My husband ordered a piece of cinnamon bread at our local coffee shop. The barista kindly asked, “Which do you prefer– an edge piece or a middle piece?” It struck me as such a kind and intentional thing to ask and I told her so.
“It matters, you know?” she said. “I find that edge people take their edges very seriously.”
“I get it,” I nodded. “I way prefer a middle piece and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a piece from the edge.”
The girl in front of me with the slicked back ponytail and cute faded jeans smiled at me. “I also love a middle piece. It feels so much fresher that way.”
“Agreed!” I nodded.
How about you? Would you rather have a piece of coffee cake, or better yet a brownie, from the edge of a pan or from the middle of the pan?
Here’s the lie–one kind of person is better than the other. Sure, I want a middle piece every single time and might even pass altogether if someone offers me a brownie from the edge of the pan. My preferences are part of me and that’s great.
But the truth is that doesn’t make me any better or worse than my husband who likes the crunchy edge piece. Because Jesus made both middle and edge people on purpose and absolutely adores us all.
Sounds silly when we’re talking about our favorite pieces of cake, but it gets a bit blurry when we talk about other character traits that Jesus just as intentionally put in me and in you.
Jesus made people who are bold and confrontational as well as people who are timid and gentle.
Jesus made people who need to verbally process everything out loud and people who need to run everything through their brain prior to speaking.
Jesus made some of us who prefer to be with all their people at once and others of us who prefer one-on-one time with their favorite folks.
Jesus created and adores walkers and runners, coffee and tea drinkers, emotional and composed people, early birds and night owls, republicans and democrats, country music and classical music composers, artists, and listeners, fast talkers and slow speakers, sports and symphony fans, meat eaters and vegetarians, debaters and peace makers, and He loves each and every one of us.
Some of these are harder for us to believe and live out than others. Sometimes we automatically think less of him or her because they fit into one of these categories. Sometimes we think less of ourselves because we label ourselves as one of these things and wish we were different.
But Jesus made YOU in His image. He delights in YOU. He calls YOU His masterpiece.
He also made “them” in His image. He delights in “them”. He calls “them” His masterpieces.
Jesus tells us, “Love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is one of HIs top two out of all the commands.
Are we loving ourselves?
My first challenge to you and me this week is to look ourselves in the mirror each morning and each night and say, “I love you. I love that… (and say something you love about yourself–that you snort when you laugh, cannot stand still if you hear good music, make remarkably good guacamole, etc. ). Say something different each day.
Challenge number two (are you ready?): Each night let’s say one thing we like about somebody who bugged us that day. I know. I know. They really drove you crazy, but remember God still loves them as fiercely and unconditionally as He loves you.
And after all, somebody has to eat the edge AND the middle pieces or else we’d end up throwing away so many brownies. Which would be a tragedy.
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There’s something fishy about the Italian village of Monterosso, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”) nestled along the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. The cerulean water, breathtaking views, picturesque hiking trails, lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and postcard perfect town comprised of candy-colored buildings makes it one of my favorite places in the world. I’m not the only one who loves Monterosso. The secret is out and this tiny town (population 1,400) now teems with tourists from around the world. Another thing I love about Monterosso is it never tries to be something that it’s not and it never forgets who it is, what it has, and what its strong suit is. It never looks to the right or left and says, “I wish I was more like Venice or Florence.”
Can we say the same?
Monterosso is a fishing village through and through situated in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it fully rocks its fishy-ness.
Long before tourists flooded the train station, fishermen and their families lived in this coastal town dating back to the year 683 when people living in the hills descended to the seashore to escape barbarians. The people caught the local fish and built a life. They hiked trails or took boats to get between the neighboring villages. Today fishermen still fish daily. Every restaurant we saw serves freshly caught fish, as well as foods prepared with the olives and lemons abundant on the hills. If you google top things to do in prominent Italian cities like Rome or Milan you’ll find churches and statues topping all the lists. But Monterosso doesn’t promote tours to Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, the beautiful black and white striped Gothic church built in the 1200s, or Il Gigante, the incredible sculpture of a giant carved into the rock at the very far end of the beach (although they’re both worth a look).
No, if you search for what to do in Monterosso you’ll be directed to the things that make Monterosso unique–hike the gorgeous trails and take boat rides in the azure water. The cafes and shops aren’t decorated with pictures of famous people who have stopped by or glitzy beach scenes, but everywhere everywhere everywhere there are fish. Monterosso owns who it is.
Who were you created to be?
Are you living in your God-given identity, or trying to be like or comparing yourself to somebody else?
What do you have available to you?
What’s your strong suit?
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and trying new things. I highly encourage both. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of praying and dreaming through something totally new. But as we dream, let’s keep in mind who God created us to be, what He’s given us, and where He’s put us. It actually helps make our dreams a reality, a reality where God walks beside us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Who did God create you to be?
What do you love doing? What are you great at? Make a list of those things–everything. What music makes you dance, what books can you not put down, what would you do with one hour of free time, what was your favorite subject in school, what’s your favorite food, who makes you laugh, what would you do with a million dollars or three weeks without responsibilities? Brainstorm. Dream. What lights you up?
What’s available to you?
The people of Monterosso have fish, lemons, olives, water, and scenic trails at their fingertips.
How about you? Has your family owned a small farm for ages? You could grow vegetables to feed your community or transform the property into a special event venue. If your workplace has a sound system, could you borrow it to start your own podcast or record the music you’re writing?
Where do you live?
In a cold or hot climate? What part of the country? What are the needs of your community? I live in a college town with brick, ivy, college students, classrooms, a large population of academics, incredible speakers and events, and all the shops and restaurants that cater to these young people. How about you? If you live in a big city you probably have public transport, skyscrapers, large crowds, an fine arts scene, and professional sports. Is your city famous for barbecue or live music or its annual sunflower festival? How do you fit into those things? Do any of those opportunities enable you to rent a booth, offer a class, share the Gospel, create a tour, lead a study, feed the hungry, or give a performance utilizing your gifts and skills?
What’s your strong suit?
Are you great at numbers or words? Do you have a keen sense of direction or an eye for details or design? Do you communicate especially well with kids or senior citizens? Can you make exceptionally tasty fish tacos or mouth-watering muffins or super cool tie-dyed t-shirts or water tight contracts or create codes?
Jesus is so intentional. He’s numbered every hair on your head. He goes before and behind you. He knit you very specifically together in your mother’s womb. He had designs on you for glorious living before you were even born. This means all those things you love to do, all those things you’re actually pretty good at, that come easily to you, even the places and spaces where Jesus has put you–they’re all part of His divine plan–there is goodness for you there, you can thrive and help others thrive, too!
Spend some time this week not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Instead journal, pray, talk to trusted Godly friends about what you like to do, what you’re great at, what resources and opportunities are around you, what you dream of doing, how that all fits into your calling and see what comes of it. There’s nothing fishy about it, just purpose, fullness, and joy waiting to be discovered.
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Have you seen the movie The Adam Project? Without spoiling anything it’s about a forty-year old pilot who travels back in time in an attempt to save the world from some nasty tyranny. In the process he encounters his twelve-year-old self. Because it’s time travel, there are rules about not interfering with the past, but there are some things that forty-year-old Adam really wants twelve-year-old Adam to know. It’s my birthday today, and I’m feeling reflective. I’m wondering what would I tell twelve-year-old Laura if I could?
What would I tell myself in sixth grade? The girl with the giant glasses and braces and frizzy hair whose Dad had left again? The girl who believed all her friends were prettier and cooler and more interesting than her? The girl who believed her brother was smarter and more talented than her? The girl who loved books and learning and school and ballet, but hated the fact that those things made her brainy and nerdy and not like everyone else?
What would you tell your twelve-year-old self?
Would you believe you?
Gosh, there’s so much I would want to tell junior high Laura (starting with suggesting some curl cream and highlights). I’d tell her that Jesus loved her so much that He would never leave her, even if other people she loved did. I’d tell her that Jesus knew everything that was going on in her life and in her heart, and that it was safe to tell Him anything and everything. He wouldn’t think she was weird or silly or make fun of her. He loved her just how she was. But I don’t know if telling her would actually mess things up, if it would prevent her from some of the things she had to learn by trying, experiencing, crying, failing, getting back up again, and somehow getting through, gaining insight, and growing in the process.
There was an interesting plot twist in The Adam Project, not where the older Adam is talking to the younger Adam, but where their Dad is talking to them. The dad goes on and on saying, “I love you. No, I really love you. I want you to understand how much I love you. I’m so proud of you. I want you to believe me, I love you.” Or something to that effect.
This is the part that did me in.
What is way more valuable than what I would tell my younger self is what God, my Heavenly Dad, my Creator, the One who makes rain fall from the sky and grows plants from the ground would tell me, what He was telling me then, and is telling me now, and is telling you, but that was and is so hard to hold onto in this world of ours.
Jesus would tell twelve-year-old me, and fifty-four-year old me, and my kids, and my friends, and everyone reading this the same thing. He would say, “No matter what other people think of you, or even what you think of you, I love you and chose you even before I made the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
God would go on and on like the dad in that movie saying, “I love you. I made you exactly how you are on purpose and I think you’re really amazing, actually breathtaking. I love that you’re… shy/loud/artistic/athletic/a thinker/a doer/someone who enjoys that kind of music or food or art or books or activities/chatty/quiet/logical/a dreamer… all of it. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I gave my very life for you, because I want to be with you always. I’m never leaving you. No matter what you did or do. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Today I turn fifty-four. This is my present to me and to you. This reminder that the thing Jesus most wants us to know is that He loves us. He tells us over and over again in Scripture and if His words weren’t enough and we had some doubts, He died for us. Talk about all-in love. Walk around like you believe this today. In your conversations and interactions, in your work and your play, when you’re alone or with others, live as if you are fully loved for exactly who you are.
Because you are.
Believe down to your bones not just in a theoretical God, but a living, active Savior who loves you desperately. Your self worth is wrapped in Him and not of this world. Part of me wants to shake twelve-year-old Laura and tell her this. But she eventually learned it. These days I’m trying to hold onto this truth and live it out every day. Join me?
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Over spring break we toured the Biltmore House. It’s known as the biggest private home in America–178,900 square feet, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. 250 rooms total. Wow! George Vanderbilt had it built, moved in, and threw a Christmas extravaganza for his friends in 1895. Think of all the first class glamor and grandeur of the Titanic but on land.
Walking through the rooms with the guided audio tour in our ears my mind pictured driving through the gates in a carriage, being shown the room Vanderbilt and his staff had gotten ready especially for me with fresh sheets on the bed and fresh flowers cut from their extensive gardens sitting in a vase by the bedside where I might stay for weeks on end to visit. I imagined getting “dressed” for dinner in an elegant gown (I do love the red carpet) and being seated at the dining room fit for royalty where a multicourse meal would be prepared and served to me on gold rimmed china. Imagine having that much care and intentionality put into your stay!
None of the Vanderbilts live in the house anymore, and realistically if they did, I would not be on their invite list. Also, I would have felt extremely awkward and out of place with all those forks and finery. I’m a girl who loves to get dressed up, but also loves to slip on my pjs and smiley face slippers in the evenings. I’m sure by the first meal I would have wondered what in the actual world I was doing there.
There are so many times in life where I’ve felt out of place, like I don’t belong. You?
Like meeting my husband’s parents for the first time at a restaurant. They asked me if I played golf.
“Ummm, no,” I answered.
“Really?” They seemed so confused.
When we ordered our meals they asked, “Why don’t you eat red meat?”
“I don’t like it.” I answered, but it sounded more like I was questioning myself.
Gosh I wanted to impress them but, gheesh, I didn’t even know how to answer the questions that seemed important to them.
Or walking into a Bible study at a new church we were attending. I knew exactly one woman in the room. We got along, but weren’t close. Also you were supposed to have cash to pay for the workbook, but I didn’t, because who knew? Well apparently everyone else who all knew each other and seemed to be in on some secret Bible study code.
Or climbing the bleachers at the first high school sporting event of one of our kids. I hadn’t been in a high school stadium since I was in high school. But I saw some women wearing team gear who were obviously other moms and found a seat next to them. I introduced myself and told them who my daughter was. They smiled, told me their names, and proceeded to reminisce about the time they’d double dated to prom. As they cheered for our team, they also laughed about last weekend’s cookout at their mutual friends’ house. These ladies were friendly, but I was clearly not one of them.
In all these scenarios I felt out of place. Like I did not belong. Did not fit in. Could not fit in.
But here’s the truth. I am still 100% me when I walk into a mansion, restaurant, church, stadium, or any other room. Nothing changes about me. About how God made me. My strengths don’t disappear. The people I love and who love me don’t vanish. The things that bring me joy don’t stop making me smile. Same holds true for you. But we tend to forget. We tend to think if we’re not like them, if we don’t know them, if we don’t know the things they know, then we’re not okay, or not included. We get the sudden idea that we should be more or less or wear that brand of shoes or eat red meat or have $15 in our wallet or have somehow shared some of their previous experiences.
But Jesus says differently.
The Bible says even before God made the world, He loved and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes (Ephesians 1:4). What? Before there were mansions, restaurants, bleachers, or Bible studies God loved and chose you and me. He chose us to be without fault. Yeah. He did. He does.
Brett’s parents soon welcomed me into the family and loved me as if I were their actual daughter. I ended up teaching multiple Bible studies at that church where I initially felt out of place. But I never fit in with the team moms who’d known each other for decades. They were nice enough. They just shared too much prior history. There have been other times I’ve felt like I didn’t fit, but discovered that was a good thing, because it wasn’t actually the kind of crowd or place I wanted to fit into. Yet other places I’ve tried or wanted to be included, but never was. Sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t belong or fit into a crowd. That’s just life.
But there is someone with whom you always fit, are always welcome, included, and valued. He loves you and has open arms waiting for you. His name is Jesus.
Walking around the rooms of the Biltmore House and how they were so well tended I kept thinking of when Jesus said, “Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live” (John 14:2-3).
Jesus always has room for us. Jesus always wants us with Him. Jesus invites us to hang out with Him every day. Jesus prepares rooms and places for us, with much more intention and care than the Biltmores and their staff ever did for their guests. What Jesus offers is way better than fresh flowers or fresh sheets or multi-course meals. It’s unending love and grace and joy and peace. We matter to Jesus. He loves us.
No matter what rooms or groups you walk into today, don’t believe for one second that you need to be anyone other than who God created you to be. Jesus says differently. Jesus welcomes you saying, “I am so glad you are here.”
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My kids love Chex Mix. But one is allergic to gluten which rules out the pretzels and wheat Chex in the classic recipe and another is allergic to nuts, which also rules out the peanuts. But does that stop us? Of course not. We use only corn and rice squares (no wheat), gluten free pretzels, sub out Fritos for peanuts, because they’re also salty and crunchy and nut and gluten free. And my kids devour it! Who said we have to follow the recipe?
And yet, as we walk around in life we get so stuck on the recipes of this world. I remember the social comparisons of parenting when our kiddos were little, the constant questions from other parents. Are your kids taking swim lessons? Enrolled for preschool? Which preschool? Signed up for Little League? Are you taking them to the egg hunt? How about pictures with the Easter Bunny uptown? And if we answered, “no.” The response was, “Ummm..why not?”
None of those are bad questions. I’m sure I asked many-a-parent similar questions. But my kids and your kids don’t have to do all those things, all the same things–especially if it doesn’t make sense for that child or your family. Turns out the common recipe for the average American is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Christians get this pressure, too, unintentionally from well-meaning friends or church members. Did you sign your kids up for vacation Bible school? Are you volunteering at VBS? Are you in a Bible study? Are you mentoring someone on a weekly basis? Again, great questions. All good ideas and activities for some people some of the time, but not if they wear you thin, conflict with something else God is calling you to, or don’t make sense in your current situation.
Jesus wants what’s best for YOU, not what’s best for your neighbor or your cousin or their kids. We see this in John 1 when Jesus is initially gathering some of His disciples.
And so it is with us.
Whoever believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. -John 1:12
Jesus will invite some of us to learn more, to investigate, to come and see. To others He’ll rename us–taking us out of something, and into something totally new. You used to be rejected, Jesus says, “Now you’re loved and accepted. You used to be alone, now He tells you, “I’ll be with you always.” And to others of us, Jesus says, “Hey, I see you. I saw what happened, what you went through, what you’re currently struggling with. I understand. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I love you.” And on any given day or week or season of life, Jesus might do something completely different for us. But it’s definitely not by a standard recipe.
As we walk about our days let’s not be afraid to go a little bit rogue, to swap corn chips for nuts, to say, “no,” to this, or “yes” to that, even if none of our friends or family or neighbors are or aren’t doing it. Let’s keep chatting with Jesus on a daily basis. Let’s walk in the freedom Jesus offers us–freedom to be our true selves, the people He created us to be, not like “him” or “her” or “them” or someone confined to a recipe on the back of a box. Because Jesus offers us so much more.
And…if you’re looking for a fun, free Bible study to do by yourself or with your group this summer, I teamed up with some amazing Bible teachers last year to put together Summer in the Psalms. God welcomes emotional honesty for the gift that it is: a step towards deeper intimacy with Him. In this 5-week study )complete with workbook and videos) we share a few of our favorite psalms and invite you to pray and process with us in God’s presence. Welcome. For free access to the study click HERE.
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I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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This year I rediscovered my love of bookstores. In 2020 almost everything I purchased was online, including groceries. In 2021 I was able to return to places where I could preview my produce before adding it to my cart and try on clothes before taking them home. The kind of shop I most appreciated being able to return to were bookstores. There’s a lovely one in Nashville called Parnassus Books. My daughter and I popped in one day for a look around, which became over an hour of picking up book after book, feeling the different weights of a sturdy hardcover and a handy paperback in our hands. Ogling the covers as if they were candy. Delighting in familiar titles we’d read before and finding so so many books we wanted to read.
New books, new stories to dive into, more things to learn, fresh ways to examine old truths always bring me joy. A trip to a bookstore is therapeutic for my soul, but it is in the actual reading of the books, the turning of the pages, and the processing of the words that the magic happens. I don’t know how many books I read in 2021, because I did a horrible job of noting and reviewing them on my Goodreads account. Oops. But, I know I turned thousands of pages of both fiction and nonfiction. I read the books my kids were reading for school, the books that caught my eye, the books my author friends wrote, the books someone suggested, and books that would help me with my work. I learned and explored and savored them. Below are my favorite reads of 2021. I hope they help you discover a new read for your to-read pile.
The Water Keeper and The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin
These two tied. They are books one and two in the Murphy Shepherd series and I listened to the audio books back to back. Charles Martin has been a favorite of mine for years. His writing is exquisite and soulful. The way he tells hard, meaningful stories and weaves the love of Jesus naturally into the tales always causes me to pause, cry, stop, or pray mid-chapter, and then eagerly return to the story, because I need to know what happens next. If you haven’t read these two yet. Add them to your list. The third one in the series releases in July and I can’t wait to dive in.
Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly
I didn’t think I needed this book. I felt okay with my body. I thought. But then several friends mentioned Jess Connolly’s new book had brought them freedom. I’ve been a fan of Jess and her writing for a while, so I got it. And I read it. And I, too, found freedom. Turns out, most of us have some issues with our bodies–whether that’s a scar or a size or a shape or something our bodies did or didn’t do or could or couldn’t do that brought us shame. Jess reminds us of this truth, “Your body is a good body.” She backs up that truth with the fact that God made it. He made my body and your body and all our bodies to move and laugh and make things. And because God made our bodies–they’re good. It’s simple, but I lose sight of it. Most people I know are frustrated with their bodies in some way. This beautiful reframing of all the good our bodies can do, and all the things God allows us to do with them, like hug someone we love or read or listen to a story, is good not just for our bodies, but also for our souls.
Best Kids Book:
The Grumbles by Amy Parker and Tricia Goyer
The Grumbles makes me giggle. It’s all about a family named the Grumbles who, well, grumbles. I see my own family (and my own grumbling) on the beautifully illustrated pages. Then Grandma Grateful steps in to save the day! (Isn’t the grandma always the hero?) She reminds us all to shine love to others, to be thankful for all we have. This darling story encourages us to stop grumbling, and instead be thankful. When we are, our gratitude is contagious! Sure, the book was written for kids, but this book is a great reminder for all of us to shine Christ’s love and grace and toss our grumbling in the garbage.
Your turn. I’d love to hear your favorite reads of the year, so I can add them to my stack for 2022. Happy New Year! May it be filled with wonderful reads and the incredible love of Christ Jesus.
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“One of the girls in the class has her own cupcake business. One of the boys takes apart computers and puts them back together. One girl did research on the effects of mental health and sports. Another guy loved playing Gaga Ball at camp so much that he researched where the game came from, and then dove into other traditions of that culture.” I was explaining Maguire’s Passion Project, an assignment to research and present on anything you’re passionate about, to my oldest daughter, Maddie.
“What did Maguire do?” she asked.
“He did his on reducing the carbon footprint of his school to neutral by 2040 in a three-phase program.”
“Wow! Who are these cool kids?” Maddie asked on the other end of the phone. “I’m pretty sure no one in my class was that cool at that age.”
“I bet they were. If you guys had this assignment, you would have seen it. I think that’s the point,” I answered. “Everyone is actually cool, super cool, when you see the passions God put in their hearts.”
But often we look at others' coolness and think it outranks ours. It doesn’t.
Sometimes we shy away from sharing the things we’re passionate about, because we fear others will think we’re weird or won’t understand. Or we discount the value of the fact that we’ve perfected a recipe for meringues or that HGTV contacted us about making a pilot about our home business (I swear this happened to one of my friends) or that we play the saxophone or tap maple trees on our property to get actual syrup. But all this stuff is cool and important to building God’s kingdom in a zillion different ways. We need to pursue our passions and use our gifts, because God entrusted them to us to make a difference.
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. -- 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
God created each and every one of us and put all this awesome different stuff inside us----my next door neighbor is a professor who studies what people wore throughout history and how culture and current events affect wardrobe, a friend of ours rides in hot air balloon events several times a year, and my brother, who’s a corporate finance attorney, invented AxePaxe, a case specially designed for guitar accessories. All this is incredibly cool and awesome and creative and adds color and knowledge and perspective and whimsy to the world God created.
What is your gift? How are you using it to show who God is?
When we think of the disciples sometimes we marvel at how cool they must have been--to be invited to spend three years traveling, working and living with Jesus. What special traits did they possess? Well, they were pretty special, just like you and I are. But God thinks we’re all incredibly awesome. In fact, the disciples were all different from one another. Matthew was great at numbers. Simon had zeal. John had child-like faith. Thomas liked to have proof. Some were fishermen. Some weren’t. Some were married. Some single. Some educated. Some not. Jesus called them from numerous towns in a variety of ways. God created each disciple in His image and gave them specific talents that would help build His kingdom. And Jesus knew each disciple had varying traits, strengths, and passions that would make them His very best companions and the perfect people to tell the world about Him. Same with you and me today. The kingdom needs all of us!
So there you have it. You are one of the cool kids. You’re one of God’s chosen people. Not because of your test score or where you live or how you dress. Not because of who you’re connected to or what your title is or how many followers you have. You’re one of the cool kids, simply because God created you. Because He made you in His image and poured all the things He wanted you to have into your mind, heart and body. He intentionally gave you special unique gifts. You lack nothing to do the work God has called you to do. For some of us that’s having a booth at the farmer’s market or maybe doing market research. For others that’s managing funds or organizing fundraisers. You aren’t supposed to be like them or have their passions. You are you.
You have been given something special that shows the world another glimpse of who God is. How are you going to show it off today?
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Today I have the honor of having the beautiful, talented and wise, Elisa Morgan, sharing an excerpt from her best-selling book, Hello, Beauty Full for the blog....
Most of us don’t think we’re beautiful. In fact, a recent poll revealed that 96% of women globally would never use the word beautiful to describe themselves.
Even women (and men) who know they are made in the image of God. Women (and men) like you and me.
Beautiful? No…instead we feel not enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not spiritual enough.
I know. What I see is not beauty but the world of ugly within.
I say, “I’ll pray!” and I don’t.
I forget about the suffering in the world, even after I’ve seen suffering up close and personal. And then I go ahead and buy another purse, pair of shoes, trinket for my home.
I wake up in the middle of the night and worry.
I think I’m better than others when my life goes well, even though I know full well that I’m not.
I eat too many Doritos. I watch too many episodes of The Queen’s Gambit.
I assume I’m the only one.
The only lonely one.
The only depressed one.
The only one who doesn’t know the answers. The only one who feels like a failure.
I don’t like my body.
I like some people more than others—a lot more than others. I pretend to be interested when I’m not.
I’m jealous when someone’s life goes better than mine.
I want to just stay in bed on some days.
I’m ugly. At least there are plenty of ugly parts of me. “Beautiful?” HA.
Some words I read a while back from Brennan Manning’s classic book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, seep up into my thoughts. Manning reported a 1677 prophecy to a thirty-four-year-old widow in Lynn, Massachusetts. God’s words to her way back then—and maybe to us in this moment? “More pleasing to Me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”
I may think ugly thoughts and feel ugly feelings and do ugly things, but to God, I am filled with beauty and therefore beauty full. He holds out three words and calls me to receive them, knowing that when I see myself the way he sees me, I will be free to be who he made me to be and to live the life he made me to live.
Hello, Beauty Full.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who pushes away God’s pronouncement of personal value. Likely you do too. Likely you embrace the ugly and discard the beauty in yourself. And likely you feel incredibly inadequate, stuck, and even alone.
Here’s what we need to know in order to live the lives we were made to live: God loves us. He sees us through Jesus: beauty full. He wants us to see ourselves the way he sees us. We struggle with embracing such a thing. But the truth is, when we don’t embrace how God sees us, we don’t embrace God. We miss out on the very lives he created us to enjoy—and died to make sure we could experience. When we do embrace how God sees us—beauty full—we are freed to live loved, and in so doing, we love God back.
Three words reveal how God sees us – through Jesus – and how he invites us to see ourselves.
Hello. Beauty. Full.
Yes, I am.
And yes, you are too.
Elisa Morgan (MDiv) was named by Christianity Today as one of the top fifty women influencing today’s church and culture. She has authored over twenty-five books including The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, She Did What She Could and When We Pray Like Jesus. Her newest book, You Are Not Alone: Six Affirmations from a Loving God, releases in the Fall of 2021.
For twenty years, Elisa served as CEO of MOPS International and now is President Emerita. She speaks internationally, writes for Our Daily Bread Devotional and co-hosts Discover the Word radio and the podcast God Hears Her for Our Daily Bread Ministries.
You can find out more about Elisa, book her to speak at your event and sign up for her blog, Really, which reaches thousands at www.elisamorgan.com. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@elisamorganauthor) and on Twitter (@elisa_morgan).
“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.
Laura L. Smith