I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in Nashville. I was blessed to be on a panel at a fabulous writing conference, meet some new author friends, hear some great content, catch up with one of my very best friends in the world, and spend some amazing time with my daughter who moved to Nashville over the summer. Maddie and I shared scrumptious meals, went for an awesome run on a crisp November morning, talked and laughed and giggled, ate Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (think Oreos with candy cane filling) from Trader Joes and tried to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie but fell asleep. It was jam packed and fun and exhilarating.
I cried as I was leaving the house. Because in order to go to Nashville and do all those marvelous things, I had to miss my younger daughter’s soccer tournament in North Carolina and two out of four of my youngest son’s performances of A Christmas Carol where he played both Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley.
You see, there’s only one of me. And even though I would love to be multiple places at once, I can’t. I’m just a person. A well intentioned person, but a person nonetheless. My heart felt like it was being ripped in pieces--one excited, joyful part headed to Nashville for a conference and to be with Maddie and to experience all the awesomeness I described above plus two sad, achy pieces knowing I wouldn’t be able to support two of my other kids in things that really matter to them.
It’s a dilemma many of us face. And as we head into the holidays with Thanksgiving tomorrow and then the full, beautiful Christmas season right on its turkey feathered tail, most of us are trying to do too much. Most of us feel pulled a bit thin. Like there’s not enough of us to do all the things we’re supposed to or would like to do.
But here’s the great, amazing, incredible news.
We don’t have to.
Jesus tell us, ““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”--2 Corinthians 12:9
So, I think I need a time turner or another one of me or eighty four more hours this week or another pair (or two) of hands, and Jesus says, His grace is all we need. Let that sink in. You don’t need anything else. You see, it’s Christ’s grace that whispers to our hearts, “You don’t have to do it all or be all the things. I love you for exactly who you are, even if the house isn’t clean or you fumble on your test or you miss a workout, email or meeting. I love you if you’re tired. I love you if you’re late. I love you if you get carryout or buy something from the store or whip up a box of mac and cheese as the “item you bring to the Thanksgiving meal.”
And that next part? Even though we’re trained by culture to believe we shouldn’t show our weaknesses, Jesus says, those places? The places where we’re lacking--when we don’t know how to handle the conflict with the family member we’re sure to see, when we wish we could visit everyone in our hometown but don’t have the time or energy, when we yell at our kids or burn the pies or our mental or physical health issue flairs up making us incapable of doing anything at all--these are the places Jesus shines. His power is perfect. When we stop trying to be perfect, He can step in and give us the right words, help us bite our tongues, remind us it’s okay to rest and ask for help. When we let our guard down and stop trying to be superheroes we can receive the love, peace, grace, patience, forgiveness and so much more Jesus offers.
For those of you who have been following along on the blog or on my social media, you know over the last month I’ve been on a gratitude journey, intentionally being grateful. As we dive headfirst into Thanksgiving and then Christmas and all the wonderful and multiple things that go with that. I want to continue. And I believe that starts with being grateful for Christ’s grace. That it’s ALL we need. It’s all we need when we bake, shop, wrap, send, prepare, decorate. It’s all we need as we try to juggle our work, volunteering, and other commitments, as well as all the extra things we do from now until year end. Jesus’ power is perfect. Therefore ours doesn’t need to be. Thank goodness, because it can’t be. Never will. But Jesus is so loving and good that He uses His perfect power to fill in all our cracks, tie our loose ends, hold us up and hold us tight. This Thanksgiving (and every day) let’s be thankful for all the blessings God gives us. Let’s start by exhaling and being grateful for His all sufficient grace.
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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.
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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Our first full day at the beach my husband and I went for a run. It was sunny. But the wind was fierce. And we were running straight into it. The 25-30 mph winds assaulted my eyes and whipped across my face. The loose grains of sand were visibly being blown across the beach, white and ethereal, like ghosts speeding across the surface. I felt like I was running on a treadmill, moving my body, but getting nowhere. Instinctively I glanced right, as if over there it would be easier going. But the ocean was choppy. The waves wild. I was safer on land.
My husband in all his kindness pointed ahead. “Look, I can see where we turn around. Those blue roofs. Can you see them?”
Brett meant this landmark as, “Good news, the end is in sight.”
But to me, the end looked unreachable.
How would I ever make it to there?
The answer? One intentional step at a time.
The metaphor wasn’t lost on me. There are seasons in life that feel like this. Seasons of betrayal, addiction, sorrow, pain, disease and loss. They are real. And they are hard. Each step takes tremendous effort. We’re desperately trying to catch our breaths and feel like we’re up against the impossible. Like there’s no way around, only forward. The goal, although just ahead, feels unattainable.
We’re not the only ones who have felt like this.
The great prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4 tells God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”
Hagar, Abraham’s slave and concubine, was pregnant, alone, and on the run in Genesis 16.
Esther’s people were about to be eliminated in a mass genocide.
In Luke 8 we meet a woman who had been bleeding continuously for twelve years, spent every dime on medical treatments to no avail, and was publicly considered “unclean,” an outcast.
All of them were running against incredibly fierce winds.
Our mighty, faithful God, cared for Elijah, and reminded the prophet how much He loved him, speaking to Elijah in a still, small voice.
Even though Hagar was on the bottom rung of society God came to her, found her, and spoke to her, letting her know she was seen and that she mattered.
God empowered Esther to save her entire nation.
And Jesus not only healed the bleeding woman, but called her His daughter.
God was always with those folks in the Bible. Every moment of their journeys. But when they felt like they couldn’t take one more step, Jesus flooded His children with His love and power in a way they couldn’t miss. Jesus will do this for us, too. When we think we can’t take one more step, He’ll change everything.
God promises: “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15.
Normally when we hit the halfway point of a run, my husband and I simply do an about face and keep going, but when we reached the buildings with the blue roofs I turned around, away from the wind, halted, and gasped for air. I bent over. And exhaled and inhaled and breathed deeply again. I needed a moment to acknowledge that I’d made it. Not on my own, but with God talking to me the entire time. Sure, it was just a run. On the beach no less. But God’s voice in my head was strong. I got you this far, He said. I always will. No matter what winds you head into. I will protect you wherever you go. I will not leave you.
The second half of the run was the easiest I remember. With the wind at our backs, propelling us forward I barely had to exude any effort at all. No matter what you’re facing today, no matter what wind you’re running against, God is with you in these exhausting, trying steps where you feel like you’re going backwards. You might not see or feel Him, but it is actually the Lord who is keeping you going. He promises to stay and to protect you through it all. And the end truly is in sight. You’re so close to being able to turn around where the wind will be at your back. God will be with you then, too. Propelling you toward the warmth of the sun and the soothing splash of waves.
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Our family mainly wanted to hang out on the beach and splash in the ocean, but we also wanted to find some live music on our recent vacation. We’ve been going to Hilton Head since my oldest was one, and there’s something about the warm, salty air, the rhythm of waves, the slow down of life, the breeze blowing through your hair that makes me crave an unplugged rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
We picked a restaurant with nightly live music starting at six, got there a little early, put our name in for an outdoor socially distanced table, and went for a stroll while we waited for one to open up. We were seated at a white round top with a turquoise umbrella for shade adjacent to where the band was setting up. Score!
Two men, a.k.a. “the band,” were testing mics and recording loops. By six o’clock on the dot we’d ordered our food and were ready to enjoy the show. Only the band had disappeared. We spotted them a bit later a few yards away sipping cold drinks prior to their performance.
Our meals arrived and then one of my daughters spotted an army of fire ants marching beside our table. Fire ants are pretty nasty for the normal person, but I happen to be severely allergic to them, like Epipen hospital allergic. I put my feet up on the brackets of the table and dove into the sweet oranges and fresh veggies in my quinoa bowl. The two musicians came back to the microphone stands, played a few chords on the keyboard, strummed a few bars on the bass, and walked away again. When they finally started their set we had finished our meal and were fairly freaked out by the dangerous insect parade. Although the musicians were talented, we only heard one and a half songs before we made a quick exit.
Don’t worry. We had a plan B. The Char Bar, a super fun burger joint we love, also had nightly live music. We checked their schedule, and on our last night on the island, a talented young woman we’d heard sing on previous trips was scheduled to play. Brilliant. We once again arrived a little before she was scheduled to sing, found an outdoor table, this one was a high top, so I could sit on a stool with my feet safe from any pesky ants. But here was the problem. The person with the guitar and microphone was a man not a woman. Gray hair not blonde. Disappointed, we shrugged, ordered our food, and decided to make the best of whatever music we were about to hear.
And do you know what?
It was phenomenal. This guy sang all the sing along favorites. Our whole fam was singing the bum bum bums of “Sweet Caroline,” swaying to “Wagon Wheel” and yes, the musician even handed the egg shaker and tambourine to our daughters for his “percussion section” which evolved into a tambourine solo. Brett and I danced to “Wonderful Tonight” on the sidewalk even though there wasn’t a dance floor. The kids and my mom joined in. Even after we’d paid and were walking back to our car, we were still singing along, probably a bit too loudly.
Needless to say, it was a blast. A combination of family and nostalgia and the grand finale of a beautiful week away together. It was so much more fun than we could have ever orchestrated on our own. The guys at the first place weren’t that engaged (or prompt). The gal we’d hoped to see had switched her schedule, but God, He still had the perfect plan--a plan packed with singing and laughter and new memories made.
God’s like that. Better than we ever hoped or imagined. His plans surpass ours every single time. Which is difficult to get our brains around in the moment. When we’re disappointed or dejected or down. But even when it feels like the world is against you, God is on your side. He is for you. Not against you. He has perfect plans for you. Never will He forsake you. He is fighting for you.
Our music ordeal wasn’t a big deal or major issue, just a family hoping to be entertained by some beach music on their vacation. But God works in beautiful surprising ways always. In the little things and the huge things.
So today, if things aren’t going as planned. If the band is running late or someone different than you expected shows up. Take a deep breath. Remember God is in control and He loves you.
If you’re not where you thought you’d be. If things look upside down or inside out, thank the Lord above that He is the one in control, not you. Recall that He is love. He is light. He is truth. He is the Prince of Peace. That’s the kind of guy you can depend on. Ask Jesus to help you trust in Him and His promises. Hand over the disappointment or unfamiliarity or uncertainty to Him. Ask Him what to do next.
Remember you have to do your part, too. We had to show up to that second restaurant and try again or we would have missed out altogether. Keep moving forward where He leads. And then wait for the music to play. When you hear the opening notes, clap your hands, spin in a circle, sing along, and shake your tambourine to the soundtrack our Almighty God provides.
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Brett and I snuck away to the beach for a few days. Our feet thudded softly along the sand on our first morning. The thick, white fog that day was so dense we couldn’t see the ocean. But we knew it was there.
If you’ve ever been to the ocean, then you know the air is different there. It’s a freshness that’s not like being outside in the woods or in the mountains. I could smell the briny sea. I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, back and forth, ebbing and flowing. Seagulls screeched as they swooped to the ground. There was no denying what moved and coursed twenty or thirty feet to our right.
A friend recently asked, “How can you be so sure God is real? I can’t see Him?” Another shared with me, “I can’t seem to connect with God right now. Sometimes I wonder if He’s still there.”
The thing is, you don’t have to see God for Him to be there, right next to you. I didn’t have to see the ocean for it to be there. Just because all I could see was the swirling, thick, dampness around me didn’t mean someone had up and stolen the ocean, or it had somehow evaporated, or it had never been there in the first place. It has been there since the beginning of time.
Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. —Genesis 1:9-10
Sometimes life swirls around us. Bills. Deadlines. Expectations. Heartache. Our physical or mental health feel dense and difficult to move through. And it’s hard to see Jesus and His light and His love through all the fog. But He is still there.
Because I’ve been to the ocean before I recognized its call and its salty scent. I’ve seen Jesus before. I’ve heard Him speak to me. I know He is there. So on my rougher days sometimes I still sense His presence, hear Him whispering. But even if I don’t. Even if I had never hung out with Jesus, even if you haven’t, that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. If you’ve lived your whole life in a desert, the ocean still roars. According to the National Ocean Service the earth contains 321,003,271 cubic miles of ocean, which equals 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons! Yup. It’s there. Whether you’ve seen it in the past, are looking at it right this very minute, or have never laid eyes on it, the ocean exists. And it’s massive. And powerful. And in motion.
So is our God. The God who created all those gallons of seas (and each squishy, translucent jellyfish and every bumpy five-pointed starfish that regenerates their very own legs swimming among those waters) is larger than you can imagine, mightier than you could ever wrap your mind around, and always on the move, bringing everything together for good.
I don’t know if you’ve seen Him yet, but I pray you keep your mind open to the fact that He’s there. Not only does God exist, but He loves you. He loved you even before He made the ocean. Ephesians 1:4 explains it like this: Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.
I’m ending the blog this week praying Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians over each of you (and myself, because I have foggy days, too):
I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! —Ephesians 1:18-19 MSG
Oh, the extravagance. Endless energy. Boundless strength. The immensity of this glorious life. Yes. And Amen.
By 8:45 a line snaked out the door of the old warehouse. The doors opened at 9:00 for the 10:00 event. No, the first 100 visitors didn’t receive free t-shirts, bobble heads, or even coffee. No one was autographing anything. There wasn’t a big screen. This wasn’t a sporting event or a concert. This was a church service my son, Max, and I attended while we were in Dallas last weekend.
When the music began folks danced and cheered. Kids crawled and skipped. What was going on? You’d think Jesus, Himself, was in the sanctuary. That’s kind of the point. Everyone there was so excited to sing to Jesus, worship Jesus, talk to Jesus, learn about Jesus, they couldn’t wait to get inside. He does tell us where two or more are gathered, He is there in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Wowza—you could feel Jesus there in our midst. And it was a-ma-zing!
The prophet, Isaiah, foretold who Jesus would be and what He would do. That He would replace our mourning with joy and our despair with praise. But do we approach life like that? Full of joy and praise? Like Jesus is with us and He can change our lives?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. --Isaiah 61:1-3
I LOVE my home church, but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t wait outside for them to open the doors Sunday morning. Why not?
When was the last time you lined up for church, giddy to get in the door? And if it’s been a while…why is that? There is so much joy in Jesus! The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians (and us) to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
What are some things you get all amped up for, rush to get there?
Personally, I’ll wait in line to get coffee any day of the week. I’ll leave early. Perhaps place a mobile order. Plan it into my timeline. Because I am excited to get coffee—to taste the rich, bold flavor, inhale the thick, inviting aroma, feel the warm cup in my hands and the caffeine kick in, making me more alert. It brings me joy to think about my morning brew, order it (or whip one up at home), and take that first sip (and all the sips that follow).
What will you stand in line for, leave early for, make extra time for? Maybe to get a good parking spot, to beat traffic, to have time to chat with friends before the work or school day begins, or perhaps for bragging rights that you were the First One There. Why is it so easy, natural, or important to get to thatplace early? Are we as excited to get to our Bibles or to church? Are we rejoicing in the Lord like that?
Whatever it is we plan ahead for with anticipation, Jesus is infinitely better. Jesus is more satisfying than the richest, frothiest, most chocolaty mocha, revives our spirits and our souls, and is the positively BEST person to hang out with ever.
Maybe you’re not feeling the joy or the excitement at your church. Sadly, some churches have lost it. But the problem doesn’t lie solely on the Church. Part of the problem is us. Do we open our Bibles in anticipation or obligation? Do we open them at all? Do we attend a small group or study out of habit, because we think we should? Or because we can’t wait to learn more about Jesus, talk more about Jesus? Are we chomping at the bit to get to church? Or is church some place we go when we feel like it, if we feel like it, and sometimes even when we’re there, we slide in late, scoot out early and keep checking our phones (and I don’t mean the Bible App) while we’re there.
Imagine if Jesus stood at the doors greeting you. How early would you get there to hug Him? Ask Him some questions? Bow at His feet? Just look into His eyes? Treat your Bible study, small group, gathering, or church like that. Because Jesus lives in us and loves to show off when we seek Him. Why not go into our gatherings truly expecting to find Jesus there? Because, I promise He will show up.
If you’re not feeling the joy of Jesus in your current situation, why not be the one to change that—to create the joy. As Kelly Krenzel, founder of Hope Bloomssays in her TedTalk, “Sometimes to feel joy, you must first give it away to others.” We can be the change. We can be the catalyst to take something routine or rote and remind others that Jesus is there in our midst. That’s something to get pumped up about!
Why not bring doughnuts or carrot sticks, coffee, or bottled waters, for before, during, or after, depending on the setting. Heck, at my church a farmer puts out a bin of tomatoes or peppers from his field for anyone who wants them as we exit the building. There’s something so generous, unexpected, and fun about free produce freshly picked—it creates joy. Are you lacking music where you go? Take your portable speaker, cue up some hymns or brand new worship tunes or Christian rap, whatever, and play it in the background as people gather or mingle. Not appropriate for your gathering? That’s okay. Is there a piano? Do you play? Music not the right move? Then hug someone. Say, “hello,” to a stranger. Make a funny face at a toddler. Exude joy and watch it multiply! Whoever you touch with happiness will pass it on, and the excitement will build.
The sight of folks lining up to go to church brought pure happiness to my heart. It stirred something in me. The excitement in the room on Sunday was contagious. I wanted more of it. I pray all of you can feel that anticipation and hope of how Jesus is on the move, of what it feels like to hang out with Him. And I pray as you enter sanctuaries of any shape, size, or style to gather with one or one thousand brothers and sisters in Christ this week that you will bring joy with you, and like starting the wave at a sporting event, you will build the momentum, so that others can feel the joy that is Jesus.
I told my son, Max, we could go somewhere crazy, fun to celebrate his senior year. Max plans to go into worship ministry, so I wasn’t surprised when he chose the Heaven Come Conferencein Dallas this past weekend. I bought conference tickets, booked flights, and reserved a rental car. I mapped out where the event was and scouted out a convenient hotel. I wanted to plan the perfect trip—make it special and memorable for my boy. Apparently God also wanted to treat Max. Everywhere we turned we were blown away by the inexplicable goodness of God.
The conference was virtually nonstop worship music and phenomenal preaching. That alone would have made for an incredible trip. The tickets were open seating, so we had no idea where we’d be able to sit. But once each session began, ushers allowed anyone to move toward the stage. Okay. All of a sudden God handed Max and I had front row tickets. We knew we were going to miss the final session, but hoped we could see Dante Bowelead worship, and I really wanted to hear Christine Cainespeak. Don’t worry. God scheduled for us to see both of them.
Why did we skip the last session? My oldest daughter, who has never been to Texas, just happened to be playing two soccer games this same weekend in Dallas. Oh, and check out the sunset God doodled in the sky that night. It was insane.
Every single thing seemed to click like that. It was like we kept winning the lottery. Only better. Because we felt God’s presence. I’d be driving along on unfamiliar highways with multiple levels of twisted ramps that resembled the highways built around the Zax in that Dr. Seuss book, and need to get over five lanes. Yikes! But no problem. There was no one behind me, and I could easily scoot sideways across the highway. Which happens to me never.
While in the merchandise shop Max spotted a worship leader he admires from a church in Dallas. What? Why was he here? Selling t-shirts? I have no idea, but we got so many hugs from this guy we lost count. Walking through the lobby, we spotted another accomplished worship leader just hanging out in his flannel. Max got to chat songwriting and worship with him as if they were old friends.
It wasn’t just us. This was happening left and right around us. Friday there was a tremendous storm in Dallas that closed the airport. It took place while we were inside, so we never had to drive in it, stand in it, or even get wet. But it did stop the Friday night speaker from flying in. No worries. John Bevere, who had preached the night before couldn’t get out, so although not on the schedule, he came back and preached his guts out, in a way that moved possibly every one of the 6,000 people in attendance.
I’m leaving out a dozen other blessings—milkshakes in our parking lot, Starbucks in our lobby, an exit out of the parking lot opened right before our eyes, the free autographed poster we got handed, the fastest rental car check out and return I’ve ever experienced, and the loveliest people everywhere we turned.
Conference over, but still in Dallas, we headed to church Sunday morning. On the way Max mentioned one of his favorite worship leaders is Sean Feucht. As we waited for service to begin, in walks Sean. Yes, he’d been part of our conference, but it was totally unrelated to this church. He lives in California. Oh, and he was the guest preacher that morning. Get out!
For all the things I wanted to plan for my son, I couldn’t have prearranged any of this. There is not one thing I could have done on my own to ensure he could speak one-on-one to leaders who would encourage him to pursue his passion, that we would be in the perfect places at perfect times, or get platinum treatment with general admission tickets. But God could. And did. It’s how He operates.
Sure, I have days where I feel the opposite is true. Where it feels like everything goes wrong. I wake up with a migraine, one of my kids and I have a spat before they leave for school, and I can’t find my phone. Or keys. When I finally get everything rounded up I start my car, and realize I don’t have my bags for the grocery. And even though I’ve only allotted twenty minutes to dart into the store before I get to Bible study, my fuel light is on. Argh! But the thing is, God is with us on those days, too. He’s reminding us to grab our phone and bags before we leave. He’s whispering in our ears to slow down, take a deep breath that He loves us and is with us. The delay to find our keys or stop for gas might enable us to bump into that perfect person or keep us from getting into a fender bender. We rarely see all of the beautiful details God is orchestrating. But He always is. Do we have our eyes open?
You see, just like I want my kids’ lives to be filled with love and joy, God wants that for them (and us) even more! God is a good good Father, and He loves us perfectly. He is working everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He’s planning V.I.P. treatments, doors to open, people for us to meet at places and times we could never expect or concoct on our own.
This sometimes means breakups with the wrong person, because they weren’t right for us, not getting one job to find a better one, losing a lease, because God has a roommate that will help us cling to Jesus set up in a different apartment, or a place that will save us money, or where we’ll literally be able to sleep better at night. We can’t see all of His glorious ways. But we can trust that He is on the move.
Being at a conference where we were focused on Jesus, Max and I had our eyes wide open to God’s blessings. Not surprisingly, this made it easy to identify gift upon gift upon gift from the Lord. But the blessings are always there. Even in our storms, God is watering dry ground, preparing it for new growth. We just need to keep our hearts and eyes open. Where do you see Jesus blessing you today? Take a moment to thank Him for His abundant presence and presents.
“Would you like a pain au chocolat?” We asked my mom when she arrived at our apartment in Paris.
“No, I’m fine,” she replied.
“We just got them from the bakery. They’re still warm.”
She peeked at the white paper bag brimming with pastries, but shook her head. “No, really.”
I’m not sure what prompted Mom to turn down the flaky croissants stuffed with chunks of dark, rich chocolate. Maybe it was the calorie count or the fat grams. Maybe she’d eaten something on the plane already. But this was special. She was in France. And these were fresh-from-the-oven French delicacies.
“You should at least try a piece of one,” my son, Max, coaxed.
“Okay, maybe one bite.”
A few nights later, I received an email inviting me to go to Israel. Instantly my mind flooded with the memory of my childhood pastor describing his trip to the Holy Land from the pulpit, and my ten-year old mind being blown. You could actually go to the places from the Bible? That was an option? You could see where Jesus was buried? You could dip your toes in the Sea of Galilee? I’d longed to go ever since. I sighed—what an incredible opportunity. What an honor to be invited. My very next thought? Of course I won’t go.
Because it costs a lot of money? I hadn’t asked how much.
Because it means leaving my family for a week? I hadn’t asked if they minded. Because I don’t deserve this kind of gift—it seems too lavish for me to experience? I hadn’t asked God what His thoughts were.
I sounded like my mom with that pastry. Oh yes, that’s marvelous. I would really enjoy it. But, nah, I won’t partake.
Have you ever done this?
Given a quick “no.” to something good, something you want, something right in front of you? I’m not talking about eating the entire blueberry cobbler, buying every pair of cute sandals at TJ Maxx, or going out with the girls (or guys) every time someone sends a group text. We have limits on our resources. It’s important to set priorities and to exercise self-control. But sometimes, God gives us presents, simply because He’s an incredible Father and wants to delight us. Think of it like God wanting to take us out for ice cream, not because it’s our birthday, or because we got an A on our report card, but because it brings Him joy to make us smile.
When God asks if we’d like to go to Graeter’s? Do we answer, “Yes please!” and grab our flip-flops? Or do we primly shake our heads.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. —Ephesians 3:19 NLT
I’m guilty of turning down some of the ice cream cones God offers. In my practical “get things done, take care of the fam, make sure everything is running smoothly” mentality, I sometimes lose sight of how extravagant God’s love is. It might feel like I don’t deserve it, but not necessarily to Jesus. He is over the top and loves us accordingly. He piles heaps of blessings on us like putting someone in our lives who loves us for who we are, financially providing the means to pay a bill, a parking spot up front on a day when we need the extra four minutes, or a hug from a friend when we’re feeling down.
Are you receiving these gifts? Why or why not?
If you think they’re “too much” or not for you, have you asked God what His thoughts are?
After chatting with my Mom about her flight and train into the city, I glanced at her plate. All that remained were a few buttery crumbs of pastry.
I grinned, thrilled she had allowed herself to enjoy the treat we’d selected from specifically for her. “Good thing you had that bite,” I teased.
“It was just so delicious, I ended up eating the whole thing.”
Pain au chocolats are indulgent. We don’t need them. But they are also scrumptious. Not to eat every day, but while on a family trip to France, definitely.
Mom savored each morsel.
And after some long, deep conversations with God, I said, “yes,” to the trip to Israel.
What is Jesus offering you today?
He offers all of us peace, rescue, strength, courage, and salvation. Are you taking Him on those big, beautiful gifts wrapped in shiny bows?
Jesus also has special, unique gifts He offers us, too—trips to Israel and French pastries included. Are you accepting these gifts? Maybe it’s a job you haven’t bothered applying for, because you don’t know if they’d hire you. Or maybe you haven’t gone to that event, meeting, club, because you’re not sure how you’ll fit in. Or maybe you haven’t spoken up because you’re uncertain how they’ll respond. If this is you, I urge you to look inward and ask why you’re so quick to turn these potential gifts down. Ask God His opinion. I find He likes us to go ahead and open the presents He’s wrapped for us. They don’t do much good sitting there taped shut.
You are worthy of every spiritual blessing. God says so. Go ahead—tug on the bow. I can’t wait to see what you unwrap!
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Laura L. Smith