I’m not much of a sports fan, and baseball is lower than some other sports on my list. But, my husband loves the Reds, my son enjoys adventures, and we recently were given free tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game…in the Executive Suite.
What is the Executive Suite you ask? I wondered, too. It’s a giant air conditioned room (which came in super handy on the 98 degree day we attended the game) with leather seats and a buffet of food and buckets full of beverages on ice. The back wall is completely glass giving you a perfect view of the third base line. And if you feel like watching the game old school, you simply walk out the opening and sit in some of the partitioned off padded stadium seats that are also part of the suite. It was very bougie and above my pay grade. And I did absolutely nothing to deserve entrance into such a fancy space.
My husband’s department at the university had rented the suite, and my son and I were admitted because we were Brett’s guests. Brett got to go, because his employer invited all the employees to come. Not the best employees or the ones who had been there the longest or the ones who achieved something. All of them were invited. All of them could bring their families. All of them received the special wristbands entitling them to the suite and all the goodies and comforts and privileges within its doors.
This is exactly what the kingdom of God is like.
God invites ALL of us in. Not for anything we’ve said or done, but all of us get the invite. If we accept the invitation, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for the forgiveness of our sins, then we get wristbands that gain us free admittance into God’s kingdom with loads of unearned privileges. We are considered royal, holy, and chosen (1 Peter 2:9)–not because of our achievements or our ranking or how “good” of a person we are. Nope. Just because we belong to Jesus. We’re granted access to abundant living (John 10:10), amazing grace (2 Corinthians 12:9), endless love (John 3:16), peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and inexplicable joy (Psalm 16:11). Not because we have a huge following or could afford it or we’re just that gorgeous or likable or smart or strong. Not because we have on the coolest outfit or drink our greens or do our sit-ups. Nope.
God created the kingdom.
Jesus paid for our ticket.
They, along with the Holy Spirit, invited us.
And all this abundance comes free with admittance to God’s executive suite.
If we decide to follow Jesus, we have 100% unlimited access to the King whenever we like. He’s there hanging out in the suite ready to chat with us about whatever, whenever. We don’t have to set up an appointment or go through His assistant. We have the security, not of some dude with a badge, but of God’s entire angel army on hand to protect us if danger closes in. We don’t have to worry about what we’ll eat or drink (I mean ballpark snacks are pricey) because He is the bread of life and living water that will quench our thirst–satisfy our cravings–exceedingly better than any all-you-can-eat buffet or soda fountain (John 6:35).
It’s all there waiting for us–a full life, green pastures, goodness and love, still waters (Psalm 23). But we have to say yes. We have to accept Jesus’ invitation to this abundant living. My husband, son, and I didn’t have to go to that Reds game. We could have stayed home on the couch, not driven downtown, not given hours and hours of our Sunday to the excursion, but then we would have missed out on such a cool, extravagant experience.
You and I have the choice also. God gives us free will. We can decide. We can sit at home and watch the game on our flat screen. Or we can step into a life of VIP treatment–an abundant life with the best view and all the benefits that His kingdom wristband entitles us to. Again, not because of our actions, but simply because God loves you and me and wants goodness for us. Not just on a random Sunday, but everyday.
Will you accept His invite?
(If you have questions on what that means or looks like–shoot me a message. I’d love to answer any questions on how to accept Jesus and start living a kingdom life today!)
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I’ve popped into three different stores over the last week that all had fall and Halloween decorations on display. Listen, I LOVE fall, but …wait a minute! Where did summer go?
Do you remember how your summer started? What you were feeling? Praying for? Hoping for?
We don’t have to start buying pumpkin spice everything (although you can if you like). We can intentionally push pause and take a look at how summer went down before we fast forward into fall.
Can you picture the start of your summer? Mine looked like this–with both my life and dining room packed with good things and chaotic messy things too. Why did my dining room look like this? All summer long? Because I have college kids who I adore. And our dining room acted as a storage unit for their college things. It made for a summer full of joy and love and clutter.
What were you thinking and experiencing back in late May or early June?
Summer was also pretty upside down around here. We had a pipe leak that flooded our kitchen which has now been basically gutted. We also needed a new roof and our air conditioning was broken all summer long. So people slept wherever it felt the coolest on any particular day and we had workers plus their dog on our roof and inside our house.
What took you by surprise this summer?
And summer was amazing. We ate ice cream and painted pottery and went to the beach and played cards. We went on walks and runs and the athletes in our crew did crazy workouts. We cooked yummy food and ate dinners on the porch as the setting sun streamed through the trees. We watched movies and had great conversations and laughed so very much. Big decisions were made in our family. Some powerful experiences took place. Prayers were prayed. And we created some really great stories we’ll probably be telling for years to come.
What were your favorite parts of summer?
Jesus taught me so much this summer.
He answered specific prayers I’d been praying for months.
He asked me to let go of trying to control some things (including having a floor or cabinets).
He reminded me that the little things are so little. And the big things like love, peace, and joy–they’re what matter most, and also what He provides in abundance.
My dining room is now empty. The kids have gone back to school. Yes, I miss them like crazy (see the last blog), but I’m also excited about fall–the soccer games and Cross Country meets, some new projects I’m working on (can’t wait to share soon), apples and pumpkins and all the fall things. With this shift in seasons and schedules there will be new things I have to figure out. New prayers I’ll pray. New things God will want me to learn.
But before I dive in, I want to pause.
And reflect on what Jesus taught me over the summer. It was all too good to skim past. I don’t want to forget.
Here are some questions to contemplate before we dive into fall:
So here’s to the shift into fall, to new beginnings, colorful leaves AND to holding fast to who God is, how He so faithfully loves us, and what He’s taught us. Here’s to remembering all that Jesus did for and taught us over the summer AND to keeping our eyes open to what He wants to show us about His love and goodness as our schedules, needs, demands, and hopes once again shift.
What did God teach you this summer?
How can I be praying for you as you enter into fall?
I’d love to hear.
Some other things I learned this summer came through incredible conversations with over a dozen awesome Christian women in my What Women Can Do series. If you missed it, you can check out those convos here.
Also…just in time for fall I’m offering 10 Minutes for 10 Days–a quick, FREE, and easy Bible study geared to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully in this new season. If you’ve gone through this with me before, please join in again. It’s a great refresher to get rid of some of the clutter in our lives and minds to make more room for Jesus. And if you’re new here–welcome! I’m so excited for you to join in! The study starts September 4 Invite some friends, your small group, Bible study, sister, or do it solo.
To sign up to get your FREE 10-day Devotional click here (PDF will be delivered via email on September 1)
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I LOVE the trails by our house. It’s where I run and listen to worship music and clear my head. It’s where I meet friends for long walks and even longer chats. But recently I put on my running shoes, stretched my muscles, drove over to the trails, and found a giant orange “Trails Closed” sign. Obviously this was not my plan. And I am a girl who really likes to stick to her plan. As disappointing as it was that my agenda was no longer an option, there were other options.
I’m very good at getting lost and very poor at navigating directions of any kind. But I do love the woods. So I gave the road less traveled a try. Robert Frost would be so proud.
In the twisty trail through the woods I ran across quaint wooden bridges, emerged out into the open and passed a field of spectacular wildflowers. Back in the woods I ran around giant stumps and past streams that provided a soothing soundtrack of rushing water. Most of the time I didn’t know where I was or how far I’d gone or how fast I was running–things runners tend to track, but it didn’t matter, because it was an adventure in itself, the discovery of what’s next, and oh, look at that–it’s all so very beautiful.
I’m excited to return to my normal trail. But my new path will stay in my rotation. I have to watch my step on the new route, because there are roots and rocks and ridges. I run slower on this trail, due to all the watching of my steps. But it’s quiet and peaceful and calming and restorative. I’m so grateful I was forced to find it. Which is great, and I’m sure you’re all very happy for me for finding a lovely place to explore the woods nearby, but that’s not the point.
The point is that we often have a preferred way, a plan in our pocket, the way we want things to go, and when we don’t get that option we might get frustrated or feel put out or even freak out depending on the situation. But God always has goodness for us. On the path we pick AND on the one we don’t.
Often our preference is valid because it works better for us. We’ve chosen to go to that church, work place, or school, because it’s good for our soul, makes us happy, fills a need or serves us or someone we care about well. We develop ways of loading and unloading the dishwasher, routes to work or school, a specific system to schedule our days, weeks, months, and years with certain rhythms, priorities, calendars or apps because those things work for us, please us, or are simply convenient. And that’s great. The more we learn about ourselves and what God has for us in this season, the more we should chase after those things that bring us closer to Him, help us live out our callings, and are good for our physical, spiritual, and mental health.
And also…sometimes God has new things for us to discover, new people He wants us to meet, new ways of doing things that could be even better, or better for now, or something unexpected that could help or grow us. Sometimes He has streams and Black-eyed Susans and slatted bridges waiting for us that we didn’t even know existed.
And other times, we plain won’t get our preferences. Little things happen like storms knocking the power out or traffic backing up a road. We work within a group and somebody has to carry the gear and take out the trash and pay the bills, even if that’s not our preference. We’re at someone else’s place and they don’t do things like we do, yet we know we should respect their rules, routines, and recipes. Big things happen too. Churches shut down. Someone else’s idea gets picked. Another person’s choice impacts us in a challenging way. We don’t get the job or assignment or contract or position or grant or scholarship we applied for. We lose someone or something we love. The person we were counting on bails. And back to the smaller things…trails get closed. Just saying.
And in these times–both the big and small ways things don’t go our way–God has goodness for us.
The last verse of Psalm 23 declares “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came so that we can have an abundant life. There is goodness for you and me all our days. There is abundance for us when we follow Jesus. Whether that’s where we planned to go or where the alternate route takes us. Whether it’s our first or last choice. There is goodness. There is abundance. Around every turn or bend when we walk through this life with Jesus.
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While on vacation our family went to Mellow Mushroom for trivia night and their delicious pizza (I love the Great White with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and ricotta). The Trivia Master asked questions about Taylor Swift, what kind of car Knight Rider drove, the ingredients in soy sauce, how high fleas can jump, and so many more. I knew the answers to some questions like: Who sang “Chain of Fools”? Aretha Franklin. And some I had zero idea like: Who was the first president to live in the White House?
But I didn’t have to know about the White House, because my 17-year old son is a history buff and loves presidents. He whipped John Adams out of his brain faster than kids jump in the pool when the lifeguard blows their whistle signaling adult swim is over. I also didn’t need to know about baseball or bones because my mom, daughters, and husband knew all kinds of trivia I was clueless about. And when none of us knew the answers, we laughed at the ridiculously obscure questions and made silly guesses. It didn’t all depend on me. I wasn’t fully responsible. No one expected me to have all the answers. Because I had a team.
The same holds true for life. You don’t have to have all the answers, run damage control, sort through the emotions, or do all the work by yourself. God never intended for us to do life alone. As soon as God finished making the first human, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Then God immediately made Eve, so Adam wouldn’t have to do life solo. God knew from the get go we are better together.
We wrestle with decisions all by ourselves not wanting to inconvenience or worry the people around us. We start something new and hesitate to share our ideas or dreams, because we don’t want to be critiqued or dismissed. We try to do all the things for all the people without asking for help, because we don’t want to let anyone down. Or maybe we just like things done our way. Or maybe we’re plain stubborn. We keep our mental health struggles to ourselves, because we worry what others might think, or because we don’t want to be a burden. We try to figure things out solo, because surely we’re clever enough to do so or we don’t want to appear weak or less than. But what if someone could give us helpful tips or lend a hand or carry some of our load or be a safe place to process? It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.
We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a recent report as something that’s “damaging the health of individuals and our society.” The report goes on to state, "Relationships help our overall well-being, and lead to healthier and more fulfilled and productive lives.” Being alone increases our risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and stroke. As God was saying, “It’s not good for people to be alone.”
Listen, I’m an introvert, so doing things solo is my natural tendency. And I’m a writer, so my job largely consists of stringing words together on my laptop–by myself. So, I need to be intentional about not isolating. I have to schedule walks and coffee dates with friends. I have to make an effort to blurt feelings and ideas out around the table or on the phone with people I love and trust. And when I share what’s on my mind, what I’m excited about, what I’m struggling with, what I’m dreaming and scheming and praying about with close, trusted friends or family, I’m a better version of myself. I get support and insights and ideas. I’m asked great questions, given wise suggestions, and feel seen and heard. People pray for me and check back to see how things are going. I receive love. And it’s beautiful. You can have all this too!
What’s going on in your life? What are you most excited about? Struggling the most with? What’s your first thought when you wake up? The thing that’s keeping you up at night? The thing you’re praying your heart out about?
Does anyone know about it?
Try inviting someone you trust, someone who loves Jesus and will keep you pointed toward Him into what’s occupying your time, heart, and mind. Ask for help if you need it or get it off your chest or explain that you just really need someone to listen. It will do wonders.
God has always intended us to share our lives. Friendship appears over and over in the Bible as a way people got through some extremely high highs and low lows. King David had his best friend Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples. We weren’t meant to do life alone. We’re better off when we share the struggles, triumphs, and even random ideas of our lives with others. Who knows, if you do, you might even win at trivia.
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My husband ordered a piece of cinnamon bread at our local coffee shop. The barista kindly asked, “Which do you prefer– an edge piece or a middle piece?” It struck me as such a kind and intentional thing to ask and I told her so.
“It matters, you know?” she said. “I find that edge people take their edges very seriously.”
“I get it,” I nodded. “I way prefer a middle piece and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a piece from the edge.”
The girl in front of me with the slicked back ponytail and cute faded jeans smiled at me. “I also love a middle piece. It feels so much fresher that way.”
“Agreed!” I nodded.
How about you? Would you rather have a piece of coffee cake, or better yet a brownie, from the edge of a pan or from the middle of the pan?
Here’s the lie–one kind of person is better than the other. Sure, I want a middle piece every single time and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a brownie from the edge of the pan. My preferences are part of me and that’s great.
But the truth is that doesn’t make me any better or worse than my husband who likes the crunchy edge piece. Because Jesus made both middle and edge people on purpose and absolutely adores us all.
Sounds silly when we’re talking about our favorite pieces of cake, but it gets a bit blurry when we talk about other character traits that Jesus just as intentionally put in me and in you.
Jesus made people who are bold and confrontational as well as people who are timid and gentle.
Jesus made people who need to verbally process everything out loud and people who need to run everything through their brain prior to speaking.
Jesus made some of us who prefer to be with all their people at once and others of us who prefer one-on-one time with their favorite folks.
Jesus created and adores walkers and runners, coffee and tea drinkers, emotional and composed people, early birds and night owls, republicans and democrats, country music and classical music composers, artists, and listeners, fast talkers and slow speakers, sports and symphony fans, meat eaters and vegetarians, debaters and peace makers, and He loves each and every one of us.
Some of these are harder for us to believe and live out than others. Sometimes we automatically think less of him or her because they fit into one of these categories. Sometimes we think less of ourselves because we label ourselves as one of these things and wish we were different.
But Jesus made YOU in His image. He delights in YOU. He calls YOU His masterpiece.
He also made “them” in His image. He delights in “them”. He calls “them” His masterpieces.
Jesus tells us, “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is one of HIs top two out of all the commands.
Are we loving ourselves?
My first challenge to you and me this week is to look ourselves in the mirror each morning and each night and say, “I love you. I love that… (and say something you love about yourself–that you snort when you laugh, cannot stand still if you hear good music, make remarkably good guacamole, etc. ). Say something different each day.
Challenge number two (are you ready?): Each night let’s say one thing we like about somebody who bugged us that day. I know. I know. They really drove you crazy, but remember God still loves them as fiercely and unconditionally as He loves you.
And after all, somebody has to eat the edge AND the middle pieces or else we’d end up throwing away so many brownies. Which would be a tragedy.
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I was running on the trails and passed a young mama pushing a stroller with someone tiny inside. Her daughter, who I’m guessing was three, walked along beside. The little girl sported pink light-up Minnie Mouse shoes and looked at her feet with each step to watch the lights light up. I smiled at the mom, told the little girl, “I like your shoes,” and kept running.
I soon got to my turn around point, circled back, and saw the trio ahead of me. Only this time the girl was not giggling about her shoes. She was screaming and stomping, hands in the air. She ran away from her mom, then back again, her face all scrunched up. Although I couldn’t see it from where I was, and the girl couldn’t either, I knew from experience that not that far around the bend from where the drama played out was an awesome playground.
I’d been that mama before.
Trying to squeeze in some sort of exercise while juggling littles and trying to make it all a fun outing for them. Having one of the kiddos lose it for a reason that mattered very much to them in the moment, but knowing that even if they were bored or hungry or tired or simply preferred to be carried, if they could just make it four more minutes, they would be delighted. They would no longer care about the thing bothering them, because they would be climbing and swinging and sliding and make-believing all kinds of wonderful things.
I’d been that mama.
But how many times have I also been the little girl?
Prancing about delighted about something one moment, only to have a setback–anything from getting a parking ticket to discovering I’m one ingredient short of tonight’s dinner recipe to a book proposal being rejected to being on hold for thirty minutes with the insurance company throw me off on a rant. They all stink–some just more so than others. None of these things are the end of the world. And yet, I gripe. And pout. And everyone in my home hears about it. But why do I get stuck in the yuck? Because Jesus always has more. Better. Waiting just around the bend. I’m always so close to that proverbial playground, even when I can’t see it. I know this because the Bible promises, “surely goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives” (Psalm 23:6). Not if we do better or try harder or are healed or our relationship is fixed or we contest our ticket or find that ingredient or get that book deal. But surely. Certainly. We don’t have to wait until tomorrow or someday, but ALL the days, including this one now. Jesus has more for you and me.
So we get to choose.
We get to choose if we’ll kick and scream and pout. Or if we’ll take a deep breath. And ask Jesus to help calm us and help us see things through His eyes. Thank Him for who He is and ask Him to help us take that next step forward. Because He knows all about the playground around the bend and can’t wait for us to get there. We can ask Him for courage to continue, endurance to keep going, and peace to wash over us so we're not worried along the way.
He has so much goodness planned for you. That’s why He put you on this path in the first place. You can trust Him.
I don’t know what that looks like for you in the midst of your current mishap, disappointment, challenge, or trial. Jesus might give you the opportunity to try something new and you’ll realize you love it or maybe you’ll meet a new friend or get a better offer or be inspired or learn something important or take a forced break that your body really needed. But I know Jesus promises goodness and love. He has more for you around the corner.
Jesus also promises us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). And He promises to finish the good things that He starts in you like middle of the day strolls to a playground (Philippians 1:6). So wherever you’re frustrated or let down today or downright worried or frightened. Hang in there. Jesus wouldn’t have put you on this path–even if it feels long or steep or hot–without a good reason. He has goodness and love for you, an abundance of it. He has a playground of sorts waiting for you not far around the bend.
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I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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I do not have a green thumb, or even a green pinkie finger for that matter, but I adore everything that blooms. So each year I give it a go. This spring I bought two large geraniums in pots from our local nursery and placed them on our front porch. They were gorgeous from the get go. Red. Vibrant. Showstoppers.
Until they weren’t.
In July all the blooms turned brown with no new buds in sight. My mom, who 1. was visiting and 2. is a fabulous gardener, instructed me to snip off the dried up blossoms. She’d been telling me for years that this encourages regrowth in plants, so I had tentatively and reluctantly snipped a few dead flowers from my gorgeous geraniums before her visit, but now? If I did that now I’d be left with nothing but stems and leaves. There were zero signs of new life on these plants.
Mom said, “Do it anyway.”
And so I did. And my plants sat and sat. Just green leaves and brown stems.
It’s not just my mom who talks about pruning. Jesus does too.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” -John 15:1-2
Living in Ohio, I don’t see grape vines on the regular, but every day I see my geraniums. And they do the trick to illustrate Jesus’ point. If we’re the branches, we’re the ones who are being pruned, just like my plants on my doorstep. This isn’t a punishment or intended to keep us from living our best life. It’s the opposite. God knows this pruning makes us more fruitful, helps us bloom more abundantly. And I want that. As I head into this fabulous season of fall my heart and soul long to bloom.
But unfortunately, part of the secret to blooming is allowing ourselves to be pruned. Pruning is scientifically proven to help plants grow stronger, be healthier, and you guessed it, produce more blooms and/or fruit. But it involves cutting, letting go, and getting rid of.
I was hesitant to snap off the dead blossoms on my flowers, even though I knew they were deadweight. Afterwards they sat just green, no sign of red for over a month. But this past week my geraniums grew buds out of seemingly dead stems, lots of them. Once again they’re brimming with stunning scarlet flowers, and there are more buds waiting to blossom as if they are starting all over again. The pruning had to happen for my geraniums to thrive.
It’s the same with us. Pruning helps us bloom. And Jesus wants us to blossom. There are things we hold onto–dead and withered parts of us that don’t bring us growth or health or peace or joy, but we hesitate to let go of. For me this includes, but is certainly not limited to some past shame, getting grumpy or hurt when things don’t go my way, and avoiding hard emotions, because, well, they’re hard. I’m sure you have your things, too. Perhaps a bad habit, or a relationship that brings out the worst in you or something that is a really poor use of your time. Maybe it’s something that’s actually toxic or dangerous for you, but it seems hard to give up. But Jesus says if we’ll let Him get rid of those things that hinder our vitality…we’ll bloom.
We’re supposed to let it go. Ouch. Yup. It hurts sometimes. But If we trust Jesus in this pruning process, He says in John 15:5 that we will bear MUCH fruit, not SOME but MUCH. Every single opportunity and healthy relationship in my life, everything blooming God has provided. All the dark times I’ve weathered, all the healing that’s taken place, all the times I’ve been doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things, acting in the wrong ways that I’ve let Jesus prune have produced fruit. What a blessing that our God loves us so much that He wants to help us get rid of anything holding us back from living a full, free, joyful and grace-filled life.
Jesus says there’s more fruit for you and for me.
No matter how much you do or don’t have today. If you feel like a withered stem or the opposite–a vibrant bouquet, Jesus has more for you. All you have to do? Abide in Him, which means spending time with Him, making Him the go-to person you ask for advice, trust with your dreams, lean on when you’re discouraged or sad. Allow Jesus to prune the dead stuff away, the stuff that’s stealing sunlight, the withered leaves that have become a home for pests, the things that jeopardize the healthy parts of your life.
Listen. It’s the end of August. It’s back to school time, or if you’re a sports fan, football or futbol season. The last couple of evenings I’ve even felt a slight chill in the air. Sweaters and pumpkin spice and crunchy apples and hayrides and cozy blankets are just around the corner. But Jesus promises even better than all of that. I want to let go of anything holding me back from the abundant life Jesus offers. I want to step into the fall light, free, and ready to bloom. I know it will take some pruning, some letting go of this or that but it will be so worth it.
You? What in your life could use a little pruning, so you can bloom this fall?
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The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in her role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz on display. The shoes are iconic. Even though Dorothy’s charmed slippers were silver in Frank L. Baum’s book, they were changed to a spectacular ruby red for one of the first major motion pictures to be filmed in color. And Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gives me goosebumps every time. But I believe this pair of shoes is considered a piece of American History because of Dorothy’s story.
If you recall, Dorothy is a farm girl living in Kansas wishing for a more spectacular life. When a tornado blows through her farm, she gets hit in the head and has a fantastical dream about going to the land of Oz. In Oz she is instructed to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”. It is along this road that Dorothy meets three friends, all of who are critical in figuring out who she is, her strengths and weaknesses, when she should step up, when she needs to ask for help, what she is capable of, what she truly wants, and how to get there.
That’s what we all want--isn’t it? Directions on how to get from where we are to where we hope we’ll be? The right people to help us get there? A better understanding of what our heart’s desires actually are? And once we’ve figured that out, we want to know how to find those heart’s desires--how to act and ask for assistance and use our gifts and rely on others to find them.
Those ruby slippers that walked and danced along the yellow bricks are kept on display, because they are symbolic of our own life’s journeys and the steps we’re taking.
But we don’t need jeweled heels or someone to paint our sidewalks and Instafeeds canary yellow. We have the God of the Universe. The Psalms repeat this refrain to us, of a God who leads the way to a life better than we’ve ever imagined.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he may fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.--Psalm 37:23-24
Our steps are established. So if you don’t know what you want to be when you “grow up” or if you’ll ever get married or if you should move or start your own business or retire or stay awhile longer, you can be assured that the God of the Universe has already established your steps. He knows what happens in your next chapter. If you have three choices, God knows how things will go if you pick A, B, or C. Don’t worry, He’s going to guide you along the way, nudging you to select the choice He knows is best for you. Just like Dorothy saw a sign that read, ”I’d turn back if I were you” and met the Scarecrow to help her think through things, God will give you signs and introduce you to wise friends who can help you discern God’s ultimate route for you.
Verse 5 of this same Psalm says, “Give God the right to direct your life,
and as you trust him along the way,
you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” TPT
If we trust Him--God pulls it off perfectly! I love that.
But what if we pick the wrong route? Or don't trust God’s signs or nudges? Unfortunately sometimes I want an answer now, and force-fit a decision into my timetable or parameters. What then? Are we lost in the woods to be locked in the Wicked Witch’s castle forever?
Because our God loves us too much for that.
Even if we choose differently, God holds our hands and helps us get back on track if we’ll let Him. The Psalms remind us of this truth over and over again:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.--Psalm 40:2
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.-Psalm 23:3
When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.-Psalm 118:5
Life throws a lot of questions our way. Some days it feels like we’ll never know if we should accept that offer or turn it down, start dating again or take a break, apply for that position or the other one, keep quiet or speak up? But God has already ordered our steps and wants to lead us in paths of righteousness, put us in spacious places, lift us up, and hold our hands along the way.
So what are we waiting for? What are we worried about? All we have to do to find our heart’s greatest desires is not follow the yellow brick road, but follow Jesus. He’ll lead us to joy, love, grace, and freedom.
For more on the Psalms discover my new book Restore My Soul: The Power and Promise of 30 Psalms
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I was talking to another woman about social media–how we love it and how it can also be the worst–all the comparisons. On social media we only see everyone else’s best selves–their best outfit, best meal they cooked, best room they decorated, best craft they did with their kids, best life hack. Nobody shows us that the day they painted their nails the pretty lavender color there was literally nothing for dinner in their house and someone ate cereal and someone else had leftovers and someone else just ate a bowl of ice cream. Nobody shows us that the night they made a yummy dinner their junk drawer was so jammed it wouldn’t close or under their bed was a war zone or the flowers they planted all died or that they got in a fight with one of their family members while cooking that photo-shopped dinner. Nope, we just see her best this and their best that and his best thingamagig and assume that everyone else out there is killing it in every area of their lives.
But the truth is we all have overflowing junk drawers, scrounge around for meals sometimes, and have ants. Okay, maybe not everyone has ants. But I did last week. Hundreds of itty bitty ants all over our cupboard, crawling around a single rogue piece of caramel corn that escaped its bag. Oh yeah, and all over the open pack of gluten free Oreos. The ants were climbing over cans of beans and bottles of olive oil and boxes of microwave popcorn and those little packets of strawberry jam that were left over from two years ago. My husband and I emptied the pantry item by item. He grabbed a can of bug spray and started spraying, because GROSS! And then we had this realization that all that poisonous bug spray was now coating the shelves where we store food. So, today I’m showing you reality. The reality that everything that was in our pantry is now on our counter. And has been for four days. Why?
Because this is real life. Everyone has something going on beneath the surface. It could be a broken relationship, an addiction, exhaustion, financial struggles, or even possibly ants.
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus (thankfully!). A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to Jesus (Luke 8:43). People with demons came to Jesus (Mary Magdalene, we see your transformed self!). A paralyzed man came to Jesus (Luke 5:18). Jesus ate dinner with a table full of what the religious leaders called, “scum” (Luke 5:30). None of them cleaned themselves up first or put a filter on their lives. And… Jesus loved them all.
Jesus said, “God blesses you when you're poor, when you’re hungry, when you weep, when people hate and exclude and mock and curse you (Luke 6:20-22).” None of those things look good on social media or make for great small talk.
Yet, when you can’t pay your bills, you didn’t make dinner–all week, you’re sad, overwhelmed, feel rejected, or left out, Jesus says God blesses you.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is yours.
You will be satisfied.
You will laugh.
When you can’t decide what to do, when you gave into an impulse, when someone said something nasty about you, when you said something you regret? Jesus loves you. He wants to make everything new. Jesus stopped that woman’s bleeding and made that lame man walk. Jesus sat down at the table with all those people the religious people said were riff raff. This changed the way they saw themselves, showed them they were worth eating with, talking to, being with–the King of the Universe said so Himself. And the poor, hungry, sad, and hated people? Jesus said they would be satisfied.
Sure, sometimes Jesus asks you to do something in this process. That woman had to make her way through a crowd. The lame man’s friends had to take him up on a roof, remove roof tiles, and lower him into the room on a mat where Jesus was. These things were risky. They took bravery. They took intentionality. But they were so worth it for the healing.
What might Jesus be asking you to do? He’s not asking you to get all cleaned up for Him, but Jesus wants you to seek Him, reach out to Him, move any obstacles out of the way so you can read the Bible and talk to Him, so you can discover or re-encounter His wild, extravagant love for you. Maybe Jesus wants you to take a breath, get some rest, be still so He can remind you who you are–His beloved, treasured daughter or son.
During what we’ll call the “ant crisis” would not have been what I would have considered the ideal time to have someone over for dinner. Our house smelled like Raid. That lone piece of caramel corn was smothered in dead ants and still on the shelf of the pantry, because I was too grossed out to pick it up. Plus the whole all our food on the countertop thing. But Jesus could have cared less. He’d say, “Hey, let’s sit on the floor and eat sandwiches and chat. How are you? What’s on your mind?” Jesus is never judging us. He just wants to be with us.
When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, you realize you don’t need their approval, you don’t need to achieve all the things. Those comparisons and ideals have been taking up space in your life (like four kinds of sauce you thought you might use sometime and never did so now they’ve all expired). And when you wipe down the surfaces of your life and strip off the need to achieve or false notion that you should look or act like “her” (or proverbial shelf liner) and replace it with new, everything feels fresher, better (like a cupboard that got pared down and reorganized). When we slow down, make time, and rest in Jesus, there is always peace and love to be found.
This is what Jesus wants for us–not perfection or filtered photos, but healing, fulfillment, and laughter. Coming to Him is as easy as closing your eyes and saying His name. Join me?
Jesus, I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t care what she or he is doing. I just want to be with you. Please help me see how I can get closer to the truth of who I am in You–even if it means braving a crowd, climbing a roof, or airing out a cupboard. Please help me drink in the freedom, joy, and fulfillment You alone offer. Amen!
If you’re looking for a way to start reading your Bible, to spend more time with Jesus, but not really sure how or where to start, I wrote a FREE guide. You can download it here.
Laura L. Smith