The Upstairs Toilet – a short devotional

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

One ordinary day years ago, I decided on a whim to go upstairs to see how the younger kids were progressing with learning to do their new chores. It had actually been a couple of months since I had been upstairs (gasp!), so the time was ripe.  I was happy to see that their bedrooms were passable. The hallway was vacuumed. The shelves were in order. I was pleased with what I saw – until I went into the bathroom.  In the bathroom, I was greeted by this ghastly sight –

Okay, full disclosure - this isn't my actual toilet. I did text a pic to my friend, Anne. I did not keep it for obvious reasons. The toilet up there DID have the same unidentifiable crusty stuff, the same yellowed ring around the rim, and I did have the same vomitous reaction you are having right now in seeing it.
Okay, full disclosure – this isn’t my actual toilet. I did text a pic to my friend, Anne. I did not keep it for obvious reasons. The toilet up there DID have the same crusty contents, the same yellowed ring around the rim, and I did have the same vomitous reaction you are having right now in seeing it.

Truthfully, I wanted to replace the toilet on the spot!  My stomach turns even now at the memory of it.  After much soaking, many chemicals, long sessions on my knees hunched over the toilet with my hands inside that awful abyss (ew!) expending way more elbow grease than I thought I had in me, the toilet was clean.

We are like the upstairs toilet.  We are dirty. We are stained with sin. We are unable to make ourselves clean. The Good News is that we don’t have to be! God didn’t wait for us to be cleaned up, sparkling & white, before He reached out to us.  He did it while we were still sinners through His one and only son, Jesus.

PONDER: Have you been made clean or are you waiting until you’ve cleaned up your life before turning to God?  

The Upstairs Toilet is one of thirty devotionals I’ve been asked to write this year as part of a friend’s year-long devotional project.  You can read more short devotionals like this by clicking here or the Devotionals tab at the top of this page.

Death Grip – a short devotional

Meet Jude. I have a part of my heart reserved for this precious little guy. I am no longer able to hold him in my arms, to touch him with my hands. He would have turned 17 today.
Meet Jude. I am no longer able to hold him in my arms or to touch him with my hands, but he still holds a special place in my heart. He would have turned 17 today.

My grandfather died when I was in elementary school. My remaining three grandparents followed suit over the next twenty years. My father died on my 23rd birthday. My mother died a few years ago. Within seven months of one another, my husband’s grandparents died (separately) and my second-born son, Jude, died. After my son’s death, we grieved with three separate families at church who also buried their children. Loss has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The fear of loss has been around just as long. It would be accurate to say that I have held those I loved in a death grip most of my life, always fearing the worst-case scenario would be the one that played out. Two years ago, when I read . . .

For I am the Lord your God, the One Who takes hold of your right hand, Who says to you, “Don’t be afraid, I am helping you.” Isaiah 41:13

. . . it was like God reached over to place His giant, gentle hand on my two clinched fists, and said, “It’s okay. You can let go now. You don’t have to be afraid because I am here. I am helping you.”

PONDER: What are your hands holding, clinched in a death grip? Do you trust God enough to let go?

PRAYER: Father, please help me to loosen my grip on these things that I hold dear. Help me to notice when I begin to clinch my fists, holding tightly to anything other than Your hand. Thank You for wanting to help me learn to trust you more fully, with everything.

Death Grip is one of thirty devotionals I’ve written as part of a friend’s devotional project.  You can read more short devotionals like this by clicking here or the Devotionals tab at the top of this page.


A Newbies Take on Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday is February 9th.
Fat Tuesday is February 9th.

Four years ago we accidentally participated in Fat Tuesday and it has since become a new Smith Family Tradition. Here’s why.

We decided to take the kids out to a favorite local eatery on a whim for dinner one Tuesday night a few years ago. When we arrived, we were greeted by live music, colorful beads and a fun atmosphere. Extended families were gathered around tables pushed together to accommodate their large numbers.  There was laughter, storytelling – just family togetherness at it’s finest.  The atmosphere was one of celebration and it was infectious! We asked one of the servers what the occasion was and were told that it was Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent began.

Lent we were becoming familiar with.

Fat Tuesday?  That was new.

Fat Tuesday, we learned, was a day of feasting.  Like Lent, it is not a Biblical celebration, but it does have history within church tradition.  In contrast to Lent, however, it focuses on satisfying the lusts of the flesh (specifically food).  It serves as “one last hurrah” before the season of Lent begins with its focus on sacrifice in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  (You can click here for more details on Fat Tuesday.)

I mentioned last week that observing Lent was new to us. We are still getting our feet wet and exploring Lent within the context of our own family.  Since Fat Tuesday added another element to our ever-expanding Easter experience, we wanted to give it a try.

My husband is a fan of redeeming things, so we decided to include Fat Tuesday as one such opportunity for redemption. Instead of focusing on indulging the flesh, however, we set apart Fat Tuesday to focus on the upcoming season of Lent.  We talk about the past Lenten season – what worked, what didn’t work.  We introduce the devotional* we’ll use to walk through the upcoming season & the reasons we chose it.  We share with our kids about the sacrifice(s) we want to make during Lent this year & why we are focusing on them. We discuss possibilities for our “Silent Saturday” activity (future post Easter week!).  And we look ahead to how we want to celebrate Easter on the other end of the season.  (Getting to enjoy good food in a fun atmosphere on Fat Tuesday is just a bonus!)

Are you planning to participate in the season of preparation we call Lent?  I’d love to hear how your family observes this tradition.  Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.


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Exploring Lent

New clothes.  Church service.  Family feast.  In my head, these traditions were an important part of celebrating Easter.  They are how my parents celebrated the holiday while I was growing up and I continued the same traditions with my own family.

My sister, Angie, and me - Easter 1970
My sweet big sister (Angie) and me – circa 1970 – in our new Easter outfits.

As an adult, however, I noticed that Easter more than once caught me off guard and I felt unprepared to celebrate it “properly.”  One year I was aghast to realize that Easter was upon us and it was too late to recognize it as I had always done.  I would have to suffer the humiliation of my kids wearing their same old church clothes on Easter Sunday (ridiculous thinking, but true – don’t judge). Last minute plans had to be made for Easter lunch.  I felt like I had dropped the ball and I was kicking myself for it. In my frustration, I commented to my husband Simon that it was a shame that there was no build up to Easter, no way to really prepare for it.

“There is,” he replied.  “It’s called Lent.”

Simon’s response was what propelled us to first explore Lent. We discussed it and decided to give this Lent thing a try the very next year.  Easter should be the most sacred and important part of the year for the believer, we thought. Why had we only passively participated in it until now? We had high hopes for the next year!

The  first year we chose to simply give up sweets for Lent. That seemed to be what everyone online suggested when I researched it, so we jumped on board that train.  It seemed like a doable first for our family of six.  And it worked! Every time we were offered a sweet treat (which was more often than we thought it would be), we were reminded that Jesus had sacrificed so much more on the cross.  We walked toward Easter with more enthusiasm that first year and with a new appreciation of it.  It was a day of celebration, of merriment, of remembrance, of gaiety, of festivity!  (And admittedly, of dessert!)

Over the years, foregoing sweet treats has morphed into a once-a-week fast for my husband and myself, but our children still choose to sacrifice sweets.  (And if you’ve ever gone a long period without any type of sweet treat, you understand what a sacrifice that truly is!)

In addition to fasting something, we began to include a devotional as part of our Lenten experience several years ago. Some years, those were personal devotionals like this* or this* or this. Other years, they were family devotionals like this.  It has been difficult, however, to consistently find devotionals that we felt we easily connected with which is why my (ahem, published) husband wrote this free Lenten devotional last year.  He is passionate about using pop culture to create Mars Hill-type experiences for the next generation and Lent became a natural avenue to do that.  Using popular movies to aid in showing the powerful significance of Easter, Emptied & Humbled is an excellent resource for understanding Christ’s sacrifice on the cross through an in-depth study of Philippians 2.

This year, we will walk toward Easter differently than in the past.  As a couple, my husband and I will look at Lent through the lens of faith. We want to be taught and challenged by the faith of those who have walked faithfully before us. We want to hold their tried-and-true faith up as a mirror and see what is reflected back. We want our faith to grow and be strengthened, ultimately becoming contagious as we walk it out in real life.  This is a self-study that I hope to share with you in the future. In addition, we are using this* as a family devotional in the evenings with our teenagers.  Written for youth, Seven Days That Changed the World is a discussion-based devotional focusing on the Biblical passages of Jesus’ life during the seven days preceding His crucifixion and (victorious!) resurrection.

Before we take our first purposeful steps on these roads to Easter this year, however, we will partake in another tradition.   A few years ago, we accidentally participated in our first Fat Tuesday celebration at Big Shucks and have since added that to our ever-expanding list of new family traditions. While Fat Tuesday doesn’t have the most pristine reputation, Simon and I decided to redeem the day and we now use it, too, as part of our preparation for Easter. (I will share more in-depth on how we redeemed Fat Tuesday next week.)

Our experience of Lent is ever-changing, always morphing to meet the needs of our family as we grow. We are enjoying the exploration of the long-honored church tradition of Lent and the opportunity it affords us to look forward toward the empty tomb.  By introducing Lent to our family, we have grown to appreciate Easter with renewed enthusiasm.  Easter no longer sneaks up on us, but is now eagerly awaited.  Through observing Lent, we now experience the build-up to Easter that I longed for years ago.  We prepare for our most sacred holiday with something more than new clothes.  There is a new eagerness, a new excitement and yearning, a new hunger, a fresh zeal for what we are truly celebrating on Resurrection Sunday.

And we have Lent to thank for that.

Shameless second shot of my big sister Angie and myself, dressed to get our Easter on, circa 1973.
And just because I couldn’t choose which picture to use, here is a shameless second shot of Angie and me ready to celebrate Easter (circa 1973). Note: Angie’s fancy dress would soon be mine. She had the best hand-me-downs a girl could ever want. Beside the point, I know, but girls get this.


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All Aboard – a short devotional

Click picture to view on Amazon (affiliate link)
Click picture to view on Amazon (affiliate link)

Isaiah 55:8-9 – Indeed, My plans are not like your plans, and My deeds are not like your deeds, for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so My deeds are superior to your deeds and My plans superior to your plans.

I read a book to my oldest kids when they were very young titled Train to Somewhere. Of all of the children’s books I’ve read with my children through these twenty-five years of parenting, no other book has stuck with me like this one. In it, Eve Bunting took the readers on a journey across the U.S. on an orphan train. The ride was punctuated by stops all along the railway during which the orphans were taken onto the train platform and lined up for inspection by potential adoptive parents. Stop after stop, the number of children climbing back aboard the train got smaller and smaller. Pickens, as you can imagine, were slim by the last stop. To be honest, I don’t remember the specifics, but this one sentence about that last train stop has repeated in the story of my own life many times since reading it: “Sometimes what you get turns out to be better than what you thought you wanted in the first place.”

PONDER: Have you noticed the same truth in the pages of your own story?  In the comments, share one or two times when what you got was better than what you thought you wanted. Are you thankful that you didn’t get your way?

All Aboard is one of thirty devotionals I’ve been asked to write this year as part of a friend’s year-long devotional project.  I look forward to taking this step outside of my comfort zone by sharing what the Lord is showing me. My hope is that you will find a place here where you feel comfortable in taking that step with me.

A Walking Faith – a short devotional

Welcome to the family, pup! This is the day we brought Rosie into our home as a member of our family. Oh, did she have a lot to learn back then.
These are some of my favorite pics of Rosie as a puppy. Though an unenthusiastic participant during Dress Up, Rosie learned to submit to Chloe’s leadership from that first week in our family.


2 Corinthians 5:7 – “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

When Rosie was a puppy, my youngest daughter began obedience training with her. To help, I sometimes took Rosie on “training walks” around the park by our house to help her learn trust in the one leading her. Without fail, after a few yards Rosie would begin inching ahead of me, taking the lead on our walk. A quick tug on her training collar and she was back by my side, walking alongside me again. The more experience Rosie had during these training walks, the better she was at following my lead. I began to look for opportunities to challenge her, to allow her to choose to trust my lead. Yippee dog up ahead? Great! Children running around the playground? Super! These were opportunities for Rosie to grow in her walk with me, to grow in her trust of me to lead her well.   Too often, I am like Rosie in my walk with God. I pull ahead, trying to lead.   I get distracted by what’s around me and react instinctively, walking by sight rather than walking by faith in the One leading me.

Undistracted by everything around her, Rosie looks to Chloe to lead her as they walk in this Dallas July Fourth neighborhood parade.

PONDER: What sights are keeping you from walking by faith? What is keeping you from praying, “yet not my will, but yours be done?”

PRAYER:  Father, I confess to you that I am tempted to walk by sight in this situation. Please help me to trust you fully so that I may walk by faith. Gently tug at my heart when I pull ahead of your leading. Teach me, Father, to walk with you every step of today.

Rosie (with her leader) the night they won Member of the Month for obedience training. Rosie has since won several ribbons and a trophy in club competitions under Chloe’s leadership. She’s come a long way in two years! May I learn, as Rosie has, to trust God fully as I walk in faith with Him leading the way.


A Walking Faith is one of thirty devotionals I’ve been asked to write this year as part of a friend’s year-long devotional project.  I look forward to taking this step outside of my comfort zone by sharing what the Lord is showing me. My hope is that you will find a place here where you feel comfortable in taking that step with me.