This morning I spent five minutes buckling myself into an ankle brace so I could play tennis. I’m healing from a severe ankle sprain, and although I really dislike the push-and-pull battle of strapping myself into this contraption, I am grateful it allows me to hit the courts again. I may not enjoy the constricted, slower movement when wearing this sweaty thing, but it provides the protection I need to go and participate in something I love.
I started thinking of all kinds of similarities between this brace and my relationship with God.
I know many people think Christians are uptight, and that their lives lack freedom and fun. They don’t want to go to church or become “Jesus freaks” because they don’t want to live by God’s “restrictive rules.”
In truth, the kind of lives believers experience within the confines of His will for us yield incredible freedom and blessing.
Yes, God gave us the Bible, and within it He set forth guidelines for how He wants us to live our lives. God also gave us free will to make our own choices, though. The beautiful mystery is that when we choose to live within God’s expectations for us, we are allowing His greatest blessings to fall upon us.
My ankle brace restricts my ankle’s movement, but it does so only to the degree that the ankle moves safely. Likewise, the boundaries God has set forth are for our physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. We find ourselves freer to live life to the fullest because we are surrounded by His hedge of protection.
Just like I would miss out on playing tennis were it not for this brace, we children of God miss out on wonderful things He has planned for us because we stray from the confines of His safety net.
To experience true freedom, we must surrender authority to our Creator God, and rest in His authority over all. A word of advice? Strap yourselves in tightly, because His blessings will knock your socks off!
A lot of LIFE has happened since I last wrote a blog – cancer diagnoses, surgeries, heart attacks, a global pandemic and quarantine, a suspended school year that required me to suddenly become a homeschool teacher, a new school year, buying a house, selling a house, and moving with a severely sprained ankle – just to name a few.
As I sit here typing in my new writing room, very little feels familiar. Even my fingernails look different, with a glittery polish that I swear was not the one I selected at the nail place last week. The room behind my laptop screen holds an entirely different view. It’s quieter here, without the sirens of a nearby fire station or the distant laughter and squeals of children on a school playground. Even the fragrance here is new, because I changed laundry detergents recently, and I’m not sure I like that “powerful clean” scent.
Different is not bad though … it’s just different.
With a world that is so rapidly changing that our heads are spinning from the centrifugal forces, “different” may feel like an enemy to our peace. “Change” may feel completely overwhelming. “New” may sound like a code-word for a forced way of doing things that none of us wanted or ever asked for in the first place.
Now, “nostalgia” – that’s where it’s at these days. We long for the way life used to be, how we used to do things, and how it all felt. Hindsight is 20/20, right? Well … let’s just agree to not use that phrase anymore, shall we?
But what if even now, God is still in our midst? What if all the events of 2020 are no surprise to Him? What if He really is using all of these things for our – dare I say it – good?
According to Scripture, these are facts upon which we can rely.
In the midst of the many trials we are facing; in the midst of endless change; in the midst of so much uncertainty; in the midst of a dang woodpecker that will not for the love leave my new house alone; God is still in control. That will never change. And that is where we find strength to embrace the present and the future.
The world may look different, my little piece of the world may feel entirely unfamiliar, and tomorrow it may all change yet again, but I rest in the knowledge that my Jesus is walking right beside me in every moment. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8), and that will never change.
“Shhhh!” Johnathan urgently whispered. “There’s a fake man sleeping in my room!”
My then-four-year-old caught me off-guard with his instructions. On the one hand, he was adamant that everyone in the house conform to his imaginary world; on the other hand, his own words betrayed him when he described the man as “fake.”
I miss the quiet, simple days of imaginary play. Life is incredibly noisy and complicated right now. Exhaustingly so, even. Gone are the peaceful school-day hours when I had the house to myself. Gone is the solitude of enjoying my morning coffee, or a few minutes here or there where family members were out of the house doing other things. Gone are the trips to a coffee shop or diner where I’d tap away at my laptop while eating brunch. We’re all stuck in the house, pretty much all the time. Television shows, music, video games, talking, bickering, laughing, appliances running, cabinets closing, dishes clanking … it’s loud up in here.
And then there’s social media. Full stop. Everyone is shouting their opinions at the top of their lungs with every meme, statement, cartoon, post, and picture. COVID statistics, instructions, politics, racism, and more at every turn. I can’t process it anymore. I literally cannot. Overwhelmed is an understatement. My brain never shuts off, yet I’ve found it incredibly difficult to put thoughtful sentences together. I procrastinate writing because that means meditating on ideas, unpacking concepts, dealing with emotional pain, and pondering truths. I feel incapable at the moment. Unqualified. Unworthy of saying anything profound or meaningful in these never-seen-before circumstances.
The deepest truth: I am desperate for peace — peace in our world, peace in our government, peace in our society, peace in my home, peace in my own mind.
I cannot imagine more comforting words in this present time. Despite everything we currently face, Jesus has already won the battle. He has overcome this world. And the gift He left us? True, honest-to-goodness peace.
Are you troubled, afraid, anxious? I have my moments, to be sure. These are not emotions Jesus wants for us, though. When your own child or someone you love feels this way, how do you respond? I just scoop them up into my arms, speak comforting words, and often pray with them. I imagine this is what God wants to do with us, His children. He wants to take us in His arms, reassure us, and hold us until we feel secure again.
I feel pretty helpless, and definitely child-like because of it. So much is out of our hands right now. The weight of our current problems is a burden too great for any person to bear. So today, I want to encourage us all to climb into our Heavenly Father’s arms. Cry out to Abba, Father. Open the Bible and allow Him to speak consoling and encouraging words to you. Rest in His presence.
I routinely dropped my son off at school one morning, and watched as he climbed out of the back seat.
I offered my typical, “Bye, sweetie!”
He replied, “Bye sweetie Mommy,” quickly closed the door, and off he went.
I sat in the car for a moment, giggling at his funny farewell. This was decidedly a nice change from his “fart-and-run” goodbye from the previous morning, which he found hilarious.
Next week, however, I have to say goodbye to some friends that are moving, and I don’t find the situation funny at all. I hate goodbyes. I mean, does anyone really like them? My tender heart is the one that doesn’t want to let go during that last hug, and I fight mightily to keep tears at bay. I’ve grown pretty adept at the “be strong for the other person” act.
But my currently-breaking little heart wonders, “In a world filled with goodbyes, why are they still so hard?”
Let’s face it, people: Goodbyes stink. Nothing here is permanent. Everything is temporary. Life itself is transitory, leading to the ultimate goodbye of death itself. I think we’d rather live our lives in denial of all this, but goodbyes remind us of the truth: we’re mortal. And our time here is limited. Only heaven is eternal.
Knowing this and living this are two completely different things. We can know something yet not be acutely aware of it. We can admit the truth but not make choices with it in the forefront of our minds. So, how exactly are we to handle the ideas of our very brief lives juxtaposed against an unending Heaven?
If we want to remember our present limitations, we actually need to fix our minds on what is limitless: God.
In contrast to the temporal earth, heaven is eternal. If we tie our future to Christ’s sacrifice, we know the best is yet to come. We know every goodbye is actually a “see you later.” In heaven, we can look forward to never having to say another goodbye.
It’s hard to even imagine a place with no goodbyes. I am so eager for it though, especially as I currently prepare my heart to help my dear friends pack up their moving truck. I sweetly recall holding their newborn in my arms, sending my own daughters off to babysit their children, family dinners, hugs at church, and watching Longhorn football games. No spoken platitudes make this easier.
I will, however, pray we will make more memories in the future. And I will, however, cling to the hope of our eternal reunion in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Christ is the only hope I profess, and He is more than enough.
Who are we? I’ve asked myself this question numerous times lately. As someone who tends to always find and focus on the good in others, I’ve truly struggled recently to reconcile some of the ugliness I’ve witnessed in those around me. I feel guilty for saying “I’m shocked,” because to admit shock is to admit I haven’t truly been listening to cries for help from people of color. I haven’t always believed their side of the story. It was a whole lot more comfortable to think their tales were exaggerated than to look an inconceivable hatred square in the eyes. I am so very sorry and ashamed.
It feels to me like we are living through a very dark time in history. But here’s what I really want us to hear: it’s only through darkness that God can best reveal the redemptive power of His light. And I hope and pray we’re turning on the lights.
Shining light into the darkness is a painful, but necessary, process. Without it, there is no progress. The vile ideas and habits that reside in the shadows scatter like cockroaches when we flip on the light switch. We know the disease-ridden bugs are there, living under the baseboards and inside the cracks in the walls, but when light floods the room, we can no longer pretend to deny their existence or presence. Suddenly we are forced to confront the nastiness of those vile creatures, and we have to take action to get rid of them.
Racism is like those cockroaches, infesting the homes and minds of our families, friends, and neighbors. And it is way past time to turn on the lights and expose them.
Have you ever hosted company at your fine dining table when a roach suddenly scurries across the floor? You pray your friends don’t notice, and your face flushes red while you silently panic about how to best handle the situation. We know roaches exist, and we know we may even play host to some, but unless we see the nasty bugs with our own eyes, we are quite content to claim we are immune to such an awful situation.
But the truth? Roaches are everywhere. But unless I suddenly turn on a light in the middle of the night, or shine a spotlight into the dark corners of the patio, I might never realize I’ve created a hospitable environment for them.
What I’ve recently realized is that it’s not enough to silently endure others’ racism while condemning it in my own head or speaking against it only in “safer” company. Not wanting to “make waves” is no excuse. Being able to see the good in someone does not mean I have to “let slide” that person’s racist remarks. To not call out racism and condemn it is to actually give it my blessing ; I’m creating that “hospitable environment” where people feel those hateful ideas are acceptable.
I would never allow cockroaches to take over my home, so why would I allow racism inside? If I saw cockroaches, I would grab a shoe and start swatting the little suckers, or pick up a can of Raid and drown them in poison; and, you better believe I would call an exterminator to draw a line of protection around my home so they could never return!
Like an exterminator spraying an insecticide barrier around our houses, we need to draw a blood line of Jesus around our homes. We need to refer our spiritual exterminator to everyone we know, because Jesus died for all. He created us different, yet the same. He clearly instructs us to love one another! Once your own home is clear of roaches, grab a shoe and start swatting other peoples’, too. Those insects nest and colonize and infest everywhere they land. Turn on the light and expose them! Root them out of their hiding places in the darkness, and shine the light of Truth. We cannot allow roaches of racism to multiply and take over our homes and communities or, let’s be real, even our newsfeeds.
I’ll say it again: shining light into the darkness is painful, and it’s ugly. It’s really ugly, shining light into the nasty infestation of racism. But if we can get through the painstaking process of exposing it and confronting it, we can then get to work on ending it. After hundreds of years, America still finds itself in the very first stage of simply turning on the lights! It’s shameful. It seems intolerance just keeps finding new ways to hide and proliferate. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I cannot be lackadaisical about racism. Like getting rid of cockroaches, annihilation is the only answer.
At my house, I will not turn a blind eye any longer. To my non-white friends: I believe you. It hurts to admit there is such evil in others, but I will no longer be silent under a misguided attempt to be “non-confrontational,” or to insulate myself from the hatred that exists in our world.
“Johnathan! Why did you just stick your tongue out at me?” Rachel yelled.
“I didn’t!” he replied indignantly. “I was just stretching it!”
And there it is, folks — a disagreement in the Carlson household.
Let’s just admit it and face it: our world is ripe with disagreements these days. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted from it.
Wear a mask; don’t wear a mask. Go to church; don’t go to church. Get tested for COVID-19; don’t get tested. Open up businesses; don’t open up businesses. It’s enough to make our heads spin.
As Christians, how do we deal with disagreement?
Humble. Gentle. Patient. Forgiving. Loving. Striving for unity. Could the people you’ve come in contact with in recent days use these words to describe you? Think about that for a moment.
I believe it’s all too fashionable these days to be quickly perturbed or even outraged. The loudest voices are those that scream their discontent, frustration and disgust at us ad nauseum across our plethora of streaming devices. Where have all the moderates gone? Why do cooler heads no longer prevail? Why is anger the emotion du jour?
I dare say this is not the way Jesus would respond if He were still walking in flesh amongst us. Jesus liked to keep it simple, probably because we have simple minds.
That’s it. Love others the way He did. Jesus didn’t agree with much of anyone while He was here on earth. We are a mess, after all. But He also didn’t shout and condemn everyone, and tell them how stupid they all were. He listened. He spoke wisdom in the form of parables they could understand. And then He left them to make up their own minds. He didn’t keep dogging them until they voiced agreement with Him, as many of us are prone to do. He allowed them to make their own choices.
When we insist on our own way and constantly assert our righteousness (read “right-ness”), we push others away.
Let’s stop bickering and sticking our proverbial tongues out at each other. It’s not like any of us have dealt with a pandemic before, anyway. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve been given.
May we all strive to show one another the grace and love that Christ shows us.
I am experiencing an intense love/hate relationship with cooking right now. I oscillate between the blissful, therapeutic, rhythmic chopping of fresh vegetables and stirring of pots and saucepans, to absolute dread and anguish at the mere thought of planning and preparing one more meal.
I’m reminded of my mixed emotions the time a young Johnathan approached the dinner table and exclaimed, “Hey guys! I like all of you. But I do not like that chicken.” I didn’t know if I should laugh, cry, or scold him. I’m feeling a similar mix of emotions on a daily basis now, courtesy of quarantine.
If you are a hot mess of all the feelings these days like I am, maybe you can find some comfort, as I do, in the following thoughts:
First, this too shall pass. We’ve all heard it and we all know it, but while we remain in isolation as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves that this won’t last forever (unlike laundry … and cooking). History can teach us a great deal about cycles and seasons, if we bother to look. Difficult times – truly bad ones, even – will in fact arrive. But don’t forget, good times will return.
Second, we are not abandoned nor alone. We will face trials, but we will never face them on our own. God is always with us. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Jesus is always standing in the gap. Like Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, God is very present in our times of trouble.
Third, we can do more than just survive during suffering. We can thrive. I know it seems hard when everyday feels like a struggle, but I promise this is possible. Think about when you start an exercise routine. Man, it’s so hard. You struggle to complete the first few workouts. Your muscles are screaming at you. But you know good stuff is happening inside your body, even if you can’t see it yet. The same can be true for our spiritual lives. Just because we can’t see or understand what God is up to, doesn’t mean He isn’t at work within us and others. In fact, God does His best work in us when we are at our weakest. That’s because when the false veil of self-sufficiency is yanked back, and our false sense of security is stripped away, we realize our very real, very deep need for God, and for a savior. When we turn and seek Him in the midst of suffering, He reveals new depths of comfort, understanding, and love, and we can experience new aspects of His character that lead us to a greater trust in Him.
Fourth, we can find peace in the knowledge that nothing happening in our world today is a surprise to our Heavenly Father. It may surprise the heck out of us, but God sees all and knows all. He has a plan for everything that has ever happened and ever will happen. Our circumstances never shock Him.
Though the ground beneath us may feel like shifting sand, we ourselves can choose to stand firm, because we serve a God that neither moves nor changes. In all circumstances, with our gaze fixed on Him, we can choose gratitude, kindness, and connection. We can choose faith and trust in our steadfast God.
I sit in front of the keyboard today with its blinking cursor and I just cry. Part of me wants to start writing and never stop, to experience some great catharsis. A different part of me wants to avoid writing altogether, and succumb to this numbing experience of quarantine and isolation.
Am I the only one feeling entirely stuck these days? Torn between apparent opposites?
A friend of mine posted yesterday on Facebook that it’s okay to be less productive than normal during this global pandemic. One of my writing groups, on the other hand, is loudly shouting for all to hear that there will never be a better time to brainstorm/write/edit/publish that book; as if not cranking it out right this minute means it will never ever happen.
Like I said, I am firmly stuck between two opposing schools of thought when it comes to writing productivity. Similarly, I seem to oscillate at home between being the master completer of all household projects, and the master completer of TV and puzzle binges.
Time is a tricky concept. Sometimes it feels as if life isn’t really going anywhere right now. Without milestones like graduations, parties, grading periods, and sports championships, every day looks and feels pretty much the same, like time is standing still. It feels as if God pushed the “pause” button on the entire world. Alternatively, the pages are flying off the calendar. How can that be so? What day is it? What month, even? I’ve lost track of the time that is, in fact, passing.
I struggle to look beyond the right here and right now, but I think it’s important that we do. Have you given any thought to the future? When the crisis has passed, how do you want your life to look?
I’ve been pondering this a great deal. We have great clarity right now, in these slowed-down, simpler times. Wildlife is returning to urban areas, marine life is returning closer to the shore, air quality is way up, noise pollution is down. On the other hand, covid-19 has shown us sickness, death, our innate weakness as humans trying to fight disease, poverty, failures in our economy, and hunger.
What do we want to take with us into the future? What do we want to leave behind? Which lessons do we want to learn, to bring about change from, and to always remember?
I encourage you to spend some time in thought and prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment, questioning how He wants us to eventually move on from this surreal moment in time.
I know I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. I want to do better. To be better. And to live in a better world. I admittedly don’t know exactly how that will look, but I’m taking some time to try and figure it out. After all, what better time than now?
I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. Jesus told Martha that she was worried and busy with many things, but only needed to be concerned with one thing, and that one thing was studying at His feet as her sister Mary had chosen to do.
Maybe it’s okay to be frustrated … to not be super productive … to feel stuck between opposing forces and ideas. Maybe that’s the point. Discomfort forces us to dig deeper and draw closer to the One who holds the answers to our questions — to the One who can bring us peace beyond our understanding.
If ever we needed to focus on being Marys instead of Marthas, the time is now. If we ever needed Jesus, the time is now.
I finally decorated my Easter tree today. I’ve had a hard time mustering the energy and determination to do it. For me, Easter is about celebration — specifically, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. In light of the current state of our sick and quarantined world, I haven’t felt much like celebrating; therefore, I haven’t felt much like decorating for Easter.
Today, I realized the error of my ways. If there was ever a cause for celebrating, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is it! Despite everything going on around us, we need to remember that we serve a risen Savior. We need to remember that we are sons and daughters of the King. We need to remember that because of Jesus, we, too, can claim ultimate victory over sin and even death.
Today, my sweet Heavenly Father gently reminded me of the following:
Faith, like love, isn’t just about doing what we feel like doing.
2. Faith, like love, is a commitment.
3. Faith, like love, is about clinging to a promise, and keeping one’s own promise in return.
4. Faith, like love, is about holding onto hope when everything may look or feel hopeless.
Jesus Christ is our hope. And He is faithful. And He has risen victoriously over sin and death.
“GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF YOUR NOSE! You’re gonna catch the ‘Rona!”
It reminded me of a time when nose-picking was simply gross, not potentially fatal. My son was six years old at the time, and he asked me out of seemingly nowhere, “Mom, did you pick your nose when you were a kid?”
I responded seriously, “No. I didn’t start picking my nose until I was a grown-up.”
He laughed and gave me a stereotypical, “Moooom!” reply. Then he was silent for a little while, until I heard him mutter under his breath, “I bet Dad picked his … AND ate them.”
The thoughts that come out of this kid’s mouth never fail to amuse me.
We are living through a pandemic where simple things like touching your own face are discouraged. We don masks if we have to venture out in public. We maintain six feet of distance from others. We worry about getting sick. We worry if we will get the healthcare we need if we do get sick. We worry about being able to get groceries for our families. The schools are empty. The playgrounds are empty. The restaurants are empty. The offices are empty.
It’s like we’re living in a dystopian novel.
We know we need to turn to God in the midst of this storm. We know we need to put our trust in Him and have faith. That’s not what this blog is about. What God impressed upon me today is the wonderful, kind and compassionate ways the world is responding to this crisis.
I watched an old episode of “7th Heaven” this morning with my son. Titled “I hate you,” the story centered on a Holocaust survivor sharing her story with a classroom full of young students, and the past and current ways we vilify others and unite in our disdain for them.
I started thinking about how it is times of trauma, crises, need, and shortage that often result in power-hungry and bigoted leaders rising up to power. As humans, we instinctively draw near to those who promise us safety, protection, and abundance, and particularly so in times of uncertainty. We need to guard ourselves against turning to false idols when we are afraid.
I don’t know about all of you, but I’m seeing a lot more support, kindness, and compassion in my corner of the world as we fight this unseen virus enemy. I pray it continues. Neighbors helping neighbors, parents spending quality time with their children, communities working together to feed those in need, the vast majority of us trying to protect the most vulnerable. Gratitude abounds for educators, healthcare workers, grocery store workers, and first responders.
I think we will look back at this time in history and see that we chose to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, and slowed down long enough to focus on what’s most important: relationships.
It’s ironic that it took governments forcing us to physically distance ourselves for us to utilize the technology we’ve had at our fingertips for years to truly connect with one another. It took not being able to spend time physically close to friends and family for us to take the time to reach out and have meaningful conversations with them. It took not having the option of going to church for millions of people to seek out worship online.
If we look, we will see a whole lot more going right than wrong.
So be encouraged. This, too, will pass. (But for the love, STAY HOME so it will pass quickly.) In the meantime, draw near to God, draw near to those He’s given into your care, and look for the many ways others are expressing His love all around you. Know that you can express that love, too, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Stay home. Be blessed. And be a blessing to others.