I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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“If we’re not living in the present right now, well then…” my friend, Beth said, raising her eyebrows at all the ways quarantine has meant not being able to plan ahead for tomorrow or next week or July, because we have no idea what will be open or what will be safe or what things will look like.
Interestingly enough she said it on a day we hadn’t seen each other since before shut down, at least ten prior. Yes, we’d traded texts, calls and emails, but in person? Uh uh. Did I mention we were supposed to have taken a trip to Israel together in the midst of all this shelter in place? Instead, I hadn’t even seen her face, unless you count on Instagram.
Her son asked if he could go see the horses that day and she thought, Yeah, let’s savor this sunny day. Meanwhile at my house, I finished editing a chapter and wanted to breathe in some fresh air on the trails. And so I went. None of those details were coincidences. And here Beth and I were standing on the same trail at the same time, as if God knew how much we would benefit from seeing each other. Oh, right. He did. God planned all of it—the horses, the timing, the ideas. For this particular moment.
The sun warmed our skin. The birds twittered in the branches. Beth and I, from a distance, got caught up on our kids, writing, mental health, the state of our world and what God was whispering to us. If either Beth or I had been feeling like we needed to get another thirty minutes of work done or another load of laundry thrown in, we would have missed it. But we didn’t. Because we both decided to embrace the day and God’s calling.
The present, as it turns out, is all we have, and it’s pretty amazing.
I’m not the first person to come to this conclusion. John Mark Comer states in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “All the spiritual masters from inside and outside the Jesus tradition agree on this one (as do secular psychologists, mindfulness experts, etc.): if there’s a secret to happiness, it’s simple—presence to the moment. The more present we are to the now, the more joy we tap into.
Or as the Psalmist says almost identically but a bit more succinctly, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” Psalm 118:24
So the question is, what are you doing with your present? What am I doing with mine? Where do you want to go? Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to learn more about? What sounds delicious for dinner? What book have you been meaning to read?
Have you been hoping to spend more time with your kids? Pull out a deck of cards or dust off your bikes. Have you been thinking you’d like to start working out? Do a dozen jumping jacks or push ups or burpees or sit ups. Been meaning to start reading the Bible. Put this blog down, open up your Bible or Bible App and go to John 1 and read the first five verses. Meditate on them. Has something been on your mind? Tell someone. Stand up for something. Support the cause. Ask for help. Are you trusting God in this day and following where He’s leading?
Will you get everything you’ve ever wanted to do completed today? Of course not. Will you end racism, cure COVID-19, build that beach house, travel to Greece, ummm maybe not today. But…today you can start. You can do something.
You can watch, read or listen to media created by black artists and thought leaders. You can wear a mask and wash your hands. You can put aside some extra change, listen to that podcast, do some research, reach out to that friend. Today is packed with possibilities. This is the day the Lord has made. This random Wednesday in June when the world has been closed, but is slowly opening back up. This day when we’re wearing masks and standing apart and systemic racism is breaking our hearts and life does not look like last summer or the one before.
Looking for ideas to embrace this day, the present? Jesus tells us, “Follow me. Love your neighbor. Go and tell the world about me. Be of good cheer. Feed the poor. Come away with me. Pray with me. Drop your nets. Do not fear. Shine your light. Those are some pretty great places to start.
We get to choose if we’ll embrace this day. If we’ll obey when we feel Jesus nudging us. If we’ll get out of the house if He asks us. If we’ll call or text the person He places in our mind or heart. If we’ll contemplate what He has in store what He wants us to say. If we’ll try some of these things Jesus instructs us to do, if we’ll trust Him, and get excited about His perfect plans, if we’ll rejoice in this day, be glad in it. Or…if we’ll complain, mope, try grinding it out by ourselves, numb all our feelings with distractions, and wish things were different.
This is the day the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24). So what are you going to do with it?
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This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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The Ohio winter has been cold, gray, windy, dreary and long. Yes, we’ve had a few unexpected warm spells (global weirding we call it at our house), but on St. Patrick’s Day as we swirled peppermint buttercream on freshly baked green cupcakes, snowflakes flitted past our kitchen window. Snow. In mid-March.
But today, even though it’s still only a high of 40 degrees, the sun is bursting, blanketing my neighborhood in a golden glow. And these rays of sunshine make all the difference.
At least they do for me.
The sun instantly switches my perspective from survival mode of staying warm, logging miles, checking off lists…
to enjoyment mode—savoring the warmth prickling my skin, beaming at crocuses peeking up their violet heads from their slumber, and giggling at a squirrel chattering on the telephone wire overhead. God is so good and so abundant. He always is. But somehow I see it more clearly in the sunlight.
Similarly praise is a breakthrough switching our minds from worries, concerns, struggles and fears, to all the glorious ways God surrounds us with His warm, golden love. It’s like an on/off switch that literally changes our perspectives.
It’s not complicated. It begins with one simple thank you to God. Thank you, Jesus, for the daffodil stalks poking out of the earth like sharp, green spears.
And almost as soon as we utter the words of gratitude, we find another thank you follows quickly on the first one’s tail. Because thank you also, God, that I don’t have to plant daffodils every year. It’s miraculous how they not only return on their own, but multiply like blooms of sunshine scattered throughout our yard.
And then comes another. Thank you, Jesus for the text from a friend who’s praying for me, for the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker on that branch with his stunningly scarlet head, for the laughter bursting from my husband and son as they shoot the Nerf basketball into the hoop on the laundry room door.
The praise pulls us away from the what-if worries for tomorrow and the if-only-things-had-been-different reservations from the past. Praise pulls us into the present—shining light onto what God has for us, right before our eyes. The things we can thank Jesus for were always there. They are just easier to see when we illuminate our lives with gratitude.
It can be difficult on an emotionally gloomy day to eek out praise—on days when clouds of concern darken our skies, when gratitude doesn’t come naturally, when thank yous aren’t bubbling from our lips. On these days we need to be intentional. Because there’s always something to be grateful for. Something. Think. What is it?
Even in a hospital room we can thank God for intelligent doctors, scientific breakthroughs, modern sanitization, a call from a caring family member. Even when someone disappoints us, we can thank God for an umbrella on a rainy day, a rich frothy latte, a warm hand holding ours.
And once we start with the tiniest of thank yous, a ripple effect occurs. We begin to find more things to thank God for, and then more. All of a sudden we find ourselves less concerned about the troubles we’re tackling, and instead acutely aware of how loved we are by a glorious Creator.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever. --Psalm 136:1
So what can you thank God for today? You can start small. You can start simple, but start. List one thing.
Can you get to ten?
And as we focus on His goodness, His enduring love, we begin to feel the breakthrough. The bad stuff fades and doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore. The warmth of God’s love changes our perspective and helps us remember who we truly are—the ones God loves, the people He’s fighting for, radiant in the light of His Son.
In 1990 Jesus Jones’ hit, “Right Here, Right Now,” hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs. This alternative tune could be heard all over the radio and at parties and dance clubs around the nation, “Right here, right now, there is no other place I want to be.” Singing along to it with friends, I believed every word. Where else would a girl rather be than dancing around the family room with her besties and the music blaring? But this is how we should feel all of the time. This day. This moment right now. It is a gift. As C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters, “I believe, God wants them (humans) to attend chiefly to two things—to eternity itself, and to that point of time, which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
Sigh. The Present. Right here. Right now. Lewis continues that all duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure are experienced solely in the present. ALL duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure! Why then, would we ever go, let alone linger anywhere else? Why then are we all running around so stinking worried about tomorrow?I do it all the time. Over big stuff and little stuff. This weekend…I hope all my kids get playing time in their games. And if they don’t, I pray they won’t let it affect their self worth. Some time this fall…I hope the book proposal my agent is shopping around for me finds the perfect publisher. And if not, what will be our next steps? Should we send it to different publishers? Should I write something else altogether? What should I write next? What will I make for dinner when friends come over? What if they don’t like it? Where should my oldest son go to college? What if I set off the alarm at our church at Bible study again next week? Don’t judge. It’s a real issue.GRrrr! The ‘what ifs’ in life flood our brains. “How should I act if… the next time I see that person they say that thing to me that always bugs me? Where will I live next year? What will I do once I have my degree/certificate/license? What if I don’t get offered the spot/deal/contract/extenstion? What if I do?” These are all legit concerns. Questions about our future and our well-being and about doing the right thing, taking the next step. But if God is who He says He is, and I believe with all of my self that He is, then we should actually be able to rest in the peace that He has it all under control. And we should also breathe in the moment, the very place and experience He has set us in. Right now. He calls Himself, Emmanuel, God with us. Meaning He’s with us. Right here.
Such incredible surroundings we have—rich in sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches. It’s fall! A season packed with sensory pleasures! There are crisp apples, spicy cider, bumpy hayrides, flocks of birds flapping and calling as they fly south, ref whistles and drum cadences at football games, bright orange pumpkins, cool breezes, a gorgeous array of glimpses of eternity to inhale and savor.
Jesus didn’t worry about His next speaking gig, how He would pay taxes, how many followers He had, or what was for dinner. He knew God would take care of all of it—trusted God to take care of all the things. Big and small. Taxes—grab a fish out of the water over there and there will be money in the fish’s mouth. A ride into town—oh yeah, there should be a donkey tied up over there all set to hop on. Dinner? We have a couple of sandwiches, right? I’m sure it will be enough for this crowd of thousands of people. Jesus paid attention to the people in front of him—the woman washing his feet, the blind man begging for mercy, the lady who’s fingers barely grazed the hem of his robe in a crowd full of people. He lived in the moment. Loving those around Him. Right then.
You guys, this is it. The closest we get to eternity. Are you shrugging and thinking that it’s not that great? That your Present is pretty stressful, lonely, painful, overwhelming? I’m not doubting that you have trials. We all do. Life can be hard. There are aches and sorrow and struggles all around us. But God loves us so much. He lavishes us with scents and tastes to comfort us amidst the hurt. God gives us the Present—the gift of pure pleasure in the Present if we will drink it in. Try rethinking your Present—this exact moment—right here, right now.
This morning did you taste sweet, golden honey on your toast or salty, smoky bacon? Did you glance the snow white, fluffy tail of a baby deer darting through the yards? Get a warm hug or text from someone who loves you? Are you wearing snuggly soft slippers or socks? Or perhaps you’re barefoot, and your toes feel firm and alive on the cool floor this morning. Look at your toes? Are they painted energizing scarlet red or maybe tranquil turquoise? Do you hear the church bells or clock tower chiming the hours of a new day—ringing for your pleasure? Did you see the sunrise this morning? Glorious purples muted into pale pinks, smeared and swirled all over the sky. Right here. Right now. You missed it? No problem. Because tonight, God will give you a sunset. Live in the moment. And tomorrow morning you get another sunrise. In that moment. Right then. Right there. Drink it in.
Stop worrying about all the maybes, might bes, could bes. Instead appreciate this moment now. Use your five senses to tap into the pleasures God has created specifically for you to enjoy. Jesus reminded us, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” —Matthew 6:34
Instead of fixating on what might be let’s focus on all of the duty, grace, knowledge, and pleasure at our fingertips. Right here. Right now.
I have always loved getting packages. When Brett and I got married the gifts flowed in—delicate crystal wine glasses and fluffy yellow towels from our registry, all new, all ours, all symbolic of setting up a new household, a new life together. Each time the UPS man rang the bell; I scampered to the door, as eager to open the brown cardboard boxes from Macy’s or Williams Sonoma as if they were ornate treasure chests. After living in a myriad of apartments, sleeping on futons and using the mismatched forks and hand-me-down skillet my mom had donated to my cupboards, I was in awe that all these lovely items were for us—that we could eat off these matching plates and cook pasta in brand new Calphalon pans with lids that fit.
The packages poured in again when we had babies—people we knew from college and work and growing up—all lavishing us with adorable sleepers with fuzzy feet, cuddly blankets dotted with yellow and green puppy dogs, and rhyming Boynton board books. How could we possibly be recipients of all this cuteness? We were the ones blessed with little miracles on the way. Certainly we didn’t deserve all of these gifts, too!
Now, with Amazon Prime, packages appear seemingly daily. Just this week I ordered lavender seeds, a scrubber brush to clean the showers, a case of Italian flour, and a book one of my kids needs to read over the summer for school (yes! you can still get books on Amazon). They all came in separate boxes (the environmentalist in me is screaming, but that’s a rant for another blog). As I pulled the boxes in off the porch it dawned on me that the brown cardboard now seems so normal. When the gifts from our wedding registry showed up it felt like Christmas every time—what was in the box? Who was it from? Wow! We’d never owned anything so nice, not that we could call ours. But now? I mean, crackers and jumper cables. Not so exciting. I even get entitled when something takes more than two days, because hello? Prime.
I started wondering how I’m responding to the packages God delivers to me? Am I opening them with anticipation? Or tossing them aside, into the bin with the other scrub brushes, along the shelves with the other groceries, taking it for granted when I use them, because I feel entitled that they should be there? Am I thrilled when packages from God show up, or am I all, “I prayed about it two days ago. Where the heck is it?”
Yesterday I walked out front to dump our dehumidifier bucket full of Ohio humidity on our flowers—this is about as advanced as I get in my gardening. And, there was a package on the porch. I didn’t even remember ordering anything. Had I? Instinctively I brought it inside and grabbed my scissors, because we do get so many brown boxes on our porch. My husband’s birthday was in a couple of days, my son’s is in two weeks. The box could be a package for one of them. Of maybe it was the swimsuit top I ordered for my daughter. But before I cut in, I was prompted to pause and read the label. Curious to see the package’s origins I discovered it wasn’t for me, or anyone in our home at all. The box was actually addressed to our neighbors a few blocks away—same numerals on their address, same neighborhood, different street. It made me wonder if I’m figuratively trying to open packages meant for other people. Wishing a destiny or current situation different than the one God has gifted me. The one He knows is best for me.
Because God does deliver packages on the porches of our lives every single day—conversations with strangers and friends that teach us something or remind us of something important or open our eyes, tangy barbeque sauce, sweet, juicy watermelon, cool pool water on scorching hot summer days, tiny baby deer with white speckled backs peeking through the trees, a fluffy squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk, a phone call or Bitmoji from a friend that makes you laugh out loud, the solid warmth of a hug from someone you love—all gifts. Are we opening them with anticipation, excitement, gratitude? Amazed that we could be so lucky to receive such packages? That God would deliver them to our doorsteps? Or do we take them for granted?
Are we so grumpy about the packages that haven’t come yet, the things we want, the things we feel we deserve that we’re like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, belting out, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” Are there things we prayed about two days ago that we wish God would hurry up and Prime them to our porch. Are we so busy eyeing our neighbors brown boxes—jobs, wardrobes, achievements, homes, families, meals, vacations, abs, that we wish we could open them for ourselves, totally missing the packages God has piled up specifically for us to enjoy?
I don’t know what your day holds. But I promise God will deliver at least one wonderful package to you, if not many. It might be exactly what you hoped for, or something you didn’t even know existed. Keep your eyes open! Take a moment to notice the pink streaks of sky in the sunrise, the tomato deepening from green to red on the vine, the uninhibited laughter of a child splashing in a fountain, to really look into someone’s eyes. Consider the job opportunity, the house that’s for sale, the trip someone invited you on—could these maybe be a special delivery from God? Open up the packages of today with new lenses aware of the beauty God has surrounded you with. Be amazed that He has handpicked this present for you and sent it to your address—to make you smile, to make you understand you are loved, that even though you don’t deserve it, He wants you to have it.
Sigh. I wish I could stay at the beach forever. Day after day I gaze at the horizon, listen to the crash of waves, marvel at the magnificence and peacefulness of the sea, and can’t help but think how much the beach mirrors God’s kingdom.
Just like God’s kingdom, everyone is welcome at the beach. All walks of people come to the shore—big, small, old, young, singles, couples, families, from all places, backgrounds, and cultures. Everyone belongs. Every. Single. Person. And we’re welcome to do the things that bring us joy here. Dog lovers play fetch with their pups. Book lovers read. Music lovers play tunes. And all kinds of dogs, books, and music are accepted here simultaneously. At any given moment you might hear The Beatles, Marshmallow and Rascal Flatts drifting through the air from various speakers. You don’t earn extra points or get any strikes against you if you read history or mystery, if you have a cutie miniature poodle or a pair of regal huskies—no judging on such wonderful individual preferences at the beach. All are included.
At the beach it doesn’t matter if you run, practice yoga, tote buckets of water back and forth from the shore or play Kan Jam. It doesn’t matter if you’re as fit as Ronaldo or haven’t moved much lately. People ride bikes, play lacrosse, and go for strolls on the beach. Yes, people rest, too—take naps, soak in the sun, because moving is good for us, and so is down time. I believe God loves to witness people taking care of the bodies He gave them—jumping, splashing, playing, restoring, and renewing.
On the beach, we’re all friends. Walls of social status, education, gender, and race dissolve. Kids approach other kids pitching in to build spectacular sandcastles, because the digging goes faster with more hands. Without hesitation strangers join in soccer games—welcome additions to the roster, no tryout necessary. If someone’s Frisbee flies astray, a passer by instinctively grabs it and tosses it back. If a fisherman reels one in, folks crowd around to see what’s on the line, ooh and ahh and snap pics of the ray or baby shark, almost as if it’s their own. Everyone joins in on one fantastic celebration of sea, sky, and sand. And if you’re lucky, folks with musical inclination burst into song for all to enjoy—no admission, no tickets necessary—just music for the pure joy of it. Isn’t this what God’s kingdom is all about? Sharing, helping, loving our neighbors? Using our talents for the good and delight of others?
People are less concerned about their outward appearance at the beach—or maybe that’s just me. But there’s no fuss over jewelry or makeup or footwear. You just slide on a swimsuit, tie your hair in a knot, or pull on a cap, slather up with sunscreen and head out the door. We’re more exposed at the beach—we hide less. Tattoos usually hidden on bellies and backs are exposed for all to see—symbols and words representing what people have been through, who or what keeps them strong, how they stay inspired. Because we come to the ocean for the ocean, not to show off or prove or hide ourselves, but to marvel at God’s creation. Sure, some say they came to “get away” or “to rest” or “for the kids.” But why here? Why not at a hotel down the street from their home? Because the beach draws us like a magnet, the waves so simultaneously powerful and soothing. Folks wake early to watch the sun rise, fiery and bright reflecting on the water in vibrant pinks, yellows, and oranges. This is how God designed it from the beginning. It’s always been about Him. It’s never been about us. Yet, I know I personally spend way too much time worried about how I’ll seem or appear to others. The beach reminds me how unimportant that is—how when I focus on God’s glory, nothing else holds much weight.
Little kids get this as they sprint as fast as their tiny, chubby legs can carry them to the water, then stop dead in their tracks, amazed by it all. We’ll do this in heaven, I think. Gaze at God’s majesty in multiple ways; be drawn to Him and His splendor. I don’t think we have to wait. I think we can do it now.
We don’t have to wait for any of it. We’re doing it here and now at the beach, and in other areas of our lives—sharing, loving, laughing, embracing, enjoying, savoring, running about, joining in. The magic of the ocean tugs my heart, reels me in, challenges, and soothes me. So what if I used what I learned here in my everyday? What if I judged less, worried less, let down my guard more, did my thing without worrying about what others thought, stood in awe more in my every day life too. I think the beach is a lovely foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. But I also think God’s kingdom is here for us today—if we lighten up, loosen up, and let His love wash over our toes and splash into our souls.
So pull up a chair, a tent, or a towel. Grab some snacks and participate full on in this marvel of a day, a life, we’ve been given. Come on…the waves are waiting.
I am a horrible singer, but I love music, so I sing all the time anyway. I’m constantly adding songs to my Spotify playlists. One of my kids will play something that I positively need or the worship band at church will sing something I have to add to my library. When I add new songs, I find myself playing them on repeat, singing them again and again, as they do the magic that music does to me, tugging at my heart, pulling my feet to step and sway, making me feel lighter, more alive. Psalm 96 begins by instructing us to, “Sing to the Lord a new song.”
It got me wondering what my current song to the Lord is, what playlist I am automatically clicking on, and if it needs to be freshened up. I thought through my days—praises to God for my husband and kids. Pleas to God for friends and family with ailments and needs. Thanks to God before meals, as the new days dawn, as the tired days tug at my eyelids. Good songs I sing to God. At least I think they are. But new ones? Could I use some? Could you?
This past week I’ve been reading Psalm 96 over and over asking God, “How do you want me to change my tune? What new song would you like me to sing?”
Remember how big I am, I hear Him say as I gaze upward at impossibly tall trees reaching toward brilliant blue sky on my back porch. Remember how faithful I am He whispers as I go for a walk with my youngest, listening to him chatter about the Skittles his team won reviewing terms for vocabulary and about the clues to the crime in the novel he’s reading—voice animated, blue eyes flashing excitement. This boy who has overcome a hole in his heart and a life-threatening peanut allergy in his handful of years on earth, who God has literally saved over and over. Believe how complete I am, God nudges, as I glimpse a stunning sunrise in the morning and am captivated by a breath-taking sunset in the same day, murals painted across the sky, the ultimate performance-art-piece bookending my waking hours.
As I question what’s next, as my prayers are peppered with ‘please help us figure out this, transition into that, discern what to do about this’…God says, “I hear you. I love it when you share with Me what’s on your heart. I love you. I promise to care for you and your family in ways you can’t comprehend. But, would you add another song to your library?” God asks. “One of trust—because of how great I am, because of how faithful I am, because of how ultimate I am. Just savor this, and I think you’ll find everything else will fall into place.”
And for a moment I understand. The God who created all of this—each tulip perfectly shaped and steeped in bright colors teetering on fragile stems, each sip of coffee brewed from water running through dried beans and metamorphosing into morning nectar, each laugh ringing through the air like tiny chimes, the God who has answered prayer after prayer, the God who is with me when I wake welcoming me with my first glimpse of morning light and lulling me to rest as my weary head hits the pillow each night. This God is to be fully trusted, counted on, relied on. Because He is infinite, glorious, loving, caring, brilliant, and unstoppable.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. Psalm 96:4
When I meditate on these truths I know that Jesus loves the people I love even more deeply than I do, and therefore He has their best interests in mind. I know that God has plans to grow His kingdom, to grow me, and therefore He will guide me down the paths He wants me to take. I know He is in control, that God has the power to light up the sky with stars or sunshine or rainbows or snowflakes. That He can make giant oaks grow from tiny brown seeds wearing patterned caps. That He can freeze time or speed it up. Jesus can do anything and everything. This makes my worries, my anxieties disappear.
Yes, I will continue to talk to Him about all of the things I’m grateful for and concerned about, the things that scare me, shake me, make me cry and the ones that make me dance, grin, and giggle. Because our Heavenly Father is so sweet and caring, He wants to know, wants to talk about it. But I will also add a song of praise to Him to my prayer playlist. For being Him. Because when I do, everything else comes into a better perspective, a more rhythmic beat, a more beautiful melody.
Laura L. Smith