WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM QUARANTINE?
This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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The other day I wanted to wear my white jeans. I went to my closet but couldn’t find them. I started flipping through piles, digging through shelves, and even asked my daughter if maybe, she’d borrowed my white jeans. When she said, “no,” and I still couldn’t find them I got a little frenzied, and in desperation may or may not have thrown all of my jeans on the floor.
Later, calmer, as I refolded my jeans and lined them back on my shelf, I shook my head, because I clearly have too many pairs of jeans. And the thing is if you have too much of something, it weighs you down, gets in your way, and makes it harder to do the things you were made to do.
Too many pairs of jeans meant not being able to find the pair I was looking for. Which were a waste of time and a source of unnecessary stress.
Too much ice cream too fast gives me a brain freeze. Too much sun burns my skin. Too much caffeine makes me jittery. Too many things scheduled into my day stresses me out as I try to do it all and get there on time. But there are more dangerous things too, aren’t there? Too much spending can cause financial strain and debt. Too much time with the wrong people and we can start to lose sense of our true selves.
My heap o’ jeans led to a good old closet cleansing. Yes, all of this excess in the picture—bags upon bags—came out in one day (and I hadn’t even touched three of my kids’ drawers yet). All of this stuff was hampering ease of finding things, decisions about what to wear, making it difficult to shut drawers. It was time to purge. These items can now go where they can do some good – old goalie jerseys to the local soccer program, outgrown school uniforms to younger kids at the school, and clothes we just don’t need to the local community charity. Of course, when I start to get rid of excess it just opens my eyes to how much of it I have, and how much more I need to clean out. But it’s not just my closets that need cleared out.
Is there any excess baggage you’re carrying around? Too many late nights leaving you exhausted? Too many texts from someone who belittles you making you feel small and desperate? Too many episodes of Friends leaving you unproductive? Too many hours stressing about the same job/relationship/fill-in-the-blank over and over again instead of handing it over to God? Too much time on social media making you brain-dead? I know a lot of people focus on spring-cleaning, but there’s no time like the present to get rid of whatever is bogging you down.
When I get rid of excess, I pare down closer to the core of who I am, my true essence, my true reflection. When I purge the things cluttering my life and heart there is less in the way of who God created me to be, and more time and space for me to just be His child.
What about you? What excess do you need to get rid of in your life?
While grabbing an apple in the kitchen to fight off a mid-day stomach growl, I heard an erratic banging from the dining room. I peeked around the corner to spy a large black bird flapping his wings and flying straight toward one of the windows--crash—hitting it so hard, he fell back to the ground in a feathered heap. Was he dead? How long had he been down here? How in the world did a bird get in our house?
The bird quickly answered my first question—he was not dead—by rearranging his body, raising his wings and aiming straight toward another window, only to repeat the whole crashing and crumpling scene. A close-up wild bird is very different than gazing at one flittering through the trees. He appeared so much gawkier, louder, and infinitely crazier. My instinct was to get him OUT! But he was like a lunatic, also probably severely concussed, so I avoided his hysterical flapping (I did not want him plummeting into me) by ducking through the hallway to open the front door. I swung the wooden door in and the storm door out, sliding the catch so it would stay open, all while talking to the bird as if it were a toddler, “Come on bird. Here’s the door. You can go outside now. Here you go.” But where did he go? He was nowhere in sight.
I followed my ears to the clatter of colliding and flapping in the living room. He must have snuck in this room, like one of those secret passageways in Clue—where you can go straight from the Conservatory to the Lounge even though they’re on opposite ends of the game board. He had tricks up his feathered sleeves, and he was now head-banging against the window in his new room. When he fell to the floor. Again. I rushed past him to open the back door leading to our screened-in porch “Alright, bird. Come on out to the porch. I’ll get this door open for you too, or the front door’s still an option. Either one works for me.”
I got the screen door open and finally remembered to breathe as he soared onto the porch. Brilliant. Until he crashed straight into one of the screens. I now know the origin of the word “birdbrain”. I closed off the porch, so he couldn’t get back in the house, and kept talking to him while shooing him time after time in the direction of the exit. After several crash and burns, he flew outside. I slammed and latched the door behind him.
Finally free of the problem of having a large bird flopping around my home, I pondered how he ever got so misplaced that he ended up here, that he thought he wanted to be in our house instead of out in the open where he belonged? How did he get so confused, distracted that he couldn’t distinguish glass or screens from air, from wide-open spaces? I considered how the more exhausted and anxious he got, the more he seemed to spin out of control.
But I do it too. Do you? Do you ever run into the same wall time and time again? Trying to do it all by yourself, ignoring the voice coaching you out to freedom
Instead of embracing the trees and sky where God has placed you, do you ever seek something you’re not suited for, somewhere unbecoming of the beautiful being God created you to be? Have you ever banged your head on the glass thinking it might be a way out, crashed into a screen when you’ve flown a little too high or too low?
Like that bird, we all get off track sometimes, misplaced, confused about where we want to be, where we should be, what is truly important. We find ourselves someplace we never imagined, and we can get trapped there. Appearances, brands, numbers on the scale, on test results, on the scoreboard, or in our checkbooks distract us. We get tired and stressed, which confuses us and we start making bad, frantic decisions. But how do we get back on track, back to our true selves, our true reflections?
It’s easy, if we’re willing to take a deep breath, get our bearings and listen. God is opening doors and windows giving us fresh opportunities and new chances, shooing us to the openings, to the ways out of bad situations and into wide-open spaces. He’s talking to us saying, “Look over here!” We just need to listen.
And when we pull ourselves out of our heaps and fly to the beautiful places He’s providing for us, we can stop feeling scared, lost, overwhelmed, or incapable, and spread our beautiful wings and soar as He designed us to do.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1
When I’m in yoga class standing on one leg with my arms above my head and I wobble, I hear my instructor call out “reset”.
What does reset mean? Merriam Webster defines it as to set again or anew.
We are now almost four weeks into 2013. How’s it going so far? We love to set goals and make resolutions and plan out calendars and workouts and vacations and to do lists when January 1st rolls round. But frequently we set goals and make plans that are out of our reach, below our capabilities or just plain silly. Sometimes we set awesome goals, but find excuses not to attain them. Sometimes life happens and our goals must change.
Goals are important, critical to growth, actually. They’re how we get from here to there, but they are also fluid and need constant revising.
For me, I’ll be celebrating Christmas on Ground Hog’s Day. That wasn’t the plan. It didn’t make any of my lists, but due to family medical emergencies, February is when we can all get together.
I am thrilled, giddy, honored, humbled and blessed to announce the first two books in my latest series will release in April. I didn’t know have this information on January 1. This exciting news changes all of my writing goals for the year. I need to focus on the release of those two titles. I need to shelve rewriting a novel I was working on and instead start writing the third book in this series. All fab stuff, but...
How about you? Has anything happened to change your plans? If you’re an athlete an injury could switch you from developing new skills to rehabilitating. If your family is moving, you might change your focus from organizing your closet to how to decorate your new bedroom. Those 25 sit ups a day might be easier than you thought, or it might turn out it was taking on more than you could handle to assume you could practice your electric keyboard a whole hour every day.
How are you doing? Are you off balance? Have the wrong foot forward? Did something arise in your life that changes everything? Is something easier than you thought challenging you to push yourself harder? Are you facing the wrong direction? Or are you further ahead than planned? It's okay to change your original plan.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!
I’d love to hear how you’re pushing the reset button and starting anew.
The trickiest moment for me each day is pulling into my garage. Due to some optic issues (three eye surgeries as a child) I have no depth perception. Both sides of the garage seem to be closing in on me, or maybe they’re really far away – impossible to say. After nine years of driving my old car, I’d figured out the angle to head in, the timing of turning my wheel, the exact second to rotate the steering wheel counterclockwise to straighten out. But my trusty Mazda finally gave up, and I got a new one.
After enjoying all the fun new gadgets of a new car for four weeks (like heated seats on a chilly morning and being able to stream all my favorite tunes from my iPod through my speakers) I heard the noise - the sickening, shrill scraping, sound of metal on wood. I felt the pressure of the car against the frame of the garage as if it were pushing directly into my chest. And in this instant I was frozen, but I couldn’t stay there. I could not leave the car half in and half out.
How often in life do I get stuck – halfway between happy and sad, between starting and finishing, between resentment and forgiveness, between selfishness and selflessness, between letting go and holding on, between doing it for my good or for the good of God’s kingdom? Frozen in place, afraid to move forward or back.
If I pulled out, my car would scratch and smash its way out of its predicament. If I pulled forward I would scrape and bang my way in. Either way was guaranteed to cause even more damage. Yet I was forced to move.
Sometimes moving can be more intimidating than getting stuck.
I pulled the car the rest of the way into the garage, cringing as the wood continued to gouge my car’s side. Once in park, my kiddos jumped out to play in the yard, and I disembarked to assess the damage. Thick white streaks of garage paint scarred the black shiny veneer of my new vehicle. But I was safe. My kids were safe. The car still ran. And, I was no longer stuck.
While I was examining the scratches, my six-year old son came running to my side. He held three spectacular ruby red roses, sweet and fragrant. “These are for you, Mama.” He smiled.
Most of my life I’m driving along, happy, busy, content. But, when I’m wedged halfway between where I was and where I’m supposed to go, do I put 100% of my faith in Him? Am I willing to grind a little more, scrape my sides, take another gouge or two, sacrifice some time or comfort or success to get out of life’s traps?
If I come out of a mess with a few scars, isn’t that okay? Isn’t the important thing that I come out holding God’s hand?
Pulling my son close and feeling his warm little body in mine, I remembered what truly matters. Not cars. Not my ability to park or drive, not my determination to do things my way, to stay where I’m comfortable or to cave into the in-between.
When the going gets tough, sometimes it takes a few more scratches to come out of that tight spot. But once out, there is safety and peace and beauty and love. These lyrics from Holly Starr’s song, “My Cry” are the perfect prayer in these moments. “I will not stay here anymore. I’m not the way I was before. I need your strength. I need your help, Oh Lord.”
What do you need to grind out today to pull through the place where you’re stuck?
STRAIGHTENING THINGS OUT
Cars need their front ends realigned.
Mattresses need flipped.
Teeth need braces.
Every now and then things need straightening in life.
And then they need to be straightened again.
I had braces when I was in sixth grade. I had horrible, thick silver bands that dug into my gums. Wads of wax couldn’t provide comfort against the wicky-wacky wires poking the insides of my cheeks. My braces were so large and protruding my lips stuck out like a football player wearing a mouthpiece. Add that to my giant, bug-eye shaped glasses and permed hair, and I had quite the look going.
But thanks to the guidance of my orthodontist, my teeth shifted and straightened. My braces came off. My smile was in line.
And so it went until I was twenty-three and the pain in the back of my mouth felt like bee stings in my gums. My wild wisdom teeth decided not to come in up and down like normal teeth, but sideways instead – those rebels. They pushed along the other roots like dominoes squishing and slanting my smile, until all the work the braces had done was undone. The wisdom teeth were pulled. I got to drink a week’s worth of milkshakes, but the damage they’d done remained. My teeth were once again crooked.
And so, as an adult, I’m sporting braces AGAIN. They’re better this time. They’re clear, for one thing. Although not as “invisible” as their name, Invisaline, may indicate, they’re pretty close. Let’s just say my own mom didn’t notice them. They don’t dig into my gums, and since I pop them out to eat, gross particles of food don’t get stuck in them. But they’re still braces.
Some days as I’m turning down a piece of gum (because it’s impossible to chew with Invisalines on) or drooling with my mouth propped open in the orthodontist's chair, I ask myself, “How can I be doing this again?”
I often wonder the same thing about my life.
How can I need to get on track with my workouts again? When did I fall off track? It’s so hard to get back into it. I huff and puff and my muscles ache.
A venti here, an extra shot of espresso there - am I really drinking this much caffeine again – time to cut back, again. But those first few mornings, I’m soooo tired. I might even get a withdrawal headache. The list and its challenges goes on and on.
· How many times have I rewritten this manuscript?
· I can’t believe I messed up again, and therefore I need to ask forgiveness again.
· I continuously need to work on my patience. Each and every single day.
For some people it’s ‘I can’t believe I’m going back to school! I need to quit biting my nails again. Is it possible that I’m moving or switching jobs or starting a new relationship again?’
Although working on straightening things all over again, is sometimes overwhelming and initially discouraging, it is almost always worth it.
When I get back in the swing of regular workouts, I sleep better at night, breathe better at day and am less stressed. When I cut back on caffeine, I’m less anxious. My skin looks better. Every time I rewrite a manuscript the plot quickens and the characters come more alive. Every time I try to make amends for my mistakes, I feel better for trying to do the right thing. And every day I pray for patience, bite my tongue, or count to ten, I’m thankful I, at least for the time being, avoided doing or saying something I know I’ll regret. And soon, I’ll smile wide and bright and confident that my teeth, are once again aligned.
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Isaiah 40: 3-5
Just because I’ve fixed something once in my life, doesn’t mean it’s fixed forever (just ask my car, which must be crushing on the mechanic, it likes to visit him so much).
Every now and then things need straightening in life.
And then they need to be straightened again.
What needs realigned in your life today?
Laura L. Smith