Wednesday, July 1, 2020

summertime and the living isn't easy

well, here we are: july first and smack-dab in the middle of summer. typically at this point our brains are busy with independence day plans. our biggest decisions—hot dogs or hamburgers? potato salad or pasta? our greatest concern—the weather, and our minds set excitedly on friends, fireworks and some good, old-fashioned fun.

mercy! when i think of what the first week in july has traditionally been i find myself in need of a deep breath and a quick place to sit down. what is going on? what has happened to life as we know it? when will our days return to normal? and, even more importantly, will normal ever fully return?

i don’t ask those questions flippantly or ignorantly. it doesn’t matter who we are, where we live, or what our take, most of us have a deep level of concern for what is going on in our world this summer.

and let’s be honest, we are as far from summertime as we could have ever imagined.

"summertime and the living is easy." i've always loved ella fitzgerald's version of gershwin's song. she recorded it in 1968, the year i was born. i love that song and i love summer. who doesn't? summer has always suggested longer days, easy living and a lighter heart. the length of day remains true, of course, but certainly the lightness of heart is at best ephemeral. it doesn’t make a bit of sense in this season of beauty. the flowers in my backyard continue to bloom, the birdsong each morning brilliant, the georgia rain always possible, the rising humidity stifling and certain, even the quiet drone of bees is consistent. all of it as beautiful and busy and normal as ever. 

except it's not.

hanging from of our car mirrors are well-worn masks dangling above victoriously acquired bottles of hand sanitizer. our phones and laptops almost daily tuned to news reports and information websites. our plans altered, our schedules more emptied, and our days often jumbled. 

some of us, like the backyard birds and bees, doing our best to move on in our self-arranged cloud of normalcy. we are trying. all of us. perhaps, at different levels and in different ways, but most of us doing our best to figure it out. at least figuring out how to breath safely  how to breath at all. 

our daughter, trying to make some money this summer for college classes, is working long hours at athleta every day.  5 to 7 hours in a mask monitoring the small number of people allowed into the store at one time. women, also in masks, spending their dollars on expensive athletic-wear trying--at least for a brief retail-therapy moment--to pretend life will go back to what we’ve always known it to be. i stopped in the other day to say hey to sarah and was struck with the paradox of normal/not-normal---masked women debating over leggings in eggplant or charcoal.

i came home heavy with it. and sitting on my porch i was hit with how--even in these frantic, frustrated times--God is so faithful in His promises. we forget that. it is easy to forget. but the birds and flowers and, yes, even our clothing … all of it carefully addressed in His Word. He cares for it all. He cares for us all. whether we are in a pandemic or in something more like paradise, He is there and He has a promise for us. even when we don’t know the next steps or the next spike or the next set of rules … He does. 

and, i don’t know about you, but the uncertainty of this particular summertime nudges me to draw closer to His perfect Word.

in Matthew 6 He tells us to “look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. are you not much more valuable than they? can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” 

“and why do you worry about clothes? see how the flowers of the field grow. they do not labor or spin. yet i tell you that not even solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. if that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?”

as created beings our lives look different each day. and, from all i am seeing, this isn’t going to reverse itself any time soon. as i read and listen, i realize, more and more, we don’t have the information, we don’t have the answers, we don’t really have a clue. when science and medicine and people and politicians can’t figure it out or factor it all into anything absolute, than as created beings we must see clearly our own insufficiency and bow before the All-Sufficient Creator. we must. 

i know our nature is inclined to want to be in charge and to be right and to be on top of it all. oh goodness do i ever have that same hard-wiring in me. ask my family, i love information. i love being right. i love being in the know. i love having the inside scoop or the better instinct or the best potential outcome. i constantly want to be in control of my world and my ways. i want to self-govern. i do. i do. i do. 

and i confess it. i am heartsick with it.

i can't help but believe it might benefit all of us as created beings to acknowledge more the one who created us. to acknowledge Him as omnipotent and omniscient and to bow before Him. each day. again and again. as many times as it takes to surrender our selves and our self-made securities and worrisome uncertainties to Him. 

Him—the one who continues to bring summer and each new season despite the world’s pandemic; the one who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the fields and cares for each one of us more than we could possibly understand at all times  especially in these times.

bow before Him.

“for the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.
 in His hand are the depths of the earth, 
and the mountain peaks belong to Him. 
the sea is His, for He made it, 
and His hands formed the dry land.

come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  psalm 95

in this world which is wild in fear and spinning in futility, He is faithful. He is worthy. He is God.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

fear is a liar

recently i had a rather ugly encounter with a woman at the grocery store. inadvertently, i cut in front of her in line. of course it was an accident. perhaps a lame excuse, but i wasn’t in my normal market and rushing with only two items in hand, i didn’t notice the line queuing up across the main aisle from the self-checkout. and so i stepped up. covid-19 times or not, i would never purposefully cut a line. but, i did. and i was wrong.

and, let me tell you folks, there was a woman waiting in that line who couldn’t wait to tell me how wrong i was. she freaked out. 

i mean it. she started yelling at me to the point where i just had to put down my two items and flee the store. i fled. i’m not sure i’ve ever fled anything in my life. but it was crazy and i felt crazy and she was certainly crazy. 

mostly, i was mortified.
and it was all i could do to hold back the tears. 

i am sure my reaction wasn’t just about this out-of-bounds woman though. it was about every time i walk into any grocery store lately and feel like we are a bunch of masked zombies rushing around grabbing scarce amounts of toilet paper and pasta. i’m sure that had something to do with my distress and a lot to do with her indignation.

that was about two weeks ago. since then, i’ve thought quite a bit about this woman and her angry response and i am pretty sure her wild unleashing of  nasty words on me had less to do with anger and more to do with fear. 

yes, fear.

there’s a lot of that going on right now. especially as novel covid is no longer, well, novel. we are all weary of even the very word and yet still unsure on how best to proceed. summer is upon us and we want to make our plans or carry out our plans or at least send our kids to camp for a few days! 

and it’s not just this woman at that store, but i’ve seen and heard so many who are so militant on social media and out on the streets … even in our own neighborhoods.

so much judging on all things covid—who is wearing their mask, how each state is opening up, what our neighbors are doing or not doing or should be doing or could be doing.

lots of opinions, lots of finger-pointing and i’m sure, a staggering amount of silent-judging.

we go back and forth about which chart or model is accurate and who is right and who is wrong and who is actually lying to us. depending on the bend of your ear, it certainly does sound like someone is lying. maybe everyone is lying about something. some say the media and politicians are spreading false information and some say other special interest groups. 
some say. some say. some say.

i continue to stand somewhere in the swirl of that debate on deception and misinformation. and though i’m not completely sure who is lying, i am absolutely certain that fear is a liar.

and it has been from the very beginning. 

don’t think for one minute the evil one hasn’t played this card well in these past few months. he’s a kid in his wicked kind of candy store and loves nothing more than watching our world collapse. don't think for one minute it is not his absolute delight to see us turn upon each other with vicious words and hateful thoughts.

of course there are times for us to speak up and speak out and speak truth—i am all for that. i'm not talking about those moments, but the moments of judging each other’s opinions and actions—the petty policing and continuous unhelpful bickering—and, dear ones, it is gone off the rails. 

though not an expert in human behavior, i have learned in my 50+ years when someone feels the need to tell others what they are doing wrong, quite often it is a control issue based in fear. if we can control our environment and get everyone on board doing everything we think should be done, than it will all be okay. leave nothing to chance. convince everyone of the right way. and make sure they do it exactly as instructed.

and because there are a zillion opinions out there, this plan is sure to breed insurmountable failure and frustration … and ultimately it will bring fear. 

and fear is a liar.

fear, he is a liar.

i love this song by zach williams. listen, if you get a chance!

“fear, he is a liar
he will take your breath
stop you in your steps
fear, he is a liar.
he will rob your rest
steal your happiness
cast your fear in the fire
‘cause fear, he is a liar." 

zach williams "fear, he is a liar"

and, that’s exactly what is happening here as people freak out on each other, get frustrated, and find some morsel of satisfaction in their finger pointing. there is no rest, no breath, no happiness. there is no peace. 

but it doesn’t have to be that way. our peace doesn’t have to come from our perfectly controlled and well-ordered environment. we can have real peace even when someone cuts the line or comes too close or chooses a different path altogether.

the bottom line is that none of us know and none of us are in control. yes, we can all be responsible and do our part—that goes without saying—but that doesn’t guarantee us anything. and if we base our security in how well everyone else lines up, we are certain to be disappointed … maybe even devastated. 

i suppose the ultimate fear is that we could contract covid and die.

here’s the deal though---there is no solution or special program or secret ingredient to ward off death. no matter how hard we try to prolong it, ultimately, no one escapes. regardless of who we are and what we believe, it is imminent for all of us at some point. 

there. i said it. i said the thing.

and if i truly believed that death was the final chapter, than, yes, i suppose that would cause me to clutch the weak fabric of this world a little more tightly too. if this is it, if this is all we get, then, you betcha, you'll find me holding on tightly too. and maybe i’ll freak out more and shake my fist at anyone not willing to follow along and march (socially distant) in line.

don’t get me wrong, i am not being one bit flippant. just like you, i love my life. i love life. i love living. i hate death. i hate dying. i hate disease.

of course i’m doing all the things i know to do to keep me and my loved ones safe, but … BUT … this is not the final chapter, friends. and i think this is a great time to remember that or, if we aren't sure, to, perhaps, explore the possibility. if we have a relationship with Jesus, we know that there is more ... and all of our eggs don’t have to be held in this one earthly basket. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly and have it eternally. He came and died because He loves us that much.

the WHO or the CDC or POTUS … i’m not sorry to say, are not in control of how this goes. they don’t have the answers. they don’t have the solution. maybe they are doing their best—or maybe not—but either way, they have their human limitations and as much as i respect their work and efforts, i cannot place my trust in them. if that's all the security available, than, yes, that would make me very, very afraid. 

but as a follower of Jesus, that is not His best for me. that is is not what He purposed or planned for my life in covid times or any time  “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 timothy 1:7

God’s got this. He holds our whole world in His hands. there will come a day when this world will collapse … but it will not be because of something random and uncontrollable, it will be in the perfect timing of our perfect and all powerful God.

Jesus said, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. not as the world gives do I give to you. let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” john 14:27

and, the good news? the very best news? 
if you know Him, you do not have to live in fear. 

“there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 john 4:18

“i sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” 
psalm 34:4

“when i am afraid, i put my trust in you.”  psalm 56:3

as i wrap up this (already too long) post, i can't help but think of that beautiful old song, "in Christ alone." 

"no guilt in life,
no fear in death,
this is the power of Christ in me.
from life's first cry to final breath, 
Jesus commands my destiny.
no power of hell, no scheme of man,
can ever pluck me from His hand.
till He returns or calls me home
here in the power of Christ i'll stand."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

so much to say

we may have collectively slowed ourselves down this spring, but gosh have we ever ramped up on our words. never have i seen so much bantering back and forth. pick your media, pick your madness.

pandemic? PLANdemic?

no mask? 
type of mask?

he said. she said.
i think. you think. they don’t think.

finger pointing, fist raising, words racing—socially distant, of course.

i get it: we don’t know what to do. we don’t really know how we got here or where exactly we are going. everything feels pretty uncertain and awfully unstable.
we can’t plan anything past our next meal and this leaves us feeling a bit unprepared about, well, everything.

some of us are bored. most all of us are burdened.

but our words, y’all—we’ve got to do something about them. so many opinions and so much passion. maybe our words need to follow our recent activity level: stay home. slow down. save lives.

i like words too. you know i do. but because there is unbelievable power in the words we unleash, we’ve got to choose them wisely. we need to use them well.

“death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” proverbs 18:21
let our words be life-giving. i think we can all agree, there’s enough death in our world right now.

recently, a bee-keeping friend gave us a lovely jar of honey. it was amazing to watch how much it blessed our family. we poured it in our tea and on our waffles and we sang her praises. we couldn’t get enough of this sweetness! it made everything better — even frozen waffles! it made me think of the gift of good words. 

“gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” proverbs 16:24

Monday, May 11, 2020

digging deeper

my kids tease me for thinking that digging in the soil makes everything a little bit better. tease away children, but i won’t be convinced otherwise. it helps. there’s something cathartic in turning a shovel-full of soil or burrowing my hands deep into dirt. perhaps not best for a manicure, but who worries about those these days anyway? 

the outdoors, y’all—if you haven’t discovered it more keenly since quarantine life, can i suggest you might be missing something? 

you don’t need a garden of eden to explore. perhaps it is only a couple of tomato pots on your balcony or watching a handful of seeds germinate in a sunny, warm window. maybe it is something ambitious like sectioning off an acre or two for late summer vegetables, but it can certainly be walks in a nearby park or sipping your morning coffee to the songs of birds. the options are endless.

working in my yard is something i come by honestly. it’s in my blood. i grew up with a grandpa who was always fiddling with some flower or plant. i can close my eyes and still see him standing with garden hose in hand watering our small patch of city grass. that patch of grass and those sunny orange marigolds of his, i remember them like yesterday. to this day, i cannot see a marigold and not think of my grandpa.

my mom looking over her lovely patio
as each generation often does, my parents took it a step further: by the time i was in high school they had prolific gardens growing all over our backyard. some of you have seen the pictures of the home they just sold last summer. i’ve posted a few below. it has been their shared passion for decades. i love that. i love that for years they have spent days digging side by side and evenings sitting in their garden, sipping a glass of something and talking about their lilies or lilacs. even up to last year, my mom would count her day lilies every single day, keeping a list of her numbers from june through august—some summers counting over 2500 lilies. that is true commitment, people! 

my sister, jess
my siblings and i also share this passion. each one of us approaching it slightly different as we live in unique regions of our country, but all of us wired for this garden thing: dig deep, get dirty, enjoy the fruits and beauty of our outdoor labors. my sister, jess, in her brooklyn brownstone. my sister, nicole, living in the lush pacific northwest, my brother, doug, up in beautiful ohio and me here in the deep south. we just need a southwest sibling growing cacti and succulents and we’d be all set. 

i love that it’s our family thing. 

nicole's gorgeous veggies!
i love that we can send pictures of our blooming butterfly bushes or bright japanese maples. i love that we share excitement over the slow unfurling of leaves or the baby green fronds of new ferns. and we don’t have to explain why we are sharing our photos. we know everyone gets it. growing up together in a one bathroom home in cleveland ohio, we might not always have appreciated each other, but as grown up gardeners spread across our country, we have great appreciation for each other’s outdoor expression.
through this strange time of quarantine, i’ve been so grateful to witness the incredible unfolding of spring in my own yard. daily, i watch nature bursting forth, painting my yard-canvas in bright colors.  i’ve had lots of time to notice and i’m pretty sure i’ve never seen a lovelier spring down here in georgia. 

brooke, modeling me. =)
the yard is my place. chances are you’ll find me out there more often than in my own kitchen. in fact, a few weeks ago, when our family dressed up as each other for some quarantine fun, my son’s girlfriend (brooke) drew my name and dressed as she sees me — twigs in hair and leaf blower in hand. it made me laugh. (see video). i guess that looks a little cra-cra, but it’s truly my happy place. garden hair and i don't care! 

i’ve spent the majority of my quarantine in the yard. 

it keeps me grounded. connected. it keeps me feeling full of hope. the rhythms of nature and the cycles of seasons … there is something comforting and sure about them. when the world stopped in the month of march, nature marched on, marched forward, marched forth. 
burst forth.

there’s no surprise for me that Jesus used the ideas of gardening in His description of our growth in and connection to Him. this makes perfect sense for me. i can’t be in nature and not see Jesus. His plan. His creation. His beauty.

“for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” romans 1:20

it's not only about marveling at the complexity of His design, but we are also to  learn from it. there are countless analogies which explain and encourage us in our relationship with the Lord.  jeremiah tells us --
“they will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. it does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. it has no worries in the a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” jeremiah 17

notice he writes “WHEN heat comes.” it’s not a matter of IF adversity will arrive, but WHEN. because when we are truly rooted in Him —truly rooted near the life giving stream of His holy waters—we will have roots already in place and they will dig deeper and we will not worry and, dear ones, even in great difficulty, we can bear fruit. 

in adversity, where we have positioned ourselves is everything. 
are we close to the stream?
are we close to Him?

or are we depending on ourselves? 
depending on our own perseverance and our  self-mustering strength? 

the degree of heat and the enormity of suffering—though certainly significant —aren’t everything. but WHERE we are in relation to the True Gardener of our souls is what counts most. i know this. i’ve read this passage countless times in my 50+ years, but oh how i need to be reminded of it so often: stay close. stay connected. stay entwined to the True Vine:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. … remain in me, as I also remain in you. no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. if you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. this is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my
disciples. as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. now remain in my love.” john 15

another word for remain is abide. “ABIDE in me, as i also ABIDE in you. no branch can bear fruit by itself; it must ABIDE in the vine. neither can you bear fruit unless you ABIDE in me.”

all of this time out in my yard, whether growing vegetables or flowers, has convinced me 100% that the only way toward life and growth is to remain well connected to the True Vine. the georgia sun is something quite fierce. even the smallest break from a plant’s life-giving source means sure and certain death. there’s no “kind of” connected or “almost” attached. it doesn’t work that way in nature. it doesn’t work that way in our
human nature either. 

we are not just encouraged to remain and abide, but commanded to do so. why? is it because our God is controlling or is it because our God is compassionate? He knows anything less will leave us completely exposed to the withering heat of adversity. He wants us strong and thriving. challenges, even suffering, are what lead us to greater dependence on Him.

times like these make it clear. times like these make us more aware. if i’m thinking i’ve got enough in me to get through it based on my own preparedness or perseverance, i’m going to quickly find out i’m not nearly enough.  

the heat has come. the adversity is everywhere. and our world is weary.

i need a life-sustaining source. 
i need continual refreshment.
i need the hope of daily renewal.
i need evidence of fruit and growth. 

dear ones, i need what only Jesus can give. 

can i do it perfectly? of course not. no, i must constantly ask Him to keep me close and to help me abide in Him. it is a daily struggle, friends, because our very human nature wants so badly to do it ourselves. there’s just something about us which longs for that autonomy. oh how we love to self-govern. think back to that first sin in the garden of eden. adam and eve wanted their own way too. they were given everything, but they wanted that one fruit outside of God’s best. they wanted to put themselves in control, themselves in charge … and look what happened.

 these are hard times to be sure. but it is times like these which bring us to the end of our stubborn, self-governing selves. when we find out we aren’t enough, we begin searching for the One who is. and maybe this very self-lacking will show us our need for a new beginning: a rooting, a connecting, a depending, a digging deeper than we could possibly dig on our own. 

dear ones, don’t be afraid of not being enough. let it be the very thing which leads us to the life giving waters of Him.

“that is why, for Christ’s sake, i delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. for when i am weak, then i am strong.” 2 corinthians 12:9-11

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” isaiah 40:29

“ah, Sovereign Lord, YOU have made the heavens and the earth by YOUR great power and outstretched arm. nothing is to hard for you.”  jeremiah 32:17

“for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” romans 1:20