Cerulean sky. Vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. A cool breeze filled with the smoky scent of a neighbor’s fireplace tickled my nose. The setting for my run was ideal, yet I felt weak and out of breath. Coming to a hill I slowed to a walk. Almost immediately a friend’s face popped into my head who’s a marathon runner. She told me in the hardest parts of a race if you just keep running—push past the hard part--you find your groove. Alright, Laura, I told myself, get going. I increased my speed. But it was hard. Unusually so. Next month I’d be running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and this current thing my legs and lungs were doing would not do.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. When did I become such a bad runner? Why can’t I go for a simple jog at a distance and rate I usually go without huffing and puffing? I’m out of shape. I need to train. I’ll be a bad partner for my husband in the race. I’ll slow him down. I have a daughter who is a college athlete. I’m pathetic.
Regardless of how much shame I felt for not being able to breathe, I had to slow to a walk again. And then it hit me—I’d had my blood drawn an hour ago, which always makes me woozy. And because I was getting my blood drawn, I’d fasted last night and this morning. Afterwards I ate some yogurt and granola, so I thought I was good. But apparently not so much. How long does it take for the body to replace that blood?
I Googled it. The pop-up answer was four to eight weeks. What? No wonder I felt light-headed. I finally gave myself some grace and decided it was A-Okay to walk the rest of my route. When I got home, I researched a bit more. Turns out the four-eight weeks was a bit misleading, but the web consensus was that according to my weight and normal level of physical activity I could work out about five hours after having blood drawn. Hmmm. Not one hour. Weird.
Why was my first instinct to bash myself? Instead of assessing my situation and wondering why two days ago I had a phenomenal run, and today I was struggling, I listed the ways I didn’t measure up. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what I did. Oh, how my brain can take one lie and spin it out of control.
Do you ever do this? Is there any area in your life that the talk in your head sounds like, “You’re not good enough to… get noticed, be in a relationship, earn an “A,” be picked, win the award, get the job, move up the list, have your idea accepted? Because Jesus never talks to us like that. His words are, “You are my masterpiece. You were created in my image. I came down to the world and died on the cross to save you. I love you.”
Will Jesus sometimes put up barriers? Sure. Will He sometimes say, “not now” or “not this” or “not them?” Definitely. Just like God told me to slow down as I ran. Not because Jesus thinks I’m a bad runner or doubts if I’m capable of running the Turkey Trot. Not because He’s shaking His head and wishing I would step up my workouts. But because Jesus saw me get my biometrics test. God knew my body was still recuperating, and if I kept going, I might pass out in the middle of the street, or some such thing. Jesus wasn’t telling me I wasn’t good enough. He was keeping me safe.
Because Jesus NEVER tells us we’re not good enough.
That’s always the enemy’s voice, slithering into any place we might feel doubt, anything that’s important to us, anywhere he thinks he can distract us from the truth of who we are in Christ—treasured, fearfully and wonderfully made, set aside to do good works.
What if when we start to struggle, our default was to ask God, “Hey, what’s going on? Why is this hard? Do you want me to stop? Or do different? Or go the other way?” And if it’s something that’s plain going to be hard (because some things are hard—loss, abuse, health issues both mental and physical, etc.), what if we went to God in these situations and said, “This is freaking hard, please give me the strength, energy, stamina, to get through it. Please help me know when resting makes sense. And when it’s time to push forward again.”
What, then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
God is for us. On our side. Not telling us where we fall short. But cheering us on over the finish line. Yes, He’ll put up some barriers sometimes—to protect us. But our Savior always wants what’s absolutely best for us. Even when we can’t see the whole picture.
The next time you hear “not enough” in your head. Slow down. Catch your breath. Stamp it out. Dismiss it as quickly as it came. Don’t let your default be one of blame or shame. Don’t let the negativity fester or multiply out of control. Because that is never of God. He is for you. He will stand strong to protect you from anything or anyone who tries to go against you, but He will also wave you forward into the glorious plans He has in store for you. Whether you’re completely in stride or feeling faint, Jesus looks at you, and says, “Oh look! There’s one of my kids! I love her so much!”
I could eat fall up by the spoonfuls! The crisp, tart apples from the farmer’s market, the sweet creaminess of a pumpkin spiced latte, I even have some “Perfect Autumn” foaming hand soap in my bathroom that smells so amazing, it uplifts my mood every time I wash my hands. You may or may not catch me sniffing my palms a good fifteen minutes later. Cozy sweaters and cute boots, caramel everything! Oh, plus candy corn. But the delightful chill of an autumn morning morphing into the warmth of a sunlit afternoon does more than point me to pumpkin patches, it points me to God.
Have you seen a field packed with gigantic sunflowers all facing the sun? Each one of those sun-shaped blooms has a brown face comprised of 2,000 seeds! And those little seeds in the face of a flower can be snacked on by baseball players, birds, or your brother, turned into cooking oil, or planted, creating the potential for an endless supply of these stunning stalks. Only God could have invented such a sustainable source for birdseed, protein, and bouquets.
If you slice your favorite Gala or Granny Smith sideways as if you were cutting its waistline, you’ll see five seemingly perfect shaped points of a symmetrical star holding the apples seeds. How did this geometric phenomenon end up on the inside of a piece of fruit? I can’t even draw an equally sided star. Only the Master Artist could create something like this. He doesn’t even show it off. He hides it inside your lunchbox.
Leaves change color from bright green to spicy browns, deep reds, earthy oranges, and vibrant yellows. They do this on their own—without anyone painting, tinting, or tie-dying them. Acorns have pointed ends, helping them lodge into the ground to grow a new crop of trees. Corncobs alwayshave an even number of rows of kernels. Birds, who are known for their feeble “bird brains,” sense the coming cold weather is dangerous, and find their way without a GPS or any kind of App whatsoever to warmer climates. The outdoor critters who stay in Ohio grow thicker fur to keep warm in cooler months. I marvel out how intricately God designed every detail of creation. In the fall He seems to show off a little extra.
When I take a few moments to consider this on a cool evening as the Harvest Moon glows almost the moment the sun sets, I can’t help but be grateful for such an intentional and specific God. I can’t help but remember that He also designed me, and the people I love, you, and your special folks, too—each one of us full of beautiful surprises, ways to bear fruit, and the ability to cope in rougher conditions. If He drizzled this much creativity, beauty, and purpose into corncobs, flowers, and the fur of a bunny, God surely poured it into each and every one of His children, as well.
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? —Matthew 6:26
You were as precisely designed as the star inside an apple. Your face is more breathtaking than a sunflower. God cares more about you then the hummingbirds He leads over 4000 miles from Ohio to South America and back again in the spring. Take a moment to drink in God’s gorgeous creation this week—gaze at a golden autumn sunrise, watch a squirrel skitter to and fro with a nut in his mouth, listen to his tiny feet crunch in the leaves, simmer some cider on your stove, and then praise Jesus. Thank Him for His glorious creation, but even more so for the love, care, and detail He tenderly put into you.
“What are you taking a picture of?” my husband asked.
“I’m just going to touch them,” I said over my shoulder. I was drawn to the most beautiful willow on the other side of the street with wispy branches arching high and dropping low to the ground. After crossing the street and running my fingers through whispery leaves and vine like branches I pulled my phone from my back pocket and snapped a few pics. Which to most people would seem pretty strange, but it didn’t faze my husband.
“We both knew you were going to take pictures.”
“I just planned on touching it,” I said. “I can’t resist willows.”
Brett grinned. “And?”
“And once I touched it I needed a picture,” I conceded.
Brett held out his arms and hugged my ridiculous self—the goofball who takes pictures of trees in random people’s yards. “We both knew you were going to take a picture. I just knew first,” he said.
I am a dork. There’s no question about it. My husband knows all of my weird, quirky, nerdy behavior, and loves me not only despite it, but sometimes even because of it. I am blessed by him, no doubt. But this isn’t just how Brett sees me. This is how Jesus—the Creator of the Universe, the King of the World sees all of us!
He knows we can’t hear very well, can’t help talking strangers next to us in line, feel the need to wash our feet twice every time we shower, or require a pillow on our ear in order to fall asleep. Jesus knows all of these things about us, because He specifically designed us this way. And instead of being bothered when we yank an itchy t-shirt off our body as soon as it touches our skin, Jesus grins, and makes a softer tee more visible in our drawer.
Early in his ministry Jesus was headed toward Galilee. There was a man named Nathanael who Jesus wanted as one of his disciples. Jesus hadn’t officially been introduced, but being part of the Trinity and all, had actually been in on the creation of Nathanael. Jesus knew him inside and out.
When Jesus saw him (Nathanael) coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet!--John 1:47-50
In this short interchange we see that:
We spend so much time apologizing for and hiding our quirks. Why? We get nervous wondering what others will think. Why?
Jesus looks at us and says, “I love your crooked smile—it puts people at ease. Your fun laugh brings joy to a room. The fact that you count everything makes those around you aware of how much they actually have. Your quiet nature relaxes those around you. The way you can’t sit still when you hear music gets folks minds off their problems and onto the possibilities of singing or dancing—of finding joy.”
When we need a minute to collect our thoughts or because we’re meticulous about tucking in our shirt or to take a deep breath or because we are unsettled if we don’t wipe off the counter, Jesus doesn’t get frustrated or impatient. He leans back, smiles, and when we’re good to go says, “Ready?”
The disciples were worried about what people would think when Jesus sent them out to spread the good news. Jesus reassured them:
What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated. You’re worth more than a million canaries. —Matthew 10:30
Wow! I have a hecka lot of hairs on this head. And He numbers all of them? How amazing that this is how specifically and thoroughly our God loves us. He knows every single detail about us. And just as we cringe and think--Every single detail? Because there are a few details I’d rather nobody knew. Jesus follows up. He says, “I know every detail about you, and by knowing all of those details, I consider you worth more than a million canaries.”
So be yourself—your actual self—today. Be silly or serious, fast or slow, calm or crazy. Bring yourself to the game, the meeting, the coffee date, the class, and know that you are exactly who God created you to be. He sees you under your fig tree or crossing the street to touch a willow tree or researching your family tree or pulling your favorite sandals off your shoetree, and He says, “That one—I want to hang out with her.”
I’ve been stripped.
Of my car.
Of my oven.
Of my laptop.
At least temporarily. And it’s been rough. I mean, God has called me to be a wife, a mom, and a writer. These things are the tools of my trade. Without them, I feel bare, lacking. Who am I when I can’t drive, cook, or write?
It started while listening to an Annie Downs’podcast. I was challenged by the question, “Who are you when you’re not caring for the people you love?” The question made me cringe. Who. Am. I? But instead of lingering there, I answered by rote, “I am a child of God,” and kept going about my day. Except God wasn’t done.
Who are you when you’re not ___________? Think about that for a minute.
Nurturing my family is my jam. Making them happy makes me happy. But what about when I can’t provide them with everything they want and need? Am I okay with that? God called me to love these people, but He wants me to put this calling in context. And He wasn’t going to let me move on until we spent some time here. When I took my car in for an oil change, and it ended up it needed to stay in the shop for a few days, I felt Him nudging me with this question again. I laughed. Okay, God, so who am I when I can’t drive my kiddos anywhere? My oven decided it’s too hot outside and won’t heat above 200 degrees. All right, God. I’m listening.
When I’m not doing my wife and mom gigs, I’m writing. My old laptop was shutting down (see a pattern), so I splurged and replaced my nine-year old standby. I felt quite clever as I managed the “migration assistant” and my old and new Macs seemed to be telepathically communicating. Until they got mad at each other and stopped talking. The Apple store informed me it would take 72 hours to get my laptop up and running. Which left me once again asking, “Who am I when I’m not….”
I kept looking around for something to do, because I couldn’t tend to my usual tasks. Without my car, oven, or computer how should I best love my family well, write well for God? I heard Jesus calling. Here’s what you should do. Sit with me. Talk to me. Guess what? As I sat still with the Lord, it was peaceful. I didn’t feel less, because I wasn’t rocking all my tasks. God was in my moments of not being able to achieve. He didn’t ditch me just because I wasn’t doing all the things. In fact, God asked me who gave me those assignments, because He never said in order to be a good mom I had to drive to soccer practice or that in order to write for Him I had to finish the third chapter for my proposal by the end of the week. Turns out those were metrics I was using. Not God.
My initial response, “child of God,” was right, But God didn’t want me to fill in the bubble and turn the page. It’s too important. It’s actually true. Jesus wanted me to soak myself in it, wrap myself in it. I am a child of God. I am His. I am chosen. I am loved. I am empowered. I am enough.
And so are you.
The things I’ve been stripped of are minimal and temporary. I have friends who have been stripped of much more. One friend lost their home. Another their relationship. Yet, another her memories. Who are these people without their house, partner, and past? They are still God’s children. He still holds them dear. They still have complete access to God’s strength, power, joy, peace, and love. There’s nothing in Scripture that states we need a family, to be married, to live in a certain place or have a certain state of mental health to be loved by Jesus.
Do we believe that? Do we live like that?
God is hammering this truth into my head. It’s a blast to love on my husband and kids, and write stories for Jesus. It is. Down to my core I believe God called me to do these things. They light me up. But I also need to trust that God is in control—that when everything else is gone, when it’s just me and Jesus, that that is enough. In fact, it’s spectacular.
I don’t know what you call yourself today, but how would you feel if one of those nametags got peeled off? If the things you do disappear… who are you?
Jesus told some fishermen, “Drop your nets and follow me.” He told a rich man, “Sell everything you have and follow me.” Jesus looked a tax collector in the eye and said, “Quit your job. Follow me.”Not everyone Jesus challenged to strip off the things that defined them obeyed. Those are some tough instructions. But those that did, those that laid down their nets and their balance sheets, never regretted it.
I am not fully responsible for making everything work, for having all the answers, for doing everything perfectly. Neither are you. This is such a relief. But what’s even better to know is that the Lord of all loves me, loves you, not for any of our statuses, but simply because we’re His. I’m not wishing upon any of you that you lose something that matters to you, but I am praying that whatever you do or don’t have, that you realize how fully loved and complete you are, because you belong to Jesus.
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On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
If you just stumbled onto us, you can start today and always go back to the previous days later (or not, that’s fine, too). This is a FREE 30-day devotional to dive into how much God loves you, and to discover what that means for your life. If you haven’t downloaded your free copy yet, just leave a comment, and I'll get you added. Share with friends. The more the merrier.
Have you ever watched the show, The Voice? The first round is called the “blind round.” Four judges are turned, their backs facing the stage. Singers come on stage, begin to sing, and are judged solely on their voice. If a judge loves what they hear, they push their button, spin around, and in doing so are offering that particular vocalist the opportunity to be coached, and to move on to the next round. Watching the show, there is such a thrill, a high, when someone with an incredible voice gets “picked” by a judge.
Because, don’t we all go around hoping we’ll get “picked” by the judges in our world?
I hope I get chosen to head the committee, get the job, start in the game, sing the song, write the book, get the raise. I hope someone notices my new boots, my hair (because I spent half an hour curling it), my new throw pillows I found for a steal at TJ Maxx, that I cleaned the kitchen. Because, it’s nice to be noticed. And it feels good to be picked.
But we already are.
By the ultimate Judge of all mankind, the One whose opinion truly matters and hushes all the other voices we hear or try to impress. God, has already picked us for His team, He’s already declared us as chosen, as royal, as holy, as His special possession. This is our true self. We don’t have to rehearse until we’re hoarse, work harder, or make sure our outfit looks pulled together. We don’t need to worry about getting knocked out in the rounds to come. It’s already a done deal. Jesus pushed His button, turned His chair to face us one-on-one, and Jesus is applauding for us. Not because of something special we’ve prepared, but because He loves us.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. --1 Peter 2:9
Take a moment to write down some of the things you are evaluated on, that you rate yourself on, and/or you hope people will notice in your current roles in life:
Now say out loud, “God chose me. I am chosen. I am God’s special possession.”
*Today is a great time to check in, ask questions, and share how your journey is going so far. You can comment below and/or join me on Instagram and Facebook fusing #mytruereflection or more questions, ideas, and sharing.
Have you ever watched the cooking show Chopped? The contestants, who are experienced chefs, get a basket with five seemingly mismatched ingredients and are challenged to make a delicious dish using all those ingredients while cooking against the clock. The chefs might open their baskets to find durian (a spiky Asian fruit), lime gelatin, imitation crabmeat, and crunchy cheese curls. Or maybe their basket contains salmon, avocadoes, sweet tea, and cricket flour (ground crickets). And their cooking time starts…now.
It makes for great television and cooking inspiration. Because although I look at those ingredients and nearly choke at their combinations, as the timer ticks down to zero all of the competing chefs create unique scrumptious dishes—ranging from soup to tacos to bruschetta—out of the strange, sometimes off-putting ingredients.
It’s also a cool preview of who we are in Christ.
Unfortunately, some days we look in the mirror and see the bizarre basket ingredients—brains and black garlic. Ew! And we focus on how unusual, pungent, stringy, or briny that particular aspect of our whole persona is. My face is breaking out, voice can’t carry a tune, and brain isn’t good at numbers—fill in the blank with the negative labels we tend to put on our singular traits.
What we fail to do is see the whole picture—God’s recipe for who we are in Him. God knitted us together stitch by stitch, piece by piece with the sum of our parts in mind. He imagined the whole picture, the entirety of you and me stirred and simmered together into something incredible.
Think about baking a cake. Baking soda by itself tastes nasty—certainly not like a sweet treat. Salt also doesn’t seem to belong in something we’d serve for dessert. But without baking soda our cakes would fall flat, and without salt they wouldn’t be as flavorful.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something. –Psalm 139:14
The chefs on Chopped decide to marinate this crazy thing in that odd ingredient plus three fresh herbs and a little olive oil. And, gosh! Really? Frog legs look and smell inviting while simmering? If a handful of passionate cooks can do that with a basket of surprise ingredients, don’t you think the God of the Universe knew what He was doing when He made you?
The folks who run Chopped have intentionally selected foods that pair together in a variety of delicious ways, if only the chefs will take a moment to consider how the flavors work as a whole not in parts. The acidity of this balances the richness of that. The sweetness of this mellows the bitterness of that. And all together a delicious dish is created from the quirky combination of flavors. We’re all the same way.
I’ve always had a high voice, which I hated for years. I’ve been teased and even called, “Minnie Mouse.” Salespeople who call often ask, “Is your mom at home?” For a funny twist in “my ingredient basket” God asks me to speak in front of groups. About Him. With this high voice. It seems mismatched, like a bad recipe, but God intentionally gave me this voice, so it catches people’s attention, so they might be more inclined to remember when I tell them how much Jesus loves them. God knew what He was doing when He made you, too. The sum of the individual ingredients He marinated together for your personal recipe makes you amazing, unique, and in God’s eyes prize-worthy.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. —Ephesians 1:11-12
Jesus knew what He was doing when He made you. He had an overall purpose. So today, don’t negative self-talk your distinct features. Instead consider how God puts them all together and uses them for your overall design and the work He’s called you to. Nobody wants to eat cricket flour—at least I don’t, but with all the right ingredients sautéed and blended with a garnish on the side, even the things we truly don’t understand about ourselves are being used for a complete, phenomenal recipe. God has a gourmet plan for you and His kingdom. Bon appetite!
I always thought it would be too hard to cut up a pineapple. I mean, look at those thorny things. Where do they even keep the fruit in there? So, when I actually treated myself to pineapple it was the approximately $94 for a small plastic tub of pineapple cubes in the produce department. Ridiculous. You guys, cutting up a pineapple is so easy! If you can extract fruit from a watermelon (and you did that all summer, right?) you can certainly dissect a pineapple. It’s practically the same thing. Yet I somehow bought into the grocery store lie that It’s way too hard for you. Let us do all the work and charge you a king’s ransom. It’s better this way. Trust us. Turns out, it’s not better that way. Pineapple is sweeter, fresher, and incredibly more delicious when it’s freshly released from its thorny protection. It’s also way cheaper.
We’ve all bought into lies. My grandma died of emphysema—a disease that destroyed her lungs brought on by smoking. When I was little, I begged her to quit and even hid her cigarettes. Every time, Grandma would argue, “I’m addicted now. It’s too late. But when I started I didn’t know it was bad for me. When I started smoking no one had any idea.” No idea? That inhaling ignited carcinogens could be lethal? But that generation honestly didn’t know. They’d been fed the lie that smoking was relaxing and glamorous and harmless.
Sometimes the lies we believe are out of convenience or lack of information. But what about the lies we’ve been told about our self worth? About how talented or smart we are or are not? About how attractive or ugly or fat or thin we are? How about the lies that we’re not good enough, can’t do it, shouldn’t even try? Or the lies that say we have to please this person and that person and achieve that thing and know those facts and cook those types of meals and do those kind of exercises if we want to be accepted or loved?
All these lies are as ludicrous as the one that you can’t chop a piece of fruit or that smoking can’t harm you.
You are loved.
You are accepted.
You are exactly as God intended you to be—brilliant, with your own set of special talents, and a unique calling that He has crafted specifically for you.
God has started a great work in you and won’t give up, or leave you alone, or fire you, or stop being proud of you, until that great work comes to completion.
You don’t have to have the fridge stocked with all the things, be on time to all of the events, wear the right pair of shoes while you’re there, and have your kids look or act a certain way to earn enough gold stars to keep going. God loves you today as you sit and read this blog, not wearing anything super spectacular, weighing exactly how much you weigh, with precisely the number of dollars you have in your bank account, the particular prospects you have in front of you, and exactly your specific social status. That’s how He loves you—how you are, not how you “have” to be, or how you think you “should” be.
What lies have you been listening to? Things someone or society or maybe even you, yourself, said about how you need to look or what you need to achieve and how and by when?
So, non-math me has been helping my daughter with Geometry proofs. Not my strong suit, but the thing about proofs, is even I can figure them out. They simply use facts to prove facts—very logical. Hard to argue or mess up. And if we want to sort out lies from truths, this seems to be a pretty good way to go. So when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” we hear that Jesus is truth. And since He’s God, and incapable of lying, let’s roll with that. Jesus is the truth. Fact.
Jesus also says, “I’ll be with you to the end of the world. I love you. I laid down my life for you. I forgive you. You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. You are mine.”
So, if Jesus is truthful AND He claims you are precious, honored, redeemed, and loved. Then you are all of those things. FACT.
Stop believing silly lies. Stop accepting them as true without even picking up your knife and trying to pare them away. Slice off those prickly untruths today and savor the delicious truth that the One who created everything, created you. And He loves you so fully that He would do anything for you. He already has. Jesus died for you. This love. This truth. This is how we face our weeks, how we assess what truly matters and how we’re perceived. Truth. Not lies. You are precious. Honored. And loved. Believe it. Because it is true.
One of my best friends, Amy, and I have a joke about making dinner. I’ll text her a picture of the rotisserie chicken I grabbed at Kroger and make some humorous comment about secret recipes. She’ll send back a picture of her family-sized Chick-Fil-A bag and reference how she’s “cooking”. One day she messaged, “Are cake pops a meal?” We’re hilarious.
The truth is, life is busy. We’re both mamas. We’re both writers. We’re both trying to hold all the pieces together. And that means some nights the best dinner we can muster up comes in a box or a bag. This of course is absolutely fine, because our people eat a hot meal (or a meal with frosting). But there are other nights, despite our hysterical text stream, where our best dinners involve actually cooking.
Today was a cooking day. My oldest baby is home from college visiting. I wanted to make her favorite dinner—lasagna. I learned long ago from a chef friend that the secret to good food is good ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the meal turns out. So, when I actually take time to make lasagna, I use hand-rolled, fresh mozzarella from Jungle Jim’s, this fabulous market near us. Guys, it’s not even the same substance that comes shredded in a bag. It is so amazing. I also use these tomatoes from Italy. I know. They’re canned tomatoes. Who cares, right? But they’re yummier. They’re sweeter. They just are. They’re not more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, they just taste better. And fresh basil? Sigh. This is my favorite ingredient. It adds a layer of flavor that can’t be replicated.
The better the ingredients, the better the meal. I think this mantra holds true to all parts of our lives.
Which translates into bringing our best games to everything we do, because the more we put into it, the better it will turn out. This is so true. When I prepare before a conference call, thinking through the questions I want to ask and the questions I might be asked. When I pull out my favorite notepad and a brightly-colored pen jotting down some main points prior to the call and taking notes during the call, the conversation is more productive. If I read all the passages, pray, research and journal about them for the Bible study I lead, Tuesday morning conversations at study are more focused and richer. When I get a great night’s sleep, eat healthy, am hydrated, stretch before and after, my morning runs are fantastic, energizing for my body and therapeutic for my mind.
But we all know that’s not always how it goes, is it?
Today Kroger was out of fresh basil. They just didn’t have any. They had this fresh-ish basil in a tub, which is far superior to dried basil in a spice jar, but not the same as fresh-cut leaves from my yard in the summer. Sometimes I’m rushing to my desk for the call, flying through the Bible-study lessons, and my legs feel like lead.
So how do we do this? How do we metaphorically cook with the best ingredients, when they’re not always available?
We look in our pantries, open our fridge, swing by the grocery and bring the best ingredients we have. Whatever that is today. Often this means improvising. That might mean basil in a tub. Or stewed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. It could mean a run that morphs into a stroll to be able to complete my route. It could mean getting to just a little of my Bible every day, the parts I can get to, and if I can’t journal, at least trying to think through some of the questions in our study book in my brain.
It always means praying. Because talking to God about all the things going on is the best ingredient I’ve got up my sleeve—the secret ingredient to save all the recipes, even the ones it looks like I’m burning or flubbing up. Praying over the conference call before the phone rings. Praying on the way to Bible study for God to fill in all the places I’m not prepared, to give me words where I need to speak, and silence when I need to hush. Praying over my children, my interactions with them. Praying over my marriage. Praying over my writing. Praying over all of the things all of the time.
Because the best ingredients available for today’s recipes might be totally different than the best ingredients that will be available tomorrow. We’re never sure how our legs or voices or patience will hold up. We can’t control if someone else is running late or running out or stands us up or if they raise the prices for the things on our list. Some days we come down with the flu or the blues. But we still need to show up. We still need to try. And we still need to sprinkle in the secret spice of prayer. My best tomorrow looks totally different than my best today and it looks completely different than yours on any day. Some days my best is homemade lasagna and others my best is pizza delivered to my doorstep. But when we keep trying, keep giving today the best ingredients we have to offer, praying over all the places we and the world falls short, together, we’ll make the tastiest lasagna. And ultimately we’ll make our world, delicious.
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These wooden chairs with dark green legs and backs looked adorable in our first home in Atlanta with the forest green kitchen counters (I cannot believe I picked that color). When we moved to Oxford sixteen years ago, my mom helped me paint all of the green parts black to look snazzy at our new address with gray floors and black shelves.
This week I’m painting them again. These chairs are lived in. I mean really lived in. Six people constantly coming and going equals approximately four billion meals and seventeen billion pushes in and out. These chairs are weathered, and not in a romantic Fixer Upper sense. In fact, I had no idea how beat up (and sticky) they were until I began their makeover. This time around I’m painting them white. First, they needed a major scrub down. Next, they needed about a dozen coats of paint. Let's just say I had to make several return trips to Ace Hardware. They are the exact same chairs that have been with us through a move, a PhD, career changes, four babies, a graduation, and hundreds of family meals and card games.
They are the same chairs, same height, weight, sturdiness, but these ol’ chairs now look like I just bought them at Pottery Barn. You guys, they’re gorgeous! I keep gazing at them. I am so pleased. Because—wow, they’ve been transformed.
This is exactly what Jesus does for us, flawlessly, perfectly. He takes all of those scratches, dents, and unidentified sticky stuff we accumulate by being humans going through life—our mistakes, our shame, our regrets, our pride, the things we joke about, but aren’t really funny, the things we would never even joke about, because there’s too much there—and scrubs them down, paints over them, making us look brand new. Just like my chairs didn’t achieve anything to deserve their makeover or do anything to become bright and white, we don’t do anything or earn our fixing upping either. All we have to do is come to Jesus, and say, “You are my Lord,” and He gets out His paintbrush. He does His thing and although we’re still us—same quirks, experiences, talents, and passions—we become bright and shiny and unbelievably pretty.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. –2 Corinthians 5:17
Then six years later, sixteen years later, or the very next day we’re a mess again. Because people spill stuff on our egos and on our dreams, and we allow it to stick, and we react. Because someone bumps us a bit hard and we retaliate or internalize. Because sometimes we want to be pushed in when we’re pulled out and sometimes we want to be pulled out when we’re pushed in, and we try to do things on our own, and end up banging ourselves up, because we do not trust God and His perfect plan.
And once again, the Master Carpenter, gets out His sandpaper and paint and fixes us up over and over again, restoring us to a beautiful sheen, taking us from items for this weekend’s garage sale to something fit for His throne room. He loves us that much.
Some of these fixes are easy—a quick touch up. Some of them are hard. It was way easier to paint the green legs black than to cover up all of that ebony-colored paint with bright white. But God doesn’t care. He carefully restores us, whatever it takes, coat after clean coat of grace.
When He’s cleaned us up, God keeps gazing at us, and He is so pleased, because with His love we have been transformed. If that’s how God sees us—brand new, showroom worthy—then shouldn’t we allow ourselves to see the refurbished version of ourselves, to see our true reflections, the incredible masterpieces God created us to be?
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
Laura L. Smith