Monday, July 27, 2020

Worth the Living

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash
This has been a really odd summer.

Ok, we can all acknowledge that it's been a really hard year all around.

#2020...

I'm a summer person.  I read summer novels all year long.  I go to the beach as often as I can.  I have an ocean background on my desktop.  I love the sun, swimming, ice cream, and just about everything summer.

But this summer has been different.  At first, it kind of snuck up on me, due to the time-warp feel that the spring had.  (I didn't even have shorts yet for the kids!) But, as we continued into it, our normal activities didn't happen.  The usual town events like the Memorial Day celebration, the fireworks display, the opening of the waterpark...the markers we usually look to for summer to begin.

We haven't been on any trips yet, due to fears over Covid.  The family and friends who usually visit all had to cancel.  So we are left with plenty of sun, but not too much "summer."

It's easy in all this to start to let the negative in.  Sure, I'm still wearing flip flops, and I have a tan, but it's hard to believe this is the summer we are going to remember in our Christmas card letters.

Last year, I had a big milestone birthday, and it got me thinking even more about my Bucket List and all of the places that I'd like to go and things I'd like to accomplish before I pass on to Heaven.

I was excited to get started right away, thinking of each summer as an opportunity to check off another item from my list.  Concerts, travel, writing...

Sadly, the pandemic has stopped a lot of my Bucket List items in their tracks.  Even my goal of developing deeper friendships hit a snag, because it's hard to hang out when everything's closed.  (I did get to finally see Hamilton, though, thank you Disney+!!)

Ok, now I know what you are probably thinking... can we just stay in bed for the next 5-12 months or so?  I feel ya!

Since my usual optimistic self has begun to toy around with the negative, I've tried to change my prayers to match.  God and I have been through a lot together this spring, but He hasn't left my side.  So, right now I'm asking Him for a new way of thinking.  I'm asking Him to change my attitude from wanting to fast-forward through the next year to wanting to walk through it, step by step, with Him.  Because, if I fast-forwarded through it, I'd miss so much.

I know I'd miss all of the ministry that God will do this year.  All of the opportunities to share His love and reach those who need His comfort and care.  I'd miss the chance to lead teens toward Christ and away from anxiety and depression.

Just because life seems to be on pause, God has not stopped working.  Therefore, I need to change my thinking.

Ephesians 4:23 says to "be made new in the attitude of your minds."

Our mind can shift and change with practice.  We can shift away from the negative and towards the positive that only He can bring.

We can choose to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable instead of the doom and gloom on the news. (Philippians 4:8)

The song, "Because He Lives," encourages us to keep up the hard work of faith:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Although I might not cross off a whole lot of items from my Bucket List this year, I can live assured that I know the One who holds my future.  Maybe there are things that God will do this year that haven't even occurred to me yet.

I'm sure there will be!  And I want to stick around with Him to find out.

Let's remember to keep on keeping on, because life is worth the living, just because He lives...


Monday, July 13, 2020

Fixed on Jesus

Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash
Margaret Feinberg so aptly wrote in her book, the Sacred Echo, that when God really wants to get your attention, He doesn't just say something once.  "The same idea, theme, impression, or lesson will repeat itself in surprising and unexpected ways until you realize that maybe, just maybe, God is at work." 

That happened to me this past week.  God has been teaching me to look upward and to look inward.  I've been realizing that I have been so focused on the challenges in my life, that I've been trying to fix them with my own strength.  If I just work harder at pleasing people, if I just read more books or look for more ideas to help, things will get better.  I do believe these things are helpful and meaningful, but the key is that I'm not the one doing the healing.

There is One who is greater than I who can do that hard work.  I don't have to take on the burdens all on my own.  I don't have to make everything better for everyone.  Jesus has already done that for us.  He's won the victory over the world and even over death itself. 

Then shouldn't I look to Him who is greater? 

The sacred echo brings these texts...

"Fix your thoughts on Jesus."  Ephesians 3:1

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus."  Hebrews 12:2

I've spent some time in the deep South, and the idea of "fixin' to" comes to mind as I read these passages.  "I'm fixin' to go to the beach."  "I'm fixin' to make supper."  But I don't think that's quite what the scriptures are referring to here.  Shannon Geurin says that keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus "simply means that you have such a connection with Him that every part of you aligns with Him.  He is the key and you are the lock." 

Every part.  Now this can be something I'm fixin' to do.  To align every part of myself with God.  To fix my thoughts, to fix my eyes, to fix my heart on the One who is true and right and holy and good. 

Fixing.

"The Greek word "fix" contains the idea of concentrating your gaze; to focus all of your attention on one object." 

We have that choice.

We can fix our gaze on earthly things.  On our problems, our concerns, our frustrations.  The crazy life that is 2020...

Or we can choose to fix our gaze on the author of life.  The Creator of peace itself. The one able to calm every storm and walk with us across the waters.

I admit that I don't know how to do this. 

I do know that the more I pray, the more I read Scripture, the more I talk with Christian friends and meditate on God's word, the more I will gaze in the right direction.

Maybe that's all we can do, this side of Heaven.

Fix our eyes in the right direction. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Silver Linings Playbook: Quarantine Edition

Photo by Simone Viani on Unsplash
We've reached day 37 of quarantine, and I have to say that when we reach 40 days, I think there should be a badge to prove that we've made it this far.

Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my life, but still I remain hopeful.  Because hope is what carries us through.

The following "Silver Linings" that have come out of quarantine for me.
(I'd love to hear some of yours in the comments.)


Coffee.  (I'm so glad my church introduced me to coffee before all this started, because it's carrying me just like Jesus is right now.)

Wifi.  (That is all.)

Online church. (https://chesapeakechurch.org/online/)

Food.  (Seriously, I've taken up cooking, which, if you ask my college roommate, she'll laugh and tell you about the pact we had that if I burnt down my first apartment while cooking, I was allowed to move in with her and her newly-wed husband...)

My husband.  (#bestfriend #myrock #mademepizza #brewedgoodcoffee)

Cookie Monster.  (Cookie Monster has always been up there on my list, but seriously, these Snack Chats though.)

Musicals. (The free live-stream of Phantom of the Opera, my favorite musical of all time, on The Shows Must Go On! literally lifted my spirits.)

Comedy.  ( SGN, The Daily Social Distancing Show, and random comedians watched on the couch with my husband while laughing the day's stress away.  Really, the only way to watch the news right now.)

Art. (Googling paintings and virtual tours.)

Free webinars and Facebook Lives.  (From just about everyone.)

Walking.  (Seriously, walking.  I live for daily doses of the outside world.)

Snail Mail.  (Sending and receiving actual letters again.)

Zoom Chats. (Video chats with everyone from grandparents to cousins to friends to work colleagues.  I miss people.  I'm an introvert, but come ON.)

Disney.  (Seriously, can Minnie Mouse please tell me good night all the time?

Sunshine.  (Daily dose of Vitamin D.  #necessary)

Flowering trees.  (These gorgeous creations are seriously keeping me sane right now.  Thank you, Redbuds and Cherry Blossoms.)

Music.

Board Games.

Online community.  (I've re-connected with every college, group, friend, and association that I've ever been a part of.  And watching their free webinars!)

Hallmark movies.  (You may have joked with me in the past about their plot lines, but right now, you are grabbing your tissues and sitting right down with me, because happy endings are all we can handle right now.)

Family time.  (There is A LOT of this, but I'm getting filled up to the brim with "quality time" as my love language.  Minus the constant sibling fights...)

Toilet paper.  (I have some left.)

Scripture.  (God's promises of peace, strength and hope are giving me a rock to stand on right now.)

The goodness of God.  (Amen.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Quarantine as Fasting

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash
Lately, I feel a bit like a lot of things in my life have been stripped away. 

I can't go to work in my office.  I can't drive my car.  I can't take the kids to park to play tennis.  I can't see my friends or go to church in person. I haven't seen our youth leaders or the faces of our teens in several weeks. 

I miss good coffee!!  I miss movies, chips and salsa, and my co-workers. I miss walking along the boardwalk by the bay. 

The hard part is that I haven't chosen to stop doing these things per se.  In many ways, I have, since I want to do my part to help flatten the curve of the Coronavirus Pandemic.  I want to help save lives and keep my grandparents from harm.  But in other ways, it feels like so many outside forces have taken away our usual way of living, both for the good of humanity and with the challenge that it brings.

As Americans, we are so used to getting what we want right now.  We can go to almost any store or restaurant within 20 minutes and buy whatever we are craving at that moment.  If we can't, then we'll just order it on Amazon.

The quarantine that I've experienced for the last 16 days has reminded me a lot of fasting.  The general definition of fasting is to abstain from food for a period of time as a religious observance.  In my years of youth ministry, we've often participated in something called the 30 Hour Famine.  We would spend 30 hours without food in order to participate in mission activities and raise money for hunger around the world.  The famine always brought up mixed emotions in my mind, because I love food.  It's one of my comfort things, and without it, I get a little on edge. 

As it turns out, the famine was one of my favorite events each year.  When we gave up food, we noticed that our other senses were heightened.  We'd notice the beautiful buds on the trees and the sound of the birds waking us up.  We spent extra time in prayer, giving the time to God, and He would always have a lesson for us to learn in it.  The fast always felt like a cleansing, a re-set of sorts. 

The quarantine has felt a bit like this.  I'm noticing beautiful things that I hadn't taken as much time to notice.  The beautiful cherry blossom trees in my neighborhood.  The kisses and hugs from my four year old.  My husband's cooking up random recipes from things we have in the pantry. The laughter of our family as we play UNO together. (And the inevitable sibling fighting that comes with it!)

The Bible has many examples of people who fasted for various reasons.  Many fasted before or during an important event, in order to turn their minds toward God and make wise decisions.  Ezra 8:22-24 is an example where those going into battle prayed and fasted in order to ask for God's protection.

I love verse 23:  "So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer." 

Here, Ezra's group would be traveling without military escort, and the road through the western Persian empire was very dangerous. 

Covid-19 poses many dangers to us as individuals and as a society.  We can choose to complain and be unhappy with the gift of each day, no matter how hard it may be, or we can choose a response like Ezra's.  We can think of the stripping away of our usual routines as a fast that we will give over to God.  We can choose to use this time of fasting from things and busyness and our favorite foods to stop and earnestly pray that our God will take care of us

God sees us in the midst of all that we are going through, and, as He did with Ezra, He will hear our prayer.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Who is in Control?

The other day I tried to buy hand sanitizer for an  event, and there was none.  Anywhere.  I searched several stores and then I went online.  When I had searched all over the web, I started to get a little panicky.  You see, I do not like germs, and the current virus situation has me a bit on edge.

So many others, too.  Fights over toilet paper and bottled water are breaking out.

I heard the other day that we are all freaking out over a lack of control.  We are trying to stock up on basic necessities, because we want to feel like we have some sense of control over the global pandemic.  "If I get sick, at least I'll have plenty of toilet paper," you may have thought subconsciously.  It's a bit of a #firstworldproblems situation.  If you've never been on a mission trip to a 2/3rds world country, then you may not have seen first hand that a majority of the world lives without basic necessities every day. Many don't have clean drinking water.  They don't have toilets.  They may not have access to or money for food every day.  People in my own county cannot always afford food.  So, I begin by reminding us to be thankful for how blessed we are.  If we have to live a few weeks without toilet paper, we'll figure it out.

Second, let's remember Who is in control.  When we feel out of control, as so many of us do, we can either sink into anxiety, worry, and panic, or we can turn to the Creator of the Universe.  We can turn to the One who remains in control when we feel out of it.

My prayer this week is that God would work redemptively amidst the chaos we are experiencing.  As we have seen Him do so many times, God will work good out of the most challenging situations.  Will you join me in praying that God will work redemptively through us as we navigate this situation and that we would be open to helping others and doing His work through it all?

Lastly, let's stay calm.  Here are a few ideas to keep your spirits lifted during this stressful time.  Comment below with some of your own ideas...

Pray
Watch a sermon online
Go for a walk (exercise is great for stress!)
Google photos of calm places (my favorite are photos of the ocean)
Listen to music or calming sounds (I love to listen to the sound of rain or thunderstorms on apps)
calm.com  (on of my fav go-to sights for a few minutes of calm)
Bake something yummy
Call the older adults in your life (they may be lonely and in need of your voice)
Hug your family and play a game together
Have a neighborhood block party (as long as you stay 6 feet away from each other, haha)
Drink some tea

As they say..."Keep Calm and Carry On."

As God says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7

Monday, January 6, 2020

Be Thou My Vision

Photo by Will Malott




















My light.

My wisdom.

My treasure.

My victory won.

The words of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" rang true to my heart this past Sunday.  When I think about this new year, this blank canvas, this blank page...what will it hold?  I think back to my first hearing of this song in college.  I was substitute teaching in a Christian preschool.  During nap time, we would listen to a children's CD of hymns as we rubbed their little backs and soothed them to sleep.  I cannot sing this song without thinking of this memory.

God has given me vision throughout my life.  Sometimes it has been by the bright light of the sun, other times the faint trickle of a flashlight before the battery dies.  Sometimes His vision came through the wisdom of friends or grandparents, through words on a page or through songs.

He has been my treasure.  Oh my great treasure.  I have never been a wealthy person by the world's standards, but I have found true treasure in serving God and His people.

My victory has already been won.  Some days do feel like a fight.  A fight with my children, a fight with exhaustion, a fight with my own mind to stay positive.   Or a greater spiritual battle.  Through it all, I can take confidence in the fact that my victory has already been won by Jesus.  Whatever this year may bring, I will have victory through the One who won it for me through His humble serving, dying and rising again on the Cross.

This year, unlike many others, seems a bit more unknown and at the same time a bit more known.  Some big life things have been been revealed this past year, and others remain a walk of faith.

I give this year, 2020, to the Lord, in whom my Light is found.

"Heart of my own heart, whate'er befall.  Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."