Monday, March 30, 2020

Status Update - Monday, March 30, 2020

Sitting… my den again, but this time in a different part of the room from the last time I wrote because in a fit of annoyance with how piled up and cluttered this room looks, especially since we are stuck at home all day every day and I can’t help noticing it, we rearranged the furniture this morning.  I like this arrangement much better.  So, while it doesn’t really alleviate cabin fever, the flow of the room is much nicer and I’m wondering why we didn’t do this sooner.

Drinking… cardamom tea which one of my college boys brought home this weekend.  Which brings me to the next point.

Thankful….both of our college boys made it home safely after they drove two days to get home from Texas Tech, which is finishing the semester via online classes and had closed the dorms, which meant younger son had to be out by last Friday.  While I don’t like why we have to be locked down and staying in our homes, I’m choosing to be thankful we get extra time with our boys home that we weren’t expecting.  We’re enjoying together time and we’re also choosing to enjoy the slower pace this enforced rest is bringing us to. We set up tables and chairs in each of their rooms for a quiet workspace where they can call in and do their online classes and not have us all up in their business all the time.  This whole new normal is going to take some getting used to, but I am glad to have all of my family home again. 

Reading…..The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and enjoying it.  I just finished Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, described as the true story of New York City’s greatest female detective and the 1917 missing girl case that a captivated a nation. This one was interesting, but I did find the writing a little confusing sometimes. I’d have liked it just a bit tighter, but overall a good book and interesting person to read about.  Another benefit of having to stay home during this pandemic is that we have lots of time to read.  And it seems like forever ago since I wrote my last status update, not just a week, because I remember I was reading The Grapes of Wrath when I wrote last Monday, and yet it seems longer ago than that since I finished it. Which leads to the next point.

Feeling….like the days are sort of meshing all together.  I have to keep on reminding myself what day it is.  It’s not like when things are normal my life looks terrifically different since I’m home most of the time, but it is weird having my daughter home all day and my husband working from home most days, only going in to the office when absolutely necessary. It does help that we have several Zoom appointments during the week now, to help keep the days straight.  To illustrate the weirdness of all this, I had never even heard of Zoom before all this happened, and now it’s becoming a bit of a lifeline to the rest of my world.  My daughter’s small group from church gets together on Zoom on Wednesday evenings, my ladies Bible study meets on Wednesday mornings, daughter’s larger youth group and middle school Awana group have meetings on Sunday evening, and soon, eventually, so we keep being assured, online classes will start for her middle school as well. I was a little skeptical at first about how well our Bible study would work online, but, wow it was such a blessing last Wednesday when we had our first meeting in that format. It’s not nearly as nice as meeting in person, but it was so much better than having to cancel.  

Thinking….about many things, as my rambling on the earlier points surely demonstrates, and maybe that means more blog posts will be coming in the near future.  I hope so.  Right now, for a short thought, I’m thinking how we as Christians have hope that is deep and real even when the world around us is drowning in anxiety.  My daughter and I were drawing on our sidewalk with chalk yesterday, and just in the short time we were out, we said hello and smiled at more neighbors than we have the whole time we’ve lived here, because, as  we’ve been noticing, with all of us being confined to our homes and as many as possible working from home, people are taking the time to get out and walk, safe distance, and smile at neighbors. That’s something I would not mind becoming a permanent change.  And while we offer our smiles, I hope we can be more intentional about voicing the reason for the hope we have within us. This is something I have not been very good about, but I want to be much more open. 

Happy Monday, everyone.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

When I Awake

Psalm 17:15 
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”

I read Psalm 17 today as part of my morning devotions, and when I got to the last verse I paused and did some thinking about this experience we’re finding ourselves in with social distancing and fear and anxiety about the novel coronavirus spreading, well, virally.  

Kevin DeYoung yesterday on Twitter said, “The devil has won a victory if he can get us to fear death more than we fear God.”  I’ve been thinking about this.  I have to confess that during this time of uncertainty and disruption of our routines and, more worryingly, our sense of control and ability to provide for ourselves, I am realizing that I have been idolizing security and control. Even today, I posted on Facebook about some frustration and anxiety I’m feeling. So what I’m about to write - I’m working through these things and fighting for joy in them, I haven’t perfected them.  

When we went grocery shopping the other day, there was no ground meat of any kind, no chicken, basically empty shelves in the meat department.  I guess we’re going to have to learn how to be vegetarians? Anyway, there was a little twinge of, oh, no, what will we do that invaded my heart.  I can’t say I’m overly anxious about contracting the virus, though that does factor in the general level of anxiety I’m feeling, but I can say that the whole unsettled nature of pretty much everything is causing anxiety.  And there is valid reason for that.  I’m thankful my husband’s job is “essential” - many people are struggling and scared as jobs are being lost daily and our economy is taking a huge hit. I am praying often for people who truly are finding themselves in the position of not being sure they will have a paycheck for much longer. And I am thankful that for now, our family has health.  So very many do not.  So very many are being affected by this virus - and so many other diseases and pestilences and tragedies. These are real fears. Lord, help us.  Lord, have mercy.

But Jesus told us to seek His kingdom first. That’s where I find myself examining my own heart today.  Do I want Jesus more than I want the false sense of security of well-stocked grocery store shelves? Do I trust Him, even when the outside circumstances are frightening and even when the voices of anxiety are so very loud all around us? (Sanity tip: less time on NextDoor and other social media, less time watching all day news is helpful!) I am not saying we shouldn’t plan ahead and be wise, and listen to the health officials and practice wise precautions…we should, of course. Out of love for our neighbors, if for no other reason, we should be listening and taking precautions, but lovingly, not hoarding. But in the midst of the planning, my attitude always needs to be, “Lord willing.” 

As I read that verse this morning, I was comforted in thinking that for the Christian, for the one who loves Jesus and whose life is hidden in Christ, we do not have to fear death.  Our ladies Bible study has been working through Romans 8, and I keep coming back to these anchor truths. Roman 8:29 tell us, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  Just yesterday during our Zoom meeting we discussed what it means that it says he predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. It means He will do it. It is a sure thing. If God is for us, who can be against us? He will do His will in us.  He will conform us to the image of His Son.  He is working all things to that end.  Even empty grocery store shelves?  Yes, indeed.  Even that. 

And for the Christian, what is the worst that can happen? If I die - I will awake and be satisfied with His likeness.  We get Jesus! Oh, dear reader, is Jesus precious to you? He is worthy of all worship and honor and praise.  Romans 8:31-35: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

And so, the challenge today, when fears are real, dangers are more than theoretical, is….do I believe this? Not can I answer the questions on my Bible study sheet correctly and theologically, but do I believe this? Do I trust Him? Can I say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:20-21) And, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” (Job 13:15). Do I trust that no matter what, in the end, I get Jesus?  I am going to Heaven.  Is that truly my hope?  This is where the peace of God, which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus comes from. Get that - the peace passes all understanding.  When all circumstances are screaming at us to be unsettled and anxious, where does our hope and peace come from? Lord, teach me to lay hold of this in the very depths of my soul.  Let this be what informs my living. Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Do you have this hope? Are you drowning in the anxiety of these unsettled and anxious times? Come to Jesus.  He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.  Lay down your sin, repent, and trust Him.  Every one of us will face God one day. Death may seem a little closer under the cloak called coronavirus, but truly, it’s always only a breath away for all of us.  We just don’t always live with the reminder quite so urgently thrust upon our consciousness.  It is a shame to fear death more than we fear the One we will face when we die.  And the hope of all hope is that Christ Jesus holds out the way of salvation in that when we come to die, if we are in Him, we are safe. We can rest in knowing that when we awake, we shall be satisfied with His likeness.  

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Songs That Bring Joy to Our Hearts and Draw Us to God

Because we aren’t able to meet physically for choir practice and worship services during this time of social distancing, our music and worship director from our church sent a devotional video to us this week to keep in touch and encourage us.  In it, he asked us to answer two questions in the comments on the Facebook post: 1.) What songs bring you joy in times of sorrow? and 2.) What songs draw you closest to God? I got to thinking that there are so very many songs that fit these roles in my life - too many to answer in a comment, and I decided to ponder it in a blog post.  Even here, it’s impossible to list every song that speaks in these ways to me, but I’m going to share a few, and only a few, not even close to all of them, and some memories or comforts and why they're special to me.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how much comfort I’ve gained from my old Baptist Hymnal.  Since I was young, I remember pulling it out and going through it and finding myself drawn near to God through the melodies and words of so many of the hymns.  They are rich with solid truths about God, and because they’ve been such a part of my life forever, they’re full of precious memories and emotions, too.

One hymn that has been an anchor hymn for me is, “There is a Fountain,” by William Cowper. I remember many, many,  many nights rocking my crying babies and singing and crying with them as a new mom, and for some reason, this one came often to mind.  I just love how much comfort I’ve always drawn from this song, all my guilty stains, all my sin, washed away by Jesus’ blood, and how it goes on to think of our blessed hope - saved to sin no more, redeeming love has been my theme and shall be til I die; when this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, then in a nobler, sweeter song I'll sing thy power to save - glory!  Sometimes this was the only song that would come fully to mind, and I sang it often in those early, exhausted, baby-blues nights.  Sometime many years later we were singing this hymn at church and my oldest boy, who was in high school by then, told me he just loved that hymn.  I told him that’s probably partly because he’s heard it many times since he was teeny tiny as I sang it to him often, often through my own tears.  

There’s a song that New Song used to sing and every time I hear it, first I’m drawn to worship our “Forever King,” but it also makes me a little teary because I cannot hear it without hearing Simeon Nix, our former music pastor from our church when we lived in Florida, who I’m sure sang it at some point and who is in Heaven now.  That makes me think about how one day all of our voices will get to join the great Hallelujah Chorus of Heaven when we see Jesus, and that draws me to worship my Savior. 

A song that touched me deeply around the time that we experienced our miscarriages was, “Blessed Be Your Name,” by Matt Redman.  I first heard it around that time as a congregational song at the church we were attending at that time, and I remember holding onto it as I wept with grief and held onto the peace of Christ that passes all understanding, even in the midst of grief. 

There were four songs that I have played over and over from Casting Crowns which I love: "Lifesong," "Voice of Truth," "Praise You in This Storm," and "And Now My Lifesong Sings." 

When we lived in Cleveland, we came to love the Gettys’ music, and I have to say pretty much anything they’ve written brings me comfort and draws me close to God.  That year was such a very lonely year, but our church was the one truly bright spot for me, and it was there that we learned to love this music.  A couple songs of theirs that I come back to again and again are some that I learned later while we lived in Texas, “Living Waters,” and “The Lord is My Salvation,” are two of my favorites. 

Another memory I have from that lonely year in Cleveland was from an evening service when our pastor had just preached a sermon on Heaven and our hope in Christ.  The closing hymn was, “It is Well With My Soul,” and I remember getting chills with tears coming down my cheeks.  There is something holy about standing in a room full of people who love Jesus with abandon, and totally believe what they are singing, with thoughts of Christ and Heaven fresh on their minds.  You could feel the people in that room reaching out to our Savior and loving Him and drawing near to Him in the simplicity of the acoustic instruments and the triumphant voices. That was a glimpse, and only a glimpse, of what our worship in Heaven will be like when we see Him and know Him face to face.

Another hymn that came to have special meaning to me is one that I think I’ve only ever heard but one time in church, but that one time was incredibly significant: “Nearer, Still Nearer.”  We had just moved to Texas that summer, and it was about a week before school was to start.  My oldest son had spent the last month attending band camp for his high school and had already made some close friends.  One Sunday afternoon, the Sunday before classes were to start the next day, we got the message that something tragic had happened and there was a meeting that afternoon in the band room.  Josh’s friend, one of the first people he had met after moving there, had lost his life suddenly and the whole band was left grieving.  That was a hard, hard thing.  The next Sunday, while singing hymns that were just incredibly uplifting, we sang, “In Christ Alone,” and then, “Nearer, Still Nearer.”  I looked over at my son who suddenly sat down with his head in his hands, sobbing.  Afterward, he said, “What was that hymn? It was so good.” That was another time God used music to comfort us in our sorrow.  

In this time when so many around us are spiraling in anxiety, I found "Sovereign Over Us," to be comforting and it lifts our attention away from us to our merciful and all-powerful God.

As to songs that draw me close to God, again, there are just so very many.  I love songs that remind me of the attributes and character of God, and of His love and overwhelming mercy to us.  Just a few songs that always lift my attention to Jesus are, “Behold Our God,” “His Mercy is More,” “All I Have is Christ,” “In Christ Alone,” “I Can Only Imagine,” “Come Praise and Glorify,” "Is He Worthy?" and there are so very many more I could list. 

Here are a few more of my favorite hymns (again, just a few) which have often brought comfort in sorrow and drawn me close to God: 
“All Glory, Laud and Honor”
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”
“All the Way My Savior Leads Me”
“Amazing Grace”
“Be Thou My Vision”
“Come, Ye Disconsolate”
“Crown Him With Many Crowns” 
“Fairest Lord Jesus”
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
“How Firm a Foundation”
“I Know Whom I Have Believed”
“I Need Thee Every Hour”
“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”
“Jesus Paid it All”
“More Love to Thee, O Christ”
“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”
“My Faith Has Found a Resting Place”
“Nearer, My God to Thee”
“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”
“Rock of Ages”
“Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

These are only the tip of the iceberg. As soon as I hit publish I’ll remember many more, old and new, that really should be mentioned here.  I’m very thankful for music.  

And in these days of social distancing and coronavirus concern, I've been enjoying very much singing the Doxology when I wash my hands to get that 20 seconds of cleanliness.  What a unique way to turn my attention to my Creator and Savior.  When the world is living in anxiety, we can have confidence in the one who is Sovereign over all things - even these days, and who is working all things, all things, together for good for those who love Him and for His glory.  Glory.

God gave us such a gift when He gave us music.  I’m thankful for old hymns, and I’m thankful that even though a lot of modern worship music can be shallow and won’t stand the test of time, God is still raising up good song writers who are writing modern hymns and songs that will stand the test of time and are rich with deep theological truths we can hang onto in dark and uncertain times - songs that help us find joy in sorrow and draw near to God.  Look for those songs and sing them well.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Status Update - Monday, March 23, 2020

I used to do these fairly regularly back during the old blogging days when it was more of a circle of blogging friends rather than me over here typing away in my neglected little corner of the internet by my lonesome, but I thought I might drag it back out to help me start blogging more, so here goes…..

Sitting….in my den, seeing as we are pretty much confined to our homes for a while with this lockdown/quarantine/ what do we call this? and it is raining outside so we can’t even go out for a walk right now.

Drinking….hot tea, or at least I will be in a few minutes once the kettle whistles, Irish Breakfast Tea in my Disney “MOM” mug with my oh-so-cute little kitty cat steeper.  I have given up coffee since the last time I wrote one of these.  Shocking, I know, to not be one of those talking about my coffee and PJ’s in our national time of forced rest and staying home.  I found that it gives me really bad heartburn, and funny enough, once I quit, I completely lost my taste for it.  I mean COMPLETELY.  I tried to drink some the other day and I just did not like it anymore.  That was weird.  I wish my taste for sugar would fade as easily.  But I’m glad for tea.  I still very much like that, and I’m rediscovering just how much I do.

Snacking….on nothing right now.  It’s almost lunch time, and I’m in that perpetual quest to eat healthier, so I’m watching what I snack on.

Reading….The Grapes of Wrath. I’m about 73% finished, and I was already in the midst of it when this shut down happened, and I’m finding it’s pretty heavy reading while in the midst of this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in.  I’m pretty sure I read it years ago, but I don’t remember ever writing any papers on it, so I must not have read is as a required thing for school but maybe by choice.  I didn’t remember much about it, but snippets seem familiar.  It is so well-written, and I am very much enjoying reading it this time around, even though it’s heavy, I see why it is a classic.  Speaking of reading, I’m very thankful for the library’s Overdrive system and Amazon and my Kindle. In these days of shutdown, it’s nice to be able to put books on hold and check them out digitally. 

Thinking…..about a lot of things, but not very cohesively.  I’m finding it hard to concentrate, and I think one solution may be to put my phone in another room so I’m not tempted to pick it up and scroll social media without thinking.

Thankful…..about so very many things.  One thing I’ll focus on here today is technology.  We got to worship with our church family via live stream yesterday, and while it is terribly far from being as satisfying as face-to-face and embodied fellowship, I am thankful we got to participate, and I'm thankful for the beautiful encouragement to turn our attention to our Savior through worshipful music, prayer, and scripture reading and sermon. And our women’s Bible study is going to attempt some video conferencing software to try to meet together virtually this week, and that could be good, too.   

From our women’s study in Romans, here are some anchor truths to comfort us today: Romans 8:31-35 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”  

Happy Monday, y’all.  (I say “y’all” like anyone is even still ever reading this, but if you are, welcome). Stay well in these crazy days. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Social Distancing and Social Media

I have to admit that in this temporary new normal of ‘social distancing,’ my daily life here since we’ve recently moved to a new state doesn’t actually look terrifically different.  I’m prone to hermit-like tendencies anyhow, and I really have to fight against them, especially right after a move when it just takes so long to finally feel like this is home. And I actually like having my family home during the day, and find all those memes complaining about having the kids home to be pretty sad. So, honestly, being told I can’t go out and be social at first feels kind of ok. That’s on the surface. Deeper down, I’m feeling a little blue and having a hard time concentrating. 

As I mentioned many months ago in my piece on social media wisdom, we are embodied people.  We need other people.  We are social beings, by the design of our Creator. Even those of us who are more introverted by nature NEED other people. We need to not be isolated for extended periods. When we learned that for the foreseeable future we will not be able to meet together, in person, with our church, this feels so wrong and sad and depressing.  Sundays, and my Wednesday morning Bible study, and Wednesday evening choir practice some weeks might be the only meaningful, rich contact I get to have with anyone outside my immediate family.  I’m still finding my way here, and I really need those connections.  We obey this temporary disruption because of love for our neighbors and respect for our government and seeing the wisdom of ‘flattening the curve,’ but it hurts.  It’s lonely.  And meeting via live stream just is not the same.  It is flat and cold and distant.  But, at a time like this, it is so much better than nothing and I’m so thankful for the labor of love going into making it happen. 

However, all that said, I’m thankful we have the technology to at least meet through live stream, and emails, and Zoom meetings.  Imagine how lonely it would be with no contact at all.  I’m thankful for our pastors and leaders who are lovingly reaching out in all the ways they can to check in with the flock and keep us informed.  (My church is doing a much better job of this than the local school system at the moment, by the way.  But I won’t digress with that gripe here.)

In thinking of our social nature and how much more fulfilling it is to meet face-to-face and in person, I’m seeing so much benefit and, yet, at the same time, so much that is just not good about social media.  Just yesterday, my daughter had a video chat with several friends from our former church in Texas who called her, and that was so refreshing for her to hear from her dear friends in that way. In times like this when we can’t be together out of love for our neighbor and wanting to promote the well-being of others, it’s kind of a life line to be able to text, call, Facebook, and connect with others through social media. There is much that is encouraging and full of truth being shared.  I’m encouraged with how much good Bible teaching is being shared as all of our churches are by necessity needing to share more online content. And I have to say, some of y’all are just flat out, laugh-out-loud funny with the memes going around that help us not to take ourselves so seriously. But as much good as there is, it seems like the bad gets amplified, as well.  SO much misinformation, conspiracy craziness, dangerous lack of understanding, and flat out anxiety is spread through these formats.  And Twitter, oh wowza, what a dumpster fire that can be sometimes.  People seem to be so quick to assume the worst and wow, the comment threads - it is not a medium geared towards constructive discussion, and it shows. Same with the NextDoor app - it can be incredibly toxic and disturbing to realize how angry and quick to assume the worst many of your neighbors are. I am much less paranoid when I stay away from reading too many posts and threads there. I also find that since I’m home with no where to go, it’s far too easy to fall into the rabbit hole and scroll, scroll, scroll, reading things over and over and becoming frustrated and anxious. 

Do yourself a favor.  Set a limit on when/how much social media and news watching is helpful for you, then put it away.  Fill your mind with whatever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise.  Take time to meditate on God's word.  Read good books. Find a new hobby or enjoy an old one.  Take a walk outside and enjoy the fresh air and the birds and the beautiful blooming things (even if it means your allergies kick in). Enjoy this unexpected quality time with your family and enforced period of unexpected rest and thank God for His mercy and grace, His sovereignty over all things.  He is good and He is in control.  

Anyway, all that to say, let’s use this unprecedented time of uncertainty to leverage social media for good.  Be a truthteller.  Check your sources before you share things.  When you share information - don’t be an alarmist, try to be helpful.  Be an encourager, share things that are truthful and uplift. Be kind in your comments, and try to assume the best when other people react to this strangest of times differently.  And take healthy breaks away from it, too.

And in trying to get out of my slump and difficulty concentrating, I hope to use this forced time of rest and downtime to try to blog a little more frequently. That’s not a promise, but I do intend to try.