Chosen

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.” Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

All of us have an innate desire to know that we are chosen, loved, wanted. We think of it often in the sense of a romantic relationship, and that certainly is an important one. But we only feel real fulfillment in any of our relationships if we don’t feel like we are a burden or we were forced upon someone, but that they chose us and want to be in our presence. My birth father never made me feel this way. I don’t ever remember having that type of relationship with him. There were times where he was filled with guilt and apologized, but it was very apparent quickly that it had more to do with easing his conscience than actually having relationship with me. My mom met my stepdad when I was in 1st grade. He and my future step brothers moved next door. By the time I was 8 they were married, and I really don’t remember my life without this man being in it.

As with most step-families, ours was complicated. I often refer to our family as the dysfunctional Brady Bunch since my mom had three girls and my dad had 2 boys, then together they had my sister. But one thing I always knew – though I was not his by birth, I was his by choice. I was never just a tag along or an addition because he loved my mom. As I sat on his lap around the time of their wedding I clearly remember the conversation about how he was my dad and I was his daughter. He was adamant about the fact that one day he would be the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away. I don’t know why that was so important to him – certainly an 8 year old wasn’t thinking in those terms. But the conversation stuck with me, and I equated it to meaning I was his to give away. Maybe an “old fashioned” notion by today’s standards, but one I was happy to live in. And he did give me away – all the while joking as we walked down the aisle that, “It’s not too late to turn around, kid!”

It wasn’t just Dad. His family welcomed us in with open hearts and arms. They are a large family with their own chaos and craziness. But there was never once a feeling of being on the outside. His nieces and nephews became my cousins and my best friends – the kind where every time you are together you plot to stay over night and be together as long as possible. I spent countless nights with all my new Aunts and Uncles, and never questioned their love for me.

I was chosen. Invited in.

I wasn’t just acknowledged, begrudgingly accepted or tolerated. I was wanted, loved, and immersed. My family tree suddenly had new roots grafted in deep and permanent.

It was healing to the soul of a little girl who didn’t feel wanted and loved by her birth father. But here’s the thing…If I had not chosen to allow myself to be loved and choose to love back, it would not have been a relationship. If I did not believe that their love for me was real, I could not have grown up with my huge group of family members and love and laughter and friendship. I had to choose back.

Despite the fact that my step father was far from perfect, and my new family and I all made mistakes, their choosing of me opened the pathway for me to think about the love of my heavenly father more. He also chose me. Before I was formed in the womb, before I existed. I was his. My name is graven on his hands. The Spirit lives inside of me. I am his masterpiece – wholly and dearly loved. He gives me good things, he knows what I need before I even ask (or I even know!). He took me out of slavery and fear and bought me with the price of his son’s life so that I could be his daughter, a co-heir with Jesus. I am adopted, wanted, desired, pursued, and loved.

My mother went to be with Jesus 12 years ago. My stepfather just died last week. Tomorrow we will celebrate his life and I will be with the family that took me in and loved me well. I am aware that in a physical sense of the word, I am an orphan. But I have family that loves me, and – even more so – a heavenly father who promises that he does not leave us orphans, but that he comes to us and makes us his. He has chosen us – we just need to choose back.

But God

Often in my life I find myself caught up in the cycle of anxiety and worry. I am constantly asking, “What if…?” What if this doesn’t work, or what if so-and-so thought this, or what if it’s not enough, etc. Recently as I have been navigating a particularly hard emotional issue I have found myself saying these words to my husband. He surprised my by saying two different words – “But God…”

I know those words are part of a popular worship song that constantly plays on Christian radio. Honestly, I tune it out most of the time when I get sick of the same songs over and over again. But when Shawn said those words to me a few different times recently, I realized how much the words we choose to tell ourselves shapes how we think, how we act, and how we respond to the world around us.

Yes, maybe something seems impossible if we are looking at it through the eyes of this world. But we are not citizens of this world if we have a relationship with Jesus. Our destiny is different, but so is our daily living here on Earth – we do not have to wait until Heaven. We are not bound by the laws of physics or the intentions of man – instead we are given access to a storehouse of heavenly resources and we are given the inheritance of those who are children of God. We are not limited by a broken creation because we have been chosen by the Holy Creator, who is making all things new again.

I need to stop wondering if or how or even why and start saying, “But God…” But God is in this. But God promised me. But God is for me so who can be against me? But God sent his son to die for me. But God inclines his ear to me. But God is the author of all of this. But God is good. But God IS enough.

Where are the areas of your life where you need to remember this truth today? Because we may see a limited, murky, confusing scene in front of us, but God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can’t…but God.

What’s Your Search Engine?

Anna and I faithfully watch our favorite show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, each week.  I love sitting down with her on the day after it comes out with a cup of coffee and bringing it up on Hulu.  Yesterday I woke up with the song “Mad World” in my head because I had been listening to the playlist from the show the night before.  I was humming it all day and kind of laughed at the irony of the name of the song in this time.  Then  I realized that, like many songs from my growing up years, I didn’t know most of the lyrics.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have found out that I was singing made up lyrics because despite the best efforts by my teenage self doing the whole “play-pause-rewind-play-again -and-write-things-as-I-went” process, I still couldn’t quite catch what they said. I will always remember laughing at my sister because she thought that the words “You make me feel like a natural woman” were “You make me feel like a mature woman.”  Often when I google the real lyrics now and it comes up instantly I think, “Well, that makes much more sense.”   Kids today – they don’t know how good they have it!

I guess in some ways that’s true about so many things.  The internet is a powerful tool.  Recently I heard someone didn’t own a Bible.  No worries – open up Bible Gateway or any number of other apps.  Not only do you have instant access to almost any version of the Bible you want, you have commentaries and concordances galore to make your reading more in depth if you desire. This is true of any books – unlimited libraries instantly.

I love smart phones.  I never have to wonder too long about anything, really.  My personality loves that.  Want to know what that flower is?  Google lens, snap! Do you want to know what actress played on a certain sitcom?  Ask Siri.  What’s the weather supposed to be like Sunday?  “Alexa, tell me the weather for Sunday.”  And my favorite invention  – Google Maps!  My husband hates it because he thinks it makes people not think.  But for those who get lost going two blocks away (ME!) it is the invention of the century.  FREEDOM!

But here we sit in pandemic still.  Believe me, I am still very thankful for the internet.  We were on lockdown in places before where the internet shut down when things like this happened, or power was so sketchy you could never be assured of even keeping your phone charged.  Forget streaming Netflix when you can barely pull up your emails.  But having been in this 1 year now (1 year,  people!!) we are feeling so weary.  It feels like I have watched all of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.  I have walked so many miles around my neighborhood that I could do it with my eyes closed.  The novelty of being able to bake my own bread and food from scratch in case of a real apocalypse has definitely worn off.  I miss my family and friends – many of whom I have not seen in real life in over a year!  I miss parties and gatherings without social distancing.  I miss hugs and high fives.  I miss walking around without a mask.  And I miss worshipping together on Sundays and feeling the power of so many people lifting praise at the same time.  All I want is an answer to, “Alexa, when will this be over?????”

Sometimes I try to use God like a search engine.  “Hey, God, tell me the plan.” I want an instant answer that is clear and filled with concrete data – no grey areas of faith. My mind has been trained to type or talk instantly and receive the answer just as fast.  Sometimes I am even guilty of accepting the first thing that comes up without researching a little more.  I just want something that sounds like it could be the real answer quickly so I can move on to the next thing. I don’t like waiting.

I know the end of this particular crisis seems to be coming soon, and I am so thankful for that. But there will be another thing that happens – another crisis, another trauma, another time of waiting in the unknown.  I am asking God to help me be ok with not knowing the answer, but rather knowing the One who does knows the answers.  Because I know that is the real meaning of life anyway – to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

God is not a search engine, but he does have all the answers.  I just need to trust that he will reveal in his time for my good and his glory.

God is not an Avocado

We had an avocado tree in our yard in Nairobi. It produced small little fruits because it had not been well cared for before we came, but the harvest was still plentiful and happened twice a year due to the perfect weather there. (Sigh…I do miss the weather!) You could also buy them year round from roadside markets called Dukas for about twenty cents each. Yes, you read that correctly. I know – you practically have to sell your organs to buy them here.

The thing I have noticed about avocados is that you spend so much time waiting on them to become the perfect ripeness. There’s really no choice – it’s not one of those fruits that is yummy when it is not ready. I would gather the ones that fell in the yard and bring them in. Most of the time they still had to ripen a bit, and they would sit on the kitchen windowsill. Each morning I would check them, hoping for that perfect give that in them meant I could put it on my toast with some tomato and an egg – the perfect breakfast if you ask me.

Then suddenly one day I would rejoice because after all the waiting and checking it was finally over – my avocado was ready! I would enjoy it that day! However, by the next morning the rest that had fallen and been brought inside were rotten. I hate when you cut through only to see the black rot around the pit – so disappointing. If I happened to be in a hurry and missed the good morning, I might miss out on the whole batch. All that waiting for nothing. Avocados wait for no man.

Humans do not tend to be very good at waiting. I know that I am so impatient. It is even harder when we are not waiting FOR something but rather we are waiting IN something. I have had times in my life where I have clearly sensed God telling to me to wait in the moment – don’t wish it by or fast-track things. When we are in the middle of grief or pain or uncertainty we do not want to hear him tell us to wait. We worry as we wait that the solution or the perfect thing will come and we will not be watching so we will miss out. What if I am sitting in my grief and allowing the my heart to really feel what is happening around me – will I miss the chance to heal?

I know that the Bible talks about the idea that in all things we are to give thanks. In my past this has meant “getting through” things as quickly as possible so I can get on with the business of gratefulness. More recently I have re-thought this concept. In her book, No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece says, “We are so quick to get to the beauty that we skip over the brokenness or have a hard time seeing beauty arise amidst the brokenness. This has led to some dangerous and unbiblical theology. And if we are going to recover a healthy, biblical understanding of how God meets us in our pain we need to recover the lost prayer of lament in our churches. Authentic praise flows from honest prayer, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence. And this is when brokenness becomes beautiful.” (Emphasis is mine.)

This has been a year. There has been a lot of hard, a lot of bad. I have had to give myself permission to sit in some lament and grief over many things. I’ve been aware that there are things that I can learn only in this time of waiting. I can be in that time as long as I need and I am not going to miss what God has for me. In fact, waiting with no clear answers may be exactly what he has for me.

Recently I preached on what it looks like to live in a broken heart versus a whole and healed heart. The hardest part about “guest speaking” is you have half an hour to tell everything your heart has been ruminating on. While I know that God desires to see us healed and whole, I think part of that healing comes in the sitting and the waiting. I believe that sitting in the not-quite-yet healed completely heart while waiting on God to finish the healing is a good place to be. It’s not being stuck in the brokenness. It’t not missing out or being left behind. God’s healing sometimes feels like waiting for an avocado to ripen – like it’s never going to happen or somehow it will pass you by and you will miss it. But God is not an avocado! Sometimes his healing means sitting and waiting; listening and anticipating; waiting in the murky in-between where it doesn’t always feel so good, but where the broken becomes the beautiful.

I believe God is the redeemer of trauma and brokenness and the beauty-maker from ashes. As we offer our sacrifice of praise in the waiting, we will see these truths.

Hope Silences the Dark

“The gospel gives me hope, and hope is not a language the dark voices understand.”
― Andrew Peterson

Have you felt it? Have you been in that place where the dark voices win temporarily and hopelessness prevails? I have. It is not a fun place, nor is it a place of truth. It is, however, a place that has as much power as we offer up to it.

Not long ago I was not feeling well, there were several hard things on my heart and mind, and I made the mistake of getting on the scale to see how my (lack of) calorie counting was going. All of these things combined turned into a despondent time of crying, yelling, and pouting at God and my husband until I stuck in my headphones and tuned everything out to watch the newest episode of one of my favorite TV shows. That was a bad idea, since everyone is writing Covid stories right now, and it only fed into my anxiety, sadness, and fear.

What a mess I am.

Or rather, what I mess I was in that moment. That is NOT me. A moment of despair does not define who I am or how I live. His mercies are new every morning and today I remember I am a new person. Today I fill my mind with truth and my ears with worship rather than soapy stories and fretful news. I can still see the reality of things around me, but I also see hope. I see pathways. I eat healthier and exercise to take care of my body and I guard my heart more passionately. But most of all I just acknowledge that so much of this comes from self and I repent of trying so hard in my own strength. When I turn to the gospel and I read truth, the Spirit opens my eyes and I see through the fog of heaviness and am able to rebuke the lies and fear. My heart become courageous – not because of anything of myself but because of He who lives within me. Slowly hope seeps back in and drowns out the dark voices of despair that cannot understand it and run from something so powerful.

May the God of Hope meet you today.

Did God Really Say?

Security: an idol we bow to and work for and dream of.
Security: an illusion we imagine and discuss and plan for.
Security: a gift we find here and now and in memories and in hopes.
O God of ever-present love, help us to embrace true security, fleeing from idols and exposing illusions. All things are passing, God never changes.
Amen.
Let it be so.
(Lina Toth, in Celtic Daily Prayer Book II)

Immediately these words above gripped my heart. I read this passage recently and was struck by how many times I have chased after false security because the true Security didn’t seem logical, or was too hard, or felt obscure. This false security is something that has become an idol to me in recent years. I know that there have been times before when it has overtaken my thoughts – particularly when it comes to finances. But we have made choices in our marriage about how we desired our family culture to look and that has meant we had to trust God rather than our own plans. Sometimes (oftentimes) people didn’t understand, and even those who meant well and loved us fully couldn’t comprehend or agree with the decisions made. Through it all God has been more than faithful and we have had an abundant life.

But when we were making the decision to move back from East Africa a couple of years ago my heart was going one direction only – stability. We needed it. We craved it. We longed for a place to go that would be home forever, where we could dive in and make friendships and know our place and who we are. No more foreign cultures that we loved in so many ways yet made us question every action and motive every day. No more friends that we were just starting to feel comfortable with leaving because their term was up. No more relying on people to give financially so we could do ministry and live. No more terrorist attacks in our city or stressful, dangerous elections where we need to be on lockdown. No more insecurity.

My desire was security and the idol I was relying on to make that happen was America. Ouch. As a former missionary I hate even admitting that!

All of us have seen that idol fail this year. So many of those things that I listed above are still true of our life here. We live in one of the most transient places in the US, and people leave regularly. Because of that those who are the stayers are more hesitant to open up. I get that – we were the stayers for a while. The very thing I love about DC – the international flavor and the ability to see the world in a glance – is the same thing that makes it exhausting as we try to know people and understand their reactions and our relationship with them. Diving in and making friendships has been close to impossible in some ways this year thanks to the Pandemic. And I don’t need to tell you about stressful elections! Yet we know we are suppose to be here – this is home.

Over a year ago I sat on my porch praying to God about my calling here in DC. I have always loved being in ministry with Shawn. I loved being a pastor’s wife – I still do. I feel like it is in my DNA to care for people this way. However, over the last couple of years I have found myself being drawn to be more official in that role. I wanted to see how God used me – Heather. Not Shawn’s wife (or the “preacher’s wife” as someone affectionately called me before.) What did it mean to be called as a woman, as Heather, as a daughter of the Most High? How could my life, my story, my gifts, my passions, and my weaknesses be used for Him?

This was not the first time I had prayed about that (and would definitely NOT be the last time!) But in that moment I knew – in that deep in your soul, no shadow of a doubt, truth in the core of your being way of knowing – that God told me to step into that and he would take care of the rest.

“But God, my family.” “But God, I won’t get paid. I really should find a paying job here.” “But God, I’m not educated enough.” “But God -security!!” But God, but God, but God. Still, I knew.

So I jumped into it. Well, let’s be honest – I trudged into it kicking and screaming at times. I am not a great student, and I knew it meant school, classes, papers, and interviews. But I started – I am doing the classes, doing the training, getting the licenses, and doing what He asks. And you know what? He has been faithful the whole way. He provides financially in ways we couldn’t imagine. He brings friendship and support from people in the unlikeliest of places and ways. He enfolds my children into his arms and helps me trust him with their care rather than thinking it is all me. There have been times of discouragement and what-was-I-thinking-this-makes-no-sense. Those times I hear a whisper of doing something that seems more logical or practical that speaks, “Did God really say…?” These happen when I have grabbed back the control of my life and plans from His grasp instead of letting Him lead. They happen when I demand security on my own terms rather than his.

Many times in scripture we see people falling out of the blessings of God and into a dangerous world of sin and self-reliance when the enemy whispers in their ear, “Did God really say…?” Adam and Eve are the first and most well known examples, but definitely not the last. And while I continue to push on, I am sure that I will hear those words again. Sometimes they come from frustration with people, sometimes from my complete lack of understanding of how to do a task in front of me. This week they came, over and over again, like rolling storm clouds shouting at me that I had no control over anything. In the middle of that storm I saw my orphan-ness come out and I felt myself wanting to fall back into destructive habits – ones that always reared their ugly heads when I was feeling out of control.

Thankfully this time my heart had expected this attack. I was prepared with the armor and battled back. By the end of the week I was weary and limping a bit, but victorious. Because when Satan slithered up and asked, “Did God really say…” I yelled back, “YES!” Not in my strength – we all know that. But by the power of the One living in me.

I want to encourage you, brother and sister. This is a hard time. There are so many voices out there, so many questions, so many things causing fear, instability, and chaos in our hearts. Are you taking time to listen? Are you standing in the presence of the God of ever-present love, asking him to help us embrace the true security that is Him?

This Body of Death

All month as I walked into my office I kept smelling this terrible odor. At first I thought it was the trash, but even after it was emptied the smell got worse. Then I was convinced, after checking all over the room, that there must be a dead animal in the wall. Not much I could do about that – I would have to let it run its course and rot. Yuck! I ran my diffuser each time I was in the office trying to cover up the smell.

Last week as I went in early for a training I decided to make some coffee. I hadn’t used my coffee press since switching offices, so I opened it up and immediately gagged from the smell. It looked like the entire pot was filled with mold. Oops – I must have forgotten to empty it last time and it was gross now. At least now I found the source of the smell!

I went to the bathroom, opened up the lid, and dumped it into the sink expecting to wash the mold down and clean out the pot. Instead I discovered that my “mold” had a tail and teeth! SO GROSS! A mouse had gotten into the press somehow and couldn’t get out. After he died he started decomposing – in my press! I knew I had to empty the sink, but his body was a liquidy mess and I couldn’t get a good grasp on it through the huge wad of paper towels I was using. It kept smooshing guts all over and I could barely think straight because I was gagging every time the squishy mouse remains squirted in the sink.

It must have been quite a funny sight to see me gagging and yelling and running around like a crazy person.

Finally I got most of the mouse outside. I took one look at the press and knew it had met it’s end as well. No way could I ever drink from that again! I tossed it in the garbage, sprayed lysol all over everything, and walked away from the whole dead, rotting, decomposing mess.

Even now I want to gag when I think about it.

In Romans 7 Paul writes, “Who can deliver me from this body of death?” I will never forget the illustration Shawn used in youth group when we were teaching this passage. One of the things the Roman government, who was particularly cruel, would do is strap the body of the the victim to the person who had committed the murder. Can you imagine? Being shackled to a decomposing human corpse, the stench overwhelming you and seeping into your very being for the remains of your days? Eventually the corpse would be filled with disease which would go into your own body, killing you slowly and horribly.

Our daughter had a huge rag doll – one that was the size of an adult. Shawn made one of the kids in youth group walk around all evening with that doll strapped to his body. Everywhere he went and everything he did he had to figure out how to do with this big extra body attached to him. This didn’t totally work as far as the illustration of a dead body, because the doll was pink and smiley and didn’t wreak of rotting flesh and disease, but it was cumbersome and gave a good picture in their minds.

I thought about this “body of death” as I calmed down after gagging from the mouse. I couldn’t handle that little smell – I cannot imagine the rotting, consuming stench from a person’s dead body, sitting in the heat, being exposed to all the elements for days in and days out. No escape, no reprieve. My little mouse smell didn’t even compare.

Of course, it would seem the obvious way to avoid this is to not kill someone, right? Don’t murder, and you never have to carry a dead body around. So why, then, does Paul say this? He used this metaphor because he knew that the weight of human sinfulness and the destruction of following our flesh was the same as carrying a rotting dead body around. He also knew that there was nothing in himself that could rescue him from this. Apart from Christ we are nothing. He gives us everything we need for life. The death that came in this form of punishment lasted for days or weeks, slowly tormenting the person it was strapped to and causing them to literally rot away while still alive. Our sin does the same. Sometimes it seems small and harmless, we don’t understand the effect it has on us – we might even get use to it, though others around us can tell something is wrong. As we continue in our sin it becomes worse, it seeps in and slowly takes over everything in us and kills us mind, body, and soul. Spiritually, without being rescued by God, we are dead people walking – we are dying inside and there is no way to stop it. The work of Jesus on the cross is the only thing that can rescue us from this body of death. He took all of that upon himself when he was crucified in our place.

I know after my experience of feeling nauseous from the smell of this tiny rodent for a couple weeks and reaching the point of gagging while trying to clean up that I am so thankful I do not have to carry the stench of my own sin and dead self around with me. I am free from that body of death! Instead I am whole, healthy, spiritually alive, and clean because of the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit living inside of me. And I do not carry around the stench of death, but rather the beautiful aroma of peace, love, and life.

As Paul said then, I say now, “Thanks be to God, who delivered me through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Hold My Arms Up

“Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

The beginning of this week was a really tough time for me.  I felt the weariness of the last few months burdening my heart and soul.  I just wanted to sleep.  Try as I might, I couldn’t conjure up any feeling of joy or hope.  I felt defeated, purposeless, and exhausted.

I write a weekly email to our wonderful women at the church.  Usually this email tells a little story from my life and I try to encourage them in some way, then I ask them how I can be praying.  This week, however, I couldn’t do that.  As I tried time and time again to write something I finally heard the Spirit tell me to just be honest.  So I did something different and asked the women to pray for me this week.  I let them know where I was at and just asked them to lift us up.  

While I know that there were some people who were not quite sure how to respond to that, for the most part I had people tell me they were praying.  And over the course of the next few days it was like a fog lifted from my heart and mind.  I could see clearly again and my energy levels were back to normal.  In the middle of all of this I spent a day with a stomach bug that left me in bed where I slept for hours over the course of a couple days – something that apparently my body needed.  Who knew a bug could be the answer to prayer?  Between restorative sleep and the prayers of my friends I knew that I had passed through this most recent battle and was on the other side, and I was thankful.

Have you ever felt this way?

As I talked with friends this week I admitted that I have been prone to times of depression in my life.  There have been times when I have been on medicine and many times of seeing a counselor regularly.  I have no shame about this – I think they are amazing resources that are available for us when we need them.  However, as Shawn and I talked about this time (because he was also experiencing it) we knew in our hearts that this was not a physical thing or chemical imbalance – this was a spiritual battle.   And we knew that we were not in a place where we could fight it alone.

Let me back up a minute.  We know that we are not truly alone, right?  When we are down and we have lost the ability to fight back because our sword is thrown off to the side and the enemy is on top of us peering down into our eyes with a look of pure hatred, we are not alone.  We are still wear the breastplate of righteousness that guards our heart from the attacks of the evil one.  We know as his children that we are covered in the blood of Jesus and that we are made righteous because of the work he did on the cross.  This is true no matter where our thoughts or emotions take us.  Once we become his children there is no one or nothing that can separate us from the love of God. So we know that while we may feel alone, we are not truly alone.

But that doesn’t stop us from living as though we are sometimes, right? 

This week I felt alone and I knew that I needed my people to fight on my behalf.  A friend sent me a text saying she was picturing the prayers of people lifting up our arms like Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17.  (“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”) When I asked the women to pray for us and for the other pastor’s family at church I knew it was because we needed someone to hold our arms up for a little while because our own strength was gone and we were shaking and feeble.  I wasn’t asking for them to fix the situation, to give me platitudes, or even to assure me that it would be ok, but just to stand alongside me and hold my arms while I rested.  I had to come to Jesus because I was weary and burdened, and he gave me the rest I needed in the form of friends who came alongside me in battle.

I am thankful for this reminder this week, even though I did not love feeling sick and depressed.  God knew what I needed, and he knew that the friends who lifted me this week needed to be a part of it.  He continues to shape us in love and compassion and make us more like him even as he pursues us right where we are at.  If you are in the place I was this week, may you be humble enough to let others bless you.  If you are doing the arm holding – thank you for battling and loving well and keeping the arms steady, even if you don’t fully understand it.

The blog From a a Year Ago

I was going through my blog in the “drafts” section to see what things I had started and then never finished to try to clean it up.  I came upon this blog that I had started a year ago – the night before Anna was coming back from Kenya unexpectedly early and we were getting ready to go on what we thought would be a singular lock-down just to make sure she wasn’t sick.  By the time I reached the store the news of Europe closing it’s borders was hitting and people were starting to panic, so I walked into a jam-packed store (that was pre-mask and social distance order) and this is what played out:

“It’s real…That knot in your chest.  The lump that you try really hard to swallow.  The short, fast breaths that make you tell yourself to breathe deep and count slowly.

In this time of uncertainty I feel it pressing in constantly.  Last night I was in the store and it was as though I was walking through a movie scene for a dystopian movie.  The lines were all the way to the back.  People’s carts were full of whatever they could put in.  The store had no milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, flour…the shelves were empty.  I had only gone in to get a few key things, but as I sat and watched others I started to panic and anxiety crept in.  Maybe I should stand in line for the next couple of hours and buy all the cheese, pasta, and peanut butter I could find. Or maybe I really do need all the gatorade I can fit in my cart.  Or maybe I should buy all the medicine I could find because we are bound to get this virus and have fevers and might run out of gatorade but Tylenol would take the fevers down, but RJ can’t swallow a lot of pills so I should buy a bunch of kinds so that I could be sure of having something he could take, but then what if he still can’t and then he’s really sick and we have no food and people have gone crazy…kind of like my mind in that moment.

Last night in the store I came across a few people that reminded me of something important – this life is not all about me.  I stood as I was waiting (patiently, I promise!) for a store employee to move his cart that he was stocking shelves with and I looked around me.  There was a young man about my oldest son’s age.  He looked a little shell shocked, honestly.  He had some pasta, some granola bars, and a box of milk in his hands.  He was looking at Tuna but seemed a bit like he had no clue what he should be doing.  I wanted to tell him to walk alongside me and let me help him figure this out, that he wasn’t alone. I wanted to give him some sort of assurance that he was doing the right thing in buying a little extra, but that he should not give into the fear that was pulsing through the store.  I wanted to – but I didn’t.  Because in the moment I was scared and panicky.  I was thinking of my own son and wondering if someone would help him in this situation, because how does a 22 year old young man on his own for the first time know how to react and prepare when it seems like the world has gone mad?

I also saw an older woman trying to get a few things.  I helped get something off a shelf for her as people rushed by ignoring her because by this point I was starting to get my senses back.  As I prayed against the fear I felt my own panic subsiding.

I think we are going to be facing some new, uncharted things here in the next couple of months.  We are not a country that really knows how to do crisis well. We’ve lived in places where we had to evacuate from war and go on lock down due to election instability, and I never saw the chaos that I saw last night in the grocery store.  May God show us clearly what he wants us to learn from this. “

Did you catch your breath as you read? I know that now, on this side of things, I can see how scared we were as a country. We have seen half a million deaths in the US during this pandemic that were related to the virus. Probably no one reading this was spared knowing someone personally who suffered greatly in some way because of it. Jobs have been lost, houses lost, marriages and families that were already taxed disintegrated during quarantine, and some people who lived on their own spent months never seeing another person or having any sort of human touch.

Yet here we are at what seems to be the end of it. What did we learn? Or better yet, what are we learning?

This weekend I saw my newborn nephew. I had been considering and reconsidering going, worried about if I would bring something to him unknowingly. But my sister really wanted me there, and as I sat and cuddled him and I stroked his fuzzy, perfect little head and breathed in newborn baby, I felt hope again. My niece who had come as well fell in love with him and said he was a powerful baby. I had to agree – there was something almost intoxicating about this new little, extremely miraculous life that we were holding. He reminded me that God was not absent from the events surrounding us this last year, but that even in those he showed himself powerful, merciful, and redemptive.

See, my sister and her husband had tried for over a decade to have kids. Hope sprung up a time or two only to be dashed violently in the pain of miscarriage. Then Lincoln happened. In the middle of trauma and chaos and pandemic and pain, a new life was formed. He was not the “Covid” baby – ones that were birthed from the extra time at home that we are seeing happen all around us (not that those are any less miraculous or full of hope!) But here was a living, breathing, beautiful, seven-and-a-half-pound bundle of life that we had prayed for over and over again for years. God chose to answer that prayer in the middle of one of the darkest times our world has seen in recently.

It makes me think of another baby born into chaos, darkness, and hopelessness. One who came and brought joy, healing, and True Life with His birth. So what have I learned this year? I have learned (and forgotten and relearned many times) that no matter how dark it seems my God has not forsaken me. He leans in and listens. He catches my tears. He hems me in, behind and before. And when it seems darkest, he brings redemption and life that starts to seep into the cracks of the walls I have built up around me and he reminds me of the true victory that is mine through him. I am so thankful for that.

Listen and Receive

I want to be the person God created me to be, not just a shell of that person.  Before I surrendered my life to Jesus and asked the Holy Spirit to live within me I was but a shadow of the person that God created me to be.  I know that I am still being sanctified, and the finished work of that will not come to fruition until I standing face to face with Him one day in Heaven – how glorious that will be!  But I believe that He has a good plan and purpose for me here on this earth, too, and often I am just “doing life” without remembering this.

My Bible is old, beat up, underlined, and highlighted.  I have had it for many years, so there are prayer requests and answers to those prayers written beside verses and on the inside of the cover.  While I love this because it is a good reminder of the way He truly does answer prayer, sometimes it makes it hard to read things with fresh, new eyes.  My mind almost thinks that if it is not already highlighted there must not be anything there that applies to me.  This week I opened my Bible up to read the Psalms and was on chapter 81. I started skimming through it since it was not highlight already, but my heart caught when I read the last few verses.  “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me.  So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.  If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!  Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.  But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  (Verses 11-16)

I read and re-read this part of the passage again trying to figure out why my heart was catching each time.  What did the Spirit want me to get from this?  The Israelites were in outright rebellion- worshipping foreign gods and refusing to listen.  I am not in that place.  I have been in my life before, but in this time there is a lot of peace in my heart.

Like the hug of a parent reassuring a child that she is not in trouble, I felt the presence of God.  I knew this was not a rebuke so much as a reminder and encouragement that He knew something about me that I had forgotten – I am His and He is mine.  In that he desires to give me good things.  Often I miss out because I am simply not listening.

One of the things I had to do with my kids when they were younger (and still sometimes) is to cup my hand under their chin and make them look me in the eye and repeat to me what I just said.  We humans don’t tend to be good listeners.  We are looking at other things, thinking about a response, getting distracted by things of this world.  Sometimes we just plain rebel and say, “No!” and stick out fingers in our ears to prove that we are not listening.

My issue wasn’t outright rebellion this time, but I realized that my heart and mind are often distracted and looking for answers and peace in places other than Him.  The beginning of this lockdown phase was a welcome relief for me in some ways.  I love hosting people for dinner and having people stay in our home.  I am an extrovert, and I am really missing my people right now.  But the slower pace of the first week, and having our daughter back in country made me take a deep breath, sleep more, bake some delicious, homemade food, and have more conversations as a family. It also allowed for my heart to be still for longer periods of time (as much as possible with this ADHA brain) and dig into His word.  My prayer times were meaningful and my heart was full.

Then life started happening again.  Like all of you, I started adapting to my “new normal.”  Suddenly, as I was immersed in trying to make it all come together – work from home, school, family, church, learning new technology, etc, – I found my heart crazy and panicked.  When I had free time all I could think about was doing something that didn’t require learning something new or thinking too hard.  So Netflix became my new god, sitting in my room with headphones to block out the world became my new temple, and snacking on easy, sugar filled things became my new sacrifice.  With this practice the peace I had known was eventually used up and gone and I was doing nothing to refill it in a way that truly life-giving.  I was listening to too much noise all around around me and not able to filter out the still, small voice that was the true answer.

That the first week or two of quarantine was a gift, but it is not what real life can look like forever.  However, the peace that I had those days is also real, and a glimpse of what is to be mine forever.  When I wake up each morning and surrender my heart to him; when I get done with a stressful zoom meeting and take just a moment to surrender that stress to him; when I am frazzled because everyone needs my attention at the same time but I pause to take a breath and say, “Father, help!” – these are holy moments.  They are the times that take my ear back to listening for His voice.  When I stop and surrender my anxieties and stress to Him, He carries the load and suddenly I am lighter and able to keep doing whatever it is He has called me to do in the moment.  Everything doesn’t become perfect or sorted out, but my ability to do look at it in peace, calmness, and   (yes!) even joy becomes a reality as the Spirit flows in and through me.  Then, and only then – when my ear is poised to hear Him and my heart is ready to respond- that is when I am satisfied with the “finest of wheat and honey from the rock.”

So I ask you today – what altar have you been worshipping on?  Many of these things are not bad- I can enjoy my favorite TV show and have a chocolate chip cookie once in a while.  But when when they become my go-to and I stop listening for Him then I can’t see the amazing and miraculous things He has prepared for me.  Brothers and sisters, He wants to give you so much more than you can even imagine.  We just need to make space to hear Him and receive.