The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. The odds of winning the Powerball lottery (which was up to $750 million at the writing of this post) are 1 in 292 million. These numbers are easy to find with a quick Google search. But has anything extraordinary ever happened to you and you wondered, “What are the odds that could have happened?” I had one of those “what are the odds?” moments this weekend.
We entered the Starbucks and the rich, inviting aroma of roasted coffee beans welcomed us inside. Our main goal was to find the bathroom. After detours and construction my friend, her husband, their daughter, me, and my daughter had been in the car for hours and still had a few to go before we arrived in Gatlinburg for the girls’ soccer tournament. While we were stopped for the restroom, treats were in order. For me? A tangy, iced peach tea sounded like the perfect pick me up.
Before any of us could order, a young woman with long brown hair and perfectly arched eyebrows hugged my friend. I didn’t know how they knew each other, or why in the world they’d bump into each other here, but I heard the gal say, “Kat’s in the car.”
Kat is my friend’s older daughter, who had been in Savannah, and was supposed to be meeting us in Gatlinburg to watch her little sister play. But moments before we pulled out of the driveway, Kat texted saying she was sick and couldn’t come. She would drive with her friend straight back to Cincinnati to get some rest. The whole family was disappointed Kat wouldn’t be at the tournament, and that they couldn’t be together when Kat was feeling so awful.
But now? As we made our random rest stop from Ohio to Tennessee and Kat took a break from her route from Savannah to Cincinnati, our paths collided at the exact same Starbucks at the exact same time.
What are the odds?
But this thing had nothing to do with odds. It was a gift from God. My friend got to see and hug her sick daughter. Her daughter got giant, comforting hugs from her mom and dad. Kat also got to wish her younger sister good luck. The whole episode only lasted about ten minutes, but it was beautiful to witness the warmth and depth of this impromptu reunion.
This is how God works. All of the time. He is orchestrating things beyond our imagination, outside of our control. We feel disappointed, stressed, impatient, concerned when things don’t go our way. When we get sick and we have to miss something we want to attend. When we’re sent out of our way or feel stuck and don’t seem to be moving ahead. When we can’t see someone we had plans to meet or go somewhere we had plans to go God says, “Be anxious about nothing. (Matthew 6:25) Don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). Trust me. I’ve got this (John 16:33).”
And then He does something crazy awesome!
Paul and Silas were two missionaries teaching folks about Jesus. They were preaching in the town of Philippi, when long story short, they ended up in jail. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
But then God.
God created an earthquake so powerful it shook the jail to its foundation. Bricks crumbled and tumbled every which way. The jailer was also shaken by this miracle and ended up believing in Jesus. So did his entire household. (Acts 16:16-40) Paul and Silas set out to teach people about Jesus, but landed in prison. But God put them there at just the right place at just the right time, so He could shake things up and convert a whole family of unlikely suspects.
What are the odds that jail would be struck by an earthquake? That the unbelieving jailer and his large clan would be transformed?
Again, I’m guessing zero.
Does something look bleak today? Disappointing? Like you’ll miss seeing your favorite person or maybe that you ended up in the opposite place of where you’d hope you would be?
God isn’t fazed. At all. He has some elaborate behind-the-scenes plan at work. He will somehow use where you are, when you’re there, mix things up and do something that will blow you away.
The odds of you being born with your exact genetic makeup are 1 in 400 trillion. And yet, here you are, reading these words right this very moment. God blows off the doors on all the odds. He intentionally and specifically created you exactly how you are. (Pretty cool, right?) And He hasn’t stopped working in and through your life since the moment He formed you. No matter how highly the odds may seem stacked against you. Trust Him. You never know who He might have you run into or what He might crumble down. But you can count on it being phenomenal. Those are odds you can bet on.
The Ohio winter has been cold, gray, windy, dreary and long. Yes, we’ve had a few unexpected warm spells (global weirding we call it at our house), but on St. Patrick’s Day as we swirled peppermint buttercream on freshly baked green cupcakes, snowflakes flitted past our kitchen window. Snow. In mid-March.
But today, even though it’s still only a high of 40 degrees, the sun is bursting, blanketing my neighborhood in a golden glow. And these rays of sunshine make all the difference.
At least they do for me.
The sun instantly switches my perspective from survival mode of staying warm, logging miles, checking off lists…
to enjoyment mode—savoring the warmth prickling my skin, beaming at crocuses peeking up their violet heads from their slumber, and giggling at a squirrel chattering on the telephone wire overhead. God is so good and so abundant. He always is. But somehow I see it more clearly in the sunlight.
Similarly praise is a breakthrough switching our minds from worries, concerns, struggles and fears, to all the glorious ways God surrounds us with His warm, golden love. It’s like an on/off switch that literally changes our perspectives.
It’s not complicated. It begins with one simple thank you to God. Thank you, Jesus, for the daffodil stalks poking out of the earth like sharp, green spears.
And almost as soon as we utter the words of gratitude, we find another thank you follows quickly on the first one’s tail. Because thank you also, God, that I don’t have to plant daffodils every year. It’s miraculous how they not only return on their own, but multiply like blooms of sunshine scattered throughout our yard.
And then comes another. Thank you, Jesus for the text from a friend who’s praying for me, for the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpecker on that branch with his stunningly scarlet head, for the laughter bursting from my husband and son as they shoot the Nerf basketball into the hoop on the laundry room door.
The praise pulls us away from the what-if worries for tomorrow and the if-only-things-had-been-different reservations from the past. Praise pulls us into the present—shining light onto what God has for us, right before our eyes. The things we can thank Jesus for were always there. They are just easier to see when we illuminate our lives with gratitude.
It can be difficult on an emotionally gloomy day to eek out praise—on days when clouds of concern darken our skies, when gratitude doesn’t come naturally, when thank yous aren’t bubbling from our lips. On these days we need to be intentional. Because there’s always something to be grateful for. Something. Think. What is it?
Even in a hospital room we can thank God for intelligent doctors, scientific breakthroughs, modern sanitization, a call from a caring family member. Even when someone disappoints us, we can thank God for an umbrella on a rainy day, a rich frothy latte, a warm hand holding ours.
And once we start with the tiniest of thank yous, a ripple effect occurs. We begin to find more things to thank God for, and then more. All of a sudden we find ourselves less concerned about the troubles we’re tackling, and instead acutely aware of how loved we are by a glorious Creator.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever. --Psalm 136:1
So what can you thank God for today? You can start small. You can start simple, but start. List one thing.
Can you get to ten?
And as we focus on His goodness, His enduring love, we begin to feel the breakthrough. The bad stuff fades and doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore. The warmth of God’s love changes our perspective and helps us remember who we truly are—the ones God loves, the people He’s fighting for, radiant in the light of His Son.
I like to be comfortable.
I mean really comfortable. I love to put on my jams as early as possible—as soon as I’m home for the day—cozy up on the couch with a soft, snuggly blanket, a mug of orange spice tea, and play Euchre or watch a movie with my husband and kiddos.
These are wonderful moments. And I truly believe God created spices,, blankets, and decks of cards for our enjoyment. He wants us to savor these things. But of all the incredible promises God gave us—that He loves us, is always here for us, gives us strength, forgives us, empowers us, never leaves us, He never promised we’d be comfortable. Hmm.
Lately I’ve been holding tight on to comfortable, my daily routine, the things I can control, a nice, even work load, things that feel doable, familiar places, and where I can reach that fleecy blanket. But God’s been asking me to let go. He’s been placing new people and opportunities on my path—exciting opportunities, cool chances to share with more people how much Jesus loves them right now, as we are, where we are. And I’ve been shaking my head. I’ve been telling God, “Oh that sounds nice, but I’d have to drive far, work more hours, not be able to swing by the grocery if we’re out of something. The laundry might pile up. The kids might need me. What if I don’t get the blog out?” Yup, this was real this week. Because Tuesday night I ordered carry out, my son’s school pants were dirty, we were out of fruit and milk, and I hadn’t written a blog. I was freaking out a bit, because I like to have all of those things taken care of. I felt antsy. I was so uncomfortable.
God is so gracious, because He doesn’t chastise me as harshly as He should. God should tell me, “What is wrong with you? Why are you stressing about these little things, when hello, I’m God. I’m offering you amazing possibilities. Are you listening to yourself?”
No. He’s sweeter. And wiser. Instead God says, I love you. I’ll equip you. I’m not asking you to do these things, because I expect you to do it all. I know you’ll be uncomfortable, but I’ll do something incredible with it. I want to work through you. I want you to depend on me.
Ahh. I. Don’t. Have. To. Do. It. All.
And neither do you.
But I bet there is something God is calling you to—something that seems difficult, perhaps uncomfortable. It could be something giant, like moving to a new city, or turning down a job offer, or it could be something as simple as telling a friend who’s undecided on her faith that you’ll be praying for her. Maybe God’s urging you to raise your prices, take a week off, make a phone call, go back to work, or sell your house. Maybe He’s nudging you to take a class, call the doctor, or visit your neighbor. And this thing makes you squirm—it’s out of your comfort zone, not your normal, and thinking about it puts you on edge. (Side note, God would never ask you to do something that would harm you—so if you feel like you’re being pushed to do something toxic, that’s not God. Step away.)
But uncomfortable, yeah, that sounds like God.
Jonah was not comfortable going to Nineveh to give the violent, malicious folks there a message. Moses wasn’t comfortable going to Pharaoh and demanding the release of his free labor force. None of the disciples were super comfortable with the fact that every time they mentioned Jesus’ name they risked being thrown in jail. But God was with Jonah. All the Ninevites converted on the spot. God was with Moses—it took some repeat action, but over two million Israelites walked out of Egyptian slavery, and straight through the Red Sea to safety on the other side. And the twelve disciples—a dozen uneducated, mix-matched, regular guys? God was with them. They spread the good news about Jesus, enabling you and me, over 2000 years later in a land that hadn’t even been discovered at the time, to know Jesus. To hear the good news that He died for our sins, rescued us from our troubles, and loves us completely.
God is with us, too.
What is God calling you to do that might feel bumpy or prickly?
Whatever it is, if it is God’s calling, please know He doesn’t expect you to go it alone. He doesn’t want you to. God will walk with you; give you the words, the ideas, the introductions, the skills, and the resources. If it’s Kingdom work, God wants it to get done. Since He invented vibrant purple flowers that can bloom from brown bulbs underground and gorgeous rainbows of color that arc in the sky from a mixture of rain and sun, He’s more than capable of accomplishing whatever He’s asking you to do.
When we hear God asking, “Who should I send? Who will go?” All we have to do is trust Him. Get off the couch. Get out of our comfort zones. Let go of the blanket. Take a deep breath and answer, “I’m in. Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
Have you ever watched the cooking show Chopped? The contestants, who are experienced chefs, get a basket with five seemingly mismatched ingredients and are challenged to make a delicious dish using all those ingredients while cooking against the clock. The chefs might open their baskets to find durian (a spiky Asian fruit), lime gelatin, imitation crabmeat, and crunchy cheese curls. Or maybe their basket contains salmon, avocadoes, sweet tea, and cricket flour (ground crickets). And their cooking time starts…now.
It makes for great television and cooking inspiration. Because although I look at those ingredients and nearly choke at their combinations, as the timer ticks down to zero all of the competing chefs create unique scrumptious dishes—ranging from soup to tacos to bruschetta—out of the strange, sometimes off-putting ingredients.
It’s also a cool preview of who we are in Christ.
Unfortunately, some days we look in the mirror and see the bizarre basket ingredients—brains and black garlic. Ew! And we focus on how unusual, pungent, stringy, or briny that particular aspect of our whole persona is. My face is breaking out, voice can’t carry a tune, and brain isn’t good at numbers—fill in the blank with the negative labels we tend to put on our singular traits.
What we fail to do is see the whole picture—God’s recipe for who we are in Him. God knitted us together stitch by stitch, piece by piece with the sum of our parts in mind. He imagined the whole picture, the entirety of you and me stirred and simmered together into something incredible.
Think about baking a cake. Baking soda by itself tastes nasty—certainly not like a sweet treat. Salt also doesn’t seem to belong in something we’d serve for dessert. But without baking soda our cakes would fall flat, and without salt they wouldn’t be as flavorful.
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something. –Psalm 139:14
The chefs on Chopped decide to marinate this crazy thing in that odd ingredient plus three fresh herbs and a little olive oil. And, gosh! Really? Frog legs look and smell inviting while simmering? If a handful of passionate cooks can do that with a basket of surprise ingredients, don’t you think the God of the Universe knew what He was doing when He made you?
The folks who run Chopped have intentionally selected foods that pair together in a variety of delicious ways, if only the chefs will take a moment to consider how the flavors work as a whole not in parts. The acidity of this balances the richness of that. The sweetness of this mellows the bitterness of that. And all together a delicious dish is created from the quirky combination of flavors. We’re all the same way.
I’ve always had a high voice, which I hated for years. I’ve been teased and even called, “Minnie Mouse.” Salespeople who call often ask, “Is your mom at home?” For a funny twist in “my ingredient basket” God asks me to speak in front of groups. About Him. With this high voice. It seems mismatched, like a bad recipe, but God intentionally gave me this voice, so it catches people’s attention, so they might be more inclined to remember when I tell them how much Jesus loves them. God knew what He was doing when He made you, too. The sum of the individual ingredients He marinated together for your personal recipe makes you amazing, unique, and in God’s eyes prize-worthy.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. —Ephesians 1:11-12
Jesus knew what He was doing when He made you. He had an overall purpose. So today, don’t negative self-talk your distinct features. Instead consider how God puts them all together and uses them for your overall design and the work He’s called you to. Nobody wants to eat cricket flour—at least I don’t, but with all the right ingredients sautéed and blended with a garnish on the side, even the things we truly don’t understand about ourselves are being used for a complete, phenomenal recipe. God has a gourmet plan for you and His kingdom. Bon appetite!
My daughter folded herself forward in the passenger seat, tugged her church top off, and swiftly wiggled her way into a t-shirt. She could sit upright to pull her thick, fuzzy sweatshirt over her head, but it was still quite a feat with the seatbelt and all. I won’t try to describe the dance moves she had to execute to pull off her skinny jeans, so she could slip on her joggers. But she had to do it. She was going straight from church to a cool volunteer opportunity to play with some kids in need. There wasn’t time to go home, or even grab a moment in the church bathroom to change. The top and jeans were perfect for church. The sweats were ideal for where my girl was going. The change was necessary. As were the less than ideal circumstances for making the switch. But it was worth it. She got to both attend church and play tag with kiddos.
This moment of squirming and giggles in the car matches a series of questions God keeps asking me: Where have I had you? Where am I taking you? What needs to change to walk into this new space?
My first clue was in December. A friend asked, “What can I pray about for you?”
Words came from nowhere. “I feel a shift coming. I don’t know what it is, but I really feel like God is preparing me for a change. Could you pray that I stay focused on Him and His plans, throughout that change?”
What just happened? What shift? What change? I hadn’t felt any of this until the words escaped my mouth. As my friend climbed out of my car, I had to sit a minute to catch my breath. I felt like I’d been bowled over. God, what are you planning? What’s changing? I want to hold tight to You in this!
Is anything changing in your life? A new job? A new relationship? A new expense? A new routine? Does the ground feel like it’s moving under your feet?
Another day. Another friend. Same crazy questions and ideas from God. As we circled the indoor track, gym shoes rhythmically thumping the rubber surface, our unplanned conversation orbited from where we’ve been to where we’re headed and what that means.
In my Bible study we’re studying Jonah. Jonah was a prophet living in Israel, delivering messages from God to the Hebrew people. Until God gave Jonah a new assignment, “Get up and go to Nineveh.” Jonah had been at one post, Israel. But he was being sent to a new one five hundred miles away. And it changed everything. Um, God, I don’t want to go to Nineveh. But I also don’t want to end up in the slimy, smelly belly of a big fish. I’m listening. What changes do you have in mind?
And even though I’m in a Bible study about Jonah, God keeps pointing me back to Ephesians. Specifically 2:10 God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. And chapter 4:1 I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. Hmmm. Work I had better be doing. Work He’s gotten me ready to do. Work I best be running after. But if I’m running, don’t I need to take off these cute boots and put on my Nike Zooms?
What is God calling you to today? How is it different than what He had you doing before? What changes might you need to make? What discomfort or inconvenience might you have to endure? How will you intentionally walk (better yet run) onto this road He’s calling you to travel?
My youngest was on the court in the last two minutes of his game. My phone vibrated. Can Maguire spend the night? We were twenty minutes from home and five minutes from his friend’s house. The ideal scenario would be to drop Maguire at the friend’s immediately following the game. Only he was in his uniform and didn’t have a pillow, toothbrush, etc.
After the buzzer I chatted with my boy. Yes, he wanted to go to his friend’s. Yes, he would even skip home, a shower, and his own covers. I sent Maguire into the restroom where he pulled off his uniform and tugged on the sweats he’d worn over his jersey and shorts on the way to the game. And although he wasn’t fresh, he was comfortable enough to snuggle on a friend’s couch with a borrowed blanket for the night. He’d been playing basketball. But it was time to hang with his buddy. To go from one to the next meant something had to give. He had to change. He also had to give up some comfort, but it was worth it.
Here it is again. This change in direction and the necessary action to make it happen. God doesn’t promise us it will be easy. But He promises it will be glorious and extravagant (Ephesians 1:19). That seems worth a little discomfort. That feels like it will be worthwhile to do without some of the security blankets I’ve been holding. But it’s still a bit scary, eyeing that new unfamiliar road. But also, so very exciting.
Today, in a new stage of life, where my kids are older and intriguing assignments are knocking at my door, what’s best for my family, best for me, best for this work God has called me into? I’m not sure, and I don’t how it will all play out. But I’m feeling the need to tug off my previous outfit, and put on something more appropriate for the next season.
What is this new attire? I haven’t found it in my closet yet. But with this coming shift, I know I’ll need to let go of control, and say, “no,” to some things. I’ll need to enlist help and be flexible as I learn what a day in the life of this new season for Laura looks like. And I’ll need to accept that there will be bumps during the transition. Changing outfits while riding in a car can be tricky. Certainly less than ideal. But the end result is worth it.
The coolest part? God is with me on my journey and with you wherever He’s taking you. He doesn’t ask us to go out there and do it alone. He says to join Him in the work He does. Join Him. Yes, please. There’s no one I’d rather walk through life with than the One who loves me, believes in me, encourages me, holds me, comforts me, and cheers for me just for trying. Because what God really wants isn’t a best-selling novel from me or a full-ride scholarship, trophy, or promotion from you.
What He really wants is for us to join Him. That’s all. To walk through life with Him. To trust Him when He says He creates us for cool stuff and wants us to do it, because it will be amazing, and because He can shower us and the world with His love and grace while we do this work He’s put in front of us together.
So, let’s get going. Ready? Set? Go!
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?
God loves us. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the jumble of our lives that we won’t even allow Him to remind us. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Will you let God and the people He put in your life love you?
The other day one of my kids woke with a massive headache. They had an important presentation at school ahead of them. They felt awful and were unsure of how they could navigate the presentation through their pain, but they had to go. They needed to be there. I laid out a grab-and-go breakfast, knowing not eating amplifies headaches. I found Advil and Tylenol to tackle the headache from both sides. I placed the capsules in the hand of my sweet child. But they were hurting and stressed, which made it difficult to focus on the help in front of them. They felt frozen by pain and worry, unable to put the medicine or breakfast in their mouth. I only share this, because I saw so much of my own frequent shutdowns and refusal to accept God's help in their struggle.
I unfortunately do this all the time.
“Need any help?” my husband asks as I hustle around the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table before someone needs to sprint out the door for practice or rehearsal.
“No!” I snarl. Which is not the kindest way to respond to someone offering assistance. But I’m in a mode, and a mood. And I fear if I slow down to even explain to Brett what needs to be done, I won’t complete my task in time. So instead of trusting and accepting the love God offers via my husband, I continue in a snit. I miss out on a chance to realize the beauty in the fact that God is tender enough to notice me making dinner and to offer me free kitchen staff.
I’ll get edits on something I’ve written, and stubbornly think, nah, it makes perfect sense how I wrote it. Which is clearly not true, or the person editing wouldn’t have questioned what I was trying to say. God gives me wisdom via a colleague to improve the work I do for Him. Why do I ever resist accepting these insightful suggestions?
Someone-who-hurt-me’s name comes up in conversation, and all I want to do is make a snide remark. But I hear God whisper, Let it go. Speaking negative things makes you hang onto bitterness, which only ends up hurting you. It also sets a bad example for those around you. My Good, Good Father is trying to protect me from inflicting pain on myself. Yet, I want to say the snarky thing, so I say it anyway. And then get a pit in my stomach.
Can you relate?
I knew within fifteen minutes of ingesting the acetaminophen and ibuprofen my child’s pain would be minimized. I also knew the longer they worried, the less time they’d have to get ready for school. This would make them more stressed. And the whole thing would continue to spiral. Easier to see when it’s happening to someone else. But I couldn’t shove medicine down their throat. And I couldn’t force feed them breakfast or dress them. I love my child and had tools to help—medicine, food, and a plan. They couldn’t accept any of it. They ended up darting out the door hungry and in a frazzled mess.
Ugh. How many times do we do this with the help God offers? Shake our heads, wallow in our pain, and refuse to accept the gift of love He’s basically placed in our palms. We don’t mean to. My kiddo didn’t mean to. They wanted to feel better, but they were overwhelmed. By all of it. I want to feel better, too—less stressed, better at my trade, and less bitter. But when we get overwhelmed, we tend to shut down. And in shutting our hands, we make it nearly impossible to receive God’s gifts.
Jesus came down to earth to love us. He died on the cross to love us. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us to—you guessed it—love us. That’s a lot of love. So why are we resisting it?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:37-39 NIV
Tomorrow is a day dedicated to expressing love. I hope your day is full of those yummy-red-chewy-cherry hearts, rich Dove chocolates, laughter with the people dear to you, and warm, comforting hugs. But no matter if it is or is not, I know that you are loved by your Creator, by the Creator of all the things, by the King of kings. There’s not a single way you can mess up that will make Jesus love you less. There’s not a single thing you need to do to make Jesus love you more. He loves you fully and completely. Right now. As is.
He offers grace and joy and forgiveness and hope. Will you receive it? Open your hands. Open your heart. And let His unending glorious love flood in.
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.
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.
Laura L. Smith