Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What is My Life?

I faced fear a lot in 2020. First it was fear of dying from COVID. Then it was fear of spreading COVID to others. Then it was fear of quarantine of its consequences. I had fears of the judgments of others. I had FEAR. And it was becoming an idol. 

My family and I have not experienced COVID yet that we know of. We did face multiple exposures and one quarantine, however. One exposure came right before Thanksgiving for my husband. He wasn't concerned, but did act responsibly, immediately ceasing contact with the public and getting tested right away. He got a negative test result, but we weren't sure if that would hold. I agonized over what to do about plans to see family (e.g. my parents) for Thanksgiving. We had already decided to go small, but should we cancel all together. My parents insisted on coming to see us. My husband said we couldn't tell them what to do. I wasn't so sure, but as I walked that morning before they arrived, the verses below came to mind:

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14, New International Version).

"Everything that does not come from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23b).

I had to ask myself what my life meant to me. I felt convicted that I needed to ask the Holy Spirit to show me if I was acting out of faith, or out of fear. I had to confess that it was the latter, and that I was focusing on the value of my life, wanting to escape unpleasant emotions rather than seeking God as God and honoring others above myself.

My husband has been following COVID mask requirements and praise the Lord, did not get COVID from his exposure. We were careful, but my parents still came for Thanksgiving and we enjoyed some sweet time together. We would have liked to see other family members and/or have a larger gathering, but we gave thanks for what God allowed and protected.

After Thanksgiving, my 90 year-old granddad declared that he wanted to see family and come visit for Christmas. This seemed risky given his age and the need to travel by plane. He acknowledged the risk, but declared it worth it. He dutifully wore his mask and followed all precautions, while we continued to mostly self-isolate apart from engaging in work and other essential activities. In the end, we were able to join together for a very special time of celebrating the coming of Christ to earth.

As of the date of publishing this article, my family and I are still healthy. We do not take this for granted or believe it is because we are more special. We are trying to seek God's wisdom and follow guidelines, while simultaneously living faith. Because what are our lives worth without faith?

I write this post not to suggest breaking COVID restrictions. I write not to criticize those who are more or less careful than my family and I have been. I write to suggest that we add to the current conversation about disease transmission the matter of perspective and the worth of life. My parents recognized the risk of seeing us at Thanksgiving, but valued family life above their fear of the virus. (From the news articles, it seems other families felt similarly.) My granddad acknowledged the risks of traveling to see us, but believed that this was the right decision and walked out on faith. Granddad considered the value of his life and the lives of others and acted accordingly. Am I doing similarly>

What is my life? My life is a creation of God's to be used by God's. That means I need to live in line with God's values. That means both submitting to governing authorities (Rom 13)and walking by faith (2 Cor 5:7). This is difficult to do in the midst of a pandemic, but it is what I am called to do. May God be glorified as we seek to continue to walk in the light of His life.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Endurance: My Word for 2021

Whew! Twenty-twenty was a year, wasn't it? And although we have turned the page on the calendar, it isn't over yet? What do I mean by that? Well, COVID-19 defined much of what was 2020: social distancing, quarantine, isolation, illness, death, new rhythms of life and work, etc. And COVID-19 isn't gone. It won't ever be gone, but perhaps in the future, less prominent? I sure hope so! So with that sentiment, I begin 2021 with the word endurance.

My word for 2020 was faithful. I wanted to be faithful to my work, my husband, and my faith (not necessarily in that order). Boy, did the year give me a run for my money! I'm not sure I succeeded in being faithful, but I sure tried. And trying it what I want to do in 2021, but maybe with a little more stamina.

I haven't always been a word person. I stole the idea from a dear cousin years ago. My word for that first year was joy, and I kept a journal noting every time I saw the word or experienced it. I don't journal so religiously these days, and sometimes I even forget my word for the year, but usually, it's helpful.

The word endurance came to me on a morning walk one day. Lamenting the struggles of 2020, I wasn't planning to choose a new word, but then the Holy Spirit impressed this one on me. I don't want to ignore it.

Verses help me found my conception of my word for the year, so a few for the word endurance are:

"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12, New International Version).

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1).

How do I want to practice endurance?

In my work: By finding new ways to be faithful to my tasks and make my job sustainable.

In my home life: By seeking out ways to not just survive, but thrive amidst all the to-dos.

In my running: To both build endurance and find practices that help me make running sustainable for the long run.

In my marriage: By continuing old practices and by instituting new ones to help our commitment stand the test of time.

In my faith: To not grow weary in doing good, but to keep up spiritual disciplines and to trust God when it's hard, especially when it's hard.

Endurance. That's my word. That's my prayer for 2021. May God grant it to me should it be His will.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Real Life Marriage: Communication Is a Two-Way Street.

"I thought I told you," he said.

"I don't think you did," I replied. "Or maybe I didn't hear you." 

I'd been coming and going from place to place. Appliances just added noise to the fracas that sometimes is my life. Was my lack of knowledge his fault or mine? In the end, I realized that it really didn't matter. Maybe he had said something. Maybe he hadn't. In either case, I hadn't heard. Communication is a two way street, and if both sides are going, there is no exchange of information.

There are all sorts of reasons for miscommunication. Sometimes it is failing to speak. Sometimes it is failing to hear. Sometimes I say words, but do not say what I mean. Sometimes I hear words, but do not interpret them correctly. Clear communication requires effort, effort on behalf of both the sender and the receiver. Failure on either part means failed communication, and failure for both.

My husband and I are still working on our communication. I have a feelings it will always be a work in progress. By God's grace, we'll make progress, and Lord willing, instead of assuming something about communication in our next exchange, we'll actually communicate.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Promoters of Hope

My sister-in-law got us discussing the meaning of hope over Christmas. We were trying to explain the concept to my almost two year-old niece, and failing. Quite frankly, I don't often understand hope myself. But as I've thought over it, and had hope visit my heart a few times lately, I've at least come up with some promoters of hope. While we cannot control our circumstances in this new year, we can control our actions. And I'd argue that we could all do well to take some steps towards hope.

Precepts: My husband posits that hope is not expectation, but faith that God is who He says he is. So as believers in Christ, we have hope when we know what God says about Himself and his actions. We learn those truths in the Bible.

Action step: Consume more of God's Word. Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Sing it. Recite it.

People: Sometimes we need people to hold hope for us. My dad did that during an especially difficult time in my teen years, telling me life would be better when I got through. I didn't believe I'd make it through, but Dad did. He held hope until I could grasp some for myself.

Similarly, my nana believed that I would get married one day. I was way past that when I met my husband, and unfortunately Nana went to be with Jesus before she could meet him either. Her hope lives on in our marriage, however.

My husband constantly holds hope for me. He told me we would get our house when I didn't believe. He looks forward to good things. He reminds me of truth. His very presence embodies hope.

Action step: Find your people and allow them to speak hope into your life. Pay forward the hope you receive by encouraging others.

Probability: Hope needs to be realistic. Hoping that I will win a million dollars is not probable, even if it could realistically happen. If I constantly look towards things that are not likely to happen, I will get disappointed and grow weary in my hope. If, only the other hand, I look for small things, have smart goals, I have a chance of seeing them come to fruition and thereby growing my hope.

Action step: Instead of new year's resolutions, why not make a list of small, achievable goals?

Possibility: Hope grows when its outcome is not only probable, but when I see signs that I am moving towards it. I started feeling more hopeful about this new year when some good things came my way last week. That doesn't mean the year will be good, but reminded me to look for good. 

Action step: Track progress towards your goals using a list, phone note, or even a vision board.

We can all use some more hope, can't we? And I believe we can all become promoters of hope. The above action steps are just the starting place. So go out, hope, be hoped for, and spread hope in 2021!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Best Books of 2020

My phone became my main source of reading in 2020, in part by intention and in part due to desperation. I intended to replace some of my social media scrolling with reading, and when the libraries closed due to COVID, the Libby app became my sole source of books. I set myself a mandate that I read at least 15 Libby pages a day. It wasn't a lot, but with the other books I read (some bought, some from my shelves, and some from work), I compiled a reading list of 58, more than I have consumed in quite some time. So taking a page from a friend, I thought I'd share the best of these books, the ones I would add to my collection, or already own:

Cookbooks: Eat At Home Tonight: 101 Simple Busy-Family Recipes for your Slow Cooker, Sheet Pan, Instant Pot, and More by Tiffany King—Using simple ingredients and mostly whole foods, King shows readers how to make family dinners work! She posits that family dinners are one of the few times people can meet all five language needs, and I couldn’t agree more. Interweaving cooking and parenting advice with recipes that tackle common dinner challenges, this cookbook has a clean design and was truly a feast for the eyes. With the only downsides being sparse photos and only a few recipes I wouldn’t try (mostly sides and desserts), I can truly call this cookbook a winner. I am ready to buy it right now for myself and for others, in fact!

Runner up: 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget by Lisa Leake— Clean eating, real food. It's all the rage. This cookbook takes the fads, simplifies them into real life principles, and makes them accessible to real life people. Leake doesn't say no processed food. She just says food with five ingredients or less (so cream cheese, ricotta, and straight up canned fruit and beans are okay). She encourages homemade, but understands when the family wants to splurge, and encourages budgeting for that. She shows how to make real, satisfying meals on a budget of $125 or less per week for a family of four. Through example meal plans and grocery lists, as well as costs for all the supplies needed to make recipes, Leake shows how cooking on a budget is achievable. She includes photos for every recipe, making the cookbook read more fun. While Leake's cooking style isn't quite mine, the tips in this book are helpful and encouraged me that living on a grocery budget is doable, and perhaps even enjoyable!

Christian/spiritual: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (12/23/2020)—In his signature style, Piper once again articulated theological truths in an approachable, yet applicable manner. I had to read a few of these passages twice, but otherwise, I could make my way through reading a few reasons each day. Though I have known Christ and the power of his resurrection for most of my adult life, this book informed and broadened my perspective of Christ’s death and all that it symbolized and obtained for us. Thank you, Jesus, and hallelujah for the cross!

COVID-related: The Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper—This pandemic shocked the world, but it didn’t take God but surprise. Prolific author John Piper reminds readers of this and points to six ways God is working through the pandemic in his new book The Coronavirus and Christ. A wake up call for believers about what really matters, this book is a fast and timely read. The best place to find comfort and hope in these changing times is Christ, and Christ alone. Life and death are in God’s hands, as they have always been.

Runner up: Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk

Fiction: The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers—Roman Valesco grew up on the streets, and his adult years have been full of bad habits, heartaches, and generally making a mess of life. But then Grace enters, bringing with her hope, but a “hope [that] was deadly” (p. 350). Roman mistreats Grace at first, but then comes to adore her. After nearly dying, (“It took dying before he could learn to live,” p. 461), he comes to know Christ and begins a life reform, a life that seems to have come too late for Grace. But Love. Roman, an illegitimate child who never knew his father comes to know God as Father and love, the emotion that had “always been the enemy, the emotion to avoid” blossoms (p. 467). Although this was a re-read, it kept me on the edge of my seat and I had a hard time putting it down. Rivers definitely has a gift for writing, for redemption!

Marriage: Love and War by John and Stasi Eldredge—Ransomed Heart  Ministry leaders John and Stasi Eldredge make a compelling argument in this book that marriage is set in the midst of war. To have a truly fulfilling, God honoring marriage, spouses need to realize that there is opposition to their marriage, and fight against it! Sharing stories from their own marriage, as well as from the marriages of others, this is a real, nitty-gritty, sometimes embarrassingly true-to-life book about marriage. The prose flows, so the reading is easy. Application, however, is not. The only thing I dislike about the book is that it seems to infer at many points that marriage is the only way to grow more in love. I disagree. I do not believe God calls all believers to be married. Look at Paul! God sanctified him without the gift of marriage. Maybe the authors have a different book about singleness, or maybe they don't. Their mission is Christ-centered marriage, and they're ready to go to war for it. In war, there is often no room for side considerations or pursuits.

Runner up: When Sinners Say, “I Do” by Dave Harvey

Non-fiction: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (9/30/2020)—Autobiographer and New York writer Gretchen Rubin found herself dissatisfied with life, so she decided to do an experiment. She decided to do a qualitative research project to see if she could improve her happiness. This book is her documentation. Written from an engaging, first-person viewpoint, Rubin chronicles her journey from day one to day 365. Each chapter covers the topic for the month, along with relevant research regarding why Rubin chose that discipline. In the end, Rubin concludes that yes, she could make herself happier, even if just by focusing on it, being herself, and keeping her “resolutions.” This is an encouraging and interesting read, one all could benefit from, especially in these otherwise stressful and relatively unhappy times.

And on the list to finish in 2021:

How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance your Marriage by Milan and Kay Yerkovich

Wife in Pursuit: 31 Daily Challenges For Loving Your Husband Well by Selena Frederick


Readers, what books from 2020 resonated with you? What are you reading in 2021? Please share in the comments section.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Three Things That Got Me Through

As I reflect over this past year, I recognize many things I did wrong. Many ways I failed. Many things I could have done better. And I also see things that worked. Things that mattered. Things that gave life meaning. Among these were:

1) Sally's Baking Challenges: Something "silly" I picked up, but stubbornly managed to make my way through each month. The challenge instructions were sufficient to ensure sufficient success, and the completion of each challenge gave me a sense of confidence. The baking recipes also provided me with goodies to share with my neighbors, an "excuse" to form connections even while social distancing was the norm.

2) Hiking: I have written many times about the benefits of hiking. Hiking took on special value this spring and summer, however. At the height of the pandemic, it was one thing I could still do. Something that gave me a sense of accomplishment. Something that tired my body while helping my mind rest. An occasional way to connect with others, even if walking spaced apart and/or with masks. I started hiking more regularly when I realized the consequences to my mental health when I didn't do it. Meltdowns. More burnout. Less processing. As Abby Cannon stated in her episode of the Just the Good Stuff podcast, sometimes what we need is not more professional therapy, but more therapeutic activity (yoga for her). Hiking was that for me.

3) Blogging about marriage: Suffering is easier to endure when it has a purpose. Don't get me wrong; marriage is an incredible gift. This last year has been extremely difficult, however, in marriage and beyond. Being able to write and share about what God is teaching me has made it easier. Having people who read made my struggles feel more purposeful. And finding purpose in the struggle provided me with courage to endure.

What about you, readers? If you had to list three things you've taken away from this year, what would they be? What habits give meaning and purpose to your existence? What traditions or routines do you hope to carry from 2020 into 2021? I've listed mine above. Please share yours in the comment section below.