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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Well aren’t you the cat’s pajamas? That’s something my grandma would say, but I’m thinking about trying to bring it back. The phrase came from the 1920’s when flappers or anyone considered “stylish or cool” was given the nickname cat (think of the phrase “a cool cat”). And I guess, the cool or stylish person’s pj’s, well they were IT.
Cat’s Pajamas is also the name of a plant that blooms purple in the spring and summer here in Ohio. Two years ago when the world shut down, my girls were stuck at home and looking for ways to earn money, so my husband and I hired them to do our landscaping. The girls named their enterprise Two Sisters Landscaping. They weeded, mulched, mowed, and planted flowers in our yard. They were also responsible for the flowering pots that sit on our front porch. The girls went to Shademakers, our local home and garden store, which is incredible, and came home with Cat’s Pajamas which they planted in those pots.
The violet blooms looked lovely on our front porch. When summer faded to fall and the Cat’s Pajamas withered I replaced them with pots of mums. I’d like to say I did something green-thumbish about the situation but:
Then spring came and I was walking around the back to toss something in our compost heap when I noticed leafy green plants sprouting out of the abandoned pots. The Cat’s Pajamas had returned. Turns out they’re perennials. Who knew? It felt like a miracle. That these flowers my daughters had planted had come back to life. Without anyone watering or tending. Without anyone even looking at them. It felt significant.
So I took the plants out of their pots, dug holes in our flower beds, and gave them new permanent homes in our yard. They bloomed all last spring and summer, then again shriveled in the late fall. But look! They’re coming back to life again! Fresh green growth amidst dried out fronds.
It made me wonder what in my life could use some revitalization? What dried up and turned brown due to circumstances beyond my control like the cold, harsh months of winter? What have I let wither from neglect that could use some watering and sunshine? What felt too hard or like I couldn’t get to it or it simply fell off my radar? What can I bring back? What can I ask Jesus to help me bring back in my life? Because if Jesus can bring some abandoned flowers back to blooming each year, He can certainly do the same for us.
We’re in the midst of Lent, the season leading up to Easter, which means Easter is coming.
For Christians, Easter is the ultimate. It’s the day that Jesus conquered death and sin once and for all, that He erased our mistakes past, present, and future. It’s the day Jesus proved His exorbitant love for us in the most profound way–by giving His life for us. It’s also the day Jesus showed us we can conquer loss, pain, humiliation, devastation, betrayal. He walked out of that grave. And He wants us to walk out of anything dead or desolate in our lives.
When Jesus was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead he told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”--John 11:25-26
Resurrection and life! This is what Jesus offers anyone and everyone who believes. Yes, for eternity, but also for every aspect of our current lives!
What do you love that you’ve stopped doing? Who do you miss seeing? What practices that were really good for you like prayer, exercise, drinking enough water, stretching, reading your Bible have you slipped out of? What feels dry or brittle or shriveled or forgotten that God is calling you to bring back to life?
What if we all decided to be the Cat’s Pajamas? Because wouldn’t we be the coolest cats in town if we did a quick look over our lives and decided to revive laughter or weekly coffee dates with a friend? If we vowed to prune some dead branches and allow ourselves to bloom? Easter epitomizes resurrection and as we walk towards that day on our calendar, we can also walk towards our own resurrections, reviving what needs revived, and stepping into the glorious life-giving life Jesus offers.
I’d love to hear–what would you want to revive in your life?
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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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I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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These daffodils. They truly blow me away. There are countless bunches of them bursting in bright yellow all over my back yard. I didn’t plant a single one of them. I have never once watered, weeded, or fertilized them. And yet every single year they push up through the ground and flourish. They even miraculously multiply. All by themselves.
This is how Jesus operates.
Jesus reminds us that it’s not OUR work that gets things done, but His. Now, disclaimer, Jesus does ask us to work. We’ve talked about that here on the blog--for example, just last week and here in 2019. God commissioned mankind to “tend and watch over the garden (Genesis 2:15).” Clearly, we’re no longer in the Garden of Eden, but anything that consists of tending or watching over this world counts. Cutting someone’s hair is “tending” to a person who lives on this earth. Teaching someone a new skill or concept is “tending” to the knowledge of someone on this earth. Studying wave charts or babysitting or managing accounts or parenting all count as “watching over” things on this earth. God assigns us work. However…it is not all up to us. Never was. Never will be.
When a crowd of around 20,000 people who were listening to Jesus teach got hungry, Philip said, “Even if we WORKED for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:7. Another disciple named Andrew found a boy with two fish and five loaves. Jesus took that and not only fed the masses, but there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Andrew had to find the boy. He had to do some work, but it wasn’t up to Andrew to feed the crowd that would fill a soccer stadium. That’s where Jesus stepped in.
A bit later in verse 28 when the crowd asks, ““What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
The work we’re supposed to do is to believe in Jesus, and let that flow into all of our work--into the dishes and deadlines and debit card statements. We do the things we’re supposed to, like find a boy with his lunchbox, and then believe that Jesus is who He says He is, and let Him feed the crowd.
When Peter was asked if Jesus would pay his taxes, Jesus gave Peter some work to do.
“Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.”
Peter was a fisherman. That was his job. Jesus told him to go catch a fish. And then to open its mouth. If Peter did the work, if Peter would believe, Jesus would do the miracle.
Jesus followed up with, “Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:27.
Again Jesus asks the disciples to do a task, trust Him, and He’ll provide the miracle. “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Luke 19:30-31
The disciples had to walk to the next village. They had to look for the colt. They had to give a certain answer, untie the colt and bring it back. It took awhile. It required physical effort. It might have made the disciples uncomfortable or nervous to grab a large animal and use as their explanation, “The Lord needs it.” Wouldn’t it look like they were stealing? What if the owner doubted them? But they believed Jesus when He said this would all work out. They did the assignment and things went down exactly how Jesus said they would. The owner let them walk away with that colt. Why? Because Jesus does miracles.
And that drops us off on Palm Sunday as Jesus rides that donkey into Jerusalem knowing full well the miracle of all miracle He’s about to perform--the one where He dies on a cross, but comes back to life. For this one, all He asks is for us to believe.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.--John 3:36
Kind of like those daffodils.
It doesn’t matter if I water them or not. It doesn’t matter if I weed around them or put up some kind of cage to keep critters from nibbling. They come back to life every spring.
What is it you’re trying super hard to bring to life right now?
Where do you feel like you don’t have enough food or resources or dollars or clout?
Do you believe Jesus can change that? Do you believe He's working? When He asks you to do something, do you believe it's for a reason?
Jesus can feed you in abundance, provide more than you ever imagined, pull money out of a fish, and His word is the only endorsement you need to untie that donkey. To live in His love, to experience His grace, all you have to do is believe He is who He says He is. He did all the work for you.
Easter is coming. And with it new life. Whatever feels dead in your life, like it could use a makeover or redo or revival, that’s Jesus’ jam. He’s all about second chances and bringing things out of the grave. Do what He asks you, whether that’s catching a fish or going into town or running some numbers or making a call or doing some research or trying one more time, and then wait for it--His miracle is coming.
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The trail near our house is a little torn up. It’s been raining a lot, because April showers were working hard to bring us May flowers, and then May had an identity crisis and thought it was April. The storms washed away parts of the trail and left puddles in other spots. It’s a bit of an obstacle course, and although I love everything about running on the trails, I have to watch my step, so I don’t turn an ankle or go down.
Part way in the dirt trail becomes a smooth paved one, and I can concentrate less on the terrain and more on the shape of the clouds and the smell of honeysuckle and fresh mown grass. My favorite spot on the run is the covered bridge that signals I’m halfway done. There’s something beautiful and nostalgic about the bridge and my feet make a lovely percussion sound when they pound against the planks. I love the idea of running while suspended over a stream. But today, my toe caught on one of those uneven boards and I lost my balance. I wiped out skinning my knee and ripping open my hand.
I’m fine. Nothing a Band-Aid, some Neosporin, and a few days won’t heal, but it reminded me how vulnerable I am. How vulnerable we all are.
I knew I had to pay extra attention on the bumpy, rocky portion of my course. I was alert. Just like there are parts of our days and lives when we need to keep our antennae up—maybe around the person who we don’t fully trust or driving at night during a thunderstorm, or how tenderly we need to handle a newborn. But it was on the stretch of my run where I felt safe and free and peaceful that I fell. Just like in life. Sometimes it’s when I’m cruising along on autopilot that I stumble.
I think COVID-19 has shown most of us that we’re more vulnerable than we thought. That even though everything was plugging along like clockwork, we’re still vulnerable. We’re at risk for losing dollars we thought would be deposited in our accounts. We’re at risk for losing events we were looking forward to. We’re at risk for germs and viruses that can infect our lungs. But I’ve also become acutely aware in my vulnerability how faithful our God is. The virus shut down shops, but all the flowers still bloomed wide open. The virus halted regularly scheduled classes, meetings, church services, but God continues to show up during Google Hangout Bible studies, Facebook live women’s conferences, church on YouTube. Unemployment is up, but so is giving and outreach and generosity.
Are these changes preferred? Some yes. Some maybe not. Some for sure no. But even when we’re vulnerable, Jesus is not. He is steady and alive and on the move and keeps on showing up. Jesus has conquered sin and death and fear. He is love and light and life.
So we’re vulnerable. We always have been. We’re human. Our bodies get sick and scraped. We have seasons of financial success and seasons where we’re pinching pennies. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever taken a tumble while on a run. And I’m guessing it won’t be my last. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. Every step I make doesn’t have to be calculated, precise, and perfect, because God’s are. It’s alright that we’re vulnerable, and that sometimes we fall, because Jesus walks beside us, picks us up when we fall, cleans out our wounds, and if we let Him get close enough with His almighty Neosporin and peroxide, heals us.
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I just unfollowed thirty -one people on Instagram and unsubscribed from 45 email lists. Sure, I’ve cleaned out some drawers during this shelter-in-place period, but I’m also cleaning out my electronic life, allowing some margin that in the long run will hopefully give me more moments to pause to savor what’s in front of me, so I can tend to the more important tasks at hand—whether that’s turning in a chapter, laughing on the sofa with my family, or being still with God.
The people I unfollowed weren’t toxic or mean. They were just distractions. Like the woman who posts gorgeous pictures of food and often has beautiful videos of her whipping together scrumptious meals. I frequently watch them, oohing and ahhing at how delicious and healthy that meal looks. Oh, and look, it’s gluten free. I should file it away. Add the key ingredients to my grocery list. Make it for dinner next week. But I don’t. I’ve never once made one of her recipes. So why do I watch her videos and scroll through her posts?
I also unfollowed a musician I heard once and loved her sound, but most of her posts are pictures of her with a new hairdo or wild eyeliner, and although pretty, have nothing to do with my life. I don’t know her. I don’t gain anything by seeing that she died her hair pink this week. And so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her—zip, she’s gone.
The unsubscribes? From clothing companies I’ve shopped from, but certainly don’t need daily reminders (translate temptations) to click on their site or spend money on their clothes. If I’m in the market for a cool new jacket or a snazzy pair of sandals, I know how to find them. Open Table? You’re so helpful when making a reservation. However, I don’t need to hear from you every single day. Bandsintown? I LOVE music and concerts, but I honestly scroll through the shows you send me and waste another couple of minutes that I always wish I had come the end of a day. If only I had a few more minutes to re-read this paragraph, play a hand of cards with the kids, close my eyes and just listen to the Lord. Oh, yeah, I did, but I wasted it daydreaming of concerts and restaurants in the morning when my brain was fresh. Dang it.
We talk about decluttering our homes—fewer pairs of jeans means fewer to choose from when we get dressed, fewer dollars spent, less crowded shelves, less chance of wadded up chaos and overflowing piles. Getting rid of bras that don’t fit or that their elastic has given out means I don’t have to root through all the bad ones every morning. But our electronic lives are also cluttered. When I open my laptop in the morning to write I usually have a dozen or so emails waiting for me. A couple are important. Some are “subscribes.” And even if I delete all of them, I still take the moment to think, “Free People? I don’t need any sundresses right now. Delete.” It takes a second. But it takes a second every day. And each of the similar emails also takes a second every day. And, for every ten, maybe I click on one. What is new on Netflix?
These aren’t bad or dangerous uses of my time, because gazing at funky apparel makes me happy inside and if Netflix added back all the Harry Potter movies I’d want to know. It’s just not the best use of my time. If I want to click on Free People’s website or on the Netflix App I can. But then I’m choosing. It’s intentional. Instead of having the distraction imposed on me. See the difference?
I want to do the work Jesus has set out for me today. And tomorrow and the next day after that. I want to be focused and live well for Him. I want to spend time with Jesus not rush through my prayers or time reading my Bible. I want to exhale in the middle of the day with Him, and not feel like “I don’t have time.”
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 12:6-7 MSG
Jesus doesn’t get mad at me when I learn a new recipe or watch a music video. He delights when we are delighted. But He also calls each of us to specific work for the kingdom. And He asks us to do it well. And He loves it when we spend time with Him. I for one, do this much better, when I’m not going down rabbit trails of outfits I might someday wear or meals I might, but probably won’t, one day cook. So, I’m spring cleaning my mental space.
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. --Titus 3:8-9 MSG
Want to join me? Let’s put our feet down. Let’s avoid mindless, pointless scrolling. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.
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With all our time at home, we’ve been playing a lot of games. You? Clue is a fam favorite and when you play, the first thing you do is choose your character. I always choose Miss Scarlet. When it’s your turn you roll the dice, hopefully land in a room, and proceed to make some more choices. Who will you accuse? With what weapon? And as the game progresses your choices, along with some luck and deciphering, determine the winner of the game.
Today you and I get to choose. We don’t get to choose our health. We don’t get to choose where we’ll go (because, well….). But we do get to choose how we’ll let these quarantines and lockdowns affect us.
We can choose to move our bodies, because we’re still allowed outside for a walk or run or to toss a frisbee, walk a dog, shoot hoops, or hike through the woods. We can choose to eat healthy, because we have time to cook and the place we’re still allowed to go is the grocery. We can choose to love an actual neighbor in the neighborhood, by waving across the street, asking if they need anything. Sharing from our grocery delivery. We can choose to love our “neighbor” by writing a note (yes, on paper and putting it in the mail) calling someone (yes, on the phone) who lives alone or who we miss or who God has put on our hearts. We can choose to learn something new or hone that skill, because we have a zillion free podcasts plus YouTube at our fingertips, and again, we have time. We can choose to spend time with the Lord every day, because He’s here, right this moment, right by our side. He loves us. And He is the source of our strength, peace, joy, hope, and courage. All the excuses we used before as to why we couldn’t squeeze any time in our Bibles or in prayer have evaporated.
We can choose to keep going. Not give up on Bible study or that meeting we were supposed to have or even that coffee date just because we can’t meet in person. How about meeting and chatting via Google Hangout or Zoom or Houseparty?
We can choose our mood. I'm not talking about ignoring the pain or loss. Those are important emotions to process.
But we have the choice to grump and moan and complain about the inconveniences--"my investments are tanking!” “everything’s closed!” or choose to count our blessings—the grocery is still open, we have food, praise God! It’s sunny! It’s getting warm out! Thank you, Jesus, that this happened not in January when it was too cold, but now, in the spring so we can go outside and get a change of scenery and hear the twittering of the birds and take in the puffy white blossoms bursting on the Bradford pear trees. Thank you, Lord, for technology so I can still watch my church livestream, listen to music, download free e-books from the library, and do a silly Tik-Tok in the living room with my kids.
We can choose to be afraid in the midst of all this uncertainty. Or we can choose to listen to Jesus who told us on repeat, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Worry about nothing. I will be with you always.”
We won’t always get it right and it’s not easy. We’re still either finding ourselves in close quarters day after day with the people we live with or finding ourselves alone for longer periods of time if we live alone. The grocery doesn’t have everything on our lists. A lot of us are tight on cash. There are people we care about on our hearts. This is not normal for any of us. And that can cause us to grumble or feel a little boxed in or on edge. And that’s natural. It’s okay. We’re adjusting.
But, see, God has always given us free choice, from the very beginning of time, and we can pick all the sweet, juicy fruit He’s given us access to, or we can try to go for the one He said is off limits (which at a time like this is the grumbling, the giving up, the state of fear).
Today I choose Christ. I choose the fruits of the Spirit that are ready and available to all of us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’ll slip and mess up, and make a poor choice, and snap at one of my kids, or not communicate well, or wish things were different, but then I pray I’ll choose to come back to who God is—good and kind and powerful and faithful—and rest in the choice to love and trust Him.
Because whether we choose to trust Jesus or not, He is in control. And He is inherently good. So, yeah, that’s where I’m choosing to focus today. Will you join me?
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Graduation announcements are piling up on our counter—my nephew, my cousin’s boy, friend’s kids, two gals from church are all earning diplomas of one sort or another. It’s a time of celebrating what they’ve accomplished, but I’m way more jazzed about celebrating where they’re going.
Commencement means beginning. And I see all these lovely people starting new chapters in their lives—going on to college, military training, new jobs, grad school, moving to different cities. I was chatting with a couple of moms of graduating seniors and the conversation landed on how ready their boys were to graduate—to move on.
But on to what?
This is the million-dollar question. Not meaning every grad has to have their future planned out on color-coded Post It notes, but that they shouldn’t be walking away from something, but toward something. When we have something exciting or intriguing to step into then, woo hoo, forward march. But if we aren’t eager for the next page then there’s more hesitation than anticipation.
This holds true for grads, but it holds true for all of us. Doesn’t it?
With graduates it’s so easy to see one chapter of their lives ending and a new one beginning. There are caps, gowns, pomp, circumstance, and seemingly endless slices of sheet cake topped with roses made of sugary, creamy frosting. But for the rest of us these shifts from one to the next aren’t always so obvious. Sometimes we’re so busy just doing—cooking the meals, washing the clothes, logging the hours at work and the gym—that we’re not even looking for the new, don’t even have our eyes open to all the potential Jesus is constantly offering. Yet ALL of us are currently poised to graduate—from something—from an old way of thinking, a stagnant relationship, a bad habit, completed project, or complacency. We are all positioned to commence something new—a fresh approach, newfound friendship, revamped strategy, enlightened mindset.
Don’t’ keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? —Isaiah 43:18-19 MSG
I don’t know what Jesus is offering you—what’s about to burst forth for you, like a blossom from a bud. But as you complete one project, punch your time card, check that thing off your list, how about asking Jesus, “What’s next?” What if before we opened our Bibles we intentionally asked God to reveal His wishes for us in the Word? What if we all went on a walk today, left our earbuds at home, breathed in the fragrance of lilac bushes, paused to listen to the woodpecker rat-tat-tatting on a tree, and just talked to Jesus about the things He wants us to lay down and pick up and how that should look?
I went for a walk on campus with my friend, Beth, the bell tower chiming “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the background. We chatted about crafting our current manuscripts, our recent speaking events, along with other laundry lists of continuing the work God has set in front of us. But we also asked each other the “What next?” questions. We talked about the things within our work that light us up (do more of that), drain us (do less of those), the big dreams, the daily necessities. We challenged each other to consider the next steps God is calling us to—whatever those may be.
You won’t be receiving a graduation announcement from me in the mail. I will not be handed a diploma. But I am committed to making this next season a new one, a fresh start. Not necessarily because the current season or the one before that was bad, but because there is so much to experience. Because God is asking us not to do the same old same old, but to be aware of the new things bursting out. Want to join me in this quest for new?
What does this look like? Different for all of us, of course.
It doesn’t mean we all need to move across the country and get new jobs. But it can mean that if a cool position is posted within your existing company, you can put our name in the hat. Maybe it’s time to plant a garden, or commit to eliminating something toxic from our diets. It could mean that even though the last three years we’ve volunteered, we’re not going to this summer so we can fix up our home, or our lives, or help someone we care about, or maybe learn a new skill, pursue an interesting opportunity, or launch our own business. It could mean that if reading our Bibles in the morning isn’t sticking, that we switch it up and read it during our lunch break. Maybe it’s just changing how we order our days or where we sit in class, at church, at meetings, or at the coffee shop (kidding—you don’t have to give up your favorite people watching spot, but would you?).
If God is doing new things, then I want to be a part of those new things. Don’t you?
Let’s not be stagnant, but expectant. As we graduate from the school year to summertime, let us keep our eyes open to what God is igniting. Let us commence this summer with open minds to God’s will and fresh ideas on how to best live out the lives He’s intended for us.
My daughter and I had to weave our way through an Easter carnival in the middle of the town square to get to Scoops. The festivities included a jumpy house, sand art, an outdoor viewing of Hop, and of course photos with the Easter Bunny. We made our way through toddlers and parents and into the ice cream parlor where we proceeded to order bowls of gooey peanut butter brownie and rich coffee toffee ice cream. As we sat down to a table to enjoy our cool, creamy treats the Easter Bunny entered the shop. I was primarily focused on my daughter, but couldn’t help being a little startled when the Easter Bunny took off her costume head, and there was the face of a normal looking mom with a white, furry, bunny body. Of course I knew she was in a suit, but all of a sudden she wasn’t at all what she seemed.
Later that night in our hotel room, we could hear the people in the room next to us. Clearly. Too clearly. They were reading someone’s text and complaining loudly about the person who sent it. My daughter and I wished they would pipe down, but I was also sad for the person who sent the text. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have wanted it to be read aloud (and who knew the audience would also include us?). I’m also certain they wouldn’t have wanted to be talked about like that. The receiver of the text went on to share how she’d responded, which was way different than what she was shouting through hotel room doors. She wasn’t being consistent. In the privacy of her hotel room, her mask came off, revealing a different side of her.
Unfortunately, we’re all like this sometimes. We tend to wear certain faces for certain people—to appear stronger, braver, smarter, more put together, like we can handle it, like we’re okay or cool (even if we’re not). We sometimes say one thing, but feel completely different about it. Sometimes we act differently when we’re alone, then when we’re out in public, or speak differently when we’re with one group compared to how we speak when we’re with another.
But Jesus? Jesus is exactly who He says He is. He is always the same. He wears no masks and speaks no lies. He is always honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always.
As we’re midway through Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter), I’m reading about Jesus in those final days of His life on earth. When He rode into town on a donkey and people waved palm branches at Him, Jesus was all these things (Mark 11:7-10). On that day everyone recognized Him as king—powerful, wise, and holy. But Jesus knew He was riding into town to rescue everyone. He knew what was ahead, and He did it anyway, because He is consistently strong, true, brave, and loving.
When Jesus overturned the tables at the temple, yes, He was angry (Mark 11:15-17). But only because He loves God the Father and His people, and He saw that the people were making a mess of things. Just like a parent snatches matches out of the hands of a toddler, using a firm voice, Jesus removed the danger from His children. Because He loves them. Because in wisdom He knows better. Because He’s never afraid to stand up for what is right.
When the religious officials belittled and questioned Jesus (Matthew 26:62-64), Jesus initially bit His tongue. He is holy, the Creator of all and didn’t have to come up with a snide comment or answer questions He didn’t want to. As High King of Heaven, He has both the wisdom and the authority to remain silent if He chooses. And when Jesus decided to speak, He declared with full authority that He will be ‘seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.’
On the cross Jesus was still King of Kings, still loving us, still bravely there to rescue us, not because He had to, but because He wanted to (Luke 23:26-49). This is who our Lord is. Never changing. Always faithful. We never have to worry about Jesus taking off a mask, about being different than who He says He is. If Jesus tells us something this morning, or if He said it over 2000 years ago, we can know it is 100% true. Jesus won’t change His mind, or say something different when He’s hanging out with someone else. He’ll never turn on us or let us down.
Jesus? He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. —Hebrews 13:8. He is honest, kind, King of Kings, Holy, powerful, wise, brave, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, the Creator, strong, true, and loving. Always. Let’s marinate ourselves in who our Savior is this Holy Week as we remember how He died on the cross to save us. Because He loves us and He wants us with Him always.
Laura L. Smith