Today’s post is on OurCityOnAHill. Please click the picture or link to read. I hope you enJOY some laughter today! http://www.ourcityonahill.net/did-jesus-laugh-by-katie-taylor/
“Fear Not, Little Flock” is something I wrote for a community blog last month, but wanted to share here as well. I hope it encourages you!
My three-year-old stood at our back door in his ninja turtle cape and plastic sword in hand. Nose pressed to the glass, he longingly looked out.
“Come with me, mommy!” he begged.
I was cleaning up dishes and told John to go out by himself for a minute.
“I don’t want to, mommy. I’m scared.”
I explained that the fenced in back yard was perfectly safe.
He looked down and muttered, “but what about the cat?”
A fat, orange cat had come to visit the other day. We had never seen it before and didn’t know which neighbor it belonged to. As soon as we opened the door to go say hello, it leapt back over the fence and fled.
But it’s fluffy size terrified John.
Until that orange surprise visitor came, John was fine going outside alone. But I understand his fear. When we are surprised, we want to arm ourselves against those kind of surprises again. That phone call, that diagnosis, that accident, that heartbreak caught us off guard. We want to move forward prepared for it. If it comes, darn it, we’ll have predicted it. We are on the inside looking out for it.
The tender words of Jesus came to mind, “Fear not, little flock.” (Luke 12:32) I knelt down and looked John in the eyes. I told him he was twice the size of that orange cat. I also pointed out the plastic sword in his hand.
“If you see him coming, run after him with your sword and he will be so scared, he will run away. He’ll jump that fence so fast, it will be funny. Remember last time?”
His little eyes lit up with visions of being a superhero in action.
“Why don’t you go out there and look for him and scare him away?” I suggested.
He plunged out the door, sword in hand. After a few minutes of no cat, he was running in circles, playing on the new swing set, pushing his plastic mower and digging in the dirt. It was a great, sunny morning that John got to experience instead of watch from inside.
And that cat….would you believe it….never showed up.
This conversation reminded me of a talk with my husband recently. Only this time, I was the fearful one. He asked me to tell him what I was afraid of, and while some of my fears seem so silly and selfish, I was honest. It helped to say them out loud and bring them to light. It helped me see where I wasn’t believing God. And that if these worst case scenarios were to happen, even death, I would be okay in Christ. God doesn’t promise we won’t have trouble, but that He will be with us and has given us power to overcome it. He never says that cat won’t come, but that in the name of Jesus, it will flee.
Then Will helped me look back at the last time something scary happened. While painful, I am okay. In fact, each surprise, hard situation in life has served to mold me more into the image of Christ. I am more than okay. Then he pointed out my sword, my Ephesians 6 armor already in hand “the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” It says,
“The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
“I (Jesus) have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10:19)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
I thanked my husband for the reminder. In Christ, I am twice the size of what I fear. It helped give me the courage to step back out of my comfort zone, victorious sword in hand, and ready for what comes. I’ve seen a lot of neat things since…but not the cat.
When it comes to things we worry about, did you know that:
40% never happen
30% are in regard to unchangeable deeds of the past
12% focus on opinions of others that cannot be controlled
10% center of personal health which only worsens when we worry about it
8% concern real problems we can influence
(Max Lucado, Come Thirsty, p.101.)
And I’ll add…0% outside of the redemptive power of God and victory in Jesus Christ.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32 ESV)
“Are you sure Mary can wear her princess dress to school?” my husband asked before they walked out the door.
“Yes! I’m positive.” I explained how a second grader had told me all about “gold day” and how there was a concert, and the girls were supposed to wear gold princess costumes. Lucky for us, we have Belle’s beautiful gold dress in our playroom ready for such a day. Mary goes to a Christian school where the children wear uniforms, but today was different.
As he pulled up to the school for drop off, Will called me. “Are you sure? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is wearing a princess dress.”
Just to be sure, I texted the teacher. I told her that Mary had on a gold princess dress for the concert like she was supposed to, but that for PE she had on a yellow shirt and khaki skirt underneath. See, I think of everything.
As they were pulling up, she texted back.
Big gulp. What in the world? I recalled my source. A precious second grader. I flipped to the newsletter and read about the day. It was not a concert, but rather a prayer gathering around the flagpole and the children were to wear the color gold to support childhood cancer. No concert. No costumes. Huge gulp.
I felt terrible. How could I have missed the details of such an important day for such a worthy cause SO badly? And, I had actually read the newsletter yesterday!
Will did what any good husband would do and called me after the awkward drop off. He was rightfully frustrated. He took this time to vent a few other things that had frustrated him lately, a few other balls I had dropped, and suggestions for how we (and he meant we) could do better. Will and I have very different personalities, which makes us work so well. He never misses a detail and I miss a lot from big picture land. In these conversations, sometimes the enemy has a way of making me think there is something wrong with me. The “I’m not good enough” lie has a way of getting through to me, of no fault at all to my gracious husband.
While we were having this challenging conversation, my one-year-old climbed on a chair and started eating the jewelry on my dresser. Gold earrings were being shoved into her mouth at warp speed. Did I feed her breakfast? My three-year-old son was running around in his new batman cape crying because I wouldn’t let him watch the superhero show on Netflix. Not just a cry, but an all-out fit the neighbors could probably hear. I glanced at the clock, twenty minutes till we were supposed to be out the door to Bible Study, and I had not showered. No time to defend myself, I told Will I had to go.
I need a break. I need a day off. I am just not good at this. I cannot seem to get it all together. I keep forgetting things. I bet other moms don’t do this.
As I was putting on the kids’ shoes to get out the door, John cried about leaving the glow-in-the-dark spiders we had just gotten for Halloween. We had actually bought the spiders for other little kids we were “booing” in hopes of making them feel special by anonymously dropping off a pumpkin of candy with a sign. A sweet gesture, but as I looked at the spiders, I recalled a recent message relating spiders to sin. Maybe I am just spreading darkness to my kids and others with these silly candy buckets.
It’s crazy, isn’t it?! Insane! But if you’re a mom, you’ve walked through this mommy condemnation. It comes straight from the pit. You take one wrong turn and suddenly everything you do is seen through the microscope of that cloak of shame labeled “bad mommy.” It spirals out of control so fast! As crazy and silly as these thoughts are, when you’re in them, they are real.
Shame led to self pity as I crashed into a full mommy meltdown. You may know the kind. I texted my husband to tell him I was sorry for everything. I added, “I’m just tired of being me.” It was exactly how I felt. Maybe someone else would be better at this. Tears welled up as I looked at the clock and saw how late we were. I gave up. We won’t go to Bible study. We won’t go anywhere today. We’ll just sit here. I thought of Mary and her princess dress and how silly I made her look for such a respectable cause and I cringed.
And then, the next thought came. Maybe I should just go back to work. I was good at that. If I missed details there, it was all on me, not on my poor 5-year-old and husband. I got a paycheck, people told me I was good, and while I know God clearly called me out of that into this…this is HARD. Maybe I should just go back to that.
And in my pity party on the floor, in the chaos of John and Anna running circles around a crying mommy holding their little shoes, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper these two powerful words: “MOVE ON.” Earlier I had read those very words in the story of the Red Sea crossing in Exodus. While I’ve read it many times, it’s as if a divine highlighter showed me those words and said, “these are for you, sister.”
And I pray that by sharing this raw moment that they might be for someone else too. They come when the Israelites are about to cross the Red Sea. We know that, but of course, they don’t. All they can see are the 600+ chariots of Egyptians coming after them. They are terrified and cry out to God, “what have you done to us…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” (Exodus 14:11-12) Oh, how I get them! Oh, how I just said “it would be better if I just went back to work.” That plan when someone else owned my time was so much easier than this crazy plan!
Moses encourages them to trust God and then God says these powerful words, “Tell the Israelites to MOVE ON.” (Exodus 14:15 NIV) The ESV version says “tell the people of Israel to GO FORWARD.” He doesn’t address their questions or complaints in that moment. He just says “MOVE ON.”
I sometimes hear and say “move on” in a condescending way, implying the things to move on from are not a big deal and should be forgotten. But I don’t believe the Lord has that tone or that this isn’t a big deal. Also, I don’t believe He is ever condescending to His people. I hear His words more as a loving and very firm command: MOVE ON.
Because in order for them to be delivered into freedom, they had to participate. He was doing the AMAZING miracle of parting the red sea and drowning their enemies, but they HAD to move forward for this to happen. They had to stop staring at the Egyptians in terror, turn the other way and take a step forward.
Those words fell on me like a waterfall in my puddle of self pity on the floor. I can either stay here or I can follow His instructions to move on and go forward…both in my mind and my day.
By the grace of God, I got everyone’s shoes on and we made it to Bible Study. Wednesdays are some of my favorite days with my kids and it was great! I was able to hear another mom share about not feeling good enough. I was able to laugh about my morning. My kids learned about the Gospel of John and sang songs. We enjoyed a lunch outside with friends. It was a life-giving time I would have missed had I not chosen to move on. That territory was mine today, but I had to step forward into it.
I believe I have been delivered, and that God has freed me from the bondage of sin once and for all. I believe that when I received Jesus Christ as my Savior, I was rescued from my sin, past, present and future, and that I became a new creation. Deliverance has happened in my life, praise the Lord.
But I also believe that the Lord delivers me every day. Today was a big one. The mommy condemnation is a big one. My thought process can spiral into defeat and I need deliverance. I need freedom. I need to get to other side of that sea and I need the voices that drag me into the slavery of shame again to be drowned.
I believe the key to it is in those two very powerful words tucked away in this grand story. When we are in the pit, we can stay there or we can do as God says, “MOVE ON, GO FORWARD.” He is ready to do a big work. He is ready to do the miraculous. The sea is ready, the plan is unfolding, but we have got to turn direction and take a step forward. That’s our role to play. I pray someone out there needs to hear those powerful words as much as I did today. Whatever your pit, whatever your bondage, whatever your crazy…maybe you find these two firm words spoken from the heart of a loving Father who longs to deliver you to freedom as life-giving as I do: move on.
This summer, our family of five embarked on a great adventure! I like to call it “camping without the tent.” It was Will’s idea to take us to the Marriott in Muscle Shoals, and we were thrilled for the kids to experience their first night in a hotel.
As we packed, I said to them, “Now, this is something very special, so I want you guys to be nice to each other and do what mommy and daddy say, okay?!”
They nodded with wide eyes.
John kept asking if they had an indoor pool in the car. We told him we would see. As our minivan pulled around the circle at the grand entrance to the Marriott, John said, “Ohhhh noooooo, mommy.”
“What baby?” I asked.
“There’s other kids here!”
When I described the hotel and showed him pictures online, he thought we’d be the only people in the whole place. Bless him!
His sadness melted away when we walked into the lobby. One look at the grand fountain in the entryway and he was squealing.
“They do have an indoor pool, mommy! They do! Put my bathing suit on!”
I had to pull his little arms out of the fountain and steer him to the elevator. He and Mary were completely enthralled with the elevator and gold luggage rack and bellman. When we opened the door to our room, Will and I were a bit surprised. We had gotten the last room in the place which, it turns out, had just one queen bed. We remarked about this to each other and Mary, who had never heard beds described in sizes, picked up on one word; “queen”.
“We get to sleep in a queen’s bed! John, we get to sleep in a queen’s bed with mommy and daddy!”
Poor baby Anna was irate not to be included in the queen’s bed. We woke up to her greeting us from her adjoining pack n play letting us know she wanted in. It was 6am. Will called down to the desk to ask what time the pool opened and the woman told us 7. Lucky for us! The pool actually opened at 8 and we were thrilled and shocked to be the only ones there. It is a huge pool with no entry, a real waterslide, bridges and fountains. We had the entire thing to ourselves, much to the surprise of everyone who got the memo it opened at 8. This was totally in line with John’s grand vision!
And then we discovered the hot tub. Mary and John had never seen one and thought it was amazing. When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Mary said “the hot pool.”
The kids had never seen a breakfast buffet either and could not believe all of the options under those golden covers. They piled a massive amount of sugary cereals, pancakes and syrup onto their plates, and tried a few new foods too. It was like a royal feast for those of us who slept in the queen’s bed.
We have been blessed to travel to some neat places this summer, but Mary and John agreed going to the Marriott was their favorite thing. Will and I cherish the memory and hold it dear. There is nothing more precious than seeing a familiar experience made new through the eyes of child!
Lord, open our eyes to see the wonders of your world every day. Awaken us to see the blessings You give us with child-like appreciation. Captivate us with how You transform the ordinary into brand new. May we learn from our children to appreciate this amazing life, and appreciate You, our Amazing Daddy. Thanks for making us royal. Amen.
“For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
Matthew 18:2-5 MSG
I visited the pool from my childhood this summer, and as we walked in, a smile burst across my face when I saw it; the high dive. They don’t build them like this any more. I was flooded with memories of trying new dives with childhood friends, sitting on the side of the pool until we caught our breath, only to walk up the stairs and courageously try again. It was more than silly kid fun; it was overcoming fears with a spirit of excellence. We did it together. It was absolutely awesome.
As I played with my children in the shallow end, I kept looking at the high dive, and it seemed to be looking at me too. “Hello, old friend. I’m still the same. I’m just as fun as I used to be … Are you?” As a mom of three little kids, it was an intriguing question.
I continued playing in the shallow end, but on that second night before going to sleep, I retraced the steps to the one and a half in my mind. The bounce, the flip, the landing. I could feel the splash. I could taste the chlorine. My blood rushed as I wondered if I could still do it. A one and a half off a low board is not as complicated, but off a high dive, when you are flipping and falling fast, it is a big deal. The stakes of landing right are as high as the board.
“I’m going to do it,” I told my dad. It had been about twenty years since I stood on the high dive. I asked my sister to video it and she agreed. I didn’t walk to the edge to size it up or talk to any onlookers. I knew what to do. My heart was beating so hard and I could feel the adrenaline as I climbed those familiar stairs and stood at the back of the board looking out. Ready. Set. Go. I could hardly believe it, but…I nailed it. My dad was watching from the shallow end cheering with fist pumps and holding my children. It was so exhilarating and liberating to know that this older body can still do it. I was beyond elated!
I wanted to share the video with my childhood friends and on Facebook to give other moms and “older” people the “me too” that says “you’ve still got it” and “you’re still fun!” It was a reminder to me that as a grown up, I don’t have to always sit by the pool with dry hair, but can show my children that I too have dreams and challenges and a desire to overcome fear with a spirit of excellence.
I watched the video, and my sweet sister had flipped the camera as I flipped. It didn’t take. I was crushed. I decided to do it again and asked my mom to video it. She did. I nailed it again. But, she was talking with the lifeguard and the video didn’t take exactly as I wanted. Did it capture the flip? Yes. Did it communicate the “me too”? Yes. But, in that moment, pride snuck in my heart. My desire to share shifted to a desire for approval. And the video wasn’t quite perfect enough to meet that desire.
I returned to the high dive again, and as I entered the water, I heard a loud crack. My pony tail holder not only came out, it shattered. I felt a little fuzzy and a little sore, but didn’t think much about it. Two days later, the headache lingered. It hurt to think. It hurt to touch my head. It just hurt.
Worried about my brain and wondering if I needed to see a doctor, I called a good friend who is a neurosurgeon. “You have a concussion.” he said firmly. “It’s like you’ve been in a car accident.” Oh dear! He told me nothing would make it go away but time. I could not exercise and needed to rest. A concussion in the 100+ degree Alabama heat when my brain was needed for the mental gymnastics of back-to-school was awful. God had my attention.
And He spoke to me in a book recommended by that neurosurgeon. During our conversation about my head, he (also a father of littles) happened to recommend a book for my children, “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. I got it for my kids, and while reading it, realized it was for me.
The story is about wooden people who live in a land where they give each other stickers for everything. They get stars for good looks, successes, accomplishments, etc. and dots for bad looks, mess ups, mistakes, etc. Punchinello, who is unattractive and clumsy, is covered in dots and very sad. Then, he meets a girl who has no dots or stars and asks her why. She tells him that she spends time each day with Eli, the woodworker (their Maker) and lets Him inform her who she really is. Getting to know Him made her stickers fall off. Punchinello goes to meet Eli who delights in Him and tells him the secret about the dots and stars; they only stick if you let them.
What a brilliant book! I felt like God was very protectively and kindly whispering through my pounding head, “when you look for those stars to stick, you’re going to get hurt.” He has brought me so far in not letting the dots stick. Countless dots have fallen off since I met Jesus, and I will never stop singing His praises for that. But the stars. Oh, how I love the stars! Oh, how I can stick them on others too. Oh, how I desired stars in capturing the high dive flip on film in the perfect way. The flip wasn’t the problem; it was doing it the third time. It was the heart seeking stars from others that led to seeing stars through my injured head.
Will I continue to struggle with this? Yes. Will God continue to help me overcome it? Yes. Every day, He will. The high dive was a gracious, painful, powerful and (in hindsight) humorous reminder that the One who made the stars…counts me as one of them. No stickers needed.
My family has loved the Olympics this summer, and we have been so inspired to see the athletes walk out their amazing God-given talent with courage. Dreams become reality in these gold medal moments, but we know it is the countless, private, unseen hours of training that have brought these athletes to this place of victory.
This week I felt like I was watching the Olympics when I saw Beth Moore speak in Nashville. After all these years, that woman is more on fire with the Holy Spirit than I have ever seen. She is living out her calling with courage and walking in victory and freedom. She is completely alive and surrendered to God’s purpose for her. What would it be like if we were all surrendered to God’s anointing, power and purpose in our lives? We wouldn’t look like Beth Moore, but in our own unique ways, our lives would look like victory and our gifts would be shining for His glory.
And how that happens is something Beth not only talked about, but walked out. This woman has been speaking to people for decades. After all these years, she’s probably used to it, right? She could probably see a crowd of 10,000 women and say, “I got this.” But as the worship music stopped and the lights went out, Beth, who I (being a bit star struck) was watching from my second row seat, went onto the stage and privately kneeled. While the introduction movie played on the screen in the dark room, she stayed on her knees. This was not meant for anyone to see, but it spoke louder to me than any word she said. When the lights came on, she was up and full of holy fire. She began by saying she was completely inadequate, and that she was completely dependent on God to show up. I believed her and believed He would.
Just like the Olympians, it’s those private hours of training that pave the path to victory. For believers, it’s those private moments in prayer and Scripture that equip us. Beth encouraged us never to give that up or depend on other people to do the praying or the digging into God’s word for us. When we blaze the path, the territory is ours.
I went on this trip to Nashville with four amazing women. They have been following Jesus for many years and each have that special sparkle about them.
When my alarm went off at 5:45a for a 6:45 departure, I was shocked to see one friend showered and headed to the lobby with her Bible and notebook. Another was already dressed, sitting down to journal, read and pray. Here we were about to hear from one of the most gifted teachers of our day, but these ladies knew nothing could replace hearing directly from the Source. No extra hour of sleep was going to change that. These small deposits of time, one day at a time, have a powerful cumulative effect.
And when pressure comes, tragedy strikes, lies attack, a decision needs to be made or life hands us a microphone, what’s inside of us comes out. And what’s inside of us is grown in those private moments with God. Every single day.
What came out of two friends on the trip was the desire to serve. They graciously volunteered to sit in the overflow room at the conference even though they blessed us with the tickets. They had already seen Beth live and wanted to give the rest of us the good seats. We were elated to be so close to the stage, and even more elated to hear that they unexpectedly got to meet Beth in the overflow room. Not only that, but she prayed over one of them! Isn’t it amazing how God blesses us when we bless others? “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) As Beth said, “there is no limit to what God will do with someone who has the humility to handle it.”
She encouraged us that as believers in Jesus we are anointed with the Holy Spirit of the Living God. We have not just received “an anointing” but the real, live anointing of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit gives us power to live out our calling. As believers, we are all called. She encouraged us that our calling is between us and God, and no one else. No one else can put it on us or work it out in us. And when we are true to work out our unique calling with God through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will never have to be jealous of anyone else. Isn’t that awesome!? We will never have to look to someone and want what they have if we are if we are surrendered to God’s unique plan in our life.
Beth said in this day of tweeting, she is still committed to deep teaching, and was faithful to deliver that. But there were three great one-liners I have to share:
“Jesus is the best thing that has ever made me crazy!”
“When our passion exceeds our fear, we can do anything in Jesus’ name.”
“If you don’t believe in a God of wonders, WHAT BIBLE ARE YOU READING?!”
Can I get an “Amen”?!
My takeaway from Nashville was more than the teaching. It was the living proof of what I saw behind the scenes. I heard many words from the stage and from my companions, but it was the private prayers I glimpsed that I heard the loudest. What leads to victory is not striving, but surrender. That gold is ours to receive, and it’s found in that time on our knees, in that time in the Word expectant to find treasure, in that time of quiet when we can hear that call, and in those moments of trust when we follow that voice. For anyone who walks in victory, it’s in those private moments of training when the gold is won. Those private moments of prayer and Scripture are what bring to life the champion…that Champion who lives in us.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NIV)
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One…” (1John 2:20 NIV).
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. (1 Cor 9:24-26 NLT)
“For You meet him with the blessings of good things; You set a crown of fine gold on his head.” (Psalm 21:3 ESV)
I was reading one of my all-time favorite children’s stories with John this week, and he dressed up in costume to fully experience “Where the Wild Things Are”.
“Are the wild things scary, mommy?” he asked.
“No, they are not.”
“Why not, mommy?”
I thought about it. They looked scary. They had big, yellow eyes, sharp teeth, crazy claws and were three times the size of Max, plus they outnumbered him. I thought about it more and then replied to John, “They are not scary because Max isn’t afraid of them.” As the words came out of mouth, I realized they were profound!
Scary is not defined by claws, teeth and size, but by what we are afraid of. If we don’t have fear toward things; they are not scary. Our thoughts toward fears define them. While they try to size us up, really it is us who gets to size them up. And we decide.
Does this mean we should be unwise and careless? No! But it means we can be strong in the Lord and trust Him when He says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)
And what happens when we are not afraid? Those monsters in our lives:
-Having that hard conversation
-Telling that secret that has been locked in the dark
-Stepping out in faith when it’s scary
-Giving more than is comfortable
-Taking a chance on someone
-Forgiving when it means letting go
-Saying you are sorry
-Pursuing that God-given dream
-Trusting when it doesn’t make sense
Once these are looked straight in the eye with courage, they aren’t that scary any more. Our very fears can transform into things that bow down to us; they recognize us as royalty.
As believers, we can celebrate this!
What’s more, they become great adventures!
And then, in the end, like Max…we go home. We go back to our Daddy’s house. We’ll be safe in the end, and thankful for the times we didn’t stay in the boat afraid of those monsters, never knowing the great adventure in store. Never knowing they really…weren’t scary at all.
There is something special about small towns; something wholesome about them that makes me nostalgic. Our family spent the 4th of July in White Pine, Tennessee, the small town where Will’s mom grew up just west of the Smoky Mountains. Her dad was the town doctor who delivered hundreds of babies. If people couldn’t pay him with money, they paid him in chickens. Everybody knew him. He recently passed away, but we got to ride in his old, red truck in the town parade. We threw candy to the onlookers as we made our way up Main Street behind fire trucks and horses. It seemed like the whole town came out no matter what their age. There was nowhere else anyone wanted to be.
I did not grow up in a small town, but there is something about them that feels like home. My mom grew up in Lumberton, North Carolina and her dad had a farm. When I was a little girl, he would bring me baby chicks to play with. Holidays visiting our relatives in Eastern, NC included lots of simple fun, delicious food and big hugs from people who had all the time in the world to hear how we were doing.
Interestingly, my mom and Will’s mom were born eight days apart the same year and both grew up on Walnut Street. Neither of them still live in their small towns, but they have both passed their roots down to us in values and invaluable childhood memories.
And now, when we pass through small towns in rural Alabama on the way down to the gulf coast, we are refreshed to see old homes with flags hanging proudly from big porches, neighbors talking together outside, country churches with humble exteriors, locally owned restaurants that close on Sundays, and the feeling that people really know and depend on each other. If these people were to get into trouble, somebody is gonna know and somebody is gonna care. The world’s trendsetters will pass right by these little towns, but they don’t seem to mind. The things that time changes don’t change here.
Time slows down and you can breathe in the deep smells of summer grass and home cooking. There’s not much fancy, but nobody seems to miss it. The crazy of the fast-paced world hasn’t gotten here yet. People matter. God matters. Sitting face-to-face and talking to each other matters. And, I am reminded as I pass through small towns, that I matter too. And away from the hustle and bustle, there is a desire in me to play outside, eat home-cooked soul food, have people know my name, enjoy long conversations in person and feel the bigness of God under a starlit sky away from city lights.
We spent the afternoon of the 4th at the family farm house. The kids looked at horses, caught butterflies in plastic cups, ran through wide open grassy space with no fear of nearby cars, and never thought for a minute about watching tv. They marveled at tractors and four wheelers and entertained the adults on the wrap-around porch.
As I reflected on my appreciation for small towns, wondering what it is about them that is sad to leave at the end of the day, my mind went to Jesus. Jesus, the King of all Kings, the One who will be the center of the new city in all its splendor, the One who made the entire universe…was born in a small town. He wasn’t born in the center of commerce or where the royalty carried on, or a place that was noteworthy on the map at the time, but in the small town of Bethlehem. As a young boy, he lived in Nazareth, a place so insignificant that it made people question his claim as the Messiah. It was a small town…and knowing that makes me wonder if his childhood memories were like the ones my kids made this week. He may have felt the same nostalgic feeling traveling through small towns once he was older. Maybe they reminded him of home and his family.
There is just something about small towns, something special that happens in these places off the beaten trail, something I deeply appreciate that maybe…isn’t so small.
Will and I visited family in Knoxville for the 4th, and we went on a jog along the “crazy path”. It’s a running path that winds along the Tennessee River in a beautiful area of ball fields and rolling hills. The locals call it “crazy” because it circles a place that was once an insane asylum. It is also crazy because there is a ridiculously, steep, long, winding hill at the end of the four miles. Before you can spot the finish, you battle the crazy.
This path has its unique challenges, but all races have the same elements. The start is hopeful, the middle is steady, the finish is awesome adrenaline, but the stretch right before the end is the hardest part. It’s when endurance and perseverance are tested.
It’s the “already, but not yet”; the place right before the victory. The place of struggle right before the captive is set free, right before the addict comes clean, the stretch of night right before dawn, right before the breakthrough. It’s where doubt takes its final jab at you before it loses you forever. It’s the place of process that paints the promise. Your flesh is weak, your mind is strong, your faith is secure, the finish is absolutely guaranteed, but you’re not there yet. And in that place is the fight.
In many ways, it’s where we all are. Jesus has redeemed our souls, called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light, made us brand new, perfected our spirits and guaranteed the finish with him free from the presence of all sin and death. But, we are here living in our flesh in this broken world. We are citizens of heaven, but not there yet.
And so, when I got to this place on that insane hill, I pushed hard. I was on fire thinking of writing an inspiring blog post on endurance through hardship (because I write in my mind while I run and have crossed many finish lines lately in the Lord’s strength) and as I headed up that quarter mile of crazy, something totally surprising happened…I quit. Runners were briskly walking downhill facing me and I could see their acknowledgment of my struggle. I felt it. Pride crept in, shame crept in, my legs gave out, and I quit.
I hung my head down and walked the rest of the way up to the finish line, defeated. Was my faith not strong enough today? Why could my mind not overcome my body? I knew the truth that I was strong enough to do it, and yet I fell short. The July heat added pressure and I buckled.
And then, in that moment as I sauntered to the end of the path in self pity, I felt God gently whisper, “Lift your head up, my girl…I love you just the same. Today is a part of the journey. I will never leave you. I will make you stronger. I will finish what I’ve started. You may have quit today, but I will never quit on you. My mercies are new each morning. My grace is enough. We’ll try again. Seasons will change, this heat will lift and we’ll come back to this same place, and to all the places, victorious. You’ll see.”
And, I can see it. I believe without a doubt, we will make it up the crazy hill. In my mind it has already happened…just not yet.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.”
Psalm 3:3 NIV
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
Philippians 1:6 NLT
We are all living in the middle of an amazing, epic story. The ending is clear, but if I’m honest, I don’t often grasp that in my day-to-day life and thoughts. Have you read the last book of this story lately? There is a lot of confusion and fear that keeps us from the book of Revelation. I believe that’s because it is a total game changer and powerful blessing! I wanted to invite you into it today.
This post was written for OurCityOnAHill. Please click the picture below to read. I hope you are blessed!