I just unfollowed thirty -one people on Instagram and unsubscribed from 45 email lists. Sure, I’ve cleaned out some drawers during this shelter-in-place period, but I’m also cleaning out my electronic life, allowing some margin that in the long run will hopefully give me more moments to pause to savor what’s in front of me, so I can tend to the more important tasks at hand—whether that’s turning in a chapter, laughing on the sofa with my family, or being still with God.
The people I unfollowed weren’t toxic or mean. They were just distractions. Like the woman who posts gorgeous pictures of food and often has beautiful videos of her whipping together scrumptious meals. I frequently watch them, oohing and ahhing at how delicious and healthy that meal looks. Oh, and look, it’s gluten free. I should file it away. Add the key ingredients to my grocery list. Make it for dinner next week. But I don’t. I’ve never once made one of her recipes. So why do I watch her videos and scroll through her posts?
I also unfollowed a musician I heard once and loved her sound, but most of her posts are pictures of her with a new hairdo or wild eyeliner, and although pretty, have nothing to do with my life. I don’t know her. I don’t gain anything by seeing that she died her hair pink this week. And so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her—zip, she’s gone.
The unsubscribes? From clothing companies I’ve shopped from, but certainly don’t need daily reminders (translate temptations) to click on their site or spend money on their clothes. If I’m in the market for a cool new jacket or a snazzy pair of sandals, I know how to find them. Open Table? You’re so helpful when making a reservation. However, I don’t need to hear from you every single day. Bandsintown? I LOVE music and concerts, but I honestly scroll through the shows you send me and waste another couple of minutes that I always wish I had come the end of a day. If only I had a few more minutes to re-read this paragraph, play a hand of cards with the kids, close my eyes and just listen to the Lord. Oh, yeah, I did, but I wasted it daydreaming of concerts and restaurants in the morning when my brain was fresh. Dang it.
We talk about decluttering our homes—fewer pairs of jeans means fewer to choose from when we get dressed, fewer dollars spent, less crowded shelves, less chance of wadded up chaos and overflowing piles. Getting rid of bras that don’t fit or that their elastic has given out means I don’t have to root through all the bad ones every morning. But our electronic lives are also cluttered. When I open my laptop in the morning to write I usually have a dozen or so emails waiting for me. A couple are important. Some are “subscribes.” And even if I delete all of them, I still take the moment to think, “Free People? I don’t need any sundresses right now. Delete.” It takes a second. But it takes a second every day. And each of the similar emails also takes a second every day. And, for every ten, maybe I click on one. What is new on Netflix?
These aren’t bad or dangerous uses of my time, because gazing at funky apparel makes me happy inside and if Netflix added back all the Harry Potter movies I’d want to know. It’s just not the best use of my time. If I want to click on Free People’s website or on the Netflix App I can. But then I’m choosing. It’s intentional. Instead of having the distraction imposed on me. See the difference?
I want to do the work Jesus has set out for me today. And tomorrow and the next day after that. I want to be focused and live well for Him. I want to spend time with Jesus not rush through my prayers or time reading my Bible. I want to exhale in the middle of the day with Him, and not feel like “I don’t have time.”
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. --1 Corinthians 12:6-7 MSG
Jesus doesn’t get mad at me when I learn a new recipe or watch a music video. He delights when we are delighted. But He also calls each of us to specific work for the kingdom. And He asks us to do it well. And He loves it when we spend time with Him. I for one, do this much better, when I’m not going down rabbit trails of outfits I might someday wear or meals I might, but probably won’t, one day cook. So, I’m spring cleaning my mental space.
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. --Titus 3:8-9 MSG
Want to join me? Let’s put our feet down. Let’s avoid mindless, pointless scrolling. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.
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With all our time at home, we’ve been playing a lot of games. You? Clue is a fam favorite and when you play, the first thing you do is choose your character. I always choose Miss Scarlet. When it’s your turn you roll the dice, hopefully land in a room, and proceed to make some more choices. Who will you accuse? With what weapon? And as the game progresses your choices, along with some luck and deciphering, determine the winner of the game.
Today you and I get to choose. We don’t get to choose our health. We don’t get to choose where we’ll go (because, well….). But we do get to choose how we’ll let these quarantines and lockdowns affect us.
We can choose to move our bodies, because we’re still allowed outside for a walk or run or to toss a frisbee, walk a dog, shoot hoops, or hike through the woods. We can choose to eat healthy, because we have time to cook and the place we’re still allowed to go is the grocery. We can choose to love an actual neighbor in the neighborhood, by waving across the street, asking if they need anything. Sharing from our grocery delivery. We can choose to love our “neighbor” by writing a note (yes, on paper and putting it in the mail) calling someone (yes, on the phone) who lives alone or who we miss or who God has put on our hearts. We can choose to learn something new or hone that skill, because we have a zillion free podcasts plus YouTube at our fingertips, and again, we have time. We can choose to spend time with the Lord every day, because He’s here, right this moment, right by our side. He loves us. And He is the source of our strength, peace, joy, hope, and courage. All the excuses we used before as to why we couldn’t squeeze any time in our Bibles or in prayer have evaporated.
We can choose to keep going. Not give up on Bible study or that meeting we were supposed to have or even that coffee date just because we can’t meet in person. How about meeting and chatting via Google Hangout or Zoom or Houseparty?
We can choose our mood. I'm not talking about ignoring the pain or loss. Those are important emotions to process.
But we have the choice to grump and moan and complain about the inconveniences--"my investments are tanking!” “everything’s closed!” or choose to count our blessings—the grocery is still open, we have food, praise God! It’s sunny! It’s getting warm out! Thank you, Jesus, that this happened not in January when it was too cold, but now, in the spring so we can go outside and get a change of scenery and hear the twittering of the birds and take in the puffy white blossoms bursting on the Bradford pear trees. Thank you, Lord, for technology so I can still watch my church livestream, listen to music, download free e-books from the library, and do a silly Tik-Tok in the living room with my kids.
We can choose to be afraid in the midst of all this uncertainty. Or we can choose to listen to Jesus who told us on repeat, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Worry about nothing. I will be with you always.”
We won’t always get it right and it’s not easy. We’re still either finding ourselves in close quarters day after day with the people we live with or finding ourselves alone for longer periods of time if we live alone. The grocery doesn’t have everything on our lists. A lot of us are tight on cash. There are people we care about on our hearts. This is not normal for any of us. And that can cause us to grumble or feel a little boxed in or on edge. And that’s natural. It’s okay. We’re adjusting.
But, see, God has always given us free choice, from the very beginning of time, and we can pick all the sweet, juicy fruit He’s given us access to, or we can try to go for the one He said is off limits (which at a time like this is the grumbling, the giving up, the state of fear).
Today I choose Christ. I choose the fruits of the Spirit that are ready and available to all of us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’ll slip and mess up, and make a poor choice, and snap at one of my kids, or not communicate well, or wish things were different, but then I pray I’ll choose to come back to who God is—good and kind and powerful and faithful—and rest in the choice to love and trust Him.
Because whether we choose to trust Jesus or not, He is in control. And He is inherently good. So, yeah, that’s where I’m choosing to focus today. Will you join me?
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Here’s the thing. COVID-19 stinks. It’s taking people’s lives, putting folks at risk, depriving people of income, robbing students of their experiences, stealing people’s interactions and activities, and creating uncertainty to name a few of its negative effects.
But God is good. So inherently good. And His character is unchanging. So, God sees a bad thing, this terrible virus, and He figures out a way to use it for some good stuff. This is who our God is.
So, we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives. Romans 8:28
I’ve read and listened to so much quality content about finding time to slow down, to be still, to breathe deeply, to listen to God, to stop striving, to take Sabbath. And as I read and listened, I agreed in my head, Yes! What a great idea! But these great ideas take a ton of intentionality. Over the past year I’ve gotten better at taking Sabbath, but I’ve been fighting obstacles and interruptions to do so. Even with a Sunday slow down, the rest of life in general pre COVID-19 was overstuffed and supersized. Every square on our white board calendar in the kitchen was full. In a world where games, practices, and rehearsals are scheduled every night of the week, it was tricky to gather our family together around the dinner table. Most meals were more grab-and-go or eat-at-your-own schedule—things like tacos.
Sundays aren’t sacred to the general public so out of town tournaments and meets were standard Sunday fare, putting a wrench on our family, and maybe yours too, attending church together. Personally, our overscheduled, exhausted Smith family’s typical weekend was titled “divide and conquer” as my husband and I went different directions to support and cheer on our kids in their activities. This life is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one—a full and vibrant one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s life. I’m thrilled my kids get the opportunities they have. I’m grateful for their dedicated coaches and directors, their encouraging teammates and casts. It’s a beautiful thing to see our children step in and use the talents God’s gifted them. I’m thankful for a husband who is such a fantastic dad engaged with the kids and willing to help with all the things. But the kids were tired, and we were tired. We were.
But over the last week and a half, like it or not, we’ve been at home. As I’m sure you’ve noticed everything is cancelled, and we have been forced to slow down. Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
Our family has eaten dinner together every night. Celebrated church together in our family room. Played games. Tossed hands of cards. Had family movie nights. Gone on runs and walks. Listened to worship music. We’re all better rested. I see my kids reading their Bibles, journaling, doing devotions. No, this doesn’t undo the suffering of the virus. No this doesn’t give my kiddos back the things they were looking forward to that were cancelled, but I see God in this. I see Him taking something rotten and creating beautiful opportunities for His kids (that’s you and me) to rest, recharge, and reunite.
I see Him doing all kinds of beautiful things.
The gorgeous canals in Venice, Italy are clearer than when I had the privilege of visiting ten years ago, clearer than they’ve been for a very long time. No boats or barges running along the water has cleared up the typically cloudy waterways so much so that you can see the fish where vaporetti usually zoom.Carbon dioxide emissions in China have dropped 25% since January. Again, God hates to see the sick, the infections, the financial struggles, but I notice Yahweh taking this awful thing and using it as an opportunity to give His world a spring cleaning.
People are reaching out. Giving what they have to offer. Loving their neighbors. Just like Jesus asked us to. Professional athletes are donating their salaries to arena workers. Fitness instructors like those at Root Yoga and Apps, like the FaithFit project, are offering free virtual workouts. Superstar musicians like Kelly Clarksonand John Legend are singing from home, creating free live performances, on their social feeds for their fans.
We don’t know how this is all going to pan out. But I do know that Jesus is still on the throne. That God is still good. And that He is on our side. As we all continue to shift our patterns, schedules, and expectations due to the effects of the coronavirus, I’m grateful that Christ is the solid rock I stand on. The world is not the same today as it was last week or the week before. But Jesus is. And He is good. And He is taking what He can from this pandemic and using it to orchestrate some good.
Let’s keep our eyes on Him, keep our feet planted in Him. Because Jesus is fully and completely good, we can all take an exhale. What He told the disciples just prior to His crucifixion, He tells us today, In the world there will be tribulation. But be of good cheer. I will overcome the world! John 16:33. God is fully aware of the horrible thing COVID-19 is, but be of good cheer. Jesus will find ways to make some good out of the mess, and even better, He'll overcome it.
“You don’t play golf? Why not?”
Umm… I’ve never considered it.
“You don’t like steak?” Pause. “You’re kidding. Who doesn’t like steak?”
Nope. Not kidding. I’m more of a pasta and salad girl.
“Are you a Bengals fan?”
I’m not big into football.
Have you ever felt like this? Like you failed the interview? Like there’s no way you would be invited back? Like you didn’t quite fit in?
Just moments into my first Thanksgiving with the Smith family I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit into my own skin. It seemed like the Smiths all did and liked things that I didn’t do or like, or had never even considered liking, and therefore, I didn’t belong. But I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted by this family. Brett and I were engaged, and I was going to marry into this clan and hopefully spend decades of Thanksgivings with them. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted them to think I was worthy of Brett, and of wearing their last name. But I felt like I was failing.
This wasn’t the only place I felt pressure to prove myself. I tried to establish my self-worth at work, with friends, and in our first neighborhood filled with young families. When we had a baby, I wanted to prove I could be a good mom—to Brett, to both of our mothers, to the other women pushing strollers and planning play dates.
But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He invites us to a life of freedom—freedom to thrive by embracing who He created us to be, not who we think we should be, or who the world tells us we "should" be.
I have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Don’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!
Galatians 6:14-16 MSG
We don’t need to please anyone?
We don’t need to fit into anyone’s patterns?
It’s not about what we’re doing—where we went to school, what sport we play, or if we don't play sports at all, if we’re breast feeding or not or for how long, what color our couch is, if we buy organic, almond or store brand milk, how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. None of it matters—grades, weight, relationship status, mortgage payment.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re called to work hard and well in the life and vocation God called us to and placed us in. From the beginning God designed Adam and Eve to cultivate the world. This isn’t about plopping down on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, because it “doesn’t matter what I do.” But it is about not measuring ourselves by worldly standards or comparing ourselves to others.
God is creating something totally new—a free life. And He’s inviting us into it. Which requires action. We have to R.S.V.P.—accept His invitation. And when we say, “yes, I want that,” our life becomes the very best party—spending time with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit remind us who we are—His beautiful daughters and sons specifically and uniquely designed stitch by stitch, cell by cell. And the celebration never ends.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. —Galatians 5:25-26 MSG
You are an original, one-of-a-kind wonder, who doesn’t have to prove yourself. If God created you to be a night owl, awesome. Use your evenings to crank out your to do list and sing worship songs. If He made you an early bird, super. Read your Bible first thing and then go for a walk or run or send all your emails before anyone else wakes up. If God put in you the desire to create delicious meals out of fresh ingredients, fabulous. Shop at the farmer’s market. Watch the Food Network. Set aside time in your schedule to cook and let the simmering scents tickle your nose. More of a take-out girl? Also, great. Grab yummy refrigerated raviolis or rotisserie chickens for quick, tasty meals and use the time others spend cooking to do the things God created you to do. And do them well.
Thankfully, the Smiths did accept me. And love me. And invite me into their family. But I got turned down by several colleges I applied to, wasn’t invited back to multiple sororities during recruitment in college, had boyfriends break up with me, and have been turned down by dozens of publishers who don’t feel my writing is a fit for their brand. I get rejected all the time. We all do. But Jesus always accepts us just the way we are, because that’s how He intended us to be. And His opinion is the One that holds the most weight. Because He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega.
If we want this kind of life, one where who we are is who we’re supposed to be, all we have to do is accept how much Jesus loves us. Truly accept this truth down to our bones. Sure, I have so much more to learn about Jesus, but one thing I understand is that living with Him is the freest I’ve ever felt. When I read the Bible and talk to Jesus—when I choose this life of the Spirit—I am empowered, because I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, that He has plans to prosper me, that He calls me His masterpiece. It gives me permission to enter any room or situation and understand that I am who He made me to be, and that is never something to hide or be ashamed of. It is always enough.
Do I stumble? Sure. Do I feel awkward and insecure? Yup. Does my brain jump on the crazy train and make me start to doubt if I belong, if I’m able, if I’m qualified? Of course. But when I feel my feet sliding down that slippery slope, I reach out for Jesus’ hand waiting for me. I grab my Bible or start praying or get off social media or start playing worship music or text someone to pray for me or simply say the name of my rescuer out loud, “Jesus”. And it brings me back to who I am. His.
Because I want to live in the truth of who He made me to be, marinate in it. Stay in it. Do you crave this kind of freedom?
It is available. A rescue from an old way of life and an invitation into a new glorious one. God’s plan is that we all experience this rescue (Galatians 1:5). We don’t have to earn it or prove ourselves worthy of it. All we have to do is take Jesus’ hand and step into freedom.
I went rogue last week. I drove around with the tag on my car expired. Crazy, right? But I am a rule follower, and I did not like it. I watched my speedometer like my life depended on it. I overpaid the parking meter when I ran inside Kofenya to grab a coffee. My eyes spent more time on my rearview mirror than on the road. I was antsy and edgy, and it was no way to live.
People talk about wishing they didn’t have any rules, about living wild and free. But I don’t buy in to it working that way. No rules, aka driving with an expired license plate and risking a ticket is no fun at all. I felt nervous. I didn’t feel free. I felt caged in.
But today? Today I have my new plate. After two visits to the BMV (don’t get me started) I’m legal to drive on the roads. And guess what? I feel free. As. A. Bird. If I veer a couple miles over the speed limit I’m not concerned. I’ll park in any spot I choose—I don’t care who sees me. I’ve got music playing and I’m singing along. I’m not looking over my shoulder. I’m not worried. I’ve passed three cops in the last five minutes and didn’t even wince (I might wonder why so many police were out in such a small area, but I won’t worry). I have nothing to prove and nothing to hide from.
This is what it’s like to live in obedience to Jesus. Nothing to prove. Nothing to hide from. Free.
Sure, God gave us all free choice from the get-go. We can choose to go rogue on any issue and follow our whims whenever we choose. And He will still loves us. We can decide if we want to call all the shots or trust Him to guide our decisions. The first, the “on-our-own way” is like telling the government, “I’m not going to have a valid license plate. I don’t like being told what to do. It’s not convenient to go to the BMV. I can’t stand waiting in line. Plus, I’d rather hold onto that cash than spend it on a rectangular piece of metal, thank you very much. And, what are the actual odds of a police officer noticing my expired plate, and then pulling me over? They have bigger fish to fry. There are much bigger crimes. I’ll chance it. Sure, we can choose this alternative. And then we can drive around like we’re paranoid, not enjoying the ride, thinking we need to be sneaky and stealth. Putting additional pressure on ourselves. And risking a pricey fine that could have been avoided. Or in terms of real life, we can fear like we’ll be called out for our past, doubt our worth when we don’t measure up to some worldly expectation, and feel small when we don’t know what someone else is talking about.
OR… we can decide if we want to walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus, listen to Him, and follow His perfect advice—we can simply get that metaphorical license plate. Yes, some days Jesus will ask us to do something inconvenient. Yes, sometimes it will cost us time or money. Sometimes we’ll have to wait. But when we follow Jesus, we can drive around town head held high, owning the fact that we are His sons and daughters. We don’t have to look over our shoulders because of that thing we’re trying to quit or the way we feel inside or the night from our past we wish we could change. Jesus is already clued in. We don’t have to hide anything from Him. He sees us, knows, us, and fully loves us just the same. Jesus has already forgiven all our mistakes past, present, and future. Will we make a bad decision, say something out of anger, slip back into a bad habit, choose the easy way out? We will. For sure mess up. But Jesus will be there, not with sirens wailing and lights flashing, but with a hand to help us up and point us back in the right direction.
Driving with a legitimate license plate isn’t constraining—it’s freeing. It allows me to drive the roads I want to take, to get where I need to be on time, without the potential delay of being pulled over or the unbudgeted cost of a ticket or the angst of worry.
Riding through life with Jesus also isn’t restricting. It’s so incredibly liberating. He offers us love and grace and a better way. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The fruit of the Spirit implants peace in our hearts (Galatians 5:22). When we follow His call, we can turn up the tunes and enjoy the ride, because we know we are fully loved for just who we are, that we have the King of kings on our side, and that we are on a road filled with joy and freedom.
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My oldest son started running track, and although he had gym shoes, they weren’t good running shoes. Let’s just say he selected them because they sport the colors and logo of his favorite football team. But when you run competitively you need shoes designed for running, to protect yourself from injury and pain, and to maximize your speed. So we made a visit to Fleet Feet, a specialty running shoe store.
A woman with bright blue chalk all over her palms greeted us, asked how she could help, then excused herself for a moment to wash her hands. When she returned, she did all her fancy foot magic, measuring, scanning, watching my son walk around the store barefoot. As she laced up a shoe on his left foot, I noticed a slanty script running up her forearm. I’m always fascinated by tattoos and the stories they tell about their owners. I tried to make out the words but couldn’t. Should I ask? I felt extremely curious, like this was something I needed to know.
“What’s your tattoo say?”
As my son stood to walk around in the shoes, she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the black ink. “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay,” she said almost dreamlike.
“From Ruth?” I asked, but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed lost in thought.
She ran her coral lacquered fingernail over the cross that punctuated the end of the phrase. “It’s from a song we sing at the church I go to, and kind of about everything I’m going through right now.”
“I know that song,” I said.
My son returned from his lap, so we went back to discussing fit and comfort of shoes.
At the checkout she asked if we were in her computer system. I mentioned my husband probably was. The worker asked his name.
“Brett Smith,” I answered.
She looked up wide-eyed. “That’s my name. I mean, that was my name. Smith is my old last name. I’m Brett.”
We stared at each other for a moment, marveling at this information.
“That’s wild,” I finally said.
“Yeah. Crazy.” She shook her head and finished ringing us out.
Ask her what she needs prayer for. God nudged me.
I looked around the store. No one else was there. Where had the other worker gone? Where were the two other customers who were there when we arrived?
Just ask her, I heard God whisper.
“So, Brett,” I said. “Is there something I can pray about for you?
She immediately nodded. “Yes. I’m going through an awful divorce. That’s why Smith used to be my last name.”
“Can I pray now?” I didn’t want to freak her out.
Her eyes pleaded, ‘yes,’ and her words echoed, “Yeah, that would be great.”
And there at the checkout of a fancy running shoe store I prayed for a woman I didn’t know, but who for a while shared the same name as my husband. I prayed that she would know down to her core that her identity rests in Christ. Not in a man. Or in a last name. Or in a relational status. But in Jesus. Who will always love her for exactly who she is, never leave her, and remain always faithful.
Leaving the store, I felt loved and refreshed as if someone had prayed over me. I was reminded how fully loved I am by Jesus (you are too). Because that’s what it feels like when we live in obedience.
God took my son and I to that specific store during that specific shift for that specific woman. God arranged all those details. He nudged me to ask about her tattoo, but I could have decided it felt weird or intrusive. I wanted to tell her about the passage in Ruth that those verses came from, that the song was written from, because I’m a Bible nerd and I love the book of Ruth. But I felt God telling me to hush. What if I hadn’t mentioned my husband’s name? What if when God leaned in and said, “Go ahead, ask her,” I’d refused?
God did all the heavy lifting. I just had to utter a few words. But in doing so, I felt energized and renewed in the hope of Jesus, like there was purpose to my steps and my life, because there is. For all of us. I was reminded of God’s vastness in knowing all of our needs, and at the same time His beautiful attention to the details of our lives.
Yes, I want to go where God tells me to go. And I want to stay when He tells me to stay. Because when I do, when I choose to follow Him, the things of this world fade a bit, and I catch glimpses of glory. I want to go wherever He tells me to go, because His voice is the sweetest sound I know.
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Brett and I snuck away to the beach for a few days. Our feet thudded softly along the sand on our first morning. The thick, white fog that day was so dense we couldn’t see the ocean. But we knew it was there.
If you’ve ever been to the ocean, then you know the air is different there. It’s a freshness that’s not like being outside in the woods or in the mountains. I could smell the briny sea. I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, back and forth, ebbing and flowing. Seagulls screeched as they swooped to the ground. There was no denying what moved and coursed twenty or thirty feet to our right.
A friend recently asked, “How can you be so sure God is real? I can’t see Him?” Another shared with me, “I can’t seem to connect with God right now. Sometimes I wonder if He’s still there.”
The thing is, you don’t have to see God for Him to be there, right next to you. I didn’t have to see the ocean for it to be there. Just because all I could see was the swirling, thick, dampness around me didn’t mean someone had up and stolen the ocean, or it had somehow evaporated, or it had never been there in the first place. It has been there since the beginning of time.
Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. —Genesis 1:9-10
Sometimes life swirls around us. Bills. Deadlines. Expectations. Heartache. Our physical or mental health feel dense and difficult to move through. And it’s hard to see Jesus and His light and His love through all the fog. But He is still there.
Because I’ve been to the ocean before I recognized its call and its salty scent. I’ve seen Jesus before. I’ve heard Him speak to me. I know He is there. So on my rougher days sometimes I still sense His presence, hear Him whispering. But even if I don’t. Even if I had never hung out with Jesus, even if you haven’t, that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. If you’ve lived your whole life in a desert, the ocean still roars. According to the National Ocean Service the earth contains 321,003,271 cubic miles of ocean, which equals 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons! Yup. It’s there. Whether you’ve seen it in the past, are looking at it right this very minute, or have never laid eyes on it, the ocean exists. And it’s massive. And powerful. And in motion.
So is our God. The God who created all those gallons of seas (and each squishy, translucent jellyfish and every bumpy five-pointed starfish that regenerates their very own legs swimming among those waters) is larger than you can imagine, mightier than you could ever wrap your mind around, and always on the move, bringing everything together for good.
I don’t know if you’ve seen Him yet, but I pray you keep your mind open to the fact that He’s there. Not only does God exist, but He loves you. He loved you even before He made the ocean. Ephesians 1:4 explains it like this: Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.
I’m ending the blog this week praying Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians over each of you (and myself, because I have foggy days, too):
I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! —Ephesians 1:18-19 MSG
Oh, the extravagance. Endless energy. Boundless strength. The immensity of this glorious life. Yes. And Amen.
Growing up, I attempted to read every book in our house. When I ran out of books, I’d comb my parents’ shelves for anything new. Hardback copies of The Great Gatsby and The Pelican Brief got plucked from the wooden shelves in our family room by my eager hands and devoured in days. Books still sweep me away to faraway lands and times, challenge me to fresh ways of thinking, fill my head with new knowledge and insights, and give me the gift of pure entertainment. A bad book feels like a waste of time, but a good one? An absolute treasure. Some of my favorite reads from 2019 include:
Goodbye Paris by Anstey Harris
It wouldn’t be a year if I didn’t read a book or two set in my favorite city. In this beautiful book Harris' descriptions make you feel as if you're the one plucking the taught strings of an antique cello or strolling down the cobblestone lane of an arrondissement. Goodbye Paris is an impactful story woven together with music and craftmanship reminding us to believe the truth instead of what we hope to be the truth, and then standing up for it.
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
I packed this book on our trip to France, because it was small and slipped easily into my travel bag. I read it in a couple of nights. Then my son read it. When we got back to the States, we proceeded to devour all the Mitch Albom books we hadn’t read yet.
“There’s a reason God limits our days.”
“To make each one priceless.”
Yes. Priceless. Each and every day. That quote sums up why I loved The Time Keeper. It is a beautiful reminder of how precious each day is, and to live it to its fullest.
Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew by Carolyn Custis James
As a Bible loving, Bible studying, Bible teaching kind of girl, I got truly geeked out about this title. James provided well-researched, important and fresh insights into some important women of influence in the Bible (like Noah's wife and Hagar) and shared how their stories can inspire and impact our actions today.
Best Audio Books: The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan.
I’ve added this category, because in my opinion, fun books make fabulous audiobooks. Entertaining stories can make a long car ride fly by or motivate me to run a little further to hear what happens on a day my legs are lethargic. Set on the Scottish Island of Mure, The Summer Seaside Kitchen series includes; The Café by the Sea, The Endless Beach, andChristmas on the Island. All three were a delight to listen to (warning: Christmas on the Island has one detailed sex scene I felt completely unnecessary. Love the option to fast forward.). The narrator, with her lilting Scottish accent, draws you into Flora Mackenzie’s family, career in London, romance, and the struggle to discern which of these things are most important and why. Gorgeous descriptions of the pure, clear sea and the picturesque island are the backdrop for well-developed characters you want to cheer for. Mouthwatering details of buttery scones hot from the oven and homemade cheeses melting on warm, flavorful oatcakes made me want to spend hours baking (and eating baked goods). These aren’t the most profound stories I’ve ever read, but they’re not supposed to be. They are lovely sweet novels and a treat to listen to.
Best Children’s Book: God is With Us by Amy Parker
This gorgeous board book reminds littles and their caretakers of the beautiful truth that God is with us. Right here. Right now. The second book in this series, God is Love, just released, and is just as lovely. Grab one for the cutest tot you know and hand it to them for Valentine’s Day.
Best Book of 2019: Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
This was my favorite read of 2019. The incredible life of Joy Davidman captivated me. Joy was a strong independent woman, mother, and brilliant author in the 1940’s—not an easy gig for a woman in those days. Her writings and questions about God inspired her to write a letter to C.S. Lewis. The two became pen pals, and then so much more. Reading the story of Joy fighting for her sons, her dignity, her health, and her dreams was energizing and moving. Not to mention several passages are like strolling through Oxford and conversing with Lewis himself about everything from the 10 Commandments to Narnia. My favorite quote from Joy is, “What in the world would ever become of us if we should grow brave enough to believe EVERYTHING Jesus said was true?”
What if? What if we dove into 2020 believing that we are Christ’s masterpieces, His chosen people, His treasure, His royal priesthood? What a beautiful question to ponder.
Comment below to share what your favorite reads of 2019 were and/or what’s on your reading list for 2020.
If you’d like to see more of my reading list, follow me on Goodreads. For more inspiration find me on Facebook and Instagram
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 love burying my toes in warm, wet sand and letting foamy waves splash over them again and again. Sounds nice about now, doesn’t’ it?
But since it’s January and I live in the middle of a frozen corn field, not at the beach, I’m more than content to bury myself under a fleecy blanket and cozy up with a steaming mug of peppermint tea.
I also love burying myself in the pages of a new book, lost in the words and stories and lessons that lie within.
This word, “bury,” is a strange one. It sounds exactly like a completely different word, berry, a juicy fruit. It can mean to dig a hole and throw something in and cover it in soil never to be seen again, or it can be used in the ways I’ve described above. I heard this word recently, loud and clear, and I heard it straight from God.
I was bundled up in hat and gloves walking a brisk pace around our neighborhood. I’d been writing and was taking a break to clear my head and stretch my legs. I was thinking through an article I was working on, praying for one of my kids, then another, then all of them, and trying to remember what I needed at the grocery. A typical day in the life of my brain. I had some questions. Some for myself. Most of them for God. And then I heard Him, distinct and clear, “If you bury yourself in Me, I will give you what you need.”
This shouldn’t have been a revelation, because it mirrors almost exactly one of my favorite verses, something my husband and I had read at our wedding:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
Seek God first. Bury myself in Him. And then goodness and life come my way. I know this. But I don’t always live like it. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle and deadlines and dishes, sometimes I lose sight of it. But on this day, it resonated so deeply and brought me so much comfort. We’re in a new year, a new century actually (Happy New Year and welcome to the new Roaring Twenties!), and it is filled with so much promise and potential. I have a child headed off to college this year, another to play soccer overseas, yet another on a mission trip, and the youngest is prepping for a big audition. I’m traveling somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going, my husband and I will celebrate a milestone anniversary. I’m working on a proposal for my agent for a new book idea I’m giddy about. I have another book launching this year (more on that soon). But none of these things have worth, if I’m not seeking Jesus first, if I’m not buried in Jesus, like my toes in the sand, or my body in a blanket, or my mind in a book—completely wrapped up in, immersed, covered.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.
Colossians 3:14-15 NLT
Ahhh. Yes, please. These words from Paul to the Colossians are exactly how I picture being buried in Jesus. I want to be bound in perfect harmony and have peace rule my heart. Those are some lovely goals for 2020. This is what He offers. There’s no guarantee on how any of the things I’m expecting this year will play out, or what surprises will come my way. There will most likely be some setbacks, bad days, exhaustion, illness, stress, and sorrow. There will also be joy, adventure, opportunities, and conversations. And I know as long as I am buried in Jesus, I will have harmony and peace in the midst of it all. I will have everything I need. So, my word for this year is “bury.”
(Want to hear about 2019’s word? Click here.)
Yes, this is the promise God whispered to me on my walk. But He promises it to everyone who believes in Him, and He promises it every day.
So here we are. All dressed up in Christ, buried in Him, like the softest blanket or the most riveting novel. There are lots of things we do and don’t want. Lots of things we can resolve to accomplish and put on our calendars and bucket lists for this year. But me? The one thing I want to cling to this year is Jesus. No matter what comes my way, good or bad, I want to be buried in Him.
Do you have a word for the year? Comment here, I’d love to hear about it.
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Laura L. Smith