A year ago I hadn’t even heard of the Museum of the Bible (ohmygosh who’s been to this incredible interactive museum in Washington, DC?). Today, not only am I itching to take a fieldtrip there, but I’m also excited to announce the release of this book I wrote for them--The Curious Kids Guide to Heroes and Villains in the Bible. A beautiful set of God-directed circumstances allowed me to write this book with my co-author, the brilliant theologian, Doug Powell. I pray Jesus will use it to teach curious kiddos and curious grown-ups how amazing His love and grace is.
For this writing project God enrolled me in Bible 101. I pored over page after page of books like 1 and 2 Chronicles and Job—books I rarely wade any further than ankle deep. Let’s just say I got soaking wet in the Word, which was incredible. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, I also got to be doused with a wealth of Biblical knowledge from my co-author. So after all that reading, and learning here was my biggest takeaway. Ready?
It’s going to sound a lot like The Breakfast Club. Remember the letter at the end to the principal, Mr. Vernon?
We’re all heroes and villains. Each and every one of us.
We’re all created by God—given unique talents and gifts from our Creator. If we’re followers of Jesus we’re handed God’s armor to protect us (Ephesians 6) and have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) planted inside us. Which enables us all to be good guys. If we want to be.
But God also gives us free will. And we exercise it liberally. Which leads to some of our bad guy tendencies. After spending time in the stories of over ninety historical folks, it’s easy to see how, where, and why so many of them slipped. And unfortunately, how I falter in some of the same ways.
King Saul was doing great, until he tried to do things his way instead of God’s way. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to take the wheel. Mine’s in the air.
Pontius Pilate was this close to letting Jesus off the hook, but then he worried about what people would think. Ugh. How often do we worry about what someone else thinks? About even something small like if our family will like the dinner we cooked?
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but he got frustrated when Jesus didn’t do things the way Judas wanted Him to—overturn the corrupt government. Ever wish God would do things differently—hurry up with this, make this cost or hurt less, change your circumstances? Yeah. Me, too.
This is starting to look bleak. But not really. Because if we take a peek at the lives of the heroes of the Bible, they were also a hot mess. David stole his friend’s wife. Peter pretended he didn’t know Jesus. The Apostle Paul murdered Christians, to name a few. How did those guys end up as heroes? They turned back to God. And God ALWAYS welcomes His children back with open arms. No matter how villainous we've been. This is amazing news!
We will mess up. We have days (or weeks, or even years) when we feel like villains (or other people might feel like we’re villains). But as long as we go back to Jesus, lay our sins down at the foot of the cross; and allow Him to love us? We get to be heroes. We get to trade in our black hats and wear the white ones. Because as the prophet, Isaiah reminds us, If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. —Isaiah 1:18-19 MSG
This is worth celebrating! Jesus intentionally came down to earth to live among us, to die for us, so all our sins could be removed once and for all, so we could be heroes.
I don’t know about you, but in the final scene, I want to end up wearing the white hat, not the black one. So, I’m going to work on keeping my eyes on Jesus, on day after day turning back to Him. Will you join me?
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 husband is reading a book called Rooted by Banning Liebscher. I’ve seen it lying on the steps, the coffee table, in his hands. I like the sound of the word, rooted, as if it describes itself. I picture green roots of a plant diving deep into rich soil and calling out, “Roooooooo-ted,” as they descend. As a writer I’m drawn to words. And this one keeps flashing across my radar.
I have dozens of pages marked in my Bible with brass book tabs, scraps of paper, colorful sticky notes, stiff prayer cards, whatever I can find when I come across something that stirs me so deeply I need to get back to it. The other day I flipped to a passage in Isaiah, and a piece of paper marked the page prior to the one I was reading. Out of curiosity, I turned back to see what was so profound on that page, and noticed the marker—a small square sheet of paper promoting VBS from our previous church. On the back in lime green ink I’d written “Rooted,” in thicker, swirlier letters at the top to serve as a heading. Really? Rooted? From a few years back. Hmmm.
And the next day, a coffee date with a girlfriend. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but we both speak, write, and teach for Jesus, plus we’re both soccer moms, so there is never a shortage of things to talk about. And as we were praying she spoke the word rooted over our lives and our relationships with God. There it was again standing out from all the other words as if in all-bold caps.
Okay, God, I’m listening.
On the dawn of a new year I don’t make resolutions. I used to, but they don’t serve me and my personality well, so instead I choose a word, or actually God chooses it for me—one to cling to for the year. And, well, yes, this year’s is clearly ROOTED. I know it’s a word that could pop up into multiple conversations, maybe-ish. But every time I heard “rooted” it seems to be highlighted, illuminated, like this word is an important one. Priscilla Shirer describes the Greek word, rhema, as the times when God’s words leap out of the page at you, when you truly hear God’s word being spoken directly to you. I knew rooted was one of these rhema moments for me early in December and went ahead and wrote it on the gold-framed slate a dear friend gave me that sits on my bookshelves, so I would remember. If God was giving me this word already, it didn’t seem like I should wait until January 1 to proclaim it. Rooted is something I need.
I need to be so rooted in who Jesus is and how He loves me, so I don’t sway. So I don’t crumble when I get rejections. Newsflash, writers get rejections, scads of them, over stories we’ve poured ourselves into, into stories I feel God has given me to write. And handfuls of rejections can hurt, and damage one’s self esteem. Are you in a position where you experience rejection? Then you get it. But when I write for Jesus and His glory, and stay rooted in that, then it doesn’t matter if my words get turned down, because Jesus never asked me to get my stories accepted, just to write them. Same for whatever He’s calling you, to do. Jesus calls you to the input, not the output. And when we dig down deep into that truth, then the shame or disappointment from someone passing on something we’ve worked at fades, because we remember who we did the work for. Jesus. Not them.
I need to stay rooted in who I am in Jesus, and what He did for me, so when I get acceptances I remember who gave me the stories and the words and the opportunities, who orchestrated all of the pieces so perfectly, that my agent would send my work on the specific day to the particular editor who was open to this kind of story and was able to convince their publishing board, and editorial board, and marketing team, that they should also buy into this specific manuscript. Only God could do all of that. I never could. And therefore all the glory from success goes to Him. Are things going your way? Have you had some success? Guess who got you there. Oh how I want to stay rooted in that, realizing all that Jesus does for me, knowing my stability comes from Him, seeking more and more nourishment from Him for more assignments He’ll give me by allowing my roots to dive deeper into the Lord.
I need to stay rooted in Jesus, so when one of my kids is in a funk and doesn’t want to talk to anyone, including me, I don’t feel like a worthless mom. I also won’t feel like a failure when I can’t solve my kid’s problems for them, or help them with their trigonometry (math hurts my head) or because I forgot to send in the $5 for the raffle basket or when only half of the family likes what I made for dinner. Because I’m not a failure. I’m a child of God. And so are you. But it’s easy to be blown sideways by the circumstances of life.
So, in 2019, I want to stay rooted. Rooted in Jesus. In His love. In His grace. In His forgiveness. In the identity He’s given me. Will you join me? Spread out your toes and imagine sinking them into soil, warm from the sun. Imagine when you feel shaky or uncertain that you can maintain stability by digging deeper, grounding yourself in the dark earth. Consider when you feel in control, like you nailed that project and hustled well, that if you wiggle your ankles and burrow down a few inches you’ll realize where your strength came from and while you’re at it you’ll absorb some additional nutrients of the dirt –calcium, magnesium, potassium to strengthen, calm, and regulate you to keep you going, keep you centered in whatever lies ahead.
Jesus provides us everything we need. He is our living water. The bread of life. He has overcome the world. Yes, I want to root myself in Him, realizing without Jesus, I have nothing to anchor myself in, nowhere to grow. But with Him, everything makes sense, and grows both up towards the bright sunlight and down into the cool, soothing dirt.
Is God whispering a word or phrase or instruction repeatedly in your ear? Does something appear to be highlighted or standing out to you for 2019? What is it? I’d love to hear.
I was at the Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference this week and had the pleasure of meeting a lovely group of up-and-coming writers. It was such an honor to sit and chat with them about all of the things God is calling them to do. One woman lost a son to suicide. In the midst of her own tragedy, she feels called by God to write a book to help others heal from similar traumas. I was blown away by her courage and love and obedience, to wade through her own pain to help others. Another woman lost her voice completely three days before the conference. But she came anyway. She took notes and attended a dozen one-on-one meetings communicating by writing questions and answers on her iPad and showing whoever she was speaking with her screen. Such bravery and faithfulness to come despite her ailment, to not give up, to move ahead. I have at least a dozen more stories of others I met who were bravely moving through doubt and worry and all of the excuses to start writing or speaking or blogging, because they felt God was asking them to. God called these folks to some extremely challenging things, but they stepped out in faith.
I came home from the event, changed into my soft red flannel pj pants (the ones with the snowflakes on them), made a hot cup of sweet and spicy apple cinnamon tea, and watched Evan Almighty with my youngest. Have you seen it? Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls and Steve Carell from The Office star as a modern-day couple with three boys. God visits Evan (Carell), a newly elected congressman, and tells him to build an ark. 450 feet long. 75 feet high. Out of wood. By hand. Identical to what God calls Noah to do in Genesis 6:14-21. Which seems a bit crazy and completely impossible, as I’m sure it did to Noah.
The movie is hilarious and if you have to cast someone as God, Morgan Freeman makes a fabulous choice, but what struck me was this is exactly what God does. He asks us to do the wildest things, things that seem out of our realm, and out of our skillset. Just like He was calling the writers I met with at the conference. Just like that thing He’s calling you to do, but you’re not quite sure, or ready, or wonder how it will be received, or what the neighbors will think. But there’s always purpose when God asks. Always. Some times no one else can see or believe why this task is important (like saving folks from an unforeseeable flood during a drought), but when we know God is calling, it’s our job to take a step forward in faith, pick up our toolbox and start building.
Oh yeah, and that toolbox thing. When we think there’s no way we could tackle this project, let alone complete it by ourselves, God puts all of the exact tools we need in our toolbox when we need them. Because we’re not meant to do it on our own. God didn’t call us to that. He’ll be with us. Every step of the way. In Evan Almighty, God had a toolbox and truckloads of wood delivered to Evan’s house. Plus, duh, God gave him a copy of Building an Ark for Dummies. God didn’t make Evan shop for tools or expect him to know how to take on that construction project without guidance and materials. In the same way God has been filling your toolbox, too. Maybe He’s given you a Bible verse and then another and another that totally speaks to what He’s calling you to do. Maybe through a variety of what seemed like random encounters you’ve gotten to know someone who has expertise or contacts that could help launch you towards that next step. Perhaps God had you take a class in college, had you work a part-time job, or volunteer at that charity, so you could learn a skill that He’s asking you to pull out of your toolbox now. And although you never knew you’d need that “saw,” there it is sitting for you, right where God put it, all sharpened and ready to cut some wood.
I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends. Watch it on Netflix if you want to find out. But this is how Genesis Chapter 6 ends: So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. Dang! I can’t imagine how crazy Noah felt, how long it took to build that giant boat by hand, how many people mocked him daily, what is was like rounding up all of those animals, how many times he wanted to give up, how many times Noah, asked God, “Really?” But Noah knew God asked him to do it. And so he did. All of it. Exactly how God asked him to do it.
What is God asking you to do? What tools has He put in your toolbox? What’s stopping you from starting? Don’t let it stop you anymore. Grab a metaphorical saw or hammer and get building, because God asked you to, because He’ll be with you, because He’ll use it for something phenomenal.
As part of our #thankfulnessproject for the month of November, comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram with either something you’re thankful God has called you to do OR a tool you’re thankful God has equipped you with, and then…start building your “ark.”
P.S. If you haven’t joined our #thankfullnessproject yet, it’s not too late. Stop by Facebook and Instagram daily for prompts, so we can thank the good Lord together for all He does and provides.
My youngest had the day off school the other day (teacher workday) and we decided to live it to the fullest. We cuddled up under the giant, red, fuzzy blanket that sits on our couch with hot cocoa (him) and coffee (me) and watched a movie he’d wanted to see. We fit together the pieces of a giant puzzle of the world, and then we headed to the corn maze.
When I’m in a corn maze I feel like I’m in an adventure story, on a mission to find the golden goose or missing clue. Okay, so I’m also dramatic, and live a bit inside my head of fairytales. But I am mystified by corn mazes, not just because they’re the perfect setting for a quest, but also because this destination, which draws people from all over for fall fun is actually just a dead corn field. The farmer grew corn in the summer (knee high by the Fourth of July is the rule in Ohio) and sold thousands of ears of it all summer long. My kids and I husked thick wrappers, and untangled shiny silks. I flash boiled the sweet, golden ears and we ate them slightly salted with watermelon and barbequed chicken all summer long. But summer is over—yikes it got so chilly in a heartbeat—and the corn has been harvested, and it’s time for steaming pots of soup and crisp apples. The farmer could have looked at the brown, dried out stalks, and simply plowed them down, preparing the soil for next year’s planting. He had that choice. Summer was over. Time to move on. But he knows better. He knows that even the stalks had purpose. That none of it has to be wasted.
There’s even more to it than immediately meets the eye. The corn has been harvested, but some dried up ears remain on the brittle stalks. These ears will be gathered and used as feed for the cows all winter long. Wild morning glories have taken seed and used the seemingly expired stalks as a support system, upon which they can grow and bloom, vibrant purple blossoms.
God, along with all of His other royal attributes, is the King of not letting anything be wasted. He looks at us, even when we feel shriveled and like we’ve been picked clean, even when we have no idea how that thing or that person could be used for our story moving forward and says, “Yup, I can use her. I can use him. I can use that class she taught or the one he took. I can use that conversation, that love for drums or jalapeno peppers, that relationship that fizzled. I can use all of that to add fervor, flair, or fun, or maybe to fortify their life.”
He About five years ago I had completed writing a novel and was struggling to find a publisher. A friend arranged for me to meet one of her editor friends, so I could pick his brain on how my book might find a slot in the current industry. The editor was savvy and kind. He gave me solid advice, but unfortunately to this day that novel has never been published. Did God waste this meeting? No. He doesn’t work like that. In January of this year the same editor contacted me and asked me to write two books for him. Two? What? Last week another ministry called saying, the very same guy suggested I might be able to help them with a writing project. What? A lunch over fried green beans, y’all, (apparently it’s a Nashville thing), five years ago did not land my novel a book deal. But it created a relationship that led to future writing adventures. Does that make sense? Of course not to me. But that’s what God is always doing.
What in your life looks like it was or is a waste of time. What are you looking at on your desk or in your planner that makes you just shake your head and ask God, “Why?” It could be a place you moved, an organization you invested in, an endeavor you tried. It might look like a dead end now, but God will use it somehow—for growth or healing, as experiences you can learn from and apply around the next bend of this adventure we call life.
Sometimes you have to circle back to the direction you just came from in a corn maze to actually progress to the finish line. It doesn’t make sense when you’re in the midst of it. It feels like you’re going backwards. But you’re advancing, gaining the steps you need to get where God really wants you to end up. And even when you hit a dead end or literally walk the same row of corn repeatedly, God uses that too. I promise. For my son and I, who were in the corn maze for over an hour—we literally passed the same couple three different times. “Hi. Again.” We laughed more. We told more stories. We experienced more one-on-one time together. We breathed in bigger gulps of brisk autumn air. And it made my mama heart so full and glad. All because we were lost in some dead corn. I’m so grateful for a brilliant, glorious God who always knows better than I do, which way I should go, when, and why.
He chose us in advance. And He makes everything work out according to His plan. —Ephesians 1:11
So, don’t throw up your hands. Take a deep breath. God is with you in this very moment. He sees the work you put in, the avenues you explored, the times you bit your tongue. The day and the day after that when you tried again. He has this giant, phenomenal plan for you, and He’s so excited that you took that step to the left, and that one slightly backwards, because He knows that will lead you to where He’s pointing you. You might see dead, empty stalks. But Jesus sees a phenomenal corn maze, some nourishment for His kingdom, and something wild about to bloom.
It’s impossible for me to keep up with this crazy banana game. Two of us Smiths like our bananas firm and bright yellow, with just a hint of green on the edges. Two of us like medium bananas—mellow yellow and slightly soft. The final two prefer “lightly dappled” (this is my husband’s official term) bananas—speckled with brown and borderline mushy. We all have one, possibly two days to eat the bananas perched in our fruit basket. If we miss the window, we’re out of luck. When the “lightly dappled” crowd misses their window, all that’s left in the basket is something that resembles smushy baby food in a thick, slimy brown wrapper.
So I have a choice:
I love sweet treats, so this decision is fairly easy. I believe sickeningly sweet brown bananas are precisely why God invented banana bread, and smoothies, and banana pancakes—whatever you’re preferred potion is. Sometimes in life we reach for something sweet, healthy and satisfying and instead grab a handful of overripe mush. Some days we think we need to arrive at 6:30 only to find out at 4:00 that we need to arrive at 4:30, meaning we needed to leave five minutes ago. Sometimes the flight or the book deal gets cancelled (just saying, it happens). There are days we’re asked to do something we have zero experience doing, and when the person we’re partnered with is our polar opposite.
Then what? When things look less than ideal, we assess the situation and see what we can make out of it. Not alone of course, but with God’s strength, endurance, patience, and perseverance stirred in to the proverbial banana pancake batter.
My youngest went back to school today, and my heart hurts, because the house feels so empty. But when my four kids all go back to school, I have time to write, and I have so many projects I’m excited to work on. So lookout laptop—you and I are getting ready to log some serious hours together. I have a lovely friend who recently lost her job. Which is awful and horrible and not at all what she saw coming. But she’s decided to travel the country, stopping and staying with friends along the way, while she sorts out “what’s next.” Another friend’s daughter plays field hockey and is not getting much playing time. But the daughter decided when she plays, she’s going to go full force, run with all her might, and make a difference for her team. Last night, allowed only a few minutes on the field with her stick, that girl scored the winning goal! Sometimes a handful of mush is all we get, but it’s what we’re going to do with that mush that changes things.
We can complain and gripe and as The Wild Things did roar our horrible roars and gnash our terrible teeth, OR we can assess the hand we’ve been dealt and play it well.
What mushy bananas have you grabbed lately? Did someone humiliate you? Your hours get cut? Did you break your wrist? Okay. So those are your cards. Not the best. But what are you going to do with them?
Jesus talks all the time about using what we’ve got, and using it to the best of our ability. In Mark 12 Jesus and his disciples witness a poor widow throwing a couple of pennies into the offering box. Jesus makes a point of talking to his disciples about this event—that it wasn’t what the lady had, but what she did with what she had that mattered. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”—Mark 12:43-44
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells another story of a man who went away on a business trip. Before leaving the guy gave three of his workers each different amounts of money. When the man returned he asked each of his workers what they did with the resources he gave them. Two of the workers invested the money and made a profit. The third buried his portion of money in the dirt. The boss was mad at the guy who simply buried his money, even calling him ‘wicked and lazy.’ But to the two guys who used the resources they’d been given to make something out of the situation he said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about what we have, but what we do with what we have. Jesus isn’t measuring us on how many hours we got our baby (or ourselves LOL) to sleep, how many Instagram followers we have, or how much money we saved at the grocery. But He does ask us to rest and take care of the bodies He gave us (ours and anyone under our charge). He does ask us to use our social media accounts to glorify the kingdom—this doesn’t mean it has to all be Bible verses, but it does mean we shouldn’t slam or judge people on social media, that we should use it as a positive place to encourage others, make them laugh, or smile, or think. Jesus isn’t counting cash or coupons, but again He wants us to use our resource of money wisely. And He doesn’t care about these things, because He’s filling out our performance reviews. Jesus cares, because He cares about us. Because He loves us. Because He wants what’s best for us.
He’s God, so Jesus pretty much knows about all the crummy cards the world deals out, all the brown, mushy bananas in the basket. But He also knows about all of the high cards he’s placed in our hands. Jesus wants us to take the crummy cards and bruised pieces of fruit, along with the Aces He’s dealt us, the eggs and chocolate chips He’s stocked in our fridges and pantries—the gifts He’s given us, the talents He’s given us, the strength and love He provides us with, and make beautiful, amazing things out of them.
What cards are in your hand? Don’t throw them in. Take another look. Maybe rearrange them or trade one with someone across the table. Wait until you hear what’s trump—that ten of hearts may be more valuable than you think. Got some overripe fruit? Consider what you can make out of it. Then play your hand well. Make scrumptious banana pancakes for dinner that make your entire family giddy. Use all the ingredients you’ve been provided with. And use them well. Then listen to Jesus as He whispers in your ear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, share My happiness!”
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
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.
Laura L. Smith