Speranza ai Tempi della Quarantena

Il quartiere in cui vivo è normalmente molto caotico; la strada è piena di motorini, automobili, camion e traffico pedonale, ma adesso è stranamente così silenziosa. Gli unici rumori vengono da qualche occasionale auto di passaggio o dal supermercato che vedo dalla finestra quando i dipendenti scaricano la merce dai camion ogni mattina.

I balconi, colorati da fiori che si stanno svegliando con l’arrivo della primavera, sono adornati da bandiere italiane o lenzuola bianche dipinte con arcobaleni e le scritte #tuttoandràbene e #iorestoacasa. Si avverte un senso di solidarietà tra gli italiani.

Quando torno al mio appartamento, dopo l’occasionale uscita per andare al supermercato, intravedo me stessa nello specchio dell’ascensore e quasi tutte le volte piango. Si possono vedere solo i miei occhi pieni di lacrime perché la maschera copre il resto del mio viso. Strade vuote, maschere, guanti, una città di solito vivace è adesso così silenziosa. Questa è la nostra nuova normalità. Niente passeggiate sul lungomare prendendo un po’ di sole. Nessun bambino che gioca a calcio in piazza. Nessuna fila alla gelateria. Nessun amico da incontrare per un aperitivo. E tutto questo rattrista molto il mio cuore.

Ma anche se il mio cuore è addolorato e l’unico sole che posso prendere è sul mio minuscolo balcone, la speranza rimane. Non la speranza nella solidarietà italiana (che è stata un’incredibile testimonianza e di cui ho fatto parte). Non negli ospedali o nel personale medico il quale sta facendo del suo meglio in questa orribile situazione. Non nel governo. Nessuna di queste ci dà speranza o pace perché nessuna è in controllo di qualsiasi cosa, come abbiamo visto negli ultimi due mesi.

Una speranza trovata in Dio, Padre, Figlio e Spirito Santo. Non perché so e credo che esiste. Ma per il rapporto che ho con Lui. Conoscere qualcuno è diverso dall’essere in una relazione con qualcuno. Conosco tante persone ma non ho relazioni con tutti. Essere in una relazione con qualcuno significa conoscerlo più a fondo.

È avere una relazione con Dio e una profonda conoscenza dell’amore per Lui, che ci aiuta ad essere costanti e in pace, in ogni circostanza. Non siamo noi che possiamo produrre queste cose in noi stessi, ma è lo Spirito che ci è stato donato per grazia quando abbiamo deciso di vivere per Cristo.

Camminare in relazione con Dio è una cosa quotidiana, che il giorno sia buono o cattivo. Tante volte gridiamo a Dio solo quando ci accadono cose difficili. Siamo come gli Israeliti dell’Antico Testamento. Quando tutto sta andando bene, festeggiano e si deliziano delle cose del mondo senza un solo pensiero verso Dio, ma quando le cose vanno male, gridano a Dio per essere salvati. E la salvezza arrivò; Dio agì, li salvò e li perdonò. Gli israeliti voltarono ancora una volta i loro cuori verso Dio, servendo e obbedendo Dio, solo per smarrirsi di nuovo. Perché? Se leggiamo attentamente, nell’Antico Testamento impareremo che ciò che Dio voleva erano i loro cuori, ma riceveva solo le loro parole vuote.

Il Signore ha detto: «Poiché questo popolo si avvicina a me con la bocca e mi onora con le labbra, mentre il suo cuore è lontano da me» Isaia 29:13

Tu li hai piantati, essi hanno messo radice, crescono e, inoltre, portano frutto; tu sei vicino alla loro bocca, ma lontano dal loro intimo. Geremia 12:2

Questa non è una relazione. Per noi, non vivere in relazione con Dio equivale a non adempiere allo scopo per il quale Egli ci ha creati. Ma Lui desidera più delle nostre parole. Lui vuole i nostri cuori. Cuori che dipendono da Lui. Cuori che muoiono a sé stessi, prendono le proprie croci e Lo seguono. Cuori che consentono allo Spirito di far crescere in noi il frutto dello Spirito (amore, gioia, pace, pazienza, benevolenza, bontà, fedeltà, mansuetudine e autocontrollo). Cuori che riflettono Cristo.

Per riflettere Cristo, dobbiamo conoscerlo. E possiamo conoscerlo solo se riempiamo noi stessi della Sua Parola, permettendo allo Spirito di usarla per cambiare i nostri cuori e somigliargli sempre più. Quando permettiamo allo Spirito di compiere il Suo lavoro in noi, la nostra prospettiva cambia. Non viviamo più per un determinato tempo ma per l’eternità. Quindi, nell’affrontare la sofferenza, il caos, e la quarantena, siamo in pace e la nostra gioia non può essere rubata dalle circostanze nelle quali ci troviamo. Poiché conosciamo le verità su Dio, esse ci aiutano ad accettare la sofferenza come parte di questa vita terrena e a mantenere i nostri occhi e le nostre prospettive fissate sulla gioia che abbiamo in Cristo in questo momento, ma anche sulla gioia che verrà nell’eternità. Perfino Cristo ha sopportato la Croce, disprezzando la vergogna, per la gioia che gli era stata posta.

Infatti io ritengo che le sofferenze del tempo presente non siano paragonabili alla gloria che dev’essere manifestata a nostro riguardo. Sappiamo infatti che fino a ora tutta la creazione geme ed è in travaglio; NON solo essa, ma anche noi, che abbiamo le primizie dello Spirito, gemiamo dentro di noi, aspettando l’adozione, la redenzione del nostro corpo. Poiché siamo stati salvati in speranza. Romani 8:18, 22-24a

So che mi sentirò sopraffatta o triste o di nuovo arrabbiata, prima che tutto sia finito. Probabilmente sentirò una o più di queste cose prima di poter pubblicare questo articolo, ad essere sincera. Sentirò tutta la tristezza e il dolore che mi circonda, perché è una cosa triste e difficile quella che sta accadendo. Ma allo stesso tempo, provando queste cose, mi ricorderò delle verità di Dio e delle sue promesse. Sceglierò di tenere gli occhi rivolti verso l’alto, anche se affrontano tutte le difficoltà che li circondano.

Steadfastness, Suffering and Boiled Peanuts

“How are you doing this week? Today? In this moment?” This was a text message sent to me a few days ago by a friend and teammate.

I really thought about all three of those questions in turn for a while. What’s funny is when I received the message I was in the middle of a terrible moment but when I finally found time to respond to the message I was in a good moment. It all changes so quickly. Life is a roller coaster of emotions in general but it seems the highs and lows are higher and deeper right now.

A few days after I received this message I was talking to my son about peanuts. Well, not really about peanuts but about his lack of patience in waiting for the peanuts I was boiling to be ready for his consumption. We I talked about how we can often allow things in our lives (emotions, games, TV, wants, etc) to control how we behave when instead we should be letting God control those things. Back to the peanuts and his patience level in that moment…I told him that instead of letting his lack of patience over boiled peanuts control his behavior and mood, he should allow God to influence him to wait patiently for the peanuts to finish cooking. It was a short interaction but lead me to share it at lunch with the family. It was a truth I have forgotten so many times and desperately needed to be reminded. So it was more for me than them.

I drew a big circle in the center of a piece of paper with little circles around it and arrows from the big circle to the little ones. In the middle I wrote God and we all came up with things to put in the little circles, which ranged from school to games/TV to family. We talked about not letting the little circles become the big circle in the center.

When those other things move into the center spot, we will ride the rollercoaster of emotions. We let people/circumstances/feelings/jobs/etc influence our behavior and words. We allow an extended quarantine date to derail us. The search for toilet paper angers us. Not seeing people we love and having no idea when we will be able to not just see them but hug them depresses us.

But when God remains in the center, every week, every day and in every moment, He influences how we respond to all the things in the little circles. And in moments of suffering and trial, steadfastness can be produced. But we often times do not see sufferings and trials as something in which to be thankful. We don’t see it as opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to refine us.

I don’t want to waste my suffering. I don’t want to look back and realize I didn’t allow the Holy Spirit to chisel away at my heart, sculpting it to look more like the heart of Jesus Christ. In the words of Elizabeth Elliot, our suffering is never for nothing. But I would add to that our suffering is never for nothing unless we fail to see it as an opportunity for God to refine and mold us. I don’t want to miss the opportunity.

I realized when answering my friend’s questions and in all the circle drawing and peanut talk that I was riding the rollercoaster of my emotions, allowing whatever came in the day to move me from highs to lows in an instant. Instead of allowing God to influence how I have been interacting with my very diminished world, I have allowed the dynamics of the every day (the news, bickering, schoolwork, wanting to see the sea and soak up the sun, the sadness in all of it) to influence all the other areas of my life. An example of this that perhaps others can relate to comes in the form of stress from schoolwork. Schoolwork will send my stress level up as soon I see a text message from another parent. I allow that stress to make me speak ungraciously and unkindly. It will turn into anger. Anger leads to frustration and tears. It’s not a pretty scene. And I once again find myself on the rollercoaster.

My father once told me there is something to be said about being even. Our family was in the middle of a very difficult time when this conversation happened. What he meant is there is something to be said about not allowing our emotions to rule us. Over the last 5 or 6 years I have reflected often on that conversation, asking myself, “Am I even or am I allowing emotions to rule?”

We are told in Scripture on multiple occasions that steadfastness comes from trials. But we have to let it change us. James tells us to “let steadfastness have its full effect”. The word “let” indicates we have to do something or at least allow something to happen. We can choose to allow our suffering to produce negativity, sorrow, depression, anger…or we can allow it to produce faith, steadfastness, character and hope.

I am not saying to not feel all the feelings, and there are a lot of feelings to feel. But we don’t have to ride to rollercoaster of those feelings, staying on until we are dizzy and passing out. Instead, we can let steadfastness and our trust in our all-knowing, ever-present, in control God to guide us through the feelings.

Steadfast, depending on the version of the Bible you are reading, is translated as perseverance or endurance. It can mean long-suffering, a patient enduring, being established or fixed. When I read the definitions, I can become overwhelmed. How in the world does one remain steadfast – patiently enduring, being firmly established in Christ – during suffering?

Luckily for those who follow Christ, we are not without an example of steadfastness. God the Father is steadfast in His love towards us.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
Whom he has redeemed from trouble
And gathered in from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3

God the Son, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame,” is steadfast. We can persevere and remain steadfast because Christ perseveres and remains steadfast for us and towards us. We, with Christ as our example and accomplisher, do not put our hope and joy in the temporal but the eternal. We do not have to ride the rollercoaster. We can feel all the feelings but be steadfast by not allowing those feelings and outside voices to rule us. Instead we let the omnipotent, all-powerful, steadfast loving God influence and rule how we respond to the feelings and outside voices, remembering who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do.

So how are you this week? Today? In this moment? Are you riding the emotional rollercoaster, allowing what’s happening to influence how to interact with those around you and yourself? Or are you letting steadfastness have its full effect, knowing your suffering is never for nothing?

Even in the darkness, I will make the choice

Being part of this moment in time in a place that is experiencing so much pain and loss and at the same solidarity and fortitude is an amazing thing. And though it might sound strange, I am thankful to be a part of it.

I’ll be honest…when this thing started it was up north and I didn’t think too much about it. I did think the few people in town with face masks were exaggerating a bit. But I don’t think I was alone. I don’t think anybody could have imagined 4 weeks ago what was coming.

But then schools closed and we all started paying more attention to what was happening and how quickly it was happening. Every day there was a new decree, limiting our mobility more every day, until we arrived at the only acceptable reasons to be outside were to go to the pharmacy or the grocery store or walk your dog. Over the last few weeks life has become claustrophobic…and most of us don’t have a yard to which we can escape the smothering walls of our homes.

Down south we have watched reports in horror of the heartbreaking tragedy that is occurring in the devastated north, while our own numbers continue to rise. Gurneys with the sick fill hospitals to overflowing capacities. Because there is no more room for the sick many are at home without medical treatment. People are dying alone or with only strangers surrounding them. Caskets fill cemeteries and crematoriums, waiting for burial or cremation. It is horrific and heartbreaking. And it would be so easy to give in to the fear that rages outside the door. To be quite honest, the last week has been the hardest so far. Not so much with keeping fear at bay but with coping with numbers that refused to quit rising, I have had an overwhelming sense of sadness.

A song my friend, Jennifer, wrote several years ago has been on repeat in my mind in these days. The song was originally written after she and her husband lost a close friend, and I find the words to be like balm to my hurting heart, reminding me of God’s greatness, goodness, steadfastness, and nearness. The title is Grief, and below are some of the lyrics.

Sadness is everywhere Anger fills our souls It seems more than we can bear And we’re losing control It’s not the end of the story There’s so much more of it to be told Somehow You’ll use this for Your glory You won’t leave us wounded, jilted or alone Life is so fragile It’s here and then it’s gone But we can’t be fearful This world is not our home So we will be glad We will rejoice Even in our darkness We will make the choice To live in Your love Your comfort and peace Until we are restored And death has met defeat

Even though there is sadness and grief, there is hope. We don’t have to welcome in the fear that is knocking on the door. How can we have hope when everything around us reeks of fear and chaos and sadness and loss? My response is similar to what I told my son a few nights ago when he asked why God would let the Coronavirus happen or when my daughter confessed her fears. We remember that God is who He says He is. The Coronavirus has not changed Him. He is good and He has a purpose. He holds all things in His hands. We put our hope not in doctors and governments and face masks, but in God, who is in control of it all.

So on those days when the sadness is overwhelming, I will let myself feel that sadness and I will grieve the incredible loss of life. But I will also cling to the hope and rest I find in Christ, remembering in whom I find my joy even in the midst of sorrow. Even in this darkness, I will make the choice to live in His love, His comfort and peace.

Lyrics used with permission from Jennifer Smith.

That Day We All Became Homeschooling Parents

Today’s post contains musings, thoughts, and insights into what has become our new normal for the foreseeable future. This is NOT a list of “How to’s” for surviving the Coronavirus. It’s meant to make you laugh, or at a minimum chuckle, and at some points to make you think, at least at a minimum. It is not something that will ever get picked up by TGC, Acts 29, BlogHer, or any other website. It is a bunch of random thoughts after 15 days of being inside. So for your reading pleasure, I give you a list of musings, thoughts, and insights…

1. I wonder if all the homeschooling folks out there have chuckled a little bit as all the parents in the whole world (an exaggeration, I know, but it’s close to accurate) who said they would/could never homeschool their kids have become homeschooling parents over night. We should all have shirts that say “Never Say Never!”

2. Trying to not go Ape Crazy on the kids/spouse. This is a hard one at times. Perhaps for you it is trying to help your kids with math but you have zero idea what Common Core math is so you teach them to carry the 1 because that MAKES SENSE. Things that make me want to acutally go Ape Crazy are 1. Schoolwork that won’t upload or download 2. I cannot understand Lil’ Paul’s homework (Italian) 3. Google translate is zero help with before mentioned Italian homework. 4. Kids constantly fighting (there are times I feel more like a WWE referee than a mom, but a referee that gets taken down in the middle of the fight). There are more, but nobody needs to know everything about me and my inner Ape. What can one do to keep the Ape inside and calm the angry beast down? Well, my inner Ape responds well to Paul giving me a “your inner Ape is rearing and you need to get it back in its cage” look; music by Shane and Shane (I know they’ve been around forever but with harmonies that are crazy (not Ape Crazy) good and actual biblical truth in their songs most of their older music is better than other people’s new music); praying; working out; reading my Bible consistently and not just when I’m having a bad day; finding a quiet spot for a few minutes; remembering God lovingly responds to me in grace and the inner Ape does NOT respond gracefully – it’s sin-filled ugliness and needs to go away. If the inner beast then is a manifestation of my sin, the goal isn’t to pacify the Ape and keep it at bay by throwing it a banana every once in a while, but for the Ape to cease to exist. This is only possible by looking more and more like Jesus every day (sanctification) so that eventually there is not a beast that needs to be pacified. This is one reason praying and reading the bible consistently is essential. The Ape needs to die.

3. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the freebies people are posting. It is amazingly awesome all the things schooling websites, zoos, museums, Mo Willems, and a host of other people/organizations are offering for kids and adults alike right now. But I’ll be honest, it has also made my head swirl. We just pick a couple and stick with them until we get bored. The ones we most enjoy at the moment are artforkids.com and Mo Willems, and I now wonder why it took me so long to be able to draw a few shapes, connected with some lines, add some witty dialogue and boom! Kids book done. Oh, that’s right, the creative side of my brain doesn’t really know how to draw without a how-do guide.

4. Make a schedule. This is so helpful, and I’m not sure why it was Day 13 before I thought to do it. Don’t be like me. A schedule is something we can control…but not really. It gives us the illusion of control. Sure, we can make a color-coded schedule and hang it on the fridge for all to see but everybody actually sticking to it (including its maker) is another thing, right? See, you might be in control of making that fancy rainbow colored schedule and perhaps even a bit in keeping to it but you can’t control all aspects of it. Just like we aren’t really in control OF ANYTHING. It’s an illusion, which is the first lesson the Coronavirus has taught us, right? But God being in control is not an illusion. The God/man who calmed the waves and rain and wind … he doesn’t need things like rainbow colored schedules. And that, in a time of chaos and confusion, gives peace and calmness. But go ahead and make the schedule because it helps you and your household stay sane and know what the day should look like even if the day doesn’t stick to all the colors of the rainbow colored schedule.

5. Call, text, email people. I’ll be honest, at the beginning of all this I thought it’d be hard but not so bad that I would find myself crying in the kitchen in the afternoons, frantically trying to get some Shane and Shane turned on. It’s the isolation from people that’s the hardest, even though I am constantly surrounded by three people. Constantly. Surrounded. By. People. I call or text an insane amount of people every day…or so it feels. We are beginning to crave interaction with other people and phone calls and texting and zooming just don’t feel the void quite as well as face-to-face interaction. God did not create us to be islands. We were created for relationship, foremost with Him, and then one another. There’s a reason it was not good for Adam to be alone. As hard as it is for me, I am reminded that I have my family, who I like as well as love the majority of the day. But we have teammates and friends who are single. As hard as the isolation is for us, it’s harder for them. So call, text, email, zoom, skype, FaceTime…do all the things to help others feel connected and not alone.

6. Endless Amounts of Time With Kids/Spouse. At the beginning of all the lockdowns, this sounded awesome. Finally, you can do all the things that you’ve wanted to do together. Then reality hits. Your boss expects you to maintain normal work hours while simultaneously homeschooling/refereeing your kids/entertaining your kids/making three meals a day/cleaning up after the three meals a day. You are busier than you thought you’d be. But, take time for the family. Or if you are single, take time for yourself. Play, create, be silly, go on an in-house date, laugh, read together. Do do the things you always wanted to do, but let’s go easy on ourselves. Let’s pick one thing and actually do that one thing. Then another and another. Let’s stay off social media and Pinterest that can make us feel less than because we aren’t doing all the things that others are doing. We have time, yes, but let’s make sure we are purposeful with our time.

7. Getting ready for the day is now optional. Where do I even begin with this one? Showering every day? Nope. I count it a win if my teeth get brushed and I can remember to put on deodorant. I repeatedly find that I wake up in the same clothes I had on the day before and quite possibly the day before that. My husband is thrilled with this new development in my hygiene. Kids want a pajama day? Why not? yesterday we did school as Star Wars characters, which was actually pretty awesome and highly recommended. I don’t recommend the lack of hygiene that I am currently displaying. On the days when I have actually put on something other than workout clothes or jogging pants or pjs I feel so much better. Even if I know I’m only going to see grocery store workers or the other three people in my house, putting real clothes on helps the psyche so much. Even if you are business up top and pjs on the bottom for a business call or church or just talking to your momma, make the effort. In other words, don’t be like me.

8. Dance. Have a good ole dance party. Why not? Turn on some Prince and dance likes it’s 1999. Let your hair down and your inner Justin Timberlake or Shakira out for a bit. It’ll make you feel tons better because there is no way you can get your groove on to your favorite jam and not feel better. Better yet, choreograph a dance, send it to your closest friends (those that WON’T post it to social media without your consent) and challenge them to a dance off. I tried to get Paul to learn the “I Had the Time of My Life” dance from Dirty Dancing but he wasn’t so keen on the idea, even after I proved to him that I already know about half of it from memory.

That’s it. That’s my huge, long list of thoughts, musings and insights. Perhaps my writing will become more regular now that I have all this free time on my hands…oh, wait, I forgot for a moment that I am now homeschooling two children so never mind. I don’t have time to write and you, being a homeschooling parent now as well, don’t have time to read it.

A Tribute

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend passed away. As I read about and talked with her family about her last weeks, I would find myself weeping…sometimes for myself and that I would not see her again this side of eternity, sometimes for her and the quickness, but at the same time slowness, in which her illness was taking her away, and sometimes for her family who were daily watching her slow decent into forgetfulness.

The first time I saw Ms. Mary I wanted to know her. There was something in her manner, her countenance, that was so inviting. When I began to know her, I was not satisfied with just knowing her. I wanted to be her friend.

I loved sitting by her on the couch as she knitted, listening to stories of her life in Ireland. She would always say that she was talking too much, which I refuted because I just wanted her to keep telling me stories. As she spoke in her gentle, Irish voice about her deceased husband or son, her eyes would begin to shine with tears. She spoke of how much she missed them and how she longed for the day to be reunited with them. She spoke of how ready she was to see Jesus as well.

She spoke of humorous things, smiling and laughing gently as she did so. She drew me into her memories. And then she would turn around and ask me questions about my children, my marriage, my life, giving me counsel that only someone who has lived 90 years and seen the things she had seen can give.

On first sight, she seemed frail…and physically she was frail. But she was also as strong as iron with the gentlest and most loving heart…at least, that was always my impression of her and it will be my lasting memory.

I will never forget the evening we spent with her and her family before we left Winston-Salem to come to Italy. After dinner, she called me to her bedroom to speak to me privately. She held out a little box to me. Upon opening it, I found a golden necklace with a three leaf clover. She explained that the Irish don’t find four-leaf clovers lucky. It is the three leaf clover that has meaning because the three leaves symbolise the Trinity. She asked me to take the necklace and when I wore it to think of her and say a prayer for her. She pulled me close and held me there a while, neither of us wanting to let go. As I got into my car, I looked up at her window and saw her standing there, watching us leave. She stayed in that window, waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

I still wear the necklace she gave me…and while she was here I thought of her and prayed for her every single time I put it on. Now when I wear it, I still think of her…my wee, strong as iron, tender-hearted friend.

 

When you pass through the waters

To say the last several months have been difficult is almost an understatement. They have been a rollercoaster, complete with twists, turns, and steep drops. If you were to capture all the emotions and feelings that have gone on in our home since the Fall on canvas, you’d end up with a Picasso-like painting, a scramble of shapes and colours and contours.

I admit that it has been hard to remain positive and see the good in all of it…to understand how all of these things, some more than others, bring glory to God. But maybe it’s not the things themselves, but rather my response to them that should be glorifying to God. Instead of having a frustrated, sad, angry, and tired response when we take two steps forward and five steps back (which does not glorify God) what if I respond patiently, prayerfully, lovingly, with self-control and gentleness? I’m pretty sure that would glorify God.

Throughout these last few months, a text that keeps coming up is Isaiah 43:1-3. God is speaking to Israel, but this is one of those times when what He is saying holds true for all believers.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and through the rivers,

they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall

not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, you’re Savior.”

These verses reminded me that I should expect suffering and hardship and trials and difficulty and sadness in this life. Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t mean I am immune to these things…neither are you. We all experience these things because we live in a broken world. That’s part of the curse. In the verse above God doesn’t say “IF you walk” or “IF you pass through”, but “WHEN you walk” and “WHEN you pass through”. But our focus should not be on the “hardships” that He lists…and I don’t think that’s God’s focus in these verses. Before He gives a list of “hardships”, God says ,”Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” And after every “hardship” is named, hope is given…”I will be with you”, “they shall not overwhelm you”, “you shall not be burned”, “the flame shall not consume you”.

WHY? Because He is the LORD our God, the Holy One, our Savior. And if He says He will be with me, then I can trust that He will be with me because He says He will. And as I walk through these difficult days, prayerfully keeping my eyes focusing on Him*, the difficult days will not overwhelm or consume me. Instead, with the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I can respond with the fruit of the Spirit, glorifying God.

*This doesn’t happen every time something difficult comes along. Often times my eyes are on the suffering and difficulty. What can I say? I am a work in progress and am thankful I live under grace.

A couple of questions

How do you know if you have made something into an idol instead of just being really passionate for/about it?

It’s a good question, and a friend asked it to me about a month ago.

I’d been thinking about idols in my life for about a month prior, which stemmed from another conversation with two other friends.

I was reminded in that conversation that God is a jealous God. I once heard Oprah say something along the lines that she didn’t want to serve a god who was jealous of her. That is decidedly not what God is saying to us. He is not jealous of us but for us. He wants all of our hearts, not half or three-quarters. All. of. it. He is to be our first love and our greatest affections are to be for Him. And if we ever give something else that love and affection that He only deserves, we should never doubt that He will remind us of it. (For an example, please see the entirety of  Israel’s history in the Old Testament.)

I go back to the first question…had I made this thing in my life an idol or was I just passionate about it, as Jesus was passionate over Jerusalem?

In all honesty (and as you can probably guess) I had made it an idol. But how did I know?  Well, first, people I loved and respected and who always, always, always point me to the gospel, spoke truth in love to me on the issue. They listened to me speak about said thing and then spoke wisdom into the situation, encouraging me to seek the Lord about it, which leads me to the second thing I did to discern whether or not the thing had become an idol. It perhaps sounds cliché, but I prayed about it. And in the end, I realized that the thing was receiving more affection than God.

But again, how did I know that? In this case, when I was asked to possibly give up the thing I said “No.” And not a calm, nice kinda “no”. It was a screaming, kicking kinda “no.” And it was really loud. I said “No” for months until my friends lovingly pointed out my sin to me.

I was so close-fisted that I wasn’t even open to God’s leading or instruction. I put my desires and wants above God but also above the welfare of my family. I was holding on really tightly and I refused, absolutely refused, to open my hand. We have a saying where I come from that says, “She’s as stubborn as a stick in the mud.”

Yes, that would be me…a stick…stuck in the nasty, smelly, yucky mud of sinfulness that was idol worship.

The point of this whole thing is two-fold:

  1. When we are close-fisted with things we better start asking if we have made them into idols.
  2. My repentance and confession and therefore better relationship with Jesus would not have happened had my friends not lovingly spoke truth and wisdom into the situation. The keys to this are LOVINGLY and TRUTH. Nobody will hear us if we speak truths unlovingly. At the same time if we say untruths lovingly we haven’t pointed them back to the true gospel.  In order to do both of these things we should look to the founder and perfecter of our faith, Christ Jesus, and follow his example, seeing confrontation as good and necessary. Loving, gospel-centered (and therefore, truthful) confrontation led me to see my close-fistedness with something in my life that is actually a very good thing, realizing I had elevated it to a status more important than God. As a result, after confession and repentance I was able to put it in its correct place.

I end not with the question with which I started but rather, “Who do you have in your life you lovingly point you back to gospel-centered truth?” I hope you have someone, and if you don’t, I hope you will find someone.

 

For our good

Due to an upcoming oral procedure, Gingernut had to have some blood work done a few days ago. To say it was not fun is an understatement. She screamed and cried as soon as she saw the rubber band that would go around her arm come out. From there it was downhill…and it was a long hill. I’ll save you all the horrific details but in all the commotion there was a lot of illogical thinking going on in her 9 year old brain, such as “Mommy, if I do it then I get to punch you in the face,” and “They’re taking all my blood!!!”. After many long, painful minutes and me and one nurse holding her down while another nurse drew the very small vial of blood (not the huge one that she would lead you to believe had been taken), the deed was over. But it came with some a lot of tears, anger, confusion, and complete meltdowns – both from Gingernut and myself.

Gingernut could not see how having blood drawn is ultimately for her good. All she could see was the immediate pain it caused her. In the thick of it all, we are like that…we only see the immediate. But when we can’t see how suffering or disappointment or pain is for our good, what is our response?

I admittedly fail to respond in a way that reflects what I believe about God. “Life” happens and suddenly I forget that God is faithful and good and trustworthy. I forget He is near and present, instead ignoring Him as though He were something familiar that I pass by on the street everyday, like a lamppost or a mailbox. I forget in the midst of all that life throws at me that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” and I try to carry heavy loads on my very weak shoulders. I become illogical believing lies about myself and God.

But what should our response be when life says, “I’m gonna draw some blood for an unknown reason that won’t be made known to you for a the unforeseeable future…or ever?” When everything is turned upside down how should we respond to God and then to our situation?

When God tells Abraham take everything he owns, pack it up, and head out to a land that He would show him later, I wonder what he thought. All we are given in Genesis 12 is, [s]o Abram went….” We are not privy to his thoughts here or even when God tells him to take his son (the son that would be his heir and make him a great nation) to the top of a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Thoughts, no, but words and actions, yes. His response when Isaac questions him about where the lamb is for the sacrifice is, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

Faith.

Abraham responded to God in faith. In Hebrews we learn that by faith Abraham obediently left his father’s house to go to a place that was to be his inheritance, not knowing where. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac considering “that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”

Abraham perhaps couldn’t see how going to an unknown place or sacrificing his son was for his good (and God’s glory) but he did it. He did it trusting that God is God and although his circumstances were perhaps unclear to him, God was not.

When we can’t see how something is for our good and God’s glory, it’s ok. Guess what? We don’t have to know. We aren’t even owed that knowledge. But we can rest easy. We can relax. We can breath deeply. Because the One who holds all things together…He knows and He wasn’t even surprised it happened.

The Summer of Deer

2015 – The summer of no car

2016 – The summer of Daniela and Chelsea (our first two summer interns and two women I hope I am always connected with)

2017 – The summer of ‘Merica and Disneyworld

2018 – The summer of Deer

I named our summer months ago, pretty much right after our friend, Emily Deer, booked her ticket to Salerno.

We met Deer….wait, it could be weird that I refer to her by her last name if you don’t know why. First, Deer is dear to us (that’s corny, but it’s true). Second, that’s how she was introduced to me. I didn’t even know her first name for months after meeting her. In fact, someone once referenced Emily, and I think my response was, “Emily who?”.

We met Deer at REVO church in Winston-Salem. She was part of our framily (and still is). She was a member of the Sunday lunch bunch, a group of our friends who came to Sunday lunch every day for I am pretty sure over 2 years. She played with our kids, laughed with us, introduced us to VHS Clue, ate with us, cried with us, and was there at the end holding hands with some of the other members of our Winston family as we prayed one last time all together before they sent us off on our current adventure.

Deer has been here 3 glorious weeks and has another 2 to go. She “gave up” her summer to come help the kids with English, American history (of which they know zip), and math.

While I know she came to help the kids, she has also been a help to me. For a myriad of reasons, her presence was much needed for me. Yes, she’s helped with the kids and washed more than her fair share of dishes, but her presence – having a dear (no pun intended) friend, who understands every look and nuance of who you are – has been life giving and refreshing.

Relationship is one the great gifts of God to us. We aren’t meant to live alone, isolated from others. We also weren’t created to live lives without God in them. The great tragedy of sin is that it separated mankind from its Creator, severing the relationship we were created to have with Him. Since the Fall we have looked to other things and people to complete us when only God can do it.

Friendships are great and God-given but they cannot replace the relationship that we were meant to have with God. As great as having Deer here is, she will leave soon. Even if she never left, she (nor anyone else) can fill the God-sized hole that exists in my soul. Only He can do that. The thing is, I can am so quick to forget that fact and I search for it elsewhere, always coming up empty.

But He is faithful even when I am not and He has a way of reminding me of that faithfulness and that He created me for relationship with Him first and foremost. And this time the reminder came in the form of a dear friend (pun intended).

 

Surrogates

Sunday night Gingernut and one of our teammates daughters had their first dance recital. It was spectacularly wonderful. Gingernut radiantly beamed as she performed the moves she had spent months rehearsing. I was filled with emotion and pride as I watched her every move across the brightly lit stage.

It is things like dance recitals and soccer games that make you miss having family around. I saw grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins…all for the other dancers. As we stood in line outside the auditorium, waiting to run like we were in Pamplona about to be trampled by bulls all in efforts to get good seats, I saw one-by-one different people from our community arrive to see two little girls dance.

And I was overwhelmed. These weren’t just teammates and friends but my community – my extended family.

I just read an article on The Gospel Coalition that addressed the number one why missionaries leave the field. In a nutshell, it’s the people they work with – their team.

I’ve seen how not having a team is not beneficial – we weren’t meant to work in silos. After all, no man is an island. Our biblical example is that we work with others. From the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

However, being on a team does not automatically mean that you have community and will work together to achieve the same goals. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen a sports team NOT work together? I spent an entire year watching Lil’ Paul play soccer on a team in which every kid played individualistically. They all wanted to win but they all wanted to be the one who scored, going so far as to steal the ball from their own players during games. Yes, it was sometimes quite painful to watch.

I’ve also seen and been a part of teams that not only work well together but have community, and it is a wonderfully, beautiful thing. There is the sharing of burdens and cares, laughter and fun, tears and hugs, conflict and resolution. What emerges from it all is a surrogate family.

I saw this play itself out Sunday night, as surrogate aunts and uncles gave up an evening of rest after a long day to cheer on two little ballerinas as they danced across the brightly lit stage.