Did you know there are two locations for Manchester University in Indiana?
Neither did we.
So we plugged Manchester U (not the futbol club) into our map app and drove two hours and forty-five minutes to cheer our daughter on in her college soccer game. About five minutes away from campus my husband asked if I could specifically type in the soccer field, because sometimes locating the field in the middle of a campus can be tricky. As I typed three addresses starting with Manchester University popped up within a mile of our location and another one came up forty-five minutes away. Wait! What? There are two locations for the same school?
I quickly checked my FindMy app to see where our girl was. Not five minutes but forty-five minutes away – at the other location for Manchester University. We quickly rerouted.
Needless to say, my husband and I arrived late to the game, but just in time to see our girl’s team score the only goal of the game, and therefore the winning goal. It was a spectacular fall day all warm sunshine and golden leaves. My husband and I went for a short stroll at halftime stretching our legs and watched an exciting second half in its entirety. We got to hug and congratulate our daughter after her game, telling her how proud we were of her. Plus Brett and I got to spend over six hours together on a fall Saturday–bonus! In the car we listened to a sermon and some worship music, shared stories, ate the pj&j’s and crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market I’d packed as our lunch. We stopped and got chocolate covered pretzels at a gas station for the ride home. Also we laughed. A lot.
The day was definitely not how we planned it. It was stressful, not gonna lie, when we realized we’d driven to the wrong place, that after all our planning and leaving early and being in the car we were going to miss the first part of the game. The air in the car was tense as we raced to the second location of Manchester University. But it ended up being a spectacular day. Not because of anything my husband and I did. But because God is good.
Sometimes in life we go the wrong way. We get off course. We think we’re supposed to take that job, move to that city, work on that project, volunteer for that committee, join that club, only to figure out that actually that’s not where God wants us to be or how we’ll best thrive.
The good news? God will always let us know when we’re off course. Always steer us back to where we should be headed. Because He wants goodness for us.
This is how God always operates.
God told Jonah the prophet to go to Nineveh but he didn’t want to, so Jonah headed the opposite direction. When this didn’t work out so well, God caused a storm to toss around the boat Jonah was running away on. Jonah knew the storm was God’s way of saying, “You’re going the wrong way.” Feeling guilty, Jonah actually had the other folks on board throw him overboard to save themselves. They complied. The storm ceased. The boat was saved. And Jonah got swallowed by a big fish where he stayed for three very smelly days. Jonah prayed and the fish spit him out on dry land.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.-Jonah 3:1-3
Good thinking, Jonah.
Jonah went the wrong way.
God stopped him. Saved him. And got Jonah back on track.
The prophet Isaiah sums it up like this:
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
See, God wants us to go the right way in big things and little things. He wants us to walk towards life, hope, joy, grace, peace, and redemption. And God loves us so much He doesn’t try to force His agenda on us, but lets us choose every single day. And sometimes we choose wrong. Some days it’s because we’re stubborn like Jonah, and want our own way. Other days we’re confused or misled or truly don’t have any idea that, for example, Manchester University has two locations. But because God is so good, He steps in and gives us the chance to get back on track again and again.
God also uses our missteps and turns them into good things (in Jonah’s case the other people on the boat who originally worshiped false gods ended up praying to, worshiping, and making promises to the One True God–not a bad outcome).
God always wants us at the right game, the right city, with the right people to make the right choices. He is such a good and loving father that He’ll nudge and prompt and when we go the wrong way redirect and give us a fresh start. So we might end up in Nineveh or a random town in Indiana, but if we ask Him, our Good Father will tell us which way to walk. And when we listen? Things change. We end up in the right places with the right people doing the right things–things that make us whole and feel loved and find purpose. His kingdom prevails. Goodness and mercy abound.
So let’s ask God before we move today. Let’s choose to the best of our ability to go where He sends us. If we aren’t certain, then let’s start moving and ask God to turn us around if we’re going the wrong way.
Which way will you go today? I hope you don’t end up at the wrong site of a University in Indiana or even worse the belly of a giant fish. But remember, if you do mess up, you can call out to Jesus and better than any map app, He will redirect your steps.
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Does someone you care about struggle with their mental health (maybe even you)? If so, how can you help?
Seeking help from a mental health professional is always the best and most important first step. But you can make a difference right now. Where should you start?
1. Take care of their physical needs. Our mental health wobbles when we’re not taking care of ourselves, so basic self care is a great place to start. Are they eating enough? Sleeping enough? Moving their bodies? Are they staying hydrated?
If not, help out how you can. Bring the person you care about a charcuterie tray or a meal or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants. Deliver a goodie bag of their favorite hydrating beverages–La Croix or some other flavored fizzy water or a box of their favorite tea with a jar of local honey. Invite them on a walk or a bike ride or to kick the soccer ball around with you (it is World Cup season, after all). Suggest they get some sleep–go to bed early, take a nap, etc.
Jesus did this. He fed crowds (John 6:5-13). He made sure the disciples were eating and resting (Mark 6:31). He cared about the people around Him and their basic needs. We can too.
2. Be a calming presence. Lean back, breathe deeply and slowly, speak in a calm voice, light a candle, or play some soft music. We live in a loud, hurried world. Show the person you love what peace looks like–that it is available.
Jesus calmed the storms at sea, showing the disciples peace was accessible to them even when they least expected it (Mark 4:35-41). We can also offer the people we care about a glimpse of calm.
3. Check in. When we’re alone is when our thoughts tend to spiral. We worry about the what ifs instead of focusing on the now. When we’re alone is when Satan loves to slither in and whisper lies to us. Make sure you’re not alone and the people you care about aren’t alone, that they have someone to talk to. Remind them that they are seen. That they matter.
Jesus made sure the disciples traveled in pairs, not solo (Luke 10:1). Jesus approached people no one else would consider speaking to or even getting near. He didn't want them to feel isolated (John 4:7-27, Matthew 8:1-3). From the get go God knew it wasn't good for people to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We can follow Jesus’ lead and send the text, better yet make the call, even better knock on and open doors to make sure the people we care about are doing okay. If you’re worried about someone’s safety, seek professional help immediately.
4. Pray. There’s just nothing like prayer. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things is just waiting for you to talk to Him. He loves you and every single person on earth so very much. He created us all. He died for us all. He cares about our mental health. Jesus wants to flood us with hope, joy, and peace. When we talk to Jesus, it sets things in motion. Prayer costs nothing. It doesn’t require any knowledge or skill set. All you have to do is start telling Jesus what’s on your mind.
Peter, one of Jesus’ very best friends, tells us: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter saw first hand that Jesus cares so much about you and me, that we can hand over all our troubles and fears and concerns to Him. Ask Jesus to help the people you love(and yourself) with their mental health. I’ll get us started: Dear Jesus, please flood me and ______ with your peace, hope, and love.
5. Grab them a copy of my new book, 5 MInute Devotions for Teens: A Guide to God and Mental Health
It releases one week from today! I wrote this book as a way for people to quickly connect with Jesus, and in doing so, also care for their mental health. The short devotions are catered to teens, but early readers are saying, “It’s great for ALL ages, even adults.” Each page has a Bible verse, devotion, and prayer or activity. These books make great stocking stuffers for kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, anyone you love. Maybe even sneak an extra in your own stocking.
It’s amazing how many scientific tips for caring for our mental health are Biblical. Jesus loves us so much. He always has our best interest in mind, and cares so much about our mental health. Praying for you, for your mental health, and for the mental health of those you love.
I feel the change in the air, the sweet scent of leaves mingled with a crispness signaling the cooler temperatures. And I see it all around me, too. Golden sunflowers and vibrant yellow mums. Bright orange pumpkins. Leaves morphing from green to scarlet. Autumn wreaths and pumpkin decorations on neighbor’s doors and local stores. And I taste it. In the crunchy apples from the farmers market bursting with flavor and pumpkin spice everything from lip gloss to lattes.
But I feel it differently, too. Not just in the air and the inner call to pull out a cozy sweater, but in my heart, in my soul. There is a change in the air, because God is on the move and He has something new for us this fall, for you and for me. Something good. No matter what your circumstances.
What is it? That’s probably different for all of us.
How do we detect it?
By spending time with Jesus.
What does that look like?
Make a List
What do you want to do this fall? What do you need to do this fall? What are you excited about? Worried about? Big things and little things. Are you starting a podcast or beginning chemo? Moving across the country or moving your body more? Painting a room or a downtown mural? Or trying some new routines or routes or recipes? Is there someone or something that makes you so happy or that’s heavy on your heart? Write it ALL down.
Open your Bible.
The Bible is God’s Living Word. It’s Him speaking to us today, even though it was written ages ago. How does that work? Well, God is God so He can do things like that. When we read the Bible, God reveals things to us. Broad ideas about who He is (loving, faithful, powerful, kind). And also, the Living Word speaks directly to our current situations. God uses what’s there on the pages to enlighten, lead, encourage, heal, and strengthen us today in all those things we wrote on our fall lists.
Talk to Jesus
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to Him with your emotions, ideas, concerns, fears, and excitement. Anything and everything that’s on your mind, that you wrote on your list, and the things that you couldn’t even bring yourself to write you can bring to Him, just like you can tell the person you trust most in the world, only better. Jesus said, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) ” He’s not judging you. He wants to save you.
What were the goals and concerns on your list? Take them to Jesus! Are you annoyed with someone at work or school? Struggling with your physical or mental health? Have a new schedule or situation that has you feeling uncertain? Talk to Jesus about it. Are you so proud of your kid or excited about your promotion or just so dang happy you get to wear your favorite pair of boots again? Share it with Jesus! He also wants to laugh and celebrate with you. Do you have a new project or idea or roommate? Are you teaching or taking a class? Talk to Jesus about it. Let Him inspire and energize you, guide your steps and give you strength for everything you face this fall.
Open your eyes
Intentionally look for ways to find Jesus in all the things on your list.
For me fall includes soccer games and cross country meets for my kids. Does this mean a busy schedule? Yes. It. Does. Does it mean a lot of driving around the tristate area and eating meals in the car as we to and fro? Of course. And I want to embrace every single moment of it. What a blessing that I can cheer my kiddos on, that God has given them to me, that He’s allowing them to do things that light them up, that He’s given them friends on their teams and coaches who motivate them. My mom also loves to cheer for the kids, so Jesus gives Mom and I built-in excuses to see each other when she comes to a game or meet. Blessing upon blessing!
Sure, I have a lot to get done this fall–from edits to paperwork to chapters that need written and a book that releases in December (more to come on that soon), plus all the normal day to day stuff like laundry and groceries, but it’s all good work–work God has put in front of me, and I’m so grateful for it. And also…my oldest is coming home for a week this fall and already I can’t wait to go on walks in the woods and sip coffee with her. In the autumn our family eats dinner on the porch and usually finds a hayride or corn maze. We’ll get apple cider and bake pumpkin bread. Thank you Jesus for all the above!
In our college town everything changes in the fall, because the students come back. Which means fewer parking spots and longer lines at the bagel shop, but also the entire town has more energy. The university hosts events and shows and speakers. Our college age son leads worship, and I adore going early on Friday mornings and praising Jesus in a room full of college kids. I’m so grateful God lets me live in a college town! I want to inhale the vibrancy it offers. I want to meet and chat with the students and learn from their perspectives and hear their stories. Where has Jesus put you? How can you live it to the fullest?
What can you embrace about all those things on your fall list?
There is beauty and goodness all around you. Open up, not just your eyes, but your five senses to the crowd cheering at a fall sporting event, the sweet and tart, crunchy and chewy of a caramel apple, the challenge and thrill of a new assignment, the people you meet in an unexpected situation, a breeze pulling a leaf from a tree branch. Watch it spiraling and float to the ground. Jesus’ love and goodness is all around you!
Then repeat the whole process. Go back to your list. Back to your Bible. Back to Jesus. And again and again open your eyes to the ways Jesus is actively loving you.
All four seasons hold such hope and promise–there is a change in the air and in the possibilities. Including this fall. God has so much goodness waiting for you –even if you’re in a battle, even if you feel alone, even if you’re exhausted. God still has goodness for you in this season. Start your list and let Him show you.
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I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in Nashville. I was blessed to be on a panel at a fabulous writing conference, meet some new author friends, hear some great content, catch up with one of my very best friends in the world, and spend some amazing time with my daughter who moved to Nashville over the summer. Maddie and I shared scrumptious meals, went for an awesome run on a crisp November morning, talked and laughed and giggled, ate Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (think Oreos with candy cane filling) from Trader Joes and tried to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie but fell asleep. It was jam packed and fun and exhilarating.
I cried as I was leaving the house. Because in order to go to Nashville and do all those marvelous things, I had to miss my younger daughter’s soccer tournament in North Carolina and two out of four of my youngest son’s performances of A Christmas Carol where he played both Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley.
You see, there’s only one of me. And even though I would love to be multiple places at once, I can’t. I’m just a person. A well intentioned person, but a person nonetheless. My heart felt like it was being ripped in pieces--one excited, joyful part headed to Nashville for a conference and to be with Maddie and to experience all the awesomeness I described above plus two sad, achy pieces knowing I wouldn’t be able to support two of my other kids in things that really matter to them.
It’s a dilemma many of us face. And as we head into the holidays with Thanksgiving tomorrow and then the full, beautiful Christmas season right on its turkey feathered tail, most of us are trying to do too much. Most of us feel pulled a bit thin. Like there’s not enough of us to do all the things we’re supposed to or would like to do.
But here’s the great, amazing, incredible news.
We don’t have to.
Jesus tell us, ““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”--2 Corinthians 12:9
So, I think I need a time turner or another one of me or eighty four more hours this week or another pair (or two) of hands, and Jesus says, His grace is all we need. Let that sink in. You don’t need anything else. You see, it’s Christ’s grace that whispers to our hearts, “You don’t have to do it all or be all the things. I love you for exactly who you are, even if the house isn’t clean or you fumble on your test or you miss a workout, email or meeting. I love you if you’re tired. I love you if you’re late. I love you if you get carryout or buy something from the store or whip up a box of mac and cheese as the “item you bring to the Thanksgiving meal.”
And that next part? Even though we’re trained by culture to believe we shouldn’t show our weaknesses, Jesus says, those places? The places where we’re lacking--when we don’t know how to handle the conflict with the family member we’re sure to see, when we wish we could visit everyone in our hometown but don’t have the time or energy, when we yell at our kids or burn the pies or our mental or physical health issue flairs up making us incapable of doing anything at all--these are the places Jesus shines. His power is perfect. When we stop trying to be perfect, He can step in and give us the right words, help us bite our tongues, remind us it’s okay to rest and ask for help. When we let our guard down and stop trying to be superheroes we can receive the love, peace, grace, patience, forgiveness and so much more Jesus offers.
For those of you who have been following along on the blog or on my social media, you know over the last month I’ve been on a gratitude journey, intentionally being grateful. As we dive headfirst into Thanksgiving and then Christmas and all the wonderful and multiple things that go with that. I want to continue. And I believe that starts with being grateful for Christ’s grace. That it’s ALL we need. It’s all we need when we bake, shop, wrap, send, prepare, decorate. It’s all we need as we try to juggle our work, volunteering, and other commitments, as well as all the extra things we do from now until year end. Jesus’ power is perfect. Therefore ours doesn’t need to be. Thank goodness, because it can’t be. Never will. But Jesus is so loving and good that He uses His perfect power to fill in all our cracks, tie our loose ends, hold us up and hold us tight. This Thanksgiving (and every day) let’s be thankful for all the blessings God gives us. Let’s start by exhaling and being grateful for His all sufficient grace.
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This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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This year I’ve been working on a book about music and the church and our roots. I’ve been writing the chapters out of order, which is not my style, but I knew how I wanted it to end, and there was something I wanted to change in the middle, and another chapter needed to go bye-bye and be replaced. I was working off two documents—the beautiful, polished one I’ll send my editor, and the one with lots of notes, some ideas for later, some reminders for now. So I kind of knew where I was with the project, but not completely. I thought I had at least three full chapters to write, plus edits as I pulled up the manuscript on my laptop. I was all set to start a new chapter, when one I’d been doing a major remodel on caught my eye.
I spent the day reworking the words—their order, the story they told. And when it took the shape I was hoping for, I added that chapter to my pretty document, and scrolled through. All thirty chapters had been written. What?!
I’m not saying I didn’t have some major editing to do, just that the first draft was complete, which is huge. And I didn’t even realize I’d crossed the finish line. I looked at the sky, blue and clear on the other side of the screen on my porch, and whispered, “thank you,” to Jesus, because He’s the one who gave me this book and He’s the one who truly wrote it. I just took dictation.
A completed draft is not a finished project, so I kept going, organizing the table of contents, fixing some footnotes. I didn’t take time to high five myself or journal or go beyond that one whispered phrase of gratitude. I’d save that for when I turned it in. Plus we were leaving that afternoon for an out of town soccer tournament. I still had to pack, grab a few things from the store, fill my car with gas. So, I kept going. And going.
Fast forward to that evening. I’d arrived in Columbus where the soccer games would start early the next morning. And because God is so good, my incredibly talented and lovely friend, Holly Starr, was playing a show in Columbus. Which is a huge deal, because she lives on the other side of the country, and we rarely get to see each other. But here God was—giving us this night for a hug, shared conversation, and the beautiful opportunity for me to witness her using her God-given talent. Holly sang some tunes off her latest album, Human. She sang some familiar worship music everyone knew. Her last song was “Give Me Jesus.” Which just happened to be the title of one of my book chapters.
Her rendition felt so raw and personal, like it was a gift from God, wrapped up with a shiny silver bow and delivered specifically for me. I’m sure others in the audience benefited from the reminder…but in that moment…you could have all this world, all I wanted was Jesus. He was reminding me of what happened that day—that He had given me a large assignment, walked with me every step of the way, and because I was willing to be obedient, He did a thing, a glorious thing—He wrote a book with me. And in the writing Jesus taught me so much. I felt like I would burst with appreciation.
The pastor of the church took the mic, said a prayer, and invited anyone who needed prayer to come forward while his wife sang a closing song. His adorable wife with short silver, curly hair and cherry red lips stood up and began, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus….” Yes. Oh my. I also referenced the lyrics to this song on a page of my book.
The book is about all kinds of things Jesus wants us to know, all kinds of ways we can connect with Him. And yet, the final two songs of a night that already felt like a present were straight from the conversations I’d been having with God as I wrote it. If gratitude was a liquid, my cup was running over.
This is how our God works. We go through the motions—did I pack toothpaste? And He sets up a Christmas tree packed with presents. We think, okay, check, I did that task, and He says, “Let’s celebrate! Look how wonderful things work out when we collaborate!”
I didn’t deserve to have the chance to write this book, yet I'd been spending my days penning the pages. I didn’t deserve to learn everything God taught me in the writing, yet I was full of a deeper understanding than when I began. I didn’t deserve to finish it before I thought I was done. I was ready to do more, but it was as if God wrote extra pages while I was sleeping or cooking dinner or driving carpools. I didn’t deserve to see my friend. I didn’t coordinate calendars or book a flight, but here she was smiling in front of me. And oh these beautiful songs that stirred my soul, I didn’t deserve to hear them, but God lavished them on me, like mounds of home made whipped cream, light and sweet, on top of rich, chocolate lava cake.
I didn’t deserve any of it, but just like I love to shower my kiddos with gifts, treats, and surprises, our Heavenly Father loves to love on us.
So keep on writing, or running, or researching, or rehearsing. Keep on studying, stretching, being obedient to what God is calling you to do. I don’t know when or what it will look like (I wasn’t expecting any of the presents He showered on me), but I do know He will lavish you with undeserved gifts, blessings sweet, tangible, and endless. Just keep your eyes on Him. The things of earth will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
Over the weekend I was at a soccer tournament in Lexington. On Saturday the girls had three games. As we were leaving the hotel one of the other moms who I adore said, “Do you guys want to ride over to the fields with us? I mean, we have a bunch of chairs and things in the car, but we can move them around and make room for you.” Riding over with friends sounded great, plus I’m always looking for a way out of driving (not my strong suit), so we hopped in their SUV.
But first they had to prepare—make a little room for us, move some stuff around, or we wouldn’t have fit.
After the first game, we went to brunch at First Watch. (Oh my goodness, have you had their banana granola pancakes? If not, find a First Watch soon and give them a try—crunchy, sweet, and lightly drizzled with syrup, of course.) We put our name in at the hostess stand and had to wait a few minutes while they got a table ready for us. Someone else had to leave. The table needed to be wiped down. New menus and silverware needed to be set up. They needed to prepare some room for us before we could dine.
As we’re entering into Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas observed as a way to “get ready” for Jesus) I wonder what I need to be moving around, shifting over, getting rid of, setting out to make more room for Jesus in my life. The familiar Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World,” says it like this: Let every heart prepare Him room.
It’s not that I don’t have Jesus in my life. I do. I go to church, read my Bible, pray, but I also do a zillion other things. Make breakfast, pick up shirts from the dry cleaner, drive the curvy country roads to and from basketball practice, sign a permission slip so my teenager can watch 12 Years a Slave in class, call the pharmacy about a prescription… to name a few. And each of those things is great—feeding the fam, getting people where they need to go, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, at least some of them. But each workout I log, counter I wipe off, text I respond to is like another folding chair I throw in my trunk or another empty coffee mug on my table. Super handy for watching a soccer game or waking up, but making my life a little more crowded. And if I want Jesus to hop in my figurative car or sit at my table with me, I’m going to have to move some things around to make room for Him.
Over 2,000 years ago Mary and Joseph had the best surprise for the entire world going. Mary was pregnant and about to give birth to the Savior of the World! Get. Out! This was the promise the Israelites had been waiting for for centuries (it had been over 500 years since the last of the great Jewish prophets telling how God would come down to save His people, Malachi, put down his quill). But yet, there was no room for them in the inn. —Luke 2:8
No room? For the promised Messiah? For the guy everyone had hoped for, prayed for, yearned for? We hear these verses every Christmas and imagine exhausted Mary and Joseph wandering around Bethlehem with their gray, fuzzy donkey. But do we let the “no room” part sink in? Not just that it was super frustrating to not be able to find a hotel--ugh. And not just that poor Mary had to give birth on prickly hay in a barn that smelled like cows, no thank you. Those are important details of the story, for sure. But so is this one. All of the folks in town who were craving a Savior, who were longing for a Messiah? Not one of them was able to find room in their busy lives, in their crowded homes for Jesus to actually enter and do what He does—love. They didn’t have room. And they weren’t willing to prepare any.
So how about us? If Jesus came knocking on our doors today, would we have time in our schedules to hang out with Him? What would we have to rearrange to make room for Jesus in our days? Skip an episode of This is Us? Use an absent pass from the staff meeting? Get someone else to drive carpool? Be okay with not vacuuming? Order pizza?
Because here’s the thing. Jesus is knocking at our doors. Right now. Literally as I write this blog and you read it. He’s saying, “Don’t you just love all the twinkly lights at Christmas time?” Or, “Wow, we haven’t talked in a while, but I miss hearing from you.” Or maybe, “Hey, I know things have been rough lately. Do you want to talk?” And Jesus is waiting to see if we’ll answer the door. Are we too busy? Is our life too noisy to even hear Him knocking?
I don’t know what takes up too much time in your life, what’s a distraction from hearing His voice. But as I look at my life, the first thing that comes to mind is social media. Which I enjoy. And can be fun and helpful. But also on social media, I can totally lose track of time, translation waste valuable time, AND end up playing the comparison game, which never ends well. Plus if I could limit my time on social media, my brain would be less cluttered with the zillions of quotes and images that flash past my eyes and then immediately dissolve, AND I could be more focused on Jesus. I could have at least fifteen or so more minutes a day to pray, stop and think, or take a deep breath and talk to Jesus. So this is where I’m starting to prepare Him room. But I still have more preparing to do.
Maybe for you it’s not eliminating something, but actually intentionally doing something—setting that table or opening the door He’s knocking on by grabbing your Bible, putting aside time each day to pray, or setting the alarm one day a week to meet with that friend who is so good for your soul.
I don’t know what “chairs you need to move in your car,” or what air mattress you might need to blow up in your figurative inn. But I do know Jesus is knocking. He wants to hang out. Yup, even though that one part of your life is a mess, and that other thing you did isn’t quite resolved. Jesus just wants to come in. He doesn’t ask for anything fancy. Remember, where He made his debut was a stable. Jesus just wants to come in, so He can do what Jesus does. Love.
Will you prepare Him room?
What can you do today, to clear out some space for Jesus?
If you want to chat more about Advent, find me on Facebook and Instagram where I'll be chatting all things Advent and Christmas.
Oh my. So many pairs of pink soccer socks! All the soccer moms were asked to sign up for different tasks for the team this year—concessions, ball girls, etc. It was obvious to me the slot I needed to fill was to organize the “Kick Cancer” games, because breast cancer tugs at my heart. My grandmother and aunt both lost their lives to the disease. And although I never met my grandmother, and barely knew my aunt, their battles and their courage will always be a page of my story.
We got permission from the athletic commissioner to “break uniform” and have the kids wear pink socks on their game days as a symbol of their support and to raise awareness. But for some reason I never imagined a box with seventy-five pairs of soccer socks on my porch. Thank you UPS man.
I also never imagined how God would remind me of His behind-the-scenes goodness through the process.
In the midst of planning, I was chatting with the representative from Pink Ribbon Girls who provides FREE direct services such as meals, housecleaning, transportation and peer support to families in our area battling breast and women’s reproductive cancer. You guys, they do such great work, check them out pronto! The rep was telling me how they had recently been working at a car show selling raffle tickets to benefit their organization. I’m not sure of the details, but she mentioned it was 98 degrees. She went on to say they’d been sitting there in the intense heat for what seemed like for-ever and hadn’t sold a ticket. The volunteers started looking at each other and asking what in the world they were doing there. And then a woman approached.
The woman shared with the volunteers how she had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, and therefore curious about what Pink Ribbon Girls was all about, and by the way, she had no idea how she was going to get to her treatments. There and then the volunteers got to tell the woman about all of the free services they offer to people like her, including rides to appointments. What? They got the lady signed up on the spot and encouraged her with stories of women they personally knew who had also been diagnosed with Stage 4, but had kicked cancer. Their day hadn’t been about raffle tickets at all. It had been about loving on this woman. God used them bigger and better than they could have imagined.
This is how God always works. He doesn’t just think outside of the box. God thinks outside of the dimension. I think we live in 3-D, and He lives in 7-D, or probably more like 7X70-D. We can’t begin to wrap our minds around what He has in store, how He’s going to use us, what He’s doing behind the scenes. These women signed up to sell raffle tickets at a car show. God used them to offer hope to one of the very women they long to serve. God is using you, too. Whether you can see it or not. Let's just say God ties pink ribbons way better than we do.
Are you working part time at the job you wish was full time? God is using you there and now on purpose.
Are you sending out resumes like it’s your job, yet you’re still unemployed? God is at work.
Are you gritting your teeth every time you pass your seemingly unbearable boss? God is behind the scenes here.
Are you waiting to hear back, refreshing your phone every six minutes, and until you do hear you feel like everything is in limbo? It’s not. God is working in one of those other dimensions you don’t see.
The teams sold a load of t-shirts, raised a nice chunk of change for Pink Ribbon Girls, and got involved in the cause. All great things. But God did and is doing so much more. My mom (whose mother and sister are the ones we lost to breast cancer) just happened to be able to visit us the night of this week’s game. Pure blessing that we could share this together. Guess what? As it turns out, we don’t actually control our calendars. God does. I met the sweetest lady from Pink Ribbon Girls who I swear I will adore forever. Because I worked hard to get the “right” volunteer? Nope. Because God knew that she and I would hit it off and matched us to work at this thing together. Y’all it was a soccer game, but hurting women in our area will be served just how God knows they need it most, because God can use a t-shirt or a soccer game to show His amazing grace. And as if He hadn’t proved to me how BIG and ALMIGHTY He is already, my sweet Savior wrapped up the evening in a giant pink ribbon.
God is bigger than you or me. He’s bigger than a raffle or a Kick Cancer event. Yeah, He’s even bigger than cancer. Way bigger. And stronger, too. Whatever that thing is He’s called you to do, He’s in it, He’s making things happen, better things than you could plan out in your planner. Trust in Him and His ways. And watch Him turn raffle tickets into outreach, socks into love, and so very much more.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:8-9
Tomorrow is a new day, filled with endless possibilities for how God might flip something mundane in your life into something marvelous. I don’t know what’s on your calendar. For me, it’s my annual mammogram—ladies, if you haven’t gotten yours, schedule it today. I don’t know what else is on God’s planner tomorrow, no way of knowing what He’s up to, but I’m so excited to see it, so excited to see how He’ll invite me into the process. Because I know His ways and thoughts are way higher than mine, or yours, or our favorite podcaster’s or preacher’s. Listen to Him. Trust in Jesus. He will use you. And it will be more beautiful than all the pink ribbons in the world.
We’re officially full into soccer season at our house. One college player plus one varsity player plus one junior varsity player equals lots of games. Even I can do that math. Being the girl who did ballet growing up, I knew zero about this sport until I had kids who were old enough to play. Spectating all these games has taught me a thing or two, like even though soccer players typically train and play a specific spot on the field based on their specific skill set, players still need to be versatile. They need to be able to shift positions at any given moment.
One player for whatever reason needs a break; another gets subbed in their place. Only the new player doesn’t always take the spot of the player going out. Sometimes she or he will take their ideal position on the field, say mid-fielder, and the person playing mid-field has to shift back to fill the hole that now exists in defense or up to fill the new hole in offense. Sometimes coaches ask players to trade positions while the clock is ticking. No one comes off. No one goes in. Players just shift into different spots to better manage play against a certain player, team, or circumstance.
We need to do this in life, too—be versatile. Because life is always changing. Good changes and bad changes and some flat out curve balls. Sometimes a shift in our lives is easy or even a bonus. Since my oldest took her car with her to college her premium parking spot on the driveway was vacant. My teenage son had zero problems shifting off the street into this upgraded spot.
Some shifts are more challenging—a new dietary restriction, a physical ailment preventing us from doing activities we’re used to doing, a move to a new apartment or city, a new roommate, or a different job assignment or work schedule. Things we need to relearn altogether. Some changes require so much adjusting it feels like the planet is tilting. We all have experienced our personal tectonic plates. But here’s the thing. God never shifts.
What’s shifting in your life right now? How are you handling it?
If we’re playing in the starting line up or suddenly sitting the bench, if we’re playing our favorite position or shifted to a position we don’t love, God is our number one fan. He’s cheering for us complete with pompoms and a foam finger. If we feel great or are health has shifted and we’re battling an injury or illness God is still right beside us strong enough for us to lean on, right there to comfort our pain. If we’re with all of our favorite familiar people doing the things we love to do or if we have been moved to a different place filled with questions, God is reaching out His hand to us, ready to listen and hold us close, saying, “Sit with me. Talk to me. I want to hear all about it.”
Back to school for me is a major shift in virtually all the things. I go from four kids at home to a lot of empty space. I go from calm, quiet nights on the porch to exciting nights in various stadiums scattered around Ohio cheering at the aforementioned soccer games (plus we have one flag football player to keep things exciting). Heck the college town I live in does a complete shift starting today. We go from a quiet small town reminiscent of Mayberry in the summer to double our size when 15,000 college students return with their U-hauls packed with tapestries, Birkenstocks, and mini-fridges. Suddenly you can’t drive at all during class change. Boutiques load up with the cutest sweaters and scarves. Lines at Starbucks and Chipotle double in length. Parking spaces disappear. Stores that were closed all summer flip on their “open” signs. Kroger even stocks their shelves with better food.
In the school year I shop differently, cook differently, arrange my days, and even set the table differently. I look at the new ways I need to tackle things—the full calendar, the empty seat at the table, the kids being at school and momentarily panic. But God beckons me back. And when I answer His call and close my eyes to talk to Him or crack open my Bible to read His words, when I turn on worship music and sing along—there Jesus is, the same strong, powerful, loving, forgiving, caring, all knowing and understanding God that He has always been.
Jesus tells me:
I’m with you in this different thing.
You can handle the change with me.
Turn that worry over to me.
That detail is so trivial it doesn’t matter.
Let it go.
Did you hear Me say it doesn’t matter?
Embrace this new opportunity.
I’ll empower you to do this new thing.
I’ll equip you in this different situation.
I’ll hold your hand.
Yes, I know everything is different then it was or how you thought or what you hoped, but I’m not. I’m still the Alpha and the Omega and I still love you so fully that I will never forsake you.
He says all these things to you, too.
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
“Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation.” Matthew 7:24-27
Our lives might shift, shake, and rattle, but God is unshakable. No matter what is shifting in your life this week, this season, plant your feet firmly. Stand on Him and you will remain upright, loved, empowered to take on whatever comes your way.
Laura L. Smith