Crushed in Spirit

Things are always clearer in retrospect. I understand more about my childhood and young adulthood now, and one of the clear things is that I have always bent toward depression. There have been times circumstantially and hormonally that have tipped me deeper. Those times included a season of young adulthood, post partum with my oldest son and these past two years culminating in January of 2022. Darkness settled in a way I had never experienced it, and it felt as if I would never get out.

I uttered a prayer for freedom and joy to be restored at our first worship service of the new year in January. The next two months were filled with wrestling, tears, anger, sadness, struggle, growth. As I was walking out this journey inwardly and outwardly, I prayed “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” That psalm was what I had–looking to His character and His presence and His power. As I journeyed, this painting came—so much darkness but the Hope of His light twinkling “out there.” It was an outworking of my inner life.

I said goodbye to this painting last week for someone who needs Hope on their journey through darkness. What a privilege to be used–for the ultimate Creator to give me a vision to be passed on to another. Nothing is wasted.

Crushed

Pearls of Great Price

These last two years have been challenging for all of us as a collective group of humans, huh? We have experienced differing levels of loss, grief, frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment. Some are barely crawling now under the weight of their jobs or their families. My heart goes out to leaders, educators, medical professionals, pastors who have borne loads that have progressively gotten heavier over time.

Adult life is a series of griefs, but it just so happens that we are all carrying heavy loads at the same time. As I have been experiencing and learning myself, the Lord keeps giving me a picture of a pearl. The pain and irritation that comes into an oyster that forms beauty over time is a metaphor inviting us to not shut down but to engage the process.

This past Fall, I began working with layers over color. Some of the layers are 2 to three deep, and some are 15 to 16 layers deep. There’s a story there to be uncovered. Each layer builds and adds to the complexity of the beauty of our lives. A shiny life is not the goal, but our world would tell you it is. A shiny life just reflects the culture while a layered and complex life provides places to connect with others in their layered journeys.

The Spirit’s Work in the Storm

This picture was in my memories yesterday.

Storm rolling in PCB Summer of 2018

Storms invade, they come, they bring pain and loss. Then, the sun comes out again. They are fierce, but they do not last forever. They shape us, but there is hope in the anchoring in the midst.

I was inspired to paint this. I couldn’t find a big blank canvas at my house, but I found a mixed media piece from 10+ years ago and began painting over it. The piece had the words of the fruit of the Spirit on it— love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

No matter how thick I painted, no matter how much texture, those words shown through.

And then, I smiled.

The Lord is amazing in using all things to teach us. Those words are proof of being in Christ—the literal character of the Spirit who dwells in us. In trials, in storms, in pain, what is inside spills out. It cannot be managed or hidden. It is the beautiful way that God brings Himself glory where it is impossible to be about “all we can do” or what we can manage, or how we can perform. It is the raw heart knowing it has no hope apart from Him. His deposit of life in us, magnifies Him. Storms are frightening. Storms can destroy. And, anchored in Him, storms transform us to bring us to be more like Him and to enjoy Him at the greatest depth. So, nothing is wasted—not even what we think was a failure that didn’t “look good.”

It takes a little time sometimes…

It’s the flavor of lovingly fried chicken, crumpled recipes handed down that are barely decipherable, egg salad sandwiches on Sunday nights, and the sound of green beans in a pressure cooker on Saturday afternoons.

It’s in the lingering. It’s not scheduled but it’s purposefully planned. It allows space for boredom and has no space for curation.

It’s quiet and yet it’s music sings in the dark night of the soul. It’s plain, but it’s simple beauty is ornate.

It takes loneliness to point you to it. You only embrace it after you’ve busied yourself with the things you guess that are important.

This will be marked as the year that the intangible things that can only be learned with time began to settle into my soul. These are things not learned by a curated feed on google. These are often things that are experienced, rejected by the confidence of “knowing better” with the novel ideas and adventure of youth, and, with time, adopted wholeheartedly in surrender when you finally see the wisdom of the “old road” truth. These are things that are not taught in books, in seminars, in schools. These are “caught” truths that shore up one’s life.

It’s not quantitative…it’s qualitative and repetitive. And, in the end, it’s what makes up real and true and meaningful life.

Before this year, I saw the rhythms of community as fluffy. I saw recipes as disposable. I saw marking time with friends as a luxury that “must be nice.” I saw lingering time as self-indulgent. I did not say these things out loud, but they were obvious in my choices and my assumptions. Before this year, tasks that marked productivity, ministry and movement won out because they were “allowed” in my definitions.

After this year, everything is reframed. I think back to the weekly rhythms of my childhood and see the purposes that marked them. What felt busy began to take on a different purpose. I was transported to dinner on the grounds and Wednesday night suppers and Music Camps and realized they were more than tasks and activities…they built a familial community. I think back to lingering around a table after breakfast and see the worth in it. There was nothing more important to “get to” than the being of “there.” I intimately understood the reasons for camps and retreats and unscheduled activities.

The picture of this truth really began to be clear to me as I sat at the funeral of a woman who was like a second mom to me growing up–Kenzie. Her home and presence represented to me all the intangibles, and only at 46 did that become clear. I have intimate memory of special foods she would make–not fancy but so so good. Markers of childhood and life. I think about the things she had for me to play with–things left over from her children–not fancy but so comforting. I remember each one of them–a lego like set that had lattice windows, an old Ker Plunk game. Week by week, I retrieved them from the cabinet and placed them back. Week by week she welcomed me with a place to land, to be known ever so quietly. She never stood on a stage to demand attention or have a following. The people who truly matter to our lives never do.

my worth is not found in who notices me

I was a really cute little kid. And then…my adult teeth came in. And then, there was the tragedy of hairstyles. I went from being noticed to “looked over” or the butt of jokes. I won’t go into the unwise choice of getting pink tinted glasses in fifth grade!

After most of my childhood, getting braces, choosing some longer hairstyles, and wearing contacts, I started coming back around at the end of 8th grade. I remember the first time a boy showed interest in me. I thought “really? I am seen now?” It was surreal. It was weird. It boosted some confidence. I had spent my formative years developing my personality and my character, but those were often not “seen” by peers. As the great Sue-Sue Heck declared–“it’s not good to peak in 8th grade. We are developing character and are going to be awesome 30 year olds!” (Watch “The Middle,” and thank me later).

As a woman, there is so much emphasis put on being “seen” with hair, skin, body type, fashion, personality, personal brand, business savvy etc, etc, etc. Now, there’s a whole industry of “influencing.” It literally involves strategically finding more ways to be “seen.” It is addicting, exhausting, exhilarating and soul crushing. What happens when no one responds, when no one likes what you put out there? There will come a day for all of us that outward beauty fades and all that is left is the substance of the quiet building of character that is forged in the shadows and out of the limelight. That character and the things done in the shadows are what produce a legacy.

We carefully hide, adorn ourselves, patch the holes… When, for those in Christ, freedom is found in surrender and in letting Him transform us from the inside out.

So, it leads me to ask…what am I focusing on? What are you focusing on? It may not be written goals, but it might be our thought life, our anxieties, how we compare ourselves to others. All of those thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors. Left to our own devices and following the cultural noise, we can find ourselves empty shells that are shellacked and decorated on the outside while anemic, exhausted, hurting and lost on the inside.

There is a certain time window where women are considered worthy, and then…invisibility comes. I have experienced it…I cannot pinpoint the date. The first starts when people refer to you politely as “ma’am.” And then it moves to when you are considered as someone’s mom and they do not know your actual name or any details about your life. Then, there is a time that comes when you walk into a store or a room and feel as if you are a vapor. Ironically, the more wisdom and experience and deep thought you have, the less volume the world gives to you. This is the time you have the most to offer to encourage and to see others.

This disappearing leads to a crisis of belief. Where are we really looking for our worth? Where is it defined? How will we grieve it? Will we panic and claw and grasp or welcome it?

This year: I have more than COVID19 lbs–and that is fun showing up in person knowing people are thinking “oh dear, Jen has gained some stress weight!” Is my worth in how much I weigh? No, but in the scope of what this world tells you about who you are to be as a woman, it surely feels like it. I have shown my weakness in my RF business this year with the bare minimum of energy to give to it. I have shown my weakness in every area of my life. I am learning to deal with the war inside of a world-defined success verses my children’s needs and the needs of our family unit. Art has been an outlet for me, but I have minimal energy there, as well, to build and expand, etc. We are more than the sum of our productivity and the sum of being “seen” by the world.

Here’s what it comes down to:

Finding worth anywhere but the Lord is a chasing after the wind.

When our outside shellacking is ripped open, we have the chance for real life to pour forth to make a real impact. What is there?

My heart hurts as I see women literally piecing together things to improve themselves–fillers, injectables, additions to their bodies, the next idea, the next reveal, the next relationship, the next house, the next redo, the next thing for our kids. There is nothing inherently wrong with those things, but we always need to ask why we are compelled to do them and what is the end to which we are looking. What problem do we think this is solving? What value is this adding? What do we think we are missing? Are we just the sum of our parts? Are we the sum of our opportunities or bank accounts? Are we the sum of the applause coming our way? How is this investing into others? What legacy are we leaving with this?

I am praying that my life looks more like this now than ever.

What do you notice about the picture above? The shellack or the life and hope in Christ coming through? May we learn and grow to be women who show their wisdom by showing their scars, by entering into other’s lives, by giving away Hope and Truth instead of teaching others the new method for hiding and covering and fixing.

Coming Out of the Shadows

This year: The meaning those words have is…heavy, transforming, redefining, refining.

We are all emerging from the shadows as different people. We will not even be able to quantify the vast changes to our environments, communities, rules of behavior for a long while. It may left to the history books instead of our own personal narratives…and the number of personal narratives is daunting. You can browse the “socials” for that.

Still, I am attempting to create my personal narrative and my perspective on the collateral damage to the fabric of what once was and what might be in our neighborhood, city, church, region, country and World.

For me, the day to day required a lot of dying to self…sometimes while screaming and kicking with a side of bitter resentment. It required measured thinking without a lot of space to process. I am an introverted extrovert. I need people for energy (which I did not have at all) and yet I need time to write and create and to settle my thoughts (which I did not get much of at all). Options were VERY FEW. When I did get “out,” I panicked “where do I even go?” In the Winter months, I withered and my heart was not pretty. I TREASURED being able to worship with our church body on Sunday mornings–the only time my boys and I saw people all week long. I was very grateful for the safety protocols in place which were annoyances to some but made it possible for us to be a part of worshipping in person which was water to my soul.

Personally, I have sacrificed a lot this year to create a safe environment for our family due to my husband’s chronic illnesses. For a woman who highly values options, spontaneity, and freedom, it was really hard. ***:

  1. We homeschooled. This was never in my plan until it was the what we discerned was wise for the needs of our boys (one with special needs that struggled mightily with virtual crisis schooling). Along with being a pastor’s wife and running a business–this is one of the 3 big NEVERS that have become a part of my story. The joke is on me:). In July 2020, I found myself reading articles about the 7 philosophies of homeschooling, researching curriculum, securing a God-send of a certified teacher to help me with Math and Language Arts (this deserves a blogpost all to itself). I was signing up for something I did not have a clue how I would follow through on except for the fact that I knew I had to for the sake of my boys.
  2. We lived life in a virtual bubble. We basically quarantined and masked and socially distanced until we got fully vaccinated. We did not gather with our families for Thanksgiving or Christmas. We did not hug people apart from our 4 person family unit. We did not bend the rules, and even then, there were some “close to us” COVID calls. Our one outing per week was church masked and distanced.
  3. We experienced the hardest year in ministry ever, and we have had HARD years before. NO ONE is at their best–they are all grieving, so we prayed to have eyes and a heart of empathy and understanding. We grieved and continue to grieve the ripping apart of bodies of Christ and the larger Body with rhetoric and politics and differences of opinion. There are so very many things to grieve about this, and the shrapnel will continue to be unearthed in the coming years. Shepherding hearts is dangerous terrain. We are exhausted.
  4. We got diagnoses this year that flattened our hearts and left us feeling paralyzed.
  5. We lived through the most contentious political year of our lives to date and saw people ripped apart relationally by misinformation and rhetoric. I was not prepared for the evil of the human heart to be on such display in so very many ways in our country and our world. From the opinion about race and masks and vaccines at the personal and communal level to policy and leadership on the national level…relationships splintered everywhere. I saw friends of color hurting deeply. I saw poor leadership all around in our partisan government that was more about leveraging power than affecting change for the good of the people. I saw families and close friendships blown apart as members were radicalized politically far left and far right . I was unfriended more times than I can count by those who did not approve of the middle road I sought to walk in the Body of Christ seeking to speak to the examination of the heart. I muted some, as well, because their continual outrage was fueling my heart and mind not to be about shepherding those in need in front of me. (Say NEVER to every comment section) It grieves me as people jump to conclusions and assassinate the character of others so easily in this day of social media.
  6. We saw people suffer and die with COVID and suffer and die with Cancer and suffer in loneliness and hunger and die apart from a Savior. So much shrapnel.
  7. We saw our own personal “saviors” get revealed and flattened (ouch and good!)

Those are the cold facts written in list form, but the reality is, this year involved a lot of grief. All of us have experienced personal and collective griefs.

For us, there were losses of what “could have been” like school and school relationships. We lost a whole community of people day in and day out to do life with. Many of those had very different views of COVID and protocols along with it, and that automatically put distance physically and emotionally. We lost rhythms of home and away, of other voices speaking into our kid’s lives and our lives. I lost time alone. My husband lost time alone. I lost time with people. I lost proximity to everyone except for those 3 in my immediate family. Lost proximity was on everyone’s plate the first 2 months of this journey, but ours continued on as I felt there was some new normal orbit (at least for a good swath of my Facebook friend’s highlights).

There was a depth of decision on everything, and most of the time it came down to leaning toward the sober answer of no. I cannot explain the relief I felt two weeks after my final vaccination. I did not realize the heaviness of the anxiety I was carrying about protecting Greg and all of us. It has opened my life to flexibility, and for that, I am so very thankful.

So, how do we walk out of the shadows into the light of the rhythm of this new life? It is not “over” even though there are more options. It is not what it was before and our grief tells us so. It shows when we attempt small talk and bumble all over ourselves. It shows as we have choices again as to what we will do about masks and proximity and travel and school. It shows as many are gone from our churches and we see who is left and welcome those who have come. It shows as we see people face to face who have been very vocal on social media and decide how to interact. It shows as we make decisions about what we will take with us and what we will leave from this 15 month time period.

What is the way forward? It doesn’t look good if we do not do the work of examining our hearts, swallowing our pride and humbling ourselves. It is not “business as usual.” It will require conversation with messy answers instead of relying on assumption. It will require grace and giving the benefit of the doubt. It will require shedding our personas to connect with where others are. It will require time on our knees before a Holy, Kind, Righteous, Gracious, Loving, Just God to see the plank in our own eye before we point out the splinter in another’s eye. It will also require a seeking of Truth and a walking in the freedom and Truth and reality of the Gospel treating others with the same grace that we, who are in Christ, have been given through Christ. The hardest and most important service and work is on this side…our communities depend on it.

***Really hard with caveats that I WILL NOT TAKE FOR-GRANTED–we were able to financially, we did not lose jobs or want for food or supplies, Greg could basically do his job virtually except for speaking on Sunday mornings. So, basic physical and emotional needs of safety were met.

Creatives gotta create!

Intense around these parts, huh?

I needed an outlet to create during Christmas break. I also needed a way to shape something in a purposeful and good way. There’s so much strife, negativity, back-biting. and confusion. We can either drown in feeling stuck or make a positive contribution.

Gay street at sunset in acrylic

It’s been a awhile since I have painted in acrylics, and it was a good challenge to capture all the colors, shadows and reflections of this beautiful sky. Creating helps me walk back into the chaos more settled and calm.

Downtown Knox in watercolor

I love capturing homes and buildings, so when I got a vision to draw and paint iconic buildings in downtown Knoxville, you couldn’t hold me back! Fond childhood memories of these are mixed with college experiences and new memories. For instance, as a child, I remember riding in the back seat after Vols games seeing the glowing lights of tiffani lamps in the building now housing Glitterville. With all those windows and a unique placement on the corner, it’s fun that there are beautiful glowing and shiny displays to carry on the tradition!

We also frequented the 1982 World’s Fair where the Sunsphere fascinated my 8 year old imagination. Fun fact: I was in my 30s the first time I went up!

We spent a LOT of time in Knoxville in my childhood. We lived an hour a way, but between Vol football, my grandmother living in Fountain City, my great aunt living in West Knoxville and my Aunt in South knoxville, we covered our bases! In fact, I saw more of a diverse span of the city then than I do in the day to day now!

Creativity helps the spirit

This has been quite a year, right? That is an understatement.

As my world has gotten a lot smaller, my feelings have gotten bigger. Do you identify?

Creating collages of cities near and dear to me has become cathartic. I love that it is blessing others, as well. It’s really fun to see people gift ornaments and prints to others to pass on memories and to mark special times in life that are connected to certain cities.

One day, after getting some prints made at F32 photo, I walk in and my friend, April, presented me with a fun ornament of my Knoxville block piece. That ornament sparked all of these. Thank you, April. I hope you all enjoy them on your tree and smile for years to come!

Who is the Hero?

If you watch enough movies and read enough books and peruse Instagram a few times, you begin to feel this expectation. You begin to question what your purpose is, what your story is supposed to say to the world. There’s even a space for you to play your story all day long. You may question if you are interesting enough, have done enough, crusade for the righteous cause enough. People may poke you a bit about it, too….”why are you not using your platform for XYZ?”

As I was praying this morning, I sniffed out the lie I was believing. When I pondered it and realized it was untrue, I took a really deep soul cleansing breath. See, I had begun to walk around with this expectation that I was to be the hero of the story. Now, I am not the hero, however, when you have an underlying expectation that you should be that brings shame and narcissism and a LOT of thought and examination about what I should be doing that I am not.

That’s not my place and that’s not my job. None of us are made to be the hero of the story, and we often spend copious amounts of time dreaming and thinking we are meant to be.

The ironic thing about people who are part of a solution that become “iconic” heroes is that they were probably not thinking of themselves and how the optics of the situation were going to play out in history. We spend an awful lot of time thinking about optics these days with social media and the news cycle. In fact, our lives can be an empty cavern of optics if we do not take care of our souls.

So, back to the whole hero revelation… it sounds so base because it is. What that is in me is sin. I put myself in the place of the real Hero, the One who is made for unending Glory. It’s kind of like the chiropractor popped my soul back into alignment seeing my self-focus be replaced with a focus on the True Eternal Hero that has infinite wisdom, knowledge, glory, kindness, justice, patience, purpose, grace, love, mercy, righteousness. Those are His shoes to fill, and He does it quite beautifully.

The reality that He has entrusted me in this time and space with certain gifts and skills to steward as part of His big story is humbling. There is a cadence to following Him even in the world of shifting sand right now. What a freedom to remember that I am not the author or the orchestrator.

In fact, it’s foolish that I have believed that yet again it was up to me to say the right thing and forge the right path and get attention for my “work.” So, today, I remember the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created THROUGH Him and FOR Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you (jen), who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel you have heard…” Colossians 1:15-23

ponder anew

We can easily list all the things “taken” from us in 2020.

Some of those are devastating–loss of life, loss of provision through job or a business, loss or separation from family, loss of a spouse through divorce or death, loss of support for our special needs children.

Some of those things are frustrating–lost trips, lost markers of celebrations for occasions we have planned years for, lost deals, lost educational experiences, lost mental health.

Some of them are annoying–in the day in and day out. I think we could all make a list here whether it’s hating the inconveniences that COVID life brings through every gathering of people looking different, wearing masks, keeping distance, etc.

What in my life looks the same as it did one year ago? I live in the same house with the same family. In reality, though, none of my family is the same as we were when we galloped carefree through Disney World in February. In fact, every single person on earth has had an adjustment–some more distinct than others. When can we say that about anything else in our lives? That’s a sobering thought.

Everything else has “flipped-turned upside down” from the way we eat, to lack of travel, to the reevaluation of physical touch, to the lack of a social calendar, to the way education looks, to the way we worship, to the lack of people we interact with daily, to the way we work, to the awareness of others.

What happens when our lives flip upside down?

There is definitely grief. Grief is simply the natural reaction to loss. We all deal with it. Some deal more head on and in healthier ways than others. If you have experienced sadness, frustration, angst, explosive anger, irritability, a wrestling in your spirit…those are a few ways that grief trickles out. We all have different ways of processing it, and I bet you have found yourself needing grace from others because of the clumsiness of your grief in the midst. For some, this is more pronounced. For some, this has brought a fight to resume the “normal” and to fight against governing authorities. For some, this has brought despair. For some, this has brought fissures in family and relationships.

Contrary to what I have written so far, I am going to be examining what opportunities I have gained in this “unprecedented time.” It’s a choice that I have had to make, albeit while kicking and screaming in the beginning.

Synonyms for opportunity include chance, opening, time, turn, moment, possibility, occasion… This is not an “opportunity” any of us sought. Most people never seek out loss and pain and suffering. However, if we reflect on the most impactful times of our lives, there’s usually a hardship–loss, struggle, frustration, anger, and wrestling. How we choose to deal with it is what transforms us in the midst.

Because I have had practice and lots of stumbling and a good good gracious loving and kind Father in God, I remember the drill. I am here to encourage you to remember or embrace it, too. Opportunities are often not taken. Let’s encourage one another along the way.

Opportunities presented during COVID 19:

We have the opportunity to see what we were depending on for comfort. Most of our life distractions and entertainments have disappeared or, at the least, have become stale. (streaming services and reality TV don’t have the same shine as they did seven months ago, huh?) It’s not as easy to whip up plans to decompress from a hard week.

We have the opportunity to see where busyness was a toxic part of our lives. We have had the opportunity to experience boredom in comparison to busyness. We have the opportunity to see where we might forsake parts of our schedule in the future once we examine a slower life.

We have the opportunity to see where we have created noise to avoid as well as the opportunity to examine why we have been avoiding things.

We have had the opportunity to see that virtual life has some value but there is no substitute for an in person connection to others.

We have had the opportunity to look around, to embrace things like walks, bike rides, quiet nights outside, parks, stars, board games, art, puzzles…you know, the old fashioned stuff.

I, along with some others, have had the opportunity to feel the squeeze of having a family member who is high risk to COVID. This has affected literally every interaction, every schedule, every decision, every thought of the “future” in our lives. When I say EVERY, I mean EVERY.

As I ponder all the things that have changed, I have to ponder my heart and my outlook. This has been a season of being turned inside out, of dying to self, of lots of sighing, of treasuring simplicity. I think we all lived mornings in the Spring and early Summer where we thought we were on a hamster wheel and did not know one day from the next.

This has been a season of dependence on the Lord. Now, it took me awhile to get there. Describing my season of “crisis schooling” in the Spring goes a little something like this: “if there was literally anywhere to go or to run away to, I would have sprinted.” Air Bnb–nope. Hotel–nope. Mother’s house–nope. Beach–nope. Anywhere away from noise and assignments–nope. Go to a restaurant–nope. New tv shows–nope.

There was a moment where I looked myself in the mirror and in the heart with the Lord and knew that the whining and the thrashing was over. I knew life was not going to morph quickly. My husband needed me. My kids needed me. They needed all of me. The all of me that struggles with depression and anxiety, that feels perfectionistic tendencies, that loses her temper, that loves to have fun, that is not the typical “got-it-all-together momma.”

I had to find a way to “show up” in the day to day because the day to day was what we had. I wanted to nap through the hard, but the hard wasn’t leaving. So, I started choosing to get dressed. I put on lipstick if nothing else. I didn’t get a new personality, but, through the Lord, I got a new perspective day by day.

AN ASIDE: Now…as you are reading this and rolling your eyes, I need you to know that this season has literally transformed my hair to gray and my attitude to constant sighing. We have gotten hard diagnoses, bad news, blistering criticisms, been isolated, etc–it’s easy to type those–it’s weighty to live them. So, I am not blowing smoke or trying to present an Instagram version of life.

And now, I am, gulp, homeschooling my children and am actually all in. This requires me to prioritize things that were not even on my radar 12 months ago. A lesson of great worth: My life is not my own. I am never away from my children. I got to taste the freedom of having two kids in school for 3/4 of the year last year, and now, it’s reversal of fortune. I would have told you last year that this would be impossible for me–that I am not made to roll that way. And yet, the Lord stretches and toughens me and actually transforms my heart in trust. It is because of HIM that I have hope and that my interest in and love and like for my children has grown. (are we allowed to say that?) This is an opportunity.

Let me be clear—this is an opportunity I would NOT have chosen without COVID-19. However, even when it’s hard and I feel like I am literally “sucking” at the job, I tuck my boys in with great thanks and wonder. It is a privilege. I am delighting in learning and praying that they do, as well. My perspective is changing every day. I am not perfect. I am not “made for this.” I am not doing as well as the pictures on social media express. However, it is a beautiful opportunity I would have missed without COVID-19.

Another opportunity I have gained–a chance to view the world and people’s perspectives a little differently. My husband is at high risk therefore all of us live at high risk. Our every move is thought of cautiously. I am beginning to experience things as I never have before. Greg often says I bebop throughout life thinking the consequences are little. It’s really true. I have this “it’s all going to work out” mentality. However, I am seeing the gravity of this situation. It is not going to, nor has it, all worked out for people. There is a real threat that has caused real death and real complications to people. We cannot gage who it will be no big deal for. Even small as a percentage, people are dying. Some of those people where high risk and some were not. I have heard sad stories from friends who have lost family members from COVID and have walked out extra grief in the midst because they could not “be with” them and the burial was so hard and different. So, a positive attitude and some sunshine do not color our circumstances differently. There are REAL CONSEQUENCES for my often flippant decisions. One careless mistake could forever shadow our lives. As the “Lower percentage of people” of risk in the COVID times, I have begun to experience life and to listen in a different way. I have felt the “yeah but only a certain percentage are at risk” dismissal. And then, you add in people actively working against protocols–good people who believe fiercely that this is a hoax or being used as a political ploy. It is really hard to have a loving and kind attitude in the midst, but I keep praying when anger bubbles and I have unfollowed the noise to protect my heart and mind to be able to shepherd my children well.

Hmmmm. This invites a whole new discussion. I am a white, Christian upper middle class female in the southern United States. I have not ever felt a huge push back of being EXTREMELY different. But, this is the first time I have felt my family dismissed. It intersects with people who have felt dismissed for their whole lives (I have not experienced that–just a TINY drop of a taste.) So, I think you can see where this is going. I have begun to listen in a different way to families and people who have been dismissed by the majority.

It is easy to look at utilitarian policy instead of looking at people. Truthfully, we all automatically operate out of our experience and what we need for life to work for us. That is inherent to human nature, and every single one of us does it. It is when we experience something different or we engage with those who have experienced a different story that we realize that things may not be as simple as we have defined. So, thanks to this season, I am beginning to take the opportunity to listen differently instead of preparing my talking points. I am reminded that each person has a story and hurts and obstacles and needs. Most people in this world do not live in my experience and it matters that I stop, recognize that, ask questions, listen, pray, and engage as God leads.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger…” (James 1:19)

When that verse was inspired by the Spirit, He knew that social media would come. He knew about 2020 and all the other years of history that would turn people upside down (because this is not a new occurrence in the human experience.) This season has been an opportunity to practice thoughtfulness, self-control and prayerfulness when we are operating at a deficit of patience…

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

Instead of living in a world of talking points, we are invited into an opportunity of building relationship, of engagement, of wrestling within our hearts. There is Truth found in the very words of God…truth that transforms. However, we all need to examine the manner in which we dispense it… gentle, respectful, graceful (with favor the person does not deserve), seasoned. There is a HOPE and GOOD NEWS that stands, and we are placed where we live and in this time for a reason…

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him…for in Him we live and move and have our being… Acts 17:26-28

So, the next 2 weeks-21 months is going to present new opportunities. We each have our own story, things that are important to us, needs and people in our lives that are very very difficult to navigate. Each of those people is operating at a deficit–probably at their worst.

We do not know the future, but we do know it is not going to be filled with simple answers or bring peace (a civil war is here and growing). The person that brings burning anger within you the most, needs grace and truth. The more polarized we become, the more tempting it is to write people off and not treat them as real people with real needs and emotions. We do not have to drink up their social media posts or herald their cause, but we need to humble ourselves and not look at people as objects even though they might treat you in that fashion.

Some opportunities we might take for our own soul:

*We might choose to redefine our social media lives and not feed our hearts there. *We might choose not to carry out conversations on posts but rather engage one on one with others. *We might guard our hearts against “research” on the internet for our “side” and choose to immerse ourselves in Bible Study from the source instead of about the source. *We might look for opportunities to serve others and look beyond our own despair. *We might choose 5 people who are different from us to pray for daily—not for them to become like us but for them to encounter growth in God. *We might find ways to guard our hearts by limiting time online, moving our bodies, taking care of our souls, getting good nutrition, being in the Word in order to live and to speak and to move in Grace, gentleness, truth, and respect. *We might find ways to recognize how we are feeding the problems within ourselves and with others…humility is an important place to start. *We might take time to choose gratitude daily and to share an encouraging word with people daily.

This is hard work, and it is not letting up. We need each other in the midst. Let the end of 2020 and the year of 2021 be filled with opportunities taken individually and collectively.