While on vacation our family went to Mellow Mushroom for trivia night and their delicious pizza (I love the Great White with sundried tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and ricotta). The Trivia Master asked questions about Taylor Swift, what kind of car Knight Rider drove, the ingredients in soy sauce, how high fleas can jump, and so many more. I knew the answers to some questions like: Who sang “Chain of Fools”? Aretha Franklin. And some I had zero idea like: Who was the first president to live in the White House?
But I didn’t have to know about the White House, because my 17-year old son is a history buff and loves presidents. He whipped John Adams out of his brain faster than kids jump in the pool when the lifeguard blows their whistle signaling adult swim is over. I also didn’t need to know about baseball or bones because my mom, daughters, and husband knew all kinds of trivia I was clueless about. And when none of us knew the answers, we laughed at the ridiculously obscure questions and made silly guesses. It didn’t all depend on me. I wasn’t fully responsible. No one expected me to have all the answers. Because I had a team.
The same holds true for life. You don’t have to have all the answers, run damage control, sort through the emotions, or do all the work by yourself. God never intended for us to do life alone. As soon as God finished making the first human, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” Then God immediately made Eve, so Adam wouldn’t have to do life solo. God knew from the get go we are better together.
We wrestle with decisions all by ourselves not wanting to inconvenience or worry the people around us. We start something new and hesitate to share our ideas or dreams, because we don’t want to be critiqued or dismissed. We try to do all the things for all the people without asking for help, because we don’t want to let anyone down. Or maybe we just like things done our way. Or maybe we’re plain stubborn. We keep our mental health struggles to ourselves, because we worry what others might think, or because we don’t want to be a burden. We try to figure things out solo, because surely we’re clever enough to do so or we don’t want to appear weak or less than. But what if someone could give us helpful tips or lend a hand or carry some of our load or be a safe place to process? It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.
We are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in a recent report as something that’s “damaging the health of individuals and our society.” The report goes on to state, "Relationships help our overall well-being, and lead to healthier and more fulfilled and productive lives.” Being alone increases our risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and stroke. As God was saying, “It’s not good for people to be alone.”
Listen, I’m an introvert, so doing things solo is my natural tendency. And I’m a writer, so my job largely consists of stringing words together on my laptop–by myself. So, I need to be intentional about not isolating. I have to schedule walks and coffee dates with friends. I have to make an effort to blurt feelings and ideas out around the table or on the phone with people I love and trust. And when I share what’s on my mind, what I’m excited about, what I’m struggling with, what I’m dreaming and scheming and praying about with close, trusted friends or family, I’m a better version of myself. I get support and insights and ideas. I’m asked great questions, given wise suggestions, and feel seen and heard. People pray for me and check back to see how things are going. I receive love. And it’s beautiful. You can have all this too!
What’s going on in your life? What are you most excited about? Struggling the most with? What’s your first thought when you wake up? The thing that’s keeping you up at night? The thing you’re praying your heart out about?
Does anyone know about it?
Try inviting someone you trust, someone who loves Jesus and will keep you pointed toward Him into what’s occupying your time, heart, and mind. Ask for help if you need it or get it off your chest or explain that you just really need someone to listen. It will do wonders.
God has always intended us to share our lives. Friendship appears over and over in the Bible as a way people got through some extremely high highs and low lows. King David had his best friend Jonathan. Ruth had Naomi. Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples. We weren’t meant to do life alone. We’re better off when we share the struggles, triumphs, and even random ideas of our lives with others. Who knows, if you do, you might even win at trivia.
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There’s something fishy about the Italian village of Monterosso, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre (literally “five lands”) nestled along the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. The cerulean water, breathtaking views, picturesque hiking trails, lemon trees, olive groves, vineyards, and postcard perfect town comprised of candy-colored buildings makes it one of my favorite places in the world. I’m not the only one who loves Monterosso. The secret is out and this tiny town (population 1,400) now teems with tourists from around the world. Another thing I love about Monterosso is it never tries to be something that it’s not and it never forgets who it is, what it has, and what its strong suit is. It never looks to the right or left and says, “I wish I was more like Venice or Florence.”
Can we say the same?
Monterosso is a fishing village through and through situated in some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it fully rocks its fishy-ness.
Long before tourists flooded the train station, fishermen and their families lived in this coastal town dating back to the year 683 when people living in the hills descended to the seashore to escape barbarians. The people caught the local fish and built a life. They hiked trails or took boats to get between the neighboring villages. Today fishermen still fish daily. Every restaurant we saw serves freshly caught fish, as well as foods prepared with the olives and lemons abundant on the hills. If you google top things to do in prominent Italian cities like Rome or Milan you’ll find churches and statues topping all the lists. But Monterosso doesn’t promote tours to Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, the beautiful black and white striped Gothic church built in the 1200s, or Il Gigante, the incredible sculpture of a giant carved into the rock at the very far end of the beach (although they’re both worth a look).
No, if you search for what to do in Monterosso you’ll be directed to the things that make Monterosso unique–hike the gorgeous trails and take boat rides in the azure water. The cafes and shops aren’t decorated with pictures of famous people who have stopped by or glitzy beach scenes, but everywhere everywhere everywhere there are fish. Monterosso owns who it is.
Who were you created to be?
Are you living in your God-given identity, or trying to be like or comparing yourself to somebody else?
What do you have available to you?
What’s your strong suit?
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and trying new things. I highly encourage both. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of praying and dreaming through something totally new. But as we dream, let’s keep in mind who God created us to be, what He’s given us, and where He’s put us. It actually helps make our dreams a reality, a reality where God walks beside us.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Who did God create you to be?
What do you love doing? What are you great at? Make a list of those things–everything. What music makes you dance, what books can you not put down, what would you do with one hour of free time, what was your favorite subject in school, what’s your favorite food, who makes you laugh, what would you do with a million dollars or three weeks without responsibilities? Brainstorm. Dream. What lights you up?
What’s available to you?
The people of Monterosso have fish, lemons, olives, water, and scenic trails at their fingertips.
How about you? Has your family owned a small farm for ages? You could grow vegetables to feed your community or transform the property into a special event venue. If your workplace has a sound system, could you borrow it to start your own podcast or record the music you’re writing?
Where do you live?
In a cold or hot climate? What part of the country? What are the needs of your community? I live in a college town with brick, ivy, college students, classrooms, a large population of academics, incredible speakers and events, and all the shops and restaurants that cater to these young people. How about you? If you live in a big city you probably have public transport, skyscrapers, large crowds, an fine arts scene, and professional sports. Is your city famous for barbecue or live music or its annual sunflower festival? How do you fit into those things? Do any of those opportunities enable you to rent a booth, offer a class, share the Gospel, create a tour, lead a study, feed the hungry, or give a performance utilizing your gifts and skills?
What’s your strong suit?
Are you great at numbers or words? Do you have a keen sense of direction or an eye for details or design? Do you communicate especially well with kids or senior citizens? Can you make exceptionally tasty fish tacos or mouth-watering muffins or super cool tie-dyed t-shirts or water tight contracts or create codes?
Jesus is so intentional. He’s numbered every hair on your head. He goes before and behind you. He knit you very specifically together in your mother’s womb. He had designs on you for glorious living before you were even born. This means all those things you love to do, all those things you’re actually pretty good at, that come easily to you, even the places and spaces where Jesus has put you–they’re all part of His divine plan–there is goodness for you there, you can thrive and help others thrive, too!
Spend some time this week not worrying about what anyone else is doing. Instead journal, pray, talk to trusted Godly friends about what you like to do, what you’re great at, what resources and opportunities are around you, what you dream of doing, how that all fits into your calling and see what comes of it. There’s nothing fishy about it, just purpose, fullness, and joy waiting to be discovered.
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I’m giving away a 5-day 4-night stay in this gorgeous mountain house in hopes it will Restore Your Soul! Keep reading for all the details on how easy it is to enter.
Soul restoration. It’s what Jesus wants for us. It’s what He offers. But often we're worried, tired, stressed or some combo of the above.
How do we make the switch? From frazzled to at peace? From anxious to feeling safe and secure? Mainly by spending time with Jesus and letting Him guide, protect, and love us. I write all about it in my new book, Restore My Soul, which releases on July 5, 2022! You can pre-order your copy here (if you order two copies you can enter the mountain house giveaway–more on that in a minute). Getting away from the hustle and bustle, seeking beauty, taking time to rest, finding a quiet place to talk to Jesus, and slowing down so you can hear Him are all great ways to begin your soul restoration–thus the mountain house giveaway.
Psalm 84 says:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out
For the living God. (vv.1-2)
Do you have a place like this? Where you seek Jesus? Where you cry out to Him and spend time–dwelling or abiding–seeking Him?
My mom’s mountain house is one of those places for me. Staring out at the lake, marveling at the mountains, unplugging, being present. It’s beautiful. I find God here. I’ve been going to these mountains with my family since I was in 8th grade. Brett proposed to me in these mountains. One of our kids took their first steps here. We’ve played cards and gathered near the fireplace on chilly evenings. We’ve lounged on giant rafts floating around the lazy river, played tennis, basketball, and giant Connect Four on steamy summer days. We’ve shared countless meals and stories, celebrated birthdays, Easter and Thanksgiving–all gifts from our glorious God–in these rooms. I’ve sat on the deck with my Bible and soaked in His living word. Plus, the views are spectacular.
But the places God restores us don’t have to be fancy. My closet is also one of my favorite places to seek the Lord. I turn out the lights and close my eyes, so there are literally zero views. I shut out all noise and just talk to Jesus. I might shout out to Him my frustrations, thank Him for all that He’s done, rattle off a list of my concerns, meditate on something I read in the Bible that morning, or sit in silence and simply listen to Him.
And that’s such a cool thing about Jesus! He wants us to come to Him with all our emotions. Our joy and fear, our laughter and anger, our exhaustion and bursts of energy. The Psalms illustrate this for us. The psalmists brought everything to God–the good, bad, and ugly. And God promised to those emotional psalmists to always be faithful, that His love for them would endure forever. Jesus promises the same to you and me–no matter what we’re going through or how we feel.
Join me in the pages of Restore My Soul: the Power and Promise of 30 Psalms as I dive into thirty psalms and explore how relevant they are to our lives today, how these ancient poems and songs show us that no matter what we’re facing our God goes before and behind us. He watches over us and never sleeps. He bends down and picks us up. He wants only goodness and mercy for us. He longs to restore our very souls.
And while you’re picking up a copy of the book, if you grab two YOU CAN ENTER THE MOUNTAIN HOUSE GIVEAWAY! That’s right, the only thing you have to do to enter is purchase two copies of my new book, Restore My Soul wherever books are sold between today and July 12 and submit your receipt here. Make sure you're following me on Facebook or Instagram.
Must be 18 and over to enter. Void where prohibited. U.S. citizens only (sorry international friends). Note: I will never ask for credit card information and will only contact winners via email. Not affiliated with any social media site. One grand prize winner can stay five days and four nights at the pictured mountain house in Lake Lure, NC (30 miles outside of Asheville) and will be randomly selected from all entries. Transportation not included. Grand prize winner must work with property owner to find available dates. Runners up will be randomly selected from all entries for additional prizes including having Laura Zoom into your Bible study or book club. If your prize is being mailed to you, please allow additional time for postal delays.
I had never been to the iconic Bluebird Cafe before, and this intimate music venue knocked my socks off. I had never walked the streets of 12 South in Nashville, even though I’ve been to the city many times. And as I strolled with my oldest daughter we discovered some super cute shops and this adorable sign.
I love my life in Ohio–my home, our adorable college town, and my local coffee shop. I love the trails I run on, the people I interact with, and the brick streets. But no matter how much I love this place, it’s good for my soul to see other places, to experience new things, taste new foods, run new routes, have my eyes opened in different ways, because it helps me look at things in an “I’m ready to discover something kind of way.”
And God always has new things He wants us to discover.
About ourselves. About the world we live in. About Him.
Jesus was always giving His followers a fresh perspective. He took the disciples places they hadn’t dared to go, like walking through Sychar, a town in dreaded Samaria, to talk to a woman at a well. The disciples were surprised Jesus even spoke to her.
Why did Jesus take them there? I believe He went that route specifically to find this woman, one of His children who He loved, who needed His grace. Why did He take the disciples with Him? Maybe to show them that everyone, including the Samaritans they were prejudiced against, were invited into God’s kingdom. Maybe to show the disciples how much Jesus cared for and elevated women, even when society disregarded them. Maybe to show the world how one person could make a huge difference. The woman, after all, went and told her townspeople about this man she’d met at the well. And we’re told:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him (Jesus) because of the woman’s testimony.-- John 4:39
Maybe for all the above reasons. This was a trip and a route and a person the disciples would have never seen if it weren’t for Jesus.
What would have happened if the disciples had refused to come with Jesus, said, “No thanks, we don’t like that road or that town. We’ll just go the long way around Sychar”? They would have missed it all. They’d have kept their narrower view. Missed all that we see by reading and studying this story.
On another occasion Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain with Him to pray.
As he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. –Luke 9:29-32
Wowza! Peter, James, and John were some of Jesus’ disciples and best friends. But after seeing this? Witnessing with their very eyes Jesus in His holiness, as bright as lightning? They dedicated their entire lives to sharing the Good News that Jesus was the Messiah, offering love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone who believes in Him. Peter and James gave up their lives for the cause and John was sentenced to solitary confinement for his dedication to telling the world about Jesus. They were all in. Was it because of this day?
The Bible tells us Jesus took the disciples up the mountain with Him. What if they had said, “Nope, not feeling it today. I’m tired. I have a lot to do. I’m not a big fan of hikes.” They would have never seen Jesus transfigured. Never seen Him with Elijah and Moses, heroes of their faith by Jesus’ side.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss whatever God has in store for me. I don’t want to be too set in my ways to discover all that Jesus wants to show me.
So how do we do this? Have our eyes opened?
First, by praying. Asking God to open our eyes, show us more of Him, helps us understand Him more fully. You can literally pray these words, “Jesus, I want to know you better. I want to see the bigger picture, understand Your glory, Your plans, how You love people, what You want me to know and understand. Please open my eyes to all you want me to see. Amen” It’s that simple.
Secondly, by trying new things. If we’re always in the same places doing the same things it will be harder (not impossible) to experience fresh perspectives. Try going somewhere new, making a new recipe, using new soap or lotion or perfume. Change your workout from a walk to Pilates or from biking to hiking. Or even change the time of day you walk your dog. You’ll be surprised by the different people you encounter, the way the light is different in the afternoon than in the morning, and how different the comings and goings in your neighborhood, campus, community are at different times of day.
One weekend in Nashville visiting my oldest daughter wowed me with songwriting from musicians I’d never heard of that made me weep, inspired me with artistic charcuterie that reminded me loveliness can be in the details, introduced me to new people from Canada, Wyoming, and of course Nashville. I noticed the signs, the roads, and menus, because they were all different from the signs, roads, and menus of my day to day. I went to a different grocery and got fresh ideas for dinner. I popped in one-of-a-kind boutiques and got new outfit inspiration for clothes I already own. I stood in line next to a man who helped an elderly woman to her car and gave a stranger directions. Watching him reminded me of the sheer beauty of simple kindness.
Back in Ohio I feel like my senses are on high alert, ready for newness at every turn. What if we all went around like this every day–open to God’s wonders and discoveries? If we all went where Jesus nudged, noticed what Jesus pointed out, paid attention to the people He put near us, really tasted the food we’re putting in our mouths? Would it change things? I believe it would.
God is so much greater, bigger, more powerful, more glorious than we can imagine. I love how He shows us glimpses of His character and creativity at every turn. I want my eyes open to all this wonder. I’m making it my aim to give it a go.
What new thing will you do today to help awaken your senses to what God has in store?
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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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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.
Laura L. Smith