We had a big change in plans, and I was going to be gone a lot in the coming months. Also there were travel details that needed to be tended to immediately, plus I had texts and emails I needed to respond to. Did I mention I didn’t get enough sleep last night? My chest tightened and my pulse raced. The irrational thought of, “NO! It’s too much!” repeated in my mind and my stomach flipped then flopped. I’ve heard a million times, “to hold every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Are you familiar with this Bible verse? I believe it’s a great strategy, but often oversimplified. Just telling these thoughts not to exist, just holding them tight and not letting them spiral is a start, but not usually enough to bring me back to God’s beautiful reality.
I tried dismissing the anxious thoughts while answering an email. I tried pushing them to the back of my head while tending to the details. But putting these thoughts in a cage wasn’t getting it. Because I could still see them there, pacing around behind the bars, taunting me. I felt a nudge to spend time in prayer, but dismissed it. I got the nudge again, this time obeyed, and plopped myself on my fluffy gray prayer pillow.
I started talking to Jesus about the whole thing.
Why do I feel this way? These are all good opportunities. They aren’t too expensive or too far or too much, but they feel like it and also like way more than I can handle. Everything feels like too much. Like it’s out of control, and I want it to stop.
My heartbeat quickened as I relayed this all to God.
It’s a control thing, God pointed out.
Right. I really prefer to be in control.
You were never in control, Jesus reminded me. I promise, you think you want to be, but you don’t really. It’s so much better that I’m the one keeping the planets in orbit and your heart beating.
Jesus and I talked like that for a while. He directed our conversation, so I could see what was happening and why. He showed me why my thoughts took this turn, then reminded me of ways He’d been there for me in the past and of how much He loved me. Jesus planted the words trust and release in my mind.
Trust and release. The words echoed in my head. I meditated on them. It made me picture myself spreading out my arms and falling backward into a pool, Nestea plunge style, fully trusting that the water would be there, that no one would substitute cement for water while I had my back turned, that I would land in a refreshing, silly splash, laughing. Then I imagined another scenario, me in a boat, just along for the ride. Blue water beneath me, a sunset ahead. Beautiful. But I wasn’t driving. I wasn’t in control. And that was just fine. It was wonderful actually.
Trust and release.
After a bit I stood up, feeling so much more peaceful. Completely different than when I’d entered.
I still had the same things I needed to do. My plans had still changed, but now I viewed these changes as opportunities instead of obstacles. As things God had in store for me instead of things I was losing. My pulse was normal. My stomach calm. All because I prayed.
Holding our thoughts captive doesn’t just mean putting them in a box on a shelf. It means handcuffing those negative, angry, stressed out, worried, frightened, or hopeless thoughts before they start upending everything in sight then turning them over to Jesus so He can take care of them. We don’t have to try and dismantle those thoughts by ourselves. We also don’t need “prayer pillows,” I just really like mine :). We can ask Jesus to step in. And He always will.
This is where reading the verses around “hold every thought captive” helps me out. The Apostle Paul doesn’t instruct the church in Corinth to push bad or harmful thoughts aside. He starts by telling the Corinthians, For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Paul says in this world we’ll have some wacky thoughts bombard us.
He says it’s a battle to take those thoughts down.
But Paul reminds us not to freak out, because we can tap into God’s divine power to tear down lies of culture, the enemy, and even the lies we tell ourselves. Whew!
Just saying, “bye, bye bad thought,” might work sometimes, but that usually just delays when that thought bothers me instead of getting rid of it altogether. Recognizing a thought is bad, untrue, or toxic is an awesome first step. But then it helps so much to grab that yucky thought and intentionally hand it over to Jesus, asking Him to use His power to help us untangle it. The Message translation of this verse says, “Our tools are ready at hand.” Let’s use them!
Life is fast and expectations, situations, and opinions fly at us and our gut reaction is to grab the things we like or want and swat away the things we don’t want. But the beauty of life with Jesus is we don’t have to do anything alone. We have an all-powerful, all-loving Savior who is on our side. We can take each harmful thought and hand it over to Him. We can ask Jesus to help us see this opinion or roadblock or overload or slow down or speed up through His eyes. Where are the blessings here? What can we be doing? What is the truth of the situation? Who can help? And in our conversations with Jesus, He’ll calm, empower, and direct us. He’ll flood us with love and joy and peace. Our thoughts will turn from negative or scary or prideful to thoughts much more like His of kindness, goodness, and grace.
I don’t know what thoughts you’re fighting today. Thoughts of not having enough time, energy, answers, resources, of not being enough. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you’re having thoughts that you’re too much, the expectations on you are too much, the stress is too much, the expenses too high. But Jesus wants to help you sort through all these thoughts. He wants to show you what’s true about yourself–He loves you. And your situation–He’s with you and fighting for your good. Release your worries to Him. Trust Him with your future.
He is the Prince of Peace. And He’s on your side.
Yesterday I was able to drive to Asbury University where a spontaneous revival has been taking place for the last nine days. Basically, a weekly student chapel service from Wednesday, February 8 still hasn’t ended. I mean it was “over,” but students stayed and prayed and worshiped and confessed and were healed and were saved and the University canceled classes, and students kept coming back, and other people joined in and it’s still going on. You can read more about how it started here. We saw license plates from Wisconsin, Montana, Florida, Texas, and everywhere in between as we tried to find a place in the small Kentucky town to park our car. Senior citizens, babies, college kids, people my age, brown people, black people, white people, all gathered to worship Jesus. My emotions are currently high and my thoughts are still swirling. I think it will take me several days to fully process what I experienced. (I’m jotting this all down so quickly, please forgive me for typos.) But these are my two biggest takeaways for now:
1. God is on the move.
Are you familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis? In the book the land of Narnia has been cursed by a wicked queen who has made it always winter but never Christmas. Then, seemingly out of nowhere ice starts to melt. Flowers begin to bud. Frozen rivers start to flow. And the Narnians whisper to one another, “Aslan is on the move.” And it fills them with such hope. Aslan, who represents Christ in the allegory, is alive and well and moving. This changes everything.
And in our world where there is pain, suffering, racism, disease, loss, loneliness, and hate the whisper of “God is on the move,” brings me so very much hope. And He is on the move. It was so apparent as hundreds of people from all over the country lined up outside this campus chapel hoping to get in, hoping to catch a glimpse of God’s glory, feel His presence, experience His grace. It was apparent that God was on the move as strangers standing in line prayed over one another. It was obvious that God was on the move as the people who filled four buildings (the chapel was over capacity and these other three buildings served as overflow) sang, “God I need you.” And, “How He loves us!” And, “Is anyone worthy? He is!”
Yes, God is on the move. And what a beautiful, powerful, hope-filled thing that is.
2. Come and see.
When a man named Philip found his friend Nathanael he told him, “We have found the man the prophets wrote about–Jesus.” Nathanael was skeptical, so Philip invited him, “Come and see.”
On the very first Easter morning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb where Jesus had been buried with spices. Suddenly there was an earthquake, the giant stone was rolled away from the tomb entrance, and an angel appeared.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” –Matthew 28:5-6
Come and see. Come and see. Come and see.
It’s the words I kept hearing Jesus whisper to me when I first heard about what was going on at Asbury last week. It’s what I heard Jesus repeat to me when my twenty-one year old son told me he had gone to the campus. It’s the words I felt as I watched all these people yesterday from all walks and stations of life flooding to Hughes Auditorium on Asbury University’s campus in Wilmore, Kentucky. I heard Christ’s invitation. And I saw His people responding. They all came to see.
If you’re curious about what revival is or what’s going on at Asbury, I invite you to go and see what it’s all about for yourself.
If you’re skeptical, if you aren’t sure about Jesus, if you’ve heard conflicting ideas about Christianity, if you’re intrigued, if you’re not sure what to believe, I invite you to come and see.
These things I know:
Jesus changed my life. I have never felt a love that compares with His love. Jesus said He came so that you and I can have an abundant life. There is nothing you've done that is too big for Him to forgive. Jesus said the two most important things we can do are to love Him and love each other. That’s who He is and what He wants for us–abundance and love.
But don’t take my word for it. Come to Him. Ask Him questions. Yell at Him if you need to. He can take it. He’s God and He knows why you’re upset. Weep with Him. Collapse into His arms. Tiptoe toward Him or sprint toward Him. But come to Him and see for yourself what unfailing love and amazing grace look like.
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You Need A Filter
Today my dear friend, author, and Bible teacher Alli Patterson is on the blog talking about why we need a filter for all the noise and voices we hear each day.
A country song played in my car one day. It was about what all country songs are about-- heartbreak and whiskey. My youngest daughter piped up after it ended; “I don’t like that song, Mom. I don’t think God wants us using alcohol to solve problems.” Her sister gave me a huge eye roll at her overly serious reaction, but I was delighted. She had a filter in place for the words coming at her and rejected what got stuck in it.
When you think about “having a filter” you probably think about the words coming out of your mouth. We all have that one friend who says absolutely anything that passes through their mind. However, the much more important filter is the one for the words coming in. The words you let in have the power to alter your life. You need a filter in place for those.
Life is full of words; your phone, social media, books, friends, family, even in your own mind. Some words you hear are empty calories at best. Some need spit out altogether, even if they come with the sweet taste of your best friend or your favorite influencer. You can’t listen to all the words in the same way. Instead: you need to hear like a cow eats. Yep, a cow. The cow’s first (of four!) stomach is like a storage bin to hold what comes in until the cow sorts it out through chewing, digesting and - if necessary - spitting things out. Cows take in an unbelievable amount of food but only digest what they really need. You need something to sort out all these words, so you can follow the Lord towards a thriving life in and around you.
Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). If you want the life God has for you, you need to be filled with his words and let them act as a filter for anything else that wants in. The words that bring health and life will be in-sync with the attitudes, actions, and authority of the Word of God. As you spend time reading and hearing scripture, your filter will begin to catch the words around you that are inconsistent with His voice, love and direction for you. You will also leave space for God’s words to resound in your mind and heart as timely wisdom in your real life. All words are not the same, so get that filter in place with three simple things:
If you want to learn more about how to adopt these practices and build a faith that can stand firm, get my new book called How to Stay Standing; 3 Essential Practices for Building a Faith that Lasts. Chapters 5-7 dive in deep about practices you need in your life to hear the voice of God…because these are the only words that will be standing in the end.
Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89
When I was a little girl I wanted to be Wonder Woman, gold bracelets and all. She was amazing–smart, resourceful, brave, and powerful. These days as I watch Marvel movies with my son I admire the strength and courage of Black Widow and Captain Marvel. Those ladies are cool. It’s the same idea. These women have super powers that make them strong and confident, that enable them to take down whatever bad things come their way. But here’s the thing.
So do you and I.
Our super powers make us mightier than any superhero. We have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. And that power isn’t timid. It can’t just do little things. It is w-i-l-d! The Bible tries to explain the power of the Holy Spirit over and over.
Like here in the Old Testament:
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25
You and I can laugh without fear of the future. Not because we’re indifferent, or don’t care, but because we know we have the power of Jesus in us. Whatever we’re facing, whatever comes our way, we don’t have to be afraid of it. We have a strength that comes not from deep within ourselves, but from the God of the universe. We can say what needs to be said, battle the bad, and fight for cures. We never have to stoop to talking behind someone’s back or making someone else feel small. We can stand strong with dignity. Once again, not because that’s easy. Because dang it’s hard to bite my tongue sometimes. But because the power of the Holy Spirit lives in us and if we tap into it, we can garner up the self control to walk in dignity while taking down the villains.
And here in the New Testament where Paul prays that we may know:
His (God’s) incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:18-21
Wait a second. That was a mouthful and I don’t want us to miss anything. Let’s take a deeper look. The power that God put in us is incomparable. So whoever you consider powerful–a world leader, a professional athlete, a CEO– the power in you is more than theirs. Beyond compare. So whoever or whatever makes you uncomfortable, is being unkind, is making things difficult–they are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit living in you.
Next, this verse says the power in you and me is the same mighty strength that raised Jesus from the dead and put Him on the throne above everything–every power and authority, every moment in time. This power lives in me and you. Raised from the dead power!!! Authoritative power! Royal power! We are so freaking mighty!
But I don’t always act like it.
There are days and situations when I’ll think to myself:
This conversation is going to be hard.
What if I do it wrong?
What if I don’t have enough time to get it done?
What if it doesn’t work?
I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
What if I’m a nuisance?
What if they think I’m crazy?
How can I avoid this uncomfortable situation?
This feels like a lot of work, a lot of steps, like something I’ve never done before.
I don’t even know where to start.
And in that moment, where our inner critic, and sometimes the enemy, tries to tell us we’re not enough, not competent, not connected, not capable, we have a choice. We can cower or avoid or blame or pick up our phones to distract ourselves from even thinking about our struggle. Or, we can tap into the Holy Spirit. Hold our heads up high. Take the first step. Stand up for what’s right. Tell someone we don’t appreciate their derogatory comments. Walk through the door. Walk out the door. Take a deep breath. Apologize. Tell the truth, even if it makes us look less than spectacular. Make the call. Send the proposal or resume. Try one more time.
You don’t need a gold lasso or an invisible jet. You and me–our super power is a gift from the Creator of everything. Our power can be as gentle as a lamb or as fierce as a lion. It can feel like inner peace or a whipping wind. It’s there. Ready to use when the evil of the world comes our way. To protect the innocent (sometimes that’s us), seek truth and justice, fight the good fight, do things for God’s glory, and put things right.
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What If Scenarios
I’m sitting in a chair under a turquoise umbrella at the beach staring out at the Atlantic praying to Jesus about, well everything. My mind is always packed full of what if scenarios. What if my blog comes out late? What if I intervene with my two kids who are pushing each other’s buttons? What if I let them work it out themselves? What if I get bit by a fire ant–will my EpiPen work? What if I do or don’t? What if that idea or action or conversation or proposal or treatment works or doesn’t? What if I speak up or keep my mouth shut? What if it does well or falls flat? What if, what if, what if? I ask Jesus a zillion and eight questions. And this is how Jesus responds.
Look at the ocean. See how endless it is. How powerful and calm it is at the same time. Listen to the waves crashing. Notice the sunlight sparkling on the surface of the water. Feel the breeze against your skin, dancing through your hair. Hear the laughter of children, the music playing from nearby speakers, the countless conversations all around you from all kinds of different people. I made ALL of them, ALL of this. I’m in control of all of this. The ocean looks like it goes on forever, but I actually DO go on forever. I am limitless. It’s all in my control. All of it. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of you. Your work, your health, your family, your future. I love you. I’ll never let you down.
God’s response is calm and steady and sure. He doesn’t give me specifics about the fire ants I’m allergic to or the article I’m going to turn down, but He reassures me that it’s all in His extremely powerful and capable and loving hands.
All of your what-ifs are also in God’s hands. He promises to work everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He promises to go before and behind us and keep His strong, loving hand on us (Psalm 139:5). Jesus promises that He has plans to prosper us–each and every one of us, plans that give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So, why, oh why do I wonder? Why do I forget to trust?
Because I’m human, and I do. But Jesus uses the waves to remind me.
God is good. And true. And loving. And powerful. And almighty. And on our side–yours and mine. As I stare out at the waves rolling in and foaming white against the sand, I’m reminded. And I exhale. And I trust Him again. With everything.
I don’t know what you’re asking Jesus today. I don’t know what what-ifs are swirling around your brain. But I do know that Jesus only wants what is good for you. I know that when we trust in Him, He never lets us down.
I’m praying that we trust in God’s scenarios and stop worrying about all the what-ifs. Because His scenarios are true and right and packed with joy and peace and love.
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What God Really Wants for You
I was doing fine. I was doing fine. I was doing fine. Until…my barista asked, “How are you doing with graduation happening tonight?”
“Pretty good,” I answered. “I mean graduation is symbolic of my daughter leaving high school and turning the page to what’s next, but really, I just want goodness for her.”
Here’s where I lost it. “I just want so much goodness for her.” Cue all the tears.
My poor barista.
But it’s true. This past week we’ve witnessed and experienced the last church service for my daughter at her high school dedicated to the seniors, Baccalaureate, graduation, and her graduation party. It was a lot to process in one week. A lot of times to get dressed up (Which. I Love.) A lot of programs. A lot of speeches. A lot of times to celebrate Mallory and her friends and all they’ve achieved and the ways they’ve grown. At each event I look around and see my girl, the friends she’s made, choices she’s made, things she’s learned, experiences she’s suffered and grown from, and victories and triumphs she’s accomplished. And my heart is so very full of absolute love for this young lady. I realized as I said those words out loud to my barista that this is exactly what God says of us, His children.
“I just want goodness for them. I just want so much goodness for them.”
We tend to all see God in different ways. And He’s a complex being, for sure, so this is great. He has many aspects (good father, good shepherd, protector, redeemer, comforter, savior, counselor, etc.). But when Jesus summed up His whole mission on earth it was, “I came so they (that’s us) can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of (John 10:10).”
I think of all that I pray for for my kiddos, their hopes and dreams, their relationships, their protection, that they’ll realize how real Jesus is and how real His love is for them. And it’s wild, but God wants all of that for my kids, too. Which means He also wants it for you. And for me. Jesus wants us to have a better life than we can even dream of.
At two of the services this Irish blessing was spoken over the graduating seniors:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
And as Mallory received her diploma and walked past the row where I sat, everything slowed down like a movie. In my mind I saw this blessing playing out for her–a path down a lane lined with wildflowers stretching out before her, a slight breeze blowing her long hair, a golden glow on her face. I could hear the patter of a soft rainfall and felt God’s love thick and tangible, surrounding my daughter.
To everyone reading this–this is what God wants for you! He’s holding you in the palm of His almighty hand. I’m praying it over you as I type it out. Whatever you’re facing today. Wherever you are with your relationship with God. Whatever you believe about yourself or others. No matter what you’re planning or what’s taken you by surprise…
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
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.
The Cat's Pajamas
Well aren’t you the cat’s pajamas? That’s something my grandma would say, but I’m thinking about trying to bring it back. The phrase came from the 1920’s when flappers or anyone considered “stylish or cool” was given the nickname cat (think of the phrase “a cool cat”). And I guess, the cool or stylish person’s pj’s, well they were IT.
Cat’s Pajamas is also the name of a plant that blooms purple in the spring and summer here in Ohio. Two years ago when the world shut down, my girls were stuck at home and looking for ways to earn money, so my husband and I hired them to do our landscaping. The girls named their enterprise Two Sisters Landscaping. They weeded, mulched, mowed, and planted flowers in our yard. They were also responsible for the flowering pots that sit on our front porch. The girls went to Shademakers, our local home and garden store, which is incredible, and came home with Cat’s Pajamas which they planted in those pots.
The violet blooms looked lovely on our front porch. When summer faded to fall and the Cat’s Pajamas withered I replaced them with pots of mums. I’d like to say I did something green-thumbish about the situation but:
Then spring came and I was walking around the back to toss something in our compost heap when I noticed leafy green plants sprouting out of the abandoned pots. The Cat’s Pajamas had returned. Turns out they’re perennials. Who knew? It felt like a miracle. That these flowers my daughters had planted had come back to life. Without anyone watering or tending. Without anyone even looking at them. It felt significant.
So I took the plants out of their pots, dug holes in our flower beds, and gave them new permanent homes in our yard. They bloomed all last spring and summer, then again shriveled in the late fall. But look! They’re coming back to life again! Fresh green growth amidst dried out fronds.
It made me wonder what in my life could use some revitalization? What dried up and turned brown due to circumstances beyond my control like the cold, harsh months of winter? What have I let wither from neglect that could use some watering and sunshine? What felt too hard or like I couldn’t get to it or it simply fell off my radar? What can I bring back? What can I ask Jesus to help me bring back in my life? Because if Jesus can bring some abandoned flowers back to blooming each year, He can certainly do the same for us.
We’re in the midst of Lent, the season leading up to Easter, which means Easter is coming.
For Christians, Easter is the ultimate. It’s the day that Jesus conquered death and sin once and for all, that He erased our mistakes past, present, and future. It’s the day Jesus proved His exorbitant love for us in the most profound way–by giving His life for us. It’s also the day Jesus showed us we can conquer loss, pain, humiliation, devastation, betrayal. He walked out of that grave. And He wants us to walk out of anything dead or desolate in our lives.
When Jesus was about to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead he told Lazarus’ sister, Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”--John 11:25-26
Resurrection and life! This is what Jesus offers anyone and everyone who believes. Yes, for eternity, but also for every aspect of our current lives!
What do you love that you’ve stopped doing? Who do you miss seeing? What practices that were really good for you like prayer, exercise, drinking enough water, stretching, reading your Bible have you slipped out of? What feels dry or brittle or shriveled or forgotten that God is calling you to bring back to life?
What if we all decided to be the Cat’s Pajamas? Because wouldn’t we be the coolest cats in town if we did a quick look over our lives and decided to revive laughter or weekly coffee dates with a friend? If we vowed to prune some dead branches and allow ourselves to bloom? Easter epitomizes resurrection and as we walk towards that day on our calendar, we can also walk towards our own resurrections, reviving what needs revived, and stepping into the glorious life-giving life Jesus offers.
I’d love to hear–what would you want to revive in your life?
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What Are You Focusing On?
I lined my putter up to my bright red ball.
And then the cutest little person in a striped shirt toddled around the hole in front of us towards his daddy. The little guy was adorable and stole my focus for a minute. I looked back down at my ball and swung. The ball went in the direction of the hole… and past it. I’ve never been a super star putt putter but not paying attention to the game wasn’t helping my cause.
A few holes later Maguire exclaimed, “Mallory! There’s a lizard on your shoe!” My daughter jumped. The salamander skittered off toward the rocks at the side of the course and we all laughed. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower buzzed. The fountain on one of the holes wasn’t working but was filled with thousands, yes thousands, of tiny tadpoles. We all took turns gaping at them. Needless to say there were several distractions on the Mini Golf course. Which was totally fine, because we were on spring break playing with our family in the afternoon sun surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely nothing was at stake. But it made me think about professional golfers and how much focus and concentration they must have to NOT get distracted on the course and how easily any of us can get distracted from what God has put in front of us.
This can hold true for anything. For me I might be writing and get a text. I’ll pick up my phone and message my friend back. While I’m on my phone I might also check Instagram, maybe do the Wordle, and fifteen minutes later I realize I’m not doing the thing God called me to do today, because I focused on my phone instead of the work He put in front of me.
It happens in the middle of conversations when everyone’s chatting about great things, then somebody mentions something that bothers them about that person, place or thing, and the conversation gets derailed as we focus on the negatives instead of the really cool thing we were just talking about.
And it also happens with our identity in Christ. I read my Bible in the morning, and I thank God for loving me completely, for eliminating the need to prove myself or earn anything. And then I turn something in to an editor and worry about what they’ll think. Or walk into a room and wonder if I fit in. Or say something dumb, and beat myself up for it. I read in the Bible how Jesus is in control, how He’s strong and mighty, and that He’s my protection. But midday I might get news that gets me worrying, because I switch my focus from the truth of who our God is to the circumstances coming at me. Zoinks!
Things get out of whack in a hurry when we focus on the wrong things.
We’re not the first people to do this:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” --Matthew 14:29-31
Peter was doing just fine, miraculous even, when he was focused on Jesus. Peter was actually walking on water. But when he switched his focus away from Jesus to the storm everything went haywire.
We do the same thing.
But also, we get to choose.
We can choose to inhale the fragrant perfume of hyacinths sitting by our sink–a lovely gift from God’s creation (Philippians 4:8), or grumble about how many dishes we have to wash. We can choose to bake cookies or play games on a rainy day–deciding this is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118:24), or mope around because our outdoor plans got canceled. We can take someone’s insult or rejection personally or remember that Jesus loves us so much that He created us, that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16). We can worry about what someone will think, or how successful our work will be, or what if… or we can chase after the dreams Jesus gives us, holding tight to the truth that He equips us and protects us and is cheering for us.
What are you focused on today?
It’s super easy to get distracted in this world. But if we take time to read the Bible and pray each day, it helps us stay focused on the truth of God’s love and His protection and guidance over us. If we hang out with other people who are also seeking Jesus, we can point each other back to these truths. There’s nothing wrong with watching a cute toddler prance around a putt putt course or doing the Wordle. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on His love, His grace, His ability to do anything, anytime, anywhere, the fact that He is always fighting for good, for what’s best. When we do, we remember who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We come alive with hope and joy. We gain strength and courage from the God who empowers us.
I can’t promise focusing on the truth of Christ’s love will do anything for your putt putt game, but I do know that when we focus on His endless, reckless all-in love, our lives will be forever and gloriously improved.
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A year ago I posted this picture of our abandoned looking upstairs hallway with piles of deliveries outside the bedroom doors with the caption: Quarantine Day 7. Four Smiths shut behind closed-doors--studying, playing music, working, writing, Zooming, napping… .trying to keep their germs to themselves. Two Smiths caring for the rest of us--selflessly and lovingly delivering clean laundry, bottled water, meals, and anything else we need to our doors. So grateful for family. For love. For God’s provision and protection. And for hilarious family group chats and Facetimes.
Life has changed a lot since last November. In some ways it feels like the world has changed. Again. All of us are a year older. Some of you might have a different job, different hair color, live in a different place (maybe with different people), have a different relationship or health status. I’m grateful to say the Smiths are not in quarantine. Whew. But God hasn’t changed. He never has. He never will.
I look over that list of things I was grateful for in my quarantine post. And no matter what changes in my life or in this world, I can always be grateful for:
On my last blog I challenged us to begin a “gratitude journey” to help us stay grounded in the good gifts God showers on us. I’ve gotten so many beautiful responses from you all on things you’re grateful for--the fall leaves, a supportive group of friends, waking up in the morning. How about this week we simply turn our gratitude to God, Himself? Take some time to meditate on who He is. On what He does for us. On how He loves us. Take a moment each day to say, “Thank you, God, for being my provider, my protector, with me always, my peace, the perfect Father.” You can write these statements out in your journal or on note cards to tape around your home or work place. You can close your eyes and focus on one of these truths, one of these names of God and how God being with you (or providing, or any of the above) changes everything. You can get down on your knees and proclaim these truths about God’s character out loud (I find this so powerful to drown out the lies and the gunk) or whisper them in your soul.
And when we do, our mindset shifts. It’s harder to feel lonely when we remember God is with us. The stressful things ease up a bit when we focus on the fact that Christ is peace. That thing we’re worried about or downright frightened about is less scary when we proclaim God as our Protector and Provider. Sure, curve balls (like my family catching Covid-19 last November) will come our way, will change the way things look, and might be different from the way we hoped or wanted. But God is still God. He is still all the things He says He is. His names don’t expire or leave or fade or change. Our God is an everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28).
The God who split the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21), defeated a fully armed army that consisted of “too many to count” with only 300 men armed with horns, torches, and clay pots (Judges 8), and who died on the cross because He loves you so fiercely (John 1) is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That fills my heart with gratitude.
What’s your favorite name of God? Let me know, and together we can praise Him for it!
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Laura L. Smith