DON’T STAY STUCK IN THE SHOULDS

 

Today is September 1, and for me it represents the beginning of autumn.  The first of the BER months.  When everything seems new again.  Autumn is my favorite time of year.  I like everything about fall: the vivid colors on the trees, the crisp, cool air, the excitement of children going back to school, football games, and pumpkin patches.  I love it all.  I even enjoy the nights getting a little longer.  Autumn is such a rich season, a season of harvest and plenty.

 

But this is 2020 and everything is different and definitely not what I planned.  I should be over-the-top excited about Sooner football starting, but it’s more like, “Meh.”  We won’t be going to the games in Norman this year (if they actually have games).  Instead, we took the option of rolling our tickets over into 2021.  It isn’t because we are afraid of getting COVID, but rather because sitting in a stadium that is three-quarters empty and cheering through a mask just doesn’t sound like fun.  No tailgating, no Boomer Bash…the game day experience, like everything else in 2020, will be dramatically different.  Not like it should be.

 

This is the year the Sooners were scheduled to play Army as an away game.  Jerry and I should be going to West Point like we planned.  But not this year.  Cancelled!  How many events have been cancelled in 2020?

 

I guess the first cancellations that hit us, like everyone else, were the large-group gatherings.  We couldn’t go to church for many weeks, and we are only just now allowed to go back.  We couldn’t go out to a restaurant for weeks; in fact our only outing for quite a while was a trip to the grocery store.  Jerry and I cancelled our annual family trip to Rosemary Beach in the early summer.  We didn’t get to see our granddaughter graduate from high school.  We couldn’t be in the hospital waiting room while a daughter had surgery or a granddaughter gave birth.  You have your own stories of cancelations this year: weddings, funerals, school events, and family reunions.  Milestone events that were missed.  Things that should have happened didn’t.  Life should not be like this!

 

As I have been pondering these things on this September morning I am amazed at my own contentment.  I learned a long time ago that expectations are premeditated resentments.  I’ve learned not to be caught up in the “shoulds,” even when the “shoulds” are true.  It’s true: life shouldn’t be like this, there shouldn’t be rioting and looting in our streets, people shouldn’t hate each other, my grandchildren should be able to go to school in person and shouldn’thave to wear masks, and by golly, there should be football as usual!  But what should be isn’t, and staying stuck in the “shoulds” is a guaranteed recipe for unhappiness.  Instead I need to accept what is and learn to deal with it.  This has definitely been the year to roll with the punches.  And amidst all these cancellations, this uncertainty, I have peace.

 

That peace comes from knowing God.  The God I know created this world, and saw this year coming before time existed.  Nothing has taken Him by surprise.  He is our refuge, our safe place when all our familiar props have been knocked out from under us.  He is there when the world faces a pandemic, when we lose our jobs, when our stock accounts shrink overnight, when all our plans have been disrupted and even plan B doesn’t work.  He is there when the “shoulds” turn to “should nots.”  I can trust Him because I have walked with Him for many years and know Him to be faithful and true to his word.  Every morning I ask for new marching orders because I know my own agenda is not what matters and may be cancelled anyway.  So I don’t stay stuck in the “shoulds.”  I go to Him with what is, and ask Him what to do because He has a perfect plan for me.  Proverbs 3: 5-6 tells me what to do:

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

 

We all have seen or experienced the ripple effect.  In the simplest example, think of a stone dropped into a pond, how it spreads concentric circles of waves of decreasing intensity as they move out from the center.  It works inversely also, as sometimes a small action (or inaction) can create a big ripple.  I’m thinking about Rosa Parks here.  But this morning I am thinking about a big event that has created many ripples in all of our lives.

 

The coronavirus is the enormous boulder that dropped in our pond earlier this year.  The virus alone has been catastrophic, but consider the ripples that have followed: the lockdown, businesses closed, jobs lost, bills that go unpaid, and we could go on and on about the ripples.  It is a very small micro-ripple that has tugged at my heart since yesterday.  My 10-year old granddaughter, Olivia asked her mother when they would get to shop for back to school clothes.  My daughter told her they were waiting until they knew for certain that school would actually have in person classes.  The district has a plan to reopen, but things are very fluid in every district right now.  Then Olivia asked if they could at least go shop for a new backpack.  My daughter had to explain that there would be no backpacks allowed at school this year.  That made me so sad for little Olivia.  One of the biggest days in the Kid Year is the first day of school with a new outfit, new backpack, and new school supplies.  And the obligatory snapshot on the front porch.

 

This has been one ripple too many for me, and yet I know more will come.  There are the things we don’t think about.  This same daughter needs a new washing machine because her old one broke down.  Did you know that you can’t go into a store and buy a washer right now?  There are none.  It’s a supply chain issue.  When factories shut down, supply stops.  My teen grands will not have lockers this year, or be allowed to carry a purse.  Our college grands have been instructed to come with emergency COVID bags packed.  If a fever is detected they will be immediately whisked away to some undetermined location (infirmary? gulag?), and will need to have a bag packed and ready to go.  Our college freshman will be allowed only one parent to help her move into the dorm.  And sorority rush will be mostly virtual.  Our pregnant granddaughter can only have her husband at the hospital with her.  We will have to wait until she comes home to meet the new baby.

 

These are minor inconveniences, but they are cumulative.  When they are piled atop the larger ripples mentioned above, life becomes even more stressful, wearing.  Many of us are walking around with sub-clinical depression (or maybe full blown) because of all the ripples.

 

Psychologists have studied the ripple affect as it pertains to emotions.  That is, how the emotions of one person in a group can trigger the emotions of the entire group, like a row of falling dominos.  It even has a name: emotional contagion.  You have probably noticed it, maybe how one person’s anxiety in an office can set off everyone else, or one family member in a bad mood can set the tone for the entire household.

 

But it can work the opposite way also, with a kind word, an act of consideration, or an expression of love.  I would like to be a carrier of hope during these trying days.  I would like to be, but some days are hard for me too.  That is when I need to go to the source of hope, God’s Word.  Honestly, I can barely make it through the day without my morning dose of hope.  Hebrews 6 tells us that when we turn to God and take hold of the hope he offers, that hope acts as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  That same passage tells us that God cannot lie, that His words are truth.  I can spread hope with confidence because I am sharing the truth, and truth is a hard commodity to find in 2020.  I can be an encourager, one who inspires hope and courage.  I need to be mindful of my words because I want to create positive ripples, contagions of hope.

 

Lord, help me to be a carrier of your hope today.

A COUNTRY IN NEED OF HEALING

What a year 2020 has been, and it is only half over.  It seems as if there is a new crisis every week.  Let’s just set the virus aside for a moment because I would like to look at our other issues.  If only the coronavirus were our only problem!   There is a revolution that is happening right under our noses.   Shootings, mass murders, vandalism, and riots are almost routine events now.  There are those among us who are destroying our monuments, desecrating our flag, and taking over our cities.  Our national anthem may be replaced.  And our police forces, the people who are there to protect us, now have targets on their backs.  What was formerly seen as evil is know declared good and acceptable; and what we many of us knew as good is now seen as bad.  The ends justify the means.  There is no longer polite discourse.  If I disagree with you that means I hate you.  Our presidential election is now upon us, and it is the most rancorous and divisive I can ever remember.  And there are some who don’t like either of our choices, but are just trying to decide which is the lesser evil.  We are a nation on fire.

 

With our world in chaos it is tempting to ask, “God, where are you?”  As I was wrestling with these thoughts this morning, I felt the Lord say, “Be still.  Come to Me.  Listen and be encouraged.”  He reminds me that He is still on His throne and is still sovereign over the universe.  We may go to our polling places and mark our ballots, but it will be God who decides this election.

 

He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  Dan. 2:21a NLT.

 

God may decide to use the next election to bring America (and maybe the world) into repentance and right relationship with Him.  And I’m not saying I have any inside knowledge about how He would do that.  He is sovereign; He could use either candidate to accomplish His will.  As mere mortals, and as citizens, we can only try to make an informed choice and pray for the best.

 

But God could also decide that we should get the government we deserve.  Perhaps America is on a fast track to destruction.  Other nations have risen and fallen.  We may also.  I am reminded of the history of ancient Israel.  God set them up as a nation and gave them a land.  He promised to bless them if they would be obedient to His instructions.  For many years Israel prospered, although she was never fully obedient.

 

God’s plan for Israel was a theocracy.  God would be their ruler and protector.  But the people of Israel looked around at the other nations who had kings and asked for a king for themselves.  I Samuel 8:6-9 tells the story:

 

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

 

Although we have never been a theocracy, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.  Our oldest institutes of higher learning once proclaimed Biblical truths, but now they indoctrinate students in secular humanism (and charge a pretty penny to do so).  Like Israel, we have rejected God.  We think we are so much wiser.  And like Israel, we think we can make the best decision about who governs us.  However, God continues to remind us that His ways are higher than ours.  Oh America, I hope it is not too late for us.  I pray that we will repent and return to God.  But in any case, God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is doing something in the world and He will accomplish His will.  Our job is to pray and trust.

 

Thank you, Lord for allowing us to live in this great land.  We acknowledge that we do not deserve your favor.  You have blessed us abundantly and we have turned our back on you as a nation.  We ask that you bring us back into right relationship with you.  Forgive our sins and bring revival.  And let it begin with me.

IN TIMES LIKE THESE

Today s my grandmother’s birthday.  If my math is correct, she would be 121 years old.  Although she has been gone for almost 30 years, I still miss her every day.  She was the closest thing I had to a mother figure and I knew she loved me unconditionally.  When I was a lot smarter in my twenties and thirties, it annoyed me that she wanted to talk on the phone every day.  Every other day would have been fine with me.  Didn’t she know I was busy?  But oh, how I would love to have those phone calls back (grandchildren, take note)!  Oh, and why didn’t I get more photos of the two of us together?? I still remember the last time I saw her.  She was in the hospital in Dallas and I flew down to see her.  She knew, but I didn’t, that it would be our last time together.  She kept saying, “I’m so tired, but I’m afraid to go to sleep because when I wake up I won’t see you again.”  In my denial I thought, “Of course we will see each other again.  You will get well and go home and I will come back to Dallas for a visit.”  It didn’t hit me until I was on the airplane heading home that she was dying, and that she was right.  That was our last visit.  This story still brings tears to my eyes, and even though I have lots of grandchildren of my own, I still miss my Nenaw.  But I know without a doubt that we will meet again in Heaven.  She may be waiting at the gate for me even now!

I wonder what she would have thought about these Covid-19 quarantine days we are experiencing.  It just occurred to me the other day that she lived through the infamous Spanish flu we keep hearing about.  I don’t recall her ever mentioning that to me.  She would have been in her late teens, and probably knew someone who died from that plague.  She may even have contracted it herself.  

She had a perpetual cheerful attitude and didn’t dwell on negative things, but she lived through some tough times.  She endured two World Wars, sending both sons and a son-in-law (my dad) off to an unknown future.  I think about what it must have been like back then with no 24-hour news.  She didn’t have a television at that time so she must have relied on the radio and Movietone Newsreels if she went to the movies.  Even though she didn’t know if her boys would come back, she put one foot in front of the other and kept going.

Isn’t that similar to what we are doing now?  We don’t know where this virus will take us.  There is so much uncertainty about what lies ahead.  Our government officials as well as leaders in business, religion, and education are trying to make the wisest decisions they can.  Some of us are wondering how we will do school in the fall while others are wondering if our jobs will still be here when the economy is opened.  This virus has affected every area of our lives.  But we put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

There is a hymn that is stuck in my head: In Times Like These, by Ruth Caye Jones.  Ruth was a Pennsylvania pastor’s wife who was living through some tough times of her own.  It was 1943, a World War was raging, and this mother of five, like everyone else, saw the casualty lists and tried to make do with rationed supplies at home.  It was a time of great strain.  One day she opened her Bible to 2 Timothy 3 and read these words      

But understand this, that in the last days there will become times of great difficulty.

A song began to take shape in her mind, and we were left with these beautiful lyrics:

In times like these we need a Savior;
In times like these we need an anchor.
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

Although Ruth was inspired by the passage in 2 Timothy, she no doubt was familiar with another passage in Hebrews:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Heb. 6:19.

The entire world is living through difficult and uncertain times.  In times like these I need a Savior. And that Savior’s name is Jesus.  I know my soul is anchored in Him.  I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but when I close my earthly eyes for the last time, I know His face will be the next one I see…maybe followed by my grandmother.

It Doesn’t Matter

Before he passed away, Charles Krauthammer wrote a book entitled Things That Matter.  Oh, how I miss that man with his wit and wisdom.  I wonder what he would say about our current state of affairs, being locked down as we fight off the deadly and costly Corona Virus.  I find myself frequently thinking about those words, “things that matter.”  What really matters in these days?  

There have been many blessings hidden among the horrors of this pandemic we are enduring.  We are spending more time with family, we are praying more, we are reaching out to friends, and we are resting.  Resting from all our frantic activity that distracts us from enjoying the most valuable aspects of this life we are given.  One of the things I have noticed in my own life is how many times during the day I tell myself, “That really doesn’t matter.”

This virus is helping me to tease out the important from the unimportant…or the less important. Things that I thought were really important are really not any more.  We gave up our vacation rental because we are not going to be able to take out family beach vacation this year.  But that is not nearly as important as having a healthy intact family.  A vacation, while nice, is just not that important.  My hair and nails could use some attention, but I am learning to make do.  I don’t plan to rush into a nail salon the minute they reopen.  Because it’s not important.  An entire season of pretty spring clothes is going to come and go.  Because where would I wear them?  I look around at my house and think it could do with some updating, but it’s not really important.  If some knickknack is out of place, I may or may not adjust it.  Because it doesn’t matter.  Fortunately, I still have some Charmin, but if I run out the world won’t come to an end.  I have even heard some talk about not having football in the fall.  Whoa!!!  Now that matters!

Joking aside, I’ve noticed this “not important” thing even in my thought life.  I am letting go of some things that have bothered me in the past.  Old hang-ups?  Not important.  Past slights?  Letting them go.  In fact, I am even finding them laughable.  I haven’t mastered this yet, but I am beginning to give grace to those who withhold grace from me.  Because you know what else is not important?  Me!

Letting go of the things that don’t matter is making room for the things that do.  Every morning my first thought upon awakening is, “Thank you, Lord for protecting me through the night.”  I check in with my children to make sure they are all alive and well.  Preserving life matters.  Not only has my prayer life improved, but our prayer life as a couple has vastly improved.  We have developed a new prayer system.  Every day we especially pray for a specific family member.  And God is telling us how to pray for each one of them.  I have more time to spend in God’s word.  I am writing notes and making phone calls.  Jerry and I laugh more (and when necessary, we socially distance)!  And I am appreciating life.  I am more grateful.  Grateful for the big things and the small.  

Lives matter, and those who work to save lives matter. Our medical professionals who are on the front line matter as well as the hospital cleaning staff who work behind the scenes. Those who work at “essential” businesses matter. It matters that people are dying alone and that numbers are so great that they are being buried in mass graves. Smaller things matter too. It matters that I can’t go to church or hug my grandchildren. It matters that children can’t go to school, that college campuses are empty, that proms and graduations have been cancelled. These are all important things.

Charles Krauthammer would say the thing that matters most is politics, that we must secure life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness before any of the other things we enjoy can come to be.  While I understand his thoughtful argument, and while I would agree that politics is vitally important, I don’t think it is the most important.  Because politics is subordinate to God.  The Scriptures tell us that God holds the heart of the king in His hands, and He can turn it any way He wants (Prov. 21:1).  He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars (Dan. 2:21).  Therefore the things that are important to God must be the things that are important to me.  Jesus taught that loving God and loving my neighbor are the most important.  If we master those, everything else will fall into place.

This Corona virus is important!  But even it is subservient to the power of God.  In my Bible study we are digging into the book of Malachi.  Twenty-four times Malachi refers to God as The Lord of Hosts.  He is Commander in Chief of the armies of heaven.  He could unleash them against this virus and it would be gone in a heartbeat.  And yet, He delays.  

I am wondering if He is giving us this time out, this global shutdown, to determine what is really important.  We keep asking when things will return to normal but maybe that is the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking what God wants our new normal to be.  How does He want me to live now and in a post Corona world?  What things really matter?

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS

I woke up this morning trying to remember how many days we have been dealing with this coronavirus.  I know it has been in the world for months, but how many days have we been dealing with it on a personal level.  How many days has it interrupted our normal routine, affected our decisions, and generally inconvenienced us?  I don’t think it has been very long—maybe just days—but I am losing track of time.  We wake up every day in bizarro world, the twilight zone, dystopia.  It is hard to believe that the world has become so utterly shaken in such a short time.

I am a slow learner.  Oh I can quickly memorize useless facts and figures, but life lessons are more difficult to get through this stubborn will of mine.  But in my later, more mature years I have realized that when the Lord allows me to be stilled, sometimes flattened, He has something valuable to teach me, something to share with me, or some instruction for me.  And now he has used this time of isolation to still me 

For example, He is reminding me of the difference between wants and needs.  I do not need 40 cases of toilet paper!  I don’t even need most of the things on my list.  As Jerry and I were praying this morning, I had to thank God for supplying everything we need today.  Everything we need and then some.  It really is not a hardship to be asked to stay at home in a comfortable house with plenty of things to occupy my time and thoughts.  I know we will get through this because I know my God.  We might not get through it in the way I imagine, but we will get through it in a way that will be for our good and His glory.  C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain.  He may be shouting to His church.

I believe God has a bigger purpose for me than stockpiling groceries or watching Netflix in this moment.  A bigger purpose for all of us.  For months and months God has been teaching me about prayer.  Church, I believe it is time to ramp up our prayers, to pray with fervor and intensity.  For years I have been asking God to send another Great Awakening and I believe we could be on the threshold of such a revival.  God invites us to partner with Him in prayer.  Sometimes we think that prayer is such a small thing.  We think there should be other more important things we should do.  But prayer is the thing!  There is no activity more important.

God has ordained all our days.  He knew when we would be born, and He knew all about this coronavirus.  Maybe we were placed here at this moment “for such a time as this (Esther 4:14)!”  This may be our commission for these days of isolation.  

I keep silently singing the words of the old B. B. McKinney hymn, Lord Send a Great Revival. And I pray, Lord send a great revival, and let it begin with me.