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.
The other night I was totally in the mood to bake. I got my youngest in on the endeavor and after a quick scan of the cupboards we confirmed we had all of the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. With M&M’s. Because why skimp? Life is short.
I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since high school. How many hundreds of batches over the years? I have no idea. We creamed the butter and the sugars and added eggs. We made sure to take a good whiff of vanilla, because the sweet, thick vapor honestly soothes me. Next came the dry ingredients, and finally the chocolate. Don’t worry we both sampled the chocolate chips AND the M&M’s. I like the dough better than the cookies and cannot resist a spoonful before I plop sticky mounds onto the pans.
But…hmm. Something tasted off. I took another taste, and it wasn’t like there was anything wrong with the dough—it wasn’t sour or rotten or anything—it just wasn’t right, and as a dough connoisseur I could tell. I had my son try it. He thought it was fine, so we baked the cookies and allowed the house to fill with the warmth and scent of chocolate chippers. Hot out of the oven the cookies tasted fine, more than fine, delicious—rich and gooey. But something still wasn’t right with the dough. I couldn’t pinpoint it, until I was cleaning up and took one last little lick. It tasted like it had a hint of banana in it. And for the record there are zero bananas in my secret recipe.
I thought through this puzzle as I sloshed the sponge along the sides of the bowl. And then it dawned on me. One of the sticks of butter had been resting on a slightly mushy banana on the door of my fridge. And bananas have this mysterious quality that their flavor permeates everything they’re near. Ever notice that? Put a banana in a lunch box and the entire lunch will taste like bananas, even the ham and cheese sandwich. I use bananas in cooking all of the time. I substitute them for cooking oil in baked goods. Mushy bananas make excellent binders in muffin, pancake, and waffle batters. You can read about my banana waffles here if you want. I’ll throw them into any of those concoctions without hesitating. But for some reason, not an actual banana, but just the proximity of one to a single ingredient in my cookie dough infused the entire bowl with the flavor.
Is there anything in your life that’s slightly off? It might not be totally wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. An activity you’re engaged in, someone you’re hanging out with, that habit that is making the whole bowl of batter of your life taste not quite right. I couldn’t extract the flavor of banana from my cookie dough. But we can make an effort to limit and eliminate the things in our lives that are shifting things off balance.
We can say, “no.” We can choose to not answer that person’s text who always makes us feel small or not sit next to the person who brings out our negative side at the game. We can refuse to watch that show even if our whole family is watching it. We can leave the room if it does something strange to us, makes us a little off, nudges us in the wrong direction. We can turn off our phones. Even if we might miss a hilarious text. We can put our phone in another room, so we’re not distracted or consumed by that tiny screen if it’s becoming a problem. We can choose to exercise somehow today—walk or shoot hoops with our kids or even play tag. We can select something good for us on the menu (that might be good for our body, soul, or mood, depending on what’s best for today.) We can speak up someplace where we’ve remained silent, but something tells us we shouldn’t hold our tongues any longer.
Take a look at your life? Is there anything that’s throwing you out of line of the glorious plans Jesus has for you? Of His perfect love for you? Anything that clearly contradicts the Bible, and you’ve kind of been blowing it off or rationalizing, but probably shouldn’t be? Something seemingly as benign as a banana holding hands with a stick of butter? We all have these things, and God wants to help us get back on our feet with each and every one of them. He doesn’t want us to go it alone. He’ll equip us with the opportunities and endurance and patience we need. We just need to ask for help.
I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. —Psalm 94:18-19
My cookies ended up being fine, but the dough never even tempted me to a second, or third, or tenth bite. Which is super weird. Whatever tastes a little off today, even if you can’t detect why or how, turn it over to God. Take the time to think talk over with Him what’s wrong and why. He’ll support you. He’ll comfort you. He wants to renew your hope. God wants you to stand strong. He’ll give you the tools to get back on track. Heck He might even give you some M&M’s.
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.
Last week I went to the annual Christian Book Association convention in Nashville. The event was at the Opryland Hotel. Which is so crazy cool. It’s like Disneyland in a hotel. Well, without the rides and characters. But there are waterfalls – in the hotel. And a whole section called, “The Delta,” because it looks like New Orleans, complete with lampposts and wrought iron balconies. There are multiple restaurants, bars, and two separate Starbucks (there might be more, but I saw two) within the hotel. It really is insane. And extremely easy to get lost in. Especially if you’re directionally challenged, like myself.
One of the huge benefits of traveling to Nashville for me is visiting with my sweetheart friend, Amy. I walked her to the place in the convention center (which is part of the hotel) where her book signing was taking place. Side note—oh my, check out her newest book, Night Night Sleepytown, so adorable! Then I turned around to head toward the entrance of the hotel, so I could grab an Uber to a meeting I had across town. Except where the heck did they hide the entrance? I walked down one set of blue-carpeted stairs, turned down a hallway with white doors, but didn’t have any sense of certainty to where I was going. I asked a group of women wearing name badges and none of them knew where the entrance was either. I tried another hall and spotted the back of a worker in uniform walking off into the distance.
“Excuse me,” I called. Please let him have heard me.
He turned. “Are you lost?” He asked in a beautiful, lolling accent.
“To be honest, completely lost.” I answered. “Do you know where the Cascade Lobby is?”
“Yes,” he smiled and started walking. I followed. “My first two weeks here, I couldn’t find anything,” he confessed.
“But now, you’re a pro?” I asked.
He laughed and kept walking. Soon we arrived at a crossroads where I assumed he would point me toward the exit. I paused.
“You know where you’re going?” He asked.
“No.” I answered. Because not one thing looked familiar. “But I don’t want to take you away from whatever you were doing.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you so much,” I sputtered.
We continued for ten minutes. Yes, it took that long to get to the lobby, so we had time to chat. I learned he was from the Dominican Republic. He thinks Nashville is “cool”, but misses home. He plans to go back and finish University, then return to Nashville. One thing my new friend said hit so hard. He was saying something about a training session he had that was near, “Where I found you.” As if he had found me. Even though I was the one who was lost, desperately searching for a way out. Even though I was the one who was so excited when I saw him, when I found him. Or so I thought. But of course what my new friend said was true, he found me and put me back on course. I hugged him and thanked him for his kindness and patience. Man, I’m sure he had a lot of work to keep that hotel running, but he acted as if he had nothing else to do, but walk me along.
Guys, this is what Jesus does!
I’m walking around confused, headed the wrong way, worried about this, stressed about that, putting too much importance on this thing, and not paying enough attention to that thing. I’m looking for answers, but don’t know where to start. I head up those stairs, and down that hallway. And ask the wrong people for advice. Then Jesus finds me. And He patiently, gently, takes all the time in the world to escort me back to where I need to go, as if He has nothing else to do, even though He’s fairly busy caring for the world.
Jesus gave them another parable:
“There once was a woman who had ten valuable silver coins. When she lost one of them, she swept her entire house, diligently searching every corner of her house for that one lost coin. When she finally found it, she gathered all her friends and neighbors for a celebration, telling them, ‘Come and celebrate with me! I had lost my precious silver coin, but now I’ve found it.’ Luke 15:8-10
I ordered my Uber, walked outside, and almost immediately my phone rang. My Uber driver was here, “Just to the left,” he said. I walked left. Two colorful taxis, one with turquoise and yellow markings, and another—a checkered cab, except it was bright green instead of yellow and looked like it might take you to the Emerald City were parked along the curb. I saw two pick-up trucks and a hotel shuttle. I did not see the Honda Sienna that Uber said was my ride. As I looked around confused my driver gently spoke to me, “I see you. No, not there,” he said. “Keep walking left.” I took a few more steps away from the entrance, not seeing any cars at all, but he kept coaxing me. “You’re closer. I see you.” Just as I was about to say, “I don’t’ see you.” I did see him. Standing on the sidewalk, dressed all in white with a big smile on his face, waving.
What? How did he know I was the “Laura” who called for a ride? There were multiple women milling around outside the entrance. I’d never had an Uber driver get out of his car to find me before. Why did he do that? Above and beyond. But once again, so soon after the last time, I was the one who was lost, and once again I’d been found.
In our lives we are the ones who need to be repeatedly found by Jesus. Because we keep getting lost. We get lost in the idea that we need to achieve a certain pace, or do things like our moms did, or be in charge of that person’s happiness, when what we’re really supposed to be doing is loving Jesus, and letting Him love us back and guide our steps. Because when we do—all the other stuff falls into place. I don’t mean it gets wrapped up in a bow. I mean it lands in its proper position, where God can use it best. And every time we go off the tracks, Jesus comes and finds us. Sometimes we’ll walk right past Him. Because we’re not looking for Him. Or because we’re looking the wrong way. Or thinking He’ll show up with a different solution. But He is there. And when we listen and keep walking left, even though it feels like we’re going rogue, there He is, waving, speaking in a kind voice, getting us to where we need to be—to get out, to move forward, to head to our next destination.
Wherever you feel lost in this season of life—at a loss for words, a loss of funds, a loss of direction, a loss of hope—Jesus is looking for you. And when you allow Him to find you, He’ll smile and wave and say, “I see you. I found you.” Who knows? He might even say it in an awesome island
Do you know what I’d really like?
For school to be out.
For summer to be here.
To be on the beach. With my family. On a warm, breezy day. With an iced coffee. And perhaps a chocolate croissant.
You know where I am? Ohio. Where spring is having an identity crisis. Where it’s too chilly to consume any ice, especially in my morning dark roast. Where my kids are at practice. And one is at college. And we’re all trying to grind it out until summer magically appears on our calendars. I think of all the things that need to get done between now and the end of the school year—forms, assemblies, applications, schedules, field trips, celebrations, checks, envelopes, emails, and definitely a slew of soccer games.
My mind fusses over these things, and guess what God shows me—the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, which mainly revolves around a giant construction project, words I usually gloss over. But God wants me to hear it. Maybe He wants you to hear too. There’s a connection. Hang with me Fixer Upper fans. King Solomon built the most stunning temple ever—cedar and gold totally out trump shiplap. But the Babylonians destroyed the temple. Years later a guy named Nehemiah was working for the King of Babylon and asked if he could take some guys he knew and rebuild his hometown—a kind of precursor to Chip Gaines. The king agreed, so Nehemiah road tripped with some friends back to Jerusalem. There was so much work to do—the city wall, the temple, Jerusalem was a mess. They just wanted it to be finished—to snap their fingers and have everything be in place for the big reveal. But that clearly wasn’t happening. Where to start?
I feel this way, too! There’s so much to do. Everything’s a mess. I just want it all to be in place. You? Where do we start?
Nehemiah came up with a plan—you do this, you do that. And the priests? Each one was instructed to repair the section immediately across from his own house. Neh 3:28. This tampered down bickering over who would do what. It also made the construction more efficient, because you just woke up and got to work. Zero commute. This seemingly overwhelming project was completed by hand in only 52 days.
So, if Nehemiah came up with a great plan on how to delegate work, I’m pretty sure God has an even clearer understanding of what needs to get done and who should do it. Because I’m slightly dense at times, God puts the work He needs me to do right in front of me. Meaning God has put amazing, exciting, interesting things on my path today. Right before my very eyes. Yours, too.
God says, “There is so much kingdom work to do—an article to learn from, trees heavy with blossoms to marvel at, family members hastily shuffling to activities to look in the eye and tell them they are loved, neighbors to grab garbage cans or mail for, kids in a carpool or coworkers that we can truly listen to, reminding them that they matter, sandals to pull out of hibernation, cupcakes to bake and sweet frosting to lick off the spoon, an envelope for the office to draw a smiley face on, because who knows—it might make someone smile. Some days it feels like a lot.” God reassures, “But don’t worry. I have a plan. I know exactly what everyone needs to do. Let’s get going. I’ll tell you where to start.”
As I glance at what’s in front of me I see this blog I get to write, because God has blessed me with a space to speak my mind, free, and unfettered from restrictions, guidelines, or editorial direction. No one else is going to write it. God reminds me. I put these experiences, thoughts, and ideas on your specific heart. So I write what’s right in front of me.
I have an upcoming date with my husband at a delicious Italian restaurant guaranteed to have simmering garlic and fresh-baked bread. I can’t wait to let the flavors dance on my tongue, to get dressed up and go out with my lifetime boyfriend. Have fun! God insists. You always wanted a guy who truly loves you. Guess what? He’s right in front of you. Don’t be afraid to wear the red lipstick. Flirt even.
I’m involved in a wonderful Bible study with an awesome group of ladies. Each week we dive into God’s word, figure out all the ways we need more Jesus, remind each other how loved we are, and share tears, laughter, and mouth-watering muffins. We take a hiatus in the summer. I will miss them and their support. Savor it now, while it’s in front of you. God urges.
I get to cheer on my kids outdoors in the sunshine. They have solid coaches who care about their character and development. The spring soccer season is intensely condensed, but over in a flash. Why not embrace the smell of fresh-mown grass and sweet and salty Kettlecorn popping in giant vats, the energy of kids sprinting and passing balls, the excitement of the crowd. God passes me a folding chair and my water bottle.
The things God has put in front of you are probably completely different--a class to teach, an exam to pass, a trip to pack for, a marathon to run. Do those things. Do them. well. Life is good, no grand, exactly how it is, today, if we acknowledge it. There is work to do. Wonderful work. Plenty. Right in front of me. Right in front of you. Right where God put it. Right where God put us. Why would we desire or crave or covet anything else?
I don’t need to wish away the school year, or pine for summer. I don’t have to worry about when or if I’ll get the next writing project. I don’t have to hope for a cleaning fairy to sweep through my house, or question how long until it hits eighty degrees. God calls us to embrace exactly what’s in front of us today. Because guess who put it there? And guess who equipped us to handle it?
What is in front of you?
Who are the people in your dorm, apartment, home, class, workshop? What can you learn from them? What are the questions you want to ask? Events you want to attend? Take one step forward, to what’s right in front of you, and get going. You’ll be amazed how God will use you, and how gratifying it will be. That’s truly what the big reveal is. Not how beautiful the finished project is, but how stunning the work in progress can be.
..if you’d like more reminders about how much God loves you throughout the week, follow me on:
I was scrolling through Instagram and paused at a post listing “10 Things I Hope to Do Every Day.” Mentioned were, “learn something new” and “laugh”—great things I hope to do, as well. But one item stood out—smell good. I made a note of it. Yes, please. Smell good. Every. Day. I mean, we’ve all been around someone who smells bad. And nobody wants to be that person.
Because our scent tells a lot about our story. I woke up this morning and my pajamas smelled like the fire from our fireplace last night. I know it’s April, but it just snowed. Again. Don’t get me started. Our kitchen smelled spicy like the tacos we ate for dinner. My son’s gym shoes reek like the creek he splashed in. One hug from one of my kids, and I can tell from their scent if they’ve been swimming, at a coffee shop, playing outside, or if they just crawled out from under their covers. I’m like a smell detective. But if I can tell so much from a quick whiff of one of my children, what else do our smells convey?
I don’t want my story to be a smelly one. I don’t want people to take a step away from me, like they do when someone has bad breath of body odor. I don’t want to have a stinky personality, reek of negativity, or be known for foul behavior.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. —2 Corinthians 2:15
I want to be the pleasing aroma of Christ. I want to smell like Jesus. What does that mean? I think being the aroma of Christ means our actions, and our words should waft wonderful things throughout the air, drifting by the people we encounter, and delivering to them a hint of what Jesus offers—hope, love, encouragement.
Have you heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They lived in ancient Babylon and worked for King Nebuchadnezzar. The King built a giant gold statue of himself and made everyone bow down to it. Slightly arrogant. Except these three guys refused. Because God. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t too pleased with their defiance, and threw the boys into a flaming furnace so hot it sizzled the guards who tossed them in. God stepped in and rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the King realized they weren’t going to die, he let them out. And our three heroes?
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! —Daniel 3:26-27
Our boys stood up for what they believed in. They would not bow down to anyone or anything except God. And even after being thrown in a furnace, not a scent of flame or ash was on them. Because they were not part of that thing, they were set apart. They were children of the One True King.
What do I smell like?
Am I standing up for Jesus? Am I idolizing anything other than God? Because Jesus has set me apart. You, too, if you believe in Him. We don’t have to be associated with the smoke and mirrors of this world. But it’s our choice. We can bow down. Or not. We can smell like smoke, or like something much better—the sweet aroma of Christ.
When I spritz on some Bath & Body spray, I smell fresh, fruity, maybe like an ocean breeze. What if my actions and words left a trail of warmth, kindness, and compassion? My favorite scent is lavender. One whiff and I feel peaceful and filled with beauty, like I’ve escaped to the South of France. How can I make others feel that way—calm and fulfilled? What if we all left a trail of lovely aromas that filled the world with hope and joy, or at least the potential for it?
I know that even as I focus on the idea of having a lovely scent, I’ll get stinky again. I’ll sweat, slice an onion, or take out the trash. And I’ll have to wash up to get fresh all over again.
What about when we get spiritually stinky? Same. We need to wash ourselves in the love of Christ, in what He did on the cross, on the fact that He loves us and therefore nothing else matters. Then we can be less defensive, less prideful, less jealous, less anxious, less concerned about what they think, because what do we need to worry or boast about if the Author of Creation loves us?
All scrubbed fresh and clean, we can go back out, equipped to spread the aroma of Christ to the world. Will you join me? Do you know how great we could make this world smell?
I was digging around with my mascara wand along the edges of the tube mining for clumpy dregs for about three weeks longer than I should have. As soon as I threw away the old one and opened a new tube it was like someone had reinvented mascara all together. It was smooth and coated my eyelashes effortlessly in one swoop instead of about ten tries. My lashes stayed black all day long. It was amazing.
The razor in my shower was no different. Every time I reached for it I thought, “Eh, I should probably get a new one out.” But I was already in the shower, and needed to shave then, and didn’t feel like I had time to get out, splash down the hall to get a new one, and commence showering again. By the time I’d get out of the shower, my brain had gone eight jillion other directions and I’d completely forgotten about the razor. But yesterday I picked up my razor, and it had rust on it. Game changer.
My disgust of the rusty razor made me clear out all kinds of things I’d kept way past their usefulness—socks with holes, the stretched out t-shirt, ALL of our CDs, because, Spotify. I played tug of war with myself, because I love all of this music, but I don't need the CD's to hear any of these songs. It was time to let go. It made me wonder what else I’ve been holding onto in my life, beyond things. What had I been okay with keeping that was barely getting by, somehow making do, or even though it was dangerous or useless simply hanging onto, because it seemed easier to keep then to trash?
These thoughts filled my brain on the way to coffee with a friend. Over steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness we shared stories, laughter, and prayers. Near the end of our visit she leaned over and said, “There is one thing I’d really like you to pray about for me. I don’t want to be, but I am so bitter about,” and she named something that had gone upside down in her life. “I hate that I care. It’s so stupid. I know it’s not of God. I need to let this go. It’s a thorn in my side.” I heard the confession tumble out of my dear friend’s mouth. But as she spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the thorn of bitterness in my side, the thing I’ve been holding onto for way toooooo long.
I spat my confession right back at her. The words tasted like venom. Why would I hold so much yuck in my heart? Why did I care what a certain person said, how they passed, when they failed, where they went, or with who? What good did it do anyone? When Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us, this certainly wasn’t what He had in mind. It was embarrassing to admit I was harboring all of these icky feelings, but it was easier with a friend who understood. We grabbed each other’s hands and prayed on the spot that we could turn over the entire mess to God, that He would remove the thorns in our sides we’d been holding onto. It was such a relief. And although, I know we both have a lot of work to do to completely let go, immediately there was a sense of freedom.
With a new year, I want to clean out more than my toiletries and sock drawer. I want to clean out my heart. This year, I’ll be praying for my friend and I to let go of our bitterness, to turn it over to God, let Him be the judge, allow us to love and offer grace. What have you been holding onto—a grudge, a grievance, a regret? Has it been easier to keep it than to let it go? Are you afraid what will happen if you pull out that thorn? Has it been more convenient to keep being angry, sad, worried, or avoiding something or someone then splashing down the hall and replacing those feelings with fresh ones?
The thing about new razors is that they’re much kinder to the skin than rusty ones. Fresh mascara works better, clumps less, and doesn’t make my eyes itch. Why did I wait to change them out? The same is true with past arguments and disappointments. When we trade them out for fresh outlooks, grace, and embracing what we have and where we are, we’re safer, we function better, and we feel better. Why did we ever hold onto all of those things in the first place?
I’m planning on making 2018 the year to pull out my thorn. How about you? Will you join me?
I picture us grasping our thorns and yanking them from our sides. It will probably hurt, it might even bleed, but then our aches can finally heal. Whew. Once those thorns are out, I imagine us handing them over to the God who loves us. I picture Jesus getting out the Neosporin, rubbing it gently on our sides, picking out cute Band-Aids with polka dots or Poke Mon, whatever your thing is, and kissing our hurts. I picture Jesus showing us the scar on His side where He was pierced for us and saying, “I understand your pain. I love you. You’ll feel better now.” And then I’m pretty sure we’ll walk into the New Year breathing cleaner air, relieved of past harm, hurt, and mistakes. Sigh. I feel better already. Praying you do, too.
Happy New Year.
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
These wooden chairs with dark green legs and backs looked adorable in our first home in Atlanta with the forest green kitchen counters (I cannot believe I picked that color). When we moved to Oxford sixteen years ago, my mom helped me paint all of the green parts black to look snazzy at our new address with gray floors and black shelves.
This week I’m painting them again. These chairs are lived in. I mean really lived in. Six people constantly coming and going equals approximately four billion meals and seventeen billion pushes in and out. These chairs are weathered, and not in a romantic Fixer Upper sense. In fact, I had no idea how beat up (and sticky) they were until I began their makeover. This time around I’m painting them white. First, they needed a major scrub down. Next, they needed about a dozen coats of paint. Let's just say I had to make several return trips to Ace Hardware. They are the exact same chairs that have been with us through a move, a PhD, career changes, four babies, a graduation, and hundreds of family meals and card games.
They are the same chairs, same height, weight, sturdiness, but these ol’ chairs now look like I just bought them at Pottery Barn. You guys, they’re gorgeous! I keep gazing at them. I am so pleased. Because—wow, they’ve been transformed.
This is exactly what Jesus does for us, flawlessly, perfectly. He takes all of those scratches, dents, and unidentified sticky stuff we accumulate by being humans going through life—our mistakes, our shame, our regrets, our pride, the things we joke about, but aren’t really funny, the things we would never even joke about, because there’s too much there—and scrubs them down, paints over them, making us look brand new. Just like my chairs didn’t achieve anything to deserve their makeover or do anything to become bright and white, we don’t do anything or earn our fixing upping either. All we have to do is come to Jesus, and say, “You are my Lord,” and He gets out His paintbrush. He does His thing and although we’re still us—same quirks, experiences, talents, and passions—we become bright and shiny and unbelievably pretty.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. –2 Corinthians 5:17
Then six years later, sixteen years later, or the very next day we’re a mess again. Because people spill stuff on our egos and on our dreams, and we allow it to stick, and we react. Because someone bumps us a bit hard and we retaliate or internalize. Because sometimes we want to be pushed in when we’re pulled out and sometimes we want to be pulled out when we’re pushed in, and we try to do things on our own, and end up banging ourselves up, because we do not trust God and His perfect plan.
And once again, the Master Carpenter, gets out His sandpaper and paint and fixes us up over and over again, restoring us to a beautiful sheen, taking us from items for this weekend’s garage sale to something fit for His throne room. He loves us that much.
Some of these fixes are easy—a quick touch up. Some of them are hard. It was way easier to paint the green legs black than to cover up all of that ebony-colored paint with bright white. But God doesn’t care. He carefully restores us, whatever it takes, coat after clean coat of grace.
When He’s cleaned us up, God keeps gazing at us, and He is so pleased, because with His love we have been transformed. If that’s how God sees us—brand new, showroom worthy—then shouldn’t we allow ourselves to see the refurbished version of ourselves, to see our true reflections, the incredible masterpieces God created us to be?
My daughters and I were getting ready for church the other morning. We pulled out our cute tanks and fun dresses from the backs of our closets, because Ohio had thawed and it was a lovely 75 degrees outside. But all of these adorable clothes created issues. Just like some of our choices, moods and decisions in life create unstable and undesirable scenarios.
One by one the girls and I entered each other’s rooms asking, “Does this look alright?” “How’s the back?” “Is this too fill in the blank?” All the skinny straps and racer backs are darling on mannequins and hangers, but they require special camis, bras, and sweaters to stay stylish while maintaining some dignity. My girls and I enviously eyed the three guys in our family who simply pulled shirts over their heads and shorts around their waists while eating jellybeans.
We eventually made it out the door, but this getting dressed episode had happened one too many times. For a while I’d put off the work necessary to solve the problem. We’d find wardrobe solutions for the day, but then repeat the same struggle the next time my girls and I pulled out our cute summer styles. Enough was enough. After church I logged onto Target’s website and started filling my shopping cart. It’s no fun to spend your clothing allowance on undergarments, but it is a necessary investment to enjoy all of the adorable warm-weather fashions. There are other investments we need to make in our lives too, much more important ones.
Because there are days when our lives don’t look quite right, don’t fit how they’re supposed to, make us feel uncomfortable. Some days we say too much or too little. Some days we’re grumpy and go off on the people we love most. Some days we’re tired and have a headache and withdraw and don’t do our best, because it’s hard. Some days we’re so focused on our agendas that we forget about the people around us, about what’s going on with them, what’s important to them. Some days we go along with the crowd—laugh at that joke, join in on the gossip, have one too many whatevers for our own good.
And then it’s time to say, “Enough is enough!” and get back to Jesus, because He will tell us over and over again who He made us to be, how He’s packed us with potential, how He loves us for exactly who we truly are.
But we need to be intentional and invest in getting back to where we belong. Just like my daughters and I needed to assess the causes of our wardrobe malfunctions, we need to take a look at what’s causing us to wander from our true identities. And once we figure it out—by talking to trustworthy friends, reading the Bible, praying—we need to be ready to devote our time, energy and resources into getting back on track.
Just like I had to bite the bullet and use my credit card to buy bras with assorted backs and straps, sometimes we need to take the time to write a note, or call with an apology, or sit down face to face and explain what we meant or where we’re coming from. Sometimes we need to rethink who we’re sitting with and the places and ways we’re spending our time. Do we need more sleep? Less caffeine? More exercise? Less social media? Are these the people and places that help us be the best versions of ourselves? Or when we’re there or around them are the wrong parts of our personalities showing?
When life gets off-kilter, exposing the wrong parts of us, trending too low or too high or plain inappropriate, we need to step back and assess the situation. Where do we need to adjust our straps, invest time, money, resources into getting back in line with who we are and who we’re meant to be? It always starts with Jesus. He’s who made us in the first place. He’s the one who loves us more than we can imagine. When we look at ourselves as He sees us, we see who we can be, who we want to be, and then the effort to get back to our true reflections seems as simple as clicking “Add to Cart.”
Thunderstorms were predicted all day, but I wanted to go for a walk. I checked the weather for the time with the lowest percentage chance of rain (35% at 8:00 AM). Around eight I peeked outside—not currently raining. This was my chance. I darted out the door and took a lovely walk on a pleasantly warm February morning without the slightest sprinkle. It doesn’t always work that way—thus me selecting my jacket with a hood and carrying an umbrella just in case—but without a plan, without a strategy it’s even harder to avoid the rain.
And just like I have to plan and strategize to avoid rain, I have to plan and strategize how to avoid social comparisons. Because they’re everywhere, and just like thunderstorms we can’t avoid all of them, but we can plan around them, and protect ourselves against them.
What does that look like? For all of us it looks different, because we all have different comparisons that plague us.
There was a season a couple of years back when I had a book series release with a new imprint. It was crazy, awesome, exciting and exhausting. All of the authors were encouraged by our agents and our imprint to constantly be checking sales numbers. We ran a giveaway…did it increase sales? We held a Twitter party…how did that impact sales? Our books were featured on a blog hop…which books’ sales spiked on which days? And, I hate to admit, it wasn’t just the agents and publisher who got addicted to checking our sales numbers, I did too. And it was toxic. Because some days I would feel good about my writing, other days I would feel bad about my writing, and some days I would compare my writing to the other authors who I totally adored. Ick. Ick. And double ick.
Because my writing has nothing to do with sales numbers and everything to do with Jesus. He is the one who gave me words, stories, ideas and opportunities. Jesus calls me to write, and so I write. I try and do my best. I turn over the rest to Him. And He will put the words and stories He gives me into the hands and hearts He needs them to be in. Whether one book was meant to touch just one person’s life in a profound way, or thousands of lives in small ways, He knows and He’ll make it happen. But that’s none of my business. I’m just called to write. For Him.
So, I stopped. I no longer check sales numbers and rankings. They’re there on Amazon. I can peek at them right now if I want to, but I don’t want to. The only time I look is if I’m required to report the numbers for a new proposal or for taxes. This is a way I can intentionally avoid social comparisons.
How about you?
Throwing away your scale? Check, I’ve done that, too.
Resisting searching job opportunities when you’re already happy with your job—because it just shows you what everyone else is making, where they’re living, what their supposed job descriptions are.
Where do you tend to compare yourself that you can avoid?
Is there someone you need to unfollow on social media, because every time you see their posts you get a little jealous, or feel a little smaller? Is there a person you need to hang out with less, because every time you’re with them you wish you were more like them, or because they make you feel inadequate?
We can’t avoid all social comparisons. I’ll go to a meeting and the girl next to me will have the most gorgeous pair of boots, and I’ll second guess my own boots and covet hers. A mom at a basketball game will tell me about how she’s been spending a lot of time on Pinterest and cooking all these new, delicious meals for her family. And I’ll start wishing I had time to go on Pinterest, let alone cook new, delicious meals for my family, and end up feeling guilty that I don’t. When these things come up, there’s no way to avoid them, but we can protect ourselves against them. We need to put on our virtual hoods and put up our spiritual umbrellas. We need to go back to reminding ourselves who we are—that we are loved by God. That He doesn’t care about our boots or bruschetta. We need to take Paul’s words to the Corinthians to heart:
We are each given specific gifts and talents and situations by God to glorify God. We’re not supposed to have the same sales numbers, job description, family room or menu as anyone else. We’re supposed to rock what we’ve got, and rock it for God’s glory.
So when we can avoid comparisons, lets do it.
For all of us it’s different. But the storms of social comparisons will come. Let’s be intentional about sidestepping the storms when possible, and arming ourselves with the umbrella of truth that we were created to inspire awe so we can stay relatively dry when the rains starts falling.
Laura L. Smith