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
The work of being a writer for me consists of most days sitting in my writing nook and well, writing. I’ll also read and pray and answer emails, but most of it is writing and rewriting and rewriting. For weeks and months. Without anybody else seeing what I’m writing or asking about what I’m writing. With nothing to show the world. The most exciting days are when I get an email from my agent or an editor about a brand new project or a development on a project I’m working on.
I have a book releasing in July which I’m super excited about, but I’ve turned it in and gone through all the edits. My part is mostly complete until launch time. I have a new project that’s due about the same time the book I mentioned releases. I won’t hear from my agent or editor on either book until summer. What’s next is me being disciplined and writing this next book for Jesus. Word by word. Story by story, or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird by Bird.”
But wanting to know the next “what’s next” bubbles up some days. A weird, it’s a new year-ish, should I be revamping my website, dreaming up new projects, planning something else? Maybe. So today I was asking God again, “Is there something else you want me to be doing (this is always a great question to ask)? Is there another project or idea I should be working on for Your kingdom? Do you want me to write a new Bible study? Teach a new Bible study?” And I got that tug inside to check my email, but the tug wasn’t from God. It was from me thinking and from culture reminding me I “needed” to be doing something new. Maybe the answer was waiting for me online? But I sensed God simply answer, “today.” As in, God wants me to do today.
Today. What does God want you to do today?
God reminded me that already this morning there had been a beautiful worship gathering at our home. “I wanted you to open your door for that and be present for it. It didn’t involve books or emails or projects. It involved living today and worshiping Me.” God also reminded me that I’d had coffee with a friend. We’d talked about our faith and jobs and relationships and what we were reading and God’s faithfulness. God told me, “That coffee date was living for Me. Where two or more are gathered I am there. This was something I wanted you to do today.”
What’s on your schedule?
I don’t know what you’re checking your email or texts or actual metal mailbox at the curb for today. An acceptance letter? A job offer? A check? An invitation? A referral? A grade? A result? Those are all super awesome things to look forward to. And God loves for us to get excited about the plans He has for us and the places He’s taking us. And just for the record, He does have ginormous fabulous plans for you! He doesn’t want us to be complacent and just let life happen. However, He also doesn’t want us to waste our time longing for the what ifs, the maybes, and the as soon as…God created this day–THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.
Will you join me?
God reminded me that kingdom work is what we’re doing right now, today– the conversation with your neighbor or roommate or classmate or sister. It’s stopping to praise Jesus for the delicate snowflakes dancing through the air. It’s texting the friend who isn’t feeling well and asking how they’re doing or taking them soup or praying for their healing. It’s bending over to help the person who just dropped something gather up their belongings or paying attention to the two hours of video training for your job or cheering for your teammates or vacuuming so your home will feel clean and safe for whoever walks through your doors. For me, it was that gathering, that coffee, and now it’s writing this blog, sitting down at my desk and typing the words, word by word. Then it’s off to my kids’ indoor track meet and cheering them on. This is all kingdom work. It doesn’t get better than this–than real life–than this beautiful everyday life God gifted us with.
Because this is what we do–God’s children. We walk this earth flooded in His love and try to pass some of the abundance of that love back out to others. It doesn’t have to be BIG and SPLASHY and newsworthy, although sometimes it is and that’s fun, too. We just have to be present. To God. And to what He’s doing. And when we focus on making the most of the class we need to attend or the food we need to prep, when we do it out of love for ourselves or others, then we are doing kingdom work, we are making a difference, we are moving forward. And when something new does come our way, we’re called to step into it the exact same way. By being present. By living that day and that idea and that opportunity to its fullest. One beautiful step at a time.
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When You Can't Do It All
I spent a whirlwind 48 hours in Nashville. I was blessed to be on a panel at a fabulous writing conference, meet some new author friends, hear some great content, catch up with one of my very best friends in the world, and spend some amazing time with my daughter who moved to Nashville over the summer. Maddie and I shared scrumptious meals, went for an awesome run on a crisp November morning, talked and laughed and giggled, ate Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (think Oreos with candy cane filling) from Trader Joes and tried to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie but fell asleep. It was jam packed and fun and exhilarating.
I cried as I was leaving the house. Because in order to go to Nashville and do all those marvelous things, I had to miss my younger daughter’s soccer tournament in North Carolina and two out of four of my youngest son’s performances of A Christmas Carol where he played both Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley.
You see, there’s only one of me. And even though I would love to be multiple places at once, I can’t. I’m just a person. A well intentioned person, but a person nonetheless. My heart felt like it was being ripped in pieces--one excited, joyful part headed to Nashville for a conference and to be with Maddie and to experience all the awesomeness I described above plus two sad, achy pieces knowing I wouldn’t be able to support two of my other kids in things that really matter to them.
It’s a dilemma many of us face. And as we head into the holidays with Thanksgiving tomorrow and then the full, beautiful Christmas season right on its turkey feathered tail, most of us are trying to do too much. Most of us feel pulled a bit thin. Like there’s not enough of us to do all the things we’re supposed to or would like to do.
But here’s the great, amazing, incredible news.
We don’t have to.
Jesus tell us, ““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”--2 Corinthians 12:9
So, I think I need a time turner or another one of me or eighty four more hours this week or another pair (or two) of hands, and Jesus says, His grace is all we need. Let that sink in. You don’t need anything else. You see, it’s Christ’s grace that whispers to our hearts, “You don’t have to do it all or be all the things. I love you for exactly who you are, even if the house isn’t clean or you fumble on your test or you miss a workout, email or meeting. I love you if you’re tired. I love you if you’re late. I love you if you get carryout or buy something from the store or whip up a box of mac and cheese as the “item you bring to the Thanksgiving meal.”
And that next part? Even though we’re trained by culture to believe we shouldn’t show our weaknesses, Jesus says, those places? The places where we’re lacking--when we don’t know how to handle the conflict with the family member we’re sure to see, when we wish we could visit everyone in our hometown but don’t have the time or energy, when we yell at our kids or burn the pies or our mental or physical health issue flairs up making us incapable of doing anything at all--these are the places Jesus shines. His power is perfect. When we stop trying to be perfect, He can step in and give us the right words, help us bite our tongues, remind us it’s okay to rest and ask for help. When we let our guard down and stop trying to be superheroes we can receive the love, peace, grace, patience, forgiveness and so much more Jesus offers.
For those of you who have been following along on the blog or on my social media, you know over the last month I’ve been on a gratitude journey, intentionally being grateful. As we dive headfirst into Thanksgiving and then Christmas and all the wonderful and multiple things that go with that. I want to continue. And I believe that starts with being grateful for Christ’s grace. That it’s ALL we need. It’s all we need when we bake, shop, wrap, send, prepare, decorate. It’s all we need as we try to juggle our work, volunteering, and other commitments, as well as all the extra things we do from now until year end. Jesus’ power is perfect. Therefore ours doesn’t need to be. Thank goodness, because it can’t be. Never will. But Jesus is so loving and good that He uses His perfect power to fill in all our cracks, tie our loose ends, hold us up and hold us tight. This Thanksgiving (and every day) let’s be thankful for all the blessings God gives us. Let’s start by exhaling and being grateful for His all sufficient grace.
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I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger and dear friend, Tamara Bundy. Tammy and I both have four kids (two girls and two boys each), husbands who work at Miami University, a love for coffee, books and Jesus, and a passion to write stories. Tammy’s newest title releases January 14, and in the blog this week she writes about something God taught her while writing Pixie Pushes On and she's giving away a free copy of her book (keep reading for details).
Only God could turn a trip to the hospital into an uplifting trip down memory lane. My dad had been in the hospital with, yet another case of pneumonia caused by his compromised lungs due to his Inclusion Body Myositis. We had gotten used to this rotation of hospital stays–at least as much as one can get used to it. But no matter how used to it you pretend to be, sitting with someone you love in a hospital room, while they are hooked up to beeping machines, looking older than you remember them to be, is hard.
My mom and dad both grew up on farms during the 1940’s, but they moved to the city when they got married. Because I grew up a city-kid, I remember being amazed at the farm stories they told—stories about my dad driving tractors as soon as he could see over the steering wheel. Stories of my mom’s favorite lamb, Buster. When it came time to write my second middle grade novel, I knew I wanted it to take place in that setting –and I knew it would have a lamb named Buster.
As I added the fictional elements to the story –such as my main character’s sister having polio, I wanted to ground it in more realities of my parents’ childhoods. That’s when I realized how poorly I’d been listening all those years. Sure, I’d heard their basic stories –but when you’re growing up, you assume you’ll have your parents (and their stories) your whole life. You imagine you’ll always be able to ask them important (and unimportant) things.
My parents lived in Columbus and my family lived two hours away in Cincinnati. Our moments of being in the same room at the same time were few. That day in the hospital was a moment I knew God put in front of me. And so, on that winter day, with my worried mom stationed beside Dad, who didn’t want the attention on him, I tried to distract them. I told them about the new book I was writing. And then, in that scary hospital room I asked my mom and dad to tell me about when they were children.
I wanted their day-to day details of life on the farm. What did they have for lunch at school? How did they get to school? Did they have bathrooms? Electricity? These were all questions that younger-me never bothered to ask, but older-me not only wanted to take the time, but also desperately wanted to slow it down.
Then, amidst the din of the machines helping my dad breathe, another sound blissfully prevailed. This sound of youthful stories of milking cows, gathering eggs, tending gardens. Mom and Dad were no longer 80-something-year-old’s watching their lives slip away. My mom became, again, the ten-year-old chasing the fuzzy little lamb she bottle-fed. My dad, once more, was in fifth grade having to eat the cold, slimy fried-egg sandwich he didn’t like, but had to eat because, as my grandma told him, “If the chickens are laying eggs, we’re eating eggs.”
My parents remembered. They talked and talked. I swear, they even giggled. If possible, they physically grew younger in front of me. And I wrote down every exquisite detail I could manage through the happy tears gathering in my eyes.
My dad passed away not long after that treasured afternoon.
On January 14, the book I was writing, Pixie Pushes On releases from Nancy Paulsen Books. And yes, I am thrilled to have readers meet Pixie, her Granddaddy, Grandma, Sissy, Daddy –and her lamb named Buster. But most of all, I am filled with joy that if I look closely between the lines of this story, I can see traces of my parents’ childhoods. And within those pages, they will stay young forever.
My dad wouldn’t mind that attention at all. I imagine he would even say, “That’s fine and dandy.”
(click here to listen to the song "Fine and Dandy" written and performed by Tamara's kids a.k.a. The Bundys, in honor of Tamara's dad)
If you are blessed to have older people in your life – ask them about their childhoods, their special memories. You don’t have to be writing a book. You just have to ask. And then listen. Listen as the years melt away. Listen to their stories. Maybe you’ll even decide to write some of the memories down.
It’s never too late. Start today, start now. Ask God to guide you. Afterall, He managed to turn a hospital trip into an uplifting trip down memory lane, leaving me with a precious memory that is, indeed, one for the books.
To win an autographed copy of Tammy’s Pixie Pushes On leave a comment in the comment section below of the blog. One winner will be selected by number randomizer on January 13. Open to continental U.S. residents only.
Tamara Bundy is a children’s book author as well as the author of several non-fiction inspirational books. A former columnist for the Cincinnati Post, she currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Miami University. You can follow her on all social media platforms as well as at www.tamarabundy.com
I’d received three rejections in three days on a proposal for a new book my agent was pitching for me. The first one, I thought, “Oh well, God has a better plan.” The second, I thought, “Even though they’re not taking my book, the editor’s feedback was encouraging.” The third? My first and only thought for quite a while was: Ugh.
The publishing industry is packed with NOs. It’s part of the gig. Some publishing houses already have full lists, a similar idea in the works, specific requirements they’re currently looking for that I, or this particular book, don’t meet. I try not to take these “no thank yous” personally. But three in three days was a lot to deflect.
I felt like this door might be shutting. It felt like ALL the doors were actually slamming shut.
God, you wanted me to write this book, right? Then, why so many turndowns?
God remained sturdy. He always does. Trust me,I felt Him, respond.
Which is not the answer I wanted, because I wanted to know the details.Wherewill this book land? When? Willit find a publisher at all? If not, whatdo You want me to do with it, Lord? But God’s answer was, of course, complete.
Trust Jesus. Because Jesus is the One gave me the idea for the book in the first place, because He always knows what’s right and best for me, for you, for us.
I chatted with Jesus for a long while, asking Him to help me let go of my expectations, and trust Him more. I asked Him to shake off the lies that my writing wasn’t enough, and the inevitable follow up lie, that I wasn’t enough. I thanked Him for the privilege of being able to write for Him. I thanked Him for knowing even before He asked me to write this book how and when He would use it. He washed calmness over me. He reminded me I was His and loved. Feeling more centered and peaceful I got back to my day,
I grabbed some almond milk out of the fridge to top off my coffee, but the refrigerator door didn’t seal. I pushed it more tightly the second time. I ran out to my car to put a new pack of gum in my console, but when I tried to close it, the lid bounced back up like a broken jack-in-the-box. A-ha! My aux cord needed to be maneuvered. Going from the garage back inside took me through the laundry room, so I grabbed a load from the dryer, but the laundry room door wouldn’t shut. A backpack jutting out from its peg near the door was the culprit. After folding the clothes I carried some dish towels to the kitchen and slid them in their drawer—only an oven mitt stubbornly blocked the way. Again, I moved things around to slide the drawer shut. Upstairs, I placed some of my husband’s black t-shirts in our closet, only, you guessed it, the door caught on something as I went to shut it.
I got frustrated and may have uttered out loud, “Why won’t you shut, you stinking door?”
Everything I tried to close wouldn’t. Too many things to be natural or normal. I needed to stop, breathe, and consider what Jesus was saying. In that moment of stillness by the closet I heard Him say, “I’m not closing your doors, Laura. I’m keeping them open.” Cue tears.
Jesus sees us. He knows us. He loves us. And He cares so much about our every move. He heard me talking to Him, and saw me stand up more settled, but not fully. He saw me folding laundry and putting away towels. Jesus understood I want to trust Him completely with my writing and everything else, but my human heart struggles. I’m impatient and emotional. And He speaks to me, and to you, too, with constant little reminders—the tiniest details right where we are, as simple as a stuck door (or several) to give us sweet encouragement.
I don’t know what Jesus intends to happen with my manuscript. It could be months before I hear back from all the publishers my agent pitched. It might become a bestseller or not get published at all. I don’t know how Jesus is going to use this thing He asked me to write, but I do know He will use it. Because He called me to write it. Sometimes it feels so easy when Christ calls us to something new—the excitement, the possibilities, the novelty of it all. But somewhere in the midst of the work, of walking around our proverbial walls of Jericho the fifth time around we lose hope or worry. Jesus reminded me that He’s with me, that He didn’t ditch me mid-way through this project, that He knows exactly what’s going on, and just wanted to tell me no matter how things appear, He’s keeping doors open.
Yes, sometimes Jesus shuts doors—when they lead us the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time. If you’re uncertain if Jesus wants you to move forward or change lanes or turn around, ask Him, He’ll tell you. But when God calls us to something, when He sparks something in us, He brings it to completion. He wouldn’t pack you full of a talent, plop you in a certain place, introduce you to that person, or light you up with an idea, and then just stomp it out. No, our God finishes what He starts. Not just always how we imagine.
What has God asked you to do for Him? Are you believing the lies that it’s too hard, you’re not capable of seeing it through, or nobody likes your idea? Are you tired? Discouraged? Because nothing is too hard for Jesus. He’s capable of seeing any project through to the end. And if He gave you the idea, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter. Trust Him and His call. And when the time is right, Jesus, like a perfect gentleman, will hold the right door, the one He’s been planning for you all along, wide open for you to walk through. I’m sure of it.
I’ve been stripped.
Of my car.
Of my oven.
Of my laptop.
At least temporarily. And it’s been rough. I mean, God has called me to be a wife, a mom, and a writer. These things are the tools of my trade. Without them, I feel bare, lacking. Who am I when I can’t drive, cook, or write?
It started while listening to an Annie Downs’podcast. I was challenged by the question, “Who are you when you’re not caring for the people you love?” The question made me cringe. Who. Am. I? But instead of lingering there, I answered by rote, “I am a child of God,” and kept going about my day. Except God wasn’t done.
Who are you when you’re not ___________? Think about that for a minute.
Nurturing my family is my jam. Making them happy makes me happy. But what about when I can’t provide them with everything they want and need? Am I okay with that? God called me to love these people, but He wants me to put this calling in context. And He wasn’t going to let me move on until we spent some time here. When I took my car in for an oil change, and it ended up it needed to stay in the shop for a few days, I felt Him nudging me with this question again. I laughed. Okay, God, so who am I when I can’t drive my kiddos anywhere? My oven decided it’s too hot outside and won’t heat above 200 degrees. All right, God. I’m listening.
When I’m not doing my wife and mom gigs, I’m writing. My old laptop was shutting down (see a pattern), so I splurged and replaced my nine-year old standby. I felt quite clever as I managed the “migration assistant” and my old and new Macs seemed to be telepathically communicating. Until they got mad at each other and stopped talking. The Apple store informed me it would take 72 hours to get my laptop up and running. Which left me once again asking, “Who am I when I’m not….”
I kept looking around for something to do, because I couldn’t tend to my usual tasks. Without my car, oven, or computer how should I best love my family well, write well for God? I heard Jesus calling. Here’s what you should do. Sit with me. Talk to me. Guess what? As I sat still with the Lord, it was peaceful. I didn’t feel less, because I wasn’t rocking all my tasks. God was in my moments of not being able to achieve. He didn’t ditch me just because I wasn’t doing all the things. In fact, God asked me who gave me those assignments, because He never said in order to be a good mom I had to drive to soccer practice or that in order to write for Him I had to finish the third chapter for my proposal by the end of the week. Turns out those were metrics I was using. Not God.
My initial response, “child of God,” was right, But God didn’t want me to fill in the bubble and turn the page. It’s too important. It’s actually true. Jesus wanted me to soak myself in it, wrap myself in it. I am a child of God. I am His. I am chosen. I am loved. I am empowered. I am enough.
And so are you.
The things I’ve been stripped of are minimal and temporary. I have friends who have been stripped of much more. One friend lost their home. Another their relationship. Yet, another her memories. Who are these people without their house, partner, and past? They are still God’s children. He still holds them dear. They still have complete access to God’s strength, power, joy, peace, and love. There’s nothing in Scripture that states we need a family, to be married, to live in a certain place or have a certain state of mental health to be loved by Jesus.
Do we believe that? Do we live like that?
God is hammering this truth into my head. It’s a blast to love on my husband and kids, and write stories for Jesus. It is. Down to my core I believe God called me to do these things. They light me up. But I also need to trust that God is in control—that when everything else is gone, when it’s just me and Jesus, that that is enough. In fact, it’s spectacular.
I don’t know what you call yourself today, but how would you feel if one of those nametags got peeled off? If the things you do disappear… who are you?
Jesus told some fishermen, “Drop your nets and follow me.” He told a rich man, “Sell everything you have and follow me.” Jesus looked a tax collector in the eye and said, “Quit your job. Follow me.”Not everyone Jesus challenged to strip off the things that defined them obeyed. Those are some tough instructions. But those that did, those that laid down their nets and their balance sheets, never regretted it.
I am not fully responsible for making everything work, for having all the answers, for doing everything perfectly. Neither are you. This is such a relief. But what’s even better to know is that the Lord of all loves me, loves you, not for any of our statuses, but simply because we’re His. I’m not wishing upon any of you that you lose something that matters to you, but I am praying that whatever you do or don’t have, that you realize how fully loved and complete you are, because you belong to Jesus.
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I DON'T DESERVE IT
This year I’ve been working on a book about music and the church and our roots. I’ve been writing the chapters out of order, which is not my style, but I knew how I wanted it to end, and there was something I wanted to change in the middle, and another chapter needed to go bye-bye and be replaced. I was working off two documents—the beautiful, polished one I’ll send my editor, and the one with lots of notes, some ideas for later, some reminders for now. So I kind of knew where I was with the project, but not completely. I thought I had at least three full chapters to write, plus edits as I pulled up the manuscript on my laptop. I was all set to start a new chapter, when one I’d been doing a major remodel on caught my eye.
I spent the day reworking the words—their order, the story they told. And when it took the shape I was hoping for, I added that chapter to my pretty document, and scrolled through. All thirty chapters had been written. What?!
I’m not saying I didn’t have some major editing to do, just that the first draft was complete, which is huge. And I didn’t even realize I’d crossed the finish line. I looked at the sky, blue and clear on the other side of the screen on my porch, and whispered, “thank you,” to Jesus, because He’s the one who gave me this book and He’s the one who truly wrote it. I just took dictation.
A completed draft is not a finished project, so I kept going, organizing the table of contents, fixing some footnotes. I didn’t take time to high five myself or journal or go beyond that one whispered phrase of gratitude. I’d save that for when I turned it in. Plus we were leaving that afternoon for an out of town soccer tournament. I still had to pack, grab a few things from the store, fill my car with gas. So, I kept going. And going.
Fast forward to that evening. I’d arrived in Columbus where the soccer games would start early the next morning. And because God is so good, my incredibly talented and lovely friend, Holly Starr, was playing a show in Columbus. Which is a huge deal, because she lives on the other side of the country, and we rarely get to see each other. But here God was—giving us this night for a hug, shared conversation, and the beautiful opportunity for me to witness her using her God-given talent. Holly sang some tunes off her latest album, Human. She sang some familiar worship music everyone knew. Her last song was “Give Me Jesus.” Which just happened to be the title of one of my book chapters.
Her rendition felt so raw and personal, like it was a gift from God, wrapped up with a shiny silver bow and delivered specifically for me. I’m sure others in the audience benefited from the reminder…but in that moment…you could have all this world, all I wanted was Jesus. He was reminding me of what happened that day—that He had given me a large assignment, walked with me every step of the way, and because I was willing to be obedient, He did a thing, a glorious thing—He wrote a book with me. And in the writing Jesus taught me so much. I felt like I would burst with appreciation.
The pastor of the church took the mic, said a prayer, and invited anyone who needed prayer to come forward while his wife sang a closing song. His adorable wife with short silver, curly hair and cherry red lips stood up and began, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus….” Yes. Oh my. I also referenced the lyrics to this song on a page of my book.
The book is about all kinds of things Jesus wants us to know, all kinds of ways we can connect with Him. And yet, the final two songs of a night that already felt like a present were straight from the conversations I’d been having with God as I wrote it. If gratitude was a liquid, my cup was running over.
This is how our God works. We go through the motions—did I pack toothpaste? And He sets up a Christmas tree packed with presents. We think, okay, check, I did that task, and He says, “Let’s celebrate! Look how wonderful things work out when we collaborate!”
I didn’t deserve to have the chance to write this book, yet I'd been spending my days penning the pages. I didn’t deserve to learn everything God taught me in the writing, yet I was full of a deeper understanding than when I began. I didn’t deserve to finish it before I thought I was done. I was ready to do more, but it was as if God wrote extra pages while I was sleeping or cooking dinner or driving carpools. I didn’t deserve to see my friend. I didn’t coordinate calendars or book a flight, but here she was smiling in front of me. And oh these beautiful songs that stirred my soul, I didn’t deserve to hear them, but God lavished them on me, like mounds of home made whipped cream, light and sweet, on top of rich, chocolate lava cake.
I didn’t deserve any of it, but just like I love to shower my kiddos with gifts, treats, and surprises, our Heavenly Father loves to love on us.
So keep on writing, or running, or researching, or rehearsing. Keep on studying, stretching, being obedient to what God is calling you to do. I don’t know when or what it will look like (I wasn’t expecting any of the presents He showered on me), but I do know He will lavish you with undeserved gifts, blessings sweet, tangible, and endless. Just keep your eyes on Him. The things of earth will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.
WHAT CAN YOU LIVE WITHOUT?
My editor noticed I’m over on word count. It seems every single chapter of my manuscript is too many words long, putting the projected length of my book larger than my contract allows. She kindly suggested I start cutting. It’s a problem I have. Using too many words. Just ask my husband who wishes he had a fast forward button to use on me when I’m sharing a story. And although it’s tricky, when I cut away excess words my writing becomes cleaner, tighter, and more impactful. Turns out, there are loads of things I think I need that I can actually live without.
Like apparently our washing machine, at least for a few days. Even though I typically run two loads a day. Even with five people constantly throwing their damp towels and smelly, sweaty t-shirts in the hamper. Gheesh. But what do you know? We all have plenty of clothes to sustain us without “needing” the dirty ones instantly cleaned. Which makes me think it’s high time I sort through our closets and put together some giveaway bags. Yeah, there are some things in my life I think I need, but I can definitely live without.
The light over our kitchen table also isn’t working. Anyone else living this life? The switch is shorted out. I have a call into the electrician, finally. But we’ve been surviving for over two weeks by using other nearby lights to illuminate our meals. Go figure. And we lost a credit card. Cringe. We’ve stopped the account and Visa is sending replacements. But we are managing without it.
Is there something in your life that you would be just fine if it was gone? Is there anything in your life you truly couldn’t live without
I felt I needed those words to tell my story, that machine to wash our clothes, that light to see what I’m eating, and the credit card because, well, things cost money. Turns out, I’m okay without them (at least for a while). But there’s one thing I can not live without. Jesus.
I need Him when I first wake up to center my day, to remind me how His perfect plans have always been in motion and always will be. I need Jesus for the people I love—I ask Him to comfort my child who’s disappointed and to fill another child with peace in the midst of their stressful week. I turn to Jesus for advice on how to handle a conversation, on which projects to focus on, on how to find balance between work and my adorable family. I need Him to help me see others through His eyes. I need Him to help me see myself through His gracious eyes. I need Jesus to help me bite my tongue and extend grace when I’m frustrated. I need Jesus to help me reach out, stand up, or share when it feels easier not to. I crave to catch glimpses of His glory, to drink in His gorgeous creation, His love, His kindness, His forgiveness, His acceptance.
Sure, I’ve lived through way too many days when I did not seek Jesus, but I don’t ever want to go there again. Those days were stinky, damp, dark, full of words I shouldn’t have said, things I shouldn’t have done, things I shouldn’t have bought, people I shouldn’t have been with, and places I should not have gone. Those days were full of me striving and yet, somehow always feeling empty. I’m not saying because I hang out with Jesus that I never make mistakes. Nope. He still gives me free will. And I still mess up. All the time.
But with Jesus in my life, I know where to go when I fall. I know I can run to His arms, and He will pick me up and show me what love and forgiveness actually look like. I know when I’m out of time or patience or ideas or answers that He provides all of those things in abundance. I know that Jesus is the rock I can stand on, the love that will never leave me, and the answer to all of my questions. He wants to be all of these things for you, too. All you have to do is ask Him.
I’m really hoping my washer/light switch/credit card situations get fixed ASAP. I’m working on deleting unnecessary words to better tell stories for Jesus. But mainly I pray that I can cling to Him. Because I can do without all that other stuff. But I don’t want to live a single moment without Him.
heroes and villains
A year ago I hadn’t even heard of the Museum of the Bible (ohmygosh who’s been to this incredible interactive museum in Washington, DC?). Today, not only am I itching to take a fieldtrip there, but I’m also excited to announce the release of this book I wrote for them--The Curious Kids Guide to Heroes and Villains in the Bible. A beautiful set of God-directed circumstances allowed me to write this book with my co-author, the brilliant theologian, Doug Powell. I pray Jesus will use it to teach curious kiddos and curious grown-ups how amazing His love and grace is.
For this writing project God enrolled me in Bible 101. I pored over page after page of books like 1 and 2 Chronicles and Job—books I rarely wade any further than ankle deep. Let’s just say I got soaking wet in the Word, which was incredible. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, I also got to be doused with a wealth of Biblical knowledge from my co-author. So after all that reading, and learning here was my biggest takeaway. Ready?
It’s going to sound a lot like The Breakfast Club. Remember the letter at the end to the principal, Mr. Vernon?
We’re all heroes and villains. Each and every one of us.
We’re all created by God—given unique talents and gifts from our Creator. If we’re followers of Jesus we’re handed God’s armor to protect us (Ephesians 6) and have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) planted inside us. Which enables us all to be good guys. If we want to be.
But God also gives us free will. And we exercise it liberally. Which leads to some of our bad guy tendencies. After spending time in the stories of over ninety historical folks, it’s easy to see how, where, and why so many of them slipped. And unfortunately, how I falter in some of the same ways.
King Saul was doing great, until he tried to do things his way instead of God’s way. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to take the wheel. Mine’s in the air.
Pontius Pilate was this close to letting Jesus off the hook, but then he worried about what people would think. Ugh. How often do we worry about what someone else thinks? About even something small like if our family will like the dinner we cooked?
Judas was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but he got frustrated when Jesus didn’t do things the way Judas wanted Him to—overturn the corrupt government. Ever wish God would do things differently—hurry up with this, make this cost or hurt less, change your circumstances? Yeah. Me, too.
This is starting to look bleak. But not really. Because if we take a peek at the lives of the heroes of the Bible, they were also a hot mess. David stole his friend’s wife. Peter pretended he didn’t know Jesus. The Apostle Paul murdered Christians, to name a few. How did those guys end up as heroes? They turned back to God. And God ALWAYS welcomes His children back with open arms. No matter how villainous we've been. This is amazing news!
We will mess up. We have days (or weeks, or even years) when we feel like villains (or other people might feel like we’re villains). But as long as we go back to Jesus, lay our sins down at the foot of the cross; and allow Him to love us? We get to be heroes. We get to trade in our black hats and wear the white ones. Because as the prophet, Isaiah reminds us, If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. —Isaiah 1:18-19 MSG
This is worth celebrating! Jesus intentionally came down to earth to live among us, to die for us, so all our sins could be removed once and for all, so we could be heroes.
I don’t know about you, but in the final scene, I want to end up wearing the white hat, not the black one. So, I’m going to work on keeping my eyes on Jesus, on day after day turning back to Him. Will you join me?
In 2014 my friend, Amy, was driving through Cincinnati on her way to Columbus, so we met up for mochas and chocolate croissants at Panera. We’re both writers, so as we sipped our frothy coffees and nibbled on buttery pastries, we also brainstormed projects. At the time, I had a handful of novels published, but hadn’t dabbled in any nonfiction.
“I think you should write a devotional,” Amy said.
I nodded, wrote in my journal with the water-colored flowers on the front “Devotional?” But something in me pushed away her idea, made excuses. I had zero qualifications. I read devotionals, you know the books like Jesus Calling where you get a one-pager of inspiration for the day, but had never written one. I was working on a new novel, with a plot and a character I adored.
Amy elaborated on possibilities and potential formats. I listened, and absorbed, but didn’t act. Although, the idea stuck with me. A few days later, I scribbled this in fast, messy handwriting in the margin of the Bible study I was working through (Gideon by Priscilla Shirer): Should I take Amy’s advice and write a devotional? Have my blogs been leading up to this?
In the weeks following, I finessed my novel, and pitched it to editors. One publishing house showed a lot of interest. The editor there championed my proposal through two rounds of board meetings, and then in the third and final round my manuscript got turned down.
One month later, the same editor unexpectedly reached out to me. She was looking for an author to write a devotional and wondered if I’d be interested. God closed one door and opened another. Just like that. A door He’d already cracked slightly ajar by having Amy plant that seed of an idea in my head two years prior. The editor contacted me in October 2016. And today, February 5, 2019 my first devotional, 5-Minute Devotions for Girls releases. It’s craziness. It’s how God works.
Every good and perfect gift comes from above. —James 1:17
Fun fact: that novel? It still hasn’t found a home. I’m sharing all of this to say; maybe someone is planting an idea in your head today that is actually a seed from God. Maybe someone is telling you, “no,” today, but that “no” is building the foundation for an even better “yes”. Maybe something you know God has called you to do is taking longer than you ever imagined (Amy’s and my conversation was almost five years ago!) or down a road that looks completely different than the one you’d mapped out. God is at work. His ideas sometimes feel or sound a little out there. They usually are. His timeline looks completely different than ours. In fact, His isn’t even a line. The way we envision something is typically just a flat, colorless version of the multi-faceted prism He has in mind.
So hang in there. Wait. Be patient. Be obedient. Listen to Him and the things He’s whispering to you. Do what God asks. Seek Him. Love Him. He’s God, so He can work out all the other stuff, the important stuff, the details we don’t even know exist, let alone how they need tended to. And I promise, you’ll be amazed, and bowled over by His good and perfect gifts.
Laura L. Smith