“You don’t play golf? Why not?”
Umm… I’ve never considered it.
“You don’t like steak?” Pause. “You’re kidding. Who doesn’t like steak?”
Nope. Not kidding. I’m more of a pasta and salad girl.
“Are you a Bengals fan?”
I’m not big into football.
Have you ever felt like this? Like you failed the interview? Like there’s no way you would be invited back? Like you didn’t quite fit in?
Just moments into my first Thanksgiving with the Smith family I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit into my own skin. It seemed like the Smiths all did and liked things that I didn’t do or like, or had never even considered liking, and therefore, I didn’t belong. But I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted by this family. Brett and I were engaged, and I was going to marry into this clan and hopefully spend decades of Thanksgivings with them. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted them to think I was worthy of Brett, and of wearing their last name. But I felt like I was failing.
This wasn’t the only place I felt pressure to prove myself. I tried to establish my self-worth at work, with friends, and in our first neighborhood filled with young families. When we had a baby, I wanted to prove I could be a good mom—to Brett, to both of our mothers, to the other women pushing strollers and planning play dates.
But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He invites us to a life of freedom—freedom to thrive by embracing who He created us to be, not who we think we should be, or who the world tells us we "should" be.
I have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Don’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG
We don’t need to please anyone?
We don’t need to fit into anyone’s patterns?
It’s not about what we’re doing—where we went to school, what sport we play, or if we don't play sports at all, if we’re breast feeding or not or for how long, what color our couch is, if we buy organic, almond or store brand milk, how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. None of it matters—grades, weight, relationship status, mortgage payment.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re called to work hard and well in the life and vocation God called us to and placed us in. From the beginning God designed Adam and Eve to cultivate the world. This isn’t about plopping down on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, because it “doesn’t matter what I do.” But it is about not measuring ourselves by worldly standards or comparing ourselves to others.
God is creating something totally new—a free life. And He’s inviting us into it. Which requires action. We have to R.S.V.P.—accept His invitation. And when we say, “yes, I want that,” our life becomes the very best party—spending time with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit remind us who we are—His beautiful daughters and sons specifically and uniquely designed stitch by stitch, cell by cell. And the celebration never ends.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. —Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
You are an original, one-of-a-kind wonder, who doesn’t have to prove yourself. If God created you to be a night owl, awesome. Use your evenings to crank out your to do list and sing worship songs. If He made you an early bird, super. Read your Bible first thing and then go for a walk or run or send all your emails before anyone else wakes up. If God put in you the desire to create delicious meals out of fresh ingredients, fabulous. Shop at the farmer’s market. Watch the Food Network. Set aside time in your schedule to cook and let the simmering scents tickle your nose. More of a take-out girl? Also, great. Grab yummy refrigerated raviolis or rotisserie chickens for quick, tasty meals and use the time others spend cooking to do the things God created you to do. And do them well.
Thankfully, the Smiths did accept me. And love me. And invite me into their family. But I got turned down by several colleges I applied to, wasn’t invited back to multiple sororities during recruitment in college, had boyfriends break up with me, and have been turned down by dozens of publishers who don’t feel my writing is a fit for their brand. I get rejected all the time. We all do. But Jesus always accepts us just the way we are, because that’s how He intended us to be. And His opinion is the One that holds the most weight. Because He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.
If we want this kind of life, one where who we are is who we’re supposed to be, all we have to do is accept how much Jesus loves us. Truly accept this truth down to our bones. Sure, I have so much more to learn about Jesus, but one thing I understand is that living with Him is the freest I’ve ever felt. When I read the Bible and talk to Jesus—when I choose this life of the Spirit—I am empowered, because I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has plans to prosper me, that He calls me His masterpiece. It gives me permission to enter any room or situation and understand that I am who He made me to be, and that is never something to hide or be ashamed of. It is always enough.
Do I stumble? Sure. Do I feel awkward and insecure? Yup. Does my brain jump on the crazy train and make me start to doubt if I belong, if I’m able, if I’m qualified? Of course. But when I feel my feet sliding down that slippery slope, I reach out for Jesus’ hand waiting for me. I grab my Bible or start praying or get off social media or start playing worship music or text someone to pray for me or simply say the name of my rescuer out loud, “Jesus”. And it brings me back to who I am. His.
Because I want to live in the truth of who He made me to be, marinate in it. Stay in it. Do you crave this kind of freedom?
It is available. A rescue from an old way of life and an invitation into a new glorious one. God’s plan is that we all experience this rescue (Galatians 1:5). We don’t have to earn it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we have to do is take Jesus’ hand and step into freedom.
The Work at Hand
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:
A TIME FOR EVERYTHING
I’m sitting in the high school theater. One girl sits behind the piano, playing a song I’ve heard on the radio. She sings it more beautifully than I’ve ever heard. A guy sits on the stage drinking soda out of a flask—very dramatic. The students filter in, greeting each other, hugging. One girl walks in with a boot on her foot. “What happened?” “How long do you have to wear it?” “Can you still do the show?” The questions hit her rapid fire. More chatter as the teens take time to acclimate to this space—the theater, a gathering of friends, of others who love the stage.
And then, the director calls out, “Everyone on stage. We’re working on the car song. Go ahead and take a seat.” The entire room changes in five seconds from the atmosphere of a cafeteria to a scene from Rise.
There was a time to arrive, get comfortable, exchange hellos, and there is a time to get serious. To get to work. Both are important. And even in the work, it’s not predictable. Two weeks from the show, the cast typically takes it from Scene 1, all out reading lines and dancing across the stage. But this day is a day for the details, to nit pick a song apart, and make sure it’s spot on.
I’m emotional today, because I’ve also gone though a shift of what it is time for. I’ve been under an insane deadline. The number of days I had to write the number of pages that were due did not compute. It was a time to keep my head down, stay focused, cut out anything extra, eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. It was a time to write for hours on Saturdays, to wake up early on weekdays, to skip a couple of blog entries. Grinding out, page by page, trying to make the words flow, trying to make it all Biblically accurate, trying to make it right. And yesterday, I turned it in. Insert giant exhale here. I sent my manuscript to my project manager, closed the document that had sat open on my screen for weeks, shut my Mac, and went for a run.
Yesterday afternoon I cooked a real dinner for my family—with sides and everything. I went for a walk with my husband, sat by the fire and watched a movie with these my kids. This morning I slept in, made crepe batter, and didn’t touch my computer until, well, now. I’ve entered a whole different zone. Not that I won’t have more writing assignments (I mean, I hope I will). But today I need to recognize I was in a season of deep, intense, work, and now I need to take a season of rest. I’ll get comments back from the editor next week, and I’ll have to get back to work, but now? Now I can hang with my family, enjoy a meal, sleep, write a blog with rambling words about how God has been working on me lately.
And here’s how He’s been working. God has shown me that just like it says in Ecclesiastes 3; there is a time for everything. God runs that eternal clock that we are all watching and checking and running around trying to stay in sync with it. But He does not see time like we do. God is less concerned with who’s first in the pick up line, who gets there early enough to get the best parking spot, who’s sitting in their desk when the boss arrives, who’s strolling into church halfway through the second song, and who arrives at the finish line in the middle of the pack.
God looks at it like this. “I have something for you to do. Please do it. Your life will be better if you do it and if you do it on my timeline.” And for each of us on each day and even in different parts of the day that’s something different—a time to plant, a time to uproot, a time to heal, a time to tear down, a time to rebuild, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance, a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them… God sees us and knows what is actually best –when we need to step out, step up, step to the side, and when we need to take more steps before we’re ready. These are the assignments He gives us with our time.
For me this meant lots of coffee, reading, writing, checking, rereading, rewording. But none of this work made sense, and none of it could happen for me unless I did something first.
Each day I closed my eyes and prayed. “God, thank you for this opportunity. For the chance to write these stories for You. Please help me use my time wisely for Your glory. Please help me write the words You want written, words that point people to you. Please give me endurance. Please give me focus. I am so grateful for Your love. That You allow me to do this thing I love. Thank You for my family. I love them so. Please help me balance all the things. And trust You when I feel like I’m dropping balls and praise You when things go smoothly. Please, Lord, let me use this day to serve You.”
Because of that prayer, on the days when I was super productive, or on days when I was super not, all was well. When I took three giant steps backwards to rewrite a whole section. When we had two soccer practices and play practice and an event at school. When I felt energized or exhausted, it somehow worked. Because it was for God and for His glory. And then it didn’t matter how much I’d written. I’d written for Him. And that’s all that mattered in the first place.
What is it time for in your life? It might be time to get accustomed to new space, to familiarize yourself with the people around you, to take time to give someone a hug, to check in and see how they’re doing. It might be time to get going, to do the work in front of you. For you it might be time to practice—to run through that presentation, that drill one more time even if you’re exhausted, look through your notes, rehearse your lines, your part. It might be God wants you to take time to fix some broken things—the flat tire on your car, the broken ice maker on your freezer, the way you’ve been looking at things, the way you’ve been treating someone else or yourself.
Maybe for you it’s time to sleep, to take a hot bath, to stay inside, to do your nails, to sit by a window and gaze out as the raindrops trickle down the window, or sit outside and listen to the birds twittering, grateful for the promise of springtime.
There are times for everything. And everything works brilliantly when it’s done in God’s time. For the cast of this play, today is time to go over the third measure of one song with the vocal coach over and over, feet dangling over the edge of the stage. But in a week and a half they’ll be performing for a full theatre in costumes and makeup. It’s all important. The work. The rest. The performance. And they’re all best executed when we realize they are all from God, all part of His plan, that they all hold equal credence.
What is God calling you to do today? Work? Rest? Rebuilding? Going for it? Settling down? Nesting? Going out? Waiting? Charging forward? He will use all the times in perfect ways. Trust Him. Talk to Him. Then go out and do what He’s called you to do in this specific, priceless season.
WHERE IN THE WORD
After being handed my standard issue clipboard with predictable paperwork at my annual blood draw for health insurance purposes today, I sat down in a typical doctor’s office chair to be greeted with a surprise comment.
“Good morning and God bless you too!” said the older gentleman seated next to me.
He had to be speaking to me, because there was no one else in the waiting room. But I hadn’t spoken yet, making the “too” part of his greeting slightly confusing. But I like to be blessed. And he was friendly, so I said, “Good morning and God bless you.”
And we continued filling out our forms.
Four seconds later my husband walked in. We are required to have this done every year to maintain lower health insurance rates and we always wait until the last week for some reason, so today was our day.
“How was Bible study,” I asked him.
Brett could only give me two or three sentences about who was at Bible study and what kind of donuts they had before my name was called. Now having blood drawn is not my strong suit. Let’s just say I always have to warn the phlebotomist I may pass out. I also know to pack a banana in my purse to eat the second they’re finished to try to give my blood sugar a little replacement.
I’m pleased to report my phlebotomist was gentle, I didn’t look, and I didn’t faint. I did feel woozy, so I sat for a moment or two in the room on the cot, and then for another moment, until she said my pupils looked normal again. I slowly stood, scuffled out to the hall where the same gentleman walked by on the way to his room.
“Where in the Word are you?” He asked.
I’ve been asked by so many people over the years, people I know, people from church, close friends, what my Bible study is studying or what my pastor is teaching, but I can’t remember anyone asking me where I am in the Word, let alone a stranger. Ever.
I was blown away and blessed.
“Galatians,” I managed
“I just finished 2 Samuel last night!” He proclaimed then held up his hand and gave me a powerful high five.
He went into his room.
I sat on the chair nearest the door eating my banana until my husband came out, so we could go to Starbucks together.
But that man…
“Where are you in the Word?”
Wouldn’t it be cool if we greeted each other like that? Just assuming that everyone we met is reading the Bible. Curious to see what they’re studying, what they might be learning, if they’re knee deep in some of our favorite verses or braving books we might normally steer clear of, inspiring us to go back in for seconds or to give something new a try.
Granted, he might have gathered I was a Christian if he heard me ask my husband how Bible study was, but he didn’t know that when he told me, “God bless you too.”
So, what if we asked everyone. What if some people looked at us like we were insane? What if some people asked us what we meant by “The Word” and we were able to share the Gospel?
I went in to have my blood drawn. I went in to check a box for my insurance. I went in nervous and apprehensive.
I came out inspired. And challenged.
So, I ask you friends, where are you in the Word today? I’d love to hear. Inspire me. Challenge me. Where are you?
I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Where am I going to sit?
How many times in a day, week, month, year, lifetime do you ask yourself that question?
It could be in class, at lunch, at a meeting, at church, at the pool, on the bus, at a ball game, but it’s always the same loaded question. There is so much implication about the seats we choose. There’s positioning – near the front or back, or higher up or closer to the speaker/teacher. There’s with who – with people like us, with people different than us, with our friends, with someone who looks lonely or away from everyone else. There’s status – the brownnosers sit there, the slackers sit there, the popular people sit here, the rich people sit there, the stoners sit here, the prudes sit there. Where should you sit?
Where would Jesus sit?
The answer is Jesus could sit anywhere and feel completely comfortable. And he did sit anywhere. He sat with tax collectors and fishermen and soldiers and prostitutes and priests and lepers. He sat on boats and mountains and temples and palaces and huts.
Where does he want you to sit? That question takes time and introspection to understand the person he created you to be – to find the best qualities about yourself, your unique talents, abilities and gifts and how you can use them to glorify him. Are you a good listener? Can you pitch a mean curve ball? Does your voice sound like a bird? Maybe you can do complicated math problems in your head. How do these gifts fit into who he wants you to be?
Once you figure that out, you’ve found your chair – the seat he’s reserved especially for you.
For me, that means four special chairs. I am the most empowered and uplifted when I am:
1. Holding a Bible
2. With my hubby
3. Snuggling one of my kiddos
4. Typing on a keyboard
When I am doing any of those things I know that God has a purpose for me, that I am loved, that I have talents which I am using, that I can accomplish what I set out to do, because of the first three things on this list.
Thankfully, God’s chairs for us are less like thrones and more like the chairs I sit in at soccer games – portable.
Because tomorrow and the day after that and all the days of my life I’ll enter places and I’ll wonder where to sit. But I don’t have to worry about the implications of which pew or bleacher or chair I choose, because I’ll bring my own chairs with me – the ones that remind me that God created me to be a wife and a mother and a writer, and as long as I stay true to those things I’ll be comfy wherever I unfold my chair and prop it up.
Where is Jesus calling you to “sit” today?
Laura L. Smith