I am a music lover. I love going to concerts, especially outdoor concerts in the summer with the music floating through the warm evening air and the vibrancy and excitement and energy everywhere. Therefore, when planning the summer and how to embrace it to its fullest, summer shows were on my list. And because God is God, of course He taught me things from these outdoor concerts. Mainly, He taught me about perseverance.
My husband got me tickets as a gift to see three nineties bands we’d loved way back then. We purchased our tickets in the spring, but this show had originally been planned to take place in the summer of 2020.
These musicians had scheduled their lives around dates in over thirty-five cities, booked venues, tour buses, and bus drivers. They’d arranged their calendars with their families, sold tickets, created setlists, hired crews, designed merchandise.
And then the world shut down.
The bands could have said, oh well, guess that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Or they could have gotten angry and negative and complained.
They certainly could have given up.
But instead, they waited for two years, persevered, rescheduled, and toured. All three bands shared how meaningful this tour was to them, because they’d had to wait for it, because against the odds they made it happen.
At another concert, Ryan Tedder, front man for One Republic and also acclaimed songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Beyonce, Adele, etc., also spoke of perseverance. He shared the stories of songs he’d written over the years that critics told him, “were awful,” “no one would like,” and should be “thrown in the garbage.” But Tedder believed in these songs, believed that God created Him to write songs, even after getting his work turned down by multiple artists and industry experts, so he persevered. Tedder found homes for all his rejected songs, some of them even becoming number one hits. You just might know all the words to them.
What if Ryan Tedder had given up? Listened to the criticism? Filled his head with the lies that his music didn’t cut it? What if the 90’s bands had given up touring altogether? What if you give up on the dream God placed in your heart or the work God has put in front of you or the relationship God has nudged you to tend and maybe even mend?
What if you choose to persevere?
Because the Bible instructs us:
Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. --Hebrews 10:35-36
Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? --Esther 4:14
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. --Philippians 1:6
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. I’m saying this to myself and to you. That thing that’s hard right now–let’s persevere. Let’s cling to our confidence–not that we’re spectacular or talented, but that God is, and His work is mighty in us. That with Him we can do anything He desires. Remember, this is the God who parted seas and rivers, knocked down city walls, and sprang water to quench millions (yes millions) of Israelites in the desert. I’m pretty sure this God can help you and me with the work and projects and relationships and situations that are challenging us today.
I’m wondering what you need to persevere right now?
I know for myself I have a new book I’m writing that’s different from my previous projects. I’m passionate about the topic and fully believe that God gave me the idea and opened the doors to make this idea a reality, but it’s quite the undertaking. I need to sit down. Write it idea by idea. Page by page. Praying all along. Because God gave me this opportunity to share something important with others. I need to go to my desk and put away my phone and actually type some words. Even when the writing is hard. Even when I need to be vulnerable in the writing. Even when I’m tired. Because that’s how things get done.
I have friends who are working towards licensures, certifications, and degrees. I have other friends who are working toward health and fitness goals. Another friend has an exciting business idea. Yet another is working through some really challenging things with her counselor. One friend has something amazing she wants to implement at her church. These women inspire me with their perseverance. They have faced obstacles. They will face more. And yet, Jesus calls them to persevere.
Why? Because when He starts something in us, He will bring it to completion. Because there is good work to be done. Because He chose them for these things at this time.
Just like He chose you. Today. For the things He puts in front of you.
One more band, NeedtoBreathe, sang a song narrating a time when the lead singer’s father, who was a pastor, had a rumor started about him at his church. It was an extremely challenging time for their family as people believed the lies. But the pastor stood his ground in the truth. He clung to who he was in Christ. He persevered. As a result of his perseverance, God gave their dad/the pastor the strength to confront the attacks and help the truth surface.
The refrain of this song, titled “Washed by the Water,” is such a testament to how we can all persevere, not by our own strength, not by our own intellect, or flair, but by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us if we are baptized in Christ.
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
How about you? What do you need to persevere right now? Keep going! You can do this! You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you, empowering and strengthening you, the God of the universe cheering you on! He wants the best for you, hang on, keep going, don't give up, persevere. What He started in you, He will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6). Jesus promises us a full life when we persevere with and for Him. I don’t want to miss out on the good good life He has in store.
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What If Scenarios
I’m sitting in a chair under a turquoise umbrella at the beach staring out at the Atlantic praying to Jesus about, well everything. My mind is always packed full of what if scenarios. What if my blog comes out late? What if I intervene with my two kids who are pushing each other’s buttons? What if I let them work it out themselves? What if I get bit by a fire ant–will my EpiPen work? What if I do or don’t? What if that idea or action or conversation or proposal or treatment works or doesn’t? What if I speak up or keep my mouth shut? What if it does well or falls flat? What if, what if, what if? I ask Jesus a zillion and eight questions. And this is how Jesus responds.
Look at the ocean. See how endless it is. How powerful and calm it is at the same time. Listen to the waves crashing. Notice the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the water. Feel the breeze against your skin, dancing through your hair. Hear the laughter of children, the music playing from nearby speakers, the countless conversations all around you from all kinds of different people. I made ALL of them, ALL of this. I’m in control of all of this. The ocean looks like it goes on forever, but I actually DO go on forever. I am limitless. It’s all in my control. All of it. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of you. Your work, your health, your family, your future. I love you. I’ll never let you down.
God’s response is calm and steady and sure. He doesn’t give me specifics about the fire ants I’m allergic to or the article I’m going to turn down, but He reassures me that it’s all in His extremely powerful and capable and loving hands.
All of your what-ifs are also in God’s hands. He promises to work everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He promises to go before and behind us and keep His strong, loving hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Jesus promises that He has plans to prosper us–each and every one of us, plans that give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, why, oh why do I wonder? Why do I forget to trust?
Because I’m human, and I do. But Jesus uses the waves to remind me.
God is good. And true. And loving. And powerful. And almighty. And on our side–yours and mine. As I stare out at the waves rolling in and foaming white against the sand, I’m reminded. And I exhale. And I trust Him again. With everything.
I don’t know what you’re asking Jesus today. I don’t know what what-ifs are swirling around your brain. But I do know that Jesus only wants what is good for you. I know that when we trust in Him, He never lets us down.
I’m praying that we trust in God’s scenarios and stop worrying about all the what-ifs. Because His scenarios are true and right and packed with joy and peace and love.
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LEAN BACK AND SPLASH
When the kids were little we went to the pool almost every day of summer. We packed snacks and Pull-Ups and goggles and towels and little plastic pool toys and sunscreen. We played alligator in the shallow end and the kids had contests off the diving board while I judged who made the biggest (or smallest) splash or who made me laugh the hardest as they bounced off the board and into the water.
My kids are big now. And their schedules don’t leave much time for swimming pools. But the other day was hot hot and we decided to go and it was the absolute best time. We still packed snacks, sunscreen, and towels, but I also packed a book, thinking I might read a bit while my teenagers splashed about. But a few minutes after spreading out our striped towels on plastic chairs they asked me if I’d go down the giant slide with them. And who can pass up an offer like that?
We went down once, one at a time as required, each having our own fun while we cheered one another on. As I landed in the pool after my ride down the twists and curves of the yellow chute the kids said:
“You’re supposed to lay down, Mom.”
“You looked like you were on a carriage ride, waving to people passing by.”
“It’s a little slower that way,” I explained.
“Why would you want to go slow?” They were so puzzled.
“It’s more fun when you go fast!” They insisted.
We were already in line to go down again. Another mom was sliding down, also sitting up. I defended myself, “That’s just how moms ride down. Sitting up.”
“But you’re not like other moms,” my daughter insisted.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I’m not.” Because no two moms are the same and for me to even create a category of “other moms” is absurd.
So, when I got to the top, I laid down with my arms and feet crossed, like my kids, exhaled, and enjoyed the ride, laughing most of the way. It was faster, but letting go, leaning back was exhilarating. I stopped trying to go slower and just enjoyed what was in front of me--a cool, slippery, giggly ride on a hot July day.
As I came flying through the chute the force submerged me under water. I bounced back up to the cheers of my kiddos. “Go Mom!”
I try to control my life too much. I try to control my schedule, speed, servings of fruits and vegetables and hours of sleep. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to make sure I get enough sleep--in fact it’s super important. As are eating healthy foods and meeting my deadlines and paying bills on time. But also, I need to trust Jesus and lean back and embrace the fun and adventures He puts in front of me even when they feel slightly scary.
This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.--Psalm 118:23-24
From there we went to the wide green mega slide where we could sit three across and go down together. Next we made a chain with our innertubes and floated along the lazy river. When the bell started ringing signaling the enormous red bucket that fills up with water every fifteen minutes was about to dump, we darted over and sat in the shallow part of the pool, heads tossed back, waiting for the bucket to tip and douse us.
Who needs a book and the security of a lawn chair when there is so much fun to be had?
It made me wonder how often I’ve been clinging to the metaphoric plastic chair? Because security and routine are safe. But they keep us from fully embracing this present moment now. And I don’t want to miss anything Jesus has in store for me. I don’t want to have been “too busy” sticking to my plan that I missed the delights He had in store.
I don’t know what routines or possibly ruts you’re stuck in today. Is there something you’ve been meaning to try but weren’t sure how to make time for? Or were maybe a little scared to attempt it? Or worried you wouldn’t know anyone there? Is your schedule so jam-packed that if Jesus asked you to go down the slide with Him you wouldn’t have the time or energy to go? Are you willing to put down your laptop, phone, book, knitting, crossword puzzle and join in the fun God is making available?
God gives us so many incredible opportunities every day, if only we’ll step into them. I’d love to hear how you’re leaning back into His arms and letting go of your plans to step into His. Drop it in the comments so we can cheer one another on.
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CROSSWALKS AND DUCK RAMPS
In Washington DC the crosswalks have timers on them alerting you to how much time you have to cross the street. It’s super handy--oh look we have eighteen seconds left, we can make it. Or--three seconds left probably isn’t enough time to get across a four lane street. As my youngest and I explored the city by foot we noticed that the times set on the various crosswalks appeared to be extremely random. Why didn’t they do 20, 30, or 40 second intervals? Why was this one so much longer than that one?
We were tourists and had zero insights into the traffic patterns in DC, but apparently The Federal Highway Association (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation) was more informed than us and behind the math. Their job is to make sure pedestrians have enough time to cross intersections, so they determine the timers at each crosswalk considering average walking speeds, traffic, number of lanes, etc. to make sure the people crossing the street can cross safely. The FHA’s care into our situation worked. If Maguire and I started traversing across an intersection at the beginning of a countdown, we always made it across the street with time to spare. Every single time. And we were thankful.
It was only when we pushed our luck, crossing with only a few seconds remaining, that we cut it close and had to break into a sprint to get safely across..
We weren’t the only ones being looked after for our to-ing and fro-ing. Even the ducks got a little help from the government with their own special ramp enabling them to enter and exit the reflection pool near the Capitol. The ramps were designed by the Architect of the Capitol and assisted by the nonprofit City Wildlife who had observed the ducks struggling to make it over the slick curb of the pool. They must have measured angles and taken into consideration the weight of your average duck as well as how much traction those webbed feet have to design a ramp so perfectly suited for the four fluffy families who make the pool their home.
I was taking this all in--this planning and protection from people we didn’t even know, who the ducks didn’t know--who were concerned about our well being and safety the same week I was studying and leading a Bible study discussion on Psalm 139. The words King David penned in this psalm echoed in my brain.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. V. 3
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me. V. 5
I really like the Passion Translation of verse 5:
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past.
You have laid your hand on me!
Even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. V.10
If our government spends so much time on crosswalk countdowns and slides for ducks can you imagine how much more God is caring for us in our walking and crossing and coming and going--our entering and exiting and moving and staying in place. If one branch of government takes this much time to calculate precise seconds for crosswalks and another office uses their engineering savvy for the safety of our feathered friends, isn’t it incredible to ponder how much more God is looking after us? Caring for us?
Saying, “Oh look, she’s slipping, let Me make an easier route for her to get back to where she needs to go.”
And, “Hmmm, it might take him a little while, I better give him ample time to get there.”
What do you need protected from this week? From loneliness? From something physical that is prohibiting you to do what you would like to do? From walls you’ve built up around yourself? From fear? From a lie that makes you feel less than, even though God says you are His prized possession (1 Peter 2:9)?
Whatever it is, God knows about it. He sees us needing protection, looks us in the eyes and says, “I AM your protector.” It’s one of God’s names, Elohim Shomri.
God wants you to know that He’s familiar with all of your ways. He knows where you need to go, how long it might take and when you actually need to get there. He also knows when you need to rest. Jesus wants you to know He will go before you to scout out the way. He’s got your back, too, keeping you safe from anything that might sneak up on you. He’ll hem you in. The original Greek word of the word “hem” in verse 5 is sur, which means to fortify or secure. Got that? Jesus will fortify and secure you. And God wants us to know that He will both guide our steps and hold onto us as we move towards this or away from that or settle into a new normal.
So wherever you’re going today, whatever you’re facing, however long it’s taking--God has already been doing the math, running the charts, building the ramps, and setting the timers ahead of time, to ensure that when we follow Him, we can stay safe, make it across, and if it makes sense, splash about.
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What should you know about Jesus?
Jesus is kind.
Jesus is loving.
Over the last ten days I’ve gone to my home church, attended a church in Nashville (because we were there over the weekend), read a nonfiction Christian book, listened to three sermon podcasts on the book of Revelation, which were recommended to me, prepped and taught a Bible study, watched an episode of The Chosen (a series depicting the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and read the Bible and journaled daily with Jesus. For those of you who are new here, this content is both for my soul--my personal relationship with Jesus and for my job as a Christian author and speaker, so I can better understand and explain Jesus to others. Getting to immerse myself in teachings on the Bible is a huge perk of my vocation for me, since I'm the ultimate booknerd/studynerd. Out of all these readings and sermons I learned a lot, but this is my biggest takeaway--Jesus is kind. Jesus is loving.
It sounds trite, but it. Is. So. True. And because it’s true, it’s a game changer.
At the church services I attended we sang of the goodness of God, how His love is like a sloppy wet kiss, that the God of breakthroughs is on our side. One of the sermons focused on Philippians 4:8 which says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Why? Because Jesus wants lovelines, excellence, truth and nobility for us! For you! For me!
The book I read was all about slowing down to hear the loving voice of Jesus better. The sermons on Revelation honed in on both how loving our God is to give us a zillion and ten chances to follow Him, and that we have an open invite into His glorious kingdom. The Bible study I wrote and taught was all about the joy God offers. The episode of The Chosen shows Jesus look into the eyes of a woman who doesn’t feel noticed, who’s overwhelmed, and He tells her, “I see you. I will take care of you.”
Another woman declares, “Everyone looks down on me.”
And Jesus nods because it’s true. Then He says, “Yes. But the Messiah does not.”
In my daily reading I’ve been in the book of Matthew where Jesus heals a leper and a paralytic, calms the storms, and reassures us that if we follow Him He will give us everything we need.
Page after page in the Bible illustrates how kind and loving Jesus is.
I see this in my own life. I mentioned we went to Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Our purpose was to help my oldest daughter move into her first grown up home. It was, I repeat, Nashville over the Fourth of July weekend. Which sounded like so much traffic and so many people, but of course worth it, to see my girl.
God knew my heart was a little fragile about my daughter moving away and with immense loving-kindness He padded my weekend with ease and joy and laughter. We experienced no traffic. As in not just no “holiday traffic,” but no traffic traffic. We cruised from state to state to state, and around Music City no problem. We also experienced zero lines going out to eat Fourth of July weekend in this bustling town. We got right in, no reservations, ate pizza and something called cinnamon bites, saw live music (because when in Nashville….), got ripe, juicy blackberries at the farmer’s market, ate a scrumptious brunch at Fido complete with Berry Berry Pancakes (seems to be a berry theme), returned our rental truck in about two minutes, and drove back to Ohio. Again, with no traffic.
It was all so perfect and easy and I felt God’s provision and goodness all over every single piece of our adventure. How good is our God? How personal?
A God who sees a mama trying to gracefully release her baby bird but with an ache in her heart (that’s me) and gives her a no traffic, no lines, get to hug your girl and hold her tight kind of weekend.
Sure, we still live in a world where there is traffic and evil and mosquitos and gossip. But Jesus? He is kind. And He is loving.
And why is this important? Because life can be hard. Because when our product doesn’t launch as well as we’d hoped or when that person hurts us or when we experience loss or when our world feels so divided Jesus sees you and me. Right where we are. In the middle of it all. He looks us in the eyes and loves us in just the way we need it most. And He is kind to us.
Jesus loves you.
Today He loves you.
No matter if you’ve talked to Him ever or not. No matter if you’re currently in a hot mess of lies and mistakes or living your best life. No matter what you think “the church” thinks about you, Jesus isn’t judgy. He is kind and loving. To quote Jesus himself, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”--John 3:17
Jesus loves us by giving us blue skies and fruity, sticky pancakes, and the sound of an acoustic guitar played by a young musician on Music Row strumming his heart out. Jesus is so kind He provides a breeze blowing on a hot July day and the magical sparks of fireworks lighting up the dark summer sky with bright colors.
Jesus loves you. Jesus is kind to you.
Inhale the scent of a knockout rose or better yet lavender growing in a garden. Savor the sweetness of a fresh strawberry or a cool glass of lemonade. Giggle at the splash of a sprinkler or fountain or wave. And thank Jesus for His ever present overpowering love and kindness.
How has Jesus been kind and loving to you today? Drop a comment. I’d love to hear.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
“Who do you think will get hit by the most?”
“Aaack! I got the first one.”
“Ugh, that one hit me twice. Does it count as two?”
“No, but if there’s a tie, it will be the tie breaker.”
My husband, daughter, and I were not playing some sort of sport. We were out for a run and dodging the cicadas. Y’all cicadas are a thing!
For those of you who don’t live in the parts of the fifteen states that got inundated by Brood X, every seventeen years these insects come up from underground en masse, to the tune of billions, possibly trillions of these big, ugly bugs. They are harmless, but extremely loud (it sounds like a loud generator or an airplane landing in our neighborhood most afternoons) and so very gross. These guys are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! In your eyes, and hair, underfoot, splattered all over your windshield. They cover sidewalks and tree trunks and randomly hit you while you’re running.
It’s a crazy phenomenon that lasts a couple of weeks and feels like it’s out of some bizarre movie. But believe it or not, the cicadas are real. They’re here, there, and everywhere. And then, almost overnight...they’re gone. I have friends who know I’m a bit of a Bible nerd and ask me things like, “How can you believe everything in the Bible? Isn’t some of it a bit far-fetched?” Ummm, you mean like a plague of large, winged, singing insects? Seems pretty probable to me.
So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. --Exodus 10:13-15
The appearance of the cicadas actually cements my faith. God can make swarms of insects. Not usually as a punishment as He did to the Egyptians, but He is certainly capable of creating countless critters out of nowhere. I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. Therefore, it’s easy for me to buy into all the other plagues listed in Exodus, as well.
“Okay,” my friends might say, “I’ll give you the plagues, but how about Jonah and the whale? Getting swallowed by a giant fish and being spit out sounds more like the fairy tale Pinocchio than something that could really happen.”
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights...And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.--Jonah 1:17, Jonah 2:10
Tell that to lobster diver, Michael Packard, who just last week got completely swallowed by a humpback whale, was inside the whale’s mouth for 30-40 seconds, and then the whale spit him out.
My point? The Bible is the Living Word of God! Yes, some of it sounds crazy. But so does the actual news, documented by scientists, photographers, and eye-witnesses. If we can acknowledge that there can be plagues of insects and that a man can be swallowed by a whale and spit back out, we can look at some of the other amazing things in the Bible and contemplate their truth. As the Apostle Paul tells his friend Timothy, All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). So do you believe these promises?
Bugs and whales are interesting, but these promises? These are ones I desperately want to be true. I crave peace. I’m sick of being judged and would love to be saved from all the comparisons in this world. I want all the beautiful dreams of my heart to be possible. I long to prosper. To have Jesus with me, always, to have Him never leave me--sigh, what a relief! And a full, abundant life? Yes, please!
The Good News? All of it is true! The bugs and the fish and the promises of a loving God who created you and me and longs to spend time with us. He doesn’t force us into a relationship with Him, because what kind of a relationship would that be? But instead, He invites us into one. All we have to do? Believe.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” --John 3:16
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GOD'S GOT YOUR BACK (OR FEET)
This is the part of vacation where most people post a cute picture of their pedicured toes and the ocean beyond. I did give myself a pedicure before we left, in pastel yellow, which felt sunny and beachy, but no one sees my toes during our time at the beach. I wear these gross shoes that my oldest described as “oven mitts for your feet” to sit in the sun or stroll the sand and let the waves crash over my legs.
I take this precaution, because I’m highly allergic to fire ants. And, just like me, they love it here at the beach. I’d rather walk barefoot on the sand and wear fun sandals out to dinner, but I settle for ugly beach shoes and cute sneakers, so I don’t get attacked by a tiny ant and end up in the hospital. On this trip I’ve been marveling at how I’m not in this battle against the ants on my own. My family protects me far better than I do by myself.
Sitting at the pool my daughter grabs her water bottle and starts pouring its contents on the pavement to drown an ant and his pal that have just crawled our way. My husband shines the flashlight from his phone on my feet as we walk back from Rita’s, creamy chocolate frozen custard in hand, ensuring I don’t accidentally step on any anthills.
“Mom, you all right? I saw you rub your leg?” Asks one of my kids.
“Mom, do you have your Epipen?” another asks.
“Mom, I’ll walk around with you away from the ants while we wait for everyone else,” another offers.
And it’s this beautiful thing that makes me feel incredibly loved. Yes, I’m trying to be safe, but it’s not all up to me. The people who love me are taking it upon themselves to have my back, (well, feet) and keep me from harm.
If my wonderful, but human family who has their own worries and concerns does this much for me, can you imagine how much more our Heavenly Father protects us, looks out for us?
It reminds me of the passage in Luke where Jesus is explaining that there are going to be some incredibly hard times for His followers. But He assures the disciples, and us, that He will always look over us.
...every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost--Luke 21:18
EVERY detail of our bodies and souls. How comforting is that?.
Meaning, if you are struggling with bills, a relationship, your mental health, your physical health, it’s not all up to you. God will care for you. Not only does God love you, but He pays attention to every detail of your life, and has all the resources in the world to take care of your needs.
If you trust in Him, He’ll shine His Almighty flashlight to illuminate a safe path for you to walk. He’ll douse oncoming trouble to keep it from crawling your way. He’ll walk with you away from danger and toward safety. He’ll keep you company along the way. He’ll remind you to take your medicine, visit your counselor or doctor, do your exercises. He’ll check in with you--are you okay? He’ll be patient with you as you do your part, whether that’s scouting out the outdoor table to make sure it’s clear of ants or attending a support group or journaling or working the extra shift. But it will never all fall on you. Yes, the fire ants of the world still exist. Some things are dangerous. And we need to do the things we know to do to protect ourselves. Wear our seatbelts or beach shoes, both literally and figuratively. But we don’t have to worry. Because our God is looking out for us at every turn. And through it all Jesus will remind us how very much He loves us.
No matter what happens, God has our back. He’s guarding us with angel armies. He’s stronger than anything that comes our way, and wants us to avoid stepping into a nest of danger. Even if that danger looks like fire ants.
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THE SECRET S'MORES PARK
Early on in quarantine my oldest daughter and I were exploring the trails and landed in one of our local parks, green, spacious, and peaceful. The firepit at the edge of the park sparked an idea.
“We could make s’mores here!” Maddie declared.
On our next Clicklist we ordered all the necessary supplies—graham crackers, gluten free graham crackers, jumbo marshmallows, and Hershey bars. A few days later our family packed a cardboard box with firewood, paper, and some matches and grabbed our “s’mores kit”. When we arrived at the main entrance eager for a fun summer evening a large piece of plywood with the word “CLOSED” spray painted across it spanned the entry point of the bridge. Two large construction vehicles were parked askew blocking passage. But there was a back entrance. And as locals we knew where it was.
We meandered down the trail of entrance number two to an empty park. It was as if this giant grassy area was all ours for the night. Brett built a fire while the kids played tag. The thick scent of smoke filled the air while we told stories. We roasted marshmallows until they were charred on the outside and gooey on the inside, popped them between graham crackers and squares of chocolate, devouring the delicious sweetness that tasted like summer camp and left sticky marshmallow smears all over our faces.
We had so much fun that night, we scheduled another family s’mores night a few weeks later. And the next month we planned a small birthday celebration for our middle schooler—just three close friends plus him outside at this park for a couple of hours. They explored the trails, tossed a football, and roasted hot dogs on sticks fully able to both socially distance outside and enjoy each other’s company.
The park is simple. An old, rundown shelter, a dated swing set with four black u-shaped swings of equal height, a sand volleyball court, tons of open grassy space, and the campfire surrounded by giant logs for sitting on. No fancy soccer fields. No snazzy playground structures or gazebos. But we had it all to ourselves, except for the baby deer we saw galloping across the field and the mosquitos buzzing around our legs. Maybe other people in town stopped by when we did not, but each time we visited It felt like our very own Secret Garden (I LOVED that book as a girl) away from phones and Zoom calls and our neighborhood (which we love, but have seen quite a bit of from March to now).
Why wasn’t anyone else there? Maybe because when the college students were sent home for quarantine the population in our college town fell to half. Maybe because the main bridge was closed. I don’t really care why. We Smiths experienced the gift of space and freedom, as if God reserved the grassy expanse for us each time we needed it.
I fear in these unprecedented times we’re missing some of God’s gifts. We’re seeing the “closed” sign at the entrance and not going in. We’re turning around and heading home and missing the s’mores. But I don’t want us to. I don’t want to. I don’t want you to.
Yes, I realize the world is closed and the school year looks upside down and friends have tested positive and racism is rampant. And I’m grieving those things and feeling all the emotions. But I also know in the midst of all this awfulness I still want joy for my kids. I want them to eat gooey marshmallows and melty chocolate and laugh so hard they can’t speak. I want them to find joy every day and I’ll do whatever I can to help them find it.
I also know, as deeply as I love our four precious children somehow God loves them even more. He loves me more. He loves you more. Because He’s the Almighty Father and He created each kneecap and toenail of all of us. If I’m hoping my kiddos find joy, can you imagine how much more God wants us to find it?
Jesus said it like this, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:11
God gifts all of us all of the time. And His gifts are often as simple as an empty park. They could be overlooked, but if we embrace them—wow! An empty park! Oh, and look at that fire pit. You know what we could do there? Then those gifts turn into joy. They are hand-picked by God for us—they are personal and ours to treasure and enjoy and savor. So, keep your eyes open. Look past the sign. And maybe pop a marshmallow on a stick. I can’t wait to hear what you discover.
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Do You Want It Or Need It?
I want my kids to stay home and not return to school. I want the evenings to stay long, the air to stay warm, and to all sit around on the screened-in-porch laughing and talking with a soundtrack of crickets playing in the background.
What do you want right now? The starting position? The starring role? A different relationship status?
In Disney’s The Princess FrogTiana and Prince Naveen show up at Mama Odie’s with green skin, sticky, pink tongues, and covered in mucous. They want to be turned back into humans. But Mama Odie cautions the two “frogs” against striving for what they want, and instead digging deeper to discover what they need. Hmmm.Maybe I should do the same.
Summer forever sounds good and glorious in my mind, but God is way wiser than Mama Odie or me. He knows my kids need to go back to school. If they didn’t their soccer seasons would never commence, they wouldn’t have the conversations that will grow, challenge, and inspire them, play the music orchestrated for them, or audition for the roles they’re itching to act in. If my kids stayed home I would never complete the book I’m working on. If it stayed summer the leaves wouldn’t turn vibrant orange and deep scarlet, the apples wouldn’t ripen, crisp and tart, and we’d never get sweet, frothy Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. Tragic.
Can you picture a year without fall? What would I be forfeiting if I got what I want? We think we know what we want, but God knows better what we need.
How can I be so sure? Experience, for one thing. If all the relationships I’d wanted to work out had, I wouldn’t have married my incredible, loving husband. If we’d been able to purchase the house we wanted to buy when we moved back to Ohio, we wouldn’t have enjoyed our home for the last eighteen years. If my company had granted me the part-time position I wanted after having my first baby, I wouldn’t have pursued writing. And that’s just a sampling of the times God knew way better than I did what was best for me.
I also know God is wiser and more capable than me from reading scripture:
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
We can’t even imagine the greatness of His power. – Job 37:5
He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty. —Job 37:22-23
This glorious, great, dazzling, powerful, Almighty God of ours knows what He’s doing and has the power to make it happen. He loves us more than we can hope or fathom. Shouldn’t we trust Him to take care of our needs?
What do you want?
What do you need?
Because they’re not always the same thing. I see this as a parent. My kids want to stay up later—which means they’ll be exhausted the next day. They want giant bowls of ice cream, which are tasty in the moment. But if they only ate ice cream, they’d get cavities and face some health issues. Mama Odie suggests to the two frogs who want to return to human form, to consider where happiness comes from before they make a wish. How do we dig deeper?
By praying. It’s that simple. Talk to Jesus. Tell Him you’re worn out, excited, nervous, sad, tired of waiting, not sure what to do next. Tell Him your hopes and dreams—what you want. He already knows exactly what’s on your heart. But He also knows exactly what will fill you with joy, help you thrive, and saturate you with peace. Yes, we all want things. But why not turn those wants into conversations. Then take time to listen to what God whispers, walk away from the doors He shuts, peek through the windows He opens, act upon His nudges, and trust Him in the process.
Our God is glorious. And He loves you so much. He might not give you everything you “want.” But He will provide you with everything you need, plus more than you could ever imagine.
What are you growing?
My youngest is into gardening. I promise he didn’t get it from me. But he’s currently growing tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and watermelon radishes. I helped him gather pots and shovels, then marveled at how patiently and meticulously he buried tiny seeds in the soil. I would have tossed them in, shoved some dirt on top, and wiped my hands of the whole process. But that’s not how he operates. Not in this arena. Maguire gathered fertile soil from our compost and sprinkled it on top of his seeds. He gently mists his plants daily and peeks on their progress. This is what we do with things we truly desire to grow.
Maguire can’t plant everything. We don’t have enough yard, or sunlight in our yard, or enough time for that. Some things would never grow here in Ohio, like orange trees or camellias, even if he gave those seeds all of his attention. It’s also not the best time of year to plant everything. Pansies should be planted in the spring. Marigolds in the fall. What are you trying to grow? Is it the right time? Is it even yours to cultivate?
I’m not really talking about plants. Are you trying to grow your bangs, your biceps, your bank account? Maybe you’re trying to grow your understanding of a new computer code, a different culture or subculture than yours, the city you got transferred to, an aspect of your personality, someone you care about. Do you talk about wishing you were better at something, more disciplined? Me? I’m trying to grow so many things! I want to learn and discover and improve. I want to speak French better, and understand the book of Ephesians more fully (#Biblenerd) and increase my upper body strength, to name a few. But there are only so many hours in each day. Some of these things I am growing. I see little sprouts or even stalks. Others not so much.
So which things do we nurture? And which things do we decide to plant in another season? Which things do we let someone else plant all together?
I think it takes a little self-exploration and a whole lot of time with Jesus. Make a list of your wants, needs, and curiosities. Circle or highlight the things you’d really like to cultivate. Write out next to them why they’re important to you. If you can’t verbalize why they’re important, they might not actually be. Take this list to Jesus. Flat out ask Him, “What do You want me to learn? What areas of my life do You want me to fertilize, nurture, water? What do You want me to let go of or delegate? How do You want me to spend my time?”
And when you hear from Him, when He nudges you or whispers (or sometimes shouts), when Scripture keeps pointing you to the same item on your list, when a conversation with a friend (who had no idea what you were praying about) mentions how good you’d be at this thing or invites you to a class on that other thing on your list what is your response? Are you watering those seeds or leaving them to fend for themselves?
Summer is a great time to start. It is the turning of the page, a new season. Even if your work schedule stays exactly the same, the days just feel different. And with this shift, it’s a wonderful time to say, “I’m going to grow this thing!” Then find a way to do it. Order the book, take the class, download the podcasts, schedule the sessions.
If you water the seeds Jesus gives you today with His love for you, your garden will grow. Probably not at all at once. And not every seed you plant will make it. But if you do the things Jesus calls you to do, nourish those things, devote time to them, leave the things He’s designed for others to do or maybe for you to work on in a different season, and dig your roots deep down into Him, God’s love will keep you strong and enable you to flourish in the soil where He’s planted you, growing things to sustain and delight, to build the kingdom. So, let’s get planting!
Laura L. Smith