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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Have you seen the movie The Adam Project? Without spoiling anything it’s about a forty-year old pilot who travels back in time in an attempt to save the world from some nasty tyranny. In the process he encounters his twelve-year-old self. Because it’s time travel, there are rules about not interfering with the past, but there are some things that forty-year-old Adam really wants twelve-year-old Adam to know. It’s my birthday today, and I’m feeling reflective. I’m wondering what would I tell twelve-year-old Laura if I could?
What would I tell myself in sixth grade? The girl with the giant glasses and braces and frizzy hair whose Dad had left again? The girl who believed all her friends were prettier and cooler and more interesting than her? The girl who believed her brother was smarter and more talented than her? The girl who loved books and learning and school and ballet, but hated the fact that those things made her brainy and nerdy and not like everyone else?
What would you tell your twelve-year-old self?
Would you believe you?
Gosh, there’s so much I would want to tell junior high Laura (starting with suggesting some curl cream and highlights). I’d tell her that Jesus loved her so much that He would never leave her, even if other people she loved did. I’d tell her that Jesus knew everything that was going on in her life and in her heart, and that it was safe to tell Him anything and everything. He wouldn’t think she was weird or silly or make fun of her. He loved her just how she was. But I don’t know if telling her would actually mess things up, if it would prevent her from some of the things she had to learn by trying, experiencing, crying, failing, getting back up again, and somehow getting through, gaining insight, and growing in the process.
There was an interesting plot twist in The Adam Project, not where the older Adam is talking to the younger Adam, but where their Dad is talking to them. The dad goes on and on saying, “I love you. No, I really love you. I want you to understand how much I love you. I’m so proud of you. I want you to believe me, I love you.” Or something to that effect.
This is the part that did me in.
What is way more valuable than what I would tell my younger self is what God, my Heavenly Dad, my Creator, the One who makes rain fall from the sky and grows plants from the ground would tell me, what He was telling me then, and is telling me now, and is telling you, but that was and is so hard to hold onto in this world of ours.
Jesus would tell twelve-year-old me, and fifty-four-year old me, and my kids, and my friends, and everyone reading this the same thing. He would say, “No matter what other people think of you, or even what you think of you, I love you and chose you even before I made the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
God would go on and on like the dad in that movie saying, “I love you. I made you exactly how you are on purpose and I think you’re really amazing, actually breathtaking. I love that you’re… shy/loud/artistic/athletic/a thinker/a doer/someone who enjoys that kind of music or food or art or books or activities/chatty/quiet/logical/a dreamer… all of it. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you. I gave my very life for you, because I want to be with you always. I’m never leaving you. No matter what you did or do. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Today I turn fifty-four. This is my present to me and to you. This reminder that the thing Jesus most wants us to know is that He loves us. He tells us over and over again in Scripture and if His words weren’t enough and we had some doubts, He died for us. Talk about all-in love. Walk around like you believe this today. In your conversations and interactions, in your work and your play, when you’re alone or with others, live as if you are fully loved for exactly who you are.
Because you are.
Believe down to your bones not just in a theoretical God, but a living, active Savior who loves you desperately. Your self worth is wrapped in Him and not of this world. Part of me wants to shake twelve-year-old Laura and tell her this. But she eventually learned it. These days I’m trying to hold onto this truth and live it out every day. Join me?
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Ever Feel Like You Don't Fit In?
Over spring break we toured the Biltmore House. It’s known as the biggest private home in America–178,900 square feet, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. 250 rooms total. Wow! George Vanderbilt had it built, moved in, and threw a Christmas extravaganza for his friends in 1895. Think of all the first class glamor and grandeur of the Titanic but on land.
Walking through the rooms with the guided audio tour in our ears my mind pictured driving through the gates in a carriage, being shown the room Vanderbilt and his staff had gotten ready especially for me with fresh sheets on the bed and fresh flowers cut from their extensive gardens sitting in a vase by the bedside where I might stay for weeks on end to visit. I imagined getting “dressed” for dinner in an elegant gown (I do love the red carpet) and being seated at the dining room fit for royalty where a multicourse meal would be prepared and served to me on gold rimmed china. Imagine having that much care and intentionality put into your stay!
None of the Vanderbilts live in the house anymore, and realistically if they did, I would not be on their invite list. Also, I would have felt extremely awkward and out of place with all those forks and finery. I’m a girl who loves to get dressed up, but also loves to slip on my pjs and smiley face slippers in the evenings. I’m sure by the first meal I would have wondered what in the actual world I was doing there.
There are so many times in life where I’ve felt out of place, like I don’t belong. You?
Like meeting my husband’s parents for the first time at a restaurant. They asked me if I played golf.
“Ummm, no,” I answered.
“Really?” They seemed so confused.
When we ordered our meals they asked, “Why don’t you eat red meat?”
“I don’t like it.” I answered, but it sounded more like I was questioning myself.
Gosh I wanted to impress them but, gheesh, I didn’t even know how to answer the questions that seemed important to them.
Or walking into a Bible study at a new church we were attending. I knew exactly one woman in the room. We got along, but weren’t close. Also you were supposed to have cash to pay for the workbook, but I didn’t, because who knew? Well apparently everyone else who all knew each other and seemed to be in on some secret Bible study code.
Or climbing the bleachers at the first high school sporting event of one of our kids. I hadn’t been in a high school stadium since I was in high school. But I saw some women wearing team gear who were obviously other moms and found a seat next to them. I introduced myself and told them who my daughter was. They smiled, told me their names, and proceeded to reminisce about the time they’d double dated to prom. As they cheered for our team, they also laughed about last weekend’s cookout at their mutual friends’ house. These ladies were friendly, but I was clearly not one of them.
In all these scenarios I felt out of place. Like I did not belong. Did not fit in. Could not fit in.
But here’s the truth. I am still 100% me when I walk into a mansion, restaurant, church, stadium, or any other room. Nothing changes about me. About how God made me. My strengths don’t disappear. The people I love and who love me don’t vanish. The things that bring me joy don’t stop making me smile. Same holds true for you. But we tend to forget. We tend to think if we’re not like them, if we don’t know them, if we don’t know the things they know, then we’re not okay, or not included. We get the sudden idea that we should be more or less or wear that brand of shoes or eat red meat or have $15 in our wallet or have somehow shared some of their previous experiences.
But Jesus says differently.
The Bible says even before God made the world, He loved and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes (Ephesians 1:4). What? Before there were mansions, restaurants, bleachers, or Bible studies God loved and chose you and me. He chose us to be without fault. Yeah. He did. He does.
Brett’s parents soon welcomed me into the family and loved me as if I were their actual daughter. I ended up teaching multiple Bible studies at that church where I initially felt out of place. But I never fit in with the team moms who’d known each other for decades. They were nice enough. They just shared too much prior history. There have been other times I’ve felt like I didn’t fit, but discovered that was a good thing, because it wasn’t actually the kind of crowd or place I wanted to fit into. Yet other places I’ve tried or wanted to be included, but never was. Sometimes you will and sometimes you won’t belong or fit into a crowd. That’s just life.
But there is someone with whom you always fit, are always welcome, included, and valued. He loves you and has open arms waiting for you. His name is Jesus.
Walking around the rooms of the Biltmore House and how they were so well tended I kept thinking of when Jesus said, “Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live” (John 14:2-3).
Jesus always has room for us. Jesus always wants us with Him. Jesus invites us to hang out with Him every day. Jesus prepares rooms and places for us, with much more intention and care than the Biltmores and their staff ever did for their guests. What Jesus offers is way better than fresh flowers or fresh sheets or multi-course meals. It’s unending love and grace and joy and peace. We matter to Jesus. He loves us.
No matter what rooms or groups you walk into today, don’t believe for one second that you need to be anyone other than who God created you to be. Jesus says differently. Jesus welcomes you saying, “I am so glad you are here.”
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Life is Messy
I was talking to another woman about social media–how we love it and how it can also be the worst–all the comparisons. On social media we only see everyone else’s best selves–their best outfit, best meal they cooked, best room they decorated, best craft they did with their kids, best life hack. Nobody shows us that the day they painted their nails the pretty lavender color there was literally nothing for dinner in their house and someone ate cereal and someone else had leftovers and someone else just ate a bowl of ice cream. Nobody shows us that the night they made a yummy dinner their junk drawer was so jammed it wouldn’t close or under their bed was a war zone or the flowers they planted all died or that they got in a fight with one of their family members while cooking that photo-shopped dinner. Nope, we just see her best this and their best that and his best thingamagig and assume that everyone else out there is killing it in every area of their lives.
But the truth is we all have overflowing junk drawers, scrounge around for meals sometimes, and have ants. Okay, maybe not everyone has ants. But I did last week. Hundreds of itty bitty ants all over our cupboard, crawling around a single rogue piece of caramel corn that escaped its bag. Oh yeah, and all over the open pack of gluten free Oreos. The ants were climbing over cans of beans and bottles of olive oil and boxes of microwave popcorn and those little packets of strawberry jam that were left over from two years ago. My husband and I emptied the pantry item by item. He grabbed a can of bug spray and started spraying, because GROSS! And then we had this realization that all that poisonous bug spray was now coating the shelves where we store food. So, today I’m showing you reality. The reality that everything that was in our pantry is now on our counter. And has been for four days. Why?
Because this is real life. Everyone has something going on beneath the surface. It could be a broken relationship, an addiction, exhaustion, financial struggles, or even possibly ants.
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to be perfect to come to Jesus (thankfully!). A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came to Jesus (Luke 8:43). People with demons came to Jesus (Mary Magdalene, we see your transformed self!). A paralyzed man came to Jesus (Luke 5:18). Jesus ate dinner with a table full of what the religious leaders called, “scum” (Luke 5:30). None of them cleaned themselves up first or put a filter on their lives. And… Jesus loved them all.
Jesus said, “God blesses you when you're poor, when you’re hungry, when you weep, when people hate and exclude and mock and curse you (Luke 6:20-22).” None of those things look good on social media or make for great small talk.
Yet, when you can’t pay your bills, you didn’t make dinner–all week, you’re sad, overwhelmed, feel rejected, or left out, Jesus says God blesses you.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is yours.
You will be satisfied.
You will laugh.
When you can’t decide what to do, when you gave into an impulse, when someone said something nasty about you, when you said something you regret? Jesus loves you. He wants to make everything new. Jesus stopped that woman’s bleeding and made that lame man walk. Jesus sat down at the table with all those people the religious people said were riff raff. This changed the way they saw themselves, showed them they were worth eating with, talking to, being with–the King of the Universe said so Himself. And the poor, hungry, sad, and hated people? Jesus said they would be satisfied.
Sure, sometimes Jesus asks you to do something in this process. That woman had to make her way through a crowd. The lame man’s friends had to take him up on a roof, remove roof tiles, and lower him into the room on a mat where Jesus was. These things were risky. They took bravery. They took intentionality. But they were so worth it for the healing.
What might Jesus be asking you to do? He’s not asking you to get all cleaned up for Him, but Jesus wants you to seek Him, reach out to Him, move any obstacles out of the way so you can read the Bible and talk to Him, so you can discover or re-encounter His wild, extravagant love for you. Maybe Jesus wants you to take a breath, get some rest, be still so He can remind you who you are–His beloved, treasured daughter or son.
During what we’ll call the “ant crisis” would not have been what I would have considered the ideal time to have someone over for dinner. Our house smelled like Raid. That lone piece of caramel corn was smothered in dead ants and still on the shelf of the pantry, because I was too grossed out to pick it up. Plus the whole all our food on the countertop thing. But Jesus could have cared less. He’d say, “Hey, let’s sit on the floor and eat sandwiches and chat. How are you? What’s on your mind?” Jesus is never judging us. He just wants to be with us.
When you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, you realize you don’t need their approval, you don’t need to achieve all the things. Those comparisons and ideals have been taking up space in your life (like four kinds of sauce you thought you might use sometime and never did so now they’ve all expired). And when you wipe down the surfaces of your life and strip off the need to achieve or false notion that you should look or act like “her” (or proverbial shelf liner) and replace it with new, everything feels fresher, better (like a cupboard that got pared down and reorganized). When we slow down, make time, and rest in Jesus, there is always peace and love to be found.
This is what Jesus wants for us–not perfection or filtered photos, but healing, fulfillment, and laughter. Coming to Him is as easy as closing your eyes and saying His name. Join me?
Jesus, I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t care what she or he is doing. I just want to be with you. Please help me see how I can get closer to the truth of who I am in You–even if it means braving a crowd, climbing a roof, or airing out a cupboard. Please help me drink in the freedom, joy, and fulfillment You alone offer. Amen!
If you’re looking for a way to start reading your Bible, to spend more time with Jesus, but not really sure how or where to start, I wrote a FREE guide. You can download it here.
My kids love Chex Mix. But one is allergic to gluten which rules out the pretzels and wheat Chex in the classic recipe and another is allergic to nuts, which also rules out the peanuts. But does that stop us? Of course not. We use only corn and rice squares (no wheat), gluten free pretzels, sub out Fritos for peanuts, because they’re also salty and crunchy and nut and gluten free. And my kids devour it! Who said we have to follow the recipe?
And yet, as we walk around in life we get so stuck on the recipes of this world. I remember the social comparisons of parenting when our kiddos were little, the constant questions from other parents. Are your kids taking swim lessons? Enrolled for preschool? Which preschool? Signed up for Little League? Are you taking them to the egg hunt? How about pictures with the Easter Bunny uptown? And if we answered, “no.” The response was, “Ummm..why not?”
None of those are bad questions. I’m sure I asked many-a-parent similar questions. But my kids and your kids don’t have to do all those things, all the same things–especially if it doesn’t make sense for that child or your family. Turns out the common recipe for the average American is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.
Christians get this pressure, too, unintentionally from well-meaning friends or church members. Did you sign your kids up for vacation Bible school? Are you volunteering at VBS? Are you in a Bible study? Are you mentoring someone on a weekly basis? Again, great questions. All good ideas and activities for some people some of the time, but not if they wear you thin, conflict with something else God is calling you to, or don’t make sense in your current situation.
Jesus wants what’s best for YOU, not what’s best for your neighbor or your cousin or their kids. We see this in John 1 when Jesus is initially gathering some of His disciples.
And so it is with us.
Whoever believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. -John 1:12
Jesus will invite some of us to learn more, to investigate, to come and see. To others He’ll rename us–taking us out of something, and into something totally new. You used to be rejected, Jesus says, “Now you’re loved and accepted. You used to be alone, now He tells you, “I’ll be with you always.” And to others of us, Jesus says, “Hey, I see you. I saw what happened, what you went through, what you’re currently struggling with. I understand. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I love you.” And on any given day or week or season of life, Jesus might do something completely different for us. But it’s definitely not by a standard recipe.
As we walk about our days let’s not be afraid to go a little bit rogue, to swap corn chips for nuts, to say, “no,” to this, or “yes” to that, even if none of our friends or family or neighbors are or aren’t doing it. Let’s keep chatting with Jesus on a daily basis. Let’s walk in the freedom Jesus offers us–freedom to be our true selves, the people He created us to be, not like “him” or “her” or “them” or someone confined to a recipe on the back of a box. Because Jesus offers us so much more.
And…if you’re looking for a fun, free Bible study to do by yourself or with your group this summer, I teamed up with some amazing Bible teachers last year to put together Summer in the Psalms. God welcomes emotional honesty for the gift that it is: a step towards deeper intimacy with Him. In this 5-week study )complete with workbook and videos) we share a few of our favorite psalms and invite you to pray and process with us in God’s presence. Welcome. For free access to the study click HERE.
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HELLO, BEAUTY FULL
Today I have the honor of having the beautiful, talented and wise, Elisa Morgan, sharing an excerpt from her best-selling book, Hello, Beauty Full for the blog....
Most of us don’t think we’re beautiful. In fact, a recent poll revealed that 96% of women globally would never use the word beautiful to describe themselves.
Even women (and men) who know they are made in the image of God. Women (and men) like you and me.
Beautiful? No…instead we feel not enough. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not spiritual enough.
I know. What I see is not beauty but the world of ugly within.
I say, “I’ll pray!” and I don’t.
I forget about the suffering in the world, even after I’ve seen suffering up close and personal. And then I go ahead and buy another purse, pair of shoes, trinket for my home.
I wake up in the middle of the night and worry.
I think I’m better than others when my life goes well, even though I know full well that I’m not.
I eat too many Doritos. I watch too many episodes of The Queen’s Gambit.
I assume I’m the only one.
The only lonely one.
The only depressed one.
The only one who doesn’t know the answers. The only one who feels like a failure.
I don’t like my body.
I like some people more than others—a lot more than others. I pretend to be interested when I’m not.
I’m jealous when someone’s life goes better than mine.
I want to just stay in bed on some days.
I’m ugly. At least there are plenty of ugly parts of me. “Beautiful?” HA.
Some words I read a while back from Brennan Manning’s classic book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, seep up into my thoughts. Manning reported a 1677 prophecy to a thirty-four-year-old widow in Lynn, Massachusetts. God’s words to her way back then—and maybe to us in this moment? “More pleasing to Me than all your prayers, works, and penances is that you would believe I love you.”
I may think ugly thoughts and feel ugly feelings and do ugly things, but to God, I am filled with beauty and therefore beauty full. He holds out three words and calls me to receive them, knowing that when I see myself the way he sees me, I will be free to be who he made me to be and to live the life he made me to live.
Hello, Beauty Full.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who pushes away God’s pronouncement of personal value. Likely you do too. Likely you embrace the ugly and discard the beauty in yourself. And likely you feel incredibly inadequate, stuck, and even alone.
Here’s what we need to know in order to live the lives we were made to live: God loves us. He sees us through Jesus: beauty full. He wants us to see ourselves the way he sees us. We struggle with embracing such a thing. But the truth is, when we don’t embrace how God sees us, we don’t embrace God. We miss out on the very lives he created us to enjoy—and died to make sure we could experience. When we do embrace how God sees us—beauty full—we are freed to live loved, and in so doing, we love God back.
Three words reveal how God sees us – through Jesus – and how he invites us to see ourselves.
Hello. Beauty. Full.
Yes, I am.
And yes, you are too.
Elisa Morgan (MDiv) was named by Christianity Today as one of the top fifty women influencing today’s church and culture. She has authored over twenty-five books including The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, She Did What She Could and When We Pray Like Jesus. Her newest book, You Are Not Alone: Six Affirmations from a Loving God, releases in the Fall of 2021.
For twenty years, Elisa served as CEO of MOPS International and now is President Emerita. She speaks internationally, writes for Our Daily Bread Devotional and co-hosts Discover the Word radio and the podcast God Hears Her for Our Daily Bread Ministries.
You can find out more about Elisa, book her to speak at your event and sign up for her blog, Really, which reaches thousands at www.elisamorgan.com. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@elisamorganauthor) and on Twitter (@elisa_morgan).
Kelly Clarkson said on a recent episode of The Voice, “2020 has been a trash can!” She’s not the only one claiming 2020 has been a disaster. You don’t need me to tell you about the global pandemic, systemic racism, wildfires, hurricanes, and a doozy of an election year. Scroll through your social media feed. Click on your most trusted news source. Eavesdrop on the people near you. Oh wait, we shouldn’t be close enough to be able to eavesdrop, should we? A friend recently mentioned she just wanted to hear some good news, any good news. I understand what she meant. And yes, this year has been fraught with turmoil. But there is good news. His name is Jesus.
And as far as news goes, Jesus tells us:
Your faith has made you well. Mark 5:34
Go in peace. Mark 5:34
Your suffering is over. Mark 5:34
Don’t be afraid. Mark 5:36
Just have faith. Mark 5:36
Little girl, get up! Mark 5:41
And that’s on one page of the Bible in only a span of six verses.
I know phrases like, “Just have faith,” can sound trite when we’re in the midst of a real-life crisis. But can we look at these words in their original context a minute?
There was a woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve entire years. This is the woman Jesus tells, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
Her crisis sounds pretty real to me. She was losing blood, for years. Bleeding in her day and age made you “unclean” and since she always was, she was always “unclean” and thus a social outcast. Imagine being quarantined for twelve years. I thought two weeks was rough. She’d spent all her money trying to get medical help and none of it worked. She was at the end of her rope. But she reached out to Jesus. That was it. Reached out to Him, stretched out her hand and she was instantly healed. He offered her peace and ended her suffering. Are we reaching out to Jesus in our trials...or just complaining?
Okay, want more?
To the man whose daughter had just died--unimaginable, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” Simple, but not easy. In fact, harder than I can fathom. But then Jesus goes to the man’s house, walks in the little girl’s room, takes her hand, and says, “Talitha koum (little girl, get up!). And. She. Does. She was dead. But she stands up, walks around, and Jesus even makes sure she gets a snack. So, if you feel exhausted and simply done, but Jesus asked you to get up--would you?
Our God? He’s a God of miracles. He’s a God of healing. He’s the Prince of Peace. And that is super good news. Not just in a trite, make a cute phrase on a mug or social media post way, but in the midst of tragedy He will step in and change your life kind of way.
I’m fully aware that the Bible was written thousands of years ago. But I’m also fully aware that God carefully curated the historic events, people, and occurrences that made it to the pages of Scripture. And these two (the woman and the girl), are here so we know, when we’ve been struggling for over a decade, when we seem to be out of options, when the thing most dear to us seems to be gone, Jesus can flood our lives with peace, joy, and hope. All we have to do is reach out and get up.
Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. Colossians 1:27 MSG
No matter what’s going on in your world, in the world. Christ is in you. Right now. Today. Amidst the chaos, the shutdowns, the election. The Prince of Peace. The One who brought a little girl back to life. The One who was raised back to life. The One who Created the World. The One who died for you. He’s in you, with you, closer than your breath. You get to shine God’s glory. Right where you are—in your office, on your next social media post, when you wake your kids up in the morning, as you stand in line at your favorite coffee shop, or help your spouse find their keys. As you try to figure out online schooling or Zoom, as you’re quarantining, planning a Thanksgiving that’s smaller than you’d hoped, God’s glory—the kind that raises the dead and heals chronic ailments and is the embodiment of peace—that’s in you. Inhale it deeply. Exhale the gunk of the world straight into that garbage can.
In the midst of bad news and biased news and erroneous news there is very very good news. And His name is Jesus. The world might be calling 2020 rubbish. But Jesus is calling it yet another opportunity to love you more than you can imagine.
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YOU ARE MARVEL-OUS!
My sons love the Avenger films packed with space fighting, complex plots, and fairly fantastic special effects. Most of the heroes are men, but the most marvelous? Well, she’s a woman named Carol, but her hero name is Captain Marvel. Have you seen it? The film is centered around Captain Marvel trying to figure out which voice in her head to listen to, to deduce who is for her and who is against her.
Spoiler Alert: There’s a scene where Carol’s enemy shows her flashbacks of all the times in her life she’s fallen down—falling off her bike when she’s little, falling out of a go-cart in middle school, falling off a rope she’s climbing during military training. The enemy floods Carol’s thoughts with negative ones, trying to make her feel like a failure, weak, and unable to do anything she sets out to do. He does this to us, too. Trying to make us see ourselves at our worst. But we don’t have to dwell there. When Carol pushes past what her enemy is showing her, Carol sees more. She remembers the truth—the rest of those memories. That each time after she fell, she got back up again. That’s who she truly is—not the girl who trips and tumbles, but the one who rises up. She is strong. She is capable. She is resilient.
I see this in my own life. The enemy tries to show me one thing—a half truth, a piece of the whole. He flashes a past rejection from a publisher in my mind trying to distract me from all the sweet moments God gives me words and ideas to write. That slithering snake tells me I’m doing a bad job as a mom because one of my kids is down, even though I love my kids and can’t be responsible for making them happy 100% of the time. The enemy makes me try to think I don’t have enough time to complete a project I’m passionate about. When in truth, God always makes a way for me to finish the things He wants me to complete.
That slippery serpent has been lying to us from day one—trying to show us half-truths and make us focus on the negative instead of the full, beautiful picture. He approached the very first woman on earth and asked, “Did God tell you you can’t eat any of this fruit?’
Eve answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” —Genesis 3:2-3
And here’s where the enemy strikes. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. —Genesis 3:4
Die to the good life Adam and Eve had, one without shame, one with perfect union with the Lord. God did say that. But the serpent’s words are like a smoke screen in Eve’s vision of all that God has laid out for her. She basically gets a fresh fruit basket each morning, and all of a sudden that doesn’t feel like enough. And so, she eats the forbidden fruit. And the next thing we see is Adam and Eve no longer feeling like they’re enough. They hide when God comes strolling through the garden. Suddenly they feel naked and afraid. What? Wait. Why? They still have the same bodies. God is still the same God who created them in His image. God hasn’t changed. He still loves Adam and Eve and wants to hang out with them. Only the way they see themselves has changed. That was Satan’s goal—to get Adam and Eve to see themselves as not good enough to be with God, not good enough to do the work He actually called them to.
And the enemy slithers off snickering to himself.
It’s the same thing that serpent tries to do to us—make us think we’re not good enough, that we should be ashamed, that we’re the kind who always fall down, who have failed before. But that is a bold-faced lie.
So, let’s replace the lies with truths. Here are some to get you started:
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God loved us so much He sent His only son to earth so we could have life with Him (John 3:16)—full, real, abundant life! God tells us that He packed us with gifts, gifts we’d better be using (Ephesians 2:10). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Think about each of those. If you don’t like the way you look today, consider you were created in God’s image. Dang. You must look good! If you’re wondering if anyone loves you, if God loves you, remember He sent Jesus to rescue you. I know how much I love my boys, and I can’t imagine sending them away from me for a dangerous mission unless it was for someone or something of great value. Feeling like you’re not that good at anything or not good enough to pursue the job, class, ministry, shop…Lean into the truth that God has good work He’s actually gotten you ready to do! And if something you’ve done or haven’t done is hanging over your head. Take it to Jesus. He does not condemn you; He loves you. Ask for forgiveness. Allow His grace to wash over you. And move forward.
So what lies are you believing about yourself today? Time to take them down like a superhero. Because you? You’re marvelous (Psalm 139:14)!
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“You don’t play golf? Why not?”
Umm… I’ve never considered it.
“You don’t like steak?” Pause. “You’re kidding. Who doesn’t like steak?”
Nope. Not kidding. I’m more of a pasta and salad girl.
“Are you a Bengals fan?”
I’m not big into football.
Have you ever felt like this? Like you failed the interview? Like there’s no way you would be invited back? Like you didn’t quite fit in?
Just moments into my first Thanksgiving with the Smith family I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit into my own skin. It seemed like the Smiths all did and liked things that I didn’t do or like, or had never even considered liking, and therefore, I didn’t belong. But I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted by this family. Brett and I were engaged, and I was going to marry into this clan and hopefully spend decades of Thanksgivings with them. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted them to think I was worthy of Brett, and of wearing their last name. But I felt like I was failing.
This wasn’t the only place I felt pressure to prove myself. I tried to establish my self-worth at work, with friends, and in our first neighborhood filled with young families. When we had a baby, I wanted to prove I could be a good mom—to Brett, to both of our mothers, to the other women pushing strollers and planning play dates.
But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He invites us to a life of freedom—freedom to thrive by embracing who He created us to be, not who we think we should be, or who the world tells us we "should" be.
I have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Don’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG
We don’t need to please anyone?
We don’t need to fit into anyone’s patterns?
It’s not about what we’re doing—where we went to school, what sport we play, or if we don't play sports at all, if we’re breast feeding or not or for how long, what color our couch is, if we buy organic, almond or store brand milk, how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. None of it matters—grades, weight, relationship status, mortgage payment.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re called to work hard and well in the life and vocation God called us to and placed us in. From the beginning God designed Adam and Eve to cultivate the world. This isn’t about plopping down on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, because it “doesn’t matter what I do.” But it is about not measuring ourselves by worldly standards or comparing ourselves to others.
God is creating something totally new—a free life. And He’s inviting us into it. Which requires action. We have to R.S.V.P.—accept His invitation. And when we say, “yes, I want that,” our life becomes the very best party—spending time with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit remind us who we are—His beautiful daughters and sons specifically and uniquely designed stitch by stitch, cell by cell. And the celebration never ends.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. —Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
You are an original, one-of-a-kind wonder, who doesn’t have to prove yourself. If God created you to be a night owl, awesome. Use your evenings to crank out your to do list and sing worship songs. If He made you an early bird, super. Read your Bible first thing and then go for a walk or run or send all your emails before anyone else wakes up. If God put in you the desire to create delicious meals out of fresh ingredients, fabulous. Shop at the farmer’s market. Watch the Food Network. Set aside time in your schedule to cook and let the simmering scents tickle your nose. More of a take-out girl? Also, great. Grab yummy refrigerated raviolis or rotisserie chickens for quick, tasty meals and use the time others spend cooking to do the things God created you to do. And do them well.
Thankfully, the Smiths did accept me. And love me. And invite me into their family. But I got turned down by several colleges I applied to, wasn’t invited back to multiple sororities during recruitment in college, had boyfriends break up with me, and have been turned down by dozens of publishers who don’t feel my writing is a fit for their brand. I get rejected all the time. We all do. But Jesus always accepts us just the way we are, because that’s how He intended us to be. And His opinion is the One that holds the most weight. Because He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.
If we want this kind of life, one where who we are is who we’re supposed to be, all we have to do is accept how much Jesus loves us. Truly accept this truth down to our bones. Sure, I have so much more to learn about Jesus, but one thing I understand is that living with Him is the freest I’ve ever felt. When I read the Bible and talk to Jesus—when I choose this life of the Spirit—I am empowered, because I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has plans to prosper me, that He calls me His masterpiece. It gives me permission to enter any room or situation and understand that I am who He made me to be, and that is never something to hide or be ashamed of. It is always enough.
Do I stumble? Sure. Do I feel awkward and insecure? Yup. Does my brain jump on the crazy train and make me start to doubt if I belong, if I’m able, if I’m qualified? Of course. But when I feel my feet sliding down that slippery slope, I reach out for Jesus’ hand waiting for me. I grab my Bible or start praying or get off social media or start playing worship music or text someone to pray for me or simply say the name of my rescuer out loud, “Jesus”. And it brings me back to who I am. His.
Because I want to live in the truth of who He made me to be, marinate in it. Stay in it. Do you crave this kind of freedom?
It is available. A rescue from an old way of life and an invitation into a new glorious one. God’s plan is that we all experience this rescue (Galatians 1:5). We don’t have to earn it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we have to do is take Jesus’ hand and step into freedom.
Hope and a Coat
“Why? Just why?” My daughter asked as she entered the kitchen and slid a purple folder into her backpack.
“Why, what?” I asked.
“That coat. Just why?”
Before I could answer, my son appeared and sidled over to where I’d set out his steaming cinnamon oatmeal. “What is that coat?” He asked.
So, my kids weren’t crazy about the coat, but me? I was. I’d seen the coat in an uptown shop’s window one morning before the store opened and fell in love. I called the store later, something I never do, hoping I could afford it. The price was just under what my gift card total was. Clearly, this was meant to be. They only had one in each size.
“Could you hold it for me?” I might have begged.
The worker apologetically explained because of the holidays they could not. So, I dropped what I was doing, drove to the shop, hoped they still had it in my size. They did. Hoped it would fit well. It did. I handed over my gift card and drove away with the fluffy coat nestled in a lovely pale green bag.
When my kids (who apparently don’t understand how cute the coat is) left for school the morning I first wore the coat, I headed to our coffee shop and saw two gals I knew sitting near the door. Before I could finish saying, “Good morning,” they both complimented the coat. At last, people who understood my style. I greatly appreciated their comments, because I do love this black fuzzy coat decorated with red roses, but their appreciation did not make me like the coat more. I loved it. Period. No matter what anyone else said or thought. With or without anyone’s approval.
Why am I rambling about a coat? Because this is how Jesus loves us. Period. No matter what anyone else thinks. With or without anyone else’s approval. Jesus sees us in the window (okay, going about our daily lives), hopes today will be the day we talk to Him, trust Him, turn over that thing to Him, and then Jesus does anything to get near to us. It doesn’t matter what Jesus is doing, He’ll make time to get close. He’s not holding out until we’re on the sale rack or hoping He has time to bump into us or fit us into His schedule later. If someone else makes fun of us or adores us, it doesn’t change the way Jesus sees us. He loves us. As we are. And for the record, His love is substantially stronger than my coat obsession.
Just like my coat was created by the manufacturer, If By Sea, we were all created by the Creator of the Universe, crafted uniquely and beautifully by Him. Like the roses on my coat, we all have distinct purposes based on the one-of-a-kind mix of skills, talents, perceptions, ways of communicating, insights, etc. that God knitted together into the fabric of our being. I was made like this. You were made like this.
And so, on days when people look at us and shake their heads. On days when people question your decisions and ask, “Why would you wear that? Study that? Go there? Hang out with them? Like that song? Be involved in that activity? Have that opinion? Use your time in that way?” Please know that Jesus thinks you’re remarkable. He loves when you do the things He created you to do and when you delight in the things He created you to delight in. If you’re outdoorsy, Jesus gets excited when you go for a hike in the woods. If you’re crafty He loves when you wield a glue gun. You don’t have to justify yourself to Jesus. He’s already done way more than make a phone call, or drive to a shop for you. He came to this earth over 2000 years ago as a baby in a manger, lived the life of a man, and died a painful death on a cross to dissolve your sins and offer you a life of freedom. That’s how much He loves you.
You were created in the image of God. Therefore, you are gorgeous. And packed with purpose. And nothing anyone says, no matter how anyone treats you, can take your fabulousness from you. It’s innate. Whenever you walk into a room, hold your head up high. Be confident in who you are. Wear it well. I do love my coat, but Jesus loves you infinitely more.
In this first week of advent, a tradition in the Christian church to prepare for Christmas, we celebrate hope. Jesus offers us so much hope, and His hope is that today you will accept His love and wrap it around you. His love is beautiful and warm, fits perfectly, and will never go out of style.
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Laura L. Smith