There’s something fishy about the Italian village of Monterosso, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”) nestled along the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. The cerulean water, breathtaking views, picturesque hiking trails, lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and postcard perfect town comprised of candy-colored buildings makes it one of my favorite places in the world. I’m not the only one who loves Monterosso. The secret is out and this tiny town (population 1,400) now teems with tourists from around the world. Another thing I love about Monterosso is it never tries to be something that it’s not and it never forgets who it is, what it has, and what its strong suit is. It never looks to the right or left and says, “I wish I was more like Venice or Florence.”
Can we say the same?
Monterosso is a fishing village through and through situated in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it fully rocks its fishy-ness.
Long before tourists flooded the train station, fishermen and their families lived in this coastal town dating back to the year 683 when people living in the hills descended to the seashore to escape barbarians. The people caught the local fish and built a life. They hiked trails or took boats to get between the neighboring villages. Today fishermen still fish daily. Every restaurant we saw serves freshly caught fish, as well as foods prepared with the olives and lemons abundant on the hills. If you google top things to do in prominent Italian cities like Rome or Milan you’ll find churches and statues topping all the lists. But Monterosso doesn’t promote tours to Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, the beautiful black and white striped Gothic church built in the 1200s, or Il Gigante, the incredible sculpture of a giant carved into the rock at the very far end of the beach (although they’re both worth a look).
No, if you search for what to do in Monterosso you’ll be directed to the things that make Monterosso unique–hike the gorgeous trails and take boat rides in the azure water. The cafes and shops aren’t decorated with pictures of famous people who have stopped by or glitzy beach scenes, but everywhere everywhere everywhere there are fish. Monterosso owns who it is.
Who were you created to be?
Are you living in your God-given identity, or trying to be like or comparing yourself to somebody else?
What do you have available to you?
What’s your strong suit?
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and trying new things. I highly encourage both. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of praying and dreaming through something totally new. But as we dream, let’s keep in mind who God created us to be, what He’s given us, and where He’s put us. It actually helps make our dreams a reality, a reality where God walks beside us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Who did God create you to be?
What do you love doing? What are you great at? Make a list of those things–everything. What music makes you dance, what books can you not put down, what would you do with one hour of free time, what was your favorite subject in school, what’s your favorite food, who makes you laugh, what would you do with a million dollars or three weeks without responsibilities? Brainstorm. Dream. What lights you up?
What’s available to you?
The people of Monterosso have fish, lemons, olives, water, and scenic trails at their fingertips.
How about you? Has your family owned a small farm for ages? You could grow vegetables to feed your community or transform the property into a special event venue. If your workplace has a sound system, could you borrow it to start your own podcast or record the music you’re writing?
Where do you live?
In a cold or hot climate? What part of the country? What are the needs of your community? I live in a college town with brick, ivy, college students, classrooms, a large population of academics, incredible speakers and events, and all the shops and restaurants that cater to these young people. How about you? If you live in a big city you probably have public transport, skyscrapers, large crowds, an fine arts scene, and professional sports. Is your city famous for barbecue or live music or its annual sunflower festival? How do you fit into those things? Do any of those opportunities enable you to rent a booth, offer a class, share the Gospel, create a tour, lead a study, feed the hungry, or give a performance utilizing your gifts and skills?
What’s your strong suit?
Are you great at numbers or words? Do you have a keen sense of direction or an eye for details or design? Do you communicate especially well with kids or senior citizens? Can you make exceptionally tasty fish tacos or mouth-watering muffins or super cool tie-dyed t-shirts or water tight contracts or create codes?
Jesus is so intentional. He’s numbered every hair on your head. He goes before and behind you. He knit you very specifically together in your mother’s womb. He had designs on you for glorious living before you were even born. This means all those things you love to do, all those things you’re actually pretty good at, that come easily to you, even the places and spaces where Jesus has put you–they’re all part of His divine plan–there is goodness for you there, you can thrive and help others thrive, too!
Spend some time this week not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Instead journal, pray, talk to trusted Godly friends about what you like to do, what you’re great at, what resources and opportunities are around you, what you dream of doing, how that all fits into your calling and see what comes of it. There’s nothing fishy about it, just purpose, fullness, and joy waiting to be discovered.
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Have you seen the movie The Adam Project? Without spoiling anything it’s about a forty-year old pilot who travels back in time in an attempt to save the world from some nasty tyranny. In the process he encounters his twelve-year-old self. Because it’s time travel, there are rules about not interfering with the past, but there are some things that forty-year-old Adam really wants twelve-year-old Adam to know. It’s my birthday today, and I’m feeling reflective. I’m wondering what would I tell twelve-year-old Laura if I could?
What would I tell myself in sixth grade? The girl with the giant glasses and braces and frizzy hair whose Dad had left again? The girl who believed all her friends were prettier and cooler and more interesting than her? The girl who believed her brother was smarter and more talented than her? The girl who loved books and learning and school and ballet, but hated the fact that those things made her brainy and nerdy and not like everyone else?
What would you tell your twelve-year-old self?
Would you believe you?
Gosh, there’s so much I would want to tell junior high Laura (starting with suggesting some curl cream and highlights). I’d tell her that Jesus loved her so much that He would never leave her, even if other people she loved did. I’d tell her that Jesus knew everything that was going on in her life and in her heart, and that it was safe to tell Him anything and everything. He wouldn’t think she was weird or silly or make fun of her. He loved her just how she was. But I don’t know if telling her would actually mess things up, if it would prevent her from some of the things she had to learn by trying, experiencing, crying, failing, getting back up again, and somehow getting through, gaining insight, and growing in the process.
There was an interesting plot twist in The Adam Project, not where the older Adam is talking to the younger Adam, but where their Dad is talking to them. The dad goes on and on saying, “I love you. No, I really love you. I want you to understand how much I love you. I’m so proud of you. I want you to believe me, I love you.” Or something to that effect.
This is the part that did me in.
What is way more valuable than what I would tell my younger self is what God, my Heavenly Dad, my Creator, the One who makes rain fall from the sky and grows plants from the ground would tell me, what He was telling me then, and is telling me now, and is telling you, but that was and is so hard to hold onto in this world of ours.
Jesus would tell twelve-year-old me, and fifty-four-year old me, and my kids, and my friends, and everyone reading this the same thing. He would say, “No matter what other people think of you, or even what you think of you, I love you and chose you even before I made the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
God would go on and on like the dad in that movie saying, “I love you. I made you exactly how you are on purpose and I think you’re really amazing, actually breathtaking. I love that you’re… shy/loud/artistic/athletic/a thinker/a doer/someone who enjoys that kind of music or food or art or books or activities/chatty/quiet/logical/a dreamer… all of it. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I gave my very life for you, because I want to be with you always. I’m never leaving you. No matter what you did or do. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Today I turn fifty-four. This is my present to me and to you. This reminder that the thing Jesus most wants us to know is that He loves us. He tells us over and over again in Scripture and if His words weren’t enough and we had some doubts, He died for us. Talk about all-in love. Walk around like you believe this today. In your conversations and interactions, in your work and your play, when you’re alone or with others, live as if you are fully loved for exactly who you are.
Because you are.
Believe down to your bones not just in a theoretical God, but a living, active Savior who loves you desperately. Your self worth is wrapped in Him and not of this world. Part of me wants to shake twelve-year-old Laura and tell her this. But she eventually learned it. These days I’m trying to hold onto this truth and live it out every day. Join me?
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What If Scenarios
I’m sitting in a chair under a turquoise umbrella at the beach staring out at the Atlantic praying to Jesus about, well everything. My mind is always packed full of what if scenarios. What if my blog comes out late? What if I intervene with my two kids who are pushing each other’s buttons? What if I let them work it out themselves? What if I get bit by a fire ant–will my EpiPen work? What if I do or don’t? What if that idea or action or conversation or proposal or treatment works or doesn’t? What if I speak up or keep my mouth shut? What if it does well or falls flat? What if, what if, what if? I ask Jesus a zillion and eight questions. And this is how Jesus responds.
Look at the ocean. See how endless it is. How powerful and calm it is at the same time. Listen to the waves crashing. Notice the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the water. Feel the breeze against your skin, dancing through your hair. Hear the laughter of children, the music playing from nearby speakers, the countless conversations all around you from all kinds of different people. I made ALL of them, ALL of this. I’m in control of all of this. The ocean looks like it goes on forever, but I actually DO go on forever. I am limitless. It’s all in my control. All of it. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of you. Your work, your health, your family, your future. I love you. I’ll never let you down.
God’s response is calm and steady and sure. He doesn’t give me specifics about the fire ants I’m allergic to or the article I’m going to turn down, but He reassures me that it’s all in His extremely powerful and capable and loving hands.
All of your what-ifs are also in God’s hands. He promises to work everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He promises to go before and behind us and keep His strong, loving hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Jesus promises that He has plans to prosper us–each and every one of us, plans that give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, why, oh why do I wonder? Why do I forget to trust?
Because I’m human, and I do. But Jesus uses the waves to remind me.
God is good. And true. And loving. And powerful. And almighty. And on our side–yours and mine. As I stare out at the waves rolling in and foaming white against the sand, I’m reminded. And I exhale. And I trust Him again. With everything.
I don’t know what you’re asking Jesus today. I don’t know what what-ifs are swirling around your brain. But I do know that Jesus only wants what is good for you. I know that when we trust in Him, He never lets us down.
I’m praying that we trust in God’s scenarios and stop worrying about all the what-ifs. Because His scenarios are true and right and packed with joy and peace and love.
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Best Books of 2021
This year I rediscovered my love of bookstores. In 2020 almost everything I purchased was online, including groceries. In 2021 I was able to return to places where I could preview my produce before adding it to my cart and try on clothes before taking them home. The kind of shop I most appreciated being able to return to were bookstores. There’s a lovely one in Nashville called Parnassus Books. My daughter and I popped in one day for a look around, which became over an hour of picking up book after book, feeling the different weights of a sturdy hardcover and a handy paperback in our hands. Ogling the covers as if they were candy. Delighting in familiar titles we’d read before and finding so so many books we wanted to read.
New books, new stories to dive into, more things to learn, fresh ways to examine old truths always bring me joy. A trip to a bookstore is therapeutic for my soul, but it is in the actual reading of the books, the turning of the pages, and the processing of the words that the magic happens. I don’t know how many books I read in 2021, because I did a horrible job of noting and reviewing them on my Goodreads account. Oops. But, I know I turned thousands of pages of both fiction and nonfiction. I read the books my kids were reading for school, the books that caught my eye, the books my author friends wrote, the books someone suggested, and books that would help me with my work. I learned and explored and savored them. Below are my favorite reads of 2021. I hope they help you discover a new read for your to-read pile.
The Water Keeper and The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin
These two tied. They are books one and two in the Murphy Shepherd series and I listened to the audio books back to back. Charles Martin has been a favorite of mine for years. His writing is exquisite and soulful. The way he tells hard, meaningful stories and weaves the love of Jesus naturally into the tales always causes me to pause, cry, stop, or pray mid-chapter, and then eagerly return to the story, because I need to know what happens next. If you haven’t read these two yet. Add them to your list. The third one in the series releases in July and I can’t wait to dive in.
Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly
I didn’t think I needed this book. I felt okay with my body. I thought. But then several friends mentioned Jess Connolly’s new book had brought them freedom. I’ve been a fan of Jess and her writing for a while, so I got it. And I read it. And I, too, found freedom. Turns out, most of us have some issues with our bodies–whether that’s a scar or a size or a shape or something our bodies did or didn’t do or could or couldn’t do that brought us shame. Jess reminds us of this truth, “Your body is a good body.” She backs up that truth with the fact that God made it. He made my body and your body and all our bodies to move and laugh and make things. And because God made our bodies–they’re good. It’s simple, but I lose sight of it. Most people I know are frustrated with their bodies in some way. This beautiful reframing of all the good our bodies can do, and all the things God allows us to do with them, like hug someone we love or read or listen to a story, is good not just for our bodies, but also for our souls.
Best Kids Book:
The Grumbles by Amy Parker and Tricia Goyer
The Grumbles makes me giggle. It’s all about a family named the Grumbles who, well, grumbles. I see my own family (and my own grumbling) on the beautifully illustrated pages. Then Grandma Grateful steps in to save the day! (Isn’t the grandma always the hero?) She reminds us all to shine love to others, to be thankful for all we have. This darling story encourages us to stop grumbling, and instead be thankful. When we are, our gratitude is contagious! Sure, the book was written for kids, but this book is a great reminder for all of us to shine Christ’s love and grace and toss our grumbling in the garbage.
Your turn. I’d love to hear your favorite reads of the year, so I can add them to my stack for 2022. Happy New Year! May it be filled with wonderful reads and the incredible love of Christ Jesus.
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CROSSWALKS AND DUCK RAMPS
In Washington DC the crosswalks have timers on them alerting you to how much time you have to cross the street. It’s super handy--oh look we have eighteen seconds left, we can make it. Or--three seconds left probably isn’t enough time to get across a four lane street. As my youngest and I explored the city by foot we noticed that the times set on the various crosswalks appeared to be extremely random. Why didn’t they do 20, 30, or 40 second intervals? Why was this one so much longer than that one?
We were tourists and had zero insights into the traffic patterns in DC, but apparently The Federal Highway Association (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) was more informed than us and behind the math. Their job is to make sure pedestrians have enough time to cross intersections, so they determine the timers at each crosswalk considering average walking speeds, traffic, number of lanes, etc. to make sure the people crossing the street can cross safely. The FHA’s care into our situation worked. If Maguire and I started traversing across an intersection at the beginning of a countdown, we always made it across the street with time to spare. Every single time. And we were thankful.
It was only when we pushed our luck, crossing with only a few seconds remaining, that we cut it close and had to break into a sprint to get safely across..
We weren’t the only ones being looked after for our to-ing and fro-ing. Even the ducks got a little help from the government with their own special ramp enabling them to enter and exit the reflection pool near the Capitol. The ramps were designed by the Architect of the Capitol and assisted by the nonprofit City Wildlife who had observed the ducks struggling to make it over the slick curb of the pool. They must have measured angles and taken into consideration the weight of your average duck as well as how much traction those webbed feet have to design a ramp so perfectly suited for the four fluffy families who make the pool their home.
I was taking this all in--this planning and protection from people we didn’t even know, who the ducks didn’t know--who were concerned about our well being and safety the same week I was studying and leading a Bible study discussion on Psalm 139. The words King David penned in this psalm echoed in my brain.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. V. 3
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me. V. 5
I really like the Passion Translation of verse 5:
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.
You have laid your hand on me!
Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. V.10
If our government spends so much time on crosswalk countdowns and slides for ducks can you imagine how much more God is caring for us in our walking and crossing and coming and going--our entering and exiting and moving and staying in place. If one branch of government takes this much time to calculate precise seconds for crosswalks and another office uses their engineering savvy for the safety of our feathered friends, isn’t it incredible to ponder how much more God is looking after us? Caring for us?
Saying, “Oh look, she’s slipping, let Me make an easier route for her to get back to where she needs to go.”
And, “Hmmm, it might take him a little while, I better give him ample time to get there.”
What do you need protected from this week? From loneliness? From something physical that is prohibiting you to do what you would like to do? From walls you’ve built up around yourself? From fear? From a lie that makes you feel less than, even though God says you are His prized possession (1 Peter 2:9)?
Whatever it is, God knows about it. He sees us needing protection, looks us in the eyes and says, “I AM your protector.” It’s one of God’s names, Elohim Shomri.
God wants you to know that He’s familiar with all of your ways. He knows where you need to go, how long it might take and when you actually need to get there. He also knows when you need to rest. Jesus wants you to know He will go before you to scout out the way. He’s got your back, too, keeping you safe from anything that might sneak up on you. He’ll hem you in. The original Greek word of the word “hem” in verse 5 is sur, which means to fortify or secure. Got that? Jesus will fortify and secure you. And God wants us to know that He will both guide our steps and hold onto us as we move towards this or away from that or settle into a new normal.
So wherever you’re going today, whatever you’re facing, however long it’s taking--God has already been doing the math, running the charts, building the ramps, and setting the timers ahead of time, to ensure that when we follow Him, we can stay safe, make it across, and if it makes sense, splash about.
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YOU ARE MARVEL-OUS!
My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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What's in your basket?
Have you ever watched the cooking show Chopped? The contestants, who are experienced chefs, get a basket with five seemingly mismatched ingredients and are challenged to make a delicious dish using all those ingredients while cooking against the clock. The chefs might open their baskets to find durian (a spiky Asian fruit), lime gelatin, imitation crabmeat, and crunchy cheese curls. Or maybe their basket contains salmon, avocadoes, sweet tea, and cricket flour (ground crickets). And their cooking time starts…now.
It makes for great television and cooking inspiration. Because although I look at those ingredients and nearly choke at their combinations, as the timer ticks down to zero all of the competing chefs create unique scrumptious dishes—ranging from soup to tacos to bruschetta—out of the strange, sometimes off-putting ingredients.
It’s also a cool preview of who we are in Christ.
Unfortunately, some days we look in the mirror and see the bizarre basket ingredients—brains and black garlic. Ew! And we focus on how unusual, pungent, stringy, or briny that particular aspect of our whole persona is. My face is breaking out, voice can’t carry a tune, and brain isn’t good at numbers—fill in the blank with the negative labels we tend to put on our singular traits.
What we fail to do is see the whole picture—God’s recipe for who we are in Him. God knitted us together stitch by stitch, piece by piece with the sum of our parts in mind. He imagined the whole picture, the entirety of you and me stirred and simmered together into something incredible.
Think about baking a cake. Baking soda by itself tastes nasty—certainly not like a sweet treat. Salt also doesn’t seem to belong in something we’d serve for dessert. But without baking soda our cakes would fall flat, and without salt they wouldn’t be as flavorful.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something. –Psalm 139:14
The chefs on Chopped decide to marinate this crazy thing in that odd ingredient plus three fresh herbs and a little olive oil. And, gosh! Really? Frog legs look and smell inviting while simmering? If a handful of passionate cooks can do that with a basket of surprise ingredients, don’t you think the God of the Universe knew what He was doing when He made you?
The folks who run Chopped have intentionally selected foods that pair together in a variety of delicious ways, if only the chefs will take a moment to consider how the flavors work as a whole not in parts. The acidity of this balances the richness of that. The sweetness of this mellows the bitterness of that. And all together a delicious dish is created from the quirky combination of flavors. We’re all the same way.
I’ve always had a high voice, which I hated for years. I’ve been teased and even called, “Minnie Mouse.” Salespeople who call often ask, “Is your mom at home?” For a funny twist in “my ingredient basket” God asks me to speak in front of groups. About Him. With this high voice. It seems mismatched, like a bad recipe, but God intentionally gave me this voice, so it catches people’s attention, so they might be more inclined to remember when I tell them how much Jesus loves them. God knew what He was doing when He made you, too. The sum of the individual ingredients He marinated together for your personal recipe makes you amazing, unique, and in God’s eyes prize-worthy.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. —Ephesians 1:11-12
Jesus knew what He was doing when He made you. He had an overall purpose. So today, don’t negative self-talk your distinct features. Instead consider how God puts them all together and uses them for your overall design and the work He’s called you to. Nobody wants to eat cricket flour—at least I don’t, but with all the right ingredients sautéed and blended with a garnish on the side, even the things we truly don’t understand about ourselves are being used for a complete, phenomenal recipe. God has a gourmet plan for you and His kingdom. Bon appetite!
How to Sail Through These Waters
“That is not pollution on top of the water!” Our boat driver emphatically pointed.
Not that we had claimed it was pollution. Not that we had even really noticed. My husband and I were too captivated by the stunning views of the Italian coastline—cliffs colliding with aqua blue water. But as we looked where Marco pointed, there was a film of sorts on top of the azure surface. And yes, some people might have considered this residue pollution—something ugly and toxic.
Before we could ask, our captain continued to defend his homeland in flawless English, beautifully accentuated by his Italian accent, “They are jellyfish. They come to the surface once a year to mate.”
“Do they sting?” I asked instinctively, because:
1. I’ve been stung by a jelly before and ouch
2. I was amazed by the thousands of tiny amoeba-shaped fish he was pointing to, floating on the surface that together formed what looked like a floating cloud.
3. I’m not that strong at math, but all those jellyfish x stinging potential = dangerous in my book.
“No,” he laughed, as if my question was ludicrous. Clearly nothing in the Ligurian Sea was dangerous. First pollution. Now stings. These poor jellies were getting a bad rap.
“See?” Our captain scooped his hand into the water and pulled out a gorgeous translucent blue sea creature. “See his fin, like this?” He pointed. “It comes up only during mating season, so the fish can float to the surface and sail with the wind. When mating is over the sail disappears, and he floats back down to the bottom of the sea to live.” He lowered the little guy back into the water to sail with his friends.
Its scientific name is Velella velella, but most people call them “by the wind sailors.” How cool that they come equipped with their very own sails!
These jellyfish reminded me that I’m often quick to judge—others, myself. I mistake something harmless as pollution, worry about a nonexistent sting, yet there is so much potential and beauty woven into all of our DNA. I wonder if I'm capable--equipped for the challenges I sometimes face. But if God can give a jellyfish a sail just so she/he can mate, if He designs these tiny boneless creatures that exquisitely, think how much more thought He put into us, how much more intentionally He placed every feature we have right where it is, in the exact size and shape that it is, for a very specific purpose.
Wolves run in packs and cattle live in herds. But did you know a swarm of jellyfish is called a bloom? I love that. This congregation of transparent swimmers, so beautiful, so well equipped by their Creator, when they come together they bloom.
The same God who chiseled cliffs, who added aqua to his palette and dipped it in the ocean, the same God who invented cobalt swimmers complete with sails, beautifully created each of us. Which means we must be pretty phenomenal. And we must have whatever it is we need to charge ahead with His plans for us. With that knowledge, we can sail boldly and confidently wherever God sends us today ready and waiting to bloom.
My oldest daughter is about to graduate. When she was tiny, it seemed I had all the time in the world—to teach her how to walk, talk, read and ride a bike. But when I wasn’t looking someone hyperwound the hands on our clocks. Time is ticking at breathtaking speeds, and I feel there is so much I want her to know before she leaves home. Yes, I want to make sure she can cook a meal from scratch and maneuver through security at the airport, but just like potty training, she’ll eventually figure those things out. There are four ideas, however, I want her to fully grasp—things I want to sear into her being, so she’ll never forget.
1. You are beautiful.
I tell you all the time, but you shake your head. You are beautiful. Far more than you know. Inside and out. When I look at you I am amazed by how your eyes shine when you’re passionate about something. I see the arch of your eyebrows and how your dimple appears when you laugh and marvel at how masterfully God assembled all of your parts, in just the right proportions, to fit together so beautifully. I want you to truly grasp your beauty. I don’t ever want you to look in the mirror and see anything but a girl who was perfectly crafted by the Master Craftsman. Psalm 139:14 reads; I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. That word “remarkably” translates from the Greek, “to inspire awe”. That’s what you do—inspire awe.
2. You are strong.
As your mom, I’d like to protect you from all hardships. But life doesn’t work that way. You have already faced more decisions, losses, pain, and trials than I wish you would have to deal with in your lifetime. But you have made it through them all. Sometimes it has taken talks, tears, and even screams. Sometimes you’ve had to be alone—to do the things that help you make sense of things. But you’ve always done it. And God has always been beside you, helping you through. He always will be. You are strong, because you are strengthened by God. That means you can get through anything that comes your way.
I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me. --Philippians 4:13
3. God has perfect plans for you.
Next year you’ll live in a new place surrounded by new people. You’ll be at a new school on a new team. But God has prepared you. He has led you to this place. You are fully equipped to do this, to take the next steps, to discover more about yourself and what God has in store for you. There might be some bumps, some tough days, but your days will also be packed with wonderful, new experiences and opportunities. And God will be guiding you through every single one. So there is nothing to fear. Think of all the essays written, applications sent, coaches played for, and campuses visited that brought you here. Your destination is not an accident. And because God led you to this specific place at this specific time, it will be glorious. God has your future, a phenomenal one, in store for you.
“For I know the plans I have for you" —this is the Lord's declaration— “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” —Jeremiah 29:11
4. You are loved.
This is the most important one. Truly, if I only got to whisper one thing into your ear before you set out on your great adventure it is this, “You. Are. Loved.” Your family and God love you more than you can ever imagine. Beyond the limits of human thought. I am cheering for you. I can’t wait to hear about all of your triumphs. On days, when you’re down, I’m here to listen and support you. When you get the “A” or the “F”, when you win or lose, when you score the winning goal or sit the bench, when you make a new friend or if someone makes you feel small, when the sun shines or when the rain pours, I’m here for you, loving you full out. And so is God. There is nothing you can ever do that could stop God or me from loving you as much as we do in this moment—completely.
I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love. —Ephesians 3:17-18
Of course four things aren’t enough. There will never be enough words or time to share everything with my little (well, big) girl that I wish I could. But if she knows how loved she is, and that God will be forever at her side, well then, she’ll be equipped to face anything and everything she encounters.
A CASE OF SHAKEN IDENTITY
A powerful February gust shakes the over 100-year old towering trees in my back yard. I watch them as they waver like drunken sailors. It’s mind blowing how such seemingly stable oaks and maples can sway so violently. The wind settles, but it takes the trees a moment to dig into their stabilizing roots and halt their motion. They tremble and wave their branches once more, then finally settle back into their stations.
Me, too, I whisper to the trees. Me, too.
And I start to sway. My self-image is deeply rooted in the fact that Jesus loves me, and this keeps me from being blown across the street or falling down, but I do stagger.
I dive back into my to-do list, but I feel jittery, like I’d chosen a second coffee instead of that tea. I push off the feeling of inadequacy, shoving it aside, so I don’t have to deal with it, acting like none of those things bother me, because I know they’re not supposed to. But that leaves me feeling unsettled and unable to focus. No matter what project I begin, I can’t shake the lingering pit in my stomach that something is off. I’m like one of those trees waving back and forth, out of character, and not how I’m intended to be.
How to get back to normal?
I have a tendency to avoid conflict, but it really is important for me to address it. So I start the inner dialogue about what truly has me irked. I gloss over surface annoyances and finally get to the root of the problems—the button pushed, the label attached, the part of me that feels like it hasn’t measured up. There. At least I know what I’m dealing with. The name calling inside my head saying, “not good enough” has been quieted. Because I know better. And so do you. Now, the wind has stopped, but I’m still swaying a bit. Ever been there?
I need to dig my roots deeper, back into the nutrient rich soil of God. I start praying. I tell Him how I know it’s ridiculous, how I know it shouldn’t bother me, but that it does all the same. And together we unravel what happened and how it made me feel. God sets me straight. My self worth has zero to do with my ability to make a reservation or balance a hot beverage. The real issue isn’t with the needy friend, but with my feeling that I need to solve their problems and how I feel inadequate when I can’t make things right. The button pusher is so busy manning their switchboard; they don’t realize how I tick, or what I even value. And a criticism from my past has long since expired. The same holds true for you, with whatever ways you feel you’re not measuring up.
Talk to Jesus. Let Him remind you what truly matters, who you truly are.
We are more than conquerors. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. We are to be strong and courageous. We’ve been left with peace. Our hearts are not to be troubled.
As I talk with God, He reminds me I don’t need to prove myself, and that my worth is not based on my worldly performance. He helps ground me and reminds me I am not a failure because I don’t solve all problems, avoid all accidents, have all the right words, and a myriad of magic tricks up my sleeve. Jesus tells me over and over that I am loved, that I am His, and that that is more than enough.
And once again, I stand tall, extend my branches, and breathe deeply.
Whatever is making you waver today, talk to Jesus about it. Reach your roots deep into Him. He will hold us firm on the promise of His love.
Laura L. Smith