“There are extra doses of the vaccine at the middle school. Why don’t you swing by the house, drop Maguire off, and head over there?” my husband called with the breaking news while I was driving my youngest home from school.
“What?” I had so many questions.
“Chris called and said he got in line without an appointment, and just got vaccinated. They expire if no one uses them, so they hand out the extras. There’s a form, but I just filled it out for you.”
“Wow. Okay. Thanks. I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”
I dropped off Maguire and headed to the middle school. It was a gorgeous spring day--sunnier and warmer than it should have been for March. There were a handful of people in line in front of me outside, plus however many were inside the doors, and I didn’t have to be anywhere, except eventually back home to make dinner. The hitch? This location was administering the Moderna vaccine, which there is absolutely nothing wrong with and is a wonderful option for most people. However, it is the one vaccine of the three currently available on the market in the U.S. that had caused a very small number of anaphylactic reactions to people who had previous anaphylactic conditions. I fall into that previous condition category.
If you’re not familiar with it (and I hope you don’t have to be), anaphylaxis is when your body full-on rejects a substance that you’re severely allergic to and goes into attack mode when this substance enters your body--think bee stings or peanuts. Your blood pressure crashes and your tongue or throat may swell up. Within minutes it could take your life. It’s basically terrifying.
My body probably wouldn’t shut down if I got the Moderna. It was just a possibility, a slim one, but still. As I stood in the sunshine letting the warmth soak into my skin, I thanked God for the gorgeous day, but I also asked Him what He wanted to do. Is this safe, God? If you want me to get the vaccine today, please let me get it. If for some reason it doesn’t make sense, if it might be dangerous for me, please let them not have enough. I trust You. I’m praying for Your protection.
Knowing God was in control, I was content with either outcome.
The line grew behind me. Folks checked their watches and phones. Eventually, the man in charge came out and continued a count he’d begun inside. “Four, five, six… ” He pointed to the woman in front of me. “Twelve! You’re the last dose.” Then he looked at me and the others behind me. “Sorry, folks. We’ll run out right here. Come back next week. We’ll have more.”
The person in front of me would receive the last dose. I was grateful she’d get hers. She seemed kind from our brief interaction. She’d been there first. And I was suddenly relieved with not getting mine. Because really, the person right in front of me? Interesting, God….
Fast forward to a few weeks later when I was able to schedule an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine, the one that to date hadn’t caused any allergic reactions. The place I was able to get a slot was our local hospital. Which was also interesting. Because as scary as anaphylaxis is looming over my life, if it was going to happen, a hospital seemed to be the best possible place.
The whole operation was first rate. A friendly greeter, an efficient check-in, multiple vaccine administrators. I was told to go into the chapel. The chapel? Oh yeah, hospitals typically have those, but I hadn’t considered it an option. I saw people in front of me getting their shots in this room. But the chapel was three steps away and complete with pastel stained glass.
“Hi, I’m Laura, I’ll be administering your vaccine today.”
Her name was my name, too (are you singing?).
Laura was great. She did her job, gave me a Band-Aid, and directed me to a seat to wait thirty minutes (yup, allergy girls get longer wait times just to be safe), and then packed up her things and left as her replacement took her chair. I was the last person Laura vaccinated that day.
I’d prayed for God’s protection. I’d asked Him to be in control of when and where I got the vaccine. And He answered my prayers so beautifully.
A “no,” in line for the Moderna.
An appointment for the Pfizer.
At a hospital.
In the chapel.
With a nurse named Laura.
It’s so much. And so typical of God. To be so personal, intentional, and caring.
When we pray, He answers. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:9-10 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." When we ask Him relevant questions (not if we should make tacos or stromboli for dinner or which pair of shoes to wear, unless something hinges on one of those decisions) God wants us to hear His answer. He’ll open some doors and close others. God will point us in the right direction again and again to show us the correct path. He’ll protect us and give us the reassurance we personally need. And then He’ll throw in something super special to show off. Like a stained glass window or a nurse who shares our name. This is who our God is.
Are you worried about something today? Trying to decide between this and that? Not sure what the safest or healthiest or most fulfilling path would be? Ask our Heavenly Father. Take it to Him. He loves you and cares for you abundantly. When we ask, He’ll answer. When we seek, we’ll find. And when we knock on God’s door. He always always answers.
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These daffodils. They truly blow me away. There are countless bunches of them bursting in bright yellow all over my back yard. I didn’t plant a single one of them. I have never once watered, weeded, or fertilized them. And yet every single year they push up through the ground and flourish. They even miraculously multiply. All by themselves.
This is how Jesus operates.
Jesus reminds us that it’s not OUR work that gets things done, but His. Now, disclaimer, Jesus does ask us to work. We’ve talked about that here on the blog--for example, just last week and here in 2019. God commissioned mankind to “tend and watch over the garden (Genesis 2:15).” Clearly, we’re no longer in the Garden of Eden, but anything that consists of tending or watching over this world counts. Cutting someone’s hair is “tending” to a person who lives on this earth. Teaching someone a new skill or concept is “tending” to the knowledge of someone on this earth. Studying wave charts or babysitting or managing accounts or parenting all count as “watching over” things on this earth. God assigns us work. However…it is not all up to us. Never was. Never will be.
When a crowd of around 20,000 people who were listening to Jesus teach got hungry, Philip said, “Even if we WORKED for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” John 6:7. Another disciple named Andrew found a boy with two fish and five loaves. Jesus took that and not only fed the masses, but there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Andrew had to find the boy. He had to do some work, but it wasn’t up to Andrew to feed the crowd that would fill a soccer stadium. That’s where Jesus stepped in.
A bit later in verse 28 when the crowd asks, ““What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”
The work we’re supposed to do is to believe in Jesus, and let that flow into all of our work--into the dishes and deadlines and debit card statements. We do the things we’re supposed to, like find a boy with his lunchbox, and then believe that Jesus is who He says He is, and let Him feed the crowd.
When Peter was asked if Jesus would pay his taxes, Jesus gave Peter some work to do.
“Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.”
Peter was a fisherman. That was his job. Jesus told him to go catch a fish. And then to open its mouth. If Peter did the work, if Peter would believe, Jesus would do the miracle.
Jesus followed up with, “Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matthew 17:27.
Again Jesus asks the disciples to do a task, trust Him, and He’ll provide the miracle. “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Luke 19:30-31
The disciples had to walk to the next village. They had to look for the colt. They had to give a certain answer, untie the colt and bring it back. It took awhile. It required physical effort. It might have made the disciples uncomfortable or nervous to grab a large animal and use as their explanation, “The Lord needs it.” Wouldn’t it look like they were stealing? What if the owner doubted them? But they believed Jesus when He said this would all work out. They did the assignment and things went down exactly how Jesus said they would. The owner let them walk away with that colt. Why? Because Jesus does miracles.
And that drops us off on Palm Sunday as Jesus rides that donkey into Jerusalem knowing full well the miracle of all miracle He’s about to perform--the one where He dies on a cross, but comes back to life. For this one, all He asks is for us to believe.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.--John 3:36
Kind of like those daffodils.
It doesn’t matter if I water them or not. It doesn’t matter if I weed around them or put up some kind of cage to keep critters from nibbling. They come back to life every spring.
What is it you’re trying super hard to bring to life right now?
Where do you feel like you don’t have enough food or resources or dollars or clout?
Do you believe Jesus can change that? Do you believe He's working? When He asks you to do something, do you believe it's for a reason?
Jesus can feed you in abundance, provide more than you ever imagined, pull money out of a fish, and His word is the only endorsement you need to untie that donkey. To live in His love, to experience His grace, all you have to do is believe He is who He says He is. He did all the work for you.
Easter is coming. And with it new life. Whatever feels dead in your life, like it could use a makeover or redo or revival, that’s Jesus’ jam. He’s all about second chances and bringing things out of the grave. Do what He asks you, whether that’s catching a fish or going into town or running some numbers or making a call or doing some research or trying one more time, and then wait for it--His miracle is coming.
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Our first full day at the beach my husband and I went for a run. It was sunny. But the wind was fierce. And we were running straight into it. The 25-30 mph winds assaulted my eyes and whipped across my face. The loose grains of sand were visibly being blown across the beach, white and ethereal, like ghosts speeding across the surface. I felt like I was running on a treadmill, moving my body, but getting nowhere. Instinctively I glanced right, as if over there it would be easier going. But the ocean was choppy. The waves wild. I was safer on land.
My husband in all his kindness pointed ahead. “Look, I can see where we turn around. Those blue roofs. Can you see them?”
Brett meant this landmark as, “Good news, the end is in sight.”
But to me, the end looked unreachable.
How would I ever make it to there?
The answer? One intentional step at a time.
The metaphor wasn’t lost on me. There are seasons in life that feel like this. Seasons of betrayal, addiction, sorrow, pain, disease and loss. They are real. And they are hard. Each step takes tremendous effort. We’re desperately trying to catch our breaths and feel like we’re up against the impossible. Like there’s no way around, only forward. The goal, although just ahead, feels unattainable.
We’re not the only ones who have felt like this.
The great prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4 tells God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”
Hagar, Abraham’s slave and concubine, was pregnant, alone, and on the run in Genesis 16.
Esther’s people were about to be eliminated in a mass genocide.
In Luke 8 we meet a woman who had been bleeding continuously for twelve years, spent every dime on medical treatments to no avail, and was publicly considered “unclean,” an outcast.
All of them were running against incredibly fierce winds.
Our mighty, faithful God, cared for Elijah, and reminded the prophet how much He loved him, speaking to Elijah in a still, small voice.
Even though Hagar was on the bottom rung of society God came to her, found her, and spoke to her, letting her know she was seen and that she mattered.
God empowered Esther to save her entire nation.
And Jesus not only healed the bleeding woman, but called her His daughter.
God was always with those folks in the Bible. Every moment of their journeys. But when they felt like they couldn’t take one more step, Jesus flooded His children with His love and power in a way they couldn’t miss. Jesus will do this for us, too. When we think we can’t take one more step, He’ll change everything.
God promises: “I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go... I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15.
Normally when we hit the halfway point of a run, my husband and I simply do an about face and keep going, but when we reached the buildings with the blue roofs I turned around, away from the wind, halted, and gasped for air. I bent over. And exhaled and inhaled and breathed deeply again. I needed a moment to acknowledge that I’d made it. Not on my own, but with God talking to me the entire time. Sure, it was just a run. On the beach no less. But God’s voice in my head was strong. I got you this far, He said. I always will. No matter what winds you head into. I will protect you wherever you go. I will not leave you.
The second half of the run was the easiest I remember. With the wind at our backs, propelling us forward I barely had to exude any effort at all. No matter what you’re facing today, no matter what wind you’re running against, God is with you in these exhausting, trying steps where you feel like you’re going backwards. You might not see or feel Him, but it is actually the Lord who is keeping you going. He promises to stay and to protect you through it all. And the end truly is in sight. You’re so close to being able to turn around where the wind will be at your back. God will be with you then, too. Propelling you toward the warmth of the sun and the soothing splash of waves.
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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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This is how we’re cheering for my sixteen-year old while she plays soccer this year. Yup. Through a fence. Because crowds aren’t super safe and bleachers are only so big and seating is incredibly limited—at some venues only one fan per player. And you know what? I am incredibly grateful. Because right now, she’s still getting to play. And not everyone is. And we didn’t know if she’d be able to, so for today, peering through a chain length fence feels like a ginormous blessing.
And this is how my son’s play practice looks—a small show with a limited cast instead of the splashy musical they’d planned on performing. Wearing masks on stage. Shorter rehearsals. Oh, and the show is going to be streamed. No live audiences. But wow! He gets to be in a play. His spring show was cancelled two weeks before the performances. His summer theatre was called off altogether. And my boy, who loves to act, gets to be with his fellow thespians, stand on that stage, slip into character, and act. Gift. Gift. Gift.
Life looks different. The rules seem to change every day. Our schedules and plans keep getting unended. But there is one thing we can count on—our everlasting God! As the prophet Isaiah explained to a weary nation, “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying,“God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts."
I love that.
School looks different. Sports look different. Church looks different. But God? He is sturdy and strong. He is solid and never changing. I see Him at the soccer games, giving the precious gift of camaraderie and teamwork to the girls. I see Him in the theatre allowing His creative kids to use their gifts. I know we all didn’t get to do the things we wanted to do. Although high school sports are on, college sports are cancelled. My teen can act, but Broadway is closed. Even these things I'm grateful for today could be cancelled tomorrow. And God calls us to be thankful in ALL of it.
Paul instructs the Thessalonians, in 1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Is that always easy? No. I can’t begin to understand it all. But I know that God is working in those closed and cancelled spaces too. I’m not sure how, but I know He is. I know He is, because that’s the kind of God He is. A mighty God. A loving God. A faithful God. And for that I will rejoice and give Him thanks.
God loves you and wants the best for you. Even if something looks stark, God wants to carry you through the challenges, set you back upright and help you soar. He’s a good good Father.
The prophet Isaiah continued by saying:
He (the everlasting God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:29-31
Yes, life looks different. Our world is changing. Some of those changes have been hard. But some of them are pretty great--less business travel as we realize Zoom is an easy way to meet, groceries we can conveniently pick up in the parking lot, and outdoor classes, meals, and meetings. I’ve loved breathing in so much fresh air! But no matter how the world shifts and changes, God is constant. He does not change. He still loves His children (that’s all of us humans) and wants to shower us with gifts. Will we receive them? Will we even notice them? Will be take time to breathe them in? Will we thank Him?
When the uncertainty and shifting schedules tangle you up, make you anxious, or leave you exhausted, God wants to strengthen you. He’ll give us power and energy to renew us. All we have to do is ask. Even though you might be weary? He’ll help you fly. We don’t have to do this on our own. We actually can’t. But if we reach out to God, put our hope in Him, He’ll help us soar.
God does not change. He is still good. He is still all powerful. He still loves you. He still has plans for you. He still forgives you. He’s still fighting for you. He will never leave you. Hold these truths in your heart today. This is something to be so thankful for! Look for the gifts our faithful God gives--they might be as simple as being able to watch your child do their thing through a fence. Breathe them in like the cool, crisp fall air, and let His love surround you.
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Today I welcome my friend, Kristan Dooley on the blog. She is passionate about taking people to a deeper place in their relationship with Christ. Kristan is a discipleship pastor at Anthem House Church in West Chester, Ohio and a discipleship coach for Gravity Leadership. Her new book, Left Turns; Following Jesus off the Beaten Path just released. I hope you’ll be inspired by her description of what going off the beaten path with Jesus looks like. Kristan, take it away....
It was early and cold for a fall morning, but the road called. I was training for a half marathon and had a five-mile run on my checklist for the day. I didn’t plan to turn. My run didn’t require it either, still, as I rounded the corner headed into mile four, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit prompting me to turn left. Somewhat annoyed and definitely winded from the unexpected turn, I slowed my pace and made my way up the hill that now stood before me. What was God doing? Why the sudden change in direction? Where were we going?
All things He would answer in due time. I had no idea how my left turn on that morning run would soon become a foundational piece in my future formation. But here I am now, years later, still learning and growing from my experience from turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path.
What I did physically on my run that morning, the Father asked me to do spiritually with my life about a year later. He had me walk away from my job, which was a left turn I never saw coming to spend two years in ministry on a side street in East Hamilton with the homeless and the broken, hurting people of the inner city. This wasn't even on my radar. Unpaid, untitled, unequipped, these were not the ministry circumstances I was accustomed to working with.
Still, East Avenue provided me with a new understanding of my Father and how much He longs to partner with me in love and life. From this place, I have been able to posture my heart to better meet His presence and recenter myself in His perfect love. The world around me looks and feels different than it ever has before.
On my side street, I learned three valuable paradigms...
1. God is always present and always working
God is not only God of the mountain tops. He is God over all things, in all things, and available for all things. He doesn't need me continually striving for the mountain top, because He also dwells in the mundane. Neither is more important and both are invaluable to the Kingdom. During my time on the streets in a forgotten, hopeless part of town, I found the presence of God at work in ways I never knew possible. It wasn't loud or flashy, but it was pure and perfect. Joining with Him made the mundane feel like the mountains.
2. God actually likes me
The second truth I embraced is that my Father is not showing up to the table with a checklist ready to negotiate what I deserve from His Kingdom. He doesn't need me to do better, try harder, or figure more things out. He simply longs for me to be present. He's prepared a table for me and it's not based at all upon anything I already am or need to become. He likes me. The God of heaven likes me and He wants to be with me. Right now, exactly how I am.
The cool part is, as I come and spend time around the table with Him, I will change, take shape, and grow because the natural by-product of spending time with Jesus is that we begin to reflect Jesus. But I am not changing because He needs me to change. I'm changing because He's inspired me to change. My goodness does not lead to His kindness. His kindness leads to my goodness. Always. And my posture in this place is a posture allowing myself to be loved, completely, right now, regardless of how I feel and what I've done.
3. God is committed to meeting me in reality
The final paradigm I learned on those side streets in East Hamilton was how committed God was to meet me in my reality. I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't ask to turn left. It felt harsh and unnecessary. I felt left out, lonely, and rejected. But God stood in my place of rejection and He patiently waited for me to be real with my disappointment. We cannot deal with our disappointments and live in denial of them at the same time. Dealing with them will involve getting our hands dirty. And a little dirt doesn’t scare Him.
I don't know if God has a left turn prepared for you anytime in the near future, but I do know if He does, you should take it. We don't look back after a mighty move of God and wish we hadn't been a part of it. He doesn't work deeply within us only to leave us with barren trees. The fruit produced by turning left and following Jesus off the beaten path is life-changing and life-sustaining. Turning left is the way to abundance.
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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There’s a trail near my house with twists and turns, where it splits and you have to go one way or another, and although I have zero sense of direction and get lost in a store, I never get lost on this trail. Because it has signs telling me where to go.
I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going ahead of time. I like to know that I’ll drive about twenty minutes before I take the exit and that the school is three miles past the turn. I want to hear the Cookie Monster voice on Waze (he makes me laugh every time) tell me, “In 18 miles exit left.” But this trail isn’t like that. The signs are right where you turn. I can’t plan, in half a mile I’ll take the left fork of the trail. I just run and when there’s a split up ahead I look for the sign and go the direction it tells me to. And I’ve never once gotten lost.
This is how God works.
We want to know what’s up ahead, how much farther? When will the pandemic end? What will this fall look like? Who will our roommates be? Will we get a job when we graduate? Where? How much will our starting salary be? What will it take for racism to be a thing of the past? Will we get married? To who? How long from now? Will we get accepted to that program? Invited to that event? How many kids will we have? Should we adopt?”
And Jesus says, “Trust me.”
He says, “Keep running until you get to the fork in the road. When you get there I’ll let you know exactly which way to go. And when you get to the next split in your path, I’ll tell you where you need to go then. You don’t need to know ahead of time. I’ll let you know in perfect time, at the exact time that you need to know.”
Right. But still we like to know. Don’t we? I do!
I believe if we search down deep, the reason we want to know all the details is because we don’t fully trust that:
1. God is in control
2. God’s plans are perfect.
If we did, we’d be just fine to keep running along and wait for Him to say, “Turn here. That’s the man I want you to meet. Email that person—they are the key to your dream job. When you’re twenty-seven. On the third try. At the second left.”
And even though I LOVE a plan I’m 100% content running without knowing the next part. Because I’ve run this trail before. And I know I can trust the signs. I know they never let me down.
I’ve also run with God before. I know God has never let me down. Have there been moments in my life I haven’t understood? Yeah. Have there been times when I’ve wished for different outcomes? Sure. But later on, I almost always thank Him for how He orchestrated something better than I knew at the time. Oh, that relationship didn’t work out, because I was supposed to meet and marry Brett. Even though it took me a long time to get pregnant, that was because I’m supposed to have the kids I have. Oh, I didn’t even get a second interview? That’s because that wasn’t actually a job where I would thrive.
So, like the signs on my trail, I want to trust Jesus. Yes, I still wish I knew how things will look in the fall, what will be open, what won’t, what to expect. But I’m trusting God will put up the sign in bold, easy to read letters when we get to that point in the trail. He doesn’t want us to get lost or go down a dangerous fork in the road. Our Heavenly Father only wants the very best for us. He wants us to find our way. The best way. In fact, He even calls Himself the Way. I’m pretty sure He’ll show us which way to go.
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The trail near our house is a little torn up. It’s been raining a lot, because April showers were working hard to bring us May flowers, and then May had an identity crisis and thought it was April. The storms washed away parts of the trail and left puddles in other spots. It’s a bit of an obstacle course, and although I love everything about running on the trails, I have to watch my step, so I don’t turn an ankle or go down.
Part way in the dirt trail becomes a smooth paved one, and I can concentrate less on the terrain and more on the shape of the clouds and the smell of honeysuckle and fresh mown grass. My favorite spot on the run is the covered bridge that signals I’m halfway done. There’s something beautiful and nostalgic about the bridge and my feet make a lovely percussion sound when they pound against the planks. I love the idea of running while suspended over a stream. But today, my toe caught on one of those uneven boards and I lost my balance. I wiped out skinning my knee and ripping open my hand.
I’m fine. Nothing a Band-Aid, some Neosporin, and a few days won’t heal, but it reminded me how vulnerable I am. How vulnerable we all are.
I knew I had to pay extra attention on the bumpy, rocky portion of my course. I was alert. Just like there are parts of our days and lives when we need to keep our antennae up—maybe around the person who we don’t fully trust or driving at night during a thunderstorm, or how tenderly we need to handle a newborn. But it was on the stretch of my run where I felt safe and free and peaceful that I fell. Just like in life. Sometimes it’s when I’m cruising along on autopilot that I stumble.
I think COVID-19 has shown most of us that we’re more vulnerable than we thought. That even though everything was plugging along like clockwork, we’re still vulnerable. We’re at risk for losing dollars we thought would be deposited in our accounts. We’re at risk for losing events we were looking forward to. We’re at risk for germs and viruses that can infect our lungs. But I’ve also become acutely aware in my vulnerability how faithful our God is. The virus shut down shops, but all the flowers still bloomed wide open. The virus halted regularly scheduled classes, meetings, church services, but God continues to show up during Google Hangout Bible studies, Facebook live women’s conferences, church on YouTube. Unemployment is up, but so is giving and outreach and generosity.
Are these changes preferred? Some yes. Some maybe not. Some for sure no. But even when we’re vulnerable, Jesus is not. He is steady and alive and on the move and keeps on showing up. Jesus has conquered sin and death and fear. He is love and light and life.
So we’re vulnerable. We always have been. We’re human. Our bodies get sick and scraped. We have seasons of financial success and seasons where we’re pinching pennies. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever taken a tumble while on a run. And I’m guessing it won’t be my last. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be perfect. Every step I make doesn’t have to be calculated, precise, and perfect, because God’s are. It’s alright that we’re vulnerable, and that sometimes we fall, because Jesus walks beside us, picks us up when we fall, cleans out our wounds, and if we let Him get close enough with His almighty Neosporin and peroxide, heals us.
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I recently received this fabulous package of goodies from one of my closest friends, Amy. Hanging out with her is better than any subscription box, because throughout the year she mails me the cutest, most adorable packages packed with things that make me smile. I knew it was from her before opening it, because even the outside of her packages are exciting—covered in star stickers and silver Sharpie swirls with fun lettering.
I began pulling out the contents one by one. This package was extra packed with goodness, because it was for my birthday. There was a separate bag within the envelope with this t-shirt in it that I kind of had to wiggle out, then unfold, and then my breath caught in my throat and a hot tear leaked out of my left eye. Not because of a t-shirt. Because of what it said: Courage, dear heart.
And yes, I am a huge Narnia fan (okay, geek) and this is a phrase Aslan says to Lucy on the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when everyone is losing hope and it reminds me that Jesus whispers the same to me when I am losing hope. When those around me only see the stormy waves. When the boat I’m standing on is rocking and I’m blinded by mist and my mouth is full of pungent salty sea water.
The words. This shirt. The ship. It all transports me to the moment Jesus and the disciples were on a boat and a storm kicked up—I mean one doozie of a storm, tossing their boat all over the place. Waves and saltwater blinded and gagged the disciples. Jesus was napping, because He wasn’t concerned. But the disciples were majorly freaked out and frightened, so they called out to Him.
The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and Jesus was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”
Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. Matthew 8:23-27
Jesus turned to them before He stilled the waters and said, “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” And in His question, I hear the inverse of what He tells us to do. Jesus tells us to have courage and asks why we would ever be cowards—after all He’s right there next to us in our proverbial boats. He calls us dear hearts, because we’re dear to Him and wonders why we’ve changed our own names to ‘faint hearts’?
The words from the shirt, this scene from the boat, rang specifically true to me this past year—the one leading up to my birthday, the one I’d just concluded, and somehow without realizing it these were the exact words that had been helping me hang on.
Rewind a bit to when I had my annual mammogram. And the radiologist found something wonky on the film. And they had me come back in. And then it was still not clear what they were seeing, so I had to have a third mammogram. Praise Jesus, I am fine. But in the midst of the uncertainty, I heard Jesus whispering, Courage, dear heart. I saw him with me in that sterile hospital room just past the giant mammogram machine, steady and sure, giving me the courage I needed.
And again, when I had another medical test go awry, with an uncertain result, and I had to go back in for another look. My boat rocked a bit, but I saw Jesus with me as I came out of sedation, literally saw His face giving me the courage I needed, felt how much He loves me, that He holds me dear.
This year was a year of God continually asking me to be bolder, to ask bolder questions, to be bolder in my faith, to speak up more boldly in bold ways about and for Him. And, let’s just get this straight, bold is not how I lean. I prefer zero confrontation, making everyone happy, keeping the peace. But each time I would waiver and wonder, God why? Are you sure? He’d say, “Trust me. Find your strength in me. I’ll give you everything you need. Courage, dear heart.”
This phrase isn’t just cute words from a children’s book or a t-shirt. They’re a directive from God: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”—Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV
And this shirt printed who knows where delivered from Nashville in a colorful envelope from a caring friend spoke over me everything Jesus told me all year. I share this in case someone out there needs to hear it today, “Courage, dear heart.”
Whatever you’re facing, no matter how dark the storm, Christ reminds us to have courage, to be brave, because He is with us, and He is Master over the Storms. He can calm them in one word. “Silence.”
One of the fun bonus items in my envelope was a pack of Zinnia seeds. The promise of blooms in the form of tiny brown seeds. It’s a lot to ask an itty-bitty seed to bury itself in the soil, to break through its protective seed coating and drive its roots into the soil that feeds it, to stretch up out of its comfort zone into the light. But if those seeds are brave enough, they’ll bloom.
So will we. If we’ll take courage. The good news? The courage doesn’t have to come from us. We don’t have to be instinctively bold or brave. We just need to find our courage in Jesus. The bravest of them all. In Him we’ll find the hope and strength we need.
So, “Courage, dear heart.”
Jesus loves you.
He’ll give you the nutrients and light and stability you need. He’ll calm the waves and hold you tight. He’s on your side and stronger than anything you’re up against. Courage. Find it in Him.
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Laura L. Smith