we’ll make our world, delicious.
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I attended an event the other night put on by Ocean Accelerator encouraging entrepreneurs to be brave in their beginnings. There was a speaker, a panel, a commentator, a cool old theatre as the venue, and of course, networking. The crux of the evening was that if you have an idea, a dream, a business you want to start, a creative endeavor you want to explore—the first step isn’t easy. You have to bravely take that first step.
It’s hard to deny that brave beginnings are both a good idea in general and necessary to propel dreams into realities. But guys, it doesn’t end with that first brave step. We all need to take brave beginnings every day.
Years ago, I took the brave step of confiding in my husband that my lifelong dream was to become a writer. From there, leaving my first born at home with Brett one evening a week, I took the brave step of taking a creative writing class at the local college. Then another brave step to actually put my ideas to paper and write some short stories. It took all the courage from the Cowardly Lion’s medal to actually submit my stories for someone else to read and evaluate their worth. The result was one story landing in the anthology, God Allows U-Turns and another in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’d been brave, but if I’d stopped there those would have been my only two stories ever in print. You guys, I still have to take brave steps with my writing. Every. Single. Day. This week I made a list of three brave things I could do to propel my dreams. They might have been easy things for you, but for me they would have been easier to talk about and put on my to-do list and stare at than actually execute.
What brave steps do you need to take this week?
Instead of keeping your thoughts inside your head, you might need to take the brave step of telling your spouse or best friend how you really feel about something. Maybe you’ll need to be bold enough to tell somebody, ‘no.’ No, I don’t have time. No, that doesn’t make me comfortable. No, it’s not okay for my kid to watch that movie, go to that party, or talk about someone like that. Perhaps your brave step will be to get out of bed, even though it’s really hard. Maybe you’ll need to call a counselor or someone else you trust and take the first courageous step towards help. Maybe you need to be daring enough to ask God for a miracle.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." —Joshua 1:9
Our minds get flooded with ideas—some of them good, some of them bad, some of them neutral. But some of our ideas keep at us, keep nudging us, elbowing us, calling out to us from somewhere inside. These are ideas we can’t brush off. We need to take them to God, “Is this from you?” and if it is, if God shows us this is Him encouraging us, guiding us, moving us, then we need to act. Even when we’re nervous or unsure of ourselves. Because, guess what? Our ideas won't change the situation, make a difference, or change the world unless we act upon them.
My friend, Beth, was on a panel at this “Brave Beginnings” event. Her words resonate, “Sometimes brave beginnings look like fear. Sometimes being brave starts with something small.”
There’s nothing easy about being brave. It is almost always hard. Otherwise it wouldn’t take any courage at all. It’s hard to walk into a room full of people that you don’t know. It’s hard to leave a job. It’s hard to start your own business. It’s hard to admit you have a problem. It’s hard to confront someone you love about his or her problem. And being brave doesn’t have to be hugungeous. Often the biggest amount of courage is necessary to make the first call, say the first words, take the first step onto the stage, or the field, or towards recovery.
What is God calling you to be brave about this week?
You can do this! God tells us, “Do NOT be discouraged. Do NOT be afraid. I AM with you.” Even when your knees are shaking and your voice wavers. Even when last time you tried you stumbled. Even when you’ve never tried anything like this before. God is with you. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath and take that step forward. It doesn’t have to be big. It’s okay if you’re heart is pounding. God is with you. Be brave.
What three things can you do this week to bravely move forward? I’d love to hear.
Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
Our hands. We use them for a zillion and nine things a day. To brush our teeth, brew our coffee, open the pages of our Bibles, type emails and texts, buckle littles into their seats, stir pots of soup, shuffle cards, brush/straighten/curl/braid our hair, tie shoes, sign forms, sometimes even carve pumpkins.
Over the weekend I had the blessing of watching countless folks use their hands to make a difference. I was part of the Women of the Word event in Indiana and was blown away by hundreds of hands doing Christ’s work. I met women who play guitar with their hands at retreats for inmates, who hold hands with addicts in rehab ministry, who sketch with pastels beautiful landscapes illustrating the living water Jesus offers, and who cook meals with their hands for prison ministry. There were women and men who clicked microphones on my back, brought me something to eat, and packed up my books with their sweet loving hands. Hands passing out programs, doling out index cards, stuffing sacks with sandwiches and apples, frosting cupcakes, opening doors, running videos and music from the sound booth, clapping in time with familiar hymns, and holding other hands in prayer. I was humbled by all of the hands doing so much work, so many things I cannot do or haven’t even considered trying. I marveled at how all of these hands did the work they were created to do—humbly, lovingly, just how Jesus taught us.
When the body of Christ comes together it is a beautiful thing. Because one pair of hands was never intended to do it all. My hands can’t play the guitar or run a soundboard. My hands have never found their way into the rooms of some of those ministries. But my hands were blessed by getting to shake hands and hold hands with so many other hands doing their thing to share the love Jesus offers us.
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.—Ephesians 2:9
How will you use your hands today? What work has been put in front of you? Can you create art? Bake? Write equations on a Smartboard and explain them so the next generation can learn? Will you help someone cross the street or zip up their coat? Hammer something into place? Turn the steering wheel to get someone exactly where they need to be? Clean up a mess? Turn on a light in a darkened room or a darkened heart? Help someone up who’s fallen down? Maybe last night you used your hands to pass out treats to adorable kiddos playing make-believe in costume. What has God gifted you to do? What is He calling you to do?
Because your hands? They are one of a kind hands. Your hands are the only ones with those fingerprints—the only hands who can sign that signature. And as uniquely as God created our hands, He also uniquely created the works our hands are equipped to do. And the work your hands can do? It is critical. It is important. It is necessary in building the kingdom. So stretch out those fingers, gloss up your nails with garnet or caramel lacquer for fall if you choose, and then get busy. Because there is so much work to do. And only your hands can do the beautiful, challenging, perfect tasks God has put in front of you today.
I think most of us have at least two personas.
One is the uncomfortable, uncertain version of ourselves. When we are around specific people or in certain settings we tend to feel insecure and underestimate our capabilities. Personally, in these situations I lower my head, keep quiet, stay on the edges of conversations and groups, unsure of what to say, not feeling like I have much to contribute. I have friends who react the opposite in these same scenarios. They become louder, spewing things they don’t even mean to say, things that are a bit too snarky, or that challenge others as protective armor from having to reveal themselves. You might have a different default mode altogether that you use to cope with the places and people where you feel out of place. None of these is our best or brightest. These are the places we need to spend less time.
But then there is our true self. The way we feel and act when we are in our element. Where laughter comes easily, where we believe our ideas matter, where we can look people straight in the eye and say how we feel without any fear of being judged or misunderstood. When the weather seems perfect and our clothes feel comfortable and our phones stay tucked in our pockets and purses and we never glance at the clock, but wish we could stay a long while. These are the places we need to spend more time.
Which one of these personas are you currently living?
There is a scene in The Little French Bistro by Nina George where one of the main characters sees an artist’s portrayal of her. She is overwhelmed, because the woman the artist has depicted is stunning, captivating, positively beautiful and mesmerizing. Conversely, the character finds herself quite ordinary and unremarkable.
She asks the artist, “Is that how you see me?”
The artist replies, “That is how you are.”
It is a powerful scene. Because the woman was amazing. She just couldn’t see it in herself. Just like all of us are captivating. But we’re quick to dismiss our value and often struggle to see our true reflections. But Jesus? He always sees our true selves. And He always sees us as magnificent.
When we compare ourselves to others, measure ourselves against social media, and strive to make ourselves known—to get our numbers on the board. We often sell ourselves short. We focus on our faults and the places we do not excel. But Jesus created us. He created you and I uniquely and distinctly. He formed us to do amazing works. Allow Him to remind you who you are in Him. That you are as captivating as a masterpiece in a gallery—able to make those passing by pause, ask questions, and ponder. You truly make hearts beat faster, mouths curl into smiles, and brains expand their thoughts.
How do you find this beautiful self that’s sometimes so hard to see? Start by hanging out with Jesus. When I’m with Him, I see a me that doesn’t even resemble the woman who sits awkwardly on the fringe of a conversation or pants to keep up in a race or whose brain hurts when she looks at financial statements. Instead I see a woman who gets high on telling stories, who is loved by her family, treasured by her Savior, and therefore beautiful in a distinct way. Spending time with Jesus opens our eyes to better see the people who see our true personas and to the things that make us more of our true selves.
Once you’re vision has been cleared up a bit by Jesus, start doing fewer things that empty you. Do more of the things that thrill you, bring you peace, make you feel whole—that could be kicking instead of throwing the ball, teaching or taking a class, rocking a baby, or hiking a trail. Slowly stop spending time with the folks who drain you, who make you feel small. Your stunning true reflection is lost on them. Instead seek out the people who recognize you for the treasure you are.
How do you see yourself?
How do others see you?
How do you want to be seen?
The truth is you are Christ’s masterpiece. It’s time to allow Him to show you who you truly are. You might be surprised at the capable, worthy person you see in the mirror. You might turn to Jesus and ask, “Is that how you see me?” He is certain to reply, “That is how you are.”
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