Can we all just agree that Thanksgiving this year is a little … odd? From governors restricting the amount of family members allowed to meet under one roof, to virtual family dinners, to the cancellation of Thanksgiving week church conferences, to travel bans, to … you get it. Traditions are being reworked, plans are being held loosely, and most people are throwing up their Christmas decorations, ready to see this year end and a new (maybe more hopeful?) year begin.
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty and turbulence, how do we mark Thanksgiving? How do we celebrate it when it just looks so different?
Earlier this summer I was home and noticed some extra traffic and cars pulling over on our street. I went to the window and immediately saw a local business being ravaged by a fire. The little shop was being consumed at an unbelievable rate, and the flames were roaring higher and higher, singeing nearby homes and trees. The smoke billowed up in waves and then was blown across the sky in thick clouds by the wind.
And yet ….
The smoke was mesmerizing as the sun kept bursting through the thick billows. My grass that was earlier bathed in pure sunlight looked as if it were dancing as the sun and smoke moved together to make rippling shadows.
The fire that was pure destruction, burning down ceilings and melting walls, was also creating such beauty as its shadows moved over our town. The vibrant sun had always been there – the bright rays had been shining all day – but I didn’t notice them until the smoke clouds moved in. I didn’t notice the brilliance until its absence. The sun’s beauty was made even more visible in the contrast of the dancing shadows.
I feel the same here, now. The week of Thanksgiving. Our world is facing trials unlike any we’ve faced before. Our neighbors are mourning. Our families are dealing with destruction. Our plans and good intentions have been flipped upside down and shaken, and we’re left trying to fit the pieces together.
And yet ….
The feeling of God’s presence ushering in when I lift my hands in worship has never felt more powerful. His Spirit moving throughout my home as we turn off the news and turn on the worship music has never felt sweeter. His miraculous wonders have never seemed more brilliant. My longing for Him has never felt so desperate.
The pain makes the healing more meaningful. The darkness gives way to the brilliant light. The peace is more beautiful after you’ve experienced fear. The beauty of God’s presence is clearly visible in the contrast of the shadows of this world.
So while Thanksgiving may feel different this year, if we look beyond the shadows to the glorious light, we can see that His goodness hasn’t changed. His salvation is still here. His Name is still all-powerful. The trial gives way to untold beauty. The Light of the World is moving over your storm clouds. He’s shining through the smoke. May you search for the flickering, dancing pattern of His light and dwell in its beauty. He is with us, He is for us, and He is singing and shining over us. We have much to be thankful for.
Recently I have been taking an absurd amount of walks with my two daughters. With a five-year-old and a two-year-old, these walks have become crucial for our quarantine entertainment.
I spend the majority of these walks in between the two of them. My older daughter Ruby lags behind sniffing every flower, picking up every shiny rock, and making wishes on dandelions as she ever so slowly and painstakingly blows each piece of white fluff.
Two-year-old Selah, strapped into the stroller for the world’s safety, leans forward, constantly urging me to “c’mon Mama” as I’m walking way too slowly for her. She wants to pet every dog, wave hello to every stranger, and begs to be given her freedom so she can run straight into the busy street.
On our walks in our small town, we pass the same houses, the same dogs, and the same friendly faces each time. We also pass over a little stream just before we get back home. A narrow road passes over it, and the metal guardrails leave enough space so that you can get a clear view of both sides of the stream.
We usually stop to look at it, but this one day we lingered, hypnotized by the soothing sounds and music of the stream. We peered over one side for a while, then we walked over and studied the other side. We noticed that something changes about this particular stream as it passes under the bridge of the road.
One side is calm. It flows smooth and steady, with barely any rocks or bumps to disturb the stream of water. It’s a little murky looking, and you can see discarded bricks and a random tire, but it is mostly calm and peaceful.
The other side is rocky, and it looks like the water speeds up as it flows over and around each boulder. The water moves fast, making little foamy bubbles as it is broken up by the rocks.
As we lingered on the side of the road, my girls started arguing about which side they wanted to see. Selah emphatically pointed to the loud, busy side with the big rocks and swirling water as she leaned forward in her stroller. Ruby grabbed my hand and tried to lead me to the smooth side because it was “calm.”
I couldn’t keep from giggling at their differences. Yet, I saw myself in my little Ruby that day.
Looking at a stream, one part smooth and peaceful and the other side rough and rocky, I would definitely rather pass through the calm side. Just like in life. I would never choose to go through rough terrain. I would avoid hardships if possible, no doubt about it.
But what Ruby didn’t know that day and what I often forget is that the rocks are what make the music.
The soothing sounds of the stream that draw us in on our walks aren’t created by the still side. They don’t come from the calm, peaceful, freely flowing stream. No, the sounds are created from the friction. The music is made where the rocks pop up and break the flow of water. The water is forced into a different direction, made to find a new path, sometimes swirling in on itself, forming foam and bubbles, until it finds its way back down the stream.
The disruption and rocky terrain make the music that draw us in. The chaos makes space for the beautiful.
I’m trying to remind myself of that during these uncertain days.
The Bible stories that bring me the most comfort are the ones full of rocky terrain. Joseph, met with chaos and disruption every step of the way, is a picture of God’s faithfulness.
David, living a life of war and danger and depression, shows me how to turn to God for my strength.
Ruth lost her husband and home and security. Esther was taken in as a concubine before she became a queen, risking her life to save her people. Sarah had lost all hope for a child.
Abraham, Hannah, Hosea, Judah, Paul, Lazarus – we could be here all day naming these men and women whose lives bring comfort to us today.
Not a one of them lived calm stream lives. No, each one had twists and turns. Rocks and boulders. Swirls of confusion. Foam and bubbles of doubt and wrestling. Friction and the roar of conflict.
But that’s where the music was. That’s where God shined through, showing Himself faithful in the chaos.
Since becoming a mother and the forced humility it brings, the scripture I lean on nearly every day is 2 Corinthians 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
His strength is made perfect in our weakness. “Made perfect” in the Greek means to complete, to accomplish, finish, and fulfill. His strength is made perfect, it is accomplished, in my weakness.
I want His strength in my life. I want His miraculous power. But I won’t see His strength made perfect if I live in the calm stream. I won’t experience the glory of His saving grace if I never face a hardship or if I avoid the difficult paths. I won’t be able to access His miracles if I live a life without displaying my weakness.
Everyone has rocky seasons – conflict, hardships, fear, heartache. Everyone goes through times of discouragement and doubt, seasons that don’t look like what you had hoped or expected. You may long for the quiet stream. For all the answers to fall into place. For all obstacles to dissolve in front of you.
But then you would lose the music. Then you would lose that rocky place where God does His best work. His strength is made perfect when we have none. His strength shines the most glorious when we are slipping on the rocks, clinging to Him for our hope.
If you’re crossing rocky terrain today, I pray that God opens your ears to the music He hears coming from your situations. That you hear the tune of your faith being played out, the melody of your weakness revealing His strength. The sounds of His faithfulness through your trials.
He is here. He is with you. He is refining you and holding you. And it’s making such a beautiful sound.
My daughter fell recently and got a big scrape on her skin. It was bleeding, and the skin was ripped and tender. With tears streaming down her face she asked me how long it would take to get better. I told her the pain should go away soon, but her skin would look different for a while as it healed. The tears intensified as she said, “look different? But I love the skin I’m in!”
Her sweet little comment reverberates differently in my ears today. I just watched another video of a black man being killed by white men. It was gruesome and gut-wrenching and utterly shocking. Two videos in as many weeks.
As a white woman, I have often felt that I don’t have the voice or experience or proper background to speak about racism, aside from affirming that racism is an evil that needs to end. But I have a little girl who notices the slight skin differences in our mixed white and Indian family and thinks they’re beautiful. A little girl who has no understanding or thought of racism. A little girl who loves her daddy’s “brown” skin and her mommy’s “light peach” skin and her own skin that “changes colors – sometimes it’s brown and sometimes it’s peach!” I love the skin I’m in.
I want to be a part of raising this next generation that can whole-heartedly look at each other with love and respect, honoring the skin we’re all in.
The Bible is very clear on the subject of racism. It clearly states that there is no room for division, segregation, favoritism, or racism in the Body of Christ.
Galatians 3:26-28 says “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, though faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
And 1 John 2:9-10 declares “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.”
Some of my brothers and sisters, whom I love dearly, are hurting right now. I don’t have to know “the whole story” of each shooting video to know that it brings an extra layer of pain to an entire culture of people. I don’t have to know the details of who, why, and how to know that years of overt and systemic and hidden racism can shape a nation. I don’t have to completely understand the intricacies of how black people feel to extend empathy and love and support. I don’t have to personally be wounded to feel the pain.
I don’t know if these white men were motivated to kill these black men because of the color of their skin. But I do know that these murders were brutal, 100% avoidable, horrible, and grievous to the heart of God. I DO know that these acts bring a complete other layer and level of pain to my black friends that I may never understand. I DO know that some of my black friends and loved ones still feel the sting of racism today. I DO know that each time something like this happens, it leaves them feeling more vulnerable. I DO know that if I were raising black children I would be having different conversations with them than I have to have with my children.
A black man struggles for air, helpless as police and bystanders watch, and barely murmurs “I CAN’T BREATH.” A layered phrase if I’ve ever heard one.
Black friends, I don’t know the depths of what you are going through. It is hard for me to imagine that racism can still exist in our nation, let alone in our churches, but I know that it does. This broken world we live in continues to crumble each day. These divisions widen, and we just yell louder at each other. The media takes advantage of any outrage they can latch onto and stoke the fire of discord. It feels nearly impossible to have a conversation about these differences without walking on eggshells, desperate to not offend or say the wrong thing.
When I say the only answer to this is Jesus, it is not a cop-out. It is not a platitude like a casual “I’ll pray for you” when we don’t know what to say. The literal ONLY answer to a division of this magnitude is God.
The rest of the passage in 1 John 2:9-11 says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
Lord, open our eyes. Let us see the parts of the body of Christ that are in pain right now. Let us be sensitive to the wounds of our brothers and sisters. Let us walk in the light of unrestrained love. Help us to see the ways we cause division and help us to see how we can bring unity.
We need You to bring healing to the hurting hearts. We need Your red blood to cover and cleanse the souls in our black and white and brown and peach bodies. We need Your mercy to fill the gaps between us, Your grace to unite what divides. We need Your Spirit to examine us and reveal any sin in our hearts that cause us to look at anyone as less than. We need to align our thoughts and actions with Your pure Word. We need to be Your hands and feet as we interact in a broken world. We need to allow Your love and the fruits of the spirit to come out of our hearts and mouths as our first reaction, not skepticism or hate or prejudice. We need Your peace and love and mercy as we navigate these waters.
Whoever loves his brother abides in the light. Lord, let us live in that light.
Easter this year feels different. So different. I have sewed masks instead of ruffled dresses. I have scheduled a crew of ten people to come to our physical church, instead of asking the entire choir to wake up extra early for a pre-service rehearsal. Our family of four will probably eat leftovers for Easter dinner instead of a big meal with 20 family members because 1) social distancing and 2) there is SO MUCH COOKING in quarantine!?!
My spirit has been buoyed by all the churches stepping out of the box and bringing light through social media and the internet like never before. There is so much beautiful content out there now to center our hearts back on Jesus. But there is also such a strong undercurrent of mourning that I can’t shake.
This is not how it’s supposed to be. This can’t be right.
How do we help a hurting world when we can’t touch them? How do we give to the needy when our jobs have shut down? How do we say goodbye to family members when they’re in isolation? How do we comfort the anxious and depressed and fearful when we can’t gather together? How do we stay strong when we have no control over our resources, our security, or our future? Our churches and our ministries are working harder than ever to push through the hindrances and bring hope. And I know God can and is using the smallest mustard seed faith and the shakiest live stream to absolutely change the world.
But this is hard. This is not how it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t make sense.
I think that Jesus felt some of these in the garden. As He walked along the path the night before His crucifixion, He said, “my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matthew 26:38). He prayed to God, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (26:39)
When I have read that verse before, I’ve never really paused at that colon. “… let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will ….” I’ve read the sentence as a complete thought, barely lingering on the fact that Jesus asked to avoid the coming pain. I knew that He ultimately chose surrender and sacrifice and agony. He was always going to choose it. His love was and is and forever will be greater. From the first moment sin entered the world, He knew He would be the spotless Lamb. Asking to be spared was just an odd phrase that didn’t really fit in with my picture of Jesus.
But He did. He said it. He asked to be spared. With the weight of the world, the salvation of humanity, and the promise of heaven weighing greatly on His shoulders, He asked for reprieve. He asked for it to end before it even came. He asked to avoid the pain.
He was intimately connected with pain. He was born in a rush of pain. He knew the extent of the pain to come. He was able to better connect with humanity in their greatest moments of pain. He asked His followers to partake of the pain. He never promised prosperity. He promised pain.
So why was He asking to avoid it?
“… let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will ….” I’ve got to admit, I don’t really use colons that often. I’m more a fan of run-on, incomplete, stream of thought sentences. So I looked them up, and according to grammarbook.com, “a colon means ‘that is to say’ or ‘here’s what I mean.’ [It is] used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence.”
Jesus asking to let the cup pass from Him is Jesus asking to avoid the pain. But He acknowledges that the will of the Father could explain, illustrate, or expand on that pain. His will could paraphrase the pain – extract meaning from it that might not be readily visible. Jesus was showing His humanity in the most relatable way of all, yet that wasn’t the end of His sentence.
Jesus was showing us how to deal with our heavy hearts, our “sorrowful souls.” We can feel the weight of mourning. The weight of despair. We can want to avoid the rocky terrain that He has laid out for us. We can ask Him to let the cup pass from us. To help us avoid the pain. We can fall on our faces with the heaviness of it all. But that’s not where we stop. That’s not the end of our story.
Our pain has a purpose. Our pain has a meaning. Our pain has either been designed by God or allowed by God to prepare us for what comes after that colon.
Pain : purpose.
The colon uniting the two thoughts is the turning point.
It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t feel right. Jesus did nothing wrong. Why should He have to die for my sins? The pain is too great. This isn’t how it should be. We can’t gather in our churches. We’ve lost our jobs. We don’t have the resources to provide for our families. We have no control, fear is fighting to take over, and our security is being threatened.
In this grammar situation, it is first the pain then the thing that clarifies it – His will. God’s will for our lives encompasses the pain, it explains the pain, it translates the pain, it defines the person. It’s not the other way around. His will isn’t affected by the pain. His plan isn’t hindered by our grief and sorrow or by fiery darts or wounds. Our pain doesn’t clarify anything. Our deepest trial isn’t the end of our sentence. It’s merely the first half of a colon sentence. His will is the end. His purpose is the defining factor.
Lord, I can’t bear this sorrow, but what I mean is, I am willing to follow your plan. Lord, this hurts too much, but in other words, I trust You. Lord, let me avoid this pain, but what I mean is, Your ways are higher. Lord, help my unbelief, but that is to say, I believe You.
Jesus isn’t afraid of our heavy hearts. He can handle our grief and confusion. He has intimately felt that yearning for reprieve. But He has made a way to turn our mourning into dancing. He can take our filthy, stinky ashes and replace them with radiant crowns of beauty. He can wrap up that sorrow and transform it into joy. He can turn the bitter waters in our cup to sweet wine. We just have to follow the grammar of pain that he laid out. Place a colon at the end, not a period.
The weird thing about March 2020 and the whole Coronavirus scare is … well, honestly … I can’t finish that sentence. Because the weird thing is everything. All the things. Each one. There is nothing normal about the life we are all living right now.
I took my one-year-old in to her pediatrician for a recurring ear infection and left with the recommendation to quarantine ourselves. She had an upper respiratory infection, and our local hospital’s standard practice is to treat all upper respiratory infections in little ones as if they were COVID-19. Most cases are mild in children, and Selah didn’t fit the qualifications to be tested. So we hunkered down for the good of others as a precaution. We have one week left to go, and I think I have about two days’ worth of nerves left. So we’re in a pretty good spot. Ha!
I have started this blog post approximately twelve times, and each time I launch into writing about some other aspect of this quarantine life. So in effort to not give you 50,000 words on Laundry: Why Do We Still Have it During Quarantine? or on How to Survive When You Lose Your Job and Your Health and Your Church Building and There’s No Bread: A March 2020 Life Guide, I’m sticking to this one today. Our quarantine bucket list.
Aside from God, my husband’s humor, and copious amounts of coffee creamer, there have been two things that have kept me afloat during this quarantine: 1) making a list and 2) throwing the list out the window. I am not one of those moms who scheduled everything out that first week school closed. You remember those moms? The ones who scheduled out activities and lessons and theme-based snacks and all the family time? How are you ladies doing? Are you tired? Come on over to our side, mamas. There’s plenty of room on the couch covered in Goldfish crumbs. Just turn Daniel Tiger back on. It’s fine. Remember that line – “it’s fine.” That’s your new motto. Not “it’s great” or “it’s award winning” or even “it’s admirable.” We’re in the apocalypse over here. IT’S FINE.
But back to my list. I knew that these days would put me in a fragile emotional and mental state. My husband’s job is affected by all of this, and I now have no childcare options so that I can do my job. We have had surprising behavior problems (with our children, not the grown ups – unless you count me eating cookies with my head under the blankets), and being in isolation has a way of just messing with your mind. We were watching some show about this guy on death row who got in trouble in the prison, so they put him in isolation. So, isolation is the punishment for people ALREADY on death row?! Yet, here we are. Isolated and doing just great. Wait, where was I going with this?
Oh, yes. MY LIST. So I made a big chalkboard list of guidelines and activities and called it our Quarantine-tastic list. The other working title was Let’s keep Mommy out of the mental institution. But it didn’t look as cute in calligraphy.
I broke it down into three categories: daily activities, special activities, and home projects.
The daily activities are the things we need to do around here to keep us sane. We take family walks outside – keeping at least 6 feet distance from others and yelling UNCLEAN if anyone comes too close of course. We read lots of books. It’s helping my Selah monster stay still for two seconds and it feels like it’s helping our brains grow. We clean up each day. Normally I’m the opposite of a clean freak and fine with some clutter, but our brains need the extra space these days. A clean home is one thing I can control right now, and that feels better than I can explain. And lastly, we have quiet/iPad time. Selah takes a nap, Ruby gets to play on her iPad, and I get to just sit down and stare at the wall in silence without anyone touching me or snotting on me. (My husband has been working most of the days in his office downstairs in the basement. I’m not making him take a nap. Ha!)
There are other things I do daily like church/personal work, pursuing my relationship with God, and eating cookies, but this is a small, manageable list that I can involve both girls in. Your daily list may look a lot different, but this is what’s working for us!
Next, we have special activities. These are just a few free and easy things that my four-year-old can look forward to. Our list is to bake a unicorn cake, play with sidewalk chalk, have a picnic under our tree, make a big fort, and find + paint rocks. There are a billion ideas out there for social-distancing activities. These worked for us since we can’t go out anywhere.
And lastly, we have a home list. I’m like 98% sure that I won’t cross off any of this stuff, but at least it makes me feel better as a person that I acknowledge them. Ha! As self-employed parents of little gremlins trying to figure out life in quarantine, we don’t have any free time these days. And if we do get free time, Timothy spends it on work and I stare at the aforementioned wall. But each time I pass our list I see the home projects written down, and it gives me hope that somehow they will get done.
So, my tip one was to make a list. It’s been a lifesaver in feeling like we have some control in the uncontrollable. My second tip is to throw the list out the window. Some days you’ll wake up feeling great and powerful and hopeful and ready to do all the things. Some days you’ll wake up with the weight of this chaos weighing heavy on your heart. The uncertainty and fear will creep in. Some days it takes all of your energy to continually give all that back to God. To fight the doubt away. To not snap at your children or argue with your spouse over meaningless things or eat all of the Doritos or to let dread make himself at home. On those days, throw out the list. Put on worship music. Let your kids have some extra screen time. Take a nap when your baby takes a nap. Lock yourself in the bathroom and cry for a bit. This is not normal. Living like this is not normal. Do what it takes to clear your brain. Then after a few hours, pick the list back up again. Take your kids to the backyard. Look up. It’s okay. This won’t last forever.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.”