I was on a run, almost at the end, when God nudged me to go spend a few minutes in the bird blind adjacent to the trail. Which seemed weird, because I had less than a half mile left, it was freezing outside, and although I’d been in the fenced off sanctuary designed to view birds, I pass it frequently and rarely enter. But I felt pulled. So I ran off the trail and unlatched the gate.
I had no idea what God had in store for me here. But I felt like there was something, so I sat on the bench behind the wooden wall “blind” to the birds, but able to see them through the slats. And in two minutes I saw redhawks, cardinals, a blue jay, a goldfinch, a purple finch, and several other birds I couldn’t identify darting about and eating from the bird feeders. They were an actual rainbow of feathers feasting on seed someone smarter and kinder than them regularly puts out for them.
I was dazzled by their colors, but also by Jesus’ words coming to life right before my eyes, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”--Matthew 6:26
I have a lot of things I’m praying for and waiting for right now. Things that I don’t know how they’re going to turn out, what next steps are, how all the pieces will fit. And yet, God was reminding me, “Laura, look. You don’t have to worry. I will provide. In fact, you can flit around like these birds completely carefree, enjoying themselves and the feast in front of them. See these birds.” I felt God kind of tapping me on the knee, making sure I was paying attention. “I 100% care for them. But you, you are infinitely more valuable to me than these birds. I’ve got you.”
I bet you have things you’re praying for, situations you don’t know the endings to or even the middles to, as well. But Jesus tells us, “No need to worry. I love you. And I’ll provide for you. Everything you need. You mean the world to me.”
I love how this verse is translated in the Message:
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Jesus invites us into this free and unfettered life. One without cares, because we know God cares for us. Sound inviting? It’s available 24/7 with no cost of admission. All we have to do is follow Jesus.
Sure, we still have responsibilities. We need to send the emails, go to the appointments, take care of ourselves, do the prep, put in the time. We’re still entrusted to do the good work God has put in front of us. Those beautiful birds I saw all had to fly to the bird blind, land on the feeders, and grab the seeds with their beaks. But they had zero worries that those feeders would be full. We can follow suit. Go where God sends us (even if that’s a bird blind), action what He calls us to do, and trust in His abundant provision, allowing us to live as carefree as birds.
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10 MINUTES FOR 10 DAYS
A year and a half ago I was in Monet's actual garden mesmerized by these water lilies. It was so beautiful, so peaceful. I wanted to linger and breathe in that feeling, keep it with me. But life is busy, right?
Fast forward to a year ago. Away from the garden, back in the routine. Life was hectic. I had headaches all the time, because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I loved all the things I was doing and all the people I was serving, but my calendar was scary full and I had no idea how to make it less so. I was cramming everything into the tiniest of moments trying to fit it all in. God shook me up and taught me a thing or two. If you've beeen reading this blog, you've witnessed part of this journey--some of the beautiful surprises God gave me, some of the challenges I faced, some of the books I read and adventures I went on, some of the feelings I felt. I'm still learning. God keeps working on my heart showing me ways to more frequently breathe in the beautiful life He offers, and hold onto it longer. I don't want to forget what I've experienced and learned. I want to reinforce what's important and eliminate the things that get in the way of living this incredible life God has painted for us. I wrote a FREE 10-day study as a way for us to learn together. It starts Friday, February 5. And I'd love for you to go through it with me.
10 Minutes for 10 Days is a quick and easy way to get back to hearing God better and sensing Him more fully. There’s nothing hard or original here. Just some easy steps that Jesus modeled for us to cleanse our lives of some of the things getting in the way of feeling Christ’s peace.
I’m going to go through it with you, because I need to be aware of the noise and the silence in my life--the things God calls me to produce and create and get done and the ways He invites me to put them down.
We’ll spend ten minutes for ten days simplifying our lives in order to better connect with God. Each day's practice is as simple as pausing at a beautiful painting, lingering outside to inhale the scent of lilies, or praying for someone as they pull out of the driveway instead of immediately grabbing our phones. This is your journey with Jesus. Listen to Him as you go.
Invite a friend or two or three. Forward to your Bible study, book club, sisters, small group, prayer chain. It's FREE. No strings. If you click on the button below, I'll send you the free PDF. If you already subscribe to the blog, I'll send you a copy on Thursday. You can download and print and scribble in it, or use your own journal and access the digital copy each day. I'll also be popping on Instagram each of the ten days (except Sundays, because I fast from social media on Sundays) to chat about that day's practice and to check in to see how you're doing. I'll post these in my stories, and drop them in the 10-Minute Highlights, in case you missed them.
Are you ready to join me? You're just a click away.
WHAT GOD TAUGHT ME IN 2020
I know we’re almost a month into 2021, but I’m still processing what happened in 2020. You? Nothing looked like we thought it would last year. But in those changes I learned so much. When the routine didn’t just click away as usual, we had to adjust and revise and try different. And in the midst of adapting and being flexible I discovered some really wonderful new ways of doing and approaching things I’d like to carry forward, no matter what 2021 or the years after that bring. These are some of my biggest takeaways from the past calendar year:
4. Family church rocks! I love my actual church. I miss worshipping with a crowd of believers and seeing the people I adore. Live preaching from my pastor engages me more than when I watch him on a screen. But, oh my. Church with our family gathered in our family room, pajamas on, Bibles out, voices raised together is a beautiful thing. It’s not what we chose, but when church went online last spring, God did something mighty in our house. What a great reminder that church doesn’t have to look, feel, or be a certain way. Church is when followers of Jesus join together to learn, talk about, and praise Him. And when we do. He always shows up.
5. Unstructured Bible study is also phenomenal. I’ve taught Bible study for years. It typically looks like a room full of women. Sometimes we watch brilliant videos by gifted Bible teachers like Priscilla Shirer. Sometimes I teach a lesson to the group. There are usually snacks. And coffee. And discussion after the teaching. And it’s wonderful. But rooms full of people were not in vogue this year. So, every now and then two or three women and I would gather outside with our Bibles. There wasn’t a video or a lesson plan. It wasn’t on a certain day or at a certain time. But sharing what God was doing in our lives. Admitting our struggles. Encouraging and praying for one another was beyond powerful. It fed me spiritually during some of the hardest days of 2020.
6. My mental health deserves attention. I care for myself in a lot of ways. I try to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But my feelings? Well, I’m a pretty happy and extremely blessed girl, so no complaints. Right? Most of the time, that’s true. But I have some baggage. We all do. And recently I’ve been realizing it’s good for me to admit the hard parts, to feel the feelings, to ask for help in processing them. And although it’s hard to dive into the icky, painful, embarrassing parts of me, it’s good. It’s important. I feel God restoring shards of my soul.
There were more things God taught me. Some of them just for Him and me to process. Some seemed redundant to put on this list, but they mattered in different ways to me. What about you? What did God teach you in 2020? Leave a comment sharing something you’d like to carry into 2021 and beyond.
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Gardening in january
I love living in Ohio with our four distinct seasons. I even embrace the sparkling snow, but today it is a high of six degrees. As in 1-2-3-4-5-6. I just got back from California, and let’s just say a few days in sixty (a very key “t-y” there) and sunny was good for my body and soul. One thing I marveled at as my husband and I strolled the streets of Yountville hand-in-hand, were the gardeners busily out planting. Apparently, in wine country January is the perfect time to be pulling carrots and picking lettuce, to be watering Brussels sprouts and tilling the soil in preparation for the next round of seeds. Each day the gardens bustled with workers yes, harvesting current crops, but also preparing the ground for future produce.
We can’t plant anything in Ohio that we hope will have even the slightest chance of living until late March, and that’s still quite risky, but it made me think about what I can metaphorically be planting in my life now to harvest when the time comes. Because growing things takes time. And patience. It takes planning, digging, water, sunlight, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, and yes, more patience. Nothing will grow, not the tiniest sprout, if we don’t prepare the soil, and if we don’t plant the seeds.
So, on this icy January day I ask myself (and you), “What do you want to be harvesting in March? In August? Next year at this time? Five years from now?” I’m clever enough to realize I am not the one in control of how things go down. God is. But I also realize God invites us into the gardening. He even asks us to “bear fruit.” So, we trust God to provide the sunlight and rain for our crops—because that stuff is way out of our control. We also need to trust Him with the timing—how long those seeds need to germinate before they sprout, how long they need to grow underground before they’re stable enough to pop their heads above ground, and even how long it will be from the moment they emerge until the vines sprout tomatoes, and the tomatoes are round, red, juicy, and ready to pick. But while we’re trusting Jesus for all of that timing rain and sun, we have to be the ones seeking good soil, loosening it with our shovels, maybe adding a scoop or two of fertilizer, removing clunky rocks, pulling invasive weeds. We have to dig the correct depth and plant the seeds. We need to gently cover them back up and sprinkle them with water on the days the rain doesn’t fall. Depending on the growing cycle, we might be called to more—to covering tender leaves if a late frost threatens or tying stalks to stakes to keep them sturdy as they grow. So this gardening? It’s a partnership between us and God, the Master Gardener. And partnerships don’t work when only one partner shows up. Since God ALWAYS does His part, we need to do ours.
I don’t know what you hope to harvest in your next season, or the one after that. If you feel called to find a new job, now is the perfect time to be updating your resume, taking a class, reading a book, honing your craft, asking someone (or twenty someones) to coffee to pick their brain on the industry, how it works, what potential job routes there are, if they know anyone who’s hiring. If you’re aiming for honor roll this semester to maintain or earn a scholarship, get ahead on your reading. Make flashcards or Quizlets. Find a strong study partner or group. Meet with the teacher in the class you struggle in, today, not after you do poorly on a test. If you’re eyeing a move—take some weekend trips to potential new hometowns. Stay with friends. Quiz them on the pros and cons of their area. Google neighborhoods, rents, home prices, school districts. Clean out a closet or two, so when it’s time to move, you’re prepared. You want to play in a band? Practice your instrument. Over and over for hours on end.
I don’t know what dream God has given you, what goals you long to achieve, or what is going to be necessary for you to get there. But I know it starts now.
"It’s January," we groan, and "we can’t even find the soil under all this snow. The ground is frozen." Fill in any excuse you have as to why you can’t start today. I don’t feel well. I’m broke. I’m too young (or too old). I don’t know where God wants me to go.
Fine. That may all be true. But even on a six-degree day I can order seeds online and compost the avocado pits, cilantro stems, and stale taco shells from our taco night. And as they decay over the next few months, they’ll create nutrient rich dirt for me to sprinkle into my flower beds come spring.
What is God calling you to do? Have you asked Him? If not, talk to Him. Ask Him where and when and what He has planned. Ask Him again. And again. Make this an ongoing conversation. You can start right now. This very moment.
If you have heard from Him, what are you doing about it? As Banning Leibscher says in his book, Rooted, “It’s not enough to just hear the Lord’s words, we must carry them (p. 122).” Are you actively carrying around the idea, the dream, the next step or did you stick it in the garage waiting for April showers? If God gave you a goal, a plan, an assignment, He will equip you to carry it out. So talk to Him about what steps He wants you to take, about how you can currently be preparing the soil. Then get out your rake and begin.
Growing things is a process. Except on time-lapse cameras nothing grows over night. But it is a beautiful process. And when we plant for Jesus, succulent fruit grows in abundance. You don’t have to wait until the ground thaws or the casting director calls, you can start today. Even in January.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5 NLT
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
BURSTS OF COLOR IN FEBRUARY GRAY
Gheesh. I’m done with winter. There is so much cold and snow and slush and gray in Ohio. My skin is so dry from the constant blowing of the heater. I want to roll down the windows in my car. I want to see a daffodil. I want to play outside. But it’s only February. And there’s a way to go until springtime blooms, or so the groundhog said. So, I have two choices:
I’m picking B. Because I live in Ohio. I love it here. I love how close my husband and I live to our moms. I love the four seasons. I love the idyllic college town we live in. I love that due to all this wintry weather my kids had last Wednesday off school for a snow day. And, this is where God put us. So clearly where God put us. Every time we consider even looking anywhere else, God presses us deeper into place. So I have no room to gripe. God is so good to put me here, even in February.
God will delight us if we look for it. Case in point, I was folding laundry, which is super glamorous, and my youngest was looking out the window. He said, “Mom, look a blue jay.” I came to the window and my breath caught. “Wow. That’s not a blue jay. That’s a bluebird. A bluebird of happiness.” I don’t know how I know bluebirds are harbingers of happiness. It’s just one of those things I know. I remember my mom saying the words, ‘bluebird of happiness,’ but not where or when or why. Yet, each time I see one, I feel happiness, somewhere deep. It’s like God reminding me, “I bring joy. I bring it everywhere. Even in a vibrant little bird.”
What is gray in your life today? Your commute? Your statistics class? The dishes piled up in your sink? A relationship? Can you spot a bluebird—a spot of happiness amidst the clouds?
Are you seeking beautiful moments or waiting for them to hit you over the head? I’m in the middle of reading Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs. If you haven’t read it, go Amazon Prime yourself a copy or grab it from the library—so good. And Annie is reminding me every day to look for lovely. Everywhere. So, after seeing the bluebird I went on a quest and found beauty. Even in the most unexpected places.
After too many hours bent over my laptop researching Old Testament prophets, I decided I needed to get out and clear my head. I pulled on my mittens, popped in my earbuds, and set out. One by one the tightly wound thoughts in my head began to unravel to the rhythm of my feet crunching along the snow-covered sidewalk. And then I saw this little guy. He didn’t skitter or scamper as squirrels are prone to do, but just sat there looking at me as curiously as I was looking at him. He was perfect. His little bright squirrel eyes, how intently he was holding his acorn. His speckled fur. Look at what God made!
Two days later, my husband brought me home a gorgeous bouquet of tulips. For no reason. It wasn’t Valentine’s. They looked like a big bunch of springtime, but it was their smell that made me swoon. One sniff of the pink blooms filled my nose with sunshine, fresh mown grass, and April raindrops.
Driving my son to play rehearsal he asked to listen to the soundtrack for his show. I handed him my phone and told him to find it on Spotify. From my car speakers “Come on Eileen” and “Love Shack” sang to me like high school serenades. My head bopped and I may or may not have taken my hands off the wheel to snap my fingers along with Dexy Midnight Runner’s, “Ta-lu-ry-aye” and to point to my boy in the backseat and call out, “Hurry up and bring your jukebox money!” along with the guy from the B52s.
Brown butter sauce from a vendor at Findlay Market turned my bag of boiled pasta into a rich, savory delicacy worthy of a fine Italian restaurant. The richness of morning coffee. A warm, solid hug from my daughter. A thunderstorm whose cadence was in tune with the beat of my heart. Cabin socks cozy and soft on my feet. And then yesterday? A seventy-two degree day surprise smack in the middle of February. My crocuses peeked out their purple heads to see the sun. And last night, a sky full of the brightest stars. Orion and Cassiopeia shining clearly for all to see. The partial moon in a smile shape like the glowing grin left by the Cheshire Cat. Just because God is good. Just because He loves to delight us.
Yes, there is horror in the news. Yes people I love are suffering—from disease and divorce. My hometown of Westerville, Ohio was hit with tragedy. I know you have struggles too, dark spots, storms, fears, pain. But God is good. He is so very good. And He loves us more than we’ll ever be able to grasp. Jesus died on the cross for us as the ultimate expression of that love. But God also peppers our days with beauty and flavors and songs and smiles to remind us time and time again that the sun rises each morning after darkness and spring always comes after winter.
Look around. Go on a quest for beauty. Let me know what you find. You’ll be blown away by God's love and mercy every morning once you intentionally seek it.
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
A CASE OF SHAKEN IDENTITY
A powerful February gust shakes the over 100-year old towering trees in my back yard. I watch them as they waver like drunken sailors. It’s mind blowing how such seemingly stable oaks and maples can sway so violently. The wind settles, but it takes the trees a moment to dig into their stabilizing roots and halt their motion. They tremble and wave their branches once more, then finally settle back into their stations.
Me, too, I whisper to the trees. Me, too.
And I start to sway. My self-image is deeply rooted in the fact that Jesus loves me, and this keeps me from being blown across the street or falling down, but I do stagger.
I dive back into my to-do list, but I feel jittery, like I’d chosen a second coffee instead of that tea. I push off the feeling of inadequacy, shoving it aside, so I don’t have to deal with it, acting like none of those things bother me, because I know they’re not supposed to. But that leaves me feeling unsettled and unable to focus. No matter what project I begin, I can’t shake the lingering pit in my stomach that something is off. I’m like one of those trees waving back and forth, out of character, and not how I’m intended to be.
How to get back to normal?
I have a tendency to avoid conflict, but it really is important for me to address it. So I start the inner dialogue about what truly has me irked. I gloss over surface annoyances and finally get to the root of the problems—the button pushed, the label attached, the part of me that feels like it hasn’t measured up. There. At least I know what I’m dealing with. The name calling inside my head saying, “not good enough” has been quieted. Because I know better. And so do you. Now, the wind has stopped, but I’m still swaying a bit. Ever been there?
I need to dig my roots deeper, back into the nutrient rich soil of God. I start praying. I tell Him how I know it’s ridiculous, how I know it shouldn’t bother me, but that it does all the same. And together we unravel what happened and how it made me feel. God sets me straight. My self worth has zero to do with my ability to make a reservation or balance a hot beverage. The real issue isn’t with the needy friend, but with my feeling that I need to solve their problems and how I feel inadequate when I can’t make things right. The button pusher is so busy manning their switchboard; they don’t realize how I tick, or what I even value. And a criticism from my past has long since expired. The same holds true for you, with whatever ways you feel you’re not measuring up.
Talk to Jesus. Let Him remind you what truly matters, who you truly are.
We are more than conquerors. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. We are to be strong and courageous. We’ve been left with peace. Our hearts are not to be troubled.
As I talk with God, He reminds me I don’t need to prove myself, and that my worth is not based on my worldly performance. He helps ground me and reminds me I am not a failure because I don’t solve all problems, avoid all accidents, have all the right words, and a myriad of magic tricks up my sleeve. Jesus tells me over and over that I am loved, that I am His, and that that is more than enough.
And once again, I stand tall, extend my branches, and breathe deeply.
Whatever is making you waver today, talk to Jesus about it. Reach your roots deep into Him. He will hold us firm on the promise of His love.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
ADVENT WEEK 1: WHAT IS HOPE?
My favorite day of the year is Christmas Tree Day, which falls annually on whichever day my family gets our tree. To me, it represents hope.
Merriam Webster defines hope as: to cherish a desire with anticipation. Yup, that’s me about Christmas. But the word ‘hope’ seems to get watered down. I hope I get there on time. I hope the line’s not too long. I hope they still have it in my size. That’s not really cherishing a desire, is it? Then what is hope? Hope is a college in Michigan. It is a charitable wine company. It’s even one heck of a goalie for the women’s National Team. But it is so much richer than that.
We all love picking out a prickly evergreen from the local farmer’s market, taking turns standing next to this one thick with fragrance, then that one with just the right point on top, so we can all compare and choose which tree is the perfect pine to grace our family room. Our family enjoys unboxing treasured ornaments from years past, the golden twinkle of lights, and singing Christmas tunes out loud, whether we know the words or not. But I get especially emotional.
Sure, it’s because of all the reasons I’ve listed above—spending time with my favorite people on the planet, reliving old memories, creating new ones, but I believe Christmas Tree Day is so powerful to me, because of all of the hope it signifies—the hope of the entire Christmas season.
My heart fills as it anticipates carols, cookie baking, and candle light services. I flash-forward to the joy of watching my kids scramble to locate our Elf on the Shelf (his name is Frosty) each morning. My taste buds eagerly look forward to the creamy richness of a peppermint mocha, sigh, and thick dark fudge. I’m excited to hug, laugh and catch up with loved ones. I look forward to priceless moments ranging from pausing to contemplate the nativity scene to prancing through the yard at the first sign of snowflakes—the kind of memories that seem to fold one on top of another at Christmas like no other time of year. I can barely wait for it all.
Christmas Tree Day brings me all of the hope of the Christmas season. But the Christmas season brings me all of the hope wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was willing to come down to earth, among the trials, the mistakes, and flaws of mankind (that’s me and you) to save us. Some days we feel hopeless. But Christmas is the beautiful promise that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, Jesus loves us anyway, and calls out to us from the manger and from the cross, and right to where we are today, saying He wants to offer us love, the perfect kind. That’s what hope is. Hope is the desire, the anticipation, for His selfless love. But unlike Christmas morning, we don’t have to wait to unwrap it. God’s love is His gift to us today, right here and now.
No wonder the start of the season, the day that commences this month packed with hope, stirs me up inside. I cherish each moment setting up and decorating the tree, but I am also overwhelmed with the promises and potential of Christmas. No matter what you’re hoping for this Christmas, know that Jesus offers you all that and more.
May your days be merry and bright
Laura L. Smith